Whether you’re craving a coastal escape, a countryside adventure or a cultural long weekend, Dorset should be the next destination on your wishlist. Over half of this southwest county has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its shoreline is arguably one of Britain’s best. Soak up the impressive Jurassic Coast whilst wandering the sweeping beaches, or kayak amongst the rugged cliffs lined with fossils. Inland, marvel at the rolling green hills, discover Iron Age hill forts and picturesque castles or shop in the farmer’s markets in the county’s charming towns
Dorset is not only a wonderful place to visit and stay all year round - but it also borders the four counties of Somerset, Devon, Wiltshire and Hampshire, making it a great base for adventuring to other parts of the UK too.
With all of that exploring, you’ll no doubt work up an appetite! Fortunately, there are plenty of great eateries to choose from in Dorset, serving delicious food that’s often made with locally sourced ingredients. Here are some of our favourites, from gourmet foodie havens to family-friendly feasts.
The Station Kitchen, Bridport
Best for: Seafood with a twist
If you’re a seafood lover and fancy a dining experience with a difference, The Station Kitchen is well worth a visit. This quirky venue in the lively market town of Bridport is situated in a converted railway carriage at the platform of the old West Bay Station. Inside, the rustic, vintage style interiors will transport you to another time while you sip pre-dinner cocktails and enjoy fresh seafood from the nearby Jurassic Coast.
The chefs specialise in local and sustainable seafood dishes, served in a relaxed fine dining way. If you’re eating with people who prefer alternatives to seafood, there’s usually a selection of steak, burgers and veggie dishes on offer too. The menu changes with the seasons and the team aims to keep their food miles low - where possible they use ingredients from local producers and suppliers, and they even grow some of their herbs and vegetables on the station platform!
The Parlour, Bredy Farm, Bridge Valley
Best for: Traditional Italian pizza
This family-run pizza restaurant is set within Bredy Farm, an idyllic spot in the heart of the picturesque Bride Valley just outside Burton Bradstock. It’s a little off-the-beaten-path (you might want to take a map because you probably won’t get enough signal for your sat nav), but it’s worth seeking out. On a summer evening, sit outdoors with a glass of wine in the Mediterranean style courtyard surrounded by terracotta potted cypress trees. Or if it’s a little too chilly to be al fresco, the restaurant is just as atmospheric inside.
The traditional Neapolitan style pizzas are cooked in a huge, mosaic-covered wood-fired pizza oven, and range from classics like Margarita to the likes of the ‘Castello’, with portobello mushrooms, gorgonzola and pine nuts. The menu changes regularly, but always uses fresh, quality ingredients. If pizza doesn’t take your fancy, their lasagnas, salads and ragu are all equally as delicious and typically Italian.
The Yachtsman, Hamworthy
Best for: Families
On the outskirts of Poole close to Hamworthy Park and the beach, you’ll find this traditional, family-friendly pub with a welcoming atmosphere. It’s a great place for an informal meal out with children of all ages - there’s even a breakout zone and a play area for them to enjoy whilst you relax. The large garden is perfect for whiling away a few hours on a summer afternoon or get cosy inside in the winter with the roaring fire, flagstone floors and oak beams.
The menu features plenty of reasonably priced pub classics for all tastes. The Yachtsman favourites include their Steak & Tanglefoot (ale) Pie and Hand-battered Fish & Chips - and of course, there’s a decent children’s menu too. Visit on a Sunday for a traditional English roast with all the trimmings. If you’re an ale lover you’ll be pleased to know that they have a range of award-winning Badger Beers on tap, brewed just 15 miles away.
If you’re looking to keep the children entertained once you’ve finished your lunch, the beautiful Upton Country Park is just a short drive away. Set in over 100 acres of woodland, gardens and parkland, you’ll find nature trails suitable for little legs, as well as a timber play area and a water feature for children to cool off in during the summer months.
Mad Cucumber, Bournemouth
Best for: Vegan treats
Couple and owners Kamil and Ewalina opened this quirky vegan lounge in 2013 to bring positive changes to the seaside town - and since then it’s become increasingly well-loved. Everything in this town-centre cafe is 100% plant-based, but with a menu loaded with home-cooked comfort food, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
All of the food is made from scratch with mainly local, seasonal and organic ingredients. You’ll find plenty of healthy options on the menu like smoothies and acai bowls, or if you fancy a meat-free treat choose from the likes of enchiladas, burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese.
They’re open for breakfast and lunch, making it a good place to quell your hunger on a day out exploring Bournemouth’s shops, gardens and beaches. Or even if you just need a coffee and cake pitstop, the laidback upcycled interiors and cosy corners are ready-made for relaxing while you rest your legs.
Bankes Arms, Swanage
Best for: Dog-friendly dining
This picturesque, ivy-clad 16th-century pub on the Isle of Purbeck is close to the South West Coast Path, the beach and the iconic chalk sea stacks of Old Harry Rocks, making it the perfect spot to stop for lunch whilst out for a walk. If you have a four-legged companion in tow, they’ll be welcomed here too. You (and your dog) will enjoy warming up by the open fire on a cool day, or in the warmer months, unwinding in the large pub garden with breathtaking views out to sea.
