How to visit Old Harry Rocks, Dorset (2024 guide)

Standing tall and defiant against the crashing waves of the English Channel, Old Harry Rocks consists of pure white chalk stacks and is the official end (or start) of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. 

Owned by the National Trust, it’s a popular spot for hiking, picnicking or just enjoying the views. 

If you’re planning on visiting Old Harry Rocks, here’s your go-to guide! I live at the other end of the Jurassic Coast, but I’ve visited a few times. 

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History and geology of Old Harry Rocks

Beautiful chalk pillar of Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks, standing proudly at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast is composed of chalk cliffs and stacks that have been shaped by millions of years of geological processes.

Formed during the Late Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago, Old Harry Rocks is a result of the same geological forces that created the famous white cliffs of Dover (although the latter are older!). 

Over time, erosion by wind, waves and the relentless force of the sea has sculpted these striking chalk formations into their present-day form.

The name “Old Harry” is believed to originate from a local legend, although its exact origin remains uncertain. 

According to one story, Old Harry was a notorious pirate who used the rocks as a hideout. 

Another tale suggests that the name was derived the devil – Old Harry is apparently a nickname for Satan himself – who used to take a nap on the rocks!

Standing as the easternmost point of the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site (it leads all the way to Orcombe Point by Exmouth in East Devon), Old Harry Rocks provides the most contemporary window into the geological history of the region. 

So, as you admire the magnificent cliffs and stacks, remember that you are witnessing millions of years of Earth’s geological evolution!

How to Get to Old Harry Rocks

Sign to Old Harry Rocks

Dorset’s brimming with gorgeous places to visit, but it’s a rural county, and getting around can be a challenge. Here are directions from London and Bournemouth (the closest major town)

By Car

  • From London: Take the M3 and A31 towards the A338, then follow signs to Bournemouth. 
  • From Bournemouth, head south on the A35 towards Studland, where you’ll find parking areas near Studland Bay or Swanage.

By train and bus

  • Trains from London: Catch a train from London Waterloo to Wareham, which takes approximately 2.5 hours. Once in Wareham, you can transfer to the 40 breezer bus heading to Swanage, where you can transfer to the 50 breezer to Studland or take a coastal walk to Old Harry Rocks. 
  • Buses from Bournemouth: Take the 50 breezer bus to Old Harry Rocks. 

The distance from London to Old Harry Rocks is approximately 130 miles (210 km), with a travel time of around 2.5 to 3 hours by car. 

From Bournemouth, the distance is just 8 miles (13 km), and can be reached within a 30-minute drive.

Boat trip from Poole

If you’re staying in Poole, check out this boat trip which sails to Swanage, taking in an immense view of Old Harry Rocks from the sea on the way!

Best time to visit Old Harry Rocks

Rich at Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks is most popular in the summer, but you can enjoy it throughout the year!

Generally, the attraction is busiest in the summer months, but the long daylight hours give you  more of a chance to explore them. 

In the winter, you might get moodier weather, but there’s something wonderfully dramatic about the coast at this time. Just stay off the cliffs in particularly dramatic conditions!

To avoid large crowds and make the most of your visit, consider visiting Old Harry Rocks during weekdays or during the quieter hours of early morning or late afternoon.

Sunrise is particularly wonderful!

And always check the weather forecast before heading out, as conditions can change rapidly along the coast!

What to see and do at Old Harry Rocks

Walking near Old Harry Rocks

The main attraction of Old Harry Rocks is the rocks themselves, but there are a few other things that you can see and do while you’re here! 

  • Coastal Walks: Embark on a scenic coastal walk along the South West Coast Path to fully appreciate the stunning views of Old Harry Rocks and the surrounding coastline. The route to Swanage is popular. 
  • Practice photography: Old Harry Rocks is an excellent backdrop for photography enthusiasts. I’ve seen some amazing drone footage from here as well, so consider taking a drone if you have one!
  • Birdwatching: The area around Old Harry Rocks is a haven for twitchers. Bring some binoculars and keep an eye out for various seabirds, such as gulls, cormorants, and even peregrine falcons, which nest in the cliffs. 
  • Studland Bay: There’s no beach at Old Harry Rocks – you’re quite high up on the cliffs – but head to nearby Studland Bay to relax on the sands!

Where to stay near Old Harry Rocks

Fancy staying near Old Harry Rocks? Here are some of the best accomodation options in the area.

Ulwell Cottage Caravan Park 

This is a family-friendly campsite situated in Swanage, offering well-maintained pitches, modern facilities, and easy access to the beach and surrounding attractions.

The Knoll House

Situated in Studland, this historic country house offers elegant accommodation, beautiful gardens, and a relaxed atmosphere.

You’ll enjoy comfortable rooms, a restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine, and access to nearby beaches.

Click here to read more about it

The Pig on the Beach

This Studland-based boutique hotel combines rustic charm with contemporary style. Guests can enjoy well-appointed rooms, a renowned restaurant showcasing locally sourced produce, and a tranquil garden setting.

