With miles and miles of award-winning sandy beaches, half of the county designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and some of the best weather in the UK, Dorset is undoubtedly a fantastic place to visit.
Whether you’re staying for a few days or pottering around for a couple of weeks, this land of plenty is packed with intriguing attractions at any time of the year. Check out our 10 reasons to book a Dorset holiday.
1 The Jurassic coastline
The 95-mile stretch between Exmouth in Devon and Studland in Dorset is crying out “it’s-about-time-you-came-and-saurus!” The first natural World Heritage Site in England, the Jurassic Coast is famed for its fantastic beaches and extraordinary rock formations – from the limestone arch of Durdle Door (main blog image), created by the pounding of waves over millions of years, and crumbling chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks to the perfect horseshoe bay of Lulworth Cove. If you’re a fan of skimming stones, head for the unique shingle spit of Chesil Beach or pop over to Portland Bill Lighthouse standing guard over the English Channel. Beautiful all year round, you’ll never tire of views like these. A not-to-be-missed stroll for walking enthusiasts, the South West Coast Path takes in the entire Jurassic Coast as it meanders past on its 630-mile journey.
2 The historic towns and villages
Dorset towns and villages are brimming with history and charm, nestled in beautiful rolling countryside or fringed by glorious coastline. Rural Dorset has a host of delightful market towns such as Beaminster, Dorchester and Blandford Forum. Dorset also has some of the prettiest villages in England, including Abbotsbury, Osmington and Charminster, as well as the longest village. Piddletrenthide stretches for some three miles along the River Piddle. Explore the coastal towns on the Jurassic Coast with their mix of colourful harbours, sandy beaches and seaside fun including the sailing mecca of Weymouth and Bridport with its exciting and lively art scene.
3 The literary heritage
Associations with novelist Thomas Hardy are to be found at almost every twist and turn in his homeland of ‘Wessex’. The rolling hills, quaint villages and historic market towns all provide the backdrop against which Hardy’s characters act out their fates. The Dorset County Museum in Dorchester (Hardy’s fictional Casterbridge) houses the largest collection of Hardy memorabilia in the world, while his home at Max Gate and his birthplace at Higher Bockhampton are both magnets for literary pilgrims. Other places with strong literary connections include Clouds Hill, home of TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia – and a friend of Thomas Hardy; and Corfe Castle (featured in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five). More recently, the towering golden cliffs of West Bay provided the distinctive backdrop for award-winning ITV drama, Broadchuch, written by Dorset resident Chris Chibnal.
4 The great outdoors
With over half the county designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, no one can deny that Dorset is truly something special. Dorset’s great outdoors provides a green gym that will keep even the keenest of fitness fanatics happy - from peaceful activities such as walking and cycling to more adventurous goings-on for adrenaline junkies. Our homely Dorset retreats are perfect for watersports enthusiasts, walkers and cyclists alike. Inland from the beautiful coastline are forests, brooding heaths, rolling hills and winding lanes, hemmed in by high hedgerows, leading to pretty villages tucked away from the major roads.
5 The ancient sites
Dorset has the highest number of conservation areas in England and is home to five per cent of England’s protected ancient monuments. Most famous perhaps is Corfe Castle, built by William the Conqueror, whose majestic ruins, steeped in long and bloody history, still guard their strategic gap in the hills. More ancient landmarks include Dorset’s famous ‘Rude Man’, the Cerne Abbas Giant, and a cluster of imposing hill forts including the impressive Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, one of the largest hill forts in the world. Elsewhere is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, famous for the 1973 Hovis Advert, Hardy’s Monument and a fantastic collection of castles and forts – some of the more prominent ones can be found at Portland, Lulworth, Highcliffe and Sherborne.
6 The festivals
Dorset is full of festivals all year round. Take your pick from quirky events including the Dorset Knob Throwing Contest, Nettle Eating Competition, Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, Waistcoat Festival and Christmas Pudding chasing! Then there’s Bridport’s mildly eccentric kite, hat and Christmas tree festivals. The world famous Great Dorset Steam Fair is another annual highlight while literary, food and folk festivals, county shows, agricultural shows, fetes and fairs abound. Music and Arts festivals include Camp Bestival, Jurassic Fields and Larmer Tree Festival.
7 The beaches and harbours
Dorset is surrounded by 96 miles of golden beaches and inspiring coastline. Most famous for their beauty are Hive beach, Chesil beach, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Old Harry Rocks to name a few! Good news for our four-legged friends too. A Dorset holiday is a great choice as many beaches welcome dogs all year round. You will also find a great variety of watersports - from kite surfing to paddle boarding. To get your heart racing, try high speed RIB rides, rock climbing or coasteering! Dorset has 364 more hours of sunshine throughout the year in comparison to the UK average, so, when you’re done, kick back with a beer or an ice-cream and soak up the sun. Just don’t forget to apply the sunscreen!
8 The houses and gardens
Dorset boasts a number of serene country houses set in gorgeous gardens where you can lose yourself for an afternoon.Towards Chesil Beach, Abbotsbury’s sub-tropical gardens, filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world, promise interest all year round. Near Dorchester is the fine 15th-century house of Athelhampton, brimming with architectural interest with its Tudor Great Hall and minstrels’ gallery and surrounded by 20 acres of glorious gardens. Visit Mapperton House and Gardens, Kingston Maurward (complete with animal park) and the ornamental gardens of Compton Acres. Or try the inspirational Knoll Gardens and the elegant country mansion of Kingston Lacy, whose grounds feature an Iron Age hill fort perfect for a country walk.
9 The food and drink
Visitors to Dorset are in for some tasty treats – food and drink here is seriously special! Experience freshly caught seafood and the finest local produce – from Purbeck ice cream, Chococo Chocolates, Dorset knob biscuits and Blue Vinney cheese. Dare to tickle your taste buds with a Dorset Naga – one of the hottest chillis in the world. Dorset-brewed ales include Tanglefoot and Palmers Dorset Gold, and you will find ciders, scrumpies and perries such as Gypsy’s Kiss and Little Thatch. If you are a gin lover, you must try Conker Spirit, the first Dorset gin distillery. The botanicals include local elderberries, samphire, and handpicked New Forest gorse flowers – infusing the gin with the spirit of Dorset. Explore the world of Dorset wine at Little Waddon Vineyard and the Furleigh Wine and Langham Estates.
10 The museums and family attractions
You’ll never be stuck for interesting things to see and do during your Dorset holiday, including plenty of indoor fun to keep everyone entertained. The county town of Dorchester has a host of attractions including the quirky Tutankhamun Exhibition and a highly-rated County Museum. This history-mad town also has museums about dinosaurs, teddy bears, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, military history, and even the Terracotta Warriors of China. If you’re looking for hands-on experiences, try Bovington Tank Museum, housing the world’s finest collection of tanks. A head for heights? Jurassic Skyline is a great 174ft tall viewing tower attraction in Weymouth, with views up to 26km, on a clear day of course! For a touch of nostalgia, journey back in time on one of Swanage’s heritage steam trains. Animal lovers will enjoy monkeying around at Monkey World, one of the most renowned ape rescue centres in the world. Smaller children will enjoy Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, Abbotsbury Swannery and some fun down on the farm at Farmer Palmer’s.
Where to stay on your Dorset holiday
These attractions are perfect to enjoy throughout the year, so why not book a fabulous Dorset cottage and spend some time taking in the glorious energy Dorset has to offer…