Dorset is a largely rural county with a traditional farming countryside. The Dorset Downs undulate diagonally across the county and make excellent walking country with far reaching views. No wonder the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers the majority of the county. The towns and villages tend to small but full of historic buildings and beautiful traditional thatched cottages can frequently be found.
The coast is stunning with a gradual change in geology as you travel from west to east. All along the coast there are sheltered bays, impressive rock formations and long shingle and sand beaches. You have everything from quiet traditional harbour towns at Lyme Regis to lively seaside resorts at Bournemouth and Weymouth. Much of Dorset towards the east is covered in heathland. This is now a rare habitat but in Dorset the majority is accessible as National Nature Reserves and comprise some of the most extensive heathlands in Europe. Dorset is a walker's paradise with a network of footpaths and long distance walking trails across the county and coast. Poole, Christchurch and Portland provide watersports hotspots and there are plenty of cycle trails to be followed.
The Dorset Jurassic Coast is a special coastline in that it tells a continuous story of how the Earth was formed spanning 185 million years! Walk the South West Coast Path along the Dorset Coast taking in some of the amazing rock formations and fossils that make up the Dorset Coast. Dorset towns and villages along the coast are geared up to help you find out more about the coast and the particular sites of interest nearby. You'll find helpful Dorset Tourist Information Centres and Museums displaying artefacts found in the area.
Take boat trips for a sea level view of the rocks and coastline. The Dorset coast also has a string of camping and caravan sites and an excellent regular bus service offers a great service for those without cars and walkers who may want to walk a section of the coastline and get a bus back. Top Dorset family seaside resort Weymouth is ideally situated along the Dorset Jurassic Coast and is a favourite for family seaside holidays boasting great family friendly beaches. Other superb Dorset Jurassic Coast gateway bases include Lyme Regis, home to the famous sea wall appearing in film and TV, The Cobb.
Bournemouth has been a popular seaside resort ever since the Victorians decided to take the sea air for their health. For years Bournemouth has been a great family seaside destination, but recent years has seen the growth of modern attractions, a revamped shopping centre and, soon, a specially designed surf reef at Boscombe. Bournemouth is geared up for all types of entertainment. The Bournemouth International Centre hosts exhibitions and conferences from all over the world as well as international rock and pop acts. Across the way is The Pavilion Theatre where entertainment includes comedians, rock, pop and classical concerts including those performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Around Bournemouth are the watersports capitals of Dorset - Poole to the west and Christchurch to the east - where you can try your hand at sailing, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing and powerboating. There are also long stretches of family-friendly beaches string along the coast from Sandbanks in Poole all the way along to Highcliffe east of Christchurch. Christchurch is a mix of historic town and vibrant watersports destination. The old town centre of Christchurch retains much of its Saxon layout. As you walk around you'll find a ruin of a Norman castle, an early domestic dwelling house, a Saxon watermill and museums detailing Christchurch's interesting history.
From wherever you are in Christchurch you'll see the beautiful Norman Christchurch Priory in the centre. From the outside it's impressive being the longest church in England. Inside it's breathtaking with high vaulted ceilings in Norman and Gothic architecture and the miraculous roof beam whose legend gave the church and town its name.
Although it's difficult to tell where Bournemouth ends and Poole starts, Poole does have a different feel to the family seaside atmosphere of Bournemouth. Poole is all sailing, watersports, sandy beaches, rollerblading and jogging along the beach esplanades and sitting sipping drinks on the Quay while taking in the view of some luxury cruisers in the harbour. Apart from The Old Town that retains a strong sense of its seventeenth century heyday, Poole is increasingly expanding with a variety of modern retail centres including Dorset's largest indoor shopping centre, The Dolphin Shopping Centre and the developing array of shops and discount outlets on Poole Quay.
The Isle of Purbeck contains some of Dorset's most iconic landscapes and historic sights. On the coast Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and the chalk cliffs around the Studland peninsula are some of Dorset's most photographed and certainly the most stunning. Inland there's the stunning hilltop castle at Corfe Castle, believed to date back to 6000 BC and the scene of turbulent historic events. Historic market towns and thatched cottage villages pepper the countryside and you'll find the main Purbeck Information & Heritage Centre in Wareham.
Purbeck is an excellent place for coastal and countryside walks, bird and wildlife watching. A vast area of land on Purbeck is covered by National Nature Reserves containing the country's most extensive areas of heathland, home to rare native wildlife.
West Dorset, inland from the coast, is a beautiful green rolling landscape with plenty of opportunities for walks across the Downs and exploring historic towns and villages. Many of the historic towns are old market towns where that tradition continues with weekly local produce markets and Farmers Markets. West Dorset has some of the county's most beautiful towns such as Sherbone and its medieval centre and Beaminster's Georgian town.
Dorset's county town is Dorchester where you'll find a good choice of visitor attractions. Dorset's most famous son, Thomas Hardy, spent much of his life in West Dorset and around Dorchester and you'll find plenty of places to visit to follow in his footsteps or those of his characters.
North eastern Dorset is a mix of rolling chalk downland and extensive heaths. The towns and villages are steeped in history and many have preserved some fantastic examples of early architecture such as Shaftesbury and Wimborne Minster as well as the predominantly Georgian Blandford Forum. Some of East Dorset has been less explored by tourism, but that is changing as the beautiful historic sights and open countryside of East Dorset as well as its proximity of East Dorset to the New Forest in Hampshire attract increasing numbers of visitors.
The southern eastern part of Dorset is largely taken up by the Isle of Purbeck - not really an island but it has its own particular beauty that sets it apart. East Dorset is a largely rural part of Dorset where the towns are relatively small. The old market towns of East Dorset are always worth exploring for historic buildings, independent shops, markets and festivals. There are plenty of walking routes that cross this part of Dorset whether they're footpaths or bridleways or long distance walking routes.