Here are just some of the things you can do in Dorchester, the historic county town of Dorset.
Things you can do for free in Dorchester
It’s one of the biggest hillforts in Europe. The high banks and deep gullies of Maiden Castle are the results of thousands of years of habitation. It was probably at its most impressive around the time the Romans invaded Britain. They later built a temple inside the castle.
The views are spectacular but it’s a stiff climb up and there’s no shelter – so check the weather forecast before you go.
Roman bloodsports. Civil war cannons. Public executions. Maumbury Rings have seen all this, and more. First constructed thousands of years ago, the Rings became a Roman amphitheatre, a sort of local Colosseum in Dorset.
Later they became a base for civil war cannons and in 1685 Judge Jeffreys sent dozens to the gallows that were set up in the Rings.
A short walk from the town centre, the grassy banks of Maumbury Rings hide centuries of history.
Roman Town House
Dorchester was a thriving Roman town but sadly, very little of it remains visible. The exception is the Roman Town House in Colliton Park. Unearthed in the 1930s, it’s the only example of a fully exposed town house in the country.
It’s managed by Dorset Museum, who arrange guided tours from time to time.
Dorchester Borough Gardens have been a place of tranquil refuge for well over a century. The attractive park includes a fully enclosed play area, a splash area for warmer days, an outdoor gym, refreshment kiosk, tennis courts and public toilets.
It’s a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or a coffee while you’re exploring the town.
Features include a bandstand, clock tower and fountain.
In 1993 Prince Charles launched a massive experiment in re-thinking urban architecture and life. That experiment was Poundbury, which is now home to thousands of people and many businesses.
Anyone can visit Poundbury at any time, although first-time visitors may feel a little out of place. The streets and buildings, most of which have a Georgian styling, were designed to put people first.
Poundbury is still being built, with completion scheduled in the next few years.
Highlights include Queen Mother Square, Duchess of Cornwall pub, Brownsword Hall and the Buttermarket.
Dorchester Curiosity Centre
When is a museum a shop? You’ll love exploring the nooks and crannies of the rambling collectables emporium, housed in the old bus station. It’s free to visit, but we can’t promise you’ll leave without parting with some cash.
Discover history in Dorchester
There’s art, archaeology, culture, nature and history in the impressive and recently-renovated museum. Some of the nation’s finest fossils are on display, along with a rich collection of artefacts from the distant and not-so-distant past.
The Keep Military Museum
Housed in one of the town’s more impressive buildings, the Keep was once the gatehouse of the barracks of the Dorsetshire Regiment. It tells the story of the local military, from the Beaufort Musketeers to The Rifles.
Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
Spend time in the courtroom and cells where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were imprisoned and tried, around 190 years ago. The courtroom hasn’t changed very much since then, except that it’s become a place of fun and learning.
The Victorian home of Thomas Hardy, one of England’s most celebrated novelists, Max Gate is now owned by the National Trust.
World Heritage Museums
Dorchester is home to four small museums that feature particular aspects of world history and culture. The museums are:
- The Teddy Bear Museum
- The Dinosaur Museum
- The Tutankhamun Exhibition
- The Teerracotta Warriors
More to do in Dorchester
Dorchester town centre is home to some wonderful local shops, along with many popular High Street brands. Take time to wander and explore – you’ll find some gems away from the main shopping street.
Nearby is the modern development of Brewery Square, which has more shops, restaurants and cafes. Once one of the industrial sites in Dorchester, it’s been converted into a space that celebrates today’s culture.
Opposite Brewery Square is the site of Dorchester market, which has an indoor and outdoor section. The market is held every Wednesday from 8am until 1pm.