Though there are trains to some of the larger towns, a car is highly recommended as it is almost impossible to experience the full range of this territory without one.
The recommended amount of time to experience South West England on a road trip would require a minimum of three full days.
Dorset and Devon
Approximately 2.5 hours from Central London are the counties of Dorset and Devon. We concentrated on road tripping through this area as they have the most to offer for families in South West England.
Neighboring each other, Dorset and Devon both encompass beautiful sandy beaches, jaw-dropping cliffs, fossil rich soil, and storybook medieval towns.
Charmouth as a home base
As for a home base, we chose a town that was convenient to points of interest.
Favored by many Londoners as their respite from life in the city, Charmouth is a great seaside community and a place to really get an authentic English Village feel.
The residents are very welcoming and though small, the town has everything you need for a stay, which includes two good pubs.
Of the two, we favored The Royal Oak Pub. It’s charming white exterior and brick chimneys make it very inviting. The inside is small, but the drink and food menu are pretty expansive and tastes quite good.
From what we saw, it seemed to have been a destination many families favored. If you’re lucky, you may even catch an impromptu musical performance as we did on one visit.
Charmouth has a wonderful beach, and it is worth a visit if you decide to choose this town for your stay. However, if there is one town to visit that truly captures the English Riviera, it would be the town of Lyme Regis.
Unlike the resort towns in the Italian and French Riviera, this strip of beach is a bit more rugged, the water colder and less blue, but has an honest, family, feel about it that the other glamorous counterparts don’t have.
With a harbour village set in the background, colorful beach huts, and a lively boardwalk, Lyme Regis provides the family with hours of enjoyment.
This coastline where Lyme Regis is situated is named the Jurassic Coast, as it is known to have an abundance of prehistoric fossils found and to be found.
Take the kids out fossil hunting when the tide is low, and bring home some excavated souvenirs as opposed to buying them.
And what beach visit would be complete without fish and chips? There are plenty of chip stands along the promenade and shops along the streets in town. In the late afternoon, join the locals by grabbing some and find a good seat to enjoy the crispy, subtle goodness while watching the sun set.
If you are a fan of Thomas Hardy novels and films, treat the family to a walk along the cliffs between Bridport and Burton Bradstock. The views are nothing short of cinematic splendor provided by nature itself.
With the coastline below and pastoral landscape all around, it’s easy to imagine being a character in one of those period pieces. During the walk is a good time to introduce some of the classics (books) to the kids.
These counties are filled with beautiful country estates. Many have been sold back to the government, as they are too expensive to upkeep by the owners.
Some, however still have residents, stemming from a long aristocratic bloodline. No matter the status, most are open to the public to view. Of these, Forde Abbey was our favorite.
If you are a fan of shows such as Downton Abbey, and ever wonder how the other half live, this is an opportunity to do so.
Walking and playing amongst the lush surroundings brought to reality everything we imagined life to have been for such families in the days of yore.
These places aren’t just about people’s riches, they all have histories well worth sharing with your children.
Forde Abbey in specific, was, in fact, a former monastery before Henry the VIII took it over during the years of dissolution. Explaining this is a day’s worth of lessons alone.
No South West England road trip is complete without a visit to a castle.
Sherborne Castle is currently the residence of the Digby Family who have been the stewards since the late 18th Century. The current structure is considered the New Castle as the Old Castle is left to ruins. This specific structure’s claim to fame is that it was Sir Walter Raleigh’s lodge during the reign of Elizabeth I.
My personal favorite stop on the road trip was the town of Beer. Guess what we drank there?
Beer is a beautiful seaside town, with pubs everywhere that overlook beautiful beaches. There are also lots of activities for the kids to do while having a drink in the town’s honor.
However, the town is not named after the drink, instead, derived from an ancient Anglo-Saxon word, “beuru”, which translates into “forestation” which until this day the town is surrounded.
The drives, in themselves, were beautiful.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the food scene. The Devon-Dorset area is known to be the home of farm to table cuisine.
Some restaurants worth a mention are the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, The Three Horseshoes in Bridport, and our personal favorite, the rustic Spyway Inn located in Askerswell.
If you are looking for majestic beauty, great food, and lots of activities and history for the kids; think about renting a car, and seeing the countryside and the coastline that England has to offer.
Plan your road trip to South West England
Try our booking partners for the best deals on accommodation, car rental and flights.
- Booking.com has over 1,800 properties in the Devon region including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancellation on most rooms and best price guarantee.
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.