Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Dorchester, England

  • Published 2020/06/21

You probably know Dorchester as Thomas Hardy’s home or from his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.

This historical market town is a majestic amalgamation of rich history and breathtaking scenery.

It lies in close proximity to the Jurassic Coast and has always been a widely popular tourist destination.

From fascinating historical sites to stunning nature parks and everything in between, this charming town has something to offer every traveler.

These are the best things to do in Dorchester, England:

Savor a Moment of Peace at Athelhampton House

Exterior of Athelhampton House and Gardens

Nigel Jarvis /

The grand Athelhampton House dates back over 500 years and boasts beautifully furnished rooms and vast gardens.

Find tranquility in the Elizabethan-style gardens, with their lilies, tulips, roses, magnolias, clematis, and world-famous topiary pyramids.

Spend some time in the garden seating area and explore works by the Russian artist Marevna, who lived in the house from the 1940s to the 1950s.

The minute features of this house’s architecture and paneling are sure to impress you.

Be certain not to miss a visit to the kitchen garden and try some of their produce and the restaurant for delicious home-cooked food.

Athelhampton House is located on Atelhampton Road in Puddletown.

Admire the Beautiful Sculpture by the Lakes

Unique sculptures by the lakes installation

Dave Goodman /

The 26 acres of this sculpture garden are pure magic.

The enchanting works of art at Sculpture by the Lakes were created by sculptor Sion Dudgeon and his wife Monique, a landscape architect.

Outside, in the contemporary gardens, you will find over 30 of Simon’s sculptures, which were inspired by things from all over the globe.

Bronze head at Sculpture by the Lakes

Dave Goodman /

You may walk around and find lakes, ponds, pergolas, patios, and a number of beautiful bronze and stainless steel sculptures.

They also conduct exciting talks and workshops on a wide range of topics like meditation, yoga, painting, sculpture, pottery, gardening, and cooking.

The Gallery Cafe at the garden even sources some of the ingredients it uses from its own kitchen garden.

You can find Sculpture by the Lakes in Pallington Lakes.

Discover Max Gate, Former Home of Thomas Hardy

Exterior of Max Gate

DeFacto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Max Gate, the former residence of Thomas Hardy, is a nice place to walk around and see and feel his presence.

Its beautiful red bricks seem to tell tales of those times.

The place was majorly meant for Hardy’s personal use.

It was in those rooms that the author wrote much of his poetry and a few of his novels.

Several pieces of his old furniture have been relocated to Dorset Museum.

You will find the study, attic room, small kitchen area, and garden, with its abundance of pretty flowers, really nice to explore.

There is also a self-service cafe here that serves tea, coffee, and cakes.

Max Gate is located on Alington Avenue.

Browse through the Fascinating Displays at Dorset Museum

Signage of Dorset County Museum

chrisdorney /

Nestled in the heart of Dorchester, this place is actually much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.

At Dorchester Museum, you will find some genuine exhibits on fossil collections, Dorchester attractions, Thomas Hardy and other popular local authors, and Roman history, along with several fascinating paintings.

Exterior of Dorset Museum

Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum also holds the Thomas Hardy archive containing pieces he wrote and a collection from the Jurassic Coast containing a range of fossils from the Mesozoic era.

You may even visit the lovely on-site cafe, which serves delicious homemade cake.

Dorset Museum is located on High W Street.

Discover Mysterious History at the Tutankhamun Exhibition

Suppose you’ve read a little about Egyptian history.

In that case, you must know of the legend of Egypt’s boy-king Tutankhamun and the fabulous treasures that British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon found in his tomb.

Featured in several major television documentaries, the Tutankhamun Exhibition houses the first-ever exact anatomical replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the golden artifacts, and mummies.

This attraction is located on High W Street.

Pay a Visit to the Breathtaking Maiden Castle

Aerial view of Maiden Castle

David Jeffrey Morgan /

This Iron Age settlement has some of the most majestic earthworks in town.

Maiden Castle is Europe’s largest and most impressive Iron Age hillfort.

It has also been featured in Nash’s watercolor, Maiden Castle.

Steps leading to Maiden Castle's summit

Panglossian /

Just the scale of this massive structure is breathtaking.

Maiden Castle also boasts some of the best picnic spots in all of Dorchester.

This attraction can be found on Maiden Castle Road.

Daytime view of Maiden Castle

Panglossian /

Meet the Fluffiest of Teddy Bears at the Dorset Teddy Bear Museum

This completely adorable family museum is centered around some of the loveliest teddy bears, both big and small, antique and modern.

The Dorset Teddy Bear Museum is located on Salisbury Street, the residence of Edward Bear and his family of people-sized bears.

Its wide collection of teddy bears includes Paddington Bear, Rupert Bear, and Winnie the Pooh.

The Dorset Teddy Bear Museum contains over an entire century’s worth of teddy bear history and is packed with treasure.

