A guide to Christmas in Dorset 2023

Things to do

A guide to Christmas in Dorset 2023

Nowhere does Christmas better than the beautiful county of Dorset. Whether you love a blustery Boxing Day walk along the cliffs, enjoy discovering Christmas markets in light-adorned cobbled streets, want to brave a chilly sea dip or can’t wait to treat yourself to a cosy pub lunch by a roaring open fire, there’s so much to see and do in this fascinating county, with a beautiful home to escape to at the end of the day.

There really is something so magical about a Christmas holiday. From the moment you open the door to your festive holiday home to the feeling of joy when you make your first batch of mulled wine, it combines all that’s best about this time of year with the extra sparkle of being somewhere different.

So, whether you’re meeting up with family from far and wide or wanting to treat that special someone to a blissful break away for two, here’s our guide to Christmas in Dorset so you can experience this magical season to the fullest.


Find out more: 

Christmas markets

Christmas events

Christmas lights

Christmas Day and Boxing Day swims

Christmas food

Christmas walks


Christmas markets

There’s nothing quite like wrapping up warm and heading out to a bustling Christmas market to put you in the most festive of spirits, with the scent of roasting chestnuts and spiced, mulled wine in the air. Whether you’re after that perfect artisanal gift or simply want to fill up on festive goodies, there’s no better way to spend a chilly afternoon in Dorset at Christmas.


Alpine Market, Bournemouth

The Alpine lodge at the Alpine Christmas Market in Bournemouth in Dorset

Thursday the 16th of November to Monday the 1st of January

One of Dorset’s biggest, the Alpine Christmas Market in Bournemouth is a fantastic event with lots of wooden stalls housing local craftspeople selling bespoke goods and traders offering favourite festive food and drinks to keep you cosy in the cold. A firm favourite is the Alpine Lodge, a refuge from the chilly air where you can sip a mulled wine, hot chocolate or a stein of beer while gazing at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree wonderland, where over 100 illuminated and glittering trees light your path from the market right down to the seafront. There’s also an ice skating rink for all those who want to enjoy one of winter’s most fun-filled pastimes. 


Creative Christmas at Highcliffe Castle

The historic house and maze at Highcliffe Castle in Dorset

Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th of November

Completed in 1836, Highcliffe Castle near Christchurch, with its romantic Gothic revival style, is the perfect backdrop for Christmassy celebrations. The castle will be dressed up in festive splendour as local makers and creatives set up their stalls within its grounds. Selling arts and crafts, jewellery, textiles, homeware, and food and drink, it’s a lovely opportunity to purchase some really unique presents for your loved ones. Entry into the castle is free with your ticket (children go free), allowing you to really make the most of your visit.


Shaftesbury Christmas Market

The famous street in Shaftesbury covered in snow at Christmas

Sunday the 10th of December 

The beautifully historic town of Shaftesbury hosts an annual Christmas fair, where you’ll find lots of stalls to delight – best viewed with a cup of something warming in hand, whether that’s a mulled wine or a decadent hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream and marshmallows. Afterwards, take a stroll around the abbey, take an Instagram-perfect picture of iconic Gold Hill in all its frosty glory, and wait for the sun to go down as you watch the town sparkle into life with its beautiful festive light display.


Mapperton Christmas Fair, Beaminster

The beautiful grounds at Mapperton House covered in snow at Christmas

Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th of November

The home of the Count and Countess of Sandwich, Mapperton House near Beaminster is a stunning Jacobean manor house with 15 acres of Italianate gardens, a wonderful setting for the Christmas fair that takes place here every year. Taking place over two days with over 80 stall holders, this is a hugely popular event (you’ll need to book your tickets in advance) with natural skincare, botanical liqueurs, handmade hats, original watercolours, handmade jewellery, wine, ceramics and yummy Dorset food and drink to choose from.


