Swanage is a small Victorian seaside resort on the Isle of Purbeck. The town looks over a gently shelving blue flag beach with its own pier and a harbour suitable for small day boats. The pier, originally built as a dock for the paddle steamers that were used to transport Purbeck stone to Poole and London, is now one of the UK's best diving locations and home to its oldest diving club, Divers Down.
Rated Britain's fourth top beach by Which? magazine, Studland comprises three miles of golden sand owned and managed by the National Trust. The area is a haven for rare birds and native wildlife and includes not only two national nature reserves but the National Trust's only designated nudist beach. A ferry connects Sandbanks to Studland while parking is available at four National trust car parks, which can accommodate 2500 cars. There are cafes at Shell Bay, Knoll Beach (nudist), Middle Beach and South Beach and shops at Knoll Beach and Middle Beach.
Thought to be Poole's number one beach, Sandbanks is the winner of more blue flag awards than any other British beach. Situated just four miles from Poole centre on the Sandbanks Peninsula the beach, a five kilometre stretch of golden sand, is a bustling haven for swimmers, children and water sports enthusiasts alike. The beach is family-friendly, with a safe swimming zone, children's amusements, crazy golf, a designated area for barbecues and a train running up and down the promenade. Pedalos and catamarans are available for hire as are volleyball posts and nets, and the beach is home to the annual Premier Sandbanks Beach Volleyball Classic, which attracts a host of local and international players.
Alum Chine is another blue flag beach situated near the award-winning Alum Chine Tropical Gardens. This gently-sloping sandy beach is safe for swimmers and hosts a variety of water sports including surfing, windsurfing, canoeing and sailing. Dogs are welcome all year although there may be restrictions between May and September.
West of Bournemouth's central beach is Durley Chime, whose golden sands backed with woodland make for a pleasant setting. This blue flag beach has good access, huts and deckchairs for rent and a variety of activities for children including a bouncy castle and boat hire.
Long considered to be one of the South Coast's top tourist destinations, Bournemouth, with its thriving club scene, miles of golden sand and third largest surfing community in the UK, is home to one of the busiest resort-style beaches in the country. This popular seafront is safe and clean if a little hectic; the central section around the pier will see thousands of visitors a day in peak season. Proximity to the centre of town means good access to facilities and easy shopping, while in summer a weekly firework display adds to the excitement.
Considered by many locals to be a suburb of Bournemouth, the town of Boscombe became popular in the Victorian era when it was considered a fashionable alternative to the main resort. Now, Boscombe's large sandy beach is set to become a major tourist attraction in its own right due to the construction of Europe's first ever artificial surf reef. The reef, of which there are only three others in the world, will cost £1.4 million and is due to be completed in October 2008. It is expected to attract 10 000 surfers a year. As well as an artificial surf reef the beach offers pleasant walks through the adjacent Boscombe Gardens, dating from the late 1800s and now featuring mini golf, a children's play area and a café.
Situated between Southborne and Boscombe, Fisherman's Walk is a part-sand, part-shingle blue-flag beach popular with windsurfers and canoeists. Zoning (segregation of swimming and water sports) and intensively lifeguarded areas makes this a good choice for families. Deckchairs and beach huts are available for hire and there is a café close to the beach.
On the other side of Henigstbury Head is Southbourne, home to a part-sand, part-shingle beach popular with local families and surfers. The beach is large, safe and quiet with regular bus and train services from Boscombe and easy access to cliff paths.
At the western end of Christchurch bay, and guarding the entrance to the harbour, is the characterful fishing village of Mudeford. From here a ferry can be taken to Mudeford Sandbanks, a unique spit that joins the village to Hengistbury Head, jutting out into the English Channel between Bournemouth and Christchurch. Alternatively a train from the Hengistbury Head car park will deliver you to this popular sandy beach where the wooden huts, of which there are 350, can fetch up to £100 000 apiece on the rare occasion that one comes up for sale. There are toilets, a café and a shop on the sandbank.
Signposted from Christchurch, Highcliffe, once part of Hampshire, is Dorset's most easterly parish. A short walk down steep cliffs will bring you to the beach, which is clean, safe and sandy and offers pleasant views of the Isle of Wight.