Whether you fancy a long forest walk, a sunny day at the beach, or a peaceful wander around a quaint town, Dorset has you covered. And the best part is that some of the best days out in Dorset are completely free! Great for you and your wallet. So without further ado, here are 17 amazing free things to do in Dorset that you absolutely need to try out!
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Mitoshka Alkova.
1. Visit St Catherine’s Chapel
Address: Chapel Hill, Abbotsbury, Weymouth, Dorset DT3 4JH
St Catherine’s Chapel is one of the best free things to do in Dorset for those who don’t want to bump into a single soul! Park up south of Abbotsbury at the free car park and descend down a pathway between dreamy cottages and free-range chickens. You’ll reach a peaceful stream and shaded trees where you can rest before making the uphill climb to St Catherine’s Chapel.
Part of the English Heritage, the Chapel used to be used by monks as a place for private prayer. Made entirely of stone, it’s a beautiful sight and the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view. Being so high up, you can see Portland and Chesil Beach, as well as an interesting looking maze in the distance.
2. Explore Puddletown Forest
Address: Puddletown Forest, Dorset DT2 8QL
A long walk and picnic in Puddletown Forest is the most wonderful way to spend time in Dorset without splashing your cash! It’s just so desolate and wild. You can either stay on the forest path or go off-path to explore the trees and wildlife.
Over 300 hectares in size, you’ll be greeted with fresh air and a much-needed escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. There are many wonderful picnic spots here so be sure to pack lunch; it’s very unlikely that anyone will bother you. Apart from a few dog walkers which are always welcome!
3. Get snap happy at Durdle Door
Address: West Lulworth, Wareham BH20 5PU
This geographical wonder is a sight to see on both sunny and gloomy days! The iconic picture-perfect Dorset is embodied in Durdle Door so bring a camera and picnic along for this day out. Part of the Jurassic Coast, this wonder was formed more than 140 million years ago when the sea pierced through the limestone.
There is access to a pebble and shingle beach where you can enjoy some peace and quiet. While you’re here, you’ll notice the four rocks beside the arch: the Bull, the Blind Cow, the Cow and the Calf. These show you where the coastline used to be and the natural forces of the waves that have eroded them over millions of years! Enjoy the beautiful walk here which can take you to Lulworth Cove and Bat’s Head on a circular route.
4. Wander through Thorncombe Wood
Address: Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8QH
This ancient woodland is rich in large broad-leaved trees, and flora in spring. Sitting adjacent to Puddletown Forest, they can be explored together for an even longer walk around the area. The must-see thing in Thorncombe Wood is Rushy Pond, where you can rest on one of the hand-carved benches and watch the wildlife. It’s the perfect place to sit with a book or simply enjoy a conversation with passersby.
A little further along the ‘Walking Hardy’s Landscape’ trail, you’ll stumble upon Thomas Hardy’s cottage which looks like something from a fairytale. With its thatched roof and beautifully kept gardens, it seems like the perfect getaway for a writer. The cottage is owned by the National Trust, but you can have a peek in from the gate or rest at the café. Plus, it’s the only place with toilet facilities nearby!
5. Bathe at Lulworth Cove
Address: West Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5RH
So you’ve now seen Durdle Door but why not head over to the nearby Lulworth Cove? This white pebble beach cove is easily one of the best free things to do in Dorset. Follow the obvious path heading uphill behind the car park to get on the right route. After quite the climb, you’ll finally be rewarded with one of the most beautiful sights in Dorset.
This site is world-renowned for its geology and landforms, such as Lulworth Crumple and Stair Hole. No wonder it’s a part of the UNESCO protected Jurassic Coast! Spend the whole day here soaking up the scenery, either from above or from the clear blue water below. The village is also worth a visit for its thatched roofs and little independent shops.
6. Go back in time at Maiden Castle
Address: Dorchester, Dorset DT2 9EY
Everyone from Dorset will recommend this as one of the best free things to do in Dorset because it’s one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe. Right here under our noses! Many excavations have revealed the rich history of Maiden Castle including a Roman temple that used to be on this very site. Now you will find only green land and a few hundred sheep but it’s a lovely place to visit nonetheless.
It’s quite a walk up so make sure you wear decent footwear. And it’s especially a great place to visit on long summer nights as it’s in the middle of the countryside and therefore, the perfect spot for stargazing. Bring a few drinks and sit in a place rich with history as you daydream under the stars.
7. Admire spectacular views from Old Harry Rocks
Address: South Beach Car Park, Studland, Dorset BH19 3AU
Another free sight that you won’t believe is real! Situated near Bournemouth and Poole, Old Harry Rocks is the most easterly point on the Jurassic Coast. The three white chalk formations look like something from a movie. I always think of the scene of Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice here where her hair blows in the wind as she feels the power of the cliffs.
These really are some of the most spectacular views in Dorset, and a great place to watch the Bournemouth Air Festival from. Not to mention there is a lovely walk to reach Old Harry Rocks after you’ve parked up. Surrounded by fresh berries and wildlife, it will make you even more excited to finally reach the clearing.
8. Enjoy the view from Hardy Monument
Address: Blackdown, Portesham Dorset DT2 9HY
Not to be mistaken for Thomas Harty, Dorset has two men of the same name! Admiral Thomas Hardy had this monument built for his service during the Battle of Trafalgar. You may recognizs him from Nelson’s famous final words ‘Kiss me, Hardy.’ The monument is a nice sight, but let”s be real, you visit Hardy Monument for the view.
