Dorset, located south coast of England, is a county that boasts an impressive array of natural beauty, history, and culture. From its stunning Jurassic Coast, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to its quaint villages, rolling countryside, and picturesque beaches, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Dorset.
Whether you're interested in history, hiking, coastal walks, or simply relaxing by the sea, Dorset has something to offer for everyone. Dorset is an ideal weekend getaway or day trip destination from London since it is just 2 hours away. So, whether you're looking for a short break or a longer stay, Dorset is sure to impress and delight you.
Planning your trip to Dorset and choosing what to do and see can be overwhelming, which is why, in this article, I share the top places to visit in Dorset and the best tours to take.
You can also read: 12 Best Places to Visit In East Sussex
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10 Top Places to Visit in Dorset
1. Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle is a picturesque village, located in the stunning countryside of Dorset. The village is famous for its iconic castle, which has been standing for almost 1,000 years and is one of the most well-preserved ruins in the country.
Corfe Castle is one of the most beautiful villages in not only Dorset but in the whole UK. With its rich history, stunning scenery, and range of activities, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.
In addition to the castle, Corfe Castle also boasts a wide range of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. The village is home to a number of quaint shops, cosy pubs, and restaurants. There are also many hiking and cycling trails in the area. Taking a guided e-bike tour is a great way to explore the surroundings.
The village is surrounded by stunning landscapes, including the rolling hills of the Purbeck Hills and the breathtaking Jurassic Coastline.
One of the unique experiences here is taking a steam train journey through the scenic countryside. The steam train takes you on a journey back in time, as it passes through picturesque villages, fields, and woods. The steam train ride is not only a fun and memorable experience but also a great way to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.
Best Places to Stay in Corfe Castle
Mortons Manor is a beautiful 16th-century manor house, situated in the lovely village of Corfe Castle. The castle, shops and restaurants are within 5 minutes walk.
Jonti Bed And Breakfast is a cosy bed and breakfast, located in Corfe Castle, Offering a relaxing stay. Guests can enjoy the peaceful ambience of the garden.
Swanage is a picturesque coastal English town in Dorset. It is known for its sandy beaches, stunning coastal scenery, and charming mix of Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
Before the arrival of the steam railway in the early 19th century, Swanage was a small fishing port. However, the popularity of the Victorian seaside holiday led to a rapid expansion of the town. Many of the Victorian buildings and characters still remain today, giving the town a charming and historic feel.
As the first town at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, Swanage is a popular starting point for visitors exploring the area's rich geological history and stunning natural beauty.
In addition to that, Swanage also has a rich cultural and artistic scene. The town hosts a variety of music, theatre, and arts events throughout the year.
Best Places to Stay in Swanage
Kitchener Cottage Swanage is a beachfront self-catering property, 450 yards from Sawange Bay and 6.2 miles from Corfe Castle. This one-bedroom flat is a perfect place for couples.
Gretenham B&B is situated 200 yards from Swanage Bay and 550 yards from Swanage railways. It offers a full English breakfast, spacious rooms and a comfortable stay.
The Limes is another lovely bed and breakfast in Swanage with easy access to town facilities and coastal walks.
3. Durlston Country Park
Durlston Country Park is a 280-acre park situated on the cliffs overlooking the sea in Swanage. The park features a unique combination of natural and man-made attractions, making it a popular destination for visitors of all ages. The park's natural features include cliffs, a meadow, and a variety of habitats that are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.
At the heart of the park, you can find Durlston Castle, a Victorian-era building that has been restored and converted into a visitor centre. The castle features a range of interactive exhibits and displays. For a panoramic view of the sea and the surroundings, you should walk to the castle's rooftop.
The park is also home to a number of walking trails, some of which can be challenging while some are great for easy strolls.
4. Studland Nature Reserve
Studland Nature Reserve is a stunning natural area located on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. The reserve spans over 6 kilometres of sandy beaches, sand dunes, heathland, and woodland, and offers a diverse range of habitats that are home to a variety of wildlife.
Studland Bay is a particular highlight of the reserve, offering visitors the chance to enjoy a range of water sports and activities. The bay is also home to the most popular naturist beach in Britain, which is a unique and unusual feature of the area.
You can also explore Knoll Bay, perhaps the most popular beach in Studland. Like the rest of the beaches along Studland Bay, it has a beautiful stretch of golden sand, perfect for building castles or sunbathing on a warm day.
