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Historic Towns & Picturesque Villages

List of popular Dorset market towns including market day

Sherborne, Dorset.

Sherborne, Dorset. - Image by member Graham Rains (view gallery)

This is a list to show what the market day is for some of the most popular towns in Dorset to visit, such as Shaftesbury, Poole, Swanage, and other Dorset towns and market towns, including Dorset market towns by the sea.

If you know of a Dorset town that has a regular market, farmers market or any other open-air market, that is well worth a visit, please let us know in the forums or comments section and we will add it to this list of Dorset market towns and their market days.

There are no Dorset Christmas markets listed, that will be in another list to follow! Thank you. 

Dorset Hotels - Book a stay in Dorset in one of our listed Dorset hotels or Dorset holiday cottages
At we list hundreds of hotels across Dorset, including lovely cosy Dorset cottages to stay in and enjoy the places we list below or elsewhere on the site. See the hotel links along with each town listed below, or visit our main  Dorset hotels section, where we list all the towns for you to find a hotel or other accommodation in. 

1. Blandford Forum - Thursdays & Saturdays

Blandford Forum, Dorset.

Blandford Forum, Dorset. - Image by member Graham Rains (view gallery)

Utterly delightful, a town of matchless elegance, of quintessentially English beauty, are but a few of the attributes to the fine Market town on the River Stour. The town of Blandford Forum has a history of destruction by fire and sadly the town has few antiquities left. The fire of 1731 raised most of the town to the ground, little was saved and from a town with in excess of 500 buildings, only a handful remained including the almshouses and the Old House.

Following the fire the town was reconstructed in classical Georgian style in accordance to designs by the brothers, John and William Bastard, local architects of the day. They too, were responsible for one of the finest provincial churches of the period, the church of St.Peter and St.Paul. The church has a magnificent square tower, and the interior has Ionic columns to the nave. The church was altered and added to in the early 19th-century and in 1893 a chancel was built. The brothers also built the very fine town hall.

Of the buildings still to be seen from earlier times are Dale House, which dates 1689, the beautiful old Almshouses of 1682, and Old House which was built early in the 18th-century.

Thomas Hardy famously commemorated Blandford as 'Shottesford Forum' in his Wessex novels and in 1590, Edmund Spenser mentioned the town in 'The Faerie Queene' not many town's get a finer accolade.

The lands surrounding the town are watered by the River Stour, thus Blandford is endowed with rich grazing lands for cattle and sheep. In the sleepy lanes of this beautiful area you will find handsome houses and cottages, some with dormer windows peering from beneath a thickly thatched roof. The town is a picture of quiet contentment and of understated English elegance at it's best.
It is deserving of high praise and well worth a visit.


2. Bournemouth - Sundays

Christmas shoppers

Christmas shoppers - Image by member Steve Elson (view gallery)

Bournemouth has been a place of international acclaim since Edward VII brought his mistress Lillie Langtry here in 19th and 20th-centuries. The other major event in the making of the resort was the railway which reached here in 1890, hither-there-to, the town was mainly residential.

Seven miles of glorious golden sands, fringed by the bluest of seas lapping the shore, make Bournemouth a firm favourite for family holidays. The beach is backed by wide promenades, and tree-clad cliffs which are descended by zigzag paths. It is an attractive town, made more beautiful by huge floral displays and wonderful sub-tropical plants whose year round growth is encouraged by Bournemouth's mild climate. In summer, the town has an average of 7.7 hours of daily sunshine, thus it compares favourably with other European resorts, and draws sun-worshippers from all over England and beyond. It is also an idyllic place for enthusiastic builders of sand castles, the resort prides itself on how well it caters for children and is especially proud of its pioneering KidZone scheme. During the holiday season Bournemouth hosts a Summer Festival for Families, running for six weeks, the festival has activities and attractions to suit children of all ages and abilities. There is a Kids Free Entertainment tent, and beach GameZones offers a programme crammed with activities ensuring fun-filled days for every child. With a new Wacky Warehouse as well, children visiting Bournemouth are spoilt for choice! The festival offers plenty for adults to enjoy and admire. Friday opens up the weekend with a spectacular fire-work display and Flowers by candlelight makes a wonderland of the lower gardens that simply leaves you breathless at such a stunning transformation. The wonders of the deep are on display at Oceanarium and for some this is a safer bet than deep sea fishing! The festival caters for music lovers, groups from all over the world perform at Bournemouth's Music Makers festival where all musical tastes are provided for.

