Top castles in Dorset to visit on holiday

Days out, Educational

Posted by Ed Roberts on 4th August 2022

Castles in Dorset

Dorset is a beautiful and historic county in the south of England. From the Jurassic Coast to the rolling hills of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s a place of spectacular views, unspoilt countryside and a fabled past. For history buffs, Dorset is a wonderful location for castle baggers.

For this guide, we will introduce you to eight of Dorset’s castles that you can visit. Including iconic ruins and former stately homes, discover Dorset, a land of curious and beautiful fortresses. For even more ideas, enjoy our guide to places to go and things to do in Dorset, too.

Why not stay at a holiday home whilst you are visiting these fantastic castles? We have properties all across Dorset from Christchurch Bay and Bournemouth to the fringes of the New Forest and the Devon border in the west for you to enjoy.

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Dorset Castles Q&A

Dorset Castles Q&A

There is in the region of ten castles in Dorset, according to WikiBooks.

Corfe Castle is the largest castle in Dorset - although it has been laid to beautiful ruin. You can learn more about this fortress below.

The oldest 'physical' castle that you can visit in Dorset is Corfe Castle. Some parts can be dated back to the 11th century. However, the oldest traces of a castle in Dorset are those of Maiden Castle, which was built in 1,800BC. Understandably, only earthworks remain today. 


Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck

Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck

Arguably Dorset’s most famous ruin, and one of England’s best-loved, Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck is a must-visit destination. Set in a very pretty village of the same name, Corfe Castle, the castle ruins have dominated a low peak for more than a thousand years - some parts date back to the 11th century. It was largely sacked in 1646 during the First English Civil War and it has a long and potted history to learn about at its visitor centre.

There are lots of country walks close to the National Trust-managed Corfe Castle and you can also catch a steam train to Swanage through the gorgeous local Isle of Purbeck countryside. Read our guide to other National Trust properties in Dorset for more inspiration.

Good to know

  • Prices: NT Members – free | Adults from £9.00 and children from £4.50. See website for details
  • Facilities: Parking, WCs, dogs on leads welcome, baby changing facilities, picnics permitted, gift shop
  • Stay nearby: Honeypot Cottage | sleeps 4 guests + 1 dog 

Corfe Castle cottages


Lulworth Castle, Lulworth

Lulworth Castle, Lulworth

The 17th-century Lulworth Castle was originally built as a hunting lodge. Nowadays, it is the centrepiece of the 12,000-acre Lulworth Estate which is close to the gorgeous natural landmarks of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.  

There is lots to explore at Lulworth Castle and Estate, in Lulworth, including a network of pathways that take in beautiful woodlands and views of the surrounding countryside. You can learn all about the castle’s previous owners and about a giant fire in the 1920s that almost destroyed the property. Lulworth Estate is also known as the site of the popular annual summer music event, Camp Bestival. There is so much to do in and around this lovely village, that we've written a guide to the best things to do in Lulworth for more holiday inspiration. 

Good to know

  • Prices: Castle entry - Adults £7.00 and children £6.00. See website for details. | Pay & display parking of £3.00 per vehicle grants access to the park and woodlands.  
  • Facilities: Parking, visitor centre, WCs, dogs on leads (please be considerate of livestock)
  • Stay nearby: Linden Lea Cottage | sleeps 4 guests + 1 dog 

Lulworth cottages


Brownsea Castle, Poole Bay

Brownsea Castle, Poole Bay

Situated on the National Trust-managed Brownsea Island, Brownsea Castle near Poole, was one of Henry VIII’s coastal forts, built in 1545. It was converted into a private residence in the early 1700s; nowadays it resembles a stately home more than it does a fortress.

Tours of the island can be booked on which you might spot red squirrels. The views across Poole Bay are always amazing and if you are looking for an obscure day trip and an excuse to climb aboard a boat for a gentle trip, then choose an outing to Brownsea Island. Brownsea Castle is not open to the public but it can be enjoyed from the outside.

