The oldest town in Dorset, Dorchester has been attracting day-trippers and holidaymakers for centuries thanks to a vibrant market town atmosphere and being packed with interesting cafés, shops and restaurants. The author Thomas Hardy was born nearby and went to school in the town – reflected as Casterbridge in his books – and there are countless landmarks and buildings which tell the story of his work. Nestling in some unforgettable countryside, Dorchester is the perfect base to explore Dorset.
At Dorchester South station there are plenty of options for onward travel with a taxi rank, bus and coach stops directly outside. Dorchester West station is a 5 minute walk away and is where you’ll catch trains to Yeovil and destinations in the West of England.
The Dinosaur Museum is in the middle of Dorchester – gateway to Dorset’s World Heritage Jurassic Coast – which positively encourages children to touch a Tyrannosaurus Rex thanks to its commitment to hands-on learning and entertainment.
The charming Teddy Bear Museum, with over 100 years of teddy bears from all over the world, delights all ages. Get a Gold Saver Pass and you can take in both the dinosaurs and teddy bears, and visit three other small museums for no extra charge:
But no visit to Dorchester would be complete without Thomas Hardy. The Dorset County Museum (currently closed for a two-year rebuilding project) will offer a recreation of his study, an intriguing story of his life and work and the world’s biggest Hardy archive. But you can still book yourself on a Hardy walking tour taking in the famous ‘Casterbridge’ landmarks, or visit the properties maintained by The National Trust. Max Gate is the atmospheric Victorian home designed by Hardy and, a few miles away, Hardy’s Cottage preserves the celebrated author’s birthplace.
Dorchester’s always bustling and vibrant, with a good mix of national chains and independent stores. It’s also worth heading out to Poundbury village, the famous brainchild of Prince Charles just a mile outside the town centre. It’s now home to a number of really interesting shops, including slow-living lifestyle store Cherryade, clothing accessories and gift store Yard, and a gorgeous garden centre with café.
The enduring Sienna on High West Street was revamped a few years ago by Masterchef contestant Marcus Wilcox, who has overseen a tremendous menu championing West Country produce. At the same time, the innovative Brewery Square project redefined the centre of Dorchester with a range of high-end chains including Carluccio’s and Cote Brasserie. For British cuisine in a more intimate setting, we recommend Vinny at Six - a local favourite.
A classical Georgian building with a real sense of grandeur, both historical and contemporary, The Wessex Royale Hotel is just a short stroll from the station and boasts an award-winning restaurant.
For those after a traditional taste of Thomas Hardy country, The Casterbridge takes some beating – a wisteria-clad townhouse with 4-poster beds and characterful rooms. And a couple of miles into the rolling Dorset countryside is the rural treat that is Yalbury Cottage, an award-winning restaurant with lovely cosy rooms.