Family holidays in Dorset have a lot to offer. Thousand-year-old castles telling tales of treachery, bracing clifftop trails where dinosaurs roamed, and island wildlife sanctuaries where red squirrels reign; this is a county cradled in lore of smugglers and captured contraband, a rural playground for those who know where to go. Known for its glottic lilt and centuries-old words like torrididdle and zummerwold that still riddle the native tongue, this lyrical landscape has Roman conquerors, Celtic tribes, Saxon settlers, and Viking raiders carved into its DNA.

With local markets, surf spots, and Britain’s Millionaire’s Row among its coastal bounty, here we round up our choice of five unique family experiences you can only have in Dorset (and where to stay for a luxury break).


Fossil Hunting for Ichthyosaurs


Peel yourselves away from your luxury Dorset cottage and make like a family of palaeontologists while combing fossil-rich beaches and coastal forests. On Monmouth Beach in Lyme Regis, make a low tide beeline for the Ammonite Pavement, a 199-million-year-old fossil graveyard where extinct marine molluscs in their thousandfolds lay embedded in limestone. While the first complete Ichthyosaur was discovered here in 1818 by Mary Anning (the Victorian fossil-hunter who inspired the She Sells Sea Shells tongue twister), there’s no shortage of wonders to be found along this Mesozoic coastline; in 2020, a plumber-turned-amateur-fossil-collector unearthed a new species of prehistoric sea dragon up the coast in Kimmeridge Bay! So, there’s hope yet for the would-be palaeontologists on your family trip to Dorset.


Hiking the Jurassic Coast


The Mesozoic Coast might’ve been a more appropriate name for a coastline that documents the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods; but name aside, this 96-mile shore is a geological monolith made for long family trundles that make giants of the young'uns. From Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove to the soaring chalk stalks of Old Harry Rocks and the same Chesil Beach that inspired Ian McEwan’s novella, this is a place where families can come to blow off the cobwebs. For those on dog-friendly holidays, the coast paths encompass long shingle beaches, tidal lagoons, and dizzying limestone heights; just be sure to take a second glance at what the pups dig up, for they might have the relic of a pterosaur in their jaws. When the walking’s done and everyone’s had enough of leaping back in time, try your hand at paddle-boarding in one of the lively coves, stopping for toppling scoops of raspberry ripple on the way back to your luxury home in Dorset.


Gold Hill, red squirrels, and ancient ruins

GP2503 - Red squirrel on Brownsea Island, Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, and the ruins of Corfe Castle

North Dorset drop-ins can bimble over acclaimed cobbles on the upper fringes of Thomas Hardy’s county; an iconic British street made famous by a 1970’s advertisement for Hovis bread, Gold Hill cuts a pretty Saxon picture through the small market town of Shaftesbury. Let the little ones run laps up and down the hill, and they'll be straight to sleep on return to your country retreat. Closer to the coast, those with history on the curriculum can descend upon Corfe Castle, a Norman fortress turned ramshackle royal palace that’s the location of a murder mystery from the dark ages (it was here that boy-king Edward the Martyr was thought to be assassinated in 978). Then, with backpacks filled to the gunwales with Dorset Knobs sandwiched with Blue Vinney cheese, board a little ferry and cross a lagoon to Brownsea Island, the birthplace of the Scouts, to visit the 200 red squirrels that take safe haven across the water from the inland greys.


Where to stay in Dorset

From Wabi Sabi hideaways made up of faded pink plaster walls and swirling concrete floors to clapboard beach houses with far-reaching views to the jagged edges of the Jurassic Coast, we count grand family homes and cosy cottages for couples among our Dorset fold. Use them as a base for exploring the villages of Studland, Burton Bradstock, Lyme Regis and Sherborne, or hole up indoors for weeks of coastal solitude.


Browse the collection of luxury self-catering homes in Dorset.