The town is fortunate to have retained its sedate air of exclusiveness. By day, its shops offer a fascinating display of merchandise which ranges from designer clothing, costly paintings and antiques to sea-side souvenirs. Whatever you want, you are sure to find it here. The fashionable new shopping square blends well with old Bournemouth, its mosaics and outstanding camera Obscura centrepiece, gives an atmosphere of chic usually reserved for continental towns. When night falls, another transformation takes place and Bournemouth throbs to the music of the night in theatres, night-clubs and pubs. Hotels too, offer dinner dances and cabaret style entertainment.

The splendid gardens and cliffs make a superb back-drop for the many international sea-sport events held throughout the summer of which the UKOBA Powerboating Grand Prix and Beach volleyball Grand Prix are just two. Sailing is popular, with the sea often looking as though it is a forest of colourful sails. Fishing trips and day trips to view the natural beauty of the coastline from the comfort of a boat can be arranged.

This is the home of the world famous Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, so visitors are assured of a rich diversity of cultural experiences, these include ample museums and heritage centres telling of the historical and cultural advancement of the town. The Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum shows a range of works of art that should not be missed.

Sadly, one of Bournemouth's most magical venues, scene of entertainment, tea-dances and glittering occasions is no more. The famous Winter Garden Theatre and Ballroom which opened its doors in 1875 is no longer. The opening of the Bournemouth International Centre finally brought about its demise but the new centre with its exceptional acoustics makes an attractive venue for many world famous stars, who always play to a packed house.

With so much to offer and given its wonderful south coast location bordered by the harbours of Christchurch and Poole, and the close proximity of the Isle of Wight and New Forest, it is not surprising to find Bournemouth is now one of England's premier tourist destinations - you should come, bring the family, you will not be disappointed.


3. Christchurch - Mondays

Christchurch, Dorset

Christchurch, Dorset - Image by member Mick Carver (view gallery)

Christchurch is one of Dorset's "gems" it is set on the confluence of two rivers, the Stour and the Avon. In Saxon times it was a walled town, a stronghold of Alfred the Great, as he held out against the Danes. Today, the town still clings to much of its original Saxon street plan and shows interesting houses and cottages from the past.

One of its old buildings, Place Mill is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. This still stands on Christchurch Quay, close to the ruins of its historic Norman Castle.

Christchurch has one of the longest parish churches in England. The magnificent Priory dates back to the 12th-century, it has carved choir stalls older than those of Westminster Abbey. The building itself displays a mixture of styles ranging from Norman to Renaissance, amongst its most notable features are the chantry chapels, a so-called miraculous beam, and a monument to the poet Shelley.

Red House Museum was once a Georgian workhouse, this is now a lively visitor attraction where visitors can see exciting displays of local social history, learn of the town's heritage and admire a display of Arts and Crafts furniture made by designer Arthur Romney Green in the 1930's. There are also archaeological finds and a reconstruction of a 19th-century High Street Taxidermist.

Today, the town is very much a centre for tourists, its pleasant harbour acts as a magnet for fishermen, sailors and water-sports enthusiasts. It is also a haven for wildlife attracting naturalists from all over the country.


4. Dorchester - Wednesdays

Dorchester. Dorset

Dorchester. Dorset - Image by member Irina Roomussaar (view gallery)

Dorchester is the county town of Dorset and is the heart of Thomas Hardy's Wessex. On the outskirts of the town you will find Hardy’s birthplace and family home in Higher Bockhampton. Dorchester is a fine place to shop, with many boutiques and some larger names too. In one of Dorchester's historic streets you'll also find the lodging house of the infamous Judge Jeffrey's, also known as 'the hanging judge' who presided over the legendary Bloody Assize that followed Monmouth’s defeat at Sedgemoor.


