Unspoilt countryside, a picturesque coastline, historic ruins, picture-postcard villages – and a naked chalk giant, here's our guide to navigating Dorset like a local.

It’s not hard to see why Dorset is a hotspot for holidaymakers, film and TV makers as well as homeowners and renters. Breathtaking cliffs, rolling countryside interspersed with cosy market towns and tiny villages, beaches, and historic houses and ruins are just some of the highlights of this county in south west England.

What to expect living in Dorset

Dorset’s rugged landscape is dotted with seaside resorts, market towns and villages but it does not have any cities or motorways, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the county has a gentle pace of life.

One of Dorset’s trump cards is the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that ranks among the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon as one of the finest natural wonders of the world.

And with more than 40% of the county designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the county also has rural charm in spades.

It was the inspiration for many of Thomas Hardy’s famous works. The English author spent most of his life in Dorset and, although many locations in his literature were fictional, they were based on real rural life in the county.

More recently, Dorset has provided the backdrop to a range of TV and film. They include TV crime drama Broadchurch and the films Far From The Madding Crowd, based on one of Hardy’s novels, and Jane Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Durdle door on the Jurasic Coast

Exploring houses for sale in Dorset

Dorset has a range of housing, from flats and 1960s bungalows, to handsome period properties and millennial vernacular homes.

If it’s the charm of rural life you’re after, you can find idyllic cottages and houses in the many tiny villages across Dorset.

But if you want to be in the thick of things, yet still have the countryside on your doorstep, then the county town of Dorchester, in the south, is a good option. There are homes for first-time buyers, terraced family homes, stone cottages and plenty of period properties to name but a few. Alternatively, try the seaside towns of Poole and Bournemouth.

Finding modern luxury in Dorset

For luxury homes, look no further than the highly sought-after area of Sandbanks, a small peninsula crossing the mouth of Poole Harbour. Dubbed Millionaire’s Row, these properties attract hefty price tags and celebrity residents such as football managers Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis. Homes tend to boast striking, modern architecture, with sleek interior design and every mod con you can imagine.

Luxury properties in Sandbanks

Things to do in Dorset

A must-see is the Jurassic Coast, a 95-mile stretch of steep cliffs, bays and beaches from Exmouth in east Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset. It is world-renowned as one of the richest heritage sites for prehistoric remains.

For more traditional seaside fun, head to the seaside town of Weymouth. Filled with stately Georgian properties, a beautiful stretch of sand and plenty of entertainment for children, it's a fun family day out.

If you’re looking for more of an adventure, then Poole, also on the coast, is for you. It features the UK's largest natural harbour, making it a magnet for watersports enthusiasts. While you’re there, take a boat trip over to Brownsea Island, the birthplace of the Scouts and home to one of the UK's last red squirrel populations.

Back on the mainland, you'll find rolling countryside and valleys throughout the county. Hop on your bike and explore Moors Valley Country Park and Forest in the village of Ashley Heath for the chance to see local wildlife. Or take a ride on the Swanage Railway, a preserved steam railway that runs from Swanage to Norden in the Isle of Purbeck peninsula. And, for a more unusual trip, visit the ancient naked figure etched into the chalk hillside above Cerne Abbas.

If you’re a history buff, you’re in luck. Dorset is home to than 12,000 listed buildings, Iron Age hill forts, castles and more. Take the village of Corfe Castle. Standing at the gateway to the Isle of Purbeck, it is dominated by a dramatic ruined castle. 

Boats in a harbor in Dorset

Finding jobs in Dorset

The biggest industry in Dorset is agriculture. Perenco UK, which operates the oil field and processing facility at Wytch Farm in Purbeck, is a major employer in the area. And other big businesses include BAE Systems, Sunseeker International and JP Morgan.

Getting around and about Dorset

There is a good network of A roads joining up towns and villages in Dorset. They include the A303 in the north of the county, which is the middle section of the London-Exeter trunk road. 

If you don't fancy driving, South West Trains operates a direct service between London and Weymouth and Exeter in Devon, with a variety of stops in Dorset along both branches.

And if you want to head further afield, Bournemouth Airport has flights to more than 30 airports around the world, while ferries and cruise liners set sail from Poole.

Finding the best schools in Dorset

Dorset is home to two of the UK’s top 100 secondary schools. In 2015, Woodroffe School, a comprehensive in Lyme Regis, was given a Department for Education Pupil Premium Award after 75% of its students achieved five A*-C grades in their GCSEs. And Bridport's Sir John Colfox Academy achieved similar success, with 66% of students securing five A*-C grades.

pedalos on a Dorset beach

Best places for Sunday lunch in and around Dorset

There’s no shortage of pubs for a good Sunday lunch in this neck of the woods. If you’re on the Jurassic Coast, pause for lunch at The Castle Inn near Lulworth Cove. It's been around for hundreds of years and is renowned for serving up a hearty roast made with local ingredients.

Or visit Yalbury Cottage, a cosy hotel in Lower Bockhampton, which serves a Sunday Farmers' Market menu, filled with fresh produce from the local area.

Best kept secrets in Dorset

Mapperton House and Gardens near Bridport is a great day out. Take a tour of the Jacobean manor before setting off on a trip around the Italian-inspired gardens and stopping off for lunch at the cafe. It has appeared in several films, including 2015's adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd and Emma.

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