Poundbury Christmas Market, Dorchester

A group of people in santa hats singing at Poundbury Christmas Market in Dorset

Saturday the 2nd of December

Taking place in Crown Square, Poundbury Christmas Market in Dorchester is all about supporting small businesses across Dorset, Somerset, and Hampshire. With over 100 stalls expected this year, it’s the perfect place to visit for unique presents for family and loved ones (and perhaps even a treat for yourself!). Afterwards, stroll into the centre of the town for a bite to eat.


Christmas events

From magical train rides that whir through the countryside in a blur of festive lights to Dickensian Christmases worthy of a mention in A Christmas Carol, Dorset puts on quite the show when it comes to seasonal experiences.


The Polar Express on Swanage Railway

A steam train in the snow at Swanage Railway in Dorset

Friday the 17th of November to Saturday the 30th of December

A great opportunity for little ones to delve into the magic of the Christmas classic The Polar Express, this hour-long journey departing from Swanage station is a fantastic way to start the holiday season. With carriages festooned in decorations and actors on hand to recreate the characters from the film, expect singing and dancing of the most festive kind. To keep you warm, everyone gets a mug of hot chocolate and a cookie as you travel through the Dorset countryside, alongside a special memento at the journey’s end.


Breakfast with Santa at The Walled Garden, Moreton

A full English breakfast at The Walled Garden in Moreton in Dorset

Various dates throughout December (tickets must be booked before the 1st)

For something a little different, head to The Dovecote Café at The Walled Garden near Moreton for a Christmassy breakfast with Santa! Little ones can enjoy a breakfast buffet of pastries, pancakes, and fruit before enjoying a special Christmas story and a visit from the jolly man himself with his elf helper. Afterwards, there’s milk and cookies as well as a gift for every child. Grown ups don’t miss out either – there’s a homemade full English breakfast or veggie breakfast for you to enjoy.


Christmas at the Russell-Coates Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth

A Christmas tree in the living room at Russell-Coates in Dorset

Tuesday the 21st of November to Tuesday the 2nd of January

Experience a Dickensian Christmas at the Russell-Coates, a house, gallery and garden that steps back in time to show us what Christmas was like during the Victorian era. You’ll find halls decked with boughs of holly and mistletoe and other Victorian decorative delights. Follow the Christmas trail and find out about the traditions of the era and keep an eye out for beautifully festive antiques from the time. Afterwards, enjoy a tasty Christmas afternoon tea (complete with mulled wine or a glass of prosecco), which is available to book in advance of your visit. For an additional charge you can meet Father Christmas on selected dates throughout December.


Poole Sail with Santa

Santa standing on a boat in Poole Harbour in Dorset

Saturday the 2nd to Sunday the 24th of December

Fancy experiencing Christmas on the high seas along Dorset’s coast? Take your little ones and join Santa aboard a cruise around Poole Harbour (tickets can be booked online). Run by City Cruises Poole, listen to Christmas carols with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie while passing Dorset landmarks, including Brownsea Island, Sandbanks Peninsula, Studland Bay and more. Children will get a soft drink and a biscuit and a chance to chat to Santa as he walks around the boat, and they’ll receive a present too!


Weymouth Elf Extravaganza

The pretty waters in Weymouth Harbour in Dorset

Saturday the 25th to Sunday the 26th of November

If you go down to Weymouth on a magical weekend in November, don’t be surprised if you see elves dotted around the streets! Celebrating the annual festive light switch on, a whole weekend is dedicated to the pointy-eared and jangle-footed. Jam-packed with elf-themed activities, from gingerbread making to hat making, there’s lots of carolling, street performers, dance groups, stilt performers and the cast of the local panto on hand to evoke the Christmas spirit. The light switch on is at 5pm with lots of pubs hosting elf parties late into the night, so don your elf ears and green hat and dance your way into the Christmas season.


Christmas lights

Turning winter’s long nights into a celebration of colour, Dorset’s Christmas lights can be found decorating every corner of the county, from pretty villages to enchanted gardens.