5. Poole - Thurdays and Saturdays


Poole - Image by member Fred In't Hout (view gallery)

Famous for its fine natural harbour, Poole in its lovely setting on the Dorset coast backed by an area of heaths and pinewoods, attracts thousands of visitors annually. It truly is a town that has it all, with around 14 hours of high water, a stunning marina, yachting clubs and sailing clubs, it has become a Mecca for yachtsmen from all over Europe. There is a constant flow of water traffic in and out of Poole harbour, and at the quay small boats and fishing craft contrast with holiday ferries leaving for France and the Channel Islands.

Three miles of golden beaches extending from Sandbanks to Brankesome Dene Chine and on towards Bournemouth, ensure an enjoyable time for families and sun-worshippers, whilst the marina offers up to the minute facilities for yachtsmen, a luxurious hotel at the waters edge, and cafe's and bars. For those who do not have their own boat sea-fishing trips and trips to see the lovely coastal scenery and Brownsea island can be booked at the quay side. In the historic centre of the town, there are some fine old buildings, including the 18th-century guildhall and a medieval merchant house. The town is renowned for its world famous pottery which continues to hold its place in antique markets up and down the country and some early pieces can be seen in the local museum. There is an RNLI station which offers several open days when the public can view life saving equipment and the lifeboat.

There is a maritime museum, aquarium, and Farmers Palmer's Farm Park offers children hands on experiences with cows, lambs, goats and small animals. For further enjoyment there is also an indoor play barn. There is a wealth of wildlife to be seen in the water and along the shore. Sea-sport enthusiasts are well provided for with power boat and yacht racing, deep sea diving and the more gentle past-time of fishing. The beach is entirely safe for swimming, the sands are great for kids, they can happily build castles or search amongst the rock pools for shells and tiny creatures left behind by the sea.

You can stroll around pleasant shops by day and at night the cafe society and bars come into their own. Night Owls will not be disappointed, entertainment can easily be found. Family accommodation is not a problem, there is a choice of caravan and camping parks as well as hotels, inns and guest houses.

Interestingly, the town was the largest embarkation point for the D Day Landings of World War II, and centuries ago Queen Elizabeth I gave Poole County status which it kept until late in the 19th-century.


6. Shaftesbury - Thursdays

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury - Image by member Peggy Cannell (view gallery)

Shaftsbury is Dorset's only hill-top town, with its long history and good views it is particularly attractive to tourists. It started life as a West Saxon fortified town, in the year 880 it was given a nunnery by King Alfred, his daughter, Ethelgiva became the first abbess, and around this grew an Anglo-Saxon town. In 981 Edward the Martyr was buried here. The convent flourished right until the time of the Reformation, when the vast church built with the riches garnered over centuries was destroyed.

In medieval times, Shaftsbury was a place of pilgrimage with many pilgrims visiting the town to worship at the shrine of St. Edward. In the 13th-century Shaftsbury was granted the rights to hold a weekly market, and in the 14th-century this was extended to two markets.

Today, on its high plateau Shaftsbury with its quaint corners and attractive little streets is a magnet for visitors. Its most famous street, Gold Hill slopes steeply down, this is quite possibly the most photographed street in Dorset. At its top is an excellent small museum where visitors can explore the town's unique farming and button manufacturing heritage. There are displays of locally made buttons and many implements used on farms; these include - scythes and Shepherd's crooks. There is a set of Shaftsbury weights and measures from the 17th-century and a fire engine from the mid 18th-century.

St.Peters Church is noted for its crypt and vaulted porch; there is an elaborately carved north parapet, and fine 15th-century stained glass. The excavated remains of the former abbey church lie within a walled garden.

The town's Grosvenor Hotel is a former coaching inn which dates from the 16th-century, although the interior is much altered some of the old features remain, and the exterior radiates all the charm of a by-gone age when it was a busy coaching centre. The arrival of the railways left the town somewhat bereft for a time, but the age of the modern motor car put it once more on the tourist trail.

During the season the town hosts several events including an annual carnival held each October, and the celebrated Gold Hill Fair is in July.

Shaftsbury has splendid views of Blackmoor Vale, and is within easy reach of the Salisbury Plains.