One of the highlights of Studland Nature Reserve is Fort Henry, a World War Two observation bunker overlooking Studland Bay. The fort is a fascinating historical site that offers visitors a glimpse into the area's military past.
Best Places to Stay in Studland
Knoll House is a hotel in Studland that offers an indoor swimming pool and A full English/Irish breakfast. We stayed in this property for the new year and it is an ideal place for thoes who are looking to visit the Old Harry Rocks.
Studland Cottage, Swanage is a lovely two-bedroom holiday home, located 0.9 miles from Knoll Beach and 1.7 miles from Studland Naturist Beach.
5. Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks is a set of stunning chalk formations located off the coast of Dorset. They are part of the Jurassic Coast, another famous natural landmark on the South Coast of the UK.
The rocks are made of chalk and are located near the Studland village on the Isle of Purbeck. They consist of three distinct stacks: a taller stack, known as Old Harry, and two smaller ones, which are the remains of what was known as Old Harry's Wife. The rocks are believed to have been formed around 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period when the area was submerged under a shallow sea.
Today, Old Harry Rocks are a popular destination for hikers, photographers, and tourists seeking breathtaking views of the coast. For the best view of the rocks, you can take the circular coastal trail from South Beach. The walk is pretty easy and short.
Poole is a bustling coastal town in Dorset. One of the town's most impressive features is its natural harbour, which is considered to be the largest in Europe and one of the most beautiful ones in the world.
The harbour stretches over 36 square miles and has a diverse range of habitats. It's home to an abundance of marine life, including grey seals and a variety of seabirds, and it's also a popular destination for water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking.
Poole itself has a rich history, with evidence of human activity dating back to the Iron Age. Here you can explore the old town, which is full of character and charm and enjoy the stunning views across the harbour from vantage points such as Poole Quay and Parkstone Bay. One of the most popular activities here is taking the Poole Harbour and Island Cruise, which offers breathtaking views of the famous Sandbanks and surrounding landscapes.
Poole can also be a great base to explore other parts of the county of Dorset.
Best Places to Stay in Poole
Hotel Du Vin Poole is a cosy hotel located just a 10-minute walk from Poole Harbour. This 4-star French-style bistro serves the finest local produce and offers wine-tasting sessions.
Beach Point is a lovely beachfront property, a few steps away from Hamworthy Beach and 0.9 miles from Poole Beach. This two-bedroom flat offers free parking, a fully equipped kitchen and a balcony with sea views.
Queen Mary Inn is a 3-star guest house, located within 15 minutes walk of Poole International Ferry Terminal. This family-owned property offers free private parking and home-cooked meals.
Shaftesbury is one of the most beautiful towns in England, located in the hills of North Dorset. One of the town's most famous landmarks is Gold Hill street, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
The ancient cobbles of Gold Hill became famous after featuring in the popular 1970s TV advert for Hovis bread, which shows a boy pushing up Gol Hills to deliver a loaf of bread before freewheeling back down to the baker’s shop.
Visitors to Shaftesbury can wander up Gold Hill and take in the stunning views across Blackmore Vale, which is described as “one of the most romantic sights in England”.
But Shaftesbury has much more to offer than just Gold Hill. The town is steeped in history. The town's High Street is lined with beautiful Georgian buildings, and there are numerous museums and galleries that offer a glimpse into Shaftesbury's rich cultural heritage.
For those who love the great outdoors, Shaftesbury is also a great base from which to explore the surrounding countryside.
Best Places to Stay in Shaftesbury
The Grosvenor Arms is a 4-star hotel in the heart of Shaftesbury town centre. This stylish property is a 2-minute walk from Shaftesbury Abbey and a short stroll from many restaurants and shops in the town.
The View is a lovely holiday home, boasting a garden, a shared lounge, and a terrace. This two-bedroom property is situated 17.4 miles from Longleat Safari Park. It is a great place for those who are looking to explore the countryside of Dorset.
La Fleur De Lys located in the heart of Shaftesbury is a charming and well-decorated guest house. It offers a cosy and comfortable stay. The restaurant offers freshly cooked meals using local ingredients.
8. Durdle Door
Durdle Door is one of the most iconic natural landmarks in Dorset and is recognised worldwide for its unique beauty. This natural limestone arch is located on the Jurassic Coast and it is one of the most photographed spots in England. The arch was formed by the powerful forces of the sea and weather erosion over thousands of years.