Illuminate at Abbotsbury Gardens

Trees and bushes lit up with colourful Christmas lights at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset

Friday the 24th of November to Sunday the 31st of December

Watch the subtropical 18th century gardens at Abbotsbury near Weymouth come alive in a host of enchanted colours through this spectacular light display. Follow the wonderful winter trail into the heart of the garden, where rare plants and trees are lit up to create a series of eye-catching displays, before warming yourself up in the coffee shop and maybe buying a present or two in the gift shop and plant centre.


Poole Christmas Maritime Light Festival

An arch and anchor shaped Christmas lights at Poole Christmas Maritime Light Festival in Dorset

Saturday the 25th of November to Tuesday the 2nd of January

Immerse yourself in the world of a maritime Christmas in Poole, where you can follow the light trail from Falkland Square along the High Street and on to Pool Quay. As you walk, you’ll pass an impressive array of light installations including a galleon, a marine-themed ‘ceiling of light’ with fish and starfish, and a 13-metre tall blue sea life Christmas tree. There’s entertainment galore and a Christmas market, as well as funfair rides for little ones.


Nutley Farm Christmas Lights and Reindeer Experience

A deer Christmas light in a field surrounded by colourful lights at Nutley Farm in Dorset

Friday the 24th of November to Sunday the 31st of December

The 20-acre Nutley Farm near Dorchester plays host to a fantastic Christmas light display each year. With a 600m route with glittering archways, beautifully lit trees and surprises galore, it’s an illuminated delight, with the added bonus of resident reindeer Rudolph, Prancer, Sprout and Parsnip available to visit in their stable. Little ones will love trying to find the naughty elves on the Elf Hunt, while visitors who book for the 7.45pm experience can enjoy the Christmas party atmosphere with a resident DJ. This is one you’ll need to book online, ahead of your visit.


Christmas Day and Boxing Day swims

Feeling brave? After you’ve had breakfast and opened your presents, why not don your swimming costume and take the plunge at one of Dorset’s fabulously festive swims. A Christmas dip is the perfect opportunity to join hundreds of others darting into the wonderfully refreshing waters and raise some money for charity, followed by a warming cup of mulled wine!


Weymouth Harbour Christmas Day Swim

People jumping in the sea as part of the Weymouth Christmas Day swim in Dorset

Every year people line the harbour at Weymouth to watch hundreds take part in the Christmas morning 70-metre swim, starting from the Cove on Trinity road and finishing across the water opposite the Harbour Master’s office. Lasting about an hour, swimmers set off in groups of 50, and are watched carefully by volunteers from the RNLI. It’s a very popular event with well over 1,500 spectators recorded in the past, and is a fantastic way to spend Christmas morning. Afterwards, crowds descend on the local pubs for a well-earned pint.


Boscombe Pier White Christmas Dip

People in Santa hats running into the sea in Bournemouth as part of the Macmillan White Christmas Dip

Taking place every Christmas Day morning in aid of Macmillan Caring Locally, the people of Bournemouth and beyond head to Boscombe Pier in festive fancy dress and charge into the sea. With numbers well over a thousand these days, the White Christmas Dip is the UK’s biggest charity swim, with hot drinks and food on hand to keep dippers and spectators fuelled. The event even has its own mascot these days – ‘Dippy’ the seal – so don your most outrageous Christmas fancy dress and head to the beach for a memorable way to start the day.


West Bay Wallow, Boxing Day

The golden cliffs at West Bay beach in Dorset

This annual charity fancy dress swim near Bridport takes place at midday in the marina, where hundreds of people line the harbour walls to watch hardy types take to the water to raise money for charity. If you’re not quite brave enough to take part in the West Bay Wallow, cheer the swimmers on before enjoying a leisurely stroll along the promenade.


Swanage Beach Boxing Day Swim

Looking down at the beach and sea at Swanage in Dorset

Taking place on Swanage Beach, this charity Boxing Day swim finds dozens of swimmers running into the sea for a festive dip. Although fancy dress isn’t mandatory, there are prizes for the best Christmas costume so why not dig out your most outrageous outfits! With hot drinks and mince pies on standby for participants and spectators alike, meet at the Mowlem Theatre at the end of the beach for 11am and enjoy a raucous Boxing Day adventure.


