You probably know Dorchester as Thomas Hardy’s home or from its feature in The Mayor of Casterbridge. This historical market town is a majestic amalgamation of rich history and breathtaking scenery. It lies at close proximity to the Jurassic Coast and has always been a widely popular tourist destination. Let’s look at a few interesting things to do during your stay in this picturesque land.
Savour a moment of peace and tranquility at the Athelhampton House and Gardens
Find peace and tranquility in the Elizabethan style gardens with its lilies, tulips, roses, magnolias, clematis and world-famous topiary pyramids at the 500-year-old house with its beautiful furnished rooms at Athelhampton. Spend some time in the garden seating area and explore works by the Russian artist Marevna who used to live in the house in the 1940s-50s. The minute features of this house’s architecture and panelling 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.
Admire some stunning sculptures by the lakes
The 26 acres of this sculpture garden are pure magic. The magic of these sculptures was 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 inspired by things from all over the globe. You may walk around and find lakes, ponds, pergolas, patios besides a number of enchanting 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.
Discovering the Max Gate
Max Gate, the former residence of Thomas Hardy, is a nice place to walk around and see and feel the presence of Hardy. Its beautiful red bricks seem to tell through themselves tales of those times. The place was majorly meant for Hardy's personal use- it was in those rooms that Hardy wrote much of his poetry and a few of his novels. However, several pieces of furniture relocated to Dorset County Museum. You will find the house with the study, the attic room and the small kitchen area and the 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.
A little something for the history geeks at the Dorset County Museum
Set in the heart of Dorchester, this place is actually much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. You will find some genuine exhibits including fossil collections and Dorchester attractions, Thomas Hardy and other popular local authors, Roman history and the paintings. It also holds the Thomas Hardy archive containing pieces written by him and the collection from Jurassic Coast containing a range fossils from the Mesozoic era. You may even visit the lovely cafe that serves delicious homemade cake on the ground floor of the museum without having to pay the entry fee.
Discover mysterious history at the Tutankhamun Exhibition
If you’ve ever read a little about Egyptian history, you must know of the legend of Egypt’s boy-king Tutankhamun and the fabulous treasures found in his tomb by British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Featured in several major television documentaries, this exhibition houses the first ever exact anatomical replica of Tutankhamun's tomb, the golden artefacts and mummies.
A breathtaking view of the Maiden Castle
This Iron Age settlement has some of the most majestic earthworks in all of Dorchester. The Maiden Castle is the largest and the most impressive Iron Age hill in Europe. It has also been featured in Nash's watercolour 'Maiden Castle'. Just the scale of this massive structure is breathtaking. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest in the county and full of some of the best picnic spots in all of Dorchester.
Meet the fluffiest of teddy bears at the Dorset Teddy Bear Museum
This completely adorable family museum is centred around some of the loveliest both big and small, antique and modern teddy bears on Salisbury St, the residence of Edward Bear and his family of people-sized bears. The huge collection of teddy bears at this museum includes Paddington Bear, Rupert Bear, and Winnie the Pooh. This place contains over an entire century 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.
Roman Town House
Interestingly, this Roman ruin called the Roman Town House is the only remaining fully exposed Roman Town House. Find the mosaic-like structure of Roman villas and the layout of the buildings at the site. The information boards at this carefully preserved site explain the history behind the place and the process of its excavation. As unbelievable as it might sound, this place is entirely free and accessible. Families might even want to enjoy a picnic here.
Meet warriors from the past at the Terracotta Warriors Museum
This snug museum houses some enchanting replicas of those warriors from the Terracotta Army who were buried with the Emperor of China and is the perfect place for some exploration by the admirers of history. The museum has both full size replicas and half-size ones for the ones who wish to take a closer look, along with original artefacts. You may even watch the film showing the life story of the Emperor Chin for some good insight on the history.
Witness preserved history at The Keep Military Museum
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 collection includes Adolf Hitler's desk, uniforms, weapons, and equipment. The unit’s 300 year long history is displayed magnificently on the first floor, while the second floor has a display of campaign and gallantry medals, with small arms and silverware exhibits. The third floor has some useful displays of information that will tell you about the recent military history of the regiment. You may even go up to the roof and be witness to the brilliant view.
A day out at Poundbury
Standing amidst the amazing natural beauty of this county, this urban development with its old yet interesting buildings, cottages, Georgian-style townhouses and a butter cross, is the brainchild of Prince Charles. Enjoy a nice day out admiring its architecture and walking around the garden centre with its refreshments. It is also dotted with several places to eat and drink. For anyone with a particularly sweet tooth, a visit to the House of Dorchester chocolate factory is an absolute must- Poundbury undoubtedly produces some of the finest, first class chocolates.
Take a tour around the Brewery Square
The scale of this beautiful industrial brick complex will 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.
Have a good time at the Maumbury Rings
Maumbury Rings is a two-minute walk from Brewery Square. More than 5,000 years old, this Neolithic earthwork henge is generally the spot for all kinds of open-air concerts, music festivals and re-enactments. This mysterious space used to be a Roman amphitheatre and is currently the largest Iron Age hillfort in Europe, as the notice boards indicate. Reflect on the interesting savagery of Roman games while you’re here or simply enjoy views from the top or a picnic lazing in the sun in the relaxing atmosphere.
A fantastic day out at the Borough Gardens
On your visit to Dorchester, make sure to take a detour and walk through these magnificent gardens to relax and gaze at the copper-beech trees, flowers, herbs, shrubs and other woods. Some of the highlights here include the huge clock in pretty colours standing by the tennis court which was donated to the park and the fountain in the north-east part of the gardens. The onsite information boards will provide you with information about its history. The refreshment kiosk also sells a wide range of light snacks and drinks at a very competitive rate. If possible, make sure not to miss the fabulous annual family event called the ‘Cider Festival’ held at this park during August.
A recreation of the past at the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
Have the first hand-experience of walking through this historic courthouse museum where the lives of people were once changed forever. They also have an excellent audio guide system. This building has some really interesting history, so make sure you have a look at the information boards. Kids or even grown ups may engage in mock trials, dress up as judges with robes and wigs or jury or the executioner and solve sort of puzzles. The place also has a nice cafe to visit for later.
Spend a great day at the Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park
This animal park with its lush green landscape is home to a number of friendly animals including rabbits, saddleback and guinea pigs, sheep, goats, chicken, Shetland ponies, bantams, wallabies, alpacas, peacocks, rheas and an owl. You can walk around the lake and the gardens and even feed the animals. This place is especially fun with the family, especially for one with kids, and is the perfect spot for a little picnic.
Witness some of the most majestic birds of prey Xtreme Falconry at Dorset Falconry Park
The fantastic setting of this place holds a collection of over 100 exquisite birds of prey, ranging from owls, hawk, falcons to vultures and eagles. Two shows of free flying are held per day where 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.Ensure that you keep your cameras ready, for you are sure 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 be truly able to relax and feel the tranquility of this place.
Spend some quality time at the Walled Garden Moreton
This place is certainly a hidden gem in the county of Dorchester. 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 served lunch and amazing afternoon tea and cakes. The food is in big portions and lots of vegetarian options to choose from are available. You may even want to have a peaceful walk down to the river and the church.