7. Sherborne - Thursdays & Saturdays

Sherborne, Dorset.

Sherborne, Dorset. - Image by member Graham Rains (view gallery)

This delightful small north Dorset town is blest with an array of fine medieval buildings. These range from beautiful domestic Tudor properties to its fine Abbey, and two historic castles. The Abbey was begun by Roger de Caen, Bishop of Old Sarum, in the 12th century, and during the next three hundred years many additions and alterations were made until the building was finally completed in the 15th century.

Sherborne castle was originally purchased from the church by Queen Elizabeth I for her favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh. He was the originator of Sherborne Lodge, which was granted to the Digby family after Raleigh's execution in 1616. It is the Digby family, later to become Earls of Bristol, who added the splendid wings to the Lodge, thus the status of castle became more fitting. It was from Sherborne castle that William of Orange issued his proclamation in 1688. The ruins of "old" Sherborne castle can be seen outside the town.

Within Sherborne's picturesque winding streets there are many other noted buildings, and you can easily identify some of the earlier Monastic buildings, these form part of Sherborne school which was founded in 1550.

There are Almshouses, and two museums offer fascinating displays and information on the history of Sherborne and its people. There are pleasant relaxing gardens, and noted inns can be found both in and outside the town. Guided walks can be arranged through the local tourist information centre. There are some lovely shops and a market is held each Thursday and Saturday.

The softly glowing Ham stone of which most of the town properties are built, lends warmth and atmosphere to what is already a unique and attractive place.


8. Swanage - Fridays

The Wellington Tower Swanage

The Wellington Tower Swanage - Image by member Mick Carver (view gallery)

Casting a glance around this popular coastal resort town few would imagine Swanage Bay to have been the scene of a fierce naval battle in which King Alfred was victorious over the Danes in 877. These days it is a happy, orderly, coastal holiday resort of immense charm which attracts families and visiting yachtsmen. Swanage Bay is excellent for sea-sports, bathing is mostly safe except in the area close to Ballard Cliff, for the sea here can sometimes be treacherous. There is a good diving school operating from the pier, boats can be hired and deep sea fishing trips can be arranged.

The town is wedged between towering downs that result in lofty cliffs at both ends of the bay, from these high vantage points there are spectacular views across the sea and over the calm countryside of the beautiful Isle of Purbeck. Winding, switchback streets, weave down to a pretty town with the usual collection of sea-side shops, inns and restaurants. There are a few pieces of grand 'showpiece' architecture in Swanage. The Town Hall, built in 1883 has a fascia which was once the front to the Mercers Hall in Cheapside, London. Built of stone, it is reputed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren-it is perfectly proportioned, reflecting the classical elegance of Wren's designs. The Wellington Clock Tower is also from London, it was brought to Swanage in 1867. The 13th-century church dedicated to St.Mary the Virgin is the resorts oldest building. Standing next to the Millpond it occupies one of the resorts finest locations.

This is a small town that offers every kind of experience, a visit to nearby Durlston Country Park reveals 280 acres of natural countryside, coastal-cliffs, haymeadows, woods and limestone downland. It is home to a variety of wildlife including sea-birds, butterflies and other creatures of the wild. The park is rich with natural plants, delicate wild flowers thrive in hedgerows and in spring the ground beneath the woods is carpeted with pretty bluebells. On a sunny day there are fantastic views, clear blue skies reflect in an azure sea, tinged gold by the rays of the sun. Durlston is a lovely place, perfect for all the family.

Places to visit include: Corfe Castle, The Church of St.Mary the Virgin, Swanage Railway, The Coach House Museum, Studland Bay and Durlston Country Park.


9. Wareham - Saturdays

Church and housing in Wareham near riverside

Church and housing in Wareham near riverside - Image by member Robin Edmonds (view gallery)


10. Westbourne - First Saturday of month

Sunset over Westbourne, Dorset

Sunset over Westbourne, Dorset - Image by member Tom (view gallery)


11. Boscombe - Thursdays & Saturdays

Boscombe Pier

Boscombe Pier - Image by member Steve Elson (view gallery)


A Pictures of England article submitted by poe

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