With so many things to do in Dorset, from the magnificent, ancient coast to the mystical landscape, get the best from your next tour with our travel guide

As the 'owner' of the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in England, you'd think that Dorset would be a little bit of a show-off. Far from it. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more understated and modest county with so much to offer. A rose-tinted view provides something of an Arcadian, pastoral idyll – a county filled with a landscape that's not overly dramatic but pleasantly undulating to provide variation to the sweeping Jurassic Coast (its UNESCO masterpiece). In amongst, you'll find enchanting villages that, while forward thinking, are an illustration of a forgotten past. Look out for the magnificent old cob and thatched cottages when you visit Dorset and you'll see what we mean.

Bordered by the counties of Devon and Somerset in the west, Wiltshire to the north and Hampshire and the New Forest to the east, Dorset has contributed well to a nation's history. Whether it’s a land for dinosaurs on Chesil Beach that's 185 million years old (now that's history!), Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (not to be confused with the author of the same name) who held the dying Lord Nelson in his arms at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the Tolpuddle Martyrs who paved the way for Trade Unions in 1834, or Enid Blyton's representation of Corfe Castle and the Purbeck Hills in many an inspiring adventure story during the 1940s. And that's not to dismiss Dorset's contribution to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, when Weymouth and Portland Harbour were used for the sailing events. Whichever you choose, you'll find a museum, a monument, a shop, an activity or an attraction to occupy your time.

And there are just so many campsites in Dorset, from coastal holiday parks offering amazing sea views of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door to adult-only sites and hideaway paddocks with little more than a water tap and a flock of sheep for company. Wherever you choose to mark your pitch, be sure to have your camera at the ready – for you'll find ancient abbeys, cobbled streets, Georgian seafronts, cottage gardens, and maybe the occasional giant footprint on the beach – left by a former Dorset inhabitant.

Top five things to do in Dorset

  1. Go in search of fossils along the Jurassic Coast. If you're not sure what you're supposed to be looking for, join a fossil hunting walk and talk from Charmouth or Lyme Regis with an expert guide.

  2. See if you can spot a red squirrel on Brownsea Island, the only place in the south of England where you'll be able. Located in Poole Harbour, the island is also important to the Scouts – it's where the movement was founded. You can get to the island for nature walks by ferry from Poole Quay and Sandbanks.

  3. Don't miss the Cerne Abbas Giant, a burly chalk figure of a naked man on the hills above the village of Cerne Abbas. At 180 feet tall, and considered as a symbol of fertility, suffice to say he is well endowed! The best place from which to see him is the viewing area on the main A352.

  4. For fans of slightly morose but beautifully written literature, Hardy's Cottage is a must. This evocative thatched and cob building is the birthplace of author Thomas Hardy and was built by his grandfather. Hardy wrote some of his first novels and poems here.

  5. Visit Abbotsbury Swannery, the world's only managed colony of nesting mute swans. Established by Benedictine monks in the 11th century, you can watch the adorable cygnets, born between May and June, or help to feed the swans – all 600 of them!

When to visit Dorset

Dorset's main annual events tend to be during the summer months. In May, The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is a great one for fossil hunters, while you could also participate in the quirky Dorset Knob Throwing Festival (for the uninitiated, a Dorset Knob is a kind of dry, savoury biscuit unique to the county)! June brings the Bridport Food Festival, followed in July by music celebrations, the Larmer Tree Festival near Tollard Royal and the huge Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle. 

Bournemouth is the place to be on the August Bank Holiday for the giant (and free) Bournemouth Air Festival, with spectacular displays from the likes of the Red Arrows above the beach. And to celebrate all that's great about the county, the Dorset County Show comes to Dorchester in September.

Cheap overnight stops

As things stand currently, there are no facilities linked to the Practical Motorhome Nightstops scheme, but keep checking back as we are continually adding new overnight stopover locations.

For now, your best option for cheap overnight stops is using CLs and CSs (if you're a member of the relevant club – The Caravan Club or The Camping & Caravanning Club – as there are many five-'van sites within the county from as little as £4 per night. There are also a handful of Brit Stops in Dorset, all using pub car parks.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is considering opening an overnight aire-style parking area for motorhomes within Lodmoor Country Park. Originally planned to open in Easter 2014, it hasn't done yet but the more Practical Motorhome readers that lobby the council, the more likelihood their voices will be collectively heard.

Motorhome access and information

Motorhomes will find little trouble with the rural roads around Dorset. No routes are particularly quick, but that is part of the attractiveness of the county – as soon as you cross the border, slow down and enjoy the scenery as it passes.

Town parking is not the easiest for 'vans in Dorset. Unlike other councils, where motorhomes can take up as many spaces as they like so long as they've bought sufficient tickets per utilised space, Dorset tends to insist that you must be parked within one marked bay only. On-street parking in towns tends to be frowned upon – or prohibited – also. Motorhomes may use the park and ride car parks for Weymouth and Dorchester.

How to get to Dorset

From the west, access Dorset off the M5 followed by the A30 and A35. From the east, take the M3, the M27 and the A31, which provides a picturesque route through Hampshire's New Forest before arriving in Dorset. From the north, use the A37, the A36 and the A338, all spurs off the A303.