With a staggeringly beautiful ancient coastline and some of England’s most charming countryside, there are many places to visit in Dorset. It’s quite a large country, so you could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed when planning a trip here.
What are the best places to go in Dorset? This blog post will answer this question, detailing some of my – and other travel blogger’s – favourite attractions.
If you’re planning a trip to Dorset, read on for some major travel inspiration to one of England’s most beautiful counties!
Places to Visit in Dorset
Situated on the southern coast of England, Bournemouth is a popular holiday destination for those seeking a beach getaway. Bournemouth is excellent for a longer break or a day trip from London or any other nearby city.
The city’s main drawcard is the white sand Bournemouth beach that stretches over seven miles. For active visitors, there is a 10-mile long promenade that starts at Sandbanks and finishes in Hengistbury.
The promenade is not only great for a long stroll but also is excellent for cycling. Don’t forget to visit the Bournemouth Pier, home to the typical British seaside attractions, including the amusement arcade, fish and chips and souvenir shops.
Other activities include zip-lining, mini-golfing in the City’s Lower Park and a balloon ride that operates in the summer. Bournemouth also has some great seafront restaurants along the beach where you can have some fresh seafood and a glass of wine while watching the sun going down.
By Mal from Raw Mal Roams
Lyme Regis is one of the best places to visit in Dorset to find fossils on the Jurassic Coast. The Dorset town was the birthplace of pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose work finding and preserving fossils was ground-breaking. Now visitors come from all over the world to go fossil hunting in Lyme Regis, and anyone can find fossils on the beach to take home.
Lyme Regis Museum explains more about Mary Anning and her work and has some excellent examples of fossils on display. They also run Fossil Walks, where a guide will take you along the beach to go fossil hunting, explaining why and what you might find here. Entry to the Museum is £5.95 per adult, and the fossil walks are £12.75 per adult, both with discounts available for children.
While fossils are the main draw for most visitors, Lyme Regis also has a pleasant sandy beach, an aquarium and various independent shops to explore.
By Claire from Tales of a Backpacker
Durdle Door is without a doubt one of the most iconic sights on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The natural limestone arch juts out of the cliffs between Swanage and Weymouth, near the village of West Lulworth. The geological changes that formed Durdle Door happened around 25 million years ago when layers of hard limestone were pushed vertically upwards; the sea then eroded the softer layers of rock, leaving Durdle Door’s distinctive arch shape.
Visiting Durdle Door is easy and free. Access by car is through the Durdle Door holiday park, then a sloping, downhill walk to the top of the cliff and the viewpoint. You can also get here by walking along the South West Coastal Path from Lulworth Cove, about a mile away. There is a beach at the base of the cliff which is very popular on sunny days; to enjoy the views without the crowds visit in the evening.
By Helen from Helen on her Holidays
Swanage is a small town located on the coast, and is one of the best places to visit in Dorset. Every year thousands of tourists come to visit this town and its remarkable historic scenery. The town lies between lime rocks, mountain landscape, and an incredible white sand beach and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast.
In the town, you will find many old buildings – some of them date back as far as the 18th century. You can also choose between lots of hiking trails along the cliffs and plenty of other nearby attractions.
By Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Isle of Portland
A trip to Dorset wouldn’t be complete without visiting the stunning Isle of Portland. Located to the south of Weymouth, Portland is only connected to the mainland by a barrier beach called Chesil Beach.
Although it is an island, the Isle of Portland is part of the Jurassic Coast and has many unique and beautiful features to see. The best part is that you can see most of its sights in one day if you complete the Isle of Portland Loop, which is 16km (10 miles) and is part of the South West Coast Path.
On the route, you’ll be able to visit Portland Bill Lighthouse, climb Pulpit Rock, and discover unique sculptures at Tout Quarry Sculpture Park. You can admire the view from the Olympic Rings Lookout Point and visit the ruins of a church and castle.
The best bit? You’ll be treated to dramatic cliffs and stunning views of the sandy beaches all day long.
By Kitti from Kitti Around the World
Charmouth is a pretty village in West Dorset in an area of outstanding beauty. If you’re thinking of visiting Charmouth, you won’t be short of things to see and do.
Fossil hunting on Charmouth beach is a very popular activity with visitors to the area. With ample parking in the seaside town and plenty of facilities, a visit to the beach is a whole day out. In addition, you can visit the Heritage Coast Centre with fossil displays, and even book a fossil walk.
The beach is separated by the river Char, providing a stretch of calm river which is perfect for paddling, paddle boarding, or even floating about in a dinghy.
There are plenty of rock pools to discover when the tide goes out, ideal for entertaining the children.
At the end of a busy day in Charmouth, you could enjoy fish and chips on the beach from the beach cafe, or there are various cafes and pubs in the village. It’s definitely one of the best places to go to in Dorset!
By Angela from Exploring Dorset
Weymouth is a seaside resort in Dorset and is a popular holiday location for families and others seeking a UK staycation. Not only are there plenty of things to do in Weymouth but its location in the middle of the Jurassic Coast make it the perfect destination for fossil hunters!
