The gorgeous harbour town of Weymouth was one of England’s first modern resorts.
King George III chose it as his summer holiday destination, and came down 14 times between 1789 and 1805. Weymouth has one of the sunniest climates in the country and one of its best beaches, tracked by an esplanade with a long terrace of Georgian townhouses.
The harbour is also a delight for its painted houses, gaslights and bustling quays.
Close by, the Isle of Portland is the source of the solemn white-grey limestone used for a scores of famous monuments around the world, from St Paul’s Cathedral to the United Nations Building.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Weymouth:
1. Weymouth Harbour
To squint at the Weymouth Harbour’s painted houses and restaurant terraces in the sunshine, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a different country.
But these flat-fronted buildings with bay windows are unmistakeably Georgian.
You can saunter along at your leisure, watching the boats go by on the busy waterway, and perusing the little shops.
There are cafes, pubs, tea rooms, fish and chip shops and cafes vying for your business.
You’ll also find shops selling crabbing lines and baits, and can try catching your own from the quays in summer.
Every two hours, 363 days a year, the Weymouth Town Bridge cranks open to let water traffic through.
2. Weymouth Beach
Three miles long, Weymouth Beach is a broad sweep of fine golden sand, traced by the Esplanade with handsome Georgian terraces.
A Blue Flag winner every year, the beach is rated among the best in England.
That has a lot to do with the light surf and the spellbinding views east along the Jurassic Coast as far as the White Nothe cliffs and Durdle Door.
But there’s also something about the sand, as it binds perfectly, so children can build sand castles as big as their imaginations.
All the traditional amusements of an English beach are here, like donkey rides, “Punch and Judy” puppet shows, as well as trampolines and fairground rides for kids.
3. Nothe Fort
This coastal defence was a “Royal Commission Fort”, built from the 1860s to protect Weymouth Harbour, which had just become a naval base.
Nothe Fort is one of the best preserved of a line of defences on the south coast in anticipation of an attack by the Second French Empire.
One reason it has survived so well is that Weymouth had a vital military role in the Second World War when the Royal and American navies had a base in the harbour.
There’s much to see at this D-shaped construction, like the exhilarating view from the parapet and ramparts, the casemates and the twisting underground passages between the magazines and guns.
The many chambers have exhibitions with details about the history of Weymouth, as well as uniforms, guns, equipment and vehicles from the Second World War.
4. Chesil Beach
West of Weymouth is a barrier beach of titanic proportions: Covered with shingle, Chesil Beach is 18 miles long and continues all the way down to tie Portland to Dorset’s mainland.
From Portland to the village of Abbotsbury, the beach is bordered by The Fleet, Europe’s largest tidal lagoon.
The beach is up to 100 metres wide in places, and the flint, chert and quartzite pebbles are piled high so it can be tricky to walk on.
Unlike the protected Weymouth Beach, Chesil Beach is exposed to the elements and has crashing waves that aren’t safe for swimming, but offer a stirring environment for a walk in any season.
5. Greenhill Gardens
The foreshore in the northeast suburb of Greenhill has a glorious string of gardens, with meandering paths, florid borders, neatly trimmed lawns and leisure facilities.
The Greenhill Gardens, which have picked up the prestigious Green Flag award, used to belong to the Wilton Estate before being granted to the town in 1902. There are two cafes, the Pebbles Cafe and Greenhill Beach Cafe, a wishing well, a floral clock and lots of imaginative flower displays in summer.
You can play a round at the 18-hole putting green or just park yourself on a bench with a cup of tea and watch the bay.
6. Jurassic Skyline
At the northern tip of Weymouth Pier is an observation tower that lifts you to a height of 53 metres.
Jurassic Skyline opened in 2012 and has a circular gondola that makes two rotations, for 360° views of the town, English Channel, harbour, beach, and out along the Jurassic Coast to landmarks like Portland, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, weather permitting.
7. Portland Castle
A coastal artillery fort, Portland Castle is from the turn of the 1540s and was ordered by Henry VIII as part of his King’s Device programme to protect England’s south coast from an attack by France or the Holy Roman Empire.
On your tour you’ll be equipped with an audioguide, which will tell you about the climate of the time the fort was built, and explain the role of each of its chambers.
You’ll hear about a four-month siege in the English Civil War, the efforts to stop pirates in the 18th century, and how the fort reverted to storing ordnance during the Second World War.
