After moving to London, our first pick to explore in England was the Dorset region. Without a doubt, it was a great choice, except for the fact that we didn’t know at the time how incredibly gorgeous it is and how many places are truly worth visiting. We have planned our whole itinerary with free things to do in Dorset because we have just moved to London, and it was crucial for us to stay on budget.
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Dorset has one of the best 100 miles (160 km) of coastlines in England with its sandy beaches and miraculous landscapes. The Jurassic Coast beaches stretch for 95 miles (152 km) and are UNESCO-protected. Many artists and writers were inspired by these amazing areas in Dorset, including the award-winning TV drama “Broadchurch” written by Dorset resident Chris Chibnall that took place in free Dorset too.
But Dorset is not all about beaches and numerous water sports activities. There are an incredible amount of things to do in Dorset with kids and absolutely fantastic places to visit in Dorset for free. It is a very family-friendly place too with loads of Dorset activities in place. Wherever you go, there is always something memorable to see close by. Natural attractions of the Jurassic Coast walk, Monkey World, abbeys, museums and historic castles. Besides, the Dorset region is England’s fossil-hunting capital, so prepare for some exciting finds. See if you can discover a dinosaur and take the best of Dorset with you!
Secret Places To Visit in Dorset
Getting to Dorset
Drive to Dorset by car
We would recommend a car for this type of holiday, especially if it is a family vacation travelling to Dorset with toddlers and kids. Also, if you are short of time and have only a few days out in Dorset, renting a car sounds like a good plan. In fact, we have rented a car. It makes things much easier in terms of driving from one place to another as east and west bay Jurassic coast is huge and there is truly lots to see. It will take you a bit less than three hours to get to your destination via M3 if you are coming from London’s direction. See the list of things to do in Dorset this weekend below.
Take a train to Dorset
A good alternative is to take a train from London’s Waterloo Station (Northern Line) towards Weymouth. South Western Railway goes directly to Dorset. You can hop off at South Station and take a bus anywhere you would like to stay. The train ride takes 2.5 hours which is quite an optimal time.
Places to stay in Dorset by budget
Since it is such a massive coastline, we recommend staying in various places. Please check out today’s best deals to plan your accommodation.
We have stayed at an amazing cottage near the working farm, which was a perfect choice for our 11-months-old baby. We have seen cows, dogs, geese and sheep. Dorset is a very quiet rural place that relaxes you instantly and offers a lot of free days out with kids.
Below we have prepared a few fantastic suggestions for your family days out in Dorset starting from £70 a day. Depending on where you wish to stay, we are sharing our best advice for four main locations along the east and west Jurassic Coast.
Cottonwood Boutique Hotel – located in the most popular tourist destination, Bournemouth. The majority of tourists start their Dorset journey from here. You will be enjoying magnificent panoramic views overlooking the bay. This chic hotel has a superb cliff-top location. It offers a sun terrace, and an on-site restaurant serving locally sourced fresh ingredients. Free Wi-Fi and parking are included in the offer.
Kingston Country Courtyard – located in the heart of Wareham, Kingston is one of the great options for your family Dorset vacation. The best thing we love about this place is that it is a converted farmhouse with luxury rooms nestled in beautiful rural Dorset. Breakfast, parking and gorgeous views across the Purbeck Hills are all included in the package. It is only 15 minutes to Swanage Pier and 25 minutes to the most popular tourist destinations in Dorset, Lulworth Cove and Jurassic coast Durdle Door.
No. 98 Boutique Hotel is a very affordable and absolutely fantastic option for your family with free parking, Wi-Fi and breakfast included. Overlooking Weymouth Bay, it is only a 3-minute drive from Weymouth Sea Life Tower and Weymouth Ferry Terminal. Similar with Kingston Country Courtyard, you will need about 25 minutes to reach Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. The only difference is that it is located on the other side and is closer to the Isle of Portland, so it really depends on where you are coming from and what beautiful places in Dorset you want to see.
