An extraordinary county that could easily be a contender for the most beautiful counties in the United Kingdom, Dorset is chock full of treasures and charms. The gorgeous scenery here ranges from unique rugged coastline and a mix of fossil-strewn and wide sandy beaches to post-card pretty historic coastal resorts, elegant stately homes, and fairy-tale castles. To help you know where to start, here are our favorite most beautiful places to visit in Dorset…
Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Dorset
When you are stood in front of the cliffs of the Jurassic coast you are literally getting a glimpse into the past. The beautiful rock formations, which are part of the UK’s only natural Unesco World Heritage site are an exquisite geological filing cabinet, strictly organised in date order. Aside from their beauty, they present an opportunity for a fun and interesting day out, fossil hunting in particular sets kid’s imaginations alight (and is super pretty fun too)!
Find a fossilised Ichthyosaur bone, then try getting your head around the fact that you will more than likely be the first living thing to touch it for 90 million years! Durdle Door is a particularly popular and picturesque spot, again time has shaped it into something remarkable with caves and stacks carved by the action of the sea over millennia. Lulworth Cover – another very beautiful place to visit in Dorset – is just around the corner. It’s a geologically formed blue lagoon, with crystal clear and calm water and a sandy shore, spend the day or just stop for a quick bite to eat and take in the incredible views.
Bournemouth Beach – a gorgeous long sandy beach and a must-see attraction in Dorset
Bournemouth beach offers all you would expect from a UK trip to the seaside and more. It is unique in that, depending on where you go, you can go for a good old fashioned walk along the pier with a bag of chips, or head slightly further East away from the summer crowds and experience near solitude.
The stretch of coast enjoys some of the warmest waters in the UK, making it perfect for a paddle or a dip. If the weather is nice and the crowds are a bit much, there are regular buses and a train service to other areas on the coast.
Corfe Castle – ruins that are one of Britain’s most iconic and evocative survivors of the English Civil
Laden with history, Corfe Castle has some stories to tell. Originally built by the Normans to keep tabs on the wayward surrounding population, you can’t help but laugh at the irony of it being eventually blown up by English Parliamentarians during the English civil war.
On the plus side, it makes for some dramatic photography, and sections of the castle still remain intact. Go for a stroll through the ruins, watch some falconry or a live re-enactment of some knights bashing each other with swords. There are frequent guided tours of the castle offered throughout the day.
Swanage – a very charming and popular seaside town with its own promenade and pier
If you want to be within striking distance of most Dorset attractions, Swanage offers the ideal base. A small and pretty coastal town packed with plenty of beachside charm, there are plenty of guesthouses catering to a variety of budgets.
If gastronomy is your thing then you will be spoiled for choice, whether it’s a tea (two sugars for us please!), and a slice of cake or a proper pub lunch and a pint, you’ll find something to suit. The beach in Swanage is quiet and sedate, with colourful beach huts available for daily hire.
Poole and Sandbanks – a quaint coastal town and a small peninsula blessed with beautiful sandy beaches
Giving validity to Dorset’s claim to be the ‘English Riviera’ Sandbanks is the most expensive real estate in the UK. But why splash that cash when you can get all the benefits by just visiting for the day? Sweeping sea views and a vibe more akin to the Hampton’s in the U.S, there’s a reason why quite a few high profile celebrities have houses here.
You won’t spot a pirate with an eye patch, but you might just spot Madonna! If you are feeling a bit nautical head down to the historic port in Poole harbour. Watch the boats, have a coffee and if you want to test your sea legs there are bookable excursions. In the height of summer, you can even go and catch your dinner on a Mackerel fishing charter boat.
Lyme Regis – a historic seaside town dubbed ‘The Pearl of Dorset’
Anywhere with ‘Regis’ in the title is bound to be a bit special, and Lyme Regis is certainly that. For the literary scholars amongst you, John Fowles based his romantic story ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ in Lyme Regis, a tale heavy with love and loss.
Indulge your inner Victorian by going for a romantic stroll along the famous Cob and relive the adventures of the protagonists, as you take in the sea air and enjoy the bleak beauty presented by the views from the impressive and foreboding sea wall. Due to its size, it’s generally quiet and secluded and it also makes a fabulous place to go fossil hunting – this area is famous for its geology, fossils, and its unparalleled role in the birth of the earth sciences.
Weymouth – a pretty seaside town in Dorset with sandy beach is dotted with colorful beach huts and backed by Georgian houses
Another stunning place to explore in Dorset, and there’s lots to see in do in Weymouth once you’re here. If you want to go for a spot of shopping there is a mixture of the usual high street stores, but also quaint winding alleys packed with tiny and unique boutiques. For the scholarly enthusiasts, it served as a major hub for the launch of the D-Day landings, with a museum giving detailed information.
If you don’t fancy either shopping or education, laze around on the beautiful award-winning sandy beach which is flanked by a magnificent Georgian seafront, sit on the marina and boat watch whilst eating fish and chips with your fingers, or head to one of the multitudes of trendy restaurants that are dotted about the town.
Sherborne – one of the most beautiful towns in England nestled in green valleys and wooded hills
A picture-perfect Dorset town, chances are if you watch any TV at all you will have seen something filmed here, and with good reason. It’s just like a postcard. With leaning Tudor beamed cottages mixed with gorgeous Georgian architecture, it is a feast for the eyes. ‘Wolf Hall’, ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, and ‘The Imitation Game’ were all shot on location in Sherborne.
