Things to do in Dorset
Dorset is situated on the south coast of England, between Devon in the west and Hampshire in the east - much of the County is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Few major roads run through the county, allowing Dorset to retain much of its rural character and charm.
Dorset is a delightful county, with a variety of contrasting landscapes, consisting of coastline with high cliffs, inland there are wooded hills and fertile valleys, rolling chalk hills and wild heath-land.
There are several interesting towns along the coast, starting in the east at Christchurch, a Saxon town on the estuaries of the Rivers Avon and Stour, with a picturesque harbour and magnificent 11th century Priory Church.
Bournemouth is a vibrant city, with beautiful sandy beaches, gardens, shopping, night life and entertainment for holiday makers. Poole has the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney - you can explore the old quarter by the quayside, with many historic buildings.
'The Isle of Purbeck' is a coastal peninsula below Pool harbour. The towns of Wareham, encircled by its original Saxon walls and home of the oldest church in Dorset, and Swanage, a seaside resort and home to the famous local Purbeck stone often referred to as 'marble', are worth visiting. Nearby, the historic village of Corfe Castle is a beauty spot not to miss.
Weymouth is a popular seaside town with many interesting family attractions. Bridport also has a Dorset Tourist Information centre - the town is known for rope and net making and still makes tennis nets for Wimbledon, the All England Tennis Club.
Portland is connected to the mainland by a causeway at the eastern end of Chesil Beach, a barren pebbled beach, stretching from Weymouth to Bridport. In the hills behind the Chesil Bank, the old village of Abbotsbury is famous for the 600 year old bird sanctuary, Abbotsbury Swannery. Portland is the origin of the stone used by Sir Christopher Wren for St. Paul's Cathedral and for the UN headquarters in New York.
West Dorset's coast is known as 'Jurassic Coast' - it has been awarded World Heritage Site status, and consists of rocks formed during the Jurassic Period. This 25 mile stretch is fossil hunting country, with the beaches around Charmouth and Lyme Regis being the best places to hunt for fossils. Call at the tourist information centre in Lyme Regis for a guide to the area.
Lyme Regis is a charming historic town set on cliffs overlooking a spectacular bay with a 13th century harbour known as 'The Cob'. On a visit to Lyme Regis, Jane Austen was inspired to make it the setting for 'Persuasion', it was also the setting for John Fowles book 'A French Lieutenants Woman'.
Inland, large areas of Dorset are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, such as the Blackmore Vale in the north of the County, a delightful rural area with a lush landscape, with many footpaths and bridal ways. The Dorset Downs in the centre of the County consists of chalk hillsides and, to the south, ancient woodland.
At Cerne Abbas, you can see the Cerne Abbas Giant, carved into the chalk hillside. Cranborne Chase, was once a royal hunting forest, where the deer can still be spotted and native wildlife and plants flourish.
Other towns of note include:
Blandford Forum - a gracious Georgian town on the banks of the River Stour, with a fine church and town hall and host to the Great Dorset Steam Fair each September.
Dorchester is the County town, where you can still see the remains of the original Roman town wall. Dorchester is at the heart of Thomas Hardy country - his birthplace at nearby Higher Brockhampton, and Max Gate, his home in the town, can both be visited.
Shaftsbury is a gem of a Saxon hill top town, founded by Alfred the Great. The Abbey ruins and herb gardens are open to the public. Gold Hill behind the town hall, is a steep cobbled street with tiny cottages, a quintessential English scene.
Sherborne, in the north of the County has a medieval high street, a superb 15th century Abbey and two castles.
Wimborne Minster is named for its Minster church, which is unique for having two towers, a lantern tower of the late Norman period, and a later western tower of the 15th century. Visit the miniature town with 300 model buildings.
Days out in Dorset
Abbotsbury Childrens Farm
The Children's Farm is a great place for under 11s to cuddle guinea pigs, ride ponies, race toy tractors and play in sand pits.
Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens
The Garden is now a mixture of formal and informal, with charming walled garden walks and spectacular woodland valley views.
For over 600 years this colony of friendly mute swans has made its home at the Abbotsbury Sanctuary. Sheltered by the famous Chesil Beach, this ancient and special site provides protection for hundreds of nesting swans and their broods.
Athelhampton House and Gardens
Considered one of the finest 15th century houses in England, Athelhampton delights visitors with its superbly furnished rooms. The gardens, dating from 1891, are full of vistas and gain much from the fountains and River Piddle flowing through.
