Dorset with its long swathes of Jurassic coastline has always been one of South West England’s most popular seaside destinations. It forms part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site.
The county is also known for its pretty, rural villages (there are more than 300) that offer beautiful walks and quaint local pubs serving proper English cider and delicious home-cooked food.
Yet Dorset isn’t only about picturesque views and seaside frolics. There are so many fun things to see and do here, and if you like the great outdoors you’ll never get bored. I should know – I grew up here!
Here’s a round-up of some of my favourite activities.
1. Explore the Jurassic Coast
Avoid the risk of overcrowding at the likes of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and head to one of Dorset’s less well-known spots along the Jurassic Coast. One of my personal favourites is Kimmeridge Bay near Wareham, which is a fantastic place for fossil spotting (just don’t take them home with you).
The coastline near Worth Matravers offers fun, challenging walks and dramatic views of crashing waves and jagged cliffs. Head to the Anvil Point Lighthouse and walk along the coastal path to Winspit Quarry for some good old fashioned exploration.
The disused quarry is full of eerie caves and is a great spot for a picnic. Exploring both Kimmeridge and Worth Matravers would benefit from good walking boots and trekking poles – even if you’re young and fit.
Just a 15-minute drive from the Jurassic Coast is one of England’s iconic ruins: Corfe Castle. Perched upon a hilltop overlooking the quaint village of the same name, the castle was constructed over a thousand years ago. The castle keep was built for King Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son and witnessed centuries of conflict, treachery and even treason before being partially demolished in the 17th century by the Parliamentarians.
There are some lovely trails that loop around the site. Sit down and relax on one of the benches and admire the castle from afar as sheep graze cheerfully on the steep hill.
Corfe Castle also has a National Trust shop, an 18th-century tea rooms with a garden and a visitor centre.
3. Take a walk from Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe
The two-mile beach walk from Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Park is a delight, especially as the sun sets on a warm summer evening. The white, sandy beach is about as close as Britain gets to the French Riviera, and the calm waters seem to stretch to the end of the world. As you make your way to Boscombe Pier, you’ll see long rows of cute multi-coloured beach huts, which can be rented by the day.
At Boscombe Pier, you’ll see a little roundabout and you can take the left path to Boscombe Gardens, which has a playground for kiddies and mini-golf as well. Otherwise, head straight past the pier and there’s a couple of boulders on the beach for kids and adults to climb on. If you’re feeling peckish, Urban Reef is a great sea-front restaurant.
4. Try your hand at surfing or paddleboarding
The area around Bournemouth Pier is one of Dorset’s most popular surfing spots, as the shelter from the pier creates some fantastic swells. It’s an exhilarating sport and allows you to connect with nature. If you have never tried surfing before, you can learn with Surf Steps, which is located about 500m from nearby Boscombe Pier. All instructors at the surfing school are accredited professional instructors and all equipment (including surfboards and wetsuits) is included in the price.
If surfing sounds a bit hardcore, you can also try out paddleboarding, the surfboard’s chilled-out cousin. Paddleboards are wider and easier to stand up on, and you use a paddle to propel you across the calm water. it’s a fun, relaxing activity for a chilled summer’s day.
5. Visit Dorset’s only operational lighthouse open to the public
Portland Bill Lighthouse has been safeguarding the marina on the Isle of Portland for more than 500 years. The lighthouse is striped like a candy cane and stands at 41 metres (135 ft).
At the visitor centre, you can learn all about the lighthouse and its keepers. At the exhilarating “Into The Dark” zone, you will encounter the stormy seas of the English Channel. Then climb the 153 steps to the “lantern room” at the top of the lighthouse and take in the stunning views of the Jurassic Coast.
6. Watch the sunset aboard a Dorset gin cruise
What better way is there to enjoy the Dorset coast than floating along the calm waters of Poole Harbour while sipping on a G&T and nibbling a delicious canapé?
Hop aboard Dorset Cruise’s 1938 vintage motor yacht for a three-hour trip around Poole Harbour. You’ll catch a glimpse of Brownsea Island, home of the red squirrels, and get to watch as the sun sets over the harbour. VIP guests will be given a bottle of artisan gin to share with their table along with 12 mixers from Double Dutch and some tasty canapés.
7. Visit the Great Apes at Monkey World
If, like me, you have spent some of the lockdown watching daytime TV, you may have come across Monkey Life: the documentary series that follows the rescue and rehabilitation of abused primates who live at Monkey World.
Located near the historic market town of Wareham, just a 20-minute drive to the Jurassic Coast, Monkey World is home to over 250 primates, most of whom were rescued from dire circumstances, either abused as pets or used to entertain tourists having been poached from the wild.
The rehabilitation centre houses chimpanzees, orang-utans (my personal favourites), gibbons and smaller species of monkeys such as marmosets, lemurs and spider monkeys in large enclosures. It’s a joyous place to walk around and a great learning experience for both kids and adults.
I highly recommend you also visit The Tank Museum in Bovington, a four-minute drive down the road, which exhibits almost 300 vehicles including WW1 and WW2 combat tanks.
8. Channel your inner ape at Moors Valley
This treetop adventure course at Go Ape in Moors Valley has a high ropes adventure course with obstacles that are up to 11 metres (more than 35ft) from the ground. Zip wires and Tarzan swings offer top notch adrenaline-pumping fun.
There is also an easy course for younger children. If you’re not so keen on heights, Moors Valley is packed full of hiking and cycling trails to keep you grounded while your nearest and dearest fling themselves through the trees.
9. Explore Dorset by bicycle
Dorset has some excellent cycle routes that will take you on a journey along Dorset’s dazzling coastline, past ancient castles and through vast, wild moors. One of my favourite routes is to cycle to Sandbanks and cross over on the ferry (it costs just £1) to Studland.
Take some time to cycle around this beautiful coastal area, or if you’re feeling brave climb the epic, rolling hills that lead to Corfe Castle (just under 7 miles one way) and enjoy a well-deserved cuppa or a pint of cider at one of the local pubs or cafés.
If you have a mountain bike or hybrid, then I highly recommend a trip to Wareham Forest. Located by the Moredon Bog National Nature Reserve, one of the largest valley mire habitats in England, Wareham Forest contains numerous signposted trails for both cyclists and walkers. On a sunny day, you may feel like you are cycling through the mountain ranges of Italy or San Francisco Peaks.
10. Discover Dorset’s fabulous festivals
Dorset hosts an eclectic mix of festivals throughout the year including the Wimborne Folk Festival (particularly if you like Morris dancers – they slightly terrify me), Teddy Rocks Music Festival (read my festival review here) and the Nyetimber Dorset Seafood Festival in Weymouth, which will be taking place on the 11 and 12 September this year.
Also check out Dorset Knob Throwing Festival. The website describes the knob as a “hard biscuit which makes a fine missile for competitive hurling” (just in case you were wondering).