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Stunning beaches, miles of spectacular coastal walks, fascinating prehistoric sights, mouth-watering food… there are so many reasons to choose Dorset for a staycation in the UK.

England's sunny south coast is guaranteed to please. For families looking for a summer staycation, there are plenty of sandy beaches that are perfect for paddling and sandcastle-building. If you're looking for a more energetic holiday, you can stretch your legs on miles of spectacular coastal trails, or stroll along leafy valleys and over rolling chalk downs.

To step back into Dorset's past, visit Maiden Castle, a monument to the skills of pre-Roman British builders, or even deeper into prehistory by exploring the fossil-filled sea-cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. And don't miss out on the food. Whether it's a fish and chip supper by the harbour in Weymouth or oysters and lobster in a fine-dining restaurant, you'll find some of the best seafood in Britain.

Whether you're looking for seaside fun, history and natural heritage, fine dining or cheap eats, you'll find plenty to keep you entertained on a Dorset holiday.

Best things to do on a weekend break

A weekend break in Dorset is the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs in the open air. Walk along the miles-long sweep of Chesil Beach or the fossil-packed Jurassic Coast (England's only Natural World Heritage Site) and explore pretty market towns and villages such Sherborne, home to Sir Walter Raleigh's castle, and Corfe Castle.

Plunge into history at the Roman amphitheatre at Maumbury Rings, check out the stupendous Iron Age stronghold at Maiden Castle and visit the well-endowed Cerne Abbas Giant, a figure carved out of a chalk hillside that is totally giggle inducing.

Don't forget to tip your hat to Dorset-born author Thomas Hardy by visiting his birthplace Hardy's Cottage or his later home at Max Gate, then wind up the weekend with a seafood treat in a fine dining restaurant helmed by a celebrity chef (there’s plenty in the area) – or in a cheap and cheerful quayside fish and chip shop.

Best things to do for families

Dorset is the English south coast's destination par excellence for family holidays. Sunny, sandy beaches with watersports galore are the top attraction for families – but there are heaps of all-weather attractions too.

On Weymouth's beach, a traditional Punch and Judy show can be the high point of a family holiday, and at Dorset Adventure Park children can bounce around a vast obstacle course of inflatable obstacles in a huge woodland water park. At Monkey World, children can encounter more than 100 loveable apes and monkeys from all over the world and cuddle farmyard critters at the petting zoo.

Young history fans will be awed by the panoply of armour on display at the Tank Museum near Wareham, with its fleet of 300 armoured vehicles including the world's very first working tank, nicknamed 'Little Willie'.

Best walks in Dorset

Perhaps the most iconic walk in Dorset is the Old Harry Rocks walk. An easy-going one- to two-hour stroll that takes you over rolling grassland and along white chalk cliffs, it’s where you’ll find one of Dorset's best-known and most impressive stretches of scenic coastline.

The Dorset Coast Path, (part of the South West Coast Path, Britain's longest walking trail) is another great option. An epic hike with breathtaking sea views, there’s plenty of places to stop for a pint or a picnic so it can be as challenging or relaxed as you like.

To get away from the coast, try the gentle Frome Valley Trail, which follows the Frome through woods and water meadows. The Purbeck Way, meanwhile, between pretty Wareham and Swanage, traverses the woodlands, heathlands and chalk downs of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Best beaches in Dorset

The 11km (7-mile) Bournemouth Beach is one of the best in Dorset – and has even been ranked among the best in Europe. With its landmark pier and gentle waters, this one is ultra-popular with families in summer. Weymouth Beach, with its soft yellow sand, sheltered shallow water and activities that range from donkey rides to windsurfing, is also one of the best beaches in Dorset for families.

Durdle Door Beach is a top pick thanks to its snap-worthy iconic limestone arch above clear blue water. Nearby, Lulworth Cove is one of those stunning spots that can look more like a Greek island bay than a typical English beach, especially on a sunny day.

To rub shoulders with millionaire sports stars and celebs, head to Sandbanks, nicknamed 'England's Palm Beach'. You probably can't afford to live here – but you can share this 5km (3-mile) stretch of golden sand and fine sea views for free. If you're looking for an all-over tan, meanwhile, head to secluded Knoll Beach on Studland Bay. This secluded stretch of white sand and dunes is the UK's best-known naturist beach.

Best attractions in Dorset

Cerne Abbas Giant, a 55m (180ft) silhouette of an impressively phallic fertility god cut into chalk hillside (exactly when is a mystery), is a must see. Try not to titter. Maiden Castle, a massive Iron Age stronghold, allows a more concrete glimpse into Dorset's prehistory.

Alternatively, get hands on during a stroll on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, where you can hunt for ammonites and other fossils along the beaches between Charmouth and Lyme Regis.

More history can be found at Corfe Castle. Clamber to this romantic wreck, on its steep crag above possibly the prettiest village in Dorset, for spectacular views. To get there, ride the restored steam train on the Swanage Railway through the Purbeck countryside – it’s an attraction in itself.

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