Things to do near Old Harry Rocks

Swanage near Old Harry Rocks

There are plenty of places to visit in Dorset around Old Harry Rocks – here are some of the best!

  • Swanage Railway: Take a nostalgic steam train ride on the Swanage Railway, which runs between Swanage and Norden. Enjoy the scenic views of the countryside along with the vintage locomotive!
  • Corfe Castle: Explore the ruins of Corfe Castle, a medieval fortress perched on a hilltop. Discover its rich history, climb the battlements for panoramic views, and learn tales of kings, knights, and sieges.
  • Durlston Country Park: Discover Durlston Country Park, a nature reserve located near Swanage. Explore its cliffs and keep an eye out for wildlife, including dolphins and seabirds. Visit the iconic Durlston Castle and enjoy panoramic views of the Jurassic Coast.
  • Durdle Door: Although it’s a half hour drive away, Durdle Door is a famous archway plummeting into the sea and is another must-visit attraction on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. Take a look at my full Durdle Door visiting guide by clicking here.
  • Swanage: The charming seaside town of Swanage is close to Old Harry Rocks, boasting a sandy beach with calm waters and plenty of seaside restaurants. 
  • Studland Bay: Right next to Old Harry Rocks, you’ll find Studland Bay nature reserve, an oceanside area that’s ideal for rocks or just relaxing and enjoying the views. I did a fantastic foraging course here once with Foreadventure. 

What to pack for your trip to Old Harry Rocks

Don’t forget these items when packing for Old Harry Rocks!

  • Sturdy Footwear: Old Harry Rocks is home to scenic coastal walks aplenty, so wear comfortable shoes or hiking boots that provide a good grip on uneven terrain.
  • Sun cream: The British weather can be deceptively hot in the summertime! Pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Camera or binoculars: Photograph and see local wildlife with a camera or binoculars. You might spot seabirds, dolphins, or even the occasional seal!
  • Drinking water: Stay hydrated during your visit by carrying a refillable water bottle. Facilities nearby are sparse, so make sure you have enough water for your trip with you. 
  • Weather-appropriate clothes: Be prepared for changing weather conditions by layering your clothing, and bring a waterproof jacket or umbrella, just in case.

Safety tips

National trust sign at Old Harry Rocks

As I live on the Jurassic Coast, I know full well that while this area of the country is a beauty, she can be dangerous too! Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up that I think are worth sharing: 

  • Coastal erosion: Cliffs along the Jurassic Coast are subject to erosion. Keep a safe distance from the cliff edges at all times, and if you have a dog I recommend keeping them on a lead. 
  • Respect wildlife and the environment: Old Harry Rocks is home to a variety of flora and fauna, so please respect the natural environment. Refrain from disturbing or feeding wildlife, and take any rubbish with you to keep the area clean.
  • Stay on designated paths: Stick to marked paths and follow any signage or guidance provided. This helps protect the fragile coastal ecosystem and ensures that you’ll stay safe when exploring! 

FAQs about visiting Old Harry Rocks

Chalk stacks out to sea at Old Harry Rocks

How do you get to Old Harry Rocks?

Getting to Old Harry Rocks is possible by car or public transport. If driving, follow the A351 to Swanage and continue to Studland. Alternatively, take a train to Swanage or Wareham and then use local buses or taxis to reach the site.

Can you walk on Old Harry Rocks?

No, it is not possible to walk directly on Old Harry Rocks due to safety concerns and preservation efforts. However, you can admire the impressive limestone stacks from nearby viewpoints and enjoy walks along the coastal paths that offer stunning views of this natural landmark.

What is the story behind the Old Harry Rocks?

Old Harry Rocks are possibly named after a local legend about a pirate named Harry Paye – or some people think that they are named after the devil!. The sea stacks are remnants of chalk erosion and are part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They provide a fascinating glimpse into millions of years of geological history.

Where do you park to see Old Harry Rocks?

Parking is available at the National Trust South Beach car park in Studland. From there, it’s a scenic walk of approximately 1.5 miles to reach Old Harry Rocks.

Can you walk from Swanage to Old Harry Rocks?

Yes, it is possible to walk from Swanage to Old Harry Rocks. The coastal path is a scenic route, but it’s a moderate to challenging walk of approximately 4 miles one way. Make sure that you have the right footwear!

How to get to Old Harry Rocks from London?

To reach Old Harry Rocks from London, you can take a direct train from London Waterloo to Wareham or Bournemouth. From there, use local buses or taxis to reach Studland or Swanage, where you can then walk to Old Harry Rocks.

Are you ready to visit Old Harry Rocks? 

Beautiful visatas at the rocks

Old Harry Rocks is a geological marvel, and is an important stop for anyone interested in exploring the Jurassic Coast – it’s where it all ends, after all!

Whether you’re exploring Dorset or day-tripping from London, don’t miss this South Coast highlight if you’re in the area!

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