Amongst Weymouth’s attractions are its beautiful sandy beach which is 3 miles long and perfect for swimming and making sandcastles. In fact is so good for building sandcastles that a visit to Sandworld to see exhibitions of sand sculptures is a must every year. Tickets cost £7.50 for adults and £5.50 for children.
Nothe Fort is another popular attraction in Weymouth. This historic sea fort consists of three levels which include a museum, café and gift shop. Throughout the year events and exhibitions are held at the fort which are fun for all the family. Views from the fort across the harbours are also particularly memorable.
Other things places to visit in Weymouth include the SEA LIFE centre, shingle covered Chesil Beach, Portland Bill Lighthouse and Weymouth Harbour with its pretty painted houses.
By Tracy from UK Travel Planning
Corfe Castle is a National Trust property that is well worth visiting while you’re exploring Dorset. With 1,000 years of history, Corfe Castle sits imposingly atop a hill and is a fascinating place to explore.
Corfe Castle was constructed by William the Conqueror in the 11th century – it was one of the initial castles in England to be constructed with stone. It was instrumental in the Civil War when Parliamentarian forces besieged it two times.
Nowadays, Corfe Castle is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. It stands above Corfe village, not too far from Old Harry Rocks and the rest of the coastline. Its unique structure makes it a fantastic place to visit in Dorset – and you can easily add a stop here to a trip to the coast!
It costs £11 for an adult and £5.50 for a child – but if you are a National Trust member, you can enter for free.
Despite not being a city, Poole claims to have the largest natural harbour in the world (which happened after Sydney in Australia built so much around its harbour!). Poole Harbour is around 36 km2 (14 square miles) – and although its claim to being the largest in the world is sometimes debated, there’s no denying that it’s enormous.
This means that it’s a definite must-visit place to go to in Dorset – there are so many opportunities for boating and watersports!
Poole also has a lovely old town, with buildings from the 15th century, so there’s lots of history here. In addition, the town boasts some impressive museums, including the Poole Museum and the Old Lifeboat Museum.
As it is one of the largest towns in Dorset, there’s a range of excellent dining opportunities available in Poole – and, of course, there’s no shortage of beaches here either!
Blandford Forum is a charming place to visit in Dorset, sitting about 13 miles inland from Poole in the Blackmore Vale area. Situated on the banks of the River Stour, Blandford Forum is a historic place with plenty of charm.
The historic town was destroyed by fire in the 18th century, so it was rebuilt in the classic Georgian style of the era. Modern Blandford Forum still looks like a step back three centuries.
It’s a wonderful place to walk around, and you can also visit the Fire Monument in the marketplace and go to the Blandford museum to learn a little more about its history. There’s also the Blandford Fashion Museum which details historical fashion trends!
There are lots of independent shops around the main town and the Hall and Woodhouse brewery, which makes its own Badger Beer.
If you want to enjoy some of Dorset’s beautiful nature, take a stroll from Blandford to either Stallbridge or Spetsbiry and the surrounding beautiful villages.
Sturminster Newton is one of the most beautiful towns in inland Dorset, sitting on the banks of the River Stour. This is Thomas Hardy’s country – if you’ve ever read his books and marvelled at the glorious descriptions of nature, make sure that you visit Sturminster Newton and the surrounding area!
In particular, the 15th century bridge in Sturminster Newton has been featured in one of Hardy’s poems, “On Sturminster Bridge”. The author also lived in the town and took lots of inspiration from surrounding fields.
It’s worth visiting the Sturminster Newton Water Mill, which dates back to the 17th century and is still a working mill. Knowledgeable guides will show you around and detail the history and working of the building. The mill is open in the summer months (usually late March to late September) on Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. It is £4 for adults and £1 for children.
There’s also the ruins of a 14th century castle that you might be able to find while walking around the town. The architecture of Sturminster Newton makes it a wonderful place to stroll around and there are a variety of pubs and restaurants in the town, as well as nature walks along the River Stour.
Located on the Isle of Purbeck, Studland Bay is a Dorset destination at the end of the South West Coast Path – making it a site of pilgrimage for many keen hikers. However, it’s well worth visiting in its own right as well!
Studland Bay is a glorious beach with lots of watersports activities available. Out of season, it can be wonderfully deserted, with fantastic views over to Poole.
If you want to try something different, Foreadventure runs foraging tours around Studland, and I highly recommend them. We did the three hour forest walk and forage tour, which ended with us making a wood-fired pizza with our foraged goods!
They also run canoeing and fishing trips.
Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks is the official terminus of the Jurassic Coast, which starts in Exmouth in Devon. These chalk formations are popular with hikers and people exploring the entire coast, but they are incredible on their own as well.
Old Harry Rocks are brilliant chalk-white arches, stacks, and stumps, jutting out into the sea and running along the ocean. Although the whole area is known as Old Harry Rocks, only one is called Old Harry (and there’s also an Old Harry’s Wife!).
