Dorset beaches are famously fossil-strewn stretches of coastline. But the bays, beaches and even the car parks are places to discover everything from secret coves to rare birds and sand that’s just made for sandcastles. Durdle Door is Dorset’s most famous natural wonder – but the heaths here hold natural finds of a different kind. One of the few places in the UK to spot all six British reptiles, Dorset is a wildlife lover’s haven. Family-friendly waters, Blue Flag beaches and even filming locations can be found on the best beaches in Dorset. The only dilemma? Choosing which one to visit first.
To feel the sand between more than just your toes…
You’ll likely know Studland Bay as Dorset’s four mile gorgeously golden arc of sand. A National Trust property, the bay includes three beaches, Small, Middle and Knoll, where walks, watersports and wilderness draw in the crowds. What you might not know, is that Studland Bay is also home to one of the UK’s most popular naturist beaches. Clothing is definitely optional on the designated 900 metres of sand at Knoll Beach. It pays to be cautious where you point your binoculars – stick to the grasslands for linnet, skylark and yellowhammers. Or the lowland heaths for sand lizards, grass snakes and silver studded blue butterflies.
Orbzii tip: Want to avoid the naturist area altogether? The Heather Walk trail covers the best of the bay and side steps the clothing optional beach.
To snap a selfie in front of Durdle Door
One of the UK’s most snapped natural wonders, Durdle Door is Dorset’s must-see. Expect to hark back to geography lessons from days gone by, where coastal arches could only be topped by ox bow lakes. Erosion and limestone knowledge aside, the gravity defying arch is a beaut. At its feet, turquoise waters put it firmly in tropical territory – when the sun hits. And if it doesn’t? You’re looking at a moody frame of nature’s architecture for the ‘gram. A win, win then. All that’s left is planning how to get here. You could shimmy down the steps straight from the carpark. But for a walk to remember, start at Lulworth Cove, plot a course for Durdle Door, then hike up to Scratchy Bottom (yes, really!). The top-down views of the Door are worth it.
For a family friendly stretch of sand
Swanage is THE Dorset beach for families looking for the full coastal package. It ticks off clean, Blue Flag waters, sandcastle-perfect sand and nearby facilities by the bucketload. Nearby car parks give you access to restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, ice cream stalls, amusements, play areas, beach huts and bathrooms. Plus, of course, the beach itself. Most of which sound very wallet heavy. Thankfully, the shallow, sheltered waters are the perfect place for some free activities. Think snorkelling, swimming, paddling, shell hunting and fishing. If your car is loaded with a little water sports gear, kayaking and windsurfing is an option too.
To see spoonbills from the shore
The best beaches in Dorset come with the opportunity to see some pretty rare wildlife. To max out your chances of spotting something beyond sea gulls and pigeons, head to Shipstal Beach within RSPB Arne. Before you’ve even left the car park, you can see siskins and nuthatches on the bird feeders. Though a white-tailed sea eagle has been spotted circling above too. Head out onto the reserve trails and you could see one of the resident flock of spoonbills, feeding alongside cormorants, greenshanks and red breasted mergansers. From the hide, curlews, shelducks, teal, brent geese and wigeon add to your tally of wading birds, ducks and geese.
For fossil hunting
If you know your ammonites from your belemnites, you’ll know Charmouth is a fossil-strewn spot. It’s also where everyone heads to pick up finds right from the beach. Which could see you leaving empty handed – particularly in peak season where everyone wants a Dorset souvenir. So try scoping out the shingle of Ringstead Bay instead. The quieter shoreline is still safe enough to explore for families and also happens to be one of the small number of dog friendly Dorset beaches that allow canine companions on the coastline, all year round.
To surf Dorset’s best waves
The Dorset beach that lures surfers from across the UK? Kimmeridge Bay. When the swell’s on point, it serves up some of the best conditions in the country. What makes it so appealing, is the mixed ability waves on offer. Beginners will want to head east to catch their first waves in the ‘ledges’ part of the shore. Practice popping up and warm up before moving on to the Bay. This is strictly for surfers who’ve mastered the board and can handle big waves. The third section – the Bench, really is for surf pros only.
Orbzii tip: Part of the beach is on an MOD range – access can be restricted during training, so check before you strap the surfboard to the roof rack and head out.
To seek out a secret beach
Finding some of the best Dorset beaches takes a little leg work – and some map skills. There are a few tucked away coves to track down, but Orbzii’s pick of the bunch is White Nothe Beach. Start at the Ringstead Bay car park and point your hiking boots east. You’ll be trekking along the South West Coastal Path – taking in views of Durdle Door in the distance – and the white chalk cliffs nearby. When you reach White Noth, you’ll need to take on the twists and turns of the Smuggler’s Path before the final challenge – a ladder to the beach. Not for the faint-hearted, but the likely reward? With easier shores peppering the coast up for grabs, you’re likely to have this one all to yourselves.
If you’re in the market for a little old school, seaside resort action, Lyme Regis will charm your flip flops off. It delivers on all the Dorset beach priorities – fossils, food and fun, without ever tipping over into tacky. The promenade allows you to wander in the slipstream of the quintessential seaside scent – freshly fried fish and chips, while you take in the views of sandcastle building, swimming and sunbathing on the sands. It can be a little bustling at times, but that’s all thanks to its narrow streets. Here, you’ll find top notch eateries (if you’ve summoned enough will power to refuse the chips) and boutiques selling everything from local art to impressive fossil finds.
Orbzii tip: Fossils are a big deal in Lyme Regis. It’s where Mary Anning, an English paleontologist, made her big finds. Kate Winslet played her in the film Ammonite, which was filmed in Lyme Regis – and wider Dorset. Eyes peeled then for filming locations – and fossils.