Comprised of four miles of sandy beaches and with acres of heathland and sand dunes to explore, Studland Bay and Nature Reserve has something for everyone.
A short drive from Swanage, Studland Bay lies just over the headland of Ballard Down at the northern end of Swanage Beach, and is home to a thriving watersports scene as well as important heathland and wetlands habitats, which support an array of wildlife – including all six British reptiles.
Studland Bay’s four beaches offer something different for everyone – from family-friendly sections with café and toilet facilities to rugged and unspoilt areas perfect for escaping it all.
A unique part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, with easy access to Old Harry Rocks and the start of the South West Coast Path (England’s longest national walking trail), Studland Bay can be easily reached from Swanage and Wareham, as well as from Poole and Bournemouth via the Sandbanks Ferry.
There’s something different to discover each time you visit Studland Bay: explore the ancient woodland, scamper among the dunes, sit quietly at the edge of the freshwater lake Little Sea and look out for wildlife, or spend a lazy day at the beach.
Being on the South West coast of England, the weather is generally milder than northern parts of the UK and in the spring, summer and autumn months visitors to the bay can enjoy long, sunny and balmy days.
However, even on the hottest days in July and August – and sometimes through to September – some parts of the bay can be quite open and exposed, so bring a jumper just in case. You can also buy outdoor clothes, such as socks for walking boots and rain macs in the National Trust shop at Knoll Beach. Alternatively Swanage is a short drive or bus-ride away and has a range of clothing shops, in case you’ve forgotten anything essential for your stay or if the British weather catches you out.
The various cafés along Studland Bay are also perfect for warming up with a hot drink and snack after a long, bracing winter walk: Knoll Beach has a National Trust café with indoor and outdoor seating, as does the independently-owned café on Middle Beach. Joe’s Café on South Beach has outdoor seating only, but will always have a nice hot mug of coffee, tea or hot chocolate awaiting the weary walker.
The beaches of Studland Bay
Knoll Beach is Studland Bay’s largest and most popular beach. Backed by sand dunes to explore and woodland paths to wander, Knoll Beach provides a full and varied day out.
Studland Watersports is based at Knoll Beach, offering kayak, pedalo and paddle board hire; or for the adrenalin-junkies, wakeboarding, waterskiing and banana rides.
There is also a National Trust shop and café, along with a discovery centre, which hosts regular activities and is available for hire.
Postcode for Knoll Beach: BH19 3AQ
Shell Bay marks the start of the South West Coast Path – the longest National Trail in England.
It is also where the Sandbanks Ferry docks, which brings passengers to and from Poole and Bournemouth several times a day.
Shell Bay boasts a wide, sandy beach and there is also a dedicated kitesurfing area between Shell Bay and Knoll Beach.
A short walk from the beach is the Shell Bay bistro – a seafood restaurant mentioned in the Michelin guide, with unrivalled views across Poole Harbour. Read the Michelin review on the guide’s website: guide.michelin.com/gb/en/dorset/studland/restaurant/shell-bay
Postcode for Shell Bay: BH19 3BA
Its safe, shallow water is popular with paddle boarders and kayakers.
South Beach also makes for an interesting walk with its red and yellow-coloured sandstone cliffs and, at the end of the beach, a pill box left over from World War II.
Postcode for South Beach: BH19 3AU
Middle Beach is fairly sheltered due to the cliffs that rise behind it and it shares the calm, shallow waters and rugged nature of South Beach.
With a café overlooking the beach, as well as kayak hire, paddle boarding tuition, snorkel tours and foraging expeditions with outdoor adventure company Fore/Adventure there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.
Call in advance to check availability with Fore/Adventure or to book a session with a qualified instructor: 01929 761515
Postcode for Middle Beach: BH19 3AX
A 900m stretch of Knoll Beach has been officially allocated for the use of naturists. It is one of the most well-known naturist beaches in Britain.
Users must adhere to the British Naturism Beach Code and the beach is regularly patrolled by rangers.
The dedicated naturist area is a half-hour walk from the main beach, so naturists and non-naturist visitors are unlikely to cross paths.
Studland Bay dog rules
Dogs are allowed on the beaches of Studland Bay all year, however they must be on a short lead between 1 May and 30 September.
Dogs are welcome inside the National Trust shop on Knoll Beach, and well-behaved dogs are also welcome in the outside seating area of the café.
Dog bins and bags are situated at various points along the beach.
