Devon, Dorset, and dinosaurs. The Jurassic Coast spans 95 miles of rocky cliffs, sweeping sands and crashing waves.
It is a natural UNESCO World Heritage site, putting it in the same illustrious bracket as the Galápagos Islands and Yellowstone National Park.
Find out what makes the Jurassic Coast so spectacular in this comprehensive travel guide, with the inside track to its best places to visit and things to do, and plenty of essential travel information.
Disclaimer: Hi! this post may contain affiliate links which will take you to online retailers that sell products and services. If you click on one and buy something, I may earn a commission, see my Affiliate Disclosure for more details.
What, Where and Why: The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast sounds as if it should be in some incredibly exotic, far-flung destination, but it is actually a protected portion of land on England’s genteel southern coastline.
You will find most of the coast’s iconic landmarks in Dorset, but the UNESCO World Heritage Site is long enough that it stretches into Devon, which borders Cornwall in the southwest. The Jurassic Coast officially runs from Exmouth in Devon to Old Harry Rocks, near Swanage in Dorset.
It is the only natural UNESCO World Heritage site in England – the distinctive rock formations, unusual landforms and rich fossil deposits make the Jurassic Coast a geological treasure. Besides its UNESCO status, much of the coastline is – quite unsurprisingly – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Crumbling white chalk cliffs characteristic of England’s southern shore make a striking contrast against the tumultuous blue of the English Channel. Add in golden sands, picturesque villages and lush greenery and you quickly start to see the appeal.
So why is it called the Jurassic Coast? It’s more than just the astonishing collection of fossils found in the area. The formation of the very rocks beneath your feet takes you on a journey through 185 million years of the Earth’s history. Constant coastal erosion has revealed a sequence of rock formations covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
The Jurassic Coast gives us invaluable insight into the history of Earth. It’s importance can’t be constrained to any one country – as the heritage of the planet itself, it belongs to people the world over.
Best Places to Visit
The Jurassic Coach is overflowing with spectacular natural phenomenon, fantastic places to visit and stunning views. These are some of the best.
Starting with the Jurassic Coast’s most recognisable landmark, the curving arch of Durdle Door has been a feature here for approximately 10,000 years.
Durdle Door is the result of countless years of coastal erosion – the sea pierced through the limestone cliffs all those millennia ago to form an archway; possibly the most famous naturally-formed arch in the world.
Only adding to its beauty is the fact that it is a relatively short-lived geological feature. The arch will eventually fall into the sea, leaving behind only a stack of rock. We are lucky to exist in the same time frame to enjoy it as it is today.
Though a popular spot, Durdle Door is undeniably beautiful. Every top destination has a few unmissable places – and this is one of them. Whether you approach by traversing the steep wooden steps down to the beach or by boat, Durdle Door is a sight sure to steal your breath away.
A few miles away from Durdle Door sits Lulworth Cove, Dorset’s premier beach destination.
Dorset and the southwest of England, in general, is blessed with fantastic beaches. But Lulworth Cove is one of the most impressive.
The cove is almost perfectly circular and largely sheltered from the sea – only a small opening carved out 10,000 years ago connects the two. From a purely scenic standpoint, this is one of the finest beaches in England; the golden shingle beach backs up on to towering green hills that follow the arc of the cove until they drop to the sea.
The geology of Lulworth Cove is also extraordinary. You would be hard-pressed to find clearer displays of rock folds, cove formation and coastal erosion anywhere in the world.
Unique geological formations like the folded stone, known as Lulworth crumple can be seen all around this area. The small cove of Stair Hole is a particularly good example. Walk further along from the beach and you will find the fossilised tree stumps of Fossil Forrest, which were alive a mind-blowing 145 million years ago.
Yet another unique geological formation – the Jurassic Coast really earned its UNESCO status – is Chesil Beach, an 18 mile long shingle barrier beach.
The pebble beach stretches all the way from Portland to West Bay. Behind Chesil Beach is the Fleet Lagoon, which separates it from the mainland – the distance between them is decreasing every year by 15cm, as the sea slowly pushes Chesil Beach further into the lagoon.
The sheer size of this thin strip of land is impressive; it is rare to see a land formation like this, and there are only two others in England. While the beach is being pushed back, it still acts as a buffer for the mainland, reducing the power of waves
If you’re visiting Chesil Beach, you should stop at the Isle of Portland. The beach is the only thing connecting the island to the mainland. Portland is a beautifully rugged island, home to a famously picturesque lighthouse and a great variety of birdlife.
Old Harry Rocks
Nervously peeping over the cliff edge to get a glimpse of Old Harry Rocks is one of the Jurassic Coast’s unmissable experiences.
Once connected to the mainland, the stack and stump of Old Harry and his wife were ripped away by coastal erosion. The distinctive chalk formations jut out into the English Channel, which continues to chip away at the soft chalk underbelly of the rock.
If you’re curious about the unusual names, there are a few theories. One legend states that the name Old Harry comes from the devil (Old Harry is age-old slang for the devil) sleeping on the rocks, while another suggests they were named for an infamous smuggler, Harry Paye, who once hid his boat among the rocks. Whatever the truth behind the name, the rocks have continued to stir the imagination for centuries.
