Aside from being home to the magnificent Jurassic Coast, Dorset also boasts some beautiful and romantic castles that you can enjoy. Bursting with history and expansive grounds perfect for long walks, the question isn’t if to visit these castles in Dorset but which one to explore first! So without further ado, here are 11 amazing castles in Dorset that you absolutely need to visit.
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Mitoshka Alkova.
1. Corfe Castle
Address: The Square, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5EZ
Phone number: 01929 481294
As one of the most well-known castles in Dorset, Corfe Castle should be first on your list. Steeped in thousands of years of history and battles, the castle has been a Saxon stronghold, a Norman fortress and a royal palace! You won’t be able to miss it as it sits high in the Purbeck ridge and impresses from the first sight. There’s something very romantic about the castle and the steep walk up to the ruins. Very often you can find a wedding tent in the fields next to it and it’s not hard to see why – especially if you visit at sunset!
If that isn’t enough, the Swanage Railway steam trains can be seen from the castle ruins to further transport you back in time. There are events here throughout the year if you want to pay entry into the castle grounds. But just walking around the outside of the ruins is enough to get a feel for the castle’s beauty and magnitude.
There are great walks from here that take you along to Old Harry Rocks and offer spectacular views of the area! At about 9 miles and 5 and a half hours to complete, it’s a perfect route on a sunny day. You can find more information about the trail at the information centre on the castle grounds. And if you get tired you can always return by steam train!
2. Sherborne Castle
Address: New Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 5NR
Phone number: 01935 813182
Built in 1594, this perfectly preserved castle is a stark contrast to the ruins of Corfe Castle. Enjoy a peaceful, undisturbed 42-acre walk around the well-kept and designed gardens on a sunny day and take rest by the lake which has a Fossil House. The gardens of Sherborne are really magnificent too. Regardless of what season you visit, there will always be an array of flowers or autumn colours around you.
The Tudor interior is well preserved with a collection of art, fossils, porcelain and other archaeological finds from the grounds. And if all the walking has made you hungry, the tearooms are inexpensive and serve some fantastic scones. But pack your own picnic too and enjoy it by the lake on one of the many benches.
3. Sherborne Old Castle
Address: Castleton, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 3SA
Phone number: 01935 812730
Now a ruin thanks to the Civil War, you can also find Sherborne Old Castle on the grounds of Sherborne Castle. This romantic 12th-century ruin gives you an idea of the scale of the old castle in comparison to the new one. However, at only a short walk away, it’s still a very exciting place to visit.
The grounds are bursting with wildlife and birds, making them ideal for a picnic and a quieter place to enjoy nature. As you enter the castle, the gates are most impressive in their height and magnitude. It will feel eerie to walk through them knowing there are tons of stones above your head. Despite being a stark contrast to the new Sherborne grounds, this is truly a piece of history and one of the castles in Dorset that you absolutely can’t miss.
4. Lulworth Castle
Address: East Lulworth, Wareham BH20 5QS
Phone number: 01929 400352
Originally a hunting lodge for aristocrats, Lulworth Castle was quickly transformed into a lavish estate home. You’ll notice some restoration work after a lot of the castle was destroyed in a fire which is why there are no new walls on the upper floors.
From woodland walks and a vast parkland to music in the form of Camp Bestival, there is so much to do here. But if you just want to soak up some amazing views, you can do that too. Climb the tower and take in the Purbeck countryside and the Jurassic Coast.
The castle offers a perfect piece of history after a visit to Durdle Door just down the road. While you’re at Durdle Door, head to Lulworth Cove, one of the best beaches in Dorset, too. Here you can enjoy some delicious fish and chips and clear water swims.
5. Portland Castle
Address: Liberty Road, Castletown, Dorset DT5 1AZ
Phone number: 01305 820539
Portland Castle is situated on the lovely and mysterious island of Portland, one of the best days out in Dorset. The castle was originally built to protect against French and Spanish invasion in the 1540s. It may be one of the smallest castles in Dorset but it’s also one of Henry VIII’s most preserved forts, made from the world-famous Portland stone.
Make sure you go on an audio tour to better understand the 450-year history and prominence of the castle in the First and Second World Wars. The gun platform on the roof offers some great views towards Weymouth and the open water, and you can really get perspective on how big the cannons are!
The gardens here are lovely for a stroll and offer peace before continuing on to explore Portland. You can enjoy a full day exploring the area including the prison, abandoned WW2 tunnels and the lighthouse on the far side of the island. If you feel like it, this is one of the best rock climbing spots on the Jurassic Coast. So bring your gear and enjoy a full day of activity.