Adders and ticks live in the heathland, so keeping your dog close to you on a short lead and sticking to the paths is essential.
Beach rangers can be contacted in an emergency: 07970 595963.
Parking at Studland Bay
There are various options for parking in and around Studland Bay, depending on where you want to go.
- All four beach car parks are open between 9am – 4.30pm
- Parking is free for National Trust members – simply scan your membership card at the machine
- Overnight parking and camping is not allowed
- Barbecues are currently not allowed at Studland Bay due to the high risk of wildfires in the area, which can be devastating to vegetation and wildlife
- To find out more about the National Trust’s policy on BBQs at Studland visit their website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/our-policy-on-bbqs
- Lifeguards are not on duty in Studland Bay, however during the summer certain beaches may have safe-swimming areas marked out
The wealth of wildlife at Studland is internationally-renowned. It is home to the UK’s six native reptiles, and its diverse range of heathland, wetland and sand dune habitats support an array of rare birds and insects.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll also be able to spot sika or roe deer, birds such as the Dartford warbler, and rare butterflies.
Britain’s six native reptiles have made Studland their home
- Smooth snake – The smooth snake is a rarity in Britain and only found in a few places in the country. They like Studland’s sandy heathland areas and can be identified by their grey or brown colour, round pupils and less well-defined markings and can grow up to 70cm long. They live for around 20 years and are non-venomous
- Sand lizard – Enjoying the same habitat as the smooth snake and equally rare, sand lizards have found a haven in Studland’s heathland, where they can dig their burrows and laze in the sun on warmer days. They grow to around 15cm, and the males turn a bright green colour during the Spring mating season
- Adder – The UK’s only venomous snake (whose bite can be painful but is rarely fatal) can be easily identified by his red eyes and distinctive zigzag pattern. Common throughout Britain, adders enjoy both woodland and heathland. They can grow up to 80cm long and live for about 15 years
- Common lizard – Widely found throughout most parts of both Britain and Ireland, the common lizard has an unusual characteristic – it gives birth to live young by incubating its eggs inside its body
- Slow worm – This legless lizard is a familiar friendly face in Dorset’s heath, woodland and sometimes gardens. Resembling a small snake, slow worms can grow to up to 50cm long
- Grass snake – Growing up to 150cm long, the grass snake is the UK’s biggest snake and enjoys grassy and wetland habitats
Little Sea – an important wetland habitat
Little Sea is a stunning place to do a bit of wildlife-spotting and is dotted with bird hides so you can watch quietly without disturbing nature.
Part of Studland’s wider wetland system, Little Sea was once part of the ocean, but became cut off from the sea when Studland’s sand dunes were formed around 500 years ago.
It has since become a freshwater lake and is home to an array of wetland birds and is a haven for a multitude of other wildlife including sika deer, water voles and otters.
Much of the area around Little Sea is inaccessible, meaning that wildlife can thrive undisturbed by human activity, however you can access Little Sea via Ferry Road or through a short woodland walk from Knoll Beach.
Information on some of the birds you might see around Little Sea, including the little grebe, egret, grey heron and kingfisher, is displayed inside the hides:
You’ll find a variety of walking paths leading from the car park and near to the Discovery Centre at Knoll Beach, each offering a different perspective on Studland Bay’s diverse landscape.
The woodland walk is perfect for wildlife-spotting – from woodpeckers to warblers, and from fungi to frogs.
Little Sea is also a short walk through the woods, where you can sit quietly in a hide to see what wildlife might venture past.
Depending on the time of year wildflowers, ferns, moss and bracken line the paths, and in spring the area is a haven for butterflies.
Note that dogs should be kept on a short lead so as not to disturb wildlife.
Education and ecology at Studland’s Discovery Centre
The National Trust runs a variety of events throughout the year based around exploring the reserve – a good place to find out what’s on when you’re visiting is either at the information point near the café or at the Discovery Centre at Knoll Beach.
The Discovery Centre also provides information packs and a wealth of online information about the sand dune system and coastal management processes at Studland, both for individual interest as well as resources for teachers: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/studland-bay/features/education-at-studland-bay
Look out for informative signs and children’s quizzes in and around the discovery centre aimed at getting you closer to nature:
Accommodation – where to stay for Studland Bay
With plenty of accommodation options, holidaying in Studland or Swanage is a great way to explore all that Studland Bay has to offer.