With blue sea, white cliffs and the green grass atop them creating a stark contrast of colour, the weaving cliff edge and Old Harry Rocks make for a striking picture.
You can see the rocks well enough from the roughly hour long walk up the cliffs, but I would really recommend catching a boat trip out to see Old Harry Rocks if you can. They’re beautiful when seen from the land, but the wider perspective from the sea is truly spectacular.
Boasting a picturesque harbour of bobbing sailboats, a seafront of pastel-coloured houses and a lovely beach, Lyme Regis is the quintessential upmarket seaside resort. With a classically pretty look and a bit of bustle, the town is one of the most popular on the Jurassic Coast.
It makes a lovely base for your holiday, but is worth visiting regardless. The colourful architecture is mostly from the Georgian and Regency era, giving the town a sophisticated look. Winding streets and independent boutiques add a layer of charm, while museums and art galleries give it a bit more depth as a place to visit. The Lyme Regis Museum is built on the site of Mary Anning’s former home.
The pioneering paleontologist and fossil collector was born in Lyme Regis on 21st May 1799 and lived there until she died in 1847. Her work was groundbreaking at a time where geology had yet to truly exist as an official discipline, and teachings of the Bible were rarely challenged. Anning’s discoveries and documentation of dinosaur skeletons changed the scientific world; her work is honoured in the museum.
Small, pretty and charming are all words I would use to describe Lyme Regis – quiet is not. It helps add to the joyful atmosphere pervading the town, but if the weather is nice, there are always crowds of people that follow.
West Bay has always been a favourite with visitors, but it is hard to deny that its popularity has skyrocketed since featuring prominently in the ITV crime drama Broadchurch.
The tiny settlement has two gorgeous sand beaches, rather unimaginatively named West Beach and East Beach. The backdrop of towering sandstone cliffs on East Beach is the one you’ll recognise: David Tennant and Olivia Colman filmed on location here for series one of Broadchurch.
Even people that have never seen the show will still love West Bay. You can’t go wrong with soft sands, gentle waves and the open sky. A small but quaint fishing village like West Bay is the perfect place to try fish & chips as they are intended: fresh from the sea, bought from an unassuming chip shop, and eaten overlooking the water.
If you want to be somewhere a little more developed, nearby Bridport is a lovely little market town.
If you asked for a list of prettiest villages in Dorset, Corfe Castle would be somewhere near the top. Dominated by the ruins of an ancient castle standing high over the village and filled with quaint cottages, this is a community ripped straight out of the pages of a storybook.
It’s the kind of place that just breathes history. The precariously balanced castle has stood for a thousand years. It has been a Norman fortress, Royal castle and Saxon stronghold in that time, but the most famous event is the one that left it to ruin: the English Civil War. The Bankes family supported King Charles I against the Parliamentarians – Lady Bankes was left to defend the castle under siege in 1643 and 1645. They were eventually overcome, and the castle was destroyed.
An hour of a time – and strong legs – are required to climb the hill and explore the castle. Panoramas over the Purbeck peninsula await you at the top.
The village itself – named for Corfe Castle – has that typical quaint, rustic feel often found in rural England. Old stone cottages with brightly coloured doors, pretty gardens, tearooms, independent shops and country pubs are all found in Corfe Castle. It won’t take long to explore but is a lovely & relaxing way to while away an afternoon.
Of all these places to visit, which should you absolutely not miss?
If you’re strapped for time, Durdle Door & Lulworth Cove are a two-in-one package, being so close together, and Old Harry Rocks and Lyme Regis are my other two must-visit locations on the Jurassic Coast.
Things to Do
If you’re staying in a place called the Jurassic Coast, it is only right that you should dedicate a little time to fossil hunting.
You can technically find fossils practically anywhere along the Jurassic Coast, but true fossil hunters know that Charmouth is the best for it.
Foraging for fossils at Charmouth is safe and perfect for beginners; you usually have a good chance of finding something hidden on the beach. Especially on quiet days as the tide is going out! Not all fossils should be kept, but a few smaller ones (often ammonites, belemnites and crinoids), are fine to add to a collection.
You can learn more about fossils – and how to find them – at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.
Walk (part of) the South West Coast Path
England’s longest waymarked footpath covers an incredible 630 miles, running from Minehead in Sommerset along the coast until it reaches Poole Harbour in Dorset.
I’m not advocating the whole trail here – but if you’re up to the challenge, I’m sure it is worth it – just the stretch across Dorset. The trail runs along cliff tops, past lagoons and along the beach as it weaves its way across the coastline.
Many of the Jurassic Coast’s best places to visit are highlights of the walk. Chesil Beach, Lulworth Beach and Durdle Door all feature on the South West Coast Path. Distance aside, much of the walk is fairly easy-going. The trickier parts are mostly in the Purbeck area, where some of the ascents and descents can get very steep.
You don’t have to follow the trail for endless miles, but it is worth hiking at least some of it if you are able. The views are simply sublime, and the path is well-trodden for good reason.
