Dorset’s Jurassic Coast has towering white cliffs, dilapidated castles, dinosaur fossils and old English pubs with locally brewed beer. Here’s our guide on what to do and where to stay.


Dorset’s Jurassic Coast stretches 95 miles along southern England. Towering white cliffs above crashing seas have become the iconic symbol of this part of the country. But, while the Dorset coast has some of the finest scenery in the UK, there’s a lot more to this area than stunning vistas.

Here you can explore rock pools in tiny coves or laze on sweeping golden beaches. Let the mind wander at atmospheric decaying castles and hunt for dinosaur fossils on crumbling beaches. After a bracing walk along windswept coastal paths, warm up in a cosy English pub with a locally brewed beer.

It is a great place to come for a few days or even a week.

Despite living in London for decades, the Jurassic Coast is an area we have only just discovered. The allure of country walks, local ales, hidden coves and incredible scenery was so great that we’ve now been back a couple of times. So here are all our recommendations for what to do, how to get around and where to stay. And yes, as ever, we have a few tips on finding good coffee too.

So pack your bags and come and take a gander at this excellent part of Great Britain.

1 / OLD HARRY ROCKS

Stare at white limestone stacks in the Sea

Old Harry Rocks was once two white limestone rocks standing proud at the eastern end of the Dorset Coast. Unfortunately, Old Harry’s wife crumbled into the sea at the end of the 19th century. Old Harry remains – joined by other white stone monoliths that have now been carved out along the coast. It’s one of the most impressive stretches of coastline in the UK with dazzling white chalk stacks assembled like a jig saw puzzle waiting to be completed.

There are a few different ways to see it. Firstly, you can walk for 25 minutes following the path from the Bankes Arms pub in Studland to the clifftops at Old Harrys. Secondly, you can get a boat from Poole Harbour and sail past the coastline and inspect the rock formations from a sea-level vantage point. Finally, you can join a kayak tour, brace for the chilly water, and paddle in and around these giant monoliths.

If you opt for the walk or kayak tour then make sure you pop into Bankes Arms and enjoy a pint of Fossil Fuel, Solar Power or Studland Bay. All locally produced Jurassic Ales.

2 / CORFE CASTLE

Sunrise over a ruined 11th century castle

In 1066 the Normans invaded England, crossing the English Channel from France. They quickly conquered the country and set about building castles to secure their new lands. Corfe Castle was one of the earliest built and today it stands in dilapidated glory overlooking the Dorset hills. It is one of the finest ruined castles in the UK.

The best views of the castle are from up West Hill – a short but steep climb up a stepped path just northwest of the town. For an even better atmospheric experience, try to get here for dawn on a particularly cold day. The ruins will appear to rise from a golden mist as it cascades down the hill behind it.

Corfe Village is also worth a potter. Small cosy pubs and independent shops sit among attractive houses. The gem most worth visiting in town is Corfe Castle railway station – lovingly restored to how it looked almost 100 years ago. Time your visit right and take a ride on the Swanage railway steam locomotive that runs the short route from just north of Corfe to Swanage.

3 / LULWORTH COVE

Explore a circular cove and crumpled rocks

Lulworth Cove is a beautiful circular cove surrounded by a sweeping arc of pebbles and backed by steep cliffs. When the tide is high it is one of the most attractive beaches in the UK. When its low, rock pools are revealed, bursting with all sorts of strange animals.

Just above the cove is another interesting phenomenon, the Lulworth Crumple. Sitting above Stair Hole cove, layers of black, grey and white rock are slowly collapsing into the sea. Consisting of alternating hard limestone and soft shale bands, the cliff has ‘crumpled’ because the soft shale is unable to support the force of gravity.

The whole area is a great place to explore for a few hours. Access is via West Lulworth where there’s a large car park, visitors centre, toilets and restaurants. It’s also an excellent starting point for the short walk to Durdle Door.

4 / DURDLE DOOR

Hike to a natural arch and the best of the Jurassic Coast scenery

Durdle Door is the iconic image of the Jurassic Coast. Over time, crashing waves have eroded most of the limestone leaving a glorious natural arch stranded in the sea. It’s a fantastic sight and an easy 5-minute walk from the Durdle Door car park.

But to quickly come and go would be a mistake. This part of the Jurassic Coast has some of the finest scenery anywhere in Dorset. Just beside Durdle Door, the magnificent sweeping sands of Man O’War beach provided an attractive beachy nook. If the weather is blessing you, take a quick dip in these sheltered waters.

If the weather is not so kind, an amble along Durdle Door beach staring up at towering vertical faces of rock is the perfect way to spend a cold afternoon. If you’re feeling more energetic, hike along undulating paths clinging to cliff edges with glorious views both along the coast and out to sea. It’s one of the many great short walks on the Jurassic Coast.

