The county of Dorset, located in southwest England, is an ideal destination for visitors to the U.K. Known for its beaches and dramatic white cliffs, the coastal area has lots to see and do during all seasons of the year. It makes for an excellent day trip from England or a long weekend by the English Cahnnel. Whether you're looking for a low-key beach visit or you want to dig into the history of the region at places like Hardy's Cottage, Dorset has something for every traveler.
Swim at Weymouth Beach
Dorset has plenty of great beaches, but the beach in Weymouth is one of the most popular in the area—and for good reason. The long, curved beach was once popular with King George III, and today the sandy stretch borders the town's Esplanade. It's popular for swimming and water sports, and there's plenty of space to lay out in the sun during the summer months. Lifeguards patrol the beach from May through September, but it's also a nice spot for a walk during colder weather. Nearby, look for local restaurants, shops on the Weymouth High Street, many of which showcase the town's impressive Georgian architecture. Dogs are allowed on the beach in specific areas, so check ahead if you plan to bring a furry friend.
Walk the Jurassic Coast
Dorset's famous Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches about 95 miles along English Channel, from Exmouth to Studland Bay. There are tons of places to walk along the famed coast, both on the sandy beaches or atop the cliffs. The walks range in difficulty, but there's something for every type of traveler, including those with kids. A few of the most popular include Old Harry Rocks, which begins at Studland Bay, and a trek from Bowleaze Cove to Smuggler’s Inn, a historic pub. For something more challenging, kick things off in Worth Matravers and travel along to the rocky cliffs of St. Alban’s Head.
Explore Lyme Regis
The historic town of Lyme Regis is best known for its connection to Georgian fossil collector and paleontologist Mary Anning (who was recently the subject of the film "Ammonite"). The seaside town has generated lots of fossils, found in its cliffs and on its beaches, and today it's a nice resort area with quaint shops and restaurants. Don't miss the Lyme Regis Museum and the Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium, or opt to go on one of the fossil walks, where you can search out the ancient shells yourself. Book into the Dorset House Boutique B&B, a chic hotel, to stay a few days.
Marvel at Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove
Durdle Door may be Dorset's most famous natural attraction. The natural limestone arch is part of the Jurassic Coast and a must-see for many travelers to the area. Lulworth Cove is also well worth a visit where you can go swimming or pursue outdoor activities like mountain biking and sailing, or simply take a stroll around the coastal area to get a good glimpse of the sights. It can be very popular on hot days, particularly during summer weekends and bank holidays, so plan your trip accordingly. The beach is dog friendly and has available parking for a fee.
Go Wildlife Spotting on Brownsea Island
Hop on a ferry boat to Brownsea Island, the largest island in Poole Harbour. Now owned by the National Trust, the island is a great spot to see wildlife or go bird watching. Look for red squirrels, peacocks, and deer, and then spend some time exploring the island's beautiful lagoon. Camping overnight is allowed at the Outdoor Centre, open from April through September, and there are also regular activities for families and kids available for visitors. Travelers should park at Sandbanks to take the ferry across to Brownsea, which has a small entry fee. Wear sturdy shoes to explore the trails and bring along some rain gear just in case.
Go Back in Time at Hardy’s Cottage
Hardy's Cottage, a cob and thatch cottage, was the birthplace of English author Thomas Hardy. Visitors can explore the cottage and learn more about the writer's life (tickets are available at the Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre) and tour the adjacent Thorncombe Woods, a woodland and nature reserve. It's a nice spot to visit even if you aren't an avid reader of Hardy's work and especially if you're interested in 19th-century life. For those who are fans, it's particularly exciting to stand in the same spot where Hardy penned "Far from the Madding Crowd." The site also includes a cafe and a shop.
Hike Studland Nature Reserve
Studland Nature Reserve features 4 miles of beaches and heathland. Whether you want to swim in a peaceful cove or take a long hike through the nature reserve, it's a great spot for an outdoor day in Dorset. The best walk for families and kids is along a circular path through the dunes beginning at Knoll Beach. You can also opt for a longer hike that includes Old Harry, Purbeck Way, and Studland Beach to get a fuller look at the Jurassic Coast.
Tour the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
Head to the town of Bournemouth to visit the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, an opulent historic building filled with paintings and sculptures. It was once a private home and the museum was founded by owners Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes over a century ago. The couple gathered most of the museum's collection themselves, which means visitors can get a glimpse of what it was like to be a Victorian-era private collector. The museum is open select days of the week, so check its hours online before visiting. After your visit, head down the cliff to explore Bournemouth Beach.
Try Wine at English Oak Vineyard
England is not necessarily known for its vineyards, but Dorset is home to a few that make delicious sparkling wine. One of these is English Oak Vineyard, near Poole, which offers public vineyard tours and tastings on Fridays and Saturdays from June to September. Tours should be booked in advance by phone and you can also add on a vineyard picnic to your visit, which can be booked online.
Wander the Grounds of Historic Lulworth Castle
Lulworth Castle, owned by Lulworth Estate (which also owns Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove), makes for a nice day out when exploring Dorset. The 17th-century castle was originally a hunting lodge used for entertaining and was partially rebuilt after a fire in 1929. It's surrounded by vast parks, which visitors can walk around or picnic in during a visit. Don't miss the Castle Tearoom, where you can grab a snack or a souvenir. Lulworth is also home to the annual Camp Bestival, a music festival that also features DJs, comedians, and theater.