Dorset’s world-renowned coastline boasts a beach for everyone. We've narrowed down the best places to dip your toes in the water in this delightful corner of southwest England.
With its mild maritime climate and one-of-a-kind Jurassic coastline, Dorset is made for British beach holidays. Whether you want brisk clifftop hikes and adrenaline-fuelled water sports or sunbathing on golden sands as the kids paddle in the waves, there’s a perfect place in this south coast county.
For rockpooling and fossil hunting: Lulworth Cove
Part of the historic Lulworth Estate, this horseshoe-shaped bay is a World Heritage Site thanks to its unique geology, linked to the formation of the Alps 50 million years ago. Visitors will be charmed by its easily accessible, sheltered white pebble beach, crystal clear waters and stunning clifftop walks.
When the tide is out, there are rockpooling opportunities aplenty, or you could try your hand at kayaking, coasteering or snorkelling. Afterwards, head to The Boat Shed Café, a former lock-up, that serves breakfast and lunch with uninterrupted views. Stay at cosy Lulworth Lodge, which has 12 rooms and a relaxed bistro, all within a converted watermill overlooking the beach.
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For pristine sands: Sandbanks
This millionaires’ paradise is one of the most expensive stretches of real estate in the world thanks to its pristine soft sands and views across Poole Harbour. The peninsula has a very shallow bay, making it ideal for swimming, and it has held its Blue Flag status for more than three decades.
Deckchairs, parasols and beach huts are all available to hire but if you fancy something more active, Sandbanks offers a variety of water sports, volleyball, mini golf and a children’s play area. Beach barbecues are permitted in the evening or live like the wealthy locals by dining at Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant. Later, lay your head at the historic Haven Hotel, which dates back to 1887 and was the location of Guglielmo Marconi’s earliest radio transmissions.
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For perfect paddling: West Bay
You might recognise the two fine shingle beaches and their dramatic cliffs at West Bay from the ITV drama Broadchurch, but the real thrills here are excellent paddling and gorgeous scenery, along with deep sea fishing trips.
You can also hire boats to row a mile upstream on the River Brit to the quirky market town of Bridport, which prides itself on its rich rope-making history and creative community. Don’t miss a tour of Palmers, Britain’s only thatched brewery, then head back to the West Bay Hotel, which serves Dorset Pale Ale and seafood, and has three beach-facing bedrooms for hire.
For dramatic scenery: Durdle Door
Home to the iconic white limestone archway, this shingle beach is worth the steep walk down 147 steps (and then back up again). Your reward is a sheltered and generally quiet spot, which has featured in everything from Tears For Fears music videos to the 2015 film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd.
Nearby country house Limestone Hotel has individually designed rooms, plus a chic restaurant with a seasonal menu, while Durdle Door Holiday Park offers static caravans, skylight glamping pods, traditional camping and wooden huts to suit your whim, with scenic views, an adventure playground and direct access to the South West Coast Path.
For natural wonders: Chesil Beach
The location of Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, this 18-mile (29km) shingle beach, flanked by water on both sides, is one of Britain’s natural wonders and a prime birdwatching spot, perfect for explorers rather than sunbathers.
For spectacular views of the beach in all its glory, head to the lookout point at the Olympic Rings on the Isle of Portland. The island, tied to the mainland, is a great spot to stay too with waterside self-catering apartments at Crabbers Wharf. Or go all out at Moonfleet Manor, a luxury family hotel with a crèche, indoor pool and spa treatments.
Don’t forget to dine at Crab House Café. It’s seafood heaven and has its very own Portland oyster beds, meaning you can enjoy them within minutes of leaving the water.
For dunes and views: Studland Bay
Once the site of top-secret D-Day preparations, this National Trust-managed stretch of sand has something for everyone and every season. It’s split into four sandy beaches – South, Middle, Knoll and Shell – all of which have views of Old Harry Rocks and Isle of Wight, plus shallow waters for paddling. It’s also the boarding point for the Sandbanks chain ferry.
Head to Knoll for paddle boarding, ice creams and naked sunbathing in its designated nudist area, while Shell has a wildlife reserve in the dunes and Middle is perfect for snorkellers. Afterwards, enjoy panoramic views over lobster at Shell Bay or pub grub at The Bankes Arms, a 16th-century country inn with a beer garden and B&B rooms. Families may prefer a night at Knoll House, which offers an adventure playground, games room and playroom.
For sailing and sandcastles: Weymouth
A favourite retreat of King George III, Weymouth is the quintessential seaside experience. Donkey rides, helter skelters, ice cream cabins and pedalos are all available along its gently sloping arch of soft sand.
There are plenty of opportunities to get active, with volleyball, jet-skiing and sailing – the area was host to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing events – or simply paddle in its shallow waters. Public facilities are top notch too, with plenty of toilets, lifeguards at peak times and free beach wheelchairs.
The town has a vibrant food scene and family-friendly Rockfish on The Esplanade is a buzzing spot specialising in sustainable local seafood. For a chic stay a stone’s throw from the sand, book the intimate Georgian townhouse No. 98 Boutique Hotel.
For a traditional beach break: Bournemouth
This bustling seaside resort is Dorset’s largest and combines classic British piers and sandcastles with a Mediterranean feel, thanks to its renowned rain-free microclimate and alfresco dining scene.
There are seven miles (11km) of sandy Blue Flag beaches to bathe on but they can get crowded in the height of summer, so hire yourself one of the council’s 250 colourful beach huts – a seaside structure invented in the town in 1909.
Lead image: Durdle Door by Lukasz Pajor/Shutterstock
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