England’s Jurassic Coast is a 95-mile-long stretch of coastline that dates back hundreds of millions of years. It has some of the oldest rock features on Earth, including wave-beaten sea arches, fossilized forests, even dinosaur footprints. Beautiful as well as ancient, colossal cliffs rise from the sea, waves crash against vast columns of rock, and the water is an otherworldly turquoise blue. A magnet for walkers, adventurers, and nature lovers, the coastline can be explored on foot, by bus, car, boat or even kayak, while staying in thatch-roofed pubs and bed and breakfasts owned by welcoming locals.
Hunt for Fossils
Millions of years ago, the Jurassic Coast was a huge tropical sea teeming with marine life, and plenty of it remains today in the form of fossils, which can be found all over the beaches between Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Spend even a short time looking and you might come across a perfectly spiraling ammonite, or a rock full of pretty, star-shaped sea-lilies.
The Charmouth Heritage Coast Center organizes guided fossil walks year-round and has exhibitions and staff who can point out what to look for. The Lyme Regis Museum also runs fossil walks, as does local geologist Chris Pamplin. If you’d rather venture out on your own, make sure to follow the Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct, and don’t stand or sit under cliffs as erosion can cause landslides.
Visit Lulworth Cove
Sheltered and picturesque, Lulworth Cove has been a tourist destination since Victorian times. It’s one of the best, and busiest places on the Jurassic Coast for a family day out. There’s plenty to do, whether you want to relax on the pretty beach, enjoy a pint in one of the old pubs or take the steep path from the car park for a bird’s eye view of the Durdle Door sea arch, half a mile west of the cove. The Lulworth Rangers run activities throughout the year, from coasteering to rock pooling and even bat safaris.
The visitor center has some informative displays about the cove’s geology, a shop selling gifts and foodie products, and a cafe. It’s also where to find out about the tide times, hiking trails, and wildlife that has been spotted recently in the area. For a less crowded experience, avoid weekends.
Have a Coastal Adventure
The Jurassic Coast is a superb destination for coastal activities. The rock-strewn coastline is full of ledges, caves and tunnels, making it one vast adventure playground. Many unique features can only be seen from the water—fossilized trees between the rocks at Stair Hole, ammonites half a meter wide at Lulworth.
Several companies organize outdoor activities in the area. One of the best is Jurassic Coast Activities, whose guides have plenty of local knowledge. As well as kayaking and coasteering trips (which require a minimum of two people), they offer windsurfing, kitesurfing, and paddleboard lessons, and have an equipment hire center at Bowleaze Cove.
Take a Look at the Cerne Giant
The Cerne Giant is a 60-meter-high chalk figure carved into the hillside above the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas. Naked (and with some very conspicuous anatomy), the famous landmark is thought by some to be a 2,000-year-old fertility symbol, while others believe it was created just a few hundred years ago. The mystery is set to be solved in 2020 when the giant is due to be carbon dated. For the best view, head to the viewing point and car park. There are lovely walks in the area, and the village of Cerne Abbas has several old pubs.
Look Around Lyme Regis
The most vibrant town on the Jurassic Coast is Lyme Regis. Charming and arty, it has indie shops and artisan cafes plus an excellent museum, where you can learn the story of Mary Anning, the intrepid fossil hunter who made astonishing finds in the area. The town beach is a sheltered spot for kayaking and paddle boarding. Walk along the Cobb, the 450-year-old harbor wall built to protect the town from raging winter storms, which is a great spot for taking photos.
Behind the seafront, the Town Mill is also worth a visit. Restored by residents, the 700-year-old watermill is now a working flour mill, offering tours, baking courses, and selling its own flour. Old buildings have been turned into shops, studios for a silversmith and potter, and there’s also a cafe and friendly micro-brewery.
Tour an Historic Brewery
Beer lovers visiting the Jurassic Coast have plenty to get excited about. The area boasts not one but two historic breweries, both of which open their doors to the public, offering tours, tastings, and more.
Founded in 1777, Hall and Woodhouse has been making their Dorset-inspired beers, which you can find in pubs all over the Jurassic Coast, for centuries. They run two-hour tours of their brewery in the village of Blandford St. Mary. Visitors get to see all aspects of the brewing process, and a complimentary beer at the end.
Palmers Brewery in Bridport has been operating from the same thatch-roofed building since 1794. If you're interested in the history of brewing, then their tour is a must—much of the original equipment is on display, and some of it, like the copper brew kettle, is still in use today. Tours run from April to October, and you'll need to book in advance.
Try the Local Seafood
Nearly 50 different types of fish and shellfish can be found in the waters off the Jurassic Coast, so it's no surprise that the area boasts some fabulous seafood restaurants.
The Crab House Café, a restaurant in an unassuming looking cabin that looks out on Chesil beach, has fans all over the world and has won a multitude of awards. The seafood is as fresh as it gets; the menu changes daily depending on what is brought in from local boats, and oysters are grown in the restaurant's own oyster farm.