Beaminster Museum is a local history museum covering Beaminster and the surrounding villages. Its collection covers past local families of importance, past local trades and schools and a fine collection of agricultural tools.
As an island nation we have a special fascination with islands and Brownsea Island is no exception.
In 1710 Thomas Archer was commissioned to build the existing Chettle House. The house has no corners, all corners are rounded in common with the Archer style similar to those at the Church in Smith Square in London.
Although it is a long way from Arabia, Clouds Hill was the simple Dorset home of writer and British Army Officer, T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Compton Acres invites you to escape to a different world. Twelve individual gardens in one, set in ten acres with spectacular views over Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island and the Purbeck Hills.
On the site of the ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset there once stood the most magnificent castle of Middle Age England. Even in its current ruined state it is very easy to imagine its former grandeur.
The Dinosaur Museum is Britain's original dinosaur museum solely devoted to dinosaurs and their prehistoric world.
Dorset County Museum
The Museum is housed in a beautiful, gothic-style building, which dates from 1881. It houses an array of fascinating galleries, dealing with a wide range of subjects from the natural sciences and geology to art, history and literature.
Durlston Country Park
Durlston is a fabulous 113 hectare (280 acre) countryside paradise, consisting of sea-cliffs, coastal limestone downland, haymeadows, hedgerows and woodland.
Edmondsham House and Gardens
Edmonsham House is a fine Tudor Manor House with Georgian additions, which has remained within the ownership of the same family since the sixteenth Century.
Golden Cap proudly stands as the highest point on England's south coast at 191m (626 feet) high, marked by a concrete survey point. The Golden Cap estate covers 2000 acres of National Trust parkland
Horn Park Gardens
The large and beautiful gardens, in a unique position and with magnificent views to the sea, surround the house built in 1911 by a pupil of Lutyens.
Kingston Lacy is a magnificent mansion with important collections, set in attractive formal gardens and parkland.
Hidden away in a quiet corner of east Dorset is the garden of internationally acclaimed plantsman Neil Lucas.Strolling around this secluded four-acre garden you'll discover rare and unusual trees and shrubs
Lulworth Castle and Park
Lulworth Castle was built between 1608 and 1610 and became the family home of Humphrey Weld when he purchased the estate in 1641. It was built primarily as a hunting lodge and has played host to a total of seven monarchs.
Lulworth Heritage Centre
A variety of displays illustrate the natural and social history of the area. A modern rocks gallery tells the story of Lulworth from 150 million years ago to the present day.
The Minterne Valley, landscaped in the manner of Capability Brown in the 18th century, has been the home of the Churchill and Digby families for over 350 years.
Discover one of Henry VIII's finest coastal fortresses - Portland Castle, perfectly preserved in a waterfront location overlooking Portland harbour.
The Museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, the Museum's first curator and famous birth control pioneer. It is housed in two thatched picturesque cottages, nestling above Church Ope Cove.
Priest's House Museum
The Priest's House is an historic town house dating from the 16th century. This Grade II* listed building retains many original architectural features.
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum
Today the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum is open to the public, including a wide range of schools, adult education, disabled people and community groups offering many activities and workshops.
The present Sherborne Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and has been the Stately Home of the Digby family since 1617.
Sherborne Museum, located in the heart of the town, is home to more than 15,000 items of local history. It's a fascinating treasure trove for anyone researching the town's past.
Sherborne Old Castle
Built by Bishop Roger of Salisbury in the 12th century as a strongly defended palace, Sherborne Old Castle became a powerful Royalist base during the Civil War.
Studland Beach and Nature Reserve
Studland Bay is a stunningly beautiful stretch of Dorset coastline near Swanage, part of which is owned by the National Trust.
The award-winning Swanage Railway currently operates on the six miles of track between Swanage and Norden, through the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, passing the magnificent ruins of Corfe Castle.
The Tank Museum brings the history of tanks and tank crew to life, supported by the world's best collection of tanks, and boasting action-packed live displays during school holidays.
The Keep Military Museum
A modern military museum which uses touch screen computers and creative displays to tell the stories of courage, humour, tradition and sacrifice of those who served in the regiments of Devon and Dorset for over 300 years.