On their ever-changing menu, you’ll find a wide range of seasonal specials, with mouthwatering salads and freshly caught fish in the spring and summer, and hearty casseroles, games and pies in the winter. Right next door is the Isle of Purbeck Brewery too, so you know you’ll always be served a fresh locally-brewed pint.
Best for: A relaxed atmosphere
This charming space in Bridport was recently taken over by new owners and has since evolved from a cafe to a relaxed restaurant. It’s so much more than that too - inside you’ll find a delicatessen shop with freshly baked bread and locally produced pantry items, and sweet treats to take home. Their coffee is famously good - they roast it themselves - so even if you’ve only got time for a takeaway lunch and a hot drink, it’s worth a visit.
At lunchtime, Soulshine serves delicious tapas-style plates as well as sandwiches, toasties and soups. And in the evening they offer an extended menu, all made with locally sourced ingredients where possible.
Dogs and families are welcome, whether you’re eating inside in the easygoing dining space or outside in the sheltered courtyard. There are a few streetside seats to watch the world go by in the morning sun too.
Red Panda, Lyme Regis
Best for: Asian street food
If you’re looking for something a little different to fish & chips to enjoy on the beach, head to this tiny Asian street food restaurant and take-away in the resort town of Lyme Regis. Red Panda’s range of flavourful healthy dishes take influence from a mix of Asian cuisine - but all are made with fresh local ingredients.
Their mouthwatering ramen pots, salads, sushi and bao buns come with a choice of aromatic pork belly, Malaysian satay chicken, Japanese teriyaki tofu or Szechuan spicy tofu - so there’s something for everyone. And all come served in eco-friendly packaging. Take your pick and head round the corner to enjoy your al fresco seaside lunch with a refreshing kombucha drink.
Summer Lodge Hotel, Evershot
Best for: Afternoon tea
Surrounded by the idyllic English countryside, the luxurious country-house hotel in Evershot is the perfect place to indulge in a quintessential afternoon tea. Choose from The Conservatory, Whisky Lounge or Drawing Room, or when the sun is shining, eat al fresco on the terrace overlooking the beautiful gardens.
With the Traditional Afternoon Tea, you’ll be served delicate finger sandwiches (including cucumber, of course), freshly made scones and an array of cakes and mini puddings. For an extra luxurious lunch, replace your cup of tea with a glass of champagne or Pimms.
If you’re after something a little lighter but just as sumptuous, opt for their delicious Cream Tea with Dorset’s finest clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Swim, Lyme Regis
Best for: A lazy lunch on the seafront
This contemporary bar on the seafront in Lyme Regis not only has stunning views of the Jurassic Coast, it also serves delicious, casual food and drinks. The floor to ceiling windows make for a beautiful airy space with an ocean backdrop - and when the sun’s out they slide their huge glass doors open and let the sea breeze in.
On the breakfast menu, you’ll find the likes of Smashed Avocado on Toast and Brioche French Toast, whilst at lunchtime to dinner, their offerings include small plate nibbles and salad bowls, or for something a little more indulgent, gourmet dirty burgers. Finish with a coffee or a cocktail.
Crab House Cafe, Weymouth
Best for: The catch of the day
On the coast where Weymouth meets Portland Bill, this weathered seaside restaurant’s speciality is locally caught fish and seafood, including oysters from its very own beds a stone’s throw away. Sit outside on the tables on the sand with scenic views across Chesil Beach, or shelter from the elements and enjoy the beach shack vibes indoors.
Oysters and crab are the stars of the menu, which can change twice a day depending on what has been landed that day from Poole, Weymouth or Brixham. The seafood is so fresh, you’ll often be able to see the fishing boats that supply the kitchen out at sea, while you savour your meal from the shore.
They’re often closed in the off-peak winter months so make sure you check before you go.
Unique hideaways in Dorset
If you’re looking for a luxury escape in Dorset’s countryside or coast, we have several beautiful hideaways to choose from.
For seaside lovers, you can’t get much closer to the shore than The Chalet on the Beach in Lyme Regis on the Jurassic Coast. Its boutique beachy interiors and cosy layout include steps to the bed, where you’ll wake to views (and sounds) of the ocean. The outside decking is perfect for a glass of fizz at sunset.
Just a few miles north you’ll find Toby’s Hut amongst the unspoilt rolling Dorset hills. This bespoke shepherd’s hut for two has charming colourful interiors, a wood-burner and a private hot tub, making it an idyllic spot to relax after a day of exploring. The owner is an artist and you’ll find some of her impressive sculptures within the grounds too.
La Cabine Francaise is a shepherd’s hut with a French twist, in the peaceful countryside near Dorchester. The elegant interiors, underfloor heating and luxury linens are just a few of the lavish touches you’ll enjoy on a stay here. For a chic, romantic escape to nature, look no further.
Take a look at our full selection of Dorset retreats here.