The battery is still armed with canon and there’s an unbeatable view of Weymouth Harbour from the parapet.
8. Portland Plateau
Walkers on the South West Coast Path pass through Weymouth on a 630-mile journey from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour, not far east of Weymouth.
You could tackle a stretch of the trail on Portland, which is an especially interesting place to go for a stroll.
The path runs along former quarry tracks and into a steep man-made landscape of gullies, terraces and hillocks, all caused by quarrying for the island’s famous limestone, but now covered with grass after centuries of disuse.
You can also take detours into the Tout Quarry Nature Reserve and Sculpture Park, the King Quarry Nature Reserve and see the gun emplacements at the 19th-century Verne High Angle Battery.
9. Portland Bill Lighthouse
Protruding into the English Channel, Portland Bill at the southern end of the island has long been a seamark for shipping.
The most recent lighthouse here dates to 1906 and took over from a pair dating back to 1716. The tower is 41 metres high and has a range of 25 nautical miles and an intensity of 635,000 candela.
The visitor centre in the old keeper’s quarters at the base has just been refurbished, offering details about the history of the building and showing off a former lens.
You can also go up the 153 steps to the lantern room to for a breathtaking panorama of the Channel and to see the current catadioptric Fresnel lens.
10. Sandsfoot Castle
There’s an intriguing ruin on the cliff facing Portland.
Sandsfoot Castle is what’s left of a “Blockhouse”, dating to the 16th century and part of the same Tudor system of coastal forts as Portland Castle.
It was decommissioned in 1665, and began to disintegrate as its Portland stone was reused for other buildings and the cliffs beneath gave way.
At the start of the 2010s the site was made safe for visitors with a raised wooden walkway, allowing you to inspect its ashlar stonework, window openings and doorways, and look out at the Weymouth Bay anchorage.
Beyond the earthworks there’s a formal Tudor garden, planted in 1951 and with views framed by Portland, the bay and the castle.
11. RSPB Radipole Lake Reserve
Not many towns have an RSPB nature reserve in their centre, but that’s what you’ll find on the River Wey before it enters the harbour.
Radipole Lake has a family-oriented discovery centre in a thatched cottage, telling you what birds you might see from the wooden walkways through the wetlands.
Typically there are bearded tits, kingfishers, Cetti’s warblers, marsh harriers, kestrels, shags and little egrets, while the centre also organises nature-spotting walks throughout spring and summer, and will provide you with binoculars.
12. Abbotsbury Swannery
A few miles along Chesil Beach is the village of Abbotsbury, which has the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans.
This can be found on the Fleet Lagoon, at a site that dates back to 1393 at the latest.
It is thought that the Swannery was first set up by Benedictine monks as early as the 1000s.
There are more than 600 swans here, all nesting at the Swannery by choice.
From May to August you have the bonus of seeing fluffy cygnets, and there’s plenty for youngsters to get up to, like the Giant Swan Maze, the willow eggs and tunnel, a playground, pedal go-karts and more.
You can also combine a trip to the Swannery with a visit to Abbotsbury’s Subtropical Gardens and Children’s Farm.
13. Fossil Hunting
Weymouth is in the middle of the Jurassic Coast, and while Lyme Regis and Charmouth are the most productive fossil hunting locations, there are a few good spots to search for 185-million-year-old sea creatures.
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with finding your own fossil, and around Weymouth’s beaches and on Portland you might come up with an ammonite, a tooth from a Jurassic shark or a piece of an Ichthyosaurus.
On Portland, head for the old Kingbarrow Quarry, or the quarry and foreshore on Freshwater Bay.
Even better are the cliffs at Langton Herring behind Chesil Beach, yielding corals, worm tubes, brachiopods, oysters and echiniods.
The very best spot is Redcliff Point at the top of Weymouth Bay, which has a bounty of ammonites and giant oyster shells.
14. Sandworld Sculpture Park
Weymouth Beach has the sort of soft powdery sand that can be moulded into marvellous sculptures.
And that is just what the local businessmen Mark Anderson and David Hicks have done at Sandworld, which is set in a pavilion on the esplanade next door to the Sea Life Adventure Park.
The attraction opened in 2011 and every year has a new theme.
In 2018 this was TV and Film, and the sculpture park depicts favourite characters from Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Jungle Book and Marvel movies.