Dorset is full of many wonderful National Trust locations, from an island paradise, a ruined castle and an Italian-inspired palace to the homes of literary legends Thomas Hardy and TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia).
There’s also an abundance of unspoilt countryside, spectacular coastline and stunning gardens too.
Here, you can read all about our favourite National Trust places to visit whilst in Dorset.
Kingston Lacy was built in 1663 for the Bankes family, after the family’s main seat, Corfe Castle, was ruined during the Civil War. William John Bankes created the house we know today. Forced into exile due to his homosexuality, he lived in Venice and remotely remodelled the house.
The interiors are lavishly decorated and include many points of interest with paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian as well as the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. There’s also a spectacular Spanish room, with an early 17th-century Venetian ceiling brought from the Contarini Palace in Venice and hangings of gilded leather.
Kingston Lacy is set within a vast 8,500 acres of estate; wander through the Japanese Garden where Queen Victoria once sent her own gardeners for inspiration, or explore the Iron Age hill forts, water meadows and the world’s oldest pedigree herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle.
Tickets: Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit Kingston Lacy website
Facilities: House, garden, shop, cafe, play area, WC, and car park
Stay nearby: Drongstyle Cottage - Sleeps 5 + 2 dogs
Situated in Higher Bockhampton, this small cob and thatch cottage is where the English author, Thomas Hardy, was born in 1840. The cottage was built by his great-grandfather and hasn’t been altered much since the family left.
Despite training as an architect, writing was Hardy’s first love, and it was from here that he wrote several of his early short stories, poetry and novels including Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Just a short walk from Hardy’s Cottage, you’ll find Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre. Built in partnership with Dorset County Council, it is gateway for local people and visitors to discover more about the life and works of Thomas Hardy and his connection to the local landscape.
Tickets: Hardy’s Cottage is open for pre-booked guided visits. Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit Hardy’s Cottage website.
Facilities: Non-National Trust car park 600 metres away
Stay nearby: Old School – Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs
The ruins at Corfe Castle are one of Britain’s most iconic and evocative survivors of the English Civil War, partially demolished in 1646 by the Parliamentarians. The Corfe Castle ruins, with panoramic views across the Purbeck Hills, sit proudly upon a hill of this beautiful historic village with the same name.
There is plenty to do in Corfe Castle. Discover 1,000 years of its history as a royal palace and fortress with fallen walls and secret places; there are tales of treachery and treason around every corner. Throughout the year, there is an abundance of events taking place here including Easter adventures, guided walks and outdoor theatre shows to name a few!
Clouds Hill is a small cottage used by TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia). Though it is often referred to as Lawrence's home, that's not strictly accurate. It was, in fact, used by Lawrence as a quiet retreat to write and entertain guests while he was stationed at the nearby army base at Bovington. During his time at Clouds Hill, Lawrence finished writing both The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and The Mint.
Above the front door, the phrase ‘Why worry?’ is inscribed in Greek. He furnished the rooms of his rural retreat to his own personal taste, and they are much as he left them, giving an insight into the complicated personality of the writer, warrior and friend of Thomas Hardy.
Tickets: Cloud Hills is open for pre-booked guided visits. Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit Clouds Hill website
Facilities: Guided tours, car park and WC
Stay nearby: Riverside Barn – Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs
Situated in Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island offers spectacular views across the water to the Purbeck Hills. The island offers a thriving mix of wildlife and natural habitats including the rare red squirrel, sika deer as well as a wide variety of birds, woodland, heathland and even a lagoon.
Brownsea Island is steeped in history with several industries having thrived over the years, including cattle farming, daffodil farming and pottery. On the island, you’ll also find the Scout Stone, a commemorative symbol marking the origins of the Scouts. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement, held the first experimental camp here in 1907. Scouts and Guides from all over the world still make trips to Brownsea for camps and day trips.
Tickets: All visitors, including members, are required to pay the ferry fare. Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit Brownsea Island website.
Facilities: Cafe, guided tour and WC
Stay nearby: Woodridings – Sleeps 8
Set in a peaceful, rural setting by the River Stour, White Mill is an 18th-century corn mill. Rebuilt in 1776 on a site marked in the Domesday Book, this substantial mill was extensively repaired in 1994 and still retains its original elm and applewood machinery. Guided tours of the carefully preserved wooden machinery can be provided.
Whilst here, enjoy a stroll over White Mill Bridge or sit in the garden and enjoy the tranquillity of the River Stour.
Tickets: Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit White Mill website.
Facilities: Guided tours, dogs welcome and car park
Stay nearby: Drongstyle Cottage - Sleeps 5 + 2 dogs
Studland Bay is a glorious slice of coastline in Purbeck, featuring a 4-mile stretch of golden, sandy beach, with gentle bathing waters and views of Old Harry Rocks and the Isle of Wight.
Studland Bay is made up of four beaches called Shell Bay, Knoll Beach, Middle Beach and South Beach, which are all owned by the National Trust. There is also a naturist section which is located towards Shell Bay and is well sign posted. The bay is ideal for water sports, and the heathland behind the beach is a haven for wildlife lovers and features all six species of native British reptiles.
There are designated paths through the sand dunes and woodlands which allow for exploration and flora/fauna-spotting including deer, birds as well as a wealth of wild flowers.
Tickets: Entry is free for everyone
Facilities: Shop, WC, cafe, and car park
Stay nearby: Chalross - Sleeps 10 + 2 dogs
Situated just a short walk from Dorchester, Max Gate is the former home of Thomas Hardy, the English novelist and poet. Hardy, who was originally an architect, designed Max Gate, where he lived from 1885 until his death in 1928.
Whilst here, he wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure, along with many pieces of poetry. The house was named after a nearby tollgate keeper called Henry Mack. The tollgate was known locally as ‘Mack’s Gate’, which Hardy then used with a different spelling when he named his house, ‘Max Gate’.
You will find the garden much as it was originally planned, with high walls and large trees encircling the property to preserve Hardy's privacy. The sundial, designed by Hardy, was erected by his wife, Florence, in his memory.
Tickets: We recommend you book a ticket in advance to visit Max Gate. Entry is free for NT members | For ticket information, visit Max Gate website.
Facilities: WC and guided tours available
Stay nearby: Woodbury Meadow Stables - Sleeps 6
Map of National Trust locations in Dorset
Stay with us in Dorset
The National Trust boasts so many inspiring properties and landscapes that you’ll be spoilt for choice on your Dorset holiday. The toughest decision will be which one to visit first!
If you’re yet to pick out your perfect holiday cottage in Dorset, browse through our collection today – we have a great range of large houses for the whole family, romantic boltholes and dog-friendly cottages so the whole family can come and enjoy the delights of Dorset.
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.