Some of the teddy bears at this place date back to 1906.

There is also a charming period shop that sells teddy bears for collectors.

Tour England’s Last Remaining Roman Town House

Exterior of the Roman Town House

JoeLogan /

Interestingly, this Roman ruin called the Roman Town House is the country’s only remaining fully exposed house of its kind.

Find the mosaic-like structure of Roman villas and the layout of the buildings at the site.

Interior of the Roman Town House

JoeLogan /

The information boards at this carefully preserved site explain the history behind the place and the process of its excavation.

Families might even want to enjoy a picnic here.

The Roman Town House sits on County Hall.

The floors of the Roman Town House

JoeLogan /

Meet Warriors from the Past at Terracotta Warriors Museum

Terracotta Warriors Museum houses some enchanting replicas of warriors from the Terracotta Army who were buried with the Emperor of China.

It’s the perfect place for history buffs to explore.

The museum has both full-size replicas and half-size ones for the ones who wish to take a closer look, along with original artifacts.

You may even watch a film showing the life story of Emperor Chin for some good insight into history.

Terracotta Warriors Museum can be found on Salisbury Street.

Witness Preserved History at The Keep Military Museum

Exterior of The Keep Military Museum

RogerMechan /

Part of the former county barracks of the 39th Regiment of Foot and the 75th Regiment of Foot, the Keep housed American troops during WWII and is currently used as a regimental museum with military memorabilia and old prison cells.

The Keep Military Museum’s collection includes Adolf Hitler’s desk, uniforms, weapons, and equipment.

Building sign of The Keep Military Museum

chrisdorney /

The unit’s 300-year-long history is displayed magnificently on the first floor, while the second floor displays campaign and gallantry medals, with small arms and silverware exhibits.

Meanwhile, the third floor has useful displays of information that will tell you about the regiment’s military history.

You may even go up to the roof and witness the brilliant view.

The Keep Military Museum is located on Bridport Road.

View of The Keep Military Museum's tower

chrisdorney /

Enjoy a Day Out at Poundbury

Exterior of the Poundbury

RogerMechan /

Standing amidst the county’s natural beauty, Poundbury is the brainchild of Prince Charles.

This urban development boasts old yet interesting buildings, cottages, Georgian-style townhouses, and the Butter Cross.

Head to Poundbury and enjoy a lovely day out while admiring all the architecture and walking around the garden center.

It’s also dotted with several places to eat and drink.

For anyone with a sweet tooth, a visit to the House of Dorchester chocolate factory is an absolute must—Poundbury undoubtedly produces some of the finest, top-quality chocolates.

Take a Tour around Brewery Square

Brewery Square

Nigel Jarvis /

Are you looking for somewhere to shop till you drop?

Dorchester has the perfect place for you—and it’s more than just a shopping center.

The ever-vibrant Brewery Square is a beautifully designed shopping and eating complex located in the heart of Dorchester.

The scale of this beautiful industrial brick complex will surely amaze you.

Enjoy your time sitting next to the fountain, or choose from the range of dining choices that include some of the UK’s most popular dining venues like Pizza Express, Nando’s, Zizzi, Carluccio’s, and Wagamama.

Brewery Square is located on Copper Street.

Have a Good Time at Maumbury Rings

Maumbury Rings

RogerMechan /

Maumbury Rings is located on Weymouth Avenue.

More than 5,000 years old, this Neolithic earthwork henge is often used as a venue for open-air concerts, music festivals, and reenactments.

This mysterious space used to be a Roman amphitheater and is Europe’s largest Iron Age hillfort.

While you’re at Maumbury Rings, reflect on the interesting savagery of Roman games, enjoy views from the top, or have a picnic while basking in the sun and the relaxing atmosphere.

Take Photos of the Iconic Clock Tower at the Borough Gardens

Borough Gardens

Nigel Jarvis /

On your visit to Dorchester, take a detour and walk through the magnificent Borough Gardens on Cornwall Road.

Take time to relax and gaze at the copper-beech trees, flowers, herbs, shrubs, and other woods.

This attraction’s highlights include the vast and beautiful clock tower that stands by the tennis court and the fountain in the northeast part of the gardens.

The on-site information boards will provide you with information about its history.

The refreshment kiosk also sells a wide range of light snacks and drinks.

If possible, make sure not to miss the fabulous annual family event called the Cider Festival, held at the Borough Gardens every August.

Go Back to the Past at Shire Hall Museum

Have the firsthand experience of walking through Shire Hall Museum, where people’s lives were once changed forever.

The museum also offers an excellent audio guide system.

This building has a really interesting history, so make sure you have a look at the information boards.

Visitors may engage in mock trials, dress up as judges, members of the jury, or the executioner, and solve puzzles.

The place also has a nice cafe to visit for later.

Shire Hall Museum is located on High W Street.

