A beautiful coastal county in the south of England, Dorset is chock full of wonderful things to do, places to visit and attractions to enjoy.
From historic castles to great hikes, stunning beaches to quaint villages, Dorset makes for a perfect holiday destination, especially from London, as you can reach it in just a couple of hours.
With rolling countryside and beautiful blue coastal water, this gorgeous region makes the ideal escape away from the city and even just a weekend here will leave you feeling refreshed.
However while a weekend is a good start, you’ll probably need a bit longer to enjoy everything on this list, because this mammoth compilation of 21 great places to visit in Dorset is going to keep you entertained for quite a while…
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#1 Visit Corfe Castle
Coming in at number one, it’s an absolute English and National Trust classic.
Corfe Castle, near Swanage, has some gorgeous walks around, including the Purbeck Ridge, but the castle grounds, along with the incredibly cute model village nearby, make this a fantastic day out.
With tons of English history to learn as part of the displays at the castle, it’s really the views as you climb to the top that made it for me.
#2 Walk to Old Harry Rocks
And if we’re talking about views, then it’s hard to find a better place to visit in Dorset than Old Harry Rocks.
An incredible geological formation found in Studland, walking out to these dramatic cliffs to take in the sea air and snap the drama of this spot is something that can’t be missed when you visit Dorset.
#3 Head to Studland
And more broadly than Old Harry Rocks, there’s a whole load of beauty to take in on Studland, that you’ve definitely got to visit this area of Dorset more broadly.
From stunning beaches, like Knoll Beach, through to the dramatic hiking along the Southwest Coastal Path and even the cute village of Studland itself, if you’re after a treat, then the Pig on the Beach is the perfect excuse to do just that!
#4 Swing by Swanage
And just down the road, the town of Swanage in east Dorset is another must-visit location.
An old town with loads seaside charm, including donkey rides, steam train rides and top fishing opps, it’s really the amazing sandy beach strip that people come here to visit.
The gardens at the end of the beach, and the view they give over the town and the coast really are delightful, and you shouldn’t miss Swanage Pier or Durlston Country Park National Nature Reserve while you’re down this way either.
Learn more in my list of the top 10 things to do in Swanage.
#5 Delight in Abbotsbury Abbey
And now we swing to the other end of the county and west Dorset, as it’s time to bring the beautiful, historic village of Abbotsbury onto this list.
Honestly, things don’t get more quintessential than this gem and its chocolate-box appearance thanks to the beautiful thatched-roof cottages, with their cute roses climbing up the façade and classic English gardens infront.
Some of the most photographic cottages in the county are complemented here by an array of cute, independent shops and tearooms, alongside a number of churches, a hillfort and some beautiful walks.
Having inspired the famous English writer Thomas Hardy, it’s the Abbey and nearby St Catherine’s Chapel that really sets this place apart however and definitely makes it one of the best places to visit in Dorset.
Both are run by English Heritage and should not be missed!
#6 Tick Durdle Door Off Your List!
And another Dorset gem that should certainly not be missed is the UNESCO-listed wonder of Durdle Door.
A huge natural arch formed at the foot of some step cliffs due to coastal erosion, this iconic sight is one of the most familiar in the UK and if you’re looking to tick off some bucket list classic while you’re in Dorset, this is the one!
With beautiful beaches around, as well as some great clifftop walking care of the Southwest Coastal Path, there’s tons to do around Durdle Door too, which means it’s easy to make a day out of it.
A large paid car park allows you to do that with ease, but do beware of the steep walk to get down to the beach and back!
#7 Discover Lulworth Cove
And talking of walks, one of the best you can enjoy in Dorset, in my opinion, is the walk between Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.
Taking in some of the most beautiful scenery on the Southwest Coastal Path, this is a great walk, that shouldn’t take you longer than an hour, but allows you to marvel at 2 great Dorset icons.
Parking at Durdle Door is my advice – there’s more space – and then head across on the well-marked clifftop trail to Lulworth Cove.
Here you can snap this gorgeous circular bay to your heart’s content, before grabbing an ice cream or vegan sorbet before you retrace your steps.
