England south coast road trip UK

A South England Road Trip to Dorset & The New Forest

This ten day to two week southern England road trip itinerary will see you exploring the best of Hampshire’s New Forest and Dorset’s incredible Jurassic Coast. With world-class attractions, incredible landscapes and the sea at your fingertips, this wonderful part of England’s south coast makes a superb road tripping holiday destination, for couples and families alike. 

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One of our favourites, this UK road trip covers some of the most glorious and diverse landscapes of any England itinerary. 

The woods and heathlands of the New Forest National Park are rich with nature, wildlife, outdoor adventures and activities, where wild ponies, rare breed cattle and deer roam free.

The Jurassic Coast offers ancient history and a geological legacy over 250 million years old. Spectacular views, dinosaur footprints, bucket and spade beaches and great days out make this a perfect England road trip destination.

DISTANCE | 103 miles

DRIVE TIME | 4 hours

OVERNIGHT STOPS | 8

DURATION | 10 – 14 days

1. Brook

2. Brockenhurst

3. Lymington

4. Bournemouth

5. Corfe Castle

6. West Lulworth

7. Weymouth

8. Lyme Regis

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Dorset & New Forest Road Trip Itinerary

Fordingbridge

Start your south coast of England road trip in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, on the western edge of the New Forest and easily accessible from London in a few hours. Fordingbridge sits on the River Avon and is recorded as far back as the Domesday Book. Check out the beautiful Avon Valley walk, and the medieval seven-arched Great Bridge that spans the pretty river.

This is a great spot to base yourself for a few nights and visit various local attractions across the 219 square miles of forest, which is actually a mix of woodlands, heath and open pasture that carpets the softly rolling hills and plains which characterise the forest.  One of the best ways to stay in the forest is in a campsite pod, or for something different, try New Forest glamping – both options get you into the heart of the forest, surrounded by lush foliage and wild animals.

Things to Do Nearby

Visit Historic Salisbury & Stonehenge

Head north across the beautiful English countryside to Salisbury and the ancient monoliths of Stonehenge, and the hill fort at Old Sarum, steeped in history and legend.

Visit Salisbury Cathedral, one of the leading examples of early English Gothic architecture, which was completed in 1258. Take a walking tour of the lofty cathedral, with the tallest spire in the United Kingdom and the original 1215 Magna Carta on display, to fully understand this spiritual and historic place.

Step back even further in time and visit Stonehenge, to the north of Salisbury. This iconic prehistoric monument rises from the earth in a circle of enormous stones and has to be on any European bucket list. Surrounded by mystery and myth, the true origins of Stonehenge remain unknown.

On the return journey, stop off at Old Sarum, the site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury. On a hill about two miles north of modern Salisbury, Old Sarum is a mighty Iron Age hill fort where the first cathedral once stood. The Romans, Normans and Saxons have all left their mark here and the air is thick with the past. On a windy day, it’s also a great place to fly a kite!

Although the A338 to Salisbury is an easy drive, by far the most scenic route is to head east, along country lanes and through the forest village of Nomansland to the A36.  Once on the A36, you’ll soon pass the New Forest Lavender Farm in Landford, where they serve the most amazing savoury scones with bacon and maple syrup, until 11am every morning – a bonus of your cross-country drive!

Stonhenge in green fields with cloudy skies
Stonehenge

Take a Ride at Paultons Park

Home to Peppa Pig World, Paulton’s Park is the premier theme park on the south coast. Just a few miles from Brook, and with lots of rides for all ages, this makes one of the best New Forest days out for families.

Have Fun at the New Forest Water Park

Just six miles from Fordingrbidge is the New Forest Water Park. With wake-boarding and water skiing opportunities, you’ll also find an enormous inflatable aqua park at the edge of the lake. Fantastic for families and couples, trying to stay on will have you giggling like kids, and wear you, and them, out in an hour – its the best fun you can have in a swimming costume!

Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst is a pretty and traditional village in the heart of the forest and a perfect base to explore the 26 miles of coast that the New Forest enjoys. Brockenhurst is also the hub of 140 miles of New Forest official gravelled cycle tracks that snake across the National Park. If you didn’t bring bikes, there are several places to hire them in the village.

You’ll also find a great fish and chip shop here, and several tea rooms to try a Hampshire cream tea – there’s no special cream and jam order here, just slather it on and enjoy the quintessential English experience!

There are a couple of good campsites here if you’re planning on sleeping under canvas, or are touring in a motorhome for your New Forest visit. Search for Hollands Wood and Rounhill, both run by Camping in the Forest.

