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Lulworth Cove, a World Heritage Site on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset
Lulworth Cove, a World Heritage Site on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Things To Do In Dorset

He might not have made it as England's football manager (yet), but Harry Redknapp is lucky enough to live overlooking Poole Harbour. He said of Dorset: "It's got everything; there's the sea of course, and the forests, but it's also just such a fantastic way of life..."

Discover a Hidden Dorset

Dorset is a sublime blend of beach and countryside, of laid back sand-between-your-toes and chic seaside resort. Independent boutiques sit cheek-to-cheek with surf shops stocking seaside essentials, and gourmet cafes serving homemade ice-cream and fish caught within sight of your table.

Most guides for a holiday in Dorset will point you in the direction of Bournemouth and Weymouth. While these are great places to visit, there is far more to this great county. A self-catering holiday in Dorset is the ideal way to experience an incredible stretch of England that has been attracting holidaymakers and sun-lovers for generations.


Discovery Days

Corfe Castle, walking
Corfe Castle, Dorset

You can't be bored in Dorset! It has an extensive coastline that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, bustling towns, perfect country village lanes lined with thatched cottages, and a substantial history that dates back to the dinosaurs, and provides a pirate's treasure of treats for visitors.

Wimborne Minster

Wimborne Minster is a lovely market town that takes its name from its impressive church. It has an abundance of buildings dating back to pre-Tudor times, and strict planning laws have helped preserve their beauty and that of the streets around them. You can see Wimborne Minster in miniature in the Wimborne Minster Model Town. Built in a 1:10 scale, it is incredibly detailed, and you may feel a tiny bit voyeuristic as you peer into gardens and shop windows! Just outside the town is Kingston Lacy, a magnificent country house now managed by the National Trust.

As well as the beautiful church, you should go to the Priest's House Museum and Garden. It gives a fascinating insight into East Dorset in centuries past, there are lots of hands-on exhibits to keep the kids happy (though beware if your child gets spooked by mannequins), and a good cafe. There is a charge to go into the museum but if you just want a sit down and have a cup of tea in the cafe, go around to the back where you can enter the walled garden for free.


With its pretty harbour, award winning beaches, and plentitude of parks, Poole is an obvious choice for a day full of fun. Away from the typical shops selling everything you could want for a day at the seaside, Poole's Old Town is full of old nautical charm with its narrow streets lined with elegant Georgian homes and its historic quay. Pay a visit to Poole Museum and find out how Poole grew from a small settlement 2,500 years ago to be a Roman fishing town, the target of two Viking raids, a busy port, and a key location for D-Day operations. Nature lovers should take a day trip to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, which is an oasis of calm inhabited by red squirrels, among other creatures.

Poole Harbour
Poole Harbour, Dorset

Poole is the sort of place you can wander down lanes and feel like you're discovering secret nooks and crannies, yet it's small enough that it's hard to get lost. The Cockle Trail is a self-guided walking tour laid out by brass plates set into the pavement. You can download a map here. You can also discover the town by downloading an app and following the Poole Trail.


Sherborne is elegance in bricks and mortar. It's amazing how well some of these buildings survive when you consider how old they are. Top of the list is Sherborne Abbey. It feels calm now, but relations between the monks who used to occupy the site, and the townspeople, were once so poor that in 1437 parts of the Abbey were set on fire during a riot. As interesting as its history is, it is the vaulted ceiling that is Sherborne Abbey's crowning glory (small pun intended). It is a pleasure just to stand there and marvel at the skill of the stonemason who created such beauty.

Sherborne Castle is another building locals are justifiably proud to have. Privately owned by the Digby family since 1617, its gardens were cleverly planned to be a delight in any season. If you're not into all this new-fangled architecture, the ruins of medieval Sherborn Old Castle next door, once the home of Sir Walter Raleigh, may be more your thing.

Lyme Regis

It is easy to see why Lyme Regis has captivated visitors for millennia. Cliffs rise from the sea to give the town a dramatic backdrop that is constantly changing based on the weather and daylight, but which is always beautiful. Lyme Regis is well known not only for the quality of its sandy beach but also for its superb deposits of fossils. It has a laid-back vibe where nothing is too much trouble, and everyone is happy to do their part to make sure you enjoy your time there.

