Dorset’s Jurassic Coast has towering white cliffs, dilapidated castles and old English pubs with locally brewed beer. Here’s our guide on what to do and where to stay when visiting the Jurassic Coast.
Dorset’s Jurassic Coast stretches 95 miles along southern England. Its towering white cliffs above crashing seas are an iconic symbol of Great Britain. But, while the Dorset coast has some of the finest scenery in the UK, there’s a lot more to this UNESCO world heritage site 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. Or 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, and then Oxford, we only recently discovered the Jurassic Coast. 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.
So pack your bags and come and take a gander at this excellent part of Great Britain.
/ JUMP AHEAD
WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO ON THE JURASSIC COAST?
From incredible coast scenery to charming seaside towns; rugged hiking paths to the coolest local breweries, here is our pick of the best things to do on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset.
1 – SEE THE WHITE LIMESTONE STACKS OF OLD HARRY ROCKS
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 hard to choose between our Seven Sisters cliff walk, or Old Harry Rocks as the most impressive stretches of coastline in the UK. Both are stunning, but here the dazzling white chalk stacks assembled like a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be completed are a feast for the eyes.
There are a few different ways to see it. You can hike along the tops, mountain bike over cliff edge trails, paddle around them in a kayak or join a scenic boat tour. You can find all the details on our Old Harry Rocks post.
If you opt to walk, bike or kayak then make sure you pop into Bankes Arms in Studland and enjoy a pint of Fossil Fuel, Solar Power or Studland Bay. All locally produced Jurassic Ales.
2 – WATCH SUNRISE OVER CORFE 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 – EXPLORE THE CRUMPLED ROCKS OF LULWORTH COVE
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.
Lulworth Cove is also an excellent starting point for a short walk to Durdle Door, one of our favourites on the Jurassic Coast.
4 – HIKE TO THE NATURAL ARCH OF DURDLE DOOR
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 its iconic status along the Dorset Coast.
5 – DISCOVER THE REJUVENATED HARBOUR AT WEYMOUTH
Many English seaside towns have seen better days, out of favour to the cheap (and sunnier) Spanish destinations. But Weymouth is being rejuvenated. Home to many great Dorset festivals and events, this is an old English gem not to be missed.
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 – MEANDER THE VILLAGE AND SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY
With the possible exception of the villages of the Cotswolds, 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 – COMPLETE A CIRCULAR WALK AROUND WEST BAY 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 honey-coloured 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 coastal walks article.
8 – HUNT FOR FOSSILS ALONG CHARMOUTH 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 – UNWIND IN THE COASTAL RESORT OF LYME REGIS
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.
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 also 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 with just a few beautifully decorated rooms.
10 – SAMPLE CRAFT BEER AT LOCAL BREWERIES
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 in the Jurassic Coast’s craft beer market.
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.
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.
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.
WORTH A DETOUR – MORE THINGS TO DO ON THE JURASSIC COAST
While this is our pick of things to do on the Dorset Coast, there’s no shortage of places to visit in South England. So, if you have your own car, here are a few suggestions that might entice you to make a short detour.
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.
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, visitors 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 all our things to do, we’d recommend 3 full days on the coast. Either stay centrally near Dorchester and drive out each day, or split your stay between the Purbeck peninsula in the east and Lyme Regis in the west.
We have put together a list of the best places to stay on the Jurassic Coast which includes the main areas to stay on the coast, what to see in each spot, and our pick of the best accommodation ranging from great value budget options to luxurious beach huts.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE JURASSIC COAST
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.
MAP / THINGS TO DO ON THE JURASSIC COAST
All our things to do in the Jurassic Coast our collected on our map. Save it to your device, click on the star next to the title. This will save the map to your Google Maps account. They’re generally found in SAVED – MAPS on the Google Maps App.
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.
There are three main centres you can arrive at on the Jurassic Coast. Poole or Bournemouth are on the east end of the Jurassic Coast, Weymouth is bang in the middle and Axminster is towards the western end.
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.
CAR HIRE FOR THE JURASSIC COAST
We recommend using Auto Europe to book your hire car for the Jurassic Coast. 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.
FROM THE USA – BOOK HERE
FROM THE UK OR EUROPE – BOOK HERE
MORE JURASSIC COAST & BRITAIN READING
The south coast of England is a great part of the world to explore. With scenic coastal hikes, a vibrant craft beer scene and some very cool places to stay, it’s the perfect location for a weekend from London. Here are some of our guides from the area, plus more
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