One of a small chain of restaurants on the South coast, Rockfish, in Weymouth, is the brainchild of restaurateur and chef Mitch Tonks. Inspired by the local fish restaurants in Portugal and Italy, the affordable menu includes fish grilled on a Mediterranean plancha or cooked in their signature batter (of which there is a rare gluten-free version).
High on a hill above Lyme Regis, the Hix Oyster and Fish House is blessed with stunning views of the harbor and the sea. According to chef and owner Mark Hix, the restaurant is all about fresh seafood caught locally and served simply. Choose from as many as ten different types of fish and shellfish on the menu, as you enjoy the view from the beautiful outdoor terrace.
Learn to Sail
Portland Harbor and Weymouth Bay are known as two of the best places in the U.K. for sailing and were the locations of the 2012 London Olympics sailing events. Weymouth Sailing offers lessons to everyone from beginners to experienced yachtspeople, as well as charter trips to Lulworth Cove, Portland Bill, and Chesil Beach. For a sailing trip with a difference, spend a few hours aboard the Moonfleet, a classic tall ship, owned by the inspiring Jeremy Hallett, who sails it every day—weather permitting—often anchoring in one of the bays east of Lulworth, so passengers can lunch and even have a swim. Those that want to can have a go at sailing and steering the ship themselves.
Wander Through Hardy Country
Thomas Hardy’s novels teem with references to places along the Jurassic Coast, from the bleak expanse of the ‘Great Heath’ to the town of Casterbridge (otherwise known as Dorchester). The writer lived and died in the area, in properties only a few miles apart. You can visit the humble thatched cottage where he was born near the village of Higher Bockhampton, which has been restored to how it would have looked during his lifetime. You can also visit Max Gate, the Victorian house where he enjoyed the fruits of his success as a novelist and poet—and where he died in 1928.
Explore Kimmeridge Bay
Around a 20-minute drive east of Lulworth Cove is Kimmeridge Bay, where flat rocky ledges which were part of the seabed 155 million years ago create the best rock pooling and snorkeling conditions on the Jurassic Coast. By the slipway in Kimmeridge Bay, the Fine Foundation Wild Seas Center is a small visitor center that runs events like beachcombing walks and a few years back, created a snorkeling trail, which guides you through forests of seaweed, as you spot unusual species of fish like Montagu’s Blennies. In the village of Kimmeridge, the Etches Collection is a fascinating small museum run by life-long fossil hunter Steve Etches, housing many of his rare finds from the area, including dinosaur skulls and ammonite eggs.
Discover Hidden Beaches
The Jurassic Coast is blessed with miles of sand, from the picturesque Lulworth Cove to the bare, windswept expanse of Chesil beach. But the real joy comes from finding secluded beauty spots—of which there are plenty. Here are three worth seeking out:
- Church Ope Cove: On the east coast of the Isle of Portland, Church Ope Cove is a genuine hidden cove that was once a landing place for Vikings, smugglers, and even Russian spies. To reach it, take the path alongside Pennsylvania Castle, clamber through the ruined 12th-century churchyard, and then descend the hundred or so steps to the beach.
- Mupe Bay: Walk east from Lulworth Cove through the Lulworth Ranges for two miles, and you’ll reach Mupe Bay, one of the most beautiful places on the entire Jurassic Coast. Yachts frequently anchor in the horseshoe-shaped bay, which has dramatic grey and white mottled cliffs and clear, blue-green water.
- Ringstead Bay: Take the coast path from Osmington Mills to Ringstead Bay, a rocky beach where tiny fishing boats bob up and down, and locals take early-morning dips. This is a lovely place for a swim, but you’ll need water shoes as the pebbles are hard to walk on.
Walk the South West Coast Path
As long as you observe any warning signs and stay away from cliff edges, the South West Coast path is an absolute joy for walkers and runs the whole length of the Jurassic Coast from Exmouth to the Old Harry Rocks on the Isle of Purbeck. Here are three highlights:
- Osmington Mills to Lulworth Cove: This strenuous but rewarding 11-mile hike takes you up and down steep hills with bird’s eye views of the chalk-white cliffs and crashing waves below. As you approach Lulworth, you’ll also get an Instagram-worthy shot of the famous Durdle Door sea arch.
- Golden Cap: At 4.5 miles, this walk takes you from Seatown car park to the summit of Golden Cap, which has some of the best views anywhere along the Jurassic Coast, as well as through ancient woodland and a medieval hamlet.
- Isle of Portland: There isn’t much to do on the Isle of Portland unless you’re a nature lover—in which case, it’s a fantastic walking destination. You can circumnavigate the ‘island’ (a 13-mile trip) in around four hours, looking for skuas, hoopoes, and puffins on the cliffs as well as bottlenose dolphins and seals in the sea.