Dorset, home of the Jurassic Coast, has continued to be one of Britain’s hottest holiday spots year after year. With its dramatic viewpoints, sandy beaches, pristine coastline, and fairytale countryside, it’s easy to see why.
A trip to Dorset will almost definitely take you back in time and remind you of rich history steeped within the English coastline. In many ways, it brought us back to our adventurous holidays as children. From running along the seaside to exploring the beautiful nature around us, the inner child within us thrived!
During our visit, we were able to explore jaw-dropping cliffs and ancient castles. Our time in Dorset was hands down some of the most memorable few days of our week-long road trip along the coast.
Below is our detailed travel guide! Included you will find our top recommendations on places to visit, where to eat, and stay during your trip to the coast of Dorset.
A Weekend Guide to Dorset England
How To Get There
We strongly suggest that if you have the time, you drive to Dorset. It is such a beautiful drive through the rolling hills of England and it allows you to have much more freedom during your trip. We drove from the West of London and made a few stops before we officially arrived in Dorset ourselves.
Nevertheless, traveling by train is another viable option. There are plenty of stations located throughout the coast and you can easily stop off at any of them to get around.
If you do choose to drive, below are the pit-stops we recommend you visit on your way down to the Dorset coast.
If you are coming from the southwest of London or the north of England, you can definitely make time to stop off at Stonehenge on the way. In fact, you can get a view of Stonehenge from the A303 motorway! If you have the time, consider stopping by and seeing it up close for yourself. Click here to read our guide on how you can manage to visit Stonehenge for free!
Dorset Blue Vinny
If you are a cheese lover you must visit the Dorset Blue Vinny farmstand shop. Dorset Blue Vinny is a famous blue cheese used by world-renowned chefs all over the world. You can pop by for a quick snack, or even pick up some fresh cheese to go.
Gold Hill in Shaftesbury
Shaftesbury is likely one of the most picturesque English towns we have ever visited. With cobblestone streets and artisan shops, this small yet charming town will definitely draw you in. One of the most famous streets in Shaftesbury is Gold Hill. If you are from the UK you might actually recognize Gold Hill, as it became famous after its feature on the “Hovis” advert. Apart from TV fame, this street was also voted as “one of the most romantic sights in England.” At the top of the street, there is a lovely cafe where you can grab a bite and enjoy a quick walk around. This is a perfect stop for any hopeless romantics out there.
A Weekend Guide to Dorset England
Things to Do
Built by William the Conquerer in the 11th century, Corfe Castle is one of England’s oldest standing castles and notably one of the first stone castles ever built. Located strategically high between two valleys, this fortress endured many centuries of war and destruction. Seeing a castle with so much history, you can’t help but imagine what life was like centuries ago.
While you can buy tickets to explore the grounds of the castle itself, you can also get an equally incredible view of Corfe Castle from West Hill, for free! The view from West Hill is absolutely spectacular and we highly recommend you take advantage of it. To get full instructions on how to get there click here.
Old Harry Rocks
It wouldn’t be a weekend guide to Dorset England without spending some time at Old Harry Rocks. Arguably one of the most breathtaking stretches of coastlines in all of England, Old Harry Rocks left us utterly speechless. Trust us when we say, out of all the places we visited along the coast, Old Harry Rocks was our favorite! The incredible white chalk formations contrast beautifully with the glistening blues of the ocean.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, these rocks are best to be seen for an early sunrise, or during sunset. Typically speaking we prefer these times anyway, as it is generally less crowded and more peaceful.
We opted to visit during sunset, and while the weather was not particularly on our side that evening we still were able to capture some incredible photos. If you have time, bring a picnic blanket and snacks! There are plenty of places to throw down your things (not too close to the edge of course) and take in the amazing views.
To get to Old Harry Rocks we suggest you park in the car park just next to the Banks Arms Studland pub. If you plug Banks Arms Studland into your sat nav, you will be able to easily find it. Parking is not cheap though! Be prepared to spend £7 for the day. You can also put Handfast Point View into your navigation and this is the view we suggest you walk to in order to get the best views of the rocks.
PRO TIP: Since we were visiting during the pandemic, the pub converted their parking into outdoor seating. However, if you visit when it is over generally speaking you can grab some food and drink at the pub and park for free. The walk to Old Harry’s Rocks from the pub is only about 15-20 minutes.
Did you know that Durdle Door is Dorset’s most photographed spot? Probably the most iconic part of the Jurassic Coast, the infamous arch rock formation is a sight to behold! Unfortunately for us, it was raining the entire time we visited which made it particularly difficult for us to get a nice swim in. However, on a hot day, you can expect this place to be absolutely packed. The water below is generally calm enough for swimmers to enjoy time in the sun and sea.
We plan to definitely return on a sunnier day. That being said, the view was still really incredible! It is easy to see how people can spend their entire day just exploring around the cove and enjoying the beach below.
