Bright lights and rural charm
Whether you fancy watching the sun set whilst sipping a cocktail on the beach or dressing up and hitting the clubs, Dorset has plenty to offer. And if the bright lights of Bournemouth and Poole aren’t your scene, then the rural charm of a village pub could be the antidote.
Or try one of the region’s historic theatres: the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne Minster features a gorgeous Art Deco interior with chrome and Bakelite fittings; the revived Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth sits in the shell of an 1870 auditorium; the Regent Theatre in Christchurch is another decorative art gem; and the seaside Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis dates back to the 1800s.
For the liveliest nightlife people generally flock to Bournemouth. Gone is its reputation of being a town for retirement and now, with its thriving community of students and international students, it is very busy at night. This was one of the first UK towns to adopt the 24-hour licensing hours and, whether that is a good or bad thing, it means the town never sleeps.
The knock-on effect is that it does attract a disproportionate amount of stag and hen parties, especially in the summer, and that can feel a little overwhelming. However, there is such a variety of venues that you should find something to suit.
Gone is Bournemouth’s reputation of being a town for retirement and now, with its thriving community of students and international students, it is very busy at night
Clubbing in Bournemouth
Clubbers should head to Bournemouth town centre. Firstly, to the main square where a converted church houses the popular club Halo, where there are regular DJ nights. Funky Sixty Million Postcards has an impressive line up of live music in the evenings. As the name suggests, you’ll find a lot of postcards here!
The homely little venue was created to store and display returned mail from the post office. Head further up the road and you’ll come across the swanky Bar So, which hosts Bournemouth’s fashionistas and serves more than a few bottles of prosecco on any given night. One of the most stylish restaurants and bars in Bournemouth is 1812, just a few doors down. Contemporary, glamorous and elegant, it serves fantastic cocktails, fine wine and has a good range of music until the early hours.
On the pier you’ll find Aruba, a Caribbean-styled restaurant and bar that plays crowd-pleasing music until late. With its 180-degree panoramic views of the beach this is a great place to go for cocktails to watch the sun go down, and is always popular with groups of friends. With cosy snugs, island tropical bar and easy tunes, it is often the best place to spend the evening – and you can even do a cocktail-making masterclass here.
A short walk away is Smokin’ Aces Cocktail Bar and Whiskey Lounge which has a great atmosphere. Owner JJ Adams travelled around the States cherry-picking great ideas and bringing them back to form Smokin’ Aces. There are open mic sessions, gigs, Motown nights and more.
If you don’t mind the crowds head to Bournemouth’s biggest nightclub Cameo, which features the sophisticated Myu Bar, urban music in the basement and a disco room where you can dance the night away to retro tunes.
Bournemouth has a well-established gay scene, based in an area called the Triangle in the town centre. The most popular bar is DYMK (an abbreviation of Does Your Mother Know) which is open from 4pm and serves great oversized cocktails. The Xchange is one of the longest running gay bars and serves up cheap booze and cabaret nights. The Flirt café bar is also in the Triangle and is open 9am-11pm. It is a laidback but fun cafe and coffee bar dishing up delicious home-made food.
The biggest music venue is the Bournemouth International Centre, with a 10,000 capacity. It is best to check before you arrive but last-minute tickets can be purchased at the ticket office. The smaller O2 Academy is in nearby Boscombe and is a beautiful old venue with incredible acoustics. Just outside of Bournemouth the pretty harbour village of Christchurch offers nice wine bars and a sophisticated night out.
Bournemouth has a well-established gay scene, based in an area called the Triangle in the town centre
Outside of Bournemouth
Between Bournemouth and Poole sits Westbourne, which features more than 50 restaurants and bars. This is the place to go for a more laid-back evening with a trendy crowd. Try Camden Bar for its stylish interior, bare brick walls and wooden bar.
If you’re a cheese and wine fan, then Renoufs is for you. More than 30 wines are available to try by the glass, and the cheese and charcuterie selection is superb. The Duck has a cool contemporary vibe and relaxed atmosphere and so does Circo Lounge, with its funky wooden furnishings, kitsch canvases and cocktail menu.
A few miles away, Ashley Cross is another hub with a selection of bars and good old fashioned British pubs. It is conveniently on the London train line for ease of travel, with the Cow pub actually located in the Parkstone station car park.
Poole Quay is a fun place to go at night, with live music in many of the pubs and in the summer months lots of people drinking al fresco. Head further afield and you’ll find country pubs all over the county, perfect for a great meal, live music and your favourite tipple.
Weymouth has always had a reputation for its live music venues. On any given Friday or Saturday there are more than 20 venues featuring local live bands. It’s best to check the listings online and head to two or three to get the most out of the town.
These traditional old pubs are proper boozers, so don’t expect champagne and canapes. As the night wears on, head to late-night pan-Asian bar Ayya, popular for its infused signature cocktails. Their range of drinks are served in funky milk bottles and include coconut chai tea-infused Bacardi with pineapple juice, and bitter orange and cardamom-infused vodka with cranberry juice.
The bartenders have also designed their own bellinis such as the plum bellini (plum sake topped with prosecco and frozen raspberries). Ayya serves Asian snacks until closing which is perfect for a late feast. For comedy buffs there are a few venues worth checking out. Jaggers Comedy Club has a late licence: Saturday nights are the main stand-up night and tickets can be purchased in advance.
These traditional old pubs are proper boozers, so don’t expect champagne and canapes
Comedy and theatre
The Wimborne Comedy Club has earned itself a reputation for big-name acts appearing as a warm up for their big gigs. Bridport has long since been known for its quirky art scene and live music. At the weekend the pubs come alive with a great range of local bands, often with a lively dancing crowd. The 18th-century Ropemakers is a particularly good haunt.
The Electric Palace, a beautiful venue built in 1920s as a picture house, features brilliant live-music events, theatre and comedy, including national tours. The Bridport Arts Centre also has a fantastic reputation for supporting local music and artists.
A quirky venue in the middle of rural Dorset is the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. The hidden gem serves an incredible range of ciders and beers, and features live music in the evenings and on Sunday afternoons. It’s not really close to anywhere and a bit of a trek, but you will have a truly original night singing and dancing in this old pub, and maybe sampling some home-pressed local cider.
Real ales are a big thing in Dorset. There are bars up and down the county which are very proud of their ale choices and often have their own microbrewery. CAMRA beer festivals run from June to September all over Dorset, often with live music and a staggering number of ales to try.
The Electric Palace, a beautiful venue built in 1920s as a picture house, features brilliant live-music events, theatre and comedy, including national tours
I am a cider drinker
Living up to its West Country roots, Dorset has been serving cider for years, but the recent surge in status of the brew means that cider events now take place all over the county. The Great Dorset Cider Festival is held at the Castle Inn, West Lulworth in June, and there’s a Cider and Sausage festival in October in Lulworth. Many other pubs serve local ciders for tasting: watch out for the seriously strong local brands.
Although Dorchester has a reputation for a sleepy night out, a few new venues are worth visiting. The Brewhouse and Kitchen in Brewery Square has a great buzz (as well as beautiful old copper vats), and so does the laid back Vivo Lounge, a few doors down.
Many of the hidden-away village pubs come alive at night with a band. There are too many to list but check online during your stay for a rustic Dorset night out.
Everything you need to know about Dorset
Where to eat in Dorset
The best things to do in Dorset
The best shopping in Dorset
Your guide to arts and culture in Dorset