Weymouth Sea Life Park
Experience an up close and personal look into the lifecycle of our Sharks. Observe how they develop from eggs into babies, then juveniles into adults.
Places to Visit in Dorset
The market town of Beaminster makes a charming place to shop, browse and sample local fare. Three times devastated by fire, this prosperous little town once thrived from wool cloth and sailcloth, sackcloth and shoe-thread, rope and twine.
Internationally renowned for being one of Europe's most fashionable resorts, Bournemouth attracts millions of visitors of all ages and nationalities each year
Bovington Camp is an active army base Dorset, situated between the towns of historic Dorchester and Poole.
Bridport was once the focus for the rope and networking industry in the 13th century, hence the long, narrow rope-walks used originally for twisting and drying the cord and twine made in Bridport.
Famed for the Cerne Giant - a striking, mysterious, 180-foot high figure cut into the chalk downs overlooking the village, Cerne Abbas is popular for its picturesque streets, 15th century houses and Abbey ruins.
Charmouth with its sandy beach, is world famous for the fossils formed within Jurassic rocks 200 million years ago, and now being revealed as the cliffs erode in massive landslips.
Historic Christchurch nestles between the River Avon and Stour at their confluence and enjoys unparalleled harbour views, walks and wildlife. Close to lively Bournemouth and the tranquillity of the New Forest and rural Dorset…
One of the oldest castles in England, Corfe Castle still stands as a ruin, but is also one of the most well-known sights in Dorset. The castle has a lot of history, and is an excellent place to learn about itself and other castles
The county town of Dorchester has much to offer the visitor, with its bustling shopping precincts, elegant 18th century houses and vital cultural life.
As you walk from the top of the fielded hill into the beginning of Farnham you will find your self walking amongst delightful assorted cottages.
Fortuneswell is a village on the northern side of the Isle of Portland. Its streets wind their way up steep hills which rise from sea level near Chesil Beach to a height of 500 feet at the top of the isle.
Lying four miles to the east of Christchurch, Highcliffe is just over a century old and during recent years has developed into a thriving and attractive area with beautiful, clean beaches, an excellent range of accommodation and good parking facilities.
Leigh is a small village near Sherborne in Dorset, with a population of around 500 people. The village has an attractive parish church - the church of St Andrew.
The dramatic coastline of Lyme Regis is an area of great natural beauty, criss-crossed by good rambling paths, and home to many kinds of flora and fauna.
Quiet, peaceful, off the beaten track, Moreton is a mixture of village styles - linear in parts with a little thatched street, dispersed in others.
Mudeford is a mecca for water-sports enthusiasts and fishermen alike. This charming fishing village lies at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour.
Overcombe is a quiet beachfront area on the eastern side of Weymouth. It is about 2 miles from the town centre and harbour, with a frequent bus service. There is adequate parking. The beach itself is sand and shingle and is safe.
Nestled in the much admired Piddle Valley and in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, lies the small, picturesque village of Piddlehinton.
In the year 1002, Emma, the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, received, on her marriage to Ethelred (The Unready), land in the village of Piddletrenthide, in the valley of the River Piddle.
Poole is a large coastal resort in Dorset, five miles west of Bournemouth.
Preston is a large, quiet residential suburb of Weymouth just over 2 miles east of the town centre. Although part of Weymouth it retains its village feel and still includes farmland.
Arriving in Shaftesbury from the north-east, one may well be given the impression that it is much like many others - a bustling and pleasant little town situated on the borders of Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Sherborne is a mellow-stoned living pageant of history. The ancient Abbey Church has one of the most graceful and delicate fan-vaulted roofs in England, and some fine stained glass.
Southbourne is a popular holiday resort and is a suburb of Bournemouth. Situated between Boscombe and Christchurch, it offers a pleasant beach and a host of nearby visitor attractions.
Swanage lies on the southeast coast of Dorset, about 10km south of Poole. It is on a strangely shaped peninsula called the Isle of Purbeck, which is not actually an island at all. It has an east-facing sandy bay, popular with summer visitors.
Weymouth is a diverse and popular resort set in the heart of the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. It's bounded by Lyme Bay and Chesil Beach to the west, and Weymouth Bay to the south and east.
The delightful historic, bustling market town of Wimborne Minster lies in the picturesque water meadows of the rivers Stour and Allen. Wimborne Minster is twinned with Valognes in France and Ochsenfurt in Germany.