The small marina and church in Christchurch, Dorset
Dorset is famous for the Jurassic Coast - an area of geological importance along England's Southern Coastline and visitor's flock to Dorset's Jurassic Coast every year, however there is much more to Dorset than just the Jurassic Coast (even though that is absolutely stunning!) and there's so many great things to see and do for a long weekend break or short vacation.
Even though I've lived in the UK all my life, I'd never made it to Dorset until recently, despite it being one of England's most visited coastal areas! I spent 4 days in Dorset, basing myself in the pretty town of Christchurch and exploring Dorset's coastal towns, beaches and of course, the Jurassic coast. It was beautiful! I could not believe that it had taken me so long to visit this area of the UK! If you're visiting Dorset for the first time, I've pulled together a quick guide of the best things to see and do in and around Christchurch, which I think is a great place to base yourself to explore the area.
Looking for another great coastal destination for your next summer vacation or long weekend break? Check out my posts on the best things to do in Ilfracombe, Devon or the best beaches to visit in Pembrokeshire, Wales
I'll admit, I hadn’t heard of the town of Christchurch in Dorset before I started researching the area, but it is a really pretty town with lots to offer. Before we dive into some of the best things to see and do in Christchurch, let's look at where exactly is Christchurch..?
Where is Christchurch, Dorset?
Christchurch is situated on the edge of the New Forest, and close to Dorset's famous Jurassic Coast, making it the perfect location for getting back to nature with both woodland and coastal walks. The popular seaside town of Bournemouth is just a 15 minute drive away too.
Why pick Christchurch as a base for exploring Dorset?
Aside from the great location, as I mentioned above, Christchurch is a lovely little town, and is particularly great for couples. It doesn't have a beach directly from the town, however there is a lovely little marina and plenty of cafes, pubs and restaurants, so if you prefer to go out in the evening, you won't have a problem finding somewhere here. It is less touristy than some of the other places in Dorset, such as Bournemouth and Lulworth Cove, but is still within easy reach of nearby attractions, making it a perfect base. I would definitely recommend Christchurch as a base for exploring the area along the Dorset coastline.
So, now we've covered why I think Christchurch is a great base for exploring Dorset, here are my top things to see and do in and around Christchurch:
Best things to see and do in Christchurch, Dorset
1. Take a stroll around the pretty town of Christchurch
Christchurch is the perfect place for strolling around with a coffee. I would recommend doing a circular loop of the town. Start your walk on the high street, past numerous cafes and shops and then head for the River Avon. Following the river, walk past the ruins of the 15th century Christchurch Castle, and to the church. Leaving the church, you will arrive at Christchurch's small marina. Follow the edge of the marina and then continue along the River Stour before heading back into town for some lunch.
The ruins of Christchurch Castle (l) and the Church (r)
2. Enjoy a long brunch in one of Christchurch's many cafes
Christchurch is full of cafes and restaurants and one spot which is particularly nice and very popular in the summer is The Boathouse. With floor to ceiling glass windows and plenty of outside seating, you can enjoy a coffee or glass of wine overlooking the green and marina.
Further up the River Stour is The Captains Club & Hotel, where there is also lots of outside seating overlooking the River and is a good brunch spot.
3. Take a road trip around the Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast is Dorset's most popular attraction and is what has made Dorset so well-known. It is England’s only natural World Heritage Site and is recognised as an area of natural, historic importance due to the geological value of the rocks, fossils and land-forms that make up the coast. The Jurassic coast spans from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, however we only covered a small part of the area on our day trip. No trip to Dorset is complete without seeing part of the famous Jurassic Coast - and with stunning landmarks like Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, it is without a doubt the best thing to do in Dorset and should not be missed! Check out my route for a day on the Jurassic Coast, here.
Beautiful views along Dorset's Jurassic Coast (l - the cliffs at Swanage), (r - Lulworth Cove)
4. Visit Hengtisbury Head Nature Reserve - One of Dorset's most beautiful beaches
Hengtisbury head nature reserve is a beautiful natural beach and walking area, just outside of Christchurch. If you're looking for a relaxed day at the beach without the hustle and bustle of the crowds often seen at Bournemouth, then I would highly recommend Hengtisbury Head. In my opinion, this is one of the best things to do in Christchurch and a must visit when in Dorset!
There is parking by the visitor centre if you choose to drive, but you can also walk there from the town of Christchurch. To walk from Christchurch to Hentigsbury Head, start at the marina and walk alongside the River Stour towards Captains hotel and spa. There is a small jetty here and you will need to pay £1 per person to cross the river on a small rowing boat. Once you’re at the other side of the river, follow the path round to the left and keep following the signs for the ‘Stour Valley Way’. The path will take you through the nature reserve until you reach Hengistbury Head visitor centre. From here you can take numerous trails which criss-cross through the reserve and onto the beach.
I headed towards the South Cliff and followed Hentigsbury Head beach round towards Mudeford Sandbank, which is lined with pretty pastel-coloured beach huts. I wanted to buy one as a holiday home (until I saw the price!) There’s a cafe and bar at Mudeford Sandbank, so stop here for a well served drink after all that walking and take in the beautiful surroundings. From Mudeford Sandbank, you can either catch the ferry across to Mudeford Quay, or back to Christchurch Marina. The ferry back to the Marina in Christchurch was £5 per person at the time of my visit in 2020.
Hengtisbury Head beach and the Beach huts at Mudeford Sandbank
5. Enjoy a day out at Mudeford Quay & Highcliffe Castle
Another great day out from Christchurch, in Dorset is to the area of Mudeford Quay. You can drive to Mudeford Quay, jump on a bus, or take the ferry from the marina in Christchurch. If you really want to, you can also walk from Christchurch to Mudeford Quay, although it takes about 1 hour and it is not the prettiest walk.
At Mudeford Quay, there are several places where you can hire paddleboards and kayaks, there is also a children's playground here and plenty of places for picnics and playing on the grass. You can also get a ferry across to Mudeford Sandbank from the Quay.
One of the best things to do at Mudeford Quay is to stroll along the promenade with an ice cream! The beach at Mudeford Quay is a pebble beach, but it does get sandier as you walk further towards Avon beach and Highcliffe beach. From Highcliffe beach, you can take the steps up to Highcliffe castle. There is an entrance fee to go inside the stately home, however you can walk around the woodland and manicured grounds for free.
Avoiding the crowds at Highcliffe beach (l) and Highcliffe Castle (r)
6. Have a beach day at Bournemouth - Dorset's most popular seaside holiday destination
Bournemouth is only a 15 minute drive from Christchurch and there are local buses if you don't have your own car. I chose to park in between Bournemouth and Boscombe Pier so that I could easily access both, as the beach connects the two. There are lots of family attractions such as rides, arcades and stalls at both Bournemouth and Boscombe Pier, but Bournemouth is definitely the busier one. For the quietest spot, settle in the centre of the beach, right in between both piers.
Standing on Boscombe Pier ooking across to Bournemouth beach (l) and out to sea (r)
7. Visit the New Forest - one of England's most beautiful National Parks
With the New Forest right on the doorstep to Christchurch – it is the perfect way to spend an afternoon if you enjoy walking and strolling through the pretty little towns and villages. The New Forest has been made famous by the thousands of ponies roaming and grazing on the moorland, making a visit to the New Forest even more special.
There’s also Moors Valley Country Park just 30 minutes drive North of Christchurch, which has walking and cycling trails and activities for the kids.
So there you have it, my top things to do in and around Christchurch, Dorset. I hope that I've inspired you to consider Christchurch for your next break to Dorset and given you some ideas for what to do in and around the area of Christchurch.
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