Things to Do Nearby

Visit Pretty Lyndhurst

Head for Lyndhurst, the ‘capital’ of the forest, and stop at the New Forest Heritage Centre to learn about the fascinating history of the area, commoners rights and how the Verderer’s once had their own court and ruled the forest with an iron fist. There is also a New Forest Visitor Centre here where you can pick up information about attractions and events in the area.

Take a gentle stroll out to Bolton’s Bench, to the east of town, and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the open forest. Local legend has it that a noble knight and a fearsome dragon lie beneath this iconic hill, but all you’ll see are the magnificent yew, atop the hill, lots of New Forest ponies and maybe a cricket match on the nearby pitch in the late afternoons of summer.

Discover Beaulieu

The charming village of Beaulieu is home to the National Motor Museum, where you can see over 280 cars, buses and motorcycles from history, and historic 13th century Palace House. With strong WWII connections, Palace House was used to train SOE operatives prior to missions into occupied France, and the Beaulieu river played a significant role in the D Day landings. A visit here is one of the best things to do in the New Forest.

The beautiful Georgian village of Bucklers Hard, on the Beaulieu river, also has a historic past. This was the site where warships were built using wood from the surrounding forest, for Admiral Lord Nelson prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. You can still see the slipways today, which look tiny compared to modern day warships that dock just across the Solent, in the naval city of Portsmouth – in a prophetic twist of fate, you can also see the Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, at the Historic Dockyard in the city.

You can visit the Bucklers Hard Maritime Museum to learn about the trading and ship-building history of the village, built by the Duke of Montagu as a staging post to the West Indies. If you’re not a museum person, pop into the cozy Master Builder’s for a drink and wander through the bar into the atmospheric village of Bucklers Hard and the waterfront.

View to the Beaulieu river at Bucklers Hard
Buckler's Hard

Take a Coastal Walk in Lepe Country Park

To the south is Lepe Country Park, right on the coast of the Solent. With views across to the Isle of Wight, this is a great spot for a bracing beach walk. Head east from the car-park – keeping the sea on your right – and you’ll find the 4th/7th RDG D-Day Memorial, along with the remains of Mulberry Harbours that were built here to assist with the D Day landings.

You can walk all the way to Calshot, where water sports enthusiasts and activity lovers use the Calshot Outdoor Centre, alongside people watching the strangely fascinating huge cruise liners and cargo ships departing Southampton docks.

New Forest Activities
Top 16 New Forest Outdoor Activities

In Hampshire New Forest is perfect for outdoor adventures. This national park is home to ponies, rare breed cows and pigs (yes, pigs!) roaming wild, and is a playground for hikers, cyclists and water sport enthusiasts. Head here for a New Forest activity holidays and you will find so much to see and do. Our guide will provide all the information you need to visit the New Forest and we’ll share a few local secrets too!

Read More

Lymington

A traditional Georgian market town, Lymington has a lively harbour and is a perfect base for a couple of days, particularly if you enjoy messing about on the water. 

There are numerous coastal walks and bike paths from the town, opening up the coast of the New Forest for you to explore, as well as the Lymington Sea Water Baths, a lovely place for a dip in the summer. Make sure to sample the delicious New Forest Ice Cream which is made in the town, the clotted cream flavour is a firm favourite.

Lymington also offers a regular car and passenger ferry service to the Isle of Wight if you fancy taking a day trip, or even extending your road trip for a few days to the smallest county in England, and also the sunniest place in the UK!

Things to do Nearby

Be Wowed by Hurst Castle

Hurst Castle was a Henry VIII stronghold and dates back to 1544. The castle is built on Hurst Spit, a long stretch of shingle reaching into the Solent and also acted as a military barracks and defence post during WWII.  With spectacular views of the Isle of Wight Needles from the battlements, this is a favourite spot for many.

Park at Keyhaven car park and make your way to Hurst Castle from there. You can either take the 45 minute, 2.2 mile walk out to the castle, via Saltgrass Lane, or get the boat to the castle, which leaves every 20 minutes or so from Keyhaven harbour and costs £4 one way.  A return ferry ticket costs £7 – we like to walk there and get the ferry back. 

If you decide to walk, turn left once you reach the enormous shingle spit, at the top of Seagrass Lane, and keep going – it will take around an hour or so. It can be quite hard walking on the pebbles of the spit, so make sure you have sturdy footwear on.

On the way back, stop for fish and chips at Mister Pinks in Milford-on-Sea, some of the best in the area.