The Durbeyfield Guest House – located in West Bay, it will be a perfect solution if you are about to explore the western Dorset area. This stunning guest house faces the beachfront in West Bay and offers a full English/ Irish breakfast, with free Wi-Fi, private parking and an absolutely gorgeous garden. Also, you will be able to join and enjoy activities in and around West Bay, like hiking and cycling.
Best Places to Visit in Dorset and Free Things to Do in Dorset with Kids
We have prepared a full itinerary for your trip to Dorset with kids and without, where we cover the entire Jurassic coastline starting from the very east and ending up in the west.
You will not only enjoy free Dorset activities and free days out, but also find the secret places to visit in Dorset for fossil hunting, recommendations to the most gorgeous beaches in Dorset area, outdoor activities, list of castles, museums, fun places for kids, UNESCO protected and National Trust places to visit in Dorset, including places to visit in Dorset on a rainy day.
Check our Dorset map specially crafted for you.
See below your future journey!
If you have got plenty of time for this trip, we definitely recommend starting your journey from Bournemouth. In this case, staying at Cottonwood Boutique Hotel is the best option for you. It is a seaside resort and it is famous for its gorgeous sandy beaches. For nightlife lovers, this is a great place to be. Bournemouth is quite popular among teenagers and has lots of water sports to offer too, including climbing wall and a zip line.
Only 20 minutes away from Bournemouth, the town of Poole is home to one of the world’s largest natural harbours and there are many nature reserves and marine parks along the coast. It is also the largest town in Dorset.
It is quite a calm town, but nice to walk in, catch some sun at one of the sandy beaches and take a short ride to the famous Brownsea Island, owned by National Trust which lets you get in for free if you are a member.
Monkey World – Ape Rescue Centre
Knowing how many places there are in the whole England rescuing and protecting animals, sealife, birds, plants and everything that concerns nature, we couldn’t miss this place. Also, Cornwall is full of sanctuaries and great rescue centres.
Ape Rescue Centre is only under half an hour drive from Poole. Here primates get full-recovery, care and rehabilitation support. The rescue centre has assisted 28 governments around the world to stop the smuggling of primates since 1987. You are very welcome to adopt these creatures and help in any way.
What made me feel a bit odd is that here people also can throw birthday parties and weddings. You are offered a place for conferences, meetings and even accommodation in the Monkey World. I guess, there is always a room for new business.
Wareham area is amazing and highly recommended to be visited! Start from the Wareham town which is only 11-minutes’ drive from the Monkey World. Wareham is a historic market town, surprisingly, reminded me Frome market in eastern Somerset of England. And it is very important you choose to visit it on Saturday morning as Wareham Quay Market is opened only this day from 8 am to 3 pm. It is a very small and cosy town to walk around and enjoy the meal.
Corfe Castle would be your next destination, which is less than 9-minutes’ drive. It naturally sits on the hill and represents a whole lot of history. This site is owned by National Trust too, so you can definitely save some money for the entrance. Although it looks like a ruined castle nowadays, it served a great defensive role in protecting the Purbeck marble. Not to mention, it started its history back in 979 as a wooden construction and has been rebuilt quite a few times afterwards.
Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks in Studland is an incredible site. It is only 13-minutes’ drive from the castle and an amazing way to finish your day walking around these massive natural structures that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures are actually three chalk formations, including a stack and a stump.
Located at West Lulworth in Wareham, we decided to highlight this spot separately. It is an incredibly beautiful cove with the white pebble beach and blue waters. You can get here by car with the parking available on the side or bike through. This place is easily accessible. The cove and absolutely gorgeous view literally blew us away. If you are in Dorset, Lulworth Cove is a must to visit.
As an option, drive 10 minutes to Lulworth Castle. It is a 17th-century mock castle, that has been recently rebuilt as a museum. Many gran festivals and shows take place here, such as a motor show or camp festivals. Weddings are not the exception.
Note: On the way to Lulworth Cove you will be passing by Kimmeridge Bay, which is one of the greatest places to hunt for fossils.
