Stretching nearly 100 miles from the sandy beaches of Bournemouth to the East Devon border, the Dorset Coast is a continuous geological wonder. Peppered with dinosaur footprints and bones, it has earned the title of the Jurassic Coast and attracts scientists, families and couples alike. And amongst this natural UNESCO World Heritage Site are picturesque clusters of seaside towns and villages, striking rock formations and an abundance of sea-carved bays, pebbled coves and beaches loaded with fossilised souvenirs.
One of the most dramatic and inspiring stretches of coast found in the UK, swimming, water sports, and walking here are certainly memorable. To help you make the most of your next trip to the south of England, we’ve created the ultimate guide to the Dorset Coast highlighting some of the best places to visit.
And if you’re looking for somewhere special to put your feet up after a long day of exploring, click the button below to browse our sea view holiday cottages on the Dorset Coast.
Beaches on the Dorset Coast
With almost 90 miles of pristine coast, much of which is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (a status shared with the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon), it should be no surprise that there are some beautiful beaches in Dorset. All manner of coves, islands, sandbanks and spits await sunbathers, sandcastle builders and swimmers, with some boasting the most incredible rock formations sculpted by the sea which will simply take your breath away.
The coastline in Dorset is naturally also a mecca for lovers of water sports, with a variety of ways to play in the surf. Blast along the coast in a high-speed boat, explore hidden cliffs and caves with a coasteering experience or enjoy a relaxing wildlife cruise amongst seals, dolphins and porpoises.
A white-pebbled, perfectly curved beach lapped by crystal clear turquoise waters, make Lulworth Cove one of the most famous Dorset Coast beaches. Enjoy a refreshing swim before taking a short hike over the cliffs and on to Durdle Door, regarded as one of the most iconic landforms in the country. Why not experience Dorset’s must-see landmark from a whole new vantage point and hire a kayak to glide beneath the magnificent natural limestone arch? It is also spectacular when viewed from Man O’ War Beach next door.
Discover ‘11 things to do at Lulworth Cove’ with our handy guide.
Long, leisurely strolls along the soft golden sands of the award-winning spit of Sandbanks are a must on any Dorset holiday. Dubbed ‘Britain’s Palm Beach’, this is considered to be one of the best beaches in Dorset and is fringed by an elite neighbourhood of some of the most luxurious and expensive homes in the country. The small peninsula crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour and is lined by a promenade of ice cream kiosks, amusements and miniature golf. And on the water, you can learn to windsurf, sail, or hire a jet ski and speed across the sea.
If you want to go fossil hunting in Dorset, Charmouth Beach should be your first stop. The cliffs here offer the best fossil hunting location on the south coast, whether you choose to go it alone or join a guided fossil walk from the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. Set up camp in a beach hut and spend the day exploring the rocky beach for ammonites and belemnites - the best time to go searching is just after a big storm as the cliffs are naturally eroded so fresh fossils are exposed.
Find more inspiration in our guide to the ‘Top 10 things to do in Charmouth’.
Spanning an impressive 18 miles from Portland to West Bay, the magnificent stretch of coastline known as Chesil Beach, or Chesil Bank, is an important conservation area and a unique place for spotting flora and fauna. It is, in fact, a shingle barrier beach which has "rolled" landwards, joining the mainland with the Isle of Portland. Wild, rugged and windswept, this Dorset beach is a sight to behold, and one of the best places to admire it is from the summit of Abbotsbury Hill.
Get a closer peek at Dorset’s marine life with a trip to Kimmeridge Bay, where children can delve into mysterious rock pools and snorkellers can don their masks and meet a host of underwater creatures beneath the surface of the glittering sea. Found on the Jurassic Coast within the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve, this is another great spot for fossil hunting – look carefully in the shoreline rocks and you can spot all manner of dino remains.
Encompassing Shell Bay, Knoll Beach, Middle Beach and South Beach, Studland Bay is a National Trust beauty. Its 4 miles of sheltered shoreline is serene and unspoilt, backed by a rugged heathland nature reserve which is a haven for grebes and divers, and features all six British reptiles. From bucket and spade fun to water sports, the beaches of the Studland Peninsula offer gently shelving bathing waters and views of the chalky headlands of Old Harry Rocks where the Jurassic Coast begins, as well as over to the Isle of Wight. And although it is very much a family-friendly stretch of sand, it also includes the most popular naturist beach in Britain!
These are some of the most popular beaches in Dorset, but if you’d like to discover some hidden gems, read our guide to ‘Dorset’s secret beaches’.
Walking on the Dorset Coast
One of the best ways to experience the captivating beauty of the Dorset coastline is from walking along the towering clifftops and winding trails of the South West Coast Path. There is an 86-mile stretch between Poole and Lyme Regis to be explored and enjoyed, through beautiful coastal villages and alongside the hidden coves and sweeping beaches of the Jurassic Coast.
Dramatic landscapes and sparkling seascapes are revealed with every twist and turn along the invigorating Dorset Coast Path walk. Plus, whichever route you choose on this prehistoric coastline, discovering the 185 million years of geological history is simply incredible.