The Abbey around which the town revolved in its early years is well worth a visit when in Dorset. For more classy architecture check out the Sherborne boys’ school. For those obsessed with spies and espionage, both John le Carre and Alan Turing have strong roots based firmly in Sherborne. Aside from the culture, it is a vibrant market town with great choices of food stalls, pubs, cafes, independent shops, and restaurants.
Studland Nature Reserve – a glorious slice of coastline backed by heaths, wetlands and woodland
This stunning a national nature reserve is one of the most stunning places to explore in Dorset. Step back ever so slightly from the coastline and you can find an amphitheatre of natural life. Studland nature reserve is a dune area just behind the beach coastline. It has designated trails through which you can take a stroll. Bring your binoculars and there’s more than ample opportunity to spot deer and various migratory species of birds.
Wildflowers grow here in abundance in the summer changing an otherwise healthy landscape into a miasma of colour. If you’ve walked and seen your fill of nature, head on over the dunes to Knoll beach. It’s not commercial and you find an ice cream van in sight, but what you will find is four miles of white sand, shallow water, and a wonderful slice of peace and serenity.
West Bay – a picturesque small harbour resort where the popular TV series Broadchurch was filmed
Framed by stunning sandstone cliffs, West Bay presents a happy medium between the bustle of Bournemouth Beach and the solitude offered by Knoll beach. The beaches aren’t sandy, but covered in a sloping layer of shingle. Separated into east and west. To the east, Chesil beach is famous for good quality fishing and deep water so if you enjoy wetting a line bring your rod.
West Beach is more suited to families, with groynes and relatively shallow water you can splash and bask to your heart’s content. If lounging isn’t active enough, enjoy a walk up to the top of the cliffs for breathtaking views. With adequate facilities including parking, West Bay is super easy to get to for a day trip. For our eagle-eyed readers you’ll more than likely spot a bit that’s familiar as West bay is one of the areas in which ITV’s ‘Broadchurch’ is filmed.
Kingston Lacy – a stunning country house and a popular place to visit in Dorset
After getting a bit miffed at Oliver Cromwell for blowing up the family castle, the Bankes family decided to build this beautiful country mansion in the 17th century. Fortunately, they also included an 8500-acre country estate, so you’ll have plenty of room!
Aside from its decadence the house offers the opportunity to see some classical artwork by some serious art heavyweights, the opulence is impressive, and only added to when you discover that the house also holds a huge collection of Egyptian artifacts collected in the 18th century by the heir of the house. The gardens are also eclectic and a sight to behold. The Japanese gardens make an ideal venue for a spot of tea, or take a walk in the nearby woods.
The Blue Pool – a beautiful natural place to explore in Dorset
If you’re tired of dusting sand out of your flip flops, or have firmly decided that you’ve stooped for your last fossil, why not head inland and check out the Blue Pool? As the name suggests the Blue pool is a lake, located in woodland some 20 minutes to the northwest of Swanage.
It is a geological gem, minerals suspended in the spring-fed lake refract the light at different wavelengths so the lake changes colour dependant on the ambient light. Dependant on how active you are feeling there are colour coded trails, graded by difficulty, allowing you to roam the pool and it’s beautiful surrounding area.
Highcliffe Castle – a beautiful historic building situated high on the cliffs in Dorset
This castle gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘popping into Selfridge’s’. The owner of the famous department store and his family resided here for a while. Whilst called a ‘castle’ it is not of the same variety as ‘Corfe’. It was built in the mid-1800s.
Once you have taken in the Gothic architecture, the gardens surrounding the castle make an ideal venue for a picnic. The surrounding parkland has designated trails for rambling… (or walking off the scones and Victoria sponge you’ve just inhaled in the garden)!
Bridport – an attractive and lively market town and a fabulous place to visit in Dorset
Steeped in nearly 800 years of naval tradition Bridport positively sweats coastal appeal twinned with a cafe culture. If we told you it has been dubbed ‘Notting Hill on Sea’ you’ll get the idea. If it’s a rainy day you can pay a visit to one of the numerous rope museums that the town was famous for.
Along with West Bay, Bridport was another location used for filming Broadchurch and has attracted a lot of attention as a result. If you’ve reached the end of your tether with rope, or are feeling a bit frayed at the edges you can pay a visit to many of the numerous pubs and restaurants to sample some local fare… and yes, by ‘fare’ we do mean a pint of locally brewed ale, go on treat yourself.
Brownsea Island – the largest of the islands in Poole Harbour and a stunning place to explore in Dorset
What’s better than walking around a nature reserve? Well, hows about a walk around a nature reserve combined with a boat trip? Being an island (the clue is in the name) means that Brownsea is only accessible by ferry. As it is removed from the mainland it offers a few rare treats.
Take a picnic and make your way around one of the nature trails, to see if you can spot a red squirrel. There’s a fair bit of heritage inherent in Brownsea island too. Baden Powell, the founder of the boy scouts, first launched his concept here. This of course means there’s plenty to do for younger adventurers too, including climbing, kayaking and archery. For the history buffs, you can still find evidence of the islands forage into ceramics scattered by Pottery Pier (again the clue is in the name), along with the remnants of the village that used to house those employed in the industry.
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