Follow the acorn symbol – you’ll know you’re on the right track whenever you see them.
Explore Tyneham Ghost Village
Wander through an eerie abandoned village positioned on the Purbeck peninsula, close to Lulworth Cove and Kimmeridge Bay.
Tyneham has been frozen in time since 1943, when an evacuation of the entire village was ordered during WWII. The space was used for military training, but even after the end of the war, the villagers were barred from returning.
Today, you can see this time capsule of a village as a tourist attraction. A few buildings in the once idyllic Tyneham are in ruins, but many are preserved exactly as they were in the 1940s. We are so used to ruins being centuries removed from our time, that it feels a little unsettling to see more familiar buildings in such a state.
You can see inside the school, church and farm – which have been kept in near-pristine condition, learn about the families that once lived in Tyneham and pose for a photo by the classic cream phone box. It’s an entertaining and unusual way to spend a few hours.
The ‘lost’ village is open to the public most weekends and during the school holidays.
See the Wildlife at Kimmeridge Bay
Kimmeridge Bay offers an easily accessible glimpse of marine wildlife; the sheltered positioning of the bay makes it one of the safer spots to explore.
As is ridiculously common on the Jurassic Coast, the geology of Kimmeridge Bay is both fascinating and important. You can see fossils entrenched in the ground and bedrock formed in the Jurassic age.
The natural limestone ledges take you further out into the water without having to dip in the sea. Many anglers cast lines off from here, while others choose to search the rock pools for crabs and sea snails.
For those who prefer to get up close and personal with the creatures of the sea, snorkelling is popular in Kimmeridge Bay. Schools of fish are often spotted moving among the colourful seaweed on the sea floor. On occasion, seals and dolphins also make an appearance in the bay.
To learn more about the marine wildlife of the area, head to the Wild Seas Visitor Centre.
Where Should You Stay?
Depending on your vacation style, you can stay in a hotel, cottage or a tent – as for location, I think anywhere on the Purbeck peninsula or in pretty Lyme Regis is hard to beat.
There isn’t an endless supply of hotels and B&Bs on the Jurassic Coast, but enough to get by; most range from mid-level to luxury budget-wise and get booked up quickly in the summer. If you prefer camping, there are dozens of sites up and down the coast. Most villages have at least a few cottages let out to holidaymakers and Airbnbs, but like the hotels, these tend to get booked up fast.
How Long Will You Need to Explore the Jurassic Coast?
Focusing on the Dorset stretch of coastline alone, a week should be enough time to explore the Jurassic Coast.
If you want to extend your trip into Devon, you might want a little longer – 10 days would be plenty of time. Most of the Jurassic Coast’s biggest attractions and highlights are in Dorset.
A week gives you time to see everything the coast has to offer without rushing too much. If you only have a long weekend, you can still have a great holiday. You just have to narrow down the places you want to see to a select few.
Will I Need a Car?
Much of the Jurassic Coast is very rural, which is always easier to explore by car. Remote areas tend to have very little in the way of public transport, and what they do have is usually infrequent.
You will find that the Jurassic Coast has a little more than most since it is a popular holiday destination with higher demand. Trains into Bournemouth and Weymouth are the quickest option, and you can catch a bus or taxi from there.
As is often the case, many of the most remote parts of the coast will be off limits to you without a car. You can still visit places like Corfe Castle and Old Harry Rocks, but the buses only run hourly from Poole.
A car isn’t essential, but it makes exploring the coast much easier. Without a car, your best option really is to…
Go on a Tour
Joining a tour can be one of the best and most convenient ways to see the coastline. They’re particularly worthwhile for people travelling without a car.
Even people with cars would still benefit from joining one of the boat trips.
- Poole Harbor and Islands Cruise – a 70 minute boat trip travelling around islands just off the Dorset coast. You will see the historic castle built by Henry VIII on Brownsea Island during your cruise, as well as the luxurious houses of the Sandbanks peninsula.
- Jurassic Coast: Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door Coach Trip – see the Jurassic Coast’s most iconic sights, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, on this 3 hour excursion. Travelling with a knowledgable tour guide gives you the chance to find out more about the prehistoric history of the area.
- From Poole to Swanage: 2-Hour Jurassic Coastal Cruise – go on a leisurely cruise along the coastline, and see breathtaking views of white cliffs and golden beaches. It’s worth it for the view of Old Harry Rocks from the sea alone.
- From Bournemouth: Jurassic Coast & Isle of Purbeck Day Tour – spend a day exploring the Purbeck peninsula with a small group and guide. On top of the unmissable Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, you get the chance to see Corfe Castle, Studland and Durlston Castle.
Is the Jurassic Coast Worth Visiting?
Everyone has different expectations on holiday, but if you love rugged coastlines, beautiful scenery and the prehistoric age, the Jurassic Coast is absolutely worth visiting.
How often do you get the chance to see millions of years of Earth’s history right under your feet? Classic white chalk cliffs, golden sands and sweeping views await you in this scenic coastal holiday. Take a break from the busy life and take it easy on the epic Jurassic Coast.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.