A romantic landscape of rolling green hills and the dramatic Jurassic coast (Thomas Hardy anyone?!) lures home movers a plenty with a stirring escape from the city.  It’s little wonder that over half the county is a designated Area of Outstanding National Beauty.  In this guide, we take a look at the best places to live in Dorset, handpicked by local experts. 

At a Glance

The Vibe: Old school country set; relaxed and beachy on the South Coast; a touch of glitz in Sandbanks

The Schools:  3 Schools in Times Top 200 ( State Secondary), 3 Schools in Times Top 200 (Independent Secondary)

The Restaurants: 13 x restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide

The Great Outdoors:  >50% AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), Jurassic Coast, Poole Harbour

Larger Towns


Poole is really all about the affluent suburbs around Poole Harbour, rather than the town itself.  Sandbanks has been on the map for some time with some of the most expensive (typically waterfront) properties in the world but neighbouring Canford Cliffs and Branksome Park have their fair share of Dorset’s more modern mansions as well.  Sailing and golf are popular pastimes down here and its award winning blue flag beaches are a big draw too.

Locals Love

“The fabulous sunsets down at Evening Hill.”

“The Sandbanks ferry over to the Purbecks.”

“Brownsea Island is magical, we love taking the boat over for a picnic.”

Aerial view of Sandbanks and Poole Harbour

Market Towns


This far west and you are almost in Devon and life here has its own unique identity.  Bridport is a thriving market town with seemingly some sort of cultural or music event held each night for this vibrant local community, a stone’s from the dramatic sandstone cliffs of West Bay.

Locals Love

“The beach at nearby Lyme Regis, we keep our boat down there.” 

Sladers Yard contemporary art gallery at West Bay.”

The Electric Palace, a former art deco 1920s opera house, for all things film, music and comedy.”

West Bay Harbour - Bridport

The Purbecks

The Purbecks are breathtakingly beautiful, encompassing a sprinkling of hillside villages leading down to world beating beaches and coves on the Jurassic Coast.  Olde worlde Swanage is the main town here, where locals head after days at the beach down at Durdle Door and Kimmeridge.  Be sure to check out the market town of Wareham on the River Piddle and the ‘fairytale’ village of Corfe too. 

Locals Love

Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle, I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now…”

The Pig On The Beach at Studland and the Shell Bay seafood restaurant.”  Both are listed  in the Michelin Guide. 

“New Years Eve in Swanage…It’s one of the largest parties in the UK and it’s fancy dress!”

Sunset over Swanage harbour in Dorset


Yes, you may already be familiar with the steep streets of Shaftesbury made famous by Ridley Scott’s iconic Hovis advert, filmed on Gold Hill, and this hilltop town is just as impressive in real life too, with breathtaking views at every turn.  Shaftesbury is situated in the north of Dorset, on the border with Wiltshire and is less than a 40 minute drive into Salisbury and under an hour to Bath in Somerset.

Locals Love

“We have a brilliant market here every Thursday but the highlight is our Food and Drink Festival in May, capped by the always hilarious Cheese Races up Gold Hill!”

“The views from Win Green, the highest point in the whole of the Cranborne Chase

Shaftesbury Fringe Festival

Gold Hill in Shaftesbury


You could easily be mistaken for thinking you were in the Cotswolds when you first arrive in this exquisite market town.   Sherborne is blessed with the prettiest of honey coloured highstreets offering a generous serving of quaint English tea rooms, cosy pubs, antique stores and upmarket boutiques.  You might find it a little bit more affordable than the Cotswolds too. 

The famous Sherborne Boys School is dotted throughout the town and is very much a part of Sherborne life and the wider community.  Further afield, you’re only an hour to the beach at West Bay and the larger Dorset towns of Poole and Bournemouth.  Bath, in neighbouring Somerset, is also just over an hour away.

Locals Love

“The Dorset Opera Festival which started here in Sherborne but is now held annually in the Summer at nearby Blandford.”

Sherborne Castle is spectacular!”

The Eastbury Hotel and Spa” Recently awarded Best Value Luxury by Conde Naste.

A view of Sherborne Abbey


A charming market town, with characterful cobbled streets, watched over by the enchanting Wimborne Minster.  Nestled between the glorious Cranborne Chase (AONB) to the North and the blue flag beaches of Poole Harbour to the South, it is also conveniently located for the bright lights and larger town attractions of Bournemouth (30 minutes away).

Locals Love

“Point-to-point horse racing at Badbury Rings…bring a posh picnic and watch the races from the boot of your car!”

“We get the best of all worlds here, countryside, coast and close to larger towns too.”

“Carol services at the Minster and then dinner at the Wimborne Pig!”

The Square in Wimborne