#8 Rockpool at Kimmeridge Bay
And if you’re into coves, then checking out nearby Kimmeridge Bay is another must when it comes to places to visit in Dorset.
Located just east of Lulworth Cove, Kimmeridge is famous for its rockpools, which provide some great snorkelling, surfing and windsurfing opportunities.
A Marine Special Area of Conservation, head to the Wild Seas Centre to learn more about this landscape and its ecosystem, before scaling up to Clavell Tower that overlooks the bay for some great views.
There is some parking at Kimmeridge, but you have to pay via a toll road to get down into the bay, so this one is probably best accessed on foot or by bike if you can.
#9 Watch Sunset from Swyre Head
The top sunset-watching spot in Dorset in my opinion, Swyre Head is an elevated hilltop located just near Kimmeridge.
Walk here from Kimmeridge, before the sun goes down – perhaps with a small picnic packed – and then enjoy the colour display in front of you as the light fades and shimmers over the landscape and coast.
#10 Check Out the Isle of Portland
Now it’s time to continue westwards along the Dorset Coast as I bring you the next entry on this list of the best places to visit in Dorset.
Hanging off the town of Weymouth and suspended in the sea like a teardrop, the Isle of Portland is a glorious nature reserve where you can enjoy some epic walking right on the edge of England.
Wild and natural, quaint and isolated, it’s not just the rugged beauty you’ll be amazed at here, but also the history with castles, museums and lighthouses all waiting to be explored and their hidden takes of smugglers and pirates just waiting to be discovered.
#11 Day Trip to Weymouth
But now for something a bit more on the beaten track, we head to the Dorset town of Weymouth, which is situated just above the Isle of Portland.
Famous for its golden sandy beaches, which have Blue Flag status, the pretty harbour here and safe, shallow swimming waters make this a firm favourite with families.
The sailing and other water sports add to the action, or you can hire a classic deckchair and just relax with an ice cream on the beach.
#12 Stroll Bournemouth Pier
Another of Dorset’s top towns, and another family classic down in these parts, it’s the beautiful beachside spot of Bournemouth.
With some superb beaches, a bustling student community, beautiful gardens, as well as some top museums and galleries, it’s really the historic pier that seals it for me.
A retro-classic, lined with arcades and attractions, this is British seaside kitsch at its best!
#13 Fossil Find in Lyme Regis
And at number 13 on this list, we come to another great Dorset town, this time the most westerly one of Lyme Regis.
Famous for its fossil-collecting possibilities, this historic gem (it’s actually mentioned in the ancient Doomsday Book) is located in the heart of Jurassic Coast.
There’s so much to enjoy in Lyme Regis, but the jewel in its crown has to be the gorgeous harbour known as The Cobb, which has acted as a refuge since 1313 – don’t miss it!
#14 Browse Bridport
And also over in the west of Dorset, Bridport is a lovely market town filled with a cultural and creative community.
Charming and quaint, the cute independent shops and cafes of this place make it an excellent stop on a road trip or between sightseeing destinations if you’re looking to refresh and re-energise.
Regular farmer’s, vintage, vinyl, artisan and antique markets add to the offering here, as does the local Palmers Brewery and the iconic Art Deco cinema – The Electric Palace.
#15 Eat at Rick Stein’s
And now at the other end of the cultural spectrum, Sandbanks near Poole is one of the most elite places to live in the UK.
Boasting some of the most expensive coastal properties in the country, you should nevertheless take a trip to Sandbanks to just spot them!
If you’re up for even more of a special day here, then the beach is gorgeous, and there’s plenty of bouji places to treat yourself for lunch too… not least Rick Stein’s – a classic round in these here parts!
#16 Explore Brownsea Island
One of Dorset’s most magical spots in my opinion, Brownsea Island provides a unique sort of getaway.
As I was born on a tiny island, I’m always a fan, and Brownsea does not disappoint.
Managed and preserved by the National Trust, this island is known for its wildlife and is a great place to spot deer and red squirrel.
National Trust members can enter for free, but the island is only open during the summer season and you’ll need to catch a ferry here from Poole Quay if you want to enjoy it.