However you choose to experience Durdle Door, you soon appreciate it’s iconic status along the Dorset Coast.

5 / WEYMOUTH HARBOUR

Uncover a rejuvenated working harbour

Many English seaside towns have seen better days, out of favour to the cheap (and sunnier) Spanish destinations. But Weymouth is being rejuvenated.

The old harbour contains a well-preserved mix of old and new. Old warehouses perched on the sea walls are now cool pubs and hotels. Vintage breweries form the backdrop to charming squares. Fisherman, following a millennia-old lifestyle, chug their boats up and down the waterways backed by colourful houses transformed into fish and chips shops or a bed for the night.

It’s a great place for a slow meander and a snoop into the local life of a thriving seaside town. Start at the pubs along Custom House Quay and collect the local hangouts along the back streets – Fish ‘n’ Fritz is a popular favourite. Then head across the river to collect some of the quaint streets and local markets.

6 / ABBOTSBURY

Meander a cute Dorset village and swannery

The charming village of Abbotsbury is as traditionally English as they come and an ideal Jurassic Coast road trip stop. It was even the setting for films of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. Explore its village shop, post office, independent stores and tea rooms before heading up to St. Catherine’s Chapel perched on a hill.

This barrel-vaulted 14th Century Chapel is impressive enough, but the view is even better. From here you can survey Chesil beach. Wedged between the English Channel and a shallow tidal lagoon, 18 miles (29km) of shingle form a thin ridge that rises up to 50 ft (15m) high in places. Fishermen from all around come to this beach to catch fish in the deep nutritious waters just offshore.

From March to October you can also visit the Abbotsbury Swannery. Stroll the paths and watch hundreds of swans relax in the protected waters. In nesting season, it’s the only place in the world where you can walk through a colony of nesting Mute Swans.

7 / WEST BAY

Circular walk around rippling golden cliffs

As you head west along the Jurassic Coast the limestone disappears to be replaced by sandstone. At West Bay instead of towering white cliffs rippling waves of layered rock rise above golden shingle beaches. It’s a magical sight. Plan your trip to arrive in the early morning or late afternoon light when the mist of the crashing waves creates an enchanting sight.

If you are a fan of the UK hit series Broadchurch you will recognise these dramatic landscapes as the backdrop to the programs ongoing drama. To see the best of West Bay there are a few options. Firstly, you can just walk along the beach and admire the spectacular scenery. Secondly, take a hike over the cliffs for a bird’s eye view of the coastline. Finally, hire a rowboat and head out to sea for a unique vantage point of this geological marvel.

All the information about exploring West Bay is in our Dorset hikes article.

8 / CHARMOUTH FOSSILS

Find fossils just lying on the beach

Every year bits of the cliff along the Jurassic Coast tumble into the sea. The softer the rock the quicker it crumbles. The cliffs by the village of Charmouth are softer than most. Fortunately, these rocks made of mud, silt and clay are packed full of fossils. Each time the rock crumbles to the ground, new fossils are revealed.

While on your Dorset Jurassic Coast adventure, wander along Charmouth beach, turn over a few stones and find the remnants of animals etched in the rock. In 2000, a large cliff fall revealed a fossilised dinosaur head. This Ichthyosaur, along with many other fossils, is now on display under the heritage centre by the beach.

The heritage centre runs regular 2-hour fossil hunting walks. The first 25 minutes explains how fossils are formed in their fascinating fossil-packed museum. The rest of the tour is out on the beach with a guide to find some. Kids will love it.

9 / LYME REGIS

Explore the pick of the Dorset Coast seaside resorts

If you only choose one town to visit on the Jurassic Coast, make it Lyme Regis. It’s historic Cobb Harbour set against moody cliffs is well-preserved. Its beachfront (untouched by major roads) is backed by colourful huts and cute houses. The high street is home to independent, interesting stores – something of a rarity in the UK.

Head into the Ammonite shop to choose from a massive range of Dorset beers or west coast gins. The Lyme Regis Brewery has a taproom selling its craft blends, perched above a babbling brook. For a decent coffee head to Amid Giants and Idols – one of the many independent roasters on the Jurassic Coast.

It’s a great place to base yourself for exploring this part of the coast. Our pick of accommodation in town is the newly renovated Pilot Boat Inn. It’s right in the centre of town with just a few beautifully decorated rooms.

WORTH A DETOUR

While this is our pick of things to do on the Dorset Coast, there’s plenty more to do around the area. So, if you have your own car, here are a few suggestions that might entice you to make a short detour.

BREWERY TOURS

There are few better ways to spend time than sampling an interesting ale in an old English Pub. And Dorset is home to a number of great local breweries. From micro-start-ups to grand old institutions, you don’t have to travel too far to find the hottest thing on the craft beer market on the Jurassic Coast.