Lyme Regis Harbour
Lyme Regis Harbour, Dorset

Lyme Regis is certainly an outdoorsy town. Visit the harbour, known as The Cobb, where moored boats bob in neat lines and you can try your hand at crabbing; follow in the footsteps of Louisa Musgrove from Jane Austen's novel Persuasion; or walk the wall and enjoy the views. Test your skills sailing, go for an ocean swim, or promenade along the Undercliff with an ice cream or through the Langmoor and Lister Gardens.

Dinosaurland is a museum packed with thousands of different types of fossils set out in a child-friendly way to entice budding paleontologists. If the weather isn't great or your fishing is unsuccessful, stop by the aquarium. It's small, but better value and a more fun way to spend an hour or two than in the cinema. Lyme Regis is the perfect British seaside resort.

Tyneham Village

Evacuated Village, Tyneham, Dorset
Tynham Village

It's called Dorset's Lost Village, but ghost village is a more accurate description for Tyneham. Unfortunately for the villagers who were living there in 1943, the government decided it was the ideal place to train soldiers preparing to fight in WWII, and took it over. The move was supposed to be temporary, however, residents were never allowed to return home and the village with its houses, cottages, church, and rectory, remains abandoned.

Tyneham is still controlled by the Ministry of Defense. It is part of Lulworth firing range and is only open to visitors on select dates, typically during school holidays. Check here for details.

Dorset Coast Path

South West Coastal Path, Dorset
South West Coastal Path

One of the nicest ways to discover Dorset is on foot via the Dorset Coast Path. It is part of the 630-mile long South West Coast Path to give you a challenge with the reward of spectacular views. The South West Coast Path terminates at Poole Harbour and is signposted clearly. There is a handy map here to help plan your walk whether you want hours of solitude with nothing more than seabirds for company, a short perambulation to follow a Sunday lunch, or a family adventure.

Rainy Days

Poole Harbour at Sunset
Poole Harbour

Dorset enjoys more sun than most places in England, but given British weather, that's not saying a lot! Thankfully, the fun doesn't stop when it's raining. Here are some good wet weather activities in Dorset to keep you amused.


As you would expect from a large coastal town, Bournemouth has everything. Great shops, restaurants and pubs, and fun activities like bowling. Most of these are familiar high street names which is fine, but instead of doing something you could do at home, why not try one of Bournemouth's unique attractions.

Bournemouth Oceanarium is good if you have young children, though it's not the best value for money. More interesting and less crowded is the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. The house was gifted to Annie Russell-Cotes by her husband in 1901, and the pair proceeded to spend many happy years filling it with beautiful things. Browse at your leisure or join a guided tour to find out more about the family and their collection.

Bournemouth has several shopping centres with the usual range of shops and cafes. Slightly out of the town centre, Pokesdown has a good choice of vintage and charity shops, while Westbourne village is a blend of independent shops and excellent cafes. Either one of these places is perfect for a few hours of peaceful browsing.


Bournemouth may be the biggest place in Dorset, but Dorchester is the county town and has been a seat of power for centuries. It has a fascinating history with Roman ruins and Civil War battles, and you can learn more about these at the Dorset County Museum. Those who love military artefacts and weapons should certainly go to The Keep Military Museum, which is very child-friendly and good value whether you're going for a family outing or your own interest.

If the rain eases or you have your wellies, you can walk around the ruins of Dorchester's Roman town house. Built in 307 CE, it's the only surviving building of its kind in Britain. Admission is free, and it is open every day.

Thomas Hardy Cottage
Thomas Hardy Cottage

One of England's most revered authors and poets, Thomas Hardy, lived in Dorchester. Hardy designed and built Max House in 1855, and it stands just outside the centre of town. A few miles away, in Higher Bockhampton, is the thatched cottage where Hardy was born. It is also managed by the National Trust and has lovely gardens and woods for when the weather brightens.

The Tank Museum

Children young and old will have a brilliant time at The Tank Museum in Bovington. It is a superb museum with an enormous collection of tanks from WWI to today. The Tank Museum is well laid out with lots of parking on site. It's also easy to navigate with a wheelchair or buggy. There is a calendar of entertaining events that run during school holidays, including thrilling displays of tanks in action, and even the opportunity to ride in them.