Hurts Castle in the distance from Lymington
Hurst Castle viewed from the Solent Way footpath

Take to the Water

Whether you’re into sailing, stand up paddle, kayaking or fancy a rib ride, you can do it from Lymington.  From yacht charters, to hiring a kayak for the day, this is a perfect place to get out on the water.

Visit the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum

Sammy Miller is a motorcycling legend, eleven times British Champion, winner of more than 1400 events and still winning competitions more than 50 years after his first victory.

The Sammy Miller Museum houses one of the finest collections of fully restored motorcycles in the world, including factory racers and exotic prototypes, with the collection constantly evolving as new bikes are acquired. This is a living museum with almost every motorcycle in the museum in full running order.  Sammy is often at the museum, tending to his collection, and is always happy to stop for a chat.

Bournemouth

You’re now most definitely in west England, although there is no official definition of this! One of England’s most popular sea-side resorts, Bournemouth in Dorset is a true bucket and spade destination. Whether you visit south England as a family or couple, you must go to Bournemouth. 

No longer the preserve of the elderly, Bournemouth is now a young and lively town, with lots of water based activities and a great evening scene, as well as nine world-class, blue flag beaches along the seven miles of sands it shares with the neighbouring town of Poole.

Things to do in Bournemouth

Enjoy Bournemouth's Famous Beaches

Bournemouth would not be one of the top tourist resorts in the UK without its famous long stretch of golden sands. Cleaned and raked daily, the beaches are one of the jewels in Bournemouth’s crown and Alum Chine, Manor Steps, Durely Chine beaches all hold the coveted blue flag.

There’s always lots of activities taking place on the sands include beach volley ball, play areas, sand art and lifeguard displays, and the town’s colourful beach huts add a dash of seaside nostalgia. 

If you prefer your beach a bit wilder and more natural, you’ll find Hengistbury Head a few miles east of Bournemouth. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, Hengistbury Head features a pebble beach and a nature reserve which is home to rare wildlife and plants.

Colourful beachuts facing bournemouth beach
Beach huts in Bournemouth

Wander the Glorious Gardens

It’s impossible to miss the lush swathe of green that cuts through the town. The Upper, Central and Lower Gardens extend for two miles following the Bourne Valley and its  stream from the boundary with Poole, all the way to Bournemouth Pier.

Listed Grade II in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, Bournemouth’s gardens are home to lots of activities and facilities, including tennis, putting, mini-golf, art exhibitions and of course the town’s trademark tethered balloon which, on a clear day, offers a panoramic bird’s eye view of Bournemouth and beyond.

Most of the action is in the Lower Gardens, close to the town centre and sea. It features a number of major events including the enchanting one hundred year-old tradition of the ‘Candlelit Illuminations’ which attract thousands of visitors on summer evenings to the candle lit gardens.

The Central and Upper Gardens are quieter and maintain a natural feel. The Central Gardens includes several commemorative trees, the town’s war memorial and an area dedicated to the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

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Visit the Russell-Coates Art Gallery & Museum

Just a few minutes walk from Bournemouth Pier, the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, high on East Cliff Promenade, houses one of Britain’s finest art museums. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, this charming and quirky mansion was once the home of the charismatic traveller, philanthropist and art collector Sir Merton Russell-Cotes and his wife Annie. Showcasing a mix of architectural and design influences that includes Italian, French and Scottish, it was a home that oozed style and influence.

A one time Mayor of Bournemouth, Russell-Cotes gifted the building and its fantastic collection of art and artefacts to the town, including its world famous Pre-Raphaelite works. The museum and gallery is now a major tourist attraction and a magnet for lovers of both art and architecture.

The next stop on your south England itinerary is the Isle of Purbeck and England’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, the dramatic Jurassic Coast. This place is a hotspot for geologists and fossil hunters, as well as travellers who come to enjoy rugged cliffs, sea views and peaceful coastal villages.

Purbeck is not really an island, but a peninsula that is bordered by water on three sides – the English Channel to the south and east, where the steep cliffs of the Jurassic Coast fall to the sea, and the marshy lands of the River Frome and Poole Harbour to the north.

You could go the long way round from Bournemouth via the A31 and Wareham, but we think the four minute chain ferry crossing from Sandbanks in Poole to Studland is more fun! As you make your way to the terminal, admire the houses en-route, Sandbanks is home to some of the most expensive real-estate in the whole world!