TIP: If you don’t plan on arriving early, between 9-10 am, be sure to pre-book your parking in advance. You can pre-book a parking spot with this site: https://www.justpark.com/uk/parking/wareham/s/west-lulworth-wareham-bh20-5pu/
We pre-booked and we were happy we did! Even on a rainy day, the car park fills up fast and if traffic becomes really bad, they actually shut down the road going into the car park. All the more reason to hit Durdule Door first thing in the morning if you can.
Just opposite of Durdle Door is Lulworth Cove! A calm, sheltered oasis for swimming and relaxing. The cove is a beautiful result of erosion and serves as a great place to swimmers who may not be as advances. Since the cove is protected from wind, you don’t get the same larger waves you may experience on other English beaches.
We suggest that if you pay for the day to park, you spend a few hours exploring Durdle Door and then walk over to Lulworth Cove! You get to kill two birds with one stone and enjoy this iconic piece of coastline.
Start Point Lighthouse
This lesser-known lighthouse was such a fun stop on our road trip. Although an unexpected pit stop, we really enjoyed walking around the lighthouse and taking in the beautiful coastal views below.
Bigbury on SeaIf
you are heading to Cornwall from Devon, be sure to check out the small coastal village known as Bigbury on Sea. It is a quaint area with very beautiful blue water.
Portland Bill Lighthouse
Still a functioning lighthouse, the Portland Bill Lighthouse is a gigantic structure and makes for a memorable stop if you are driving along the coast.
Abbotsbury & Abbotsbury Swannery
Abbotsbury is a quaint town along the coastal drive in Dorset. We stopped off here for a few hours to admire the village and walked up to Saint Catherine’s Chapel. This old chapel was super cool to explore. It was vacant inside with views of the coast from the top of the hill!
If you are travelling with your family, or young children, definitely spend a few hours in Swanage. Swanage has great beaches for families and a wonderful high street filled with shopping and restaurants. We actually stayed in an Airbnb in Swanage and our host suggested that next time we visited we take time to walk to the pier. So if you have time, definitely check out the pier!
Golden Cap Hike
For the hikers out there who love the outdoors and you are looking for a beautiful hike, be sure to check out the Golden Cap hike. Part of the National Trust, the Golden Cap hike covers a beautiful stretch of coastline and promises sweeping views of the ocean. At 191 meters tall it is the highest point on the south coast of Great Britain.
A Weekend Guide to Dorset England
Places to Eat
If you are not on a budget and fancy a Michelin star experience, make a reservation at Roots. Seasonal tasting menus and colourful plates, Roots is a decadent dining experience.
The HiVe Cafe
If you are on the hunt for vegetarian and vegan options, make sure you stop bt HiVe Cafe. They have a wonderful selection of healthy bites.
Banks Arms Studland
If you are planning on spending the day near Old Harrys Rocks, this is the place to eat for lunch or dinner. They have dozens of tables outside with a view of the water. You can get a proper fill-up before, or after you explore the coast. We stopped off for some late appetizers and drinks after sunset.
Rachels in West Bay is a fantastic place to stop if you’re looking for some classic coastal fish n chips. This small stand serves up some of the freshest seafood around and we had the most delicious lunch here. Be sure to ask them what the local catch of the day is! We ordered the fresh sea bass and fried squid. They were both cooked perfectly and the fish was flakey, our mouths are watering just thinking about it.
The Green Yard Cafe
A great little cafe to stop by for coffee and cake. They have a fantastic selection of fresh bakes!
A Weekend Guide to Dorset England
Where to Stay
If you are interested in camping with a van, tent, or even rent a skylight cabin check out the Durdle Door Holiday Park. When we saw the cabins online we were extremely keen to stay here, however unfortunately it was already fully booked. Be sure to book ahead especially in Summer months.
We recently discovered The Pig hotels during this trip and lets just say we are huge fans! A few of our very good friends work at the newest addition to their properties, The Pig at Harlyn Bay, and this Pig hotel on the beach is also just as incredible! Really fantastic hotels even if you fancy a bite to eat. We highly recommend you look into booking your stay here if you can!
One of the most picturesque hotels in all of Dorset, The Priory Wareham is a stunning property perfect for couples and families. The breathtaking stone building is a beautiful base for you looking to travel in and around Dorset.
A beautiful lodge located right along the coast. If you stay here you can basically walk to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove! No need to pay for parking or worry about arriving early!
If you are staying near Salcombe, check out the Salcombe Harbour Hotel. This 4-star hotel has sweeping views of the ocean and is a great place to stay for couples and families.
Another quality hotel option especially for couples looking to stay in Salcombe. The hotel is right on the water and has beach access perfect for early morning strolls and sunset.
Since we booked this trip last minute we opted to use Airbnb, however in light of the pandemic, we do feel as though it wasn’t our best option. Had we more time to book, we would have likely preferred a hotel during these times. However, we absolutely LOVED our host. We will link where we stayed here, along with a discount code where get up to £50 off your first trip, Click Here.
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