Many of these breweries have tours to learn about the craft and precision that goes into making this much-loved commodity. Alternatively, pull up a stool in a tap-room and try it for yourself.

DORSET BREWING COMPANY / A small brewery based in Crossways, Dorset Brewing Company has an intriguing taproom that’s somewhere between a spit-and-sawdust shack and a swiss ski chalet. The incredibly friendly host offers 4 pints, one of which is a monthly rotating limited edition. If the 7% Grand Cru is available then make sure you try this sumptuous cross between an IPA and champagne. Head here on a Friday evening, take a tour and join the locals beginning their weekend.

PALMERS BREWERY / Set on the River Asker just north of West Bay, Palmer’s Brewer is the more traditional kid on the beer block. They have 225 years of brewing experience – the water wheel built in 1879 still stands today. The tours only run on weekdays from March to October and although we didn’t go, we have heard good reviews.

BADGER BEERS / Less micro-brewery and more modern factory, Badger Beer has been brewing since 1777. Its larger site offers a comprehensive brewing tour, a well-stocked shop (perfect for gifts or stocking up the home larder) and a modern stylish taproom. It’s a bit further out of the way, so you may want to plan to come here on your way to or from the Jurassic Coast.

CERNE ABBAS

Britain has a few strange chalk drawings on green hills. But none is stranger than the one at Cerne Abbas. Formed by cutting shallow trenches in the turf and filling them with chalk rubble, it would be nice if this drawing of a well-endowed man holding a club was an ancient fertility symbol. But more likely it was made by a couple of randy teenagers on a dark night in the 17th century.

While you might suspect the town that sits below it is full of sex-crazed maniacs, when we visited, most were sitting politely in the village hall listening to a talk on the key moments in the development of Russian Art.

SHORTLAND BILL LIGHTHOUSE

The Isle of Purbeck is a peninsular stretching 5 miles into the English Channel. At its tip is the Shortland Bill Lighthouse. This red and white striped column may not be the most enticing of sights, but its free to climb the steps to the summit and chat to the lighthouse guard.

The setting is particularly good in the early morning when sunrise will be illuminating the scene. If the weather’s not so good, the rough sea can create an atmospheric but chilly situation.

This is a harsh section of British coastline, so rug up.

MAIDEN HILL

If you are into history then Maiden Hill is worth a look. It’s home to the largest and most complex iron age fort in the UK. While none of the buildings remain, row upon row of banks and ditches show how well the town was defended.

To gain access in ancient times, visitors would need to walk between the banks which spiralled their way up to the main gate. This would make their arrival visible for a long time, providing ample opportunity to thwart an attack.

Today, visitor’s gain access from the nearby carpark and trudge up through the mud. Bring boots on wet days and lots of imagination.


WHERE TO STAY ON THE JURASSIC COAST

The Jurassic Coast stretches for 95 miles and it takes 2 hours to drive from one end to the other. So, make sure you stay near the sights you are most keen to visit.

To see everything on our list, we’d recommend staying 2 nights. One of these should be near Corfe Castle and Durdle Door in the east; the other should be near Lyme Regis in the west.

Staying on the English Coast can be a very hit and miss affair. There are some great places to stay but also a lot of low-quality hotels that have not been updated for years. Here’s our pick of those that we thought were a cut above the rest – all location are marked on the map below.

OUT IN THE WILDS

SMUGGLERS INN, OSMINGTON MILLS


If you want an old English pub in a tiny village away from everywhere then this is the place for you. Just meters from the Dorset Coast you can stay here and go nowhere else. Walk east and you’ll find yourself at Durdle Door, west and you’ll be at the lovely Bowleaze Cove.

CHECK PRICES

CLASSY B&B

BEGGARS KNAP, DORCHESTER


The market towns a few miles inland from the Jurassic Coast can be a good place to spend the night. Dorchester is a charming town and Beggars Knap is the pick of the B&Bs. A slice of Victoriana right in the centre of town, staying here is like stepping back 100 years.

CHECK PRICES

OUT IN THE WILDS

SMUGGLERS INN, OSMINGTON MILLS


If you want an old English pub in a tiny village away from everywhere then this is the place for you. Just meters from the Dorset Coast you can stay here and go nowhere else. Walk east and you’ll find yourself at Durdle Door, west and you’ll be at the lovely Bowleaze Cove.

CHECK PRICES

CLASSY B&B

BEGGARS KNAP, DORCHESTER


The market towns a few miles inland from the Jurassic Coast can be a good place to spend the night. Dorchester is a charming town and Beggars Knap is the pick of the B&Bs. A slice of Victoriana right in the centre of town, staying here is like stepping back 100 years.