Some of the wow-factor highlights you are likely to encounter include:
- Golden Cap - the highest point on the south coast of the UK at 191 metres.
- The Fossil Forest - the most complete fossil record of a Jurassic forest in the world.
- Beer Caves - composed of minute shell fragments, they cover an area equivalent to over 50 football pitches.
- Portland Bill Lighthouse – climb the 153 steps to the top to make the most of the views from the very end of the UK.
- Durdle Door – a natural limestone arch jutting out into the ocean, formed by the ebb and flow of the tide eroding the rock.
- Old Harry Rocks – towering chalk formations that rise proudly skyward out of the sea.
- Stair Hole – one of the finest examples of coastal erosion along the coastline, showcasing natural caves, arches, blowholes and more.
Our ultimate guide to ‘Dorset coastal walks’ highlights some of the best trails to follow.
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Towns to visit on the Dorset Coast
Follow the coastline and you’ll discover a wonderful mix of seaside towns and villages to explore, all offering a warm Dorset welcome, a plethora of dining options, and attractions for the whole family. Read on to discover some of the best places to visit on the Dorset Coast.
One of Dorset’s larger coastal towns, Swanage is particularly known for its sandy beach with crystal-clear water, lined by family-friendly attractions and arcades. This traditional Victorian seaside resort is the perfect spot for an ice cream or fish and chip supper, reclining in a quintessentially British deck chair.
Children will adore playing on soft white sands, and the beach’s shallow incline is perfect for little beachgoers to splash in. Hop aboard the restored Swanage Railway for a nostalgic journey through the surrounding Purbeck countryside by steam, or head to Durlston Country Park, a 320-acre national nature reserve awash with wildflowers on the edge of the town, where you can spot rare red squirrels, a variety of birds, and even bottlenose dolphins.
Read our ‘Top 10 things to do in Swanage’ blog for more inspiration.
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The bucket and spade destination of Weymouth offers a slice of classic seaside resort complete with donkey rides, Punch and Judy and a helter-skelter. Sunny days can be spent on the long, sandy beach, paddling in the shallow waters or sat on the harbour watching the yachts and trawlers come and go. Or for a different perspective, head up to Nothe Fort and walk the headland to get a bird’s eye view of the boats bobbing below.
Get up close and personal to local wildlife at Weymouth’s RSPB reserve, or discover life under the waves at Weymouth Sea Life and Adventure Park. And there’s always an abundance of events and festivals throughout the year, such as the annual Weymouth Festival, Kite Festival and Seafood Festival.
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Another of Dorset’s popular coastal resorts, Lyme Regis is home to glorious golden sand, spectacular scenery and safe bathing waters protected by the iconic Cobb, which you may recognise from Meryl Streep’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. A great spot for families to have a summer getaway, the pretty town is often nicknamed ‘The Pearl of Dorset’.
A rich history of fossil hunting, it was the birthplace of Mary Anning, one of history’s most important fossil collectors and palaeontologists – make your way to Monmouth Beach if you want to follow in her footsteps and discover some Jurassic history for yourself. The annual Fossil Festival in May offers more ways to join in the fossil fun, with a great mix of walks, talks, music, theatre, exhibits and lots of hands-on science for all ages.
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Known for its peaceful beach and coastal trails with epic views, the coastal hamlet of Seatown is an idyllic spot for a relaxing break by the sea. Sitting within one of Dorset’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Seatown Beach is a favourite amongst fishermen, fossil hunters and dog walkers alike.
After a day spent soaking up the sunshine on the shingle shelving, you can take a walk up Langdon Hill to drink in some of the most breathtaking coastal vistas in the region. If you enjoy seafood, sample some of the very best in the award-winning Anchor Inn pub which offers fresh fish caught locally off the coastline – dine alfresco with a magnificent backdrop of Golden Cap to the west.
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Bridport and West Bay
A charming and lively market town and fishing port, Bridport is particularly renowned for its arts scene and has a long history of rope and net making. A gateway town for the World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast, the town has two parts, inland Bridport in the hilly countryside, and West Bay, a fishing harbour on the coast. TV buffs might recognise the beaches at West Bay from the ITV crime drama, Broadchurch.
There is plenty to occupy the holidaymaker here, with a great selection of one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, as well as some excellent weekly street markets which celebrate local producers. Walkers can hike to the top of the coast path on the cliffs, while those who want to get out on the water can hire a rowing boat up the River Brit or join a fishing trip from the harbour.
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Holiday cottages on the Dorset Coast
When it comes to Dorset beach holidays, our collection of coastal cottages places you amongst some of the Jurassic Coast’s most phenomenal beaches, scenery and attractions. From the seaside town of Swanage on the east, across to Weymouth, West Bay and Bridport, our collection of Dorset coastal cottages offers an unforgettable staycation.
Within our portfolio of holiday cottages on the Dorset Coast, you’ll find seaside escapes with unforgettable views, romantic retreats featuring the likes of cosy wood burners and hot tubs, and big beautiful boltholes for large families and groups of friends. We also have a tail-wagging selection of dog-friendly cottages, so every member of the family can experience this awe-inspiring coastline.