Places to go and Things to do in Dorset

This page contains some suggestions for days out or interesting places to visit while you are in Dorset. The majority are in West Dorset but we have included a few in the rest of Dorset.

Interactive map: Have a look at this interactive map of these places.

Weymouth: Thomas Hardy’s ‘Budmouth’, Weymouth was a favourite seaside resort of King George III. On a nearby hill you can see the king on a white horse carved in the chalk. More sinisterly, Melcombe Regis which now forms part of the town was the entry point for the Black Death into Britain in 1348. For any supporters with time on their hands, there are lovely beaches and plenty of shops and places to eat (though expect a busy time on a Bank Holiday weekend). There is also a Sealife centre on the edge of the town. In addition to the Georgian sea front, the Nothe Fort and the Old Harbour are worth a look.

Cerne Abbas: Most famous now for the ‘well-proportioned’ giant carved in the church (theories range from the Roman pin-up boy Hercules to a political satire of Oliver Cromwell – 17th Century ‘Private Eye’) formerly Cerne was famous for its abbey which was given a battering by Henry VIII’s commissioners but of which a few interesting relics now remain. A pretty village with several very good hostelries to pass the time away in.

Wareham: Still surrounded by the turf walls that Alfred the Great put up to keep Viking raiders out (it didn’t work when Cnut’s Scandinavian armies sacked the town some years later …), Wareham is a historic place which has retained much of its charm with shops, restaurants and pubs on offer in good numbers.

Sherborne: This pretty small town still has a beautiful and fascinating medieval heart. The Abbey is a fine building and nearby there is an ‘Old’ castle, now a picturesque ruin, and a ‘New’ one that was once the home of Sir Walter Raleigh; his ghost is kept busy as it walks here as well as the Tower of London.

Dorchester: Thomas Hardy’s ‘Casterbridge’ and Dorset’s county town. A fine array of shops and places to eat and a very good County Museum. Nearby Maiden Castle is one of Europe’s largest hillforts and a lovely spot to stroll around. It was taken by Roman legions in around 43AD and the remains of one poor defender can be seen in the County Museum, complete with a ballista-bolt that was responsible for his demise.

Portland: Hardys’s ‘Isle of Slingers’ – he also named it ‘the Gibraltar of Wessex’ – this was once a bastion of the Royal Navy when it was at its peak. The bay by it was also the venue for many yachting events in the 2012 Olympic Games. The island is pockmarked still by quarries from which stone was hewn to be taken to build some of the great buildings of Britain, especially St Pauls’ Cathedral and Buckingham Palace and was also used for the UN building in New York. The lighthouse is the main draw for tourists, but it’s very crowded in summer.  Take time to look at the view back towards Weymouth with the harbour and Chesil Beach spread out before you.

Wimborne: Set in a peaceful spot by the River Stour, the ancient minster’s tower still dominates the local landscape. A sophisticated and interesting place, Wimborne has the feel of an intimate and unspoilt country town. There is a nice model town near the centre.

Corfe Castle: Set in a stunning setting, the ruins of Corfe Castle dominate a gap (‘Corfe’ is Old English for a gap) in the Purbeck Hills. Oliver Cromwell’s men tried to blow the castle up but only succeeded in making it more photogenic. Corfe is now the start of a steam-train service that runs regularly down into Swanage (though it will be busy at a Bank Holiday). There is an interesting model village to wander around.

Monkey World: A monkey and ape rescue centre that makes a good family day out. Not only lots of monkeys but play areas as well. On the road between Bere Regis and Wool.

The Bovington Tank Museum: Maybe not everybody’s taste, but the collection of tanks is one of the finest in the world and the museum has been improved recently thanks to a £2.5 million grant of lottery funding. Give it a try.

Ringstead: A contender for the prettiest beach in Dorset. No sand, only pebbles, but the spectacular scenery makes up for it and the swimming is good. A café behind the beach is open in the summer.

West Bay and Burton Bradstock: A must for fans of Broadchurch. A very pretty port with lots of local interest. See if you can pick out David Tennant’s house. Just down the coast and with the same distinctive cliffs is the beach at Burton Bradstock with the Hive Beach café just off the beach.

Abbotsbury: A picture postcard village on the road between Weymouth and Bridport. The Sub-tropical Gardens are very fine, and the Swannery is worth a visit at the right time of year. Try the walk up to St Catherine’s chapel for the view.