CHECK PRICES

CONTEMPORARY ROOMS

THE PILOT BOAT, LYME REGIS


In 2018 the owners renovated the rooms above this Inn, and what a great job they have done. Gorgeously tiled bathrooms, wooden floored bedrooms, cosy sheets on comfortable beds and great attention to detail. There’s only three rooms, so hurry.

CHECK PRICES

OLD ENGLISH LUXURY

PRIORY HOTEL, WAREHAM


Nestled in 4 acres of English cottage gardens by the River Frome, this 16th century hotel is a classy choice in a lovely town. Think old English luxury, stylish rooms and a beautiful setting. It’s the perfect for a bit of downtime after a hectic week.

CHECK PRICES

CONTEMPORARY ROOMS

THE PILOT BOAT, LYME REGIS


In 2018 the owners renovated the rooms above this Inn, and what a great job they have done. Gorgeously tiled bathrooms, wooden floored bedrooms, cosy sheets on comfortable beds and great attention to detail. There’s only three rooms, so hurry.

CHECK PRICES

OLD ENGLISH LUXURY

PRIORY HOTEL, WAREHAM


Nestled in 4 acres of English cottage gardens by the River Frome, this 16th century hotel is a classy choice in a lovely town. Think old English luxury, stylish rooms and a beautiful setting. It’s the perfect for a bit of downtime after a hectic week.

CHECK PRICES

BEST TIME TO GO

The best time to go to the Jurassic Coast is from May to early July, when the days are long and dry, the flowers are out and the school holidays have not yet begun. September and October are also good.

From mid-July to end of August the weather is great, but the area is extremely busy. Book your accommodation well in advance and try to set off early each day to avoid the crowds.

Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of sunny weather then it is a truly beautiful place to explore in the winter light.

HOW TO GET TO THE JURASSIC COAST

A small number of airlines fly into Bournemouth or Southampton airports, just east of the Jurassic Coast. Most are domestic flights but you can fly direct from Paris, Amsterdam or Dublin. The majority of travellers will however need to come via London.

Trains and coaches run from London to Poole or Bournemouth on the east end of the Jurassic Coast, and to Weymouth bang in the middle. Journey time is anywhere between 2 to 4 hours.

HOW TO GET AROUND THE JURASSIC COAST

You could use the bus and train network to explore the Dorset Coast. But they don’t run that regularly and are not particularly comprehensive. Many of the best destinations only require a few hours to see and are at the end of small roads or in tiny villages. So, we highly recommend hiring a car to optimise your time on the coast.

There are plenty of car parks but they can get very busy in summer, so try to arrive early in peak season. Also ensure you carry change. Most parking meters take card but the odd one still only operates on coins.

AUTO EUROPE


The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is AutoEurope. They have access to cars from all the major companies which are compared on a grid format that clearly displays the prices for different car sizes across each provider. Click below to check prices based on your home location.

USA CUSTOMERSEUROPE CUSTOMERS

AUTO EUROPE


The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is AutoEurope. They have access to cars from all the major companies which are compared on a grid format that clearly displays the prices for different car sizes across each provider. Click below to check prices based on your home location.

USA CUSTOMERSEUROPE CUSTOMERS

FINDING GOOD COFFEE ON THE JURASSIC COAST

Whenever we are away, we are on the hunt for good coffee. Fortunately for us, there are a few gems near the Dorset Coast.

In the charming market town of Wareham is Coffee Saloon. Decked out in wood with naked bulbs, cinema seats and some charming local touches, they churn out a mean flat white. If you need a snack, their savoury muffins and toasted sandwiches hit the spot. They’ve done so well they now have 5 stores in Dorset. The latest has opened on the pedestrian high street in Dorchester, an appealing market town and a great place to spend a night.

At the top-end of the Lyme Regis high street is Amid Giants and Idols. This independent store works with artisan roasters and offers a variety of different coffees in addition to its house blend. Grab a cuppa, sink back in their leather chairs and have a game of backgammon.

WHERE NEXT?

If you found this guide useful, please head over to Instagram to stay up to date with our adventures.

For some great hiking in Dorset, we’ve put together our 6 favourite short walks so you can see some of the best of the area on foot.

To check out all our hiking articles, try our on the trail page or for more outdoor adventures, head to our natural scenery page.

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

Dorset’s Jurassic Coast has towering white cliffs, dilapidated castles, dinosaur fossils and old English pubs with locally brewed beer. Here’s how to spend a few days here and where to stay. #visitdorest #jurassiccoast #dorsetofficial #visitengland

Dorset’s Jurassic Coast has towering white cliffs, dilapidated castles, dinosaur fossils and old English pubs with locally brewed beer. Here’s how to spend a few days here and where to stay. #visitdorest #jurassiccoast #dorsetofficial #visitengland

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