Day Trips / Destinations UK

Places to Go in Dorset: 9 Must See Coastal Destinations

The scenic Dorset coast hugs the southwest coast of England east to west from Bournemouth to Lyme Regis. Lovely scenic drives and picturesque villages await you.

Here you’ll find the famous Jurassic coast, a World Heritage site where the beach is studded with rocky formations and reddish cliffs. Perfect hunting ground to find fossils from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, millions of years ago!

Dorset county is fairly compact – just 50 miles from east to west and 40 miles north to south which makes it a snap to explore within a long weekend. But why not book a home from home and take your time?

Let’s start from the east. While the city of Bournemouth has some stunning beaches, I’m going to suggest some quieter and more historic spots to visit.

Places to Go in Dorset

1. The Studland Peninsula

places to go in dorset

Old Harrys Rocks off the Studland peninsula

If you’re driving from Bournemouth or Portsmouth, pass through Sandbanks (one of the most exclusive and affluent areas in the UK) to take the Sandbanks ferry over to the Studland peninsula.

Park at Knoll Beach car park and walk about 30-40 minutes out to the Foreland for stunning views of Old Harrys Rocks and the channel.

Or why not drive further along to park at The Pig, Studland to grab a bite. We’d stopped at Bankes Arms but I see that reviews complain a bit about the high prices now.

From any point, it’s an easy walk to the cliffs, just follow the paths for views over the Channel. On a clear day you may see the Needles rock formation off the Isle of Wight in the east!

What to see and do
  • National Trust Knoll Beach – park here
  • The Pig on the Beach
  • The Foreland – Old Harrys Rocks
  • Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve

2. Corfe Castle

places to go in dorset

The ruins of Corfe Castle

No visit to Dorset is complete without a visit to the ruined Corfe Castle which sits on the edge of the pretty village of Corfe Castle. The castle dates back to the 10th century and is currently owned and managed by the National Trust.

As it’s less than 7 miles from Studland to Corfe, you’ll find it an easy stop on the way from Studland towards Lulworth Cove .

There’s a pay and display car park at Castle View which sits below the castle and village. After you’ve walked around the castle ruins, head into the quaint and charming village for a bite to eat or to visit the National Trust’s gift shop and tearoom.

3. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

places to go in dorset

Stunning Durdle Door

From Studland peninsula or Corfe Castle, drive west through the pretty village of West Lulworth to Lulworth Cove. From there it’s a short hop to the famous scenic spot of Durdle Door. You can either walk from the Cove to Durdle Door in about 30 minutes or drive depending on your schedule.

My suggestions is to take a picnic! There’s Finleys Cafe in Lulworth but otherwise not much choice for dining. 

Lulworth is a pretty cove beach on a privately owned estate that’s open to the public. Just further west along from the cove, Durdle Door is a dramatic limestone arch that draws not only beach goers but thrill seekers who try to scale the arch to jump or dive into the sea.

The South West Coast path can be hiked all along this stretch of Dorset coast. Be sure to take a map or GPS/Sat nav device for directions to navigate the coastline safely.

What to see and do

4. Weymouth

places to go in dorset

Weymouth Beach

Weymouth is the quintessential British seaside town with terraced Georgian houses facing the bay. There’s a wide sandy beach with all that you’d expect; chair rentals, bucket & spade shops, ice cream and snack pavilions. If you’re arriving by train, the beach is a short 5 minute walk from the mainline train station.

Once you’re on the main Esplanade, find the Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock. If you’re a seeking a quieter beach vibe, then walk north up the beach away from the town to Greenhill beach and Bowleaze Cove.

For a more buzzy vibe, walk the other direction towards town and Weymouth harbour, with it’s historic boating marina, pubs and restaurants.

Heading south out of town towards the Isle of Portland is the Crab House Cafe for authentic locally caught seafood in a rustic setting overlooking the giant sandbar that is Chesil Beach, the setting for the movie “Ammonite”.

What to see and do

  • Weymouth harbour
  • Greenhill beach
  • Bowleaze Cove
  • Crab House Cafe

5. Abbotsbury

places to go in dorset

The mute swans at Abbotsbuy Swannery

From Weymouth, drive 30 minutes west to the town of Abbotsbury, home to the ruins of the 11th century Abbey and best known for its swan sanctuary. Once cultivated as a delicacy at banquets, the mute swans are now protected and allowed to nest at the swannery situated in the coastal marshy wetlands near town.

The abbey ruins are managed by English Heritage and free to enter. The Swannery and Gardens are a privately run attraction outside of town. There’s a cafe on the site of the Swannery and admission is £12 for adults, £6 for children. You can purchase a combination ticket to both the Swannery and The Subtropical Gardens at a discount.

What to see and do

6. Burton Bradstock

places to go in dorset

Burton Bradstock beach

Burton Bradstock beach is owned by the National Trust so members can park for free! It’s also home to the bustling Hive Beach Cafe situated right on the beach which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a separate ice cream parlour.

A great family beach, it’s one of the few with parking and dining options all within minutes of the beach. Be prepared as this is a pebble beach, not soft sand! If you’re walking, Burton Bradstock beach is on the South West Coast Path.

What to see and do

7. Bridport & West Bay

places to go in dorset

The cliffs at West Bay

Bridport is a bustling market town with a bit of a relaxed bohemian vibe. It’s well known for it’s street markets, antique shops and easy access to the coast and the town of West Bay, a 10 minute drive away.

Bridport makes an excellent base to explore the Dorset coast as it’s centrally located with good roads. Drive down to West Bay, walk along the beach cliffs to Eype Beach for some stunning Jurassic coast scenery. If you ever watched the drama “Broadchurch” you’ll recognise West Bay’s harbour and cliffs!

What to see and do

8. Seatown Beach

places to go in dorset

Take a walk up the cliffs after lunch at the Anchor Inn

The main attraction of Seatown is the beach and the Anchor Inn. From here you can walk along to Eype or even to West Bay, but I highly recommend booking a meal at The Anchor Inn where you can sit outside and watch the waves roll in. Rooms are also available if you fancy staying the night. There’s a private car park in front of the inn.

Heading further west along on the South West Coast Path you’ll come to Golden Cap which is the highest point on the south coast and visible for miles.

What to see and do

9. Lyme Regis

places to go in dorset

Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is a wonderful seaside town that manages to be both interesting and familiar. Not your typical seaside experience it has unique little pockets to explore such as The Town Mill, an enclave of eateries, shops and a brewery situated over the River Lim.

Lyme is a favorite local spot to get fish and chips on the go and eat while perched in the sun watching the waves. Two dueling spots vie for trade. Herbies and Lyme’s Fish Bar on the Beach.

Take a breezy walk along the town beach or Marine Parade in front of stunning terraced seafront gardens. Stroll along the iconic wave lashed Cobb where Meryl Streep flirted with the wind in the French Lieutenants Woman.

Oh and dine at a renowned chef’s restaurant The Oyster and Fish House with stunning views across the harbour from up high on the cliff. Casual yet perfectly indulgent. Get the double lobster if its on the menu!

What to see and do

Lyme (as its known) is another perfect spot as a base for your long weekend; preferably early or mid fall when the crowds have left!

places to go in dorset

Coastal destinations: Places to Go in Dorset

I know you’ll love discovering these places to go in Dorset as much as I did. If you’re ready to venture a little further north why not visit my favorite places in Somerset?