Exhibits are thoughtfully planned and informative, and curators have done a fantastic job of sharing Britain's pride in its armed forces without glorifying war in any way.

Visit a Brewery

Dorset is bursting with breweries, tempting beer and real ale lovers with their wares. Palmer's is an award-winning brewery that is run by descendants of the family who started it in 1794. It is the nation's only thatched brewery and has tours running daily from 11am until around 1pm every weekday between April and October (excluding Bank Holiday Mondays). The tours are very popular, not just for the free sample and tankard, so you should book in advance.

Ringwood Brewery is on the border between Dorset and the New Forest and is another great brewery. Where Palmer's was founded in the 1790s, Ringwood has only been going since the 1970s, though it continues a centuries-old tradition of brewing in the area. The tour takes around 90-minutes and is fun and informative - it's clear the staff love what they do and are justifiably proud of their product.

Adventure Days

Surfing in Dorset
Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset


How could we possibly talk about adventures in Dorset without mentioning surfing? It's not so much a hobby around here as a way of life, with locals planning their days off around the swell, and making the most of the extended summer days to get a cheeky surf in before or after work.

Kimmeridge Bay is known amongst surfers (and also snorkelers) as a top surfing beaches in the south-west of England. The Bay is better for surfers with some experience, but beginners and less-confident surfers can have a great time at Bournemouth and the surrounding beaches, especially if you are there on a weekday during term time when it is relatively quiet. Generally speaking, the beaches to the east of Bournemouth are best for surfing, but as most of Dorset's population lives in this area, beaches can get quite crowded during summer holidays.


You can't miss the coasteering enthusiasts in Dorset. While you're sitting on the beach wriggling your toes in the sand and shingle, they're zipping up wetsuits and experiencing the beauty of the coastline in an entirely different way. We're not saying there's anything wrong with lazy days (we have made plenty of suggestions for some relaxing Dorset holiday ideas) but if you want to get your adrenaline racing and enjoy the pleasure of swimming in places not many people can reach, try coasteering.

Paddle Board
Paddle Boarding, Dorset

There are a few excellent companies who can help you out, including Land & Wave in Swanage, and Jurassic Coast Activities in West Lulworth. The latter also offers kayaking, paddle boarding, kitesurfing and windsurfing. The fun of Dorset doesn't have to end at the shoreline!

Fossick for Fossils

Don't go to Dorset without hunting for fossils! Nowhere else in Britain has such a high concentration of fossils, and Charmouth Beach is one of the best places to find them. While anyone is welcome to fossil hunt on the beach you should always be aware of the tide, and only ever collect loose fossils - never dig them out of the cliff or rock yourself. Guided fossil hunting walks leave from Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and Lyme Regis Museum and are an excellent way to find fossils in a manner that is safe for both you and the delicate coast.

Explore Rock Pools

Adventures don't have to be huge in scale to be big on fun. The Jurassic Coast offers up all sorts of treasures in its rock pools at low tide. Sandy Bay is a top choice for a day at the beach, being safe for swimming and reasonably sheltered. Low tide exposes the rock pools and also makes it possible to walk around to Exmouth - just don't get caught out by the tide! Charmouth is a good choice if you don't want to spend hours at the beach but want to let the kids loose. The beach is a short walk from the town centre and is also a good place for finding fossils. Also, consider Broad Ledge in Lyme Regis.

Jurassic Fossils
Jurassic Coast Fossil

You don't need any fancy gear to have fun rock pooling. Take a bucket or plastic container that you can put your finds in while you examine them, and a net if you're squeamish about picking things up. Always put plants and sea creatures back where you found them, and wear shoes appropriate for clambering over slippery rocks. You can make a simple underwater viewer by cutting the top and bottom off a plastic bottle, so you have a tube. Cover one end with plastic wrap secured with rubber bands, then put that end in the water and look through the top.

