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Located on the south coast of the UK, Dorset is a beautifully picturesque county with quaint villages, historic castles, seaside towns and the dramatic Jurassic Coast. Of course, you could spend days exploring Dorset and the rest of the south coast, but if you’re visiting the Jurassic Coast, this guide will provide you with the Jurassic Coast highlights, visitor attractions and things to do in South Dorset on a Jurassic Coast itinerary if you only have a few days.
If you live locally, or just a short drive from Dorset, this guide is useful for planning your Dorset day trips or days out on the coast for the whole family.
If you’re planning a Dorset break, check out these unique stays in Dorset, to make your trip even more memorable.
You might also be interested in 5 ideas for weekends away in the UK.
Where is South Dorset?
Dorset is a county in England, in the UK. The county sits on the south coast of England, between Devon in the west and Hampshire in the East. South Dorset mostly refers to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England.
Things to do in South Dorset on a Jurassic Coast itinerary
Starting this list of things to do in South Dorset with the most famous spot on the Jurassic Coast - Durdle Door. Located just a 6 minute drive from West Lulworth village, you will need to leave your car in the car park at the top and walk down the access track to access the beach and view of the rock formation. There is a fee to park in the car park, £3 as of 2019 which can be paid by card, more information can be found here. However when I visited early in the morning during summer (6am), I parked on the main road in a layby and didn’t need to pay.
You’ll need to go early in the day or on a weekday if you’re visiting in summer and want to avoid the crowds. As well as walking down to the beach and the rocks above Durdle Door, walk along the coastal path at the top and see the limestone cliffs along the coastline too.
This is a great stop to visit for some photos, a walk along the coast path or a relaxed picnic on the beach and an absolute must-do on your Jurassic Coast visit.
Man O’War Beach
This beach is located on the opposite side of Durdle Door and is another beach in a safe cove area, great for swimming. You can access this beach down the same access track as Durdle Door and then turn left, instead of right towards Durdle Door beach. There are steep steps down to the beach which are generally fine in summer but they do get muddy after rain, so if it’s rained or you’re visiting in the wetter months, proceed with caution.
West Lulworth village and Lulworth Cove
If you’re wondering where to stay on the Jurassic Coast, this is my recommendation. West Lulworth is beautiful, quiet, quaint and within easy driving distance of all these attractions. I stayed here for a weekend at Limestone Hotel and it was perfect to visit Durdle Door early in the morning and talk a stroll down to Lulworth Cove for an evening walk after dinner.
Lulworth Cove is at the end of the road as you follow it through the village and is one of the Jurassic Coast highlights. The beach here is pebbles, not sand, but because it’s a cove, it’s perfect for people looking to swim in calm waters or for younger children paddling, you’ll just need water shoes. The water is crystal clear. There is also a path on either side of the cove so you can go to the top of the hilltop on each side and look out over the sea.
As you look out of Lulworth Cove, the path up to the right of the beach leads not only to great views, but also to the famous Stair Hole. The view from the top is beautiful enough but if you’re planning to walk down, be warned that access is difficult and definitely not for young children or those with mobility issues.
If you are planning to walk down, the trickier accessibility means you’ll be avoiding the crowds! It’s a great spot for a swim with clear waters and a beautifully formed natural archway out to the sea.
South West Coast Path
Regularly crowned one of the world’s greatest walks, and the longest continuous public footpath in England, it would be a mistake to miss walking even part of this path during your Jurassic Coast itinerary.
If you’re in West Lulworth, you can access the South West Coast Path from down near the Cove, behind Jimmy’s cafe. Follow the path as it leads you up above the Cove with stunning views of the tethered boats below and the sea out beyond.
The South West Coast path is 630 miles long and runs from Minehead in Somerset, to Poole in the south east of Dorset, so you can pick the path up pretty much anywhere along the coast for a beautiful walk during your things to do in South Dorset.
There are plenty of great walks under 5 miles on the Jurassic Coast or if you’re looking for longer coastal walks following the South West Coast Path, check out their website for more information and routes.
The Fossil Forest
Follow the South West Coast Path down the east side of Lulworth Cove (beware, there are some steep steps) and you’ll reach the Fossil Forest. Here you’ll find what visiting Jurassic Coast is all about - fossils, fossils and more fossils.
If you don’t fancy or aren’t able to make the scramble down to the Fossil Forest, the views from above are just as beautiful.
If fossils are what you’re looking for but you don’t want to do the scramble down to the Fossil Forest, especially if you have young children, then I’d recommend Kimmeridge Bay.
Kimmeridge bay is just a 22 minute drive from West Lulworth. It is technically accessed through private property, so there is a toll house on the road as you approach and access is £5, but if you’re planning to stay for the day or even a few hours then it’s more than worth it.
Please check the tide times before visiting to enjoy your trip fully, if the tide is high then there is very little of the beach to explore.
Fossil hammers and equipment are prohibited here, but the general rule is that if you find a fossil in the stones on the beach or the loose rocks that’s already fallen, you can claim it, just be respectful and don’t damage the environment.
There are toilets, food and drink facilities here and also a watersports cabin for people looking to surf, kayak or paddleboard.
There is a tower called Clavell Tower on the hill above the bay, this is now used for accommodation purposes but it’s a nice walk up there and the tower was also used as inspiration for several authors, notably Enid Blyton.