Spend a Great Day at Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens

Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens, with its lush green landscapes, is home to many friendly animals.

Here, you can spot rabbits, saddleback and guinea pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, Shetland ponies, bantams, wallabies, alpacas, peacocks, rheas, and owls.

You can walk around the lake and the gardens and feed the animals.

Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens is a fun place to visit with the family, especially for those with kids.

It’s also the perfect spot to have a picnic.

Witness Some of the Most Majestic Birds of Prey at Xtreme Falconry at Dorset Falconry Park

Xtreme Falconry at Dorset Falconry Park houses over 100 exquisite birds of prey, ranging from owls, hawks, and falcons to vultures and eagles.

Two shows are held per day, wherein you can even fly and feed the birds.

These flying displays will not fail to impress you.

The entire falconry experience should take about two hours of your time.

Make sure to keep your cameras ready, as you’ll be able to get lots of stunning close-up pictures.

Apart from this, the butterfly garden is an enchanting place to visit.

There is even a tea room for visitors to relax and feel this place’s tranquility.

Xtreme Falconry at Dorset Falconry Park is located on Lewell Mill Lane.

Take Your Kids to the Dinosaur Museum

The Dinosaur Museum, Britain’s original and most prestigious attraction, is a fantastic place for a family outing.

Visitors to this museum are transported back to the dinosaur age.

View dinosaur bones, stroll through life-size replicas of the Stegosaurus and T-Rex, and discover interactive exhibits that require you to use your hands.

In their excavation pit, work dinosaur puzzles, find dinosaur artifacts, and dare to stick your hands in a feely box.

Browse their gift store for the ideal dinosaur gifts, including fossils, models, apparel, and books.

The Dinosaur Museum is located in a former Victorian schoolhouse on Icen Way.

Catch a Film at The Plaza Cinema

The Plaza Cinema has entertained the community since 1933, when it first opened as a single-screen movie theater with 986 seats.

Fay Wray in King Kong, supposedly the first showing of this movie outside of London, was the opening act.

The traditional Art Deco architecture of the building has recently been updated for the cinema.

Additionally, this place is a great option if you’re searching for affordable indoor recreational fun alongside friends and family.

The Plaza Cinema’s pricing is shockingly cheaper than other theaters nowadays.

Try All the Cheese at The Fridge

The Fridge, situated on Tudor Arcade, is mostly referred to as a cheese business.

They provide a wide variety of fantastic regional foods and are well-known for their amazing Isle of Wight tomatoes.

With over 100 cheeses available for fresh cutting, it’s easy to see why people consider it a destination for a fantastic cheese selection.

At The Fridge, they take great pleasure in having outstanding employees that provide first-rate customer service.

It’s a cheese lover’s paradise!

Visit Hardy’s Cottage, the Birthplace of Thomas Hardy

If you’re traveling through Dorset on the Thomas Hardy Trail, Hardy’s Cottage is a lovely, remote location to stop.

Hardy’s great-grandfather constructed the cottage outside of Higher Bockhapmton in 1800, and not much has changed on the outside since then.

Tourists frequently go to Hardy’s Cottage to admire the views of the location.

The thatched roof and ancient cob construction of the cottage make a beautiful backdrop for the climbing roses, honeysuckle, and japonica.

You won’t find a prettier site to spend an afternoon than Hardy’s Cottage on a bright summer day.

Have a Cup of Joe at Taste Brasserie

Located on Trinity Street, Taste Brasserie is an independent cafe and brasserie buzzing with good food and high-quality customer service.

Serving everything from breakfast to afternoon tea, they provide a tantalizing assortment of breakfast meals, morning coffee and pastries, and daily blackboard specials for lunch.

The best product from local and regional sources is used at Taste Brasserie.

Featuring regionally and locally roasted beans from the Clifton Coffee Co in Bristol and locally roasted decaf beans from Finca Coffee Roasters in Dorchester, enjoy one of their coffees.

The menu features vegan and vegetarian dishes, seasonal vegetables, and delectable daily chalkboard specials.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend Some Quality Time at The Walled Garden Moreton

Fifteen minutes from Dorchester, The Walled Garden Moreton is certainly a hidden gem in the county of Dorset.

As birds forage for food and squirrels run up and down the scenery, get some fresh air out in the garden with beautiful sculptures and landscapes.

Find delight in some delicious, freshly prepared meals and amazing afternoon tea and cakes.

The dishes at The Walled Garden Moreton are served in large portions, and many vegetarian options are available for diners.

You may even want to take a peaceful walk down to the river and the church.

Final Thoughts

The charming town of Dorchester serves as an excellent home base for exploring Dorset county, thanks to the stunning scenes you’ll find at every corner.

Everyone will find something to enjoy here, from world-class regional museums to Iron Age hill forts, quaint boutiques, and delectable local restaurants.

Add this destination to your bucket list and experience all the best things to do in Dorchester, England.

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