Pirates and Smugglers

Dorset's alternative history is one of pirates and smugglers! From the 1400s to the 1800s, the rugged coastline with its secret caves and passages made it the perfect place for criminals to unload their booty and store it safely away from the eyes of the law so they could avoid paying taxes. Studland Bay was popular with pirates who wanted to land quickly and unload their contraband safely. Where this wasn't possible, pirates would unload their cargo into tubs sunk in the sandy sea bottom for collection later. Dancing Ledge is west of Swanage, near Langton Matravers, and was well used by pirates and smugglers. The coastal footpath runs nearby and, although it's a bit of a steep climb to the beach, it is worth it for the views and to go swimming in the tidal pool carved from the rock.

Lazy Days

Lulworth Cove
Lulworth Cove

With long summer days, sea breezes and the sense that you have all the time in the world - Dorset lends itself perfectly to lazy days. Pack a picnic and find a nearby beauty spot, or set yourself a challenge to find the best chips and ice-cream in the county. Here are some suggestions for relaxing in Dorset.

Beach Days

Dorset has beaches that are good for surfing and kite boarding, and beaches that are good for fossil hunting and rock pooling, but what if you just want a beach for sitting in the sunshine with your eyes closed while you listen to the seagulls and the surf? Canford Cliffs is a good choice with its glorious expansive sands. It is lifeguard patrolled in the summer months and has toilets and a kiosk for an ice cream. Tourists often overlook Eype Beach, but their loss is your gain as it makes this a very peaceful spot. It is in between Lyme Regis and West Bay and rarely gets busy. Two other beaches that are a must to visit in Dorset are world famous Lulworth Cove with its sheltered horseshoe that attracts folk from far and wide; and Chesil Beach which offers 18 miles of shingle, guaranteeing a quiet spot away from the crowds.

Durdle Door
Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast

See Inside a Stately Home

The National Trust gives dozens of ways to enjoy a lazy day without feeling like it's been wasted. They manage lots of properties where you can wander through elegant rooms, marvelling at the quality of the furnishings and being grateful it's not you doing the dusting.

Kingston Lacy is a stunning country house with the largest private collection of Egyptian artefacts in the UK. It also has an impressive art collection, gorgeous gardens, and 8,500 acres of estate grounds.

Forde Abbey is particularly beautiful in spring when the swathes of bulbs burst into bloom and cover the ground with fragrant colour. There are 30 acres of gardens to enjoy, including a lovingly planted arboretum. The owners do their best to keep things interesting for visitors by putting together a fun variety of events throughout the year.

Other stately homes and country houses you may wish to see include Highcliffe Castle, and Mapperton House which is home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich and has fabulous gardens.


Dorset boasts some magnificent gardens and parkland. A good example is Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens near Weymouth. The climate is ideal for growing species of plants and flowers not often seen in Britain, and there is an excellent restaurant.

Signets in Abotsbury Subtropical Gardens
Signets in Abotsbury Subtropical Gardens

There are not many things more relaxing than watching a swan glide serenely across smooth waters unless it's watching lots of swans swimming! Abbotsbury Swannery started as a farm where monks bred birds for monarchs to eat, but now it is home to a colony of mute swans. Seeing newly hatched cygnets is a real treat.

Abbotsbury village is extremely pretty. There are numerous galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists, a beautiful church, and many preserved Grade II listed houses which are as homely today as when they were built. The Abbotsbury Tea Rooms on Rodden Row are the perfect place to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of tea and a scone.

Samples Dorset's finest fare

If you love food, then what better way to spend a day relaxing over a long lazy lunch. Dorset has plenty of great pubs and restaurants but we wanted to share a few of our favourites.

A visit to Mark Hix Oyster and Fish House is a must and the perfect place to while away a few hours eating and soaking up the amazing sea views. A born and bred native, Hix has created a chic yet informal culinary oasis of seafood and foraging on the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis.

For fine dining, head to Dorchester and book a table at Sienna Restaurant (open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and Tuesday to Saturday for dinner – make sure you pre-book!). Showcasing the best of West Country produce with an imaginative modern British flare, sensational Sienna should be on every foodie's itinerary.

Another great choice is The Grosvenor Arms in Shaftesbury. Offering modern British food with a distinct nod in the direction of the Med, this fabulous old inn is now more of a stylish bistro. Surrounded by the beauty of Cranbourne Chase, don't forget your walking boots, or your wallet if a stroll around the shops is more your thing.

