The best beaches in Dorset to visit  holiday cottages

The best beaches in Dorset to visit

Sarah P 11 June 2020

With the incredible Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site taking up most of the Dorset coast, it’s no wonder that the county lays claim to some of the most beautiful beaches in the South West. Offering incredible fossil beaches where you can hunt for geological treasure, wild; sandy beaches backed by nature reserves and vibrant seaside resorts, Dorset’s beaches have it all.

We’ve picked out some of the best beaches in Dorset to offer a little something for everyone, whether you’re a sun worshipper or a wildlife lover, discover the very best of the Dorset coast from its incredible beaches.

Chesil Beach

Known locally as ‘The Chesil’, this isn’t your typical British beach, but it is one of Dorset’s most iconic landmarks. Chesil Beach is an 18-mile long shingle barrier in a rugged landscape that stretches from West Bay to Portland, separated from the mainland by the Fleet Lagoon. A mecca for wildlife, both the beach and the Fleet Lagoon are a UNESCO designated Work Heritage site, and it sits at the heart of the Jurassic Coast. The impressive bank connects the stunning Isle of Portland with the mainland and runs to Abbotsbury and West Bay.

  • Beach type: Shingle
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, dogs are allowed all year round
  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Stay nearby: Chesil Lookout, Portland - sleeps 6 

Durdle Door & Man O’ War Beaches

Sitting either side of the Durdle Door headland, these are two beaches definitely not to miss off your list. Durdle Door beach is home to the magnificent limestone arch and is probably one of Dorset’s most photographed locations. Both popular with swimmers and snorkelers, it will be difficult to resist the crystal-clear waters in the middle of summer. With steep steps down from the headland, they aren’t the most accessible Dorset coast beaches, but that’s what makes them extra special, and a must if you’ve walked from Lulworth Cove or parked up at Durdle Door Caravan Park.

  • Beach type: Sand and shingle
  • Dog-friendlyDogs are allowed all year round  
  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Stay nearby: Christopher Cottage, Lulworth - sleeps 6

Studland Bay 

Technically not a single beach but instead a gloriously wild 4-mile stretch of coastline in beautiful Purbeck, encompassing four of Dorset’s sandy beaches: South Beach, Middle Beach, Shell Bay and Knoll Beach. Here you will find incredible views of Old Harry Rocks and some of Dorset’s wildest and most fascinating scenery. Surrounded by nature reserves, heaths, wetlands, and woodlands, it is no wonder that this is not only a paradise for walkers, but animals too! National Trust car parks are available at each beach with toilets found at Knoll Beach, Shell Bay and Middle Beach from May. The sheltered waters of this sandy beach in Dorset is perfect for water sports, coastal walks, and beach huts are also available to hire!

  • Beach type: Sandy
  • Dog-friendly: Welcome all year round but from 1 May to 30 September, dogs must be kept on a lead of less than 2m anywhere on the beach.   
  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Stay nearby: Chalross, Studland - sleeps 10

Weymouth Beach

One of Dorset’s best seaside resorts for families, Weymouth offers everything from donkey rides and Punch and Judy, to sandcastles and ice cream vans. With plenty of events and entertainment on offer, you can pitch up on this sandy beach in Dorset and while away hours of your holiday relaxing in the sun and paddling in the water. A short stroll from Weymouth beach will take you to Weymouth’s bustling harbour and town centre, both offering a varied selection of cafes, restaurants, and shops. Walkers are well-catered for too, with plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds along the South West Coast Path or with a visit to the nearby nature reserves of Radipole and Lodmoor.

  • Beach type: Sandy
  • Dog-friendly: A dog ban is in place from 1st May to 30th September, apart from in the clearly marked dog area.
  • Lifeguarded: Yes

Stay nearby: Sun Beam, Weymouth - sleeps 6

Bournemouth Beach

One of Britain’s favourite beaches, Bournemouth Beach is a top choice for a typical bucket and spade day in Dorset. Complete with a functioning Victorian Pier, arcades, water sports, attractions and every amenity you could possibly need, you can see why it is one of the most popular beaches in Dorset. The sandy beach also stretches for miles in each direction giving you not only the option of the main beach in Bournemouth but also Boscombe Beach and Southbourne Beach in the east and Durley Chine, Middle Chine, Alum Chine and Branksome Beach in the west. You can also walk along the promenade and designated footpaths as far as Sandbanks and Hengistbury Head.