From the rocks, you can enjoy epic views across the water into Poole and Bournemouth.
Dorchester is the historic county town of Dorset and one of the largest towns in the county. Sitting on the River Frome, Dorchester is a town that very much sits in the heart of the countryside – and you can enjoy some of its epic nature as well as its more urban attractions while exploring the town.
It’s worth visiting The Keep, Dorset County Museum and The Dinosaur Museum, where you can learn a little more about the Jurassic Coast. There’s also a lovely historic art deco cinema in town, as well as the ever-popular Dorchester Market, an indoor and outdoor market.
On the outskirts of Dorchester, there’s the 19th century Max Gate, which is run by the National Trust and is the former home of Thomas Hardy.
Sherborne is a beautiful town with charming stone cottages and stunning surrounding scenery. Although the town isn’t huge, it’s packed with attractions, including two castles and an abbey – there’s so much to explore here!
The Abbey has a long history spanning back over a millennium – it has been a Cathedral and church over the years. Some people consider it to be the most beautiful building in Dorset.
Sherborne Castle is a 16th century Tudor castle. It started its life as a Tudor hunting lodge but was expanded by Sir Walter Raleigh and was the subject of a siege in the Civil War. You can learn all about this at the castle!
Sherborne Old Castle has a history spanning back to the 12th century and is the ruins of an old majestic fortress. You can still explore these ruins today.
Christchurch is a coastal town on the Dorset/ Hampshire border, not too far from Bournemouth. With six beaches, it’s a popular spot for families! Activities that you can enjoy in Christchurch include stand up paddleboarding, swimming and beach games.
Friars Cliff and Avon beaches are perhaps the most family-friendly, with plenty of facilities for people of all ages. Mudeford Sandbank also has amenities to enjoy.
More nature-focused beaches are Highcliffe Castle Beach, with beautiful cliffs, and Gundimore, which looks over the Isle of Wight.
Christchurch town has plenty of amenities, including shops, restaurants and Christchurch Castle which dates back to the 11th century.
Highcliffe Castle is located near Christchurch and is a Grade I listed mansion, dating back from the Victorian era.
Highcliffe Castle was destroyed by a fire in the 1960s and was left to ruin for two decades – before it was acquired by the Council in 1977 and received funding from the English Heritage and National Lottery Grants.
Nowadays, it’s a popular tourist attraction in Dorset and has been the filming location of various shows, including The Antiques Roadshow and Mr Selfridge.
Highcliffe Castle is open from Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. It costs £7 for adults and £3 for children.
Sitting between Lyme Regis and Weymouth, Abbotsbury is a small quintessentially English village with two stand out attractions: the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens and the Abbotsbury Swannery.
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens are botanic gardens on the edge of Abbotsbury town. Encompassing 30 acres, these gardens are famous for their range of flowers and exotic plants. The Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens are open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, and tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children.
Abbotsbury Swannery is also worth visiting. This is the only managed colony of mute nesting swans in the world. Spanning 25 acres and home to some 600 swans, walking through the colony is an unforgettable experience.
It is a Harry Potter filming location and has lots of other attractions, including the giant swan maze, a cafe and gift shop.
Like the subtropical gardens, the swannery is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, and tickets are £10 for adults and £5 for children.
You can save 25% on ticket prices if you book a visit to both the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens and the Abbotsbury Swannery at the same time.
The Purbeck Hills is a ridgeway that runs from Durdle Door to Old Harry Rocks. A fantastic place for hiking, the Purbeck Hills encompass Corfe Castle and the inland area from the Jurassic Coast.
Wimborne Minster is an ancient market town on the Rivers of Allen and Stour. There’s so much to see here, including a beautiful minster church (with the chained library which has a book dating back to the 14th century and a book that belonged to Catherine of Aragon!), a model town which resembles Wimborne Minster in the 1950s and Waterford Mill Crafts which has shops and exhibitions.
There are also some beautiful walks and bike rides along the two rivers, so it’s a great place to enjoy nature as well!
Burton Bradstock is a popular holiday destination along the Jurassic Coast, with epic sandstone cliffs and charming villages.
It’s a small village, but there’s plenty to enjoy here – including pubs, tearooms, a holiday park and there is a Spring Tide Food Festival every May.
Also don’t miss Hive Beach, which is owned by the National Trust has some epic views over this stretch of coastline.
Sitting near the Wiltshire border, Shaftesbury is one of the very best places to visit in Dorset. Shaftesbury is famous for Gold Hill, its postcard-perfect cobbled street which has been called “one of the most romantic sights in England” as well as “England’s most famous hill” (it has featured in numerous films and television programmes including the Hovis advert!).
With quaint cottages and rolling green hills in the background, Shaftesbury is a lovely place to stroll around – you can enjoy the many shops, restaurants, and cafes here and take in various viewpoints that look out over Blackmore Vale.
Places to go to in Dorset!
With green valleys, beautiful villages and towns, popular sandy beaches on the world-famous Jurassic Coast and a hiking path with amazing views, there’s so much to love in Dorset!