Day trips are possible, but to get the full experience, hitting up the campground here and staying overnight is a must.
#17 Snap Burton Bradstock & Hive Beach
Another beautiful place to visit in Dorset is the twin destination of Burton Bradstock and Hive Beach.
The latter is one of my fav strips of sand to hit up in Dorset (the café is also awesome!) and the former is one of the best and most beautiful Dorset villages going!
And that’s saying something, because the competition here is fierce!
The iconic cliffs around, and the great walking opps only add to the charm and there’s some brilliant seafood eateries here too for all you foodies.
#18 Go Back in Time at Kingston Lacy
Another National Trust classic – Kingston Lacy is a stunning historic mansion that sits in the middle of the Dorset countryside.
Built in the style of a Venetian palace, this place has to be seen to be believed and, luckily, if you’re an NT member, you can do so for free.
Yes, if you hadn’t guessed already, buying a membership if you plan to spend any time in Dorset is certainly a good idea!
With amazing gardens, meadows and heathlands outside to incredible rooms, opulent furniture and marvellous artwork inside, Kingston Lacy is a historic family home that has to be seen to be believed!
#19 Walk on Chesil Beach
Ah Chesil Beach!
As a literature student, I was first made aware of this huge shingle barrier thanks to Ian McEwan’s famous novel, which meant when I finally got to visit Dorset, I knew I had to come down here!
At 18km long, this is a pretty impressive natural spectacle, which is as wild and rugged as it sounds.
Head here for some alone time, some seriously moody walking and a load of artistic, melancholic inspiration!
#20 Hit West Bay
Very close to Bridport – just 1.5km away in fact – West Bay is so beautiful however, I thought it worthy of its own entry on this list of the best places to visit in Dorset.
Made famous as the filming location of the great British TV drama Broadchurch, this stunning cliff-backed stretch of beach is flanked by a cute harbour and can be reached from Bridport via a 20 minute stroll.
With a cute country town and an epic coastal spot both on offer, this makes for an epic combination!
West Bay is also to the start of the so-called Jurassic Coast, which is UNESCO listed, so fossil hunting is a great thing to do here.
You can also enjoy coastal and countryside walks, fishing trips, scuba diving, paragliding, golfing and river boating in and around West Bay, which is just 20 minutes on foot (or a short bus ride) from Bridport.
#21 Wildlife Spot at Mudeford Sandbank
I haven’t touched on Christchurch much on this list, but tucked over in the east of Dorset, basically nudging the New Forest in Hampshire, Mudeford Sandbank is the jewel in this area’s crown.
A unique sand spit and a designated Site of Nature Conservation Interest, this feature creates a beautiful natural barrier between Christchurch Harbour and the open ocean and is home to some of the UK’s rarest species of reptiles, birds and insects.
Accessible via bike foot, land train or ferry, the best place to head for is Hengistbury Head car park, from where you can pick up one of the first 3 options.
Passenger ferries depart from Mudeford Quay and Christchurch Quay and when you’ll arrive you’ll be greeted by a long strip of beautiful white sand.
Entrance to the spit is free – hoorah!
Top Dorset Travel Tips
When to Visit Dorset?
There’s no question the best time to visit Dorset in my opinion is between the months of June and September when the weather is at its driest, sunniest and warmest.
Not only does this make for a more pleasant travel experience, but the better weather at this time of year will also allow you to enjoy more of the region’s beautiful landscapes too – whether that’s walking, cycling or hitting up the coast.
Within the summer months, do remember that the school holidays and sunny weekends will be by far the busiest months down here, so if you want to get the best prices or the thinnest crowds, it’s probably best to avoid these times!
As an FYI, I visited Dorset in mid-April and experienced idyllic weather that saw me hiking, beaching and sightseeing under brilliant blue skies every day, but this isn’t a given!
How to Get to Dorset?
Situated in the south of England, Dorset’s main town is Bournemouth and this place has the most regular train connections from London, along with frequent services from the nearby coastal cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.