Durdle Door is a natural wonder and deserves to be highlighted even though it is situated in the Wareham area. If anyone comes to Dorset, it is because of Durdle Door. It is a very spacious and quite windy site where you are free to walk around. So, be prepared and take warm clothes for you and your baby.
If you get down the stairs, you will be able to see a natural arch facing a secluded sandy bay. Of course, the site is under UNESCO protection.
Weymouth is a harbour and seaside town. You can easily spend a day there just wondering around narrow streets and fancy artisan shops and relax on one of the sandy beaches.
Sea Life Centre is a good option if you are visiting Weymouth. Apart from visiting stingrays, sharks and turtles, there are other super cool options for your little ones, such as visiting pirate adventure mini-golf (which was clearly more interesting for us to play than for our baby son!). Also, don’t forget about splash zone and Caribbean cove.
Isle of Portland
From Weymouth, if time allows you can drive 20 minutes to the Isle of Portland which is famous for its limestone. Many monumental buildings were constructed using the material from here, such as Buckingham Palace.
The island is only 6 km or 4 miles long. It would be a nice walk to have, however, the Isle of Portland is also a big attraction for adventure sports lovers who come here to climb on the rocks.
Half an hour away from the Isle, there is an Abbotsbury village with St. Catherine’s Chapel. This village full of stone houses is really a pleasure to walk around. Also, it is a great place to have lunch before going to West Bay.
West Bay Cliffs and Bridport Harbour
West Bay is gorgeous! Landscapes are extremely inviting, this is why we recommend staying a night in this charming fishing village. West Bay offers a lot of campsites too in case if you prefer to camp.
As for the activities, from luxury swimming pools and golf clubs to visiting the famous Palmers Brewery or getting on a Lyme Bay RIB Charter that will take you along the Jurassic Coast – West Bay has a little bit of everything!
It became quite popular in recent years as this is the place where the popular drama “Broadchurch” was filmed.
Further west, you will reach the highest point (191 metres) along the south coast of England. It is called the Golden Cap. Stunning views, but don’t forget to bring a coat as it gets windy. Golden Cap is also owned by National Trust.
Lyme Regis was our last destination. Stunning views, sandy beach, relaxing time. This place is famous for its quality and quantity of fossils. On the way to Lyme Regis, you can stop at Charmouth Beach and Heritage Coast Centre which is a great place to hunt for fossils if you are up to.
One amazing activity that we recommend to visit in Lyme Regis is Dinosaurland Fossil Museum. It contains a spectacular collection of the local Jurassic marine fossils and tells the history of each of them. It also has one of the most impressive fossil collection in entire south-west England.
National Trust Places to Visit in Dorset
- Brownsea Island
- Corfe Castle
- Golden Cap
- Studland Bay
- Ringstead Bay
- Clouds Hill
- Hod Hill
- White Mill
- Cerne Giant
- Kingston Lacey
- Spyway limestone landscape
- New Forest Northern Commons
- Hardy’s Cottage and Max Gate
Fossil Hunting in Dorset
- Kimmeridge Bay – it is on the way to Lulworth Cove.
- Lyme Regis, where the best places for fossil hunting are
- Charmouth Beach and
- Heritage Coast Centre
Festivals in Dorset
Dorset is full and well-known for its festivals. Take your pick from Dorset knob throwing, nettle eating, fossils, kites, waistcoats, arts, film, literary, walking, food, drink, music, flowers, hats, Christmas trees, Tolpuddle Martyrs and Camp Festival.
Important to know! Tips and Tricks to Travel in Dorset
- There is low Wi-Fi reception in the whole Dorset region, make sure you download Google Maps or any other map before you go;
- There are paid parking spaces everywhere and they are quite expensive;
- Pretty much everything closes by 5 pm, so try to start your day early.
- You will find golden sandy beaches at Bournemouth Sandbanks, Christchurch, Swanage and Weymouth.
- Poole, Portland and Christchurch Harbours are great for a variety of water sports from kite surfing to paddle boarding.
Enjoy Your Stay in Dorset!
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