Whether you want the creature comforts of a hotel with fantastic views overlooking the bay and Old Harry Rocks, or a more home-from-home feel at a self-catering holiday let, there are plenty of options in Studland to stay within walking distance of the beach and village.
Knoll House Hotel
Knoll House has been operating as a hotel since 1931 and is situated a short walk from Knoll Beach. It offers family-friendly accommodation, with a restaurant and bistro.
- Indoor & outdoor swimming pools
- Tennis courts
- Golf course
- Children’s playground and soft play area
- Proximity to Knoll Beach
🐾 Dog-friendly (£15 surcharge per dog). Up to two dogs per room
📞 01929 450450
📍 Ferry Road, BH19 3AH
Visit Knoll House Hotel’s website: www.knollhouse.co.uk
The Pig on the Beach
With traditional rooms as well as more private accommodation, such as secluded shepherd’s huts and ‘dovecotes’, The Pig offers a special stay in Studland.
- Wellbeing treatments in a unique setting
- Views across to Old Harry Rocks
- Ingredients sourced from its own kitchen garden
- Flatbreads from the outdoor wood-fired oven in summer
- Unusually-flavoured gins and vodkas
- Cosy log fires
📞 01929 450288
📍 Manor Road, BH19 3AU
Visit The Pig on the Beach’s website: www.thepighotel.com/on-the-beach/dorset-hotel/
The Bankes Arms
The Bankes Arms offers guests a choice of nine double rooms and one twin room above the pub. Its garden overlooks the sea and it’s a short stroll to South Beach from here.
- Cosy log fires
- Micro-brewery – (The Isle of Purbeck Brewery)
- Summer beer festival
- Proximity to Old Harry Rocks walk
🐾 Dog-friendly (£10 surcharge)
📞 01929 450225
📍Manor Road, BH19 3AU
Visit The Bankes Arms’ website: www.bankesarms.com
Littlecroft Bed & Breakfast
One king-sized room and a king-sized private suite with its own access.
Accommodation is typically for guests over the age of 16.
🐾 Dog friendly
📞 01929 450095
📍 Glebe Estate, BH19 3AS
Longmead Cottage Bed & Breakfast
Offering two king-sized rooms and locally-sourced breakfasts, including Longmead’s own hens’ eggs and homemade preserves.
📞 01929 450472
📍Beach Road, BH19 3AP
Rectory Cottage Bed & Breakfast
With two double rooms and a twin room.
📞 01929 450311
📍Rectory Lane, BH19 3AU
Old Harry Bed & Breakfast
Offering a double room with a balcony, and a super king/twin and double/single rooms.
📞 01929 450218
📍Glebe Estate, BH19 3AS
The Old School House
A twin or double room and use of the garden and sun loungers. (Closed throughout December)
📞 01929 450691
📍School Lane, BH19 3AJ
Self-catering and camping
From grand Edwardian houses overlooking the bay for a large group to individual camping pitches, you can do your holiday in Studland your own way.
Studland Bay House
Up to 12 people (and two well-behaved dogs) can stay in this luxurious Manor House, which is styled sympathetically to its Edwardian origins.
Studland Bay House has nine bedrooms, with parking for ten+ cars, and is set in seven acres of grounds, which includes some woodland. And the best part? You can walk from the garden to the beach…or perhaps it’s the chef who is available to cater for you (the dining room has a 12-person dining table so you can dine in style as a group.)
The house is suited to respectful parties and large family groups looking to get together for a holiday in Studland (no stag parties allowed). It’s located off Ferry Road, just outside Studland village (postcode: BH19 3AQ)
Enquire about booking via Kate & Tom’s Holidays and Occasions website: kateandtoms.com/houses/studland-bay-house/
Burnbake Forest Lodges & Campsite
For an active and fun-filled camping or log cabin experience near to Studland, try Burnbake. Situated between Corfe Castle and Studland, there’s a real back-to-nature atmosphere, but within an award-winning setting (Burnbake won the Gold Dorset Tourism Award 2020).
On-site is an excellent ropes course and right next door is Brenscombe Outdoor Centre, where you can try your hand at a wide range of outdoor activities including archery, raft-building, bush craft skills, air rifles and orienteering.