Corfe Castle

From the Sandbanks ferry terminal, ignore the signs for Swanage and take the road to Corfe Castle. Commanding a gap in the Purbeck Hills, between Wareham and Swanage is the castle of the same name, one of the most iconic buildings to survive the English Civil War, even though it was partially demolished by parliamentarians in 1646.

The ruined Corfe Castle, which has been a treasury, military garrison, royal residence and family home, towers over the picture-perfect village, keeping its secrets of treason and treachery within.

Corfe Castle is a great place to stay for at least a few days, placing the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck at your feet, and all the major attractions within easy reach.

Ruined Corfe Castle amid green fields and blue skies
Corfe Castle
Things to do Nearby

Drink & Stroll in Worth Matravers

The collection of limestone cottages and farmhouses that collectively make up Worth Matravers are traditional and picturesque. The hub of the village is centred around a village green, complete with duckpond and a pub called the Square and Compass, a Grade II listed 18th century house where they still serve beer straight from the barrel.

After a pint and a pasty, there is a great walk from the pub, through the fields to Seacombe Cliff and along the breathtaking South West Coast Path to Dancing Ledge, a gently sloping plinth of rock, complete with a naturally made pool for wild swimming.

From Worth Matravers, it’s just a few miles to The Spyway Trust and Keates Quarry, where the rocky landscape of the Jurassic Coast recently gave up some of its 250 million year old secrets – over 100 dinosaur tracks and footprints, kept safe for millennia in the rocks of the Mesozoic Era.

Ride the Steam Train to Swanage

Jump on the Swanage Railway steam train from Corfe Castle into the centre of Swanage. You can even book a driving experience, where you get to drive and fire the engine. 

With fair-ground rides, crazy golf, amusements and a restored Victorian pier, Swanage is a very typical English bucket and spade holiday destination. It’s also a great spot from which to organise diving, coasteering activities and jet-ski safaris.

Go Rock-Pooling at Kimmeridge

Continuing east along the stunning Jurassic Coast, make a slight detour south to Kimmeridge Bay, which lies within a marine Special Area of Conservation and boasts great rock-pooling, safe snorkelling and easy fossil hunting.

You won’t find much sand here, but huge slabs gently shelving into the sea, formed by oil trapped in rocks that were laid down on a stagnant sea floor millions of years ago. There’s a Wild Seas Centre where you’ll find information about what you can see snorkelling and rock-pooling. Take rock shoes or jelly sandals and check the tides before going, you won’t be able to snorkel if the tide is high.

The road to Kimmeridge Bay, past the village, is privately owned and charges a £5 vehicle toll to access the bay. You can park and walk down from the village for free, it’s around 0.7 miles and a 15 minute walk, although uphill on the way back.

Kimmeridge Bay with the Clavell Tower in the background
Kimmerdige Bay & Clavell Tower

Lulworth Cove & Durdle Door

The quaint, thatched village of West Lulworth is known as the gateway to the Jurassic Coast and is home to the famous Lulworth Cove, one of the world’s finest examples of a circular bay. No south coast trip would be complete without exploring Lulworth Cove and the neighbouring beaches.

From Lulworth Cove, you can take the cliff path east to the other-worldly fossil forest, the remains of an ancient submerged forest from Jurassic times. Or go west for Durdle Door, the famous arch over the sea, backed by a beautiful beach.

Things to do Nearby

Visit Peaceful Tyneham

Tyneham is a fascinating village where time stopped in 1943, when the villagers were evacuated by the Ministry of Defence to make way for training and range firing activities, and never came back. Now known as a ghost village, you can visit the tiny school and church to see how they were when the village was evacuated.

Tyneham is one of the best places to go in the south of England for a glorious coastal walk. Head up the steep hill to the high cliffs of Pondfield Cove and the South West Coast Path. Turn east for the distinctive and windswept Tyneham Cap, or west for Tyneham Beach and the spectacular Warbarrow Bay, unspoilt and usually deserted because of it’s remote location and lack of vehicular access. 

Tyneham and Warbarrow Bay are within the Lulworth Ranges and managed by the Ministry of Defence. Don’t walk if you see a red flag flying, that means live firing is taking place. Even if you don’t see the flag, you’ll hear the firing of powerful Challenger 2 tanks – this is not a small firing range!

Warbarrow Bay

Say Hello to the Primates at Monkey World

Just a ten minute drive from West Lulworth, the famous primate sanctuary and rescue centre, Monkey World, is home to over 250 rescued and endangered primates. You can visit the enclosures, watch the monkeys and primates at play and being cared for, and enjoy talks by the experts who work there. Monkey World is one of the best places to visit in the south of England for a great family day out.