6. Highcliffe Castle
Address: Highcliffe Castle, Rothesay Dr, Highcliffe, Dorset BH23 4LE
Phone number: 01425 278807
Where to begin with Highcliffe Castle? It not only boasts gardens perfect for a picnic and a long walk but the beautiful castle itself offers a perfectly preserved history at your fingertips. If that’s not enough, the Steamer Point Nature Reserve and a quiet beach are just a short drive away. The views are beautiful and on a clear day, you can even spot the Isle of Wight!
Listed as a Grade 1 Mansion, the castle offers one of the finest Romantic and Picturesque style architecture examples in Britain. Lavished in extravagant furniture, each room brings you closer to the history of this place and its residents. (The founder of Selfridges used to live here!) With its long windows and beautifully decorated gardens, it’s a very romantic place that should definitely be one of the first castles in Dorset that you visit! Admission is £7 and the castle is worth every penny.
7. Durlston Castle
Address: Durlston Country Park, Lighthouse Road, Swanage BH19 2JL
Phone number: 01929 424443
Durlston Castle is an interesting part of Dorset history. Even though your eyes will tell you that this is a castle, it actually isn’t. It was built as a decorative building with no actual purpose on the grounds of the Durlston Estate. The owners of the estate wanted to give back to the local people of Swanage, so used their wealth to turn the grounds into a tourist attraction. A Weymouth architect designed the castle to add to the local aesthetic and bring something new to the area.
Today, the “castle” is a visitor centre for the National Nature Reserve and also where you can spot the famous Great Globe made from limestone. You’ll find many displays and exhibitions inside, as well as a restaurant, gallery and café. Yep, there’s a modern interior in a castle building! With its 200 engraved Purbeck limestone blocks, the gallery is especially worth a visit.
8. Brownsea Castle
Address: Poole Harbour, Poole, Dorset BH13 7EE
Phone number: 01202 707744
Very well preserved, Brownsea Castle is another example of Henry VIII’s coastal forts. Situated on the largest island in Poole, the castle is best seen from the sea. So take the ferry from Poole Harbour and make sure you have a camera in hand! You can also take the ferry to Brownsea Island and explore the island and castle on foot, as you won’t find cars on the grounds.
A day out on this small island will have you feeling like an explorer; you’ll completely disconnect from the mainland for a few hours. The grounds are also one of the very few homes left of red squirrels in England, so make sure you really immerse yourself in the wildlife when you visit. Thanks to some conversions over time, the castle now looks more like a stately home but it still gives the island an elegant and historic feel.
9. Christchurch Castle
Address: High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 1AS
These are the ruins of a Norman castle that once stood proud to protect the town. Dating back to 1160, not only can you explore the stones but they also provide a great view over Christchurch. The Constable House is adjacent to the castle and is another example of Norman architecture on the River Avon.
Pair a visit here with exploring the lovely town and harbour in Christchurch where you can often find vegan fairs and independent shops in summer. I’d also recommend a visit to Christchurch Priory which is just a short walk along the river from the ruins.
10. Sandsfoot Castle
Address: 39 Old Castle Rd, Weymouth DT4 8QE
Sandsfoot Castle is considered the sister of the fort found at Portland. Also built by Henry VIII to protect from invasion, it was abandoned several years later, becoming the ruin we know today. With free admission, it’s worth a visit for the gorgeous view of Portland Harbour alone.
The Rodwell Trail is a great trail you can take from here which stretches 3.4 miles from Weymouth to Ferrybridge. So get some comfy shoes on or hop on a bike to explore this haven for wildlife. You won’t regret it!
11. Maiden Castle
Address: Maiden Castle Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 9PP
Not quite a castle but it’s in the name, right?! One of my favourite free things to do in Dorset, Maiden Castle can easily be mistaken for a hill but it’s actually one of the finest Iron Age hillforts. In fact, it’s one of the most complex and largest hillforts in Europe!
Today, Maiden Castle is home to sheep, great walks, quiet picnics and perfect stargazing spots. Bring some friends here and watch the sunset expose all the stars above you. Even without a castle in sight, you can use your imagination to bring it to life and enjoy the nature surrounding you.
So there you have it: the 11 best castles in Dorset that you absolutely have to visit. Each is so different from the last, so you’ll just have to pay each of these castles in Dorset a visit to appreciate the versatile history of Dorset!