If your idea of a perfect day is one where you blow the night befores cobwebs away on the South West Coastal Footpath, then tuck into the freshest of seafood, head to The Anchor Inn at Seatown near Bridport. Just off the coastal path, this welcoming pub has a strong passion for supporting local producers and brings together the perfect marriage of countryside and coast in its varied menu. From the hungriest of walkers, to beach goers with a taste for a lobster supper, The Anchor Inn is a firm favourite.


Swanage is another great holiday stop. Spend a lazy day on the sandy beach with plenty of fun water sports to try if you get a burst of energy. Alternatively, sit back on the Swanage Steam Railway and soak up six miles of relaxing glorious Dorset scenery. Awarded 'Pier of the Year 2012', stroll along Swanage Pier browsing the craft stalls along the way, enjoy a slice of cake in the café, soak up the views of the Isle of Wight from the end of the pier, fish or take a boat trip.

SDorset Steam Railway
Swanage Steam Railway

Weekenders' Guide

Essential Guide to Dorset
A whirlwind tour!

Some experiences embody the beauty and spirit of Dorset more than others. Here is a Dorset bucket list to help you plan an unforgettable holiday, whether you are just visiting for a couple of days or a longer holiday.

Swim Through Durdle Door

A visit to Lulworth Cove gives you the opportunity to swim underneath the magnificent limestone arch known as Durdle Door. You're likely to need a wetsuit as the water drops away sharply from the (pebble) beach and stays on the chilly side all year around, but floating on your back as you look up at the arch is amazing.

Clouds Hill

Thomas Hardy isn't the only British author associated with Dorset. T.S. Lawrence, the author, explorer, army officer, and archaeologist who was also known as Lawrence of Arabia, found peace and solitude at Clouds Hill. The National Trust maintain Lawrence's cottage almost as it was on the day he was killed in a motorbike accident as he was going home, and it is lovely in its simplicity.

Evening Hill

Pack a picnic, a bottle of something cold or a flask of something hot, and a blanket for sitting, and walk to the top of Evening Hill. The views across Poole Harbour towards Brownsea Island and Sandbanks are second to none. Take some photos then put your camera away and enjoy the pleasure of the changing light at either sunrise or sunset.

Harry Paye Day

Poole celebrates its most infamous pirate, Harry Paye, in a huge annual celebration where everyone dresses up as pirates and raises money for charity. It is held each year in June, so look up the date and factor it into your holiday plans if possible.

Chocolate box charm

With a view that lays claim to being England's most romantic, Gold Hill should be on anyone's itinerary when visiting Dorset. Having one of the country's most quintessential English street scenes, this picturesque cobbled street is a jewel in Shaftesbury's crown. Often referred to as 'Hovis Hill', Gold Hill has unsurprisingly got a number of claims to fame with its biggest being the the country's most popular advertisement ever, made by Hovis.

Last Minute Offers in Dorset

Thinking of a break in Dorset? Let us tempt you with a selection of our best last minute offers. Remember, we don't charge a booking fee, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Did you know?

Dorset has some of the quirkiest place names in England. Make a detour to Pig Bush, the River Piddle, Scratchy Bottom, and Old Harry's Rocks.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is quite a sight to behold. Created by cutting a turf outline and filling it in with chalk, the naked man dates to at least the late 1600s. The outlines are remarked by locals every twenty years or so. The figure, including his club, is 210 feet high.

Beach lovers started shaking their piggy banks with glee in January 2011 when it was rumoured that West Dorset District Council was putting Eype Beach up for sale for just £1. Unfortunately, the rumour was a misunderstanding, but you might want to start saving your pennies just in case this stretch of Jurassic Coast ever goes on the market.

Enid Blyton set many of her Famous Five books around Purbeck. Blyton fell in love with Dorset in the early 1930s, and keen readers may recognise descriptions of Blyton's fictional places as Corfe Castle (Kirrin Castle) and Brownsea Island (Whispering Island).

Contemporary celebrities with roots in Dorset include actor and writer Sir Julian Fellowes, Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards, comedian Alan Carr, and actor Martin Clunes.

Nearly half of Dorset is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while yet more is protected as part of the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site.