Welcome to bucolic Hardy country, where rolling fields of cow-spotted grass converge on emerald hills and haunting castles tower over cute fishing towns. There are plenty of reasons why Dorset holiday cottages reign as some of the most coveted in the nation, allowing their guests to hunt for fossils along ancient coastlines and munch fish and chips on salt-washed promenades. This guide reveals some of the top destinations and hot tips for anyone considering the region for their next getaway.

Where to find Dorset holiday cottages by the sea?

Dorset's coastline is its real treasure. Meeting the water with steep cliffs that have been known to deliver mind-boggling fossils, it's also dotted with enchanting harbour towns you won't want to miss.

Lyme Regis is an old favourite

Come the summer, the scythe-shaped promenades of Lyme Regis bustle with life. Fish-and-chip shops issue the scents of salt and vinegar into the air. You'll hear the calls of gulls echoing overhead, and the crash of the English Channel against the seawall. On rainy days, the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is a great introduction to the amazing relics to be found on the nearby Jurassic Coast.

Make a splash in Poole

Weigh anchor in Poole to be in one of the South Coast's finest sailing hubs. There are navigation schools and boat charterers waiting for the next Horatio to pass their way all over the town. Meanwhile, chic cafes and uber-stylish Dorset holiday cottages dot the wide beaches down in well-to-do Sandbanks.

There's plenty to do in Weymouth

If you can peel yourself off the sands of Weymouth Beach for a spell, you can meet waddling penguins and slapping seals at the SEA LIFE Adventure Park. History buffs might prefer to glimpse Nothe Fort, a now-decommissioned defensive citadel that's protected the English Channel since the 1890s.

Where to get rural Dorset holiday cottages?

Heading inland from the sea reveals a whole other side to Dorset county. This is where you find the tree-laced hills and the farms, where barn conversions and crooked little cottages are the name of the game.

Cottages await in Shaftesbury

It's difficult to get further away from the coast than Shaftesbury, which sits on the far northern fringes of the county. A sleepy but intriguing town that's steeped in history, it's studded with the ruins of 9th-century Shaftesbury Abbey. Dorset holiday cottages here mirror the feel of the place – some are even Grade-listed buildings that date back centuries.

Don't miss Dorchester

Dorchester's perhaps best known as the town that inspired the works of Thomas Hardy. The former mansion home of that literary great, known as Max Gate, can still be found on the outskirts. It's run by the National Trust and has been preserved just as it was back when the writer died in 1928.

Cottages with a story to tell in Corfe Castle

The half-ruined rises of Corfe Castle heark back to the days of the Norman Conquest. They herald one of the first keeps constructed by William the Conquer after 1066. These days, suited soldiers have made way for a calendar of local events. From scavenger hunts to open-air theatre productions, there's loads going on between the crumbly walls.

Other types of Dorset holiday cottages to consider

It's not just a plain choice between the seaside and the rural in this gorgeous county. You also need to decide what sort of Dorset holiday cottage suits you the most. Here are 3 popular types to consider:

Bring the pooch along to Dorset holiday cottages

Dog-friendly Dorset holiday cottages beckon travellers who simply can't bring themselves to leave the 4-legged friend at home. They might pack in extra features like enclosed gardens and space for a pet bed, but could also tack on a surcharge.

Score a luxury Dorset holiday cottage

For a truly memorable experience of the Dorset backcountry, there's really no better choice than a deluxe holiday rental. They crank up the style by plonking hot tubs in the garden and offering sprawling family kitchens with views over the hills.

Find family Dorset holiday cottages

Multi-bedroom homes are plentiful in the Dorset region. They are especially common in the seaside towns, which means a dinosaur-stalking mission on the Jurassic Coast could be in order this year.