Get up Close at The Tank Museum

Head inland to the excellent Bovington Tank Museum, where you can learn about the history of these war winning machines and see 300 tanks on display, including a British First World War Mark I, the oldest surviving combat tank.

To see a real Challenger 2 or Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle in action, drive through the village of Bovington towards Clouds Hill, one time home of Lawrence of Arabia, and now a National Trust property. Just before the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial on the left side of the road, is the ‘knife edge’, a huge mound of sand, used by trainee tank drivers and commanders to test their skills at driving a tracked vehicle and stopping it on a knife edge. If you’re lucky, you might just see some modern day tracked vehicles in action.

Weymouth

Another traditional British sea-side town, Weymouth has a fine, award winning sandy beach, backed by a Georgian sea front and a lively town.  There’s also a very active historic harbour, pretty beach huts and great seafood dining.

Weymouth makes a good base from which to explore the western end of Dorset, and offers a multitude of accommodation options.

Things to do Nearby

Marvel at Chesil Beach

The incredible Chesil Beach is a vast eighteen mile long shingle barrier beach stretching from West Bay in the north, to Portland in the south. Made up of over 180 billion pebbles, this iconic beach is a fascinating feat of nature, and one of the best wild and unspoilt places to visit in the south of England.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens offers one of the best views of Chesil Beach from above, with beach, sea and sky stretching endlessly in either direction. Pop into Abbotsbury Swannery after the gardens, the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans. The swannery is also a little known filming location; the swampy reed beds were used as the entrance to the Weasley family home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Chesil Beach & Abbotsbury Church

Go South to Portland Bill

Probably one of the most famous lighthouses in all of Great Britain, Portland Bill overlooks the English Channel from the southern-most tip of Dorset. The sea here is wild, with huge frothing waves crashing against the coastline as the tides on either side of the promontory rush to meet each other.

You can learn more about this working lighthouse in the visitors centre and see the original lighthouse keeper’s quarters, and there is also a good cafe close by for hot chocolate on a cold day.

Make a Sandcastle at Sandworld

Over the years, Weymouth’s sandy beach has become known for sand sculpting and a walk along the front would see sculptors perfecting their art for the enjoyment of visitors. No-one is really sure when or how this tradition started, but it became so popular that the Sandworld Sculpture Park was opened.

Sandworld is now home to some of the best sand sculptors from around the globe, who create sand masterpieces that defy logic and gravity. With different themes annually, Sandworld attracts the world’s best sand sculptors and is worth a visit if you’ve ever tried to build a sand-castle!

Lyme Regis

Our last stop on this south coast road trip itinerary is the elegant town of Lyme Regis, right on the edge of the Dorset Devon border, and well known as one the best places on the Jurassic Coast to hunt for fossils.

Popular with families and foodies, Lyme Regis has lots to do, including a great beach, ripe for finding fossils, and a growing sea-food gastro scene, whether good old-fashioned fish and chips, or freshly-caught local oysters are your thing. 

Take a stroll around the iconic and busy Cobb harbour, and while away a few hours watching the sea. On a clear day there are fine views along the coast in both directions.

The Cobb at Lyme Regis
Things to do Nearby

Take a Fossil Walk

Head to Charmouth to find out more about the Jurassic Coast and why it is the perfect hunting ground for dinosaur fossils and footprints. A guided fossil walk through time will reveal over 185 million years of life on earth, showcasing the three dinosaur periods known as Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. You’ll also learn how to hunt for fossils safely and where you have the best chances of finding them.

Visit Lively Bridport

The vibrant market town of Bridport lies to the south of Lyme Regis and is just two miles from the fishing village of West Bay. Bridport has a rich, rope-making heritage and a great reputation for arts, culture, events and food.

The town is a hive of activity with a welcoming atmosphere and an eclectic mix of independent shops, cafes and restaurants. In between souvenir shopping, visit Palmer’s Brewery, England’s only thatched brewery where all the beer and ales are made to a centuries old process. Enjoy a tasting and maybe purchase a drop of your favourite ale to take home.

Explore the South West Coast Path

Although the South West Coast Path stretches for 630 miles between Minehead in Somerset, and along the Cornwall and Devon coasts to finish in Poole harbour, the 100 miles that run along the west Dorset coast are some of the most glorious. 

Easily accessible, there are the stunning views along the route, including from Golden Cap, the highest point on the whole of the south coast. To the west of Lyme Regis is the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve, one the highlights of the Jurassic Coast, where you’ll find exotic flora and wild landscapes.

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