The Best Places to Visit in Dorset
From the dramatic Jurassic Coast to ancient woodlands and lovely little villages, Dorset has it all.
Ahh Dorset, the jewel of southwest England. Many of you might fondly recall summer holidays spent here eating picnics in the car while it rained cats and dogs at the beach. And while the weather in England is still impossible to depend on, the fact remains that the natural splendour and charm of Dorset is worth the risk of a spontaneous shower.
The Jurassic Coast
Explore 185 million years – or roughly the age you feel after a dinner at your in-laws – of Earth’s history along the beautiful Jurassic Coast, which stretches across 95 miles of Dorset and East Devon. Recognised by UNESCO for its incredible geology, you'll fall in love with the natural beauty of this place – not to mention your kids will love you for providing them with a true treasure trove of Instagram content and TikTok backgrounds.
Both fun and educational for the win, don’t forget to explain to your littles ones that the cliffs here contain a multitude of fossils and rock formations showing millions of years of geological history. Don’t miss Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch over the sea that looks like it came out of an episode of Game of Thrones. In an even more GoT-esque plot point, it turns out that this geological treasure – though open to the public – is actually part of the 12,000-acre estate of an old English gentry family who descend from an Anglo-Saxon magnate called Eadric the Wild. Take that, Jon Snow.
Another Jurassic Coast must-see which certainly should make your list of places to visit in Dorset is Old Harry. Part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and managed by the National Trust, the chalk formations rising from the sea are widely coined Old Harry’s Rocks, but the actual name Old Harry refers to the one single stack of chalk which is furthest out to sea. Until 1896 there was another stack known as Old Harry’s Wife, but alas erosion caused her to crumble into the sea, or at least that’s what Old Harry wants us to believe.
For another dose of splendid nature consider exploring the expansive Cranborne Chase. This nationally designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty spans 380 square miles of countryside overlapping Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset. There's a richly diverse landscape to explore here, from ancient woodlands to chalk hills. Learn your bird calls alongside your mini-yous and make memories with a photoshoot worthy of next year’s Christmas card.
Nearby on the banks of the rivers Stour and Allen, the picturesque market town of Wimborne Minster is brimming with character, great pubs and an interesting history to talk about over a roast. Be sure to visit the famed Minster church, art deco theatre and local indoor market. The church houses a chained library dating back to 1686, a relic of the Middle Ages when books held so much value they were kept chained to the wall. History
nerds buffs will appreciate the oldest text, a book from 1343 explaining how to evade spiritual pitfalls (might be a good one for your oldest if we’re being honest).
Venture further east to Christchurch which boasts a picturesque harbour, two castles, an 11th century Priory Church, Saxon mill, medieval bridge and the historic site of a civil war siege dating back to 1645. When you’ve had enough learning for one day (or if the mere act of reading that list has already bored you) lay back and relax on one of the area’s six expansive beaches. For those who like their beach day a little more upmarket, hire some of Britain’s most expensive beach huts at Mudeford.
North Dorset and the Blackmore Vale
If you’re craving that down-home feeling after too many years spent commuting to the city, there are two things you must do. 1) Remember that job is the only reason you can take such a nice holiday in the first place (sorry, we know the truth hurts) 2) Make sure you make North Dorset and the Blackmore Vale one (or two) of your places to visit in Dorset. Quaint villages gently dot the unspoilt countryside and country pubs with delicious grub entice you in with their cosy charm. Between meals, enjoy family walks in the countryside – that's if you can get the kids off their phones. Then again, those phones will come in handy if you stumble on a field of bluebells.
Immerse yourself in the area’s heritage by visiting Iron Age hill forts Badbury Rings, Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill. Make sure you snap a few photos at Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street in the town of Shaftesbury hailed as one of the most romantic sights in England.
Shaftesbury is one of a handful of nearby market towns; Blandford and Sturminster Newton are also worth a stop. Think medieval landmarks, ancient buildings and hidden courtyards.
Weymouth and Portland
This beautiful area of southern Dorset offers a welcome contrast of chilled family beach days with a good dose of unapologetic nature.
In Weymouth, you can partake in classic British seaside fun with three miles of sandy beach, crazy golf, a fairground and everyone's favourite: donkey rides.
For a more rugged vibe, Portland is famous for its Olympic sailing waters and adventure sports. There is a lighthouse to climb and there are castles to be explored. Take note that the best photo opp in Dorset is probably the view of Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon from the top of the island.
Bournemouth and Poole
Add Bournemouth to your selection of places to visit in Dorset and you can spend your days on its seven miles of beach. With great restaurants, bars and shopping, this will be just the dose of cosmopolitan you need after a few days out in the wild. Check out Plum Guide's list of the best things to do in Bournemouth for more of this coastal town.
From there it’s easy to visit Poole, home to a picturesque harbor and award winning beaches, where you and the family can enjoy water sports or a fishing trip.