Find out more on their respective websites:
Burnbake – www.burnbake.com Get in touch by phone or email: 📞 01929 480570 📥 email@example.com
Brenscombe – www.brenscombeoutdoor.co.uk 📞 01929 481222 📥 firstname.lastname@example.org
Other nearby campsites that are good locations for both Studland Bay and Swanage are Corfe Castle Camping and Caravanning Club (walk into Corfe to explore the village and castle ruin, or take a short drive to Studland Bay or Swanage Beach for the seaside) and Ulwell Holiday Park. Ulwell is at the northernmost end of Swanage Bay, which means it’s just a five-minute drive into Studland from here, or to leave the car behind, hop on the bus, which stops right outside the holiday park. You can also walk to Studland from Ulwell over the Purbeck Hills.
Contact details for Corfe Castle Campsite: 📞 01929 480280 The site is set just outside the village of Corfe Castle in Bucknowle (postcode BH20 5PQ).
Ulwell Holiday Park contact details: 📞 01929 422823. Find the holiday park on Ulwell Road in Swanage (postcode: BH19 3DG) Check availability on their website: www.ulwellholidaypark.co.uk
Feeling peckish? Where to eat in Studland Bay
Whether you fancy a light bite right on the shore, or a more decadent indoor dining experience with views of the bay, there are various options in Studland.
Head for the Shell Bay Bistro (located near the Sandbanks Ferry) for some fine seafood and views across Poole Harbour, or try The Pig for exceptional, seasonal food, sourced from its own kitchen garden and local producers. There’s outdoor seating, a rustic conservatory and cosy, yet opulent areas in this interesting building.
The Bankes Arms – Studland’s only pub – serves your traditional pub grub, with log fires inside on a chilly day and bay views from its large garden on a sunny day. Sample some locally-made beers here, too.
For an al fresco seaside breakfast, lunch or supper, try hidden gem, Joe’s Café on South Beach, which is eco-oriented and serves homemade, organic treats and meals, or the traditional seaside café at Middle Beach (note that this café is cash-only).
Knoll Beach has a National Trust café, which serves a variety of hot and cold snacks, lunches, drinks and children’s options. You can sit in or out, but dogs are only allowed in the outside seating area.
The Old Harry Bar at Studland Social Club is a further option for a friendly, local stone-baked pizza. You can also try Manor Farm Tea Rooms for a traditional afternoon tea (open Wednesday – Sundays during school term time, as well as Bank Holiday Mondays).
Don’t forget you can create your own picnic from the well-stocked Studland Stores – it’s best to stop by earlier on in the day to grab freshly-baked pastries, pasties or bread (delivered fresh from the bakery in Swanage) before they go.
Inspiring creatives for generations – Studland Bay as a filming location
It’s not surprising that Studland Bay and its surrounding area has become a popular filming location and an inspiration for authors over the years.
Here’s a snapshot of Studland’s famous connections, and where the bay has played a starring role on stage and screen over the years:
- Only Fools and Horses – The 1982 episode It Never Rains was filmed on the beach in Studland. Set in Spain, Del and Rodney take Grandad on holiday…
- Coldplay – The band filmed their hit single Yellow in Studland Bay, which appears on their 2000 album Parachute. It features frontman Chris Martin walking in slow motion along Knoll Beach. Watch the YouTube video
- The Two Ronnies – The 1982 feature-length classic By the Sea heavily features Swanage, with the bay, pier, seafront, railway and town all making an appearance, but Studland Bay is also utilised for filming, such as the donkey-ride scene shot on the beach, with Old Harry Rocks clearly visible in the background. You can watch the whole film on YouTube
- Hardy’s Return of the Native – The setting of Egdon Heath that renowned writer Thomas Hardy conjures in his Wessex is inspired by various heathland areas in Dorset including near Bovington, Wareham, Dorchester and Puddletown, as well as the immediate area of his birth place, Rushy Pond, but it is the heath at Studland Bay which is today regarded as the closest to Hardy’s imagining as it remains largely untouched – it is in fact the largest surviving area of lowland heath in the county, whereas much of the other original areas have been altered, built on or planted over with trees
- Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The first episode of the zany comedy sketch show was filmed on the beach at Studland Bay
- Loverboy – The music video to this Billy Ocean song is filmed at Knoll Beach amongst other Dorset locations. Watch on YouTube
- Dunkirk – Although most Dorset filming locations centre around Weymouth and Swanage Railway, there is a scene at the end of the 2017 blockbuster movie that features Studland’s iconic white cliffs. The beach has also been used to portray a Dunkirk beach in the 1981 TV series Private Schultz