  • Beach type: Sandy
  • Dog-friendly: Check for each beach, dog restrictions and seasonal bands are in place.
  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Stay nearby: Coast - Bournemouth, Bournemouth - sleeps 4

Christchurch Beach

Christchurch sits on the banks of the River Stour, with Mudeford Sandbank protecting the entrance to its harbour; so it doesn’t actually have its own beach, but it does offer access to a fantastic selection of some of the best beaches in Dorset. Choose from the stunning Mudeford Sandbank, which you can reach by ferry from Mudeford Quay, or go east towards Avon Beach – popular with families and water sports. Continue to Highcliffe Castle Beach – great for wildlife lovers given its position adjacent to Steamer Point Nature Reserve.

  • Beach type: Mostly sand, with some shingle sections
  • Dog-friendly: Check for each beach, dog restrictions and seasonal bands are in place.
  • Lifeguarded: Not all of Christchurch’s beaches are lifeguarded, please check.

Charmouth Beach

Separated by the River Char, the beach splits into three sections known as Central, West and East Beach which is accessed by a footbridge. Recognised as the best fossil beach in Dorset, Charmouth attracts day-trippers, families, and fossil enthusiasts alike. The best spot for families to set up for the day is on Central Beach where you will have access to the Heritage Centre. Here, you will find fascinating displays, and activities for children – from February to September, they also organise fossil walks along the beach. From West Beach, walkers can enjoy a pleasant 3-mile walk along the beach to Lyme Regis but take care not to be cut off by incoming tides, while East Beach enjoys the views over the cliffs of Stonebarrow Hill and Golden Cap.

  • Beach type: sand and shingle
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but are restricted in certain areas, at certain times of the year.  
  • Lifeguarded: No
  • Stay nearby: Leslie Cottage, Charmouth - sleeps 6

West Bay Beach

Set against the backdrop of imposing sandstone cliffs that rise almost 50 metres above the Jurassic Coast beach, you may recognise this iconic scene from the BBC drama, Broadchurch, starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman. Split into two sections by the harbour, West Bay (East) stretches from the western end of Chesil Beach and is a popular area for fossil hunting, and as a fantastic stop for walkers along the South West Coast Path. West Beach, although the smaller of the two is the most popular with families, offering safer waters for children to play. All-in-all West Bay is perfect for a day on the Jurassic Coast offering plenty of places to eat, shop and even book activities such as boat trips and equipment hire.

  • Beach type: Shingle
  • Dog-friendly: A dog ban is in place from 1st May to 30th September.
  • Lifeguarded: Yes
  • Stay nearby: Bayridge, West Bay - sleeps 3

Dorset’s secret beaches

While the most popular beaches in Dorset offer plenty for visitors to see and do, there are also lots of secret beaches that are waiting for you to discover too. Those that are hidden away at the bottom of wild and wonderful cliffs, at the end of a rewarding hike!

Worbarrow Bay

Hidden away at the end of a pretty 4-mile walk from Tyneham village, this quiet bay is one of Dorset’s best secret beaches, and a delight to stumble across during a walk along the Dorset coast. With no parking or amenities of its own, it generally attracts only those who are willing to go exploring, and that is why we love it. A short ascent from the village leads to panoramic views over huge areas of heathland where you will encounter an abundance of wildlife, rare flowers, fungi and insects.

  • Beach type: Shingle and rock
  • Dog-friendly: Welcome all year round
  • Lifeguarded: No

Stay nearby: Primrose Cottage, Church Knowle - sleeps 8

Chapman’s Pool and Dancing Ledge

The hidden beach at Chapman’s Pool is a wonderfully wild beach where the stream joins the sea from a plunging ravine carved through high cliffs. If you are a strong swimmer stop off at Dancing Ledge - the pool cut out of the rock is like an infinity pool with a sea view. As the tide returns, the water becomes a jacuzzi (best to take your cue here and get out before the ledge is completely immersed under the waves - experienced swimmers can swim in the sea next to the pool). With the nearest car park a good distance back towards Worth Matravers, this quiet cove tends not to see too many visitors all at once!  

  • Beach type: Shingle and rock
  • Dog-friendly: Welcome all year round
  • Lifeguarded: No

Stay nearby: Weston Farm Cottage, Worth Matravers - sleeps 10


You might also like our ultimate guide to the Dorset Coast for a complete guide to the very best places to go and things to see in Dorset, and click here to view the top 10 prettiest places to visit in Dorset.

Book a stay in Dorset

Eager to start exploring? Book a stay in one of our cottages on the Dorset Coast and set yourself within a short distance of some of the best Jurassic Coast beaches. From the bustling harbourside town of West Bay to the wilds of Studland Bay, we have a variety of beautiful places to stay in Dorset to suit couples right through to families and big groups.


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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