It's believed that the name originated in the 18th century and the name "Durdle" is derived from an Old English word, which means to pierce or drill, Therefore, the name "Durdle Door" literally means a "drilled or pierced doorway.”
From Durdle Door, you can walk to Lulworth Cove, another natural beauty spot in Dorset. Lulworth Cove is also a popular destination on the Jurassic Coast and boasts a unique horseshoe-shaped cove that is surrounded by dramatic cliffs.
Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Dorset, especially during the summer months.
Bournemouth is another vibrant coastal town in Dorset, renowned for its beautiful beaches, lively nightlife, and abundant leisure activities. With over seven miles of golden sandy beaches, Bournemouth is one of the most popular seaside destinations in the UK.
The town has won multiple awards for the quality of its beaches, and visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities, including swimming, sunbathing, water sports, and beach volleyball.
Bournemouth's pier is undoubtedly one of the town's most iconic landmarks and a must-visit attraction. The pier was first built in the 1850s and has since undergone several renovations and refurbishments, making it one of the longest and most impressive piers on the south coast of England.
Bournemouth also boasts a lively town centre, bustling with activity day and night. Visitors can explore the many restaurants, cafes, and shops that line the bustling streets, or immerse themselves in the town's rich cultural scene by visiting museums, art galleries, and theatres.
For nature enthusiasts, the town is home to several beautiful parks and gardens, including the Lower, Central, and Upper Gardens, which are perfect for a relaxing stroll or a picnic. Plus, Bournemouth is located close to the New Forest, a breathtaking area of natural beauty that beckons with its winding trails, diverse wildlife, and endless opportunities for hiking, cycling, and wildlife spotting.
Best Places to Stay in Bournemouth
Panoramic Penthouse with Sea & City Views is a modern two-bedroom apartment set in the heart of Bournemouth. It is located just 650 yards from Westcliff Beach and 650 yards from Eastcliff Beach.
Park Central Hotel is a 4-star beachfront hotel offering spacious rooms and comfortable stays. It is just a few minutes walk from Bournemouth's sandy beaches and coastal restaurants.
The Nici is a stylish seafront hotel in Bournemouth, featuring an outdoor swimming pool and a game room. This 4-star property restaurant offers a breakfast buffet in the morning.
Nestled on the south coast of England, Weymouth is undoubtedly one of the prettiest places to explore in Dorset. This quaint seaside town boasts a rich history, a bustling harbour, and a lively waterfront area that's perfect for strolling and people-watching.
Weymouth offers a variety of activities, including water sports, fishing, and swimming, or simply relaxing on one of the town's sandy beaches. But Weymouth isn't just about the sea, there are plenty of other attractions to discover, too.
Take a walk along the picturesque Georgian esplanade and admire the elegant townhouses and sweeping views of the coastline, or visit the historic Nothe Fort, which dates back to the 19th century and offers a fascinating glimpse into the town's military past.
Weymouth is also a fantastic place for cycling enthusiasts, with a range of scenic routes for all abilities. For families or those looking for a leisurely ride, the town offers three newly designed cycle trails that are fun, family-friendly, and largely flat, spanning 6, 8.5, and 17 miles. These trails are suitable for all ages and offer the opportunity to take in the breathtaking scenery of Weymouth at a relaxed pace.
For more experienced cyclists seeking a challenge, there are longer and more demanding routes available that offer the chance to push your limits while taking in some of the town's most spectacular sights.
And if you're a fan of seafood, you're in luck. Weymouth is known for its fresh fish and shellfish, and you'll find plenty of restaurants and fishmongers offering up the catch of the day.
Best Places to Stay in Weymouth
Gloucester House is a lovely and stylish bed and breakfast, just a 13-minute walk from Weymouth Harbour. This small guest house offers a wonderful breakfast and a cosy stay.
Seacrest Guest House is a 3-star beachfront guest house, offering rooms with sea views. This non-smoking property is just 100 yards from Weymouth Central Beach and a short walk from the town centre.
Chapter 1 Hotels is another lovely place to stay in Dorset. The hotel is beautifully decorated and offers rooms with sea views. The location is perfect fro thoes who want to have easy access to the beach and town centre.
Overall, Dorset is more famous for its unique World Heritage Site: the Jurassic Coast. Apart from all the places I mentioned, going for a walk along the Jurassic Coast is a must-do. Of course, exploring the whole area can take days or even weeks, but you can choose a short part of the South West Coast Path and go for a day hike or even fossil haunting.