- Wilde – The Oscar Wilde biopic starring Stephen Fry was filmed in various local locations, including Studland Bay, Swanage Pier, Lulworth and Durdle Door
Set locations in the wider Purbeck and Dorset area
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles – The 2008 BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess was filmed at various locations in Dorset, including Dancing Ledge and Corfe Castle
- Nanny McPhee – There is a scene in the 2005 film, which stars Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, shot at Durdle Door. Due to the extensive steps to access the beach here, the crew’s six tonnes of equipment had to be delivered to the shore by helicopter. You can catch a glimpse of Durdle Door beach in the film’s trailer
- Saviour’s Day – The Christmas single by Cliff Richard is also filmed at Durdle Door. You can watch the music video on YouTube – note that the opening scenes showing Richard near the top of the arch are now out-of-bounds and there are warning signs in place to allow members of the public to explore this unique part of the Jurassic Coast safely
- Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – A famous scene in the popular 1970s sitcom was filmed at Seacombe Cliffs, adjacent to Dancing Ledge. The episode sees a bumbling Frank Spencer attempting to take his wife on a picnic, before losing control of his car, which ends up teetering on the edge of the cliff. The episode also stars members of the Swanage & Wareham Rugby club, who come to Frank’s rescue. You can catch a glimpse of Purbeck’s quarrying past within the cliffs in this short clip
- The Festival – Starring The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas, the Festival was partially filmed at Bestival, which is held in the grounds of Lulworth Castle. Watch the trailer for The Festival
- Comrades – The 1986 film tells the story of West Dorset’s Tolpuddle Martyrs – the founding fathers of the Trade Union. Some scenes were set in Tyneham and the movie also features Dorchester, Maiden Castle and Cerne Abbas
- Far From The Madding Crowd – Various Purbeck and Dorset locations are used in both the 1967 and the 2015 film adaptations of one of Thomas Hardy’s best-known novels, including the cliffs and coastline by Durdle Door, Encombe (near Swyre Head), West Lulworth, Bere Regis, the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Mapperton and West Bay
- Famous Five adventures – It’s said that children’s author Enid Blyton was heavily inspired by the Isle of Purbeck after holidays in Swanage and Studland. Many of the landmarks in her children’s books, and their subsequent adaptations, can be easily identified, despite being renamed and reimagined by Blyton. Corfe Castle becomes ‘Kirrin Castle’, and the ruin is used as a filming location for Five on a Treasure Island, as well as a TV adaptation of the Famous Five adventure series. She also references the Blue Pool and Kimmeridge Bay, and Mr Plod from Blyton’s Noddy series is said to be inspired by Studland village’s own policeman at the time
- The Boat That Rocked – Whilst mostly shot in and around Portland Harbour and Weymouth in West Dorset, the Richard Curtis-directed film also uses areas around Kimmeridge Bay and Lyme Regis for filming
- Doctor Who – Various episodes have featured parts of Dorset over the years – perhaps most famously the quarry caves at Winspit, which were also used for sci-fi series Blake’s 7
- Spider-Man: Far From Home – Old Harry Rocks is featured filmed from the air in a scene from the blockbuster movie
- World War Z – The Brad Pitt zombie pandemic movie uses Lulworth Cove for beach and speedboat action scenes
- The Black Tower – The PD James novel The Black Tower is said to be inspired by Clavell Tower in Kimmeridge
- The Imitation Game – Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing as he attempts to crack the Enigma Code and is partly filmed at Sherborne, where Turing himself went to school
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – A short sequence was filmed at Abbotsbury Swannery as the reed beds there were deemed perfect for the setting for the Weasley’s house
- Broadchurch – The popular ITV detective drama starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman uses the iconic backdrop of West Bay as its setting. Season Three also focuses on ‘Axehampton House’, which is in fact Bridehead House in Littlebredy
- On Chesil Beach – The novel by Ian McEwan was dramatised in 2017 in a movie of the same name. Scenes were shot on Chesil Beach itself – an 18-mile shingle barrier that stretches from Portland to West Bay in West Dorset
Where is Studland Bay – location & how to get there
From Swanage, simply leave town via Ulwell Road until you reach the B3351. Turn a sharp right here onto Swanage Road, which will take you into Studland village.
Just past Studland Stores, on your right, as you head down Ferry Road you’ll see signs for both South Beach and Middle Beach. Continuing along Ferry Road, passing Studland Stables and then Knoll House Hotel on your left you’ll soon come to Knoll Beach to your right. Toward the end of Ferry Road, near the ferry, you’ll find Shell Bay.