Otherwise, the larger Dorset towns of Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Poole, Weymouth and Swanage also boast train stations and you can choose between them depending on where you are coming from and where you are basing yourself when you’re down here.
Regardless of which station you choose to arrive at, my top tip is to use Trainline to find the cheapest deals on rail tickets across the UK, as these guys use split-fare technology to get you the best prices.
Booking in advance with Trainline can throw up some surprisingly cheap fares, especially as this site also allows you to easily compare routes and journey times.
Alternatively, you can drive to Dorset – this will grant you the most flexibility when you are down in this rural county, especially if you are planning to hike and sightsee off the beaten track.
If you don’t have a car, you may consider renting one and I highly recommend Discover Cars for the job, as they offer some super deals on short-term hires and are very reputable.
Learn more about how to score a great deal when renting a car in the UK using these handy top 12 tips I swear by!
How to Get Around Dorset?
There’s no doubt that the easiest way to explore Dorset is via 4 wheels, however there are several good bus services (especially in the summer) that can help you get around if you don’t have a vehicle.
The Jurassic Coaster and Purbeck Breezer buses are probably the most useful for beach go-ers, especially those who want to enjoy parts of the Southwest Coast Path.
These tourist-friendly routes are also ideal for those who just plan to sightsee, and sitting on their top deck sure does give some epic views!
Learn more about the Purbeck Breezer here.
If you don’t want to catch public transport, then cycling is also an option for getting around Dorset.
Although there are some designated trails, as well as calm and quiet country roads to enjoy, do beware there’s plenty of hills too!
Where to Stay in Dorset?
Bournemouth, Weymouth and Lyme Regis all have a heap of accommodation options.
However, Swanage would be my pick when it comes to a quieter beachside place to base yourself.
It’s just so beautiful there, and so near to many of Dorset’s best beaches and attractions, that it’s hard to pass up!
When it comes to accommodation in Swanage, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the YHA Swanage, which has both private rooms and dorms.
For something more suited to groups looking for some self-catering accommodation, this Shepherd’s House, also in Swanage, is a top-rated 2 bedroom house that gets regular rave reviews thanks to its excellent comfort, cleanliness and location.
Just down the road, The Bear Hotel, in Wareham offers lovely double and family rooms with an onsite bar, restaurant and a charming boutique feel.
Otherwise, over in West Dorset, the wonderful Pumpkin View Cottage is the perfect Airbnb spot for 1-2 travellers near Dorcester. The owners are delightful and the property is beautifully peaceful and clean.
5 Packing Essentials for Dorset
#1 Walking Shoes – I highly recommend these lightweight and comfortable ones from North Face, which are perfect for the job, with a great level of support for those clifftop ascents!
#2 Waterproof, Windproof Jacket – Bringing a good waterproof and windproof jacket with you, no matter when you’re coming, is just plain sensible!
#3 Swimwear & Towel – I thoroughly recommend taking swimwear and a travel towel with you, especially if you’re coming in the summer!
#4 Camera – I love my Sony A6000, which never leaves my side during my travel adventures.
#5 Portable Charger – Come armed with 2 fully charged Anker portable chargers, so you can fire up your phone, camera or other devices whenever and wherever you need.
Where To Head After Dorset?
If Dorset has wet your appetite to explore more of the south of the UK (and who can blame you?!), then you’ll be glad to know it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to several other stunning areas around.
To the south, the wonderful Isle of Wight can easily be accessed by ferry and offers more great walking and glamping opportunities. Learn more in this list of the top things to do on the Isle of Wight.
Otherwise, to the west you have Devon and all the coastal hiking wonders this county provides or, to the east, the magnificent New Forest provides loads of great walks and cycling opps, as well as some fab pubs too!
Alternatively, to the north, the county of Somerset with the magnificent Cheddar Gorge and historic icons of Glastonbury and Wells shouldn’t be missed. Check out my list of the top 10 things to do in Somerset for more ideas.
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So there you have it, my list of the top 21 places to visit in Dorset!
Have you been to any of these before?
Which was your favourite?
Or have I missed your top pick out?
Please join the conversation in the comments box below…