This is one of the great activities in Dorset for adults as there is a bit of a steep hike to get here, but that makes it all the more beautiful and it’s much less crowded than other places along the coast.
Chapman’s Pool is similar in shape to Lulworth Cove and fossils can also be found on the beach. To access it, there is a car park at the village of Worth Matravers and the walk to the cove is around a mile through farmland then a steep downhill to the cove itself, the views are spectacular on the way down and it’s worth taking a picnic and water to enjoy once you get there.
Corfe Castle is a village slightly inland but just an 8 minute drive from Worth Matravers, where you’ll park for Chapman’s Pool. Despite not being on the coast, Corfe Castle is absolutely worth a place on your Jurassic Coast itinerary.
The village also shares its name with the ancient castle ruins of Corfe Castle, a 1000 year old castle, scarred by war and it’s ruins now sit in the centre of the town on a hill. You can go in and explore the castle, it’s a National Trust property, so if you’re a member then entry is free, otherwise tickets are £10.00 for adults and £5.00 for children. You can find more information and opening times here.
If you don’t want to pay to go in, you can easily photograph the castle from the surrounding roads and in the centre of the village, as its position on the hill makes it easy to see. I’d also recommend the Corfe Castle Cafe, which is just outside the castle entrance, you can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine with a cup of tea and a lunch time snack. Or for a quick bite, head to the Corfe Castle Village bakery on the same road for freshly baked goods.
Corfe Castle heritage railway
By far my favourite part of visiting Corfe Castle, and a must-do on your Jurassic Coast visit, is going to the train station and watching the steam train pass through! The area is serviced by Swanage Railway heritage steam and diesel trains that are beautifully maintained, it really is like stepping back in time. If you want to see one of the trains pass through when you’re in Corfe Castle, time your visit with the steam timetable which can be found here.
I love photographing this cute station, with its pink station hut and the footbridge makes a great vantage point to capture the steam train with the castle in the background, definitely don’t miss this stop on your itinerary for things to do in south Dorset.
Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks are just a 12 minute drive from Corfe Castle and the walk from South Beach car park to the rocks is roughly 3.5 hours / 1-2 hours round trip, depending on your pace and how long you stop for photos! This is a National Trust area so parking is free for members but there is a small charge otherwise. More information can be found here.
The walk is fairly easy and flat, although there is no shade or cover so if it’s very sunny, cover up, or if it’s windy, wrap up warm!
The walk will take you through scrub, before bringing you out on the coastal walk with amazing views into Studland Bay with Poole and Bournemouth beyond.
The rocks are chalk and the formation is dotted out into the bay. You can walk right along the cliff edge, but be careful, there is no barrier and although it’s beautiful, it’s also very dangerous, especially in high wind.
Old Harry Rocks really are another of the Jurassic Coast highlights and the walk is doable for the whole family, so it’s a must-do for any Dorset itinerary.
Enjoy fish & chips on the beach at Weymouth
Sometimes overshadowed by nearby Bournemouth, Weymouth is a really cute seaside town. Weymouth is west, so in the opposite direction of all the stops I’ve described so far. If you have a weekend or couple of days here, I’d advise visiting the attractions in the east on one day and then the west another day, as I do in my weekend guide: 5 ideas for weekends away in the UK.
You’ll likely drive through Weymouth to get to the location that’s next on the list, so why not stop there and grab some classic British fish & clips for lunch and enjoy them on the beachfront. King Edwards or Bennett’s Fish & Chips are both great choices.
Take a stroll along the beach and to the pavilion or pier. If you’re here with kids but don’t fancy spending too long on the beach, there’s the Sea Life Centre, Adventure Minigolf and even Sandworld - huge sand sculpture creations, all right along the seafront.
Isle of Portland, Portland Bill Lighthouse, Pulpit Rock and Olympic Rings Lookout
The Isle of Portland was the biggest surprise for me on this trip as it’d never even heard of it before doing my research for this trip! If you continue on the A354 from Weymouth, you’ll cross the water onto Isle of Portland on Portland Beach Road. As you drive onto the island, to your left will be the bay where the 2012 London Olympics sailing events were held.
Olympic Rings Lookout
If you drive up the hill to the Olympic Rings Stone Sculpture, there is an incredible lookout across Portland beach that really doesn’t look like the UK at all, the water is so blue! You can park alongside the side of the road here, or in the car park at the end, although there is a fee.
Portland Bill Lighthouse
After you’ve taken a few snaps, continue south on the island, following signs for Portland Bill. Portland Bill is the tip of the island and home to the historic Portland Bill Lighthouse. There is a large car park here which is not too expensive, £1 for an hour in the summer and £0.50 for an hour in the winter.
The Lighthouse is home to several maritime exhibits in the Visitors Centre and you can also climb the tower. Unfortunately they charge £2.50 for entry into the Visitors Centre or £7.00 for entry to the Visitor Centre and to climb the tower.
There are however plenty of paths around the lighthouse if you’d prefer to admire it from the outside, plus lots of grassy space to sit and relax or have a picnic.
Behind the lighthouse and the walking bath, there is a large rocky area that you can walk and climb on. Here you’ll find the famous Pulpit Rock at Portland Bill, tis rock is particularly popular with photographers who capture the unique rock formation and water flowing over the rocky ledges.
It is possible to climb the rock, there are steps carved into the stone, but do so with caution!
If you’re planning a Dorset itinerary, make sure to add these places to your trip!
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