An uphill drive or strenuous cycle will bring you to some of the best views over the Dorset countryside. You can see Chesil Beach, Portland and on a very clear day, even the Isle of Wight. This is a great place to sit and relax as you try to name everything in your view. It’s absolutely stunning and more importantly, completely free!
9. Go fossil hunting in Lyme Regis
Address: Lyme Regis, Dorset DT7 3JT
What better free day out than fossil hunting right in the heart of the Jurassic Coast? People from all over the world visit to search for their own fossil and discover the rich and abundant history of Lyme Regis. There are so many amazing things to do in Lyme Regis, but a good place to start is either at the beach, little village or lovely gardens.
Enjoy a long walk starting from Cobb-Lower Walkway, heading all the way past the museum and sandy beaches. A little further on and you will get to a pebbly beach where you can keep your eyes open for your own little ammonite. I suggest searching in the middle of the beach for your best chance!
10. Enjoy a sunny day in Christchurch
Address: Christchurch, Dorset BH23 1AS
This little town is great to visit for its large markets and vegan fairs, as well as for a nice, quiet walk. The rivers Avon and Stour flow into Christchurch Harbour where you can relax and watch the boats.
Christchurch’s town centre is a refreshing mix of old and new but as you stray off the path you really discover the mystery. The Norman castle can be found just by the river, of which only a few walls remain – it’s a great place to explore. I’d also recommend a visit to Christchurch Priory which dates to the 11th century,
11. Visit the picture-perfect England of Gold Hill
Address: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Devon SP7 8HB
In search of the most quintessentially English street in Dorset? Gold Hill in Shaftesbury is the one! With its lovely, aged houses and colourful flowers, a visit here is one of the best free things to do in Dorset. You might even instantly recognise it from the famous Hovis ad! The cobbled, steep street really is postcard England and will transport you to a time when all you had to worry about was climbing uphill to your cottage with your weekly shop! Take loads of photos and enjoy a little getaway from the big city.
12. Visit Studland Bay
Address: Beach Rd, Studland, Swanage, Dorset BH19 3AX
Studland Bay is a great beach and nature reserve to visit all year round. At the beautiful sandy Knoll Beach, you can sunbathe, swim and relax – and the best part is that it’s usually a lot quieter than Bournemouth! You can also explore the reserve for wildlife and flora, an activity that provides hours of fun and is a real getaway into the wilderness.
13. Soak up the views at West Bay
Address: Bridport Tourist Information Centre, South Street, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3NY
Another instantly recognisable sight, but this time from Broadchurch. The golden cliffs of West Bay will take your breath away, especially if visiting around sunset which I highly recommend. East Beach is a shingle beach from which you can enjoy the magnificent cliffs. West Beach is a little smaller and usually quieter but it’s still one of the best beaches in Dorset. Plus, it’s safer for shallow paddling.
Climb up the 50m height of the cliff on the marked path and enjoy views of Chesil Beach and Portland. These will truly make you appreciate the beauty of the coast but do be careful when up top as there is no barrier to protect you from the cliff edge. You can also enjoy a walk around the harbour and river here.
14. Climb up Golden Cap
Address: S W Coast Path, Bridport DT6 6JU
This is both the highest point on the Jurassic Coast and the highest on the south coast of England. Not many people know this which is why you just might be the only person visiting here. There is something magical about these gold-coloured cliffs that make them perfect for a long walk and a drink with friends. Enjoy long sunsets here in summer to truly appreciate the endless open water and sights of the Jurassic Coast on both sides.
15. Explore the Isle of Portland
Address: Isle of Portland, Dorset DT5 1SA
The little island, just a 20-minute drive from Weymouth, is not only famous for its limestone but also its secluded nature. At only four miles long, Portland is perfect for a long walk and exploration. Set off down a path and discover WW2 ruins, the prison, great climbing spots and even abandoned tunnels.
There really is so much to discover here so just set off with a packed lunch and no plan in mind! Top tip: make sure you enjoy the views of Weymouth and Chesil Beach at sunset.
16. Walk or cycle to Hengistbury Head
Address: Bournemouth, Dorset BH6 4EN
If you are visiting from Bournemouth, head to Hengistbury Head on a sunny day. Not only will you pass miles of gold sand and multi-coloured beach huts, but you’ll also enjoy a quiet walk that will clear your head. As you reach the edge of the beach, you’ll be greeted by wide expanses of sand and a lovely wooded area, great for exploring. However, I’d recommend just bringing a book and sitting by the beach while soaking up the beautiful views.
17. Visit Bournemouth
Address: Pier Approach, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 5AA
Last but by no means least we have Bournemouth, where you’ll find many of the best free things to do in Dorset. People think Bournemouth is just shopping and eating, and in part that is true. However, there is so much you can do here for free!
Head on a long beach walk on the golden sands and take hundreds of photos with the beach huts. Bonus points if you can match your outfit to one of them! Bournemouth Pier is a lovely place to take a walk and look out at the coast too. You can even see Old Harrys Rocks from here. I’d also recommend leaving the beach to walk through the Upper and Lower Gardens. They are always covered in flowers, and with so many benches dotted around you’ll always find a spot to sit and relax with a book or friend.
So there you have it: 17 amazing free things to do in Dorset! Which of these free things to do in Dorset are you most desperate to try out? Please let me know in the comments below!
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