Good to know

  • Prices: Ferry and admission – Adults £21.50 and children £11.50. See website for details (NT members pay ferry fare). 
  • Facilities: WCs, café, baby changing facilities, pushchair hire, picnic area
  • Stay nearby: Hilltop Harbour View | sleeps 14 guests + 3 dogs

Poole cottages


Sherborne Castle and Sherborne Old Castle, Sherborne

Sherborne Castle and Sherborne Old Castle, Sherborne

Sherborne is home to two castles, a 16th-century Tudor mansion, and the ruins of the 12th-century Sherborne Old Castle. Set on a 1,200-acre site, partially landscaped by the celebrated Capability Brown, Sherborne Castle was built for Sir Walter Raleigh. It’s a wonderful place for a day out for history buffs and lovers of landscaped gardens alike.

Close by, the Sherborne Old Castle was the subject of several sieges during the First English Civil War in 1645. Today, the ruins are managed by English Heritage and are well worth a visit to see the remains of this once imposing fortress. The grounds are also a haven for birdlife and wild animals.

Good to know

Sherborne cottages


Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch

Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch

Highcliffe Castle, near Christchurch, is a castle in the decorative sense having never seen a day of warfare before and also because it was designed to be residential in the first place. Very beautiful, this former stately home stands high above the sea behind a huge pine woodland that cascades down to a lovely sandy beach.

Highcliffe Castle was built between 1831 and 1836 for Lord Stuart de Rothesay – nowadays you can enjoy live events and exhibitions at the castle and take some scenic walks within its 14 acres of grounds.

Good to know

Christchurch cottages


Portland Castle, Isle of Portland

Portland Castle, near Weymouth

Portland Castle occupies a fantastic spot on the Isle of Portland, near Weymouth, where it once observed hostile shipping activity out on the English Channel. Built in the 1540s to be one of a series of coastal defence forts for Henry VIII, compared to the other castles on this list, this edifice is tiny. Small and squat, and made from Portland Stone, it’s been built to survive barrages of incredible strength and multitude. It was once built as part of a pair, but its counterpart, Sandsfoot Castle, was set to ruin long ago.

Today the English Heritage-managed castle and grounds are open to visitors. The panorama from the gun platform gives you bold views across Weymouth Bay and to Weymouth in the distance. If you fancy exploring this seaside resort further, then our guide to the best things to do in Weymouth should offer some great ideas.

Good to know

  • Prices: Adults from 6.30 and children from £4.20. Visit the website for details 
  • Facilities: Parking, WCs, tearoom, shop, dogs welcome, picnic area, baby changing facilities, adventure playground, audio tours
  • Stay nearby: Dolphin Cottage | sleeps 6 guests + 2 dogs 

Weymouth cottages


Durlston Castle, Swanage

Durlston Castle, Swanage

Built as a folly in 2011, like Highcliffe Castle, Durlston was never intended for use as a military defence. Situated near Swanage, the pretty Durlston Castle was constructed as a decorative feature by the current estate owners. The castle was built from stone from the limestone quarries on the estate on Durlston Head.

Today, the castle serves as a visitor centre for Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve; visitors also come to the castle to see The Great Globe – a limestone sculpture of our planet that sits above a steep cliff close to the castle.

Good to know

  • Prices: Pay for parking, which starts at £2.00, and allows you entry to the entire estate. See website for details 
  • Facilities: Parking, WCs, visitor centre, gallery, shop, café, dogs on leads welcome
  • Stay nearby: Seaglimpse | sleeps 2 guests + 1 dog

Swanage cottages


Map of castles in Dorset

Check out our handy map of castles in Dorset that you can visit on your holiday.

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From castle to cottage

Stay at one of our holiday cottages in Dorset when you are enjoying your castle hunting break. Our holiday homes are designed to suit visitor groups of all sizes, whether you are on a couples' retreat or you are planning a walking holiday with extended family or friends. Take a look at our inspiring range of holiday accommodation in Dorset by clicking the button below.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.