East Dorset + Purbecks Travel Guide

With Poole Harbour, Bournemouth beach and the rugged Isle of Purbeck, this gorgeous part of the south coast is a must-visit to blow away those cobwebs.


Here's my 5-day itinerary for an action-packed getaway to East Dorset.


First off, I'd suggest basing yourself around Poole, where you can easily access some creature comforts after the wilds of the Dorset coast - while being within easy reach of the Purbecks and Bournemouth.


DAY 1: Walk Wareham



If you're a city-dweller like me, perhaps throwing yourself into the wilderness of the Purbecks is a little daunting on your first day. I'd suggest breaking in those fresh walking boots with a day spent exploring Wareham Forest (the Forest is also good for mountain biking, cyclists!).


When you need a mid-morning pick-me-up (why didn't anybody mention new walking boots give you blisters?!), head to The Barn Café - all of their cakes are homemade and super tasty, plus the café is the perfect eclectic mish-mash of decor (I swear, I almost walked out with one of their lamps).


Wareham itself is a pretty riverside town with 2000 years of history within its Saxon walls. The perfect place to cool down in the afternoon, Wareham has plenty of independent shops and cosy cafés to explore. I'd suggest a classic fish & chip lunch, or pop into Not Just Sundaes Community Café for some lovely local food in a stunning renovated church. Leave a few coins to pay a coffee forward to someone who needs it to give something back during your visit.



Wareham Forest

DAYS 2 & 3: Explore the Isle of Purbeck


The Isle of Purbeck is such a wild landscape that every sight feels like an off-the-beaten-track gem. With tracks traversing the heathland and green hills, the Purbecks are ideal for hiking or cycling for all abilities - you can feel like you're in the deepest countryside, with only the brisk sea air and a scattering of faraway sheep to keep you company, but you are never too far from a warm and friendly Dorset pub.


To experience the gorgeous Dorset beaches, head to Studland on the eastern-most coastline of the Isle of Purbeck. Recognised as one of the loveliest beaches in the UK, Studland boasts golden sand, amazing views of the Old Harry rocks, and amazing native wildlife. Plus, for those most daring, Studland Beach is home to The National Trust's only designated nudist beach!


When you've topped up your tan at the beach, head for an afternoon walk along the headland to say hello to Old Harry and Old Harry's Wife, the iconic chalk rock formations just off the coast. Best viewed from the edge of the headland, if you dare!


Old Harry + Old Harry's Wife

For your second day on the Purbecks, I'd suggest strapping those walking boots back on for an epic hike along the green hills bordering the south coast. With amazing sea views to your left, and the peaceful rolling hills of the Dorset countryside to your right, hike past Lulworth Cove heading west along the breathtaking Jurassic Coast. The walk will be worth it, I assure you, when you get your first glimpse of the famous Durdle Door. You'll probably never be alone on this stretch of beach, but the incredible rock formation is not to be missed.


TIP: Not a fan of the crowds? Instead of heading further west towards Durdle Door, stay at a B&B for the night after your Studland beach adventure. Then, head out for a hike in the morning to Dancing Ledge, another amazing Jurassic Coast rock formation just west along the headland from Swanage.


Durdle Door

If you've had your fill of sea air, head back east across the wilderness of the Purbecks. On your way, make sure you stop to make a final hike around the rugged Godlingston Heath. I'd suggest planning a route to+from Agglestone Rock, an mysterious sandstone rock perched on top of a hill. Agglestone Rock is an intimidating sight to behold in itself - but it also offers incredible panoramic views of the Purbeck coast and Poole harbour, with Bournemouth in the distance.


When you get back from your Agglestone Rock hike, shake the sand out of your shoes, get in your car (or on your bike!) and head to the chain link ferry from Studland to Poole. When you're on the ferry, the cool I'll-just-sit-in-my-car act is reserved for locals - this is your chance to get to the top of the ferry and take in the sights of beautiful Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island.


Poole is brimming with great nightlife, so make the most of the local restaurants and bars on the night of day 3!


Agglestone Rock, in Godlingston Heath


DAY 4: Bournemouth Beach


Day 4 is your day for a lie-in. Let the sunshine and seagulls wake you, and head down to a local café in Poole to get your caffeine fix, then wander along Poole Quay to see the boats before grabbing some lunch (seafood is recommended, by the way).


Relaxed and refuelled, take a wander down to Sandbanks to see how the other half live, if you fancy. Either way, I'd recommend a sand-in-your-toes stroll along the Promenade from Canford Cliffs along to the award-winning Bournemouth Beach (voted the UK's favourite beach). With miles of golden sand, it's easy to see why Bournemouth Beach is so popular.


Stay a while and soak up the breezy seaside atmosphere, or head straight into the town to immerse yourself in buzzing cafés, restaurants and bars for the evening. Interestingly, Bournemouth town centre is split in two by glamorous Victorian gardens - allow some time to explore these.


DAY 5: Wander Around Wimborne


After a few days by the Dorset coast, don't forget to make time to explore the rolling Dorset countryside.


I'd recommend using Wimborne Minster as a base for exploring rural Dorset. The historic market town is quintessentially English, with a huge Minster Church at its centre, winding streets and ancient courtyards. Wimborne is home to a fair few independent shops and cafés, so leave some time in the afternoon to explore these.


Wimborne is a stone's throw from Dorset's stunning countryside. Set between two rivers, it's ideal for river walks in the great outdoors. While away a quiet morning walking in lush, green English countryside (did you wear those walking boots in yet?).


As the final touch to your outdoorsy R+R getaway to East Dorset, refuel for your trip home at Deans Court. The elegant historic house boasts an Instagram-worthy vintage home-store and ethical café - the perfect place to end your trip. Did I mention they have their own organic kitchen garden?


Dancing Ledge

If homemade cakes and outdoor pursuits are your thing, then East Dorset deserves to be on your bucket list. With so much to offer, you could easily spend a week or more in this stunning corner of the world, and still have plenty left to do!


This post has since been published on Visit Dorset.