Christmas food

From pigs in blankets to panettone, and stilton to smoked salmon, Christmas food is simply wonderful and really makes the festive season go with a bang. Whether you love getting stuck into cooking a feast for all or you prefer sitting back as you let the local pub take the reins, holidaying in Dorset this festive season means you have every eventuality covered.


Cooking at home from home

A selection of Christmas food from Ducks Farm Shop in Dorset

If Christmas gets you rolling up your sleeves and reaching for the rolling pin, Dorset is a veritable larder for exceptionally good homemade and homegrown fare that’ll make your holiday feasts truly memorable. For unique, locally-sourced produce head to your nearest farm shop to pick up all the ingredients you’ll need to feed your loved ones. Duck’s Farm Shop near Weymouth is a must for their sausages and bacon (hello pigs in blankets), while Washingpool Farm Shop near West Bay sells their own Devon Ruby Red beef – a nice change from your typical turkey. 

Tamarisk Farm Shop near Bridport sells gorgeous seasonal and organic vegetables, while award-winning The Udder Farm Shop in Gillingham is the perfect place for cheeses, delicious deli goods and Dorset wines and spirits. Talking of wines, Dorset has eight vineyards, and for that extra-special tipple, why not pop along to one and hand-select a bottle (or half a dozen) for the festive season? Furleigh Estate near the Jurassic Coast has created a beautiful selection of still and sparkling wines to choose from. More of an ale drinker? Pop into Palmers Brewery – established in 1794, it’s one of the oldest breweries in the UK.


Eating out

Two people raising Christmas cocktails at Ollerod in Dorset

If the last thing you want to do over Christmas is spend time in the kitchen, Dorset has a fantastic selection of eateries that’ll ensure you’ll never have to cook if you don’t want to. From a pub with a sea view to a Michelin-starred restaurant, there’s hundreds to choose from, and if you’re looking to eat out on the big day itself, Dorset has you covered. 

For something super-special and welcoming, a pub complete with a roaring fire is just the ticket, and The Greyhound Inn overlooking Corfe Castle in Wareham has a wonderful five-course meal for Christmas Day – perfect followed by a walk around the historic market town. If you want to add a Michelin star to your Christmas, head to the gorgeous Ollerod in Beaminster where their Christmas Day menu is a dream, from their crab and lobster raviolo and Norfolk Bronze roast turkey to the Darts Farm Ruby Red beef Wellington and mince pie affogato.


Christmas walks

A herd of wild ponies on a frosty morning in Christchurch in Dorset

While enjoying your festive holiday in Dorset, it goes without saying that there’ll be times where you need to stretch your legs, so wrap up in your winter woollies and pull on your wellies and head into the great outdoors for a bracing festive walk. Luckily Dorset has more than its fair share of beautiful places to walk, whether it’s following a winding footpath through fields and woodland, strolling around a picturesque village, or being buffeted on the coastal path. 

The Golden Cap is the perfect place if you really want to blow away the cobwebs; at 191 metres tall, it’s the highest point on the south coast and if you start or end your walk at Seatown, make sure to pop into The Anchor Inn for a festive tipple. Arguably one of England’s prettiest towns, Shaftesbury is particularly lovely to wander around, from the iconic Gold Hill (made famous by the Hovis ad) to the impressive Abbey Gardens. You’ll also handily have a host of eateries to pop into as you go – well, you need to keep your energy up! 

The beautiful estate of Kingston Lacy in Wimborne Minster, a lavish Venetian-style mansion, has acres of stunning gardens and parkland to explore and is a great place to soak up the seasonal atmosphere – visit the Laundry Courtyard that’s decked in twinkling lights with choirs and musical groups performing throughout December and the Stables Café serving warming drinks and tasty treats.


If our delightful delve into Dorset’s festive frivolities have got you thinking, take a peek at our beautiful cottages in Dorset and start planning your Christmas holiday today.

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