It’s a town immortalized in British pop culture thanks to a bread commercial once voted the nation’s favourite ever, but there’s much more to the charming Dorset town of Shaftesbury than just a nostalgic ode to bread.
Commonly known as the gateway to the Southwest, Shaftesbury is located just a stone’s throw away from some of the best destinations in South West England, and it makes for a delightful half-day trip, whether visiting from Poole, Bournemouth, Southampton, Bath or Bristol.
With its historic abbey and gardens, peaceful walking routes, and cute galleries/boutiques, there are plenty of great places to visit in Shaftesbury. Read on for a roundup of our favourites!
1. Gold Hill
We’ll start with the obvious. Gold Hill is THE quintessential Shaftesbury photo opp, and one of the town’s prettiest places to visit.
Because yes, before iconic director Ridley Scott directed the likes of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, his humble origin story involved a nostalgic bimble by a bread boy up a tall hill.
Luckily, if this tugs at your heartstrings, you, too, can conquer said hill, and capture what is one of the most idyllic and quintessentially ‘English’ streets in the entire country.
2. Gold Hill Museum
This free museum is housed in two restored buildings at the top of Gold Hill and offers a glimpse into the history of the town from before it was founded by Alfred the Great up until modern times.
The museum is located in what was once a priest’s house and a lodging house for market traders attending the market on Gold Hill. Inside these restored buildings are a variety of fascinating exhibits, including some beautiful doll’s houses, Dorset’s oldest fire engine and even a mummified Dorset cat!
Keep an eye out for the adorable Dorset Button Mice which hide among the displays and make sure you visit the gift shop as you leave. There’s also a lovely garden out the back for more stunning views, where you can see why this is one of the most popular Shaftesbury tourist attractions.
3. St Peter’s Church
Another historic and beautiful place worth visiting in Shaftesbury is St Peter’s Church, located at the top of Gold Hill.
The oldest of Shaftesbury’s churches is today (at first glance) a fairly small and modest place, but look a little closer and there’s a wealth of interesting little details awaiting discovery, like a non-descript wood door covering ancient stone foundations under the nave floor.
Be sure to grab a written guide at the entrance that tells you all about the history and unique details of the church, of which there are many!
4. Shaftesbury Abbey Museum & Gardens
While little remains of Shaftesbury Abbey thanks to a famously rotund king known as Henry VIII, a visit to the abbey’s grounds is a must while in Shaftesbury. Here, you can learn more about what was once one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country.
It may be hard to imagine, but it’s said that Shaftesbury Abbey was once the size of Westminster Abbey.
Today, the garden is a peaceful place for a stroll, or to soak in the sun… although if you’re curious about the historical side of things, enthusiastic volunteers are always on standby to provide you with all their knowledge.
The museum is only open between April and October, but if you’re there during those warmer months it’s well worth a visit.
Many excellent events are also held here throughout the ‘summer season’ from live music to open-air film viewings, drama workshops, performances, and historical lectures.
5. Park Walk
Park Walk is one of the best Shaftesbury destinations for a beautiful and pleasant walk, with gorgeous views over the valley below.
Unlike Gold Hill, most of the Park Walk is level and flat, so it’s popular with locals pushing prams or just wanting a less challenging incline! Majestic sycamore trees line this promenade, which also features pretty planted flower gardens and a rather lovely war memorial.
If you continue along Park Walk you will also come to the adjoining Pine Walk, which is (surprise, surprise!) lined with pine trees. Park Walk starts at the top of Gold Hill, opposite the Shaftesbury Abbey Museum & Gardens.
6. Shaftesbury Town Hall
Gold Hill connects to the Shaftesbury High Street via a tiny path in between St Peter’s Church and the Town Hall.
The Town Hall building is quite impressive, it’s a Grade II Listed building which was constructed in the Neoclassical style and even features castellations on the roof, making it look a little bit like a castle!
During our visit, there was a craft and vintage sale taking place, which meant we were able to take a quick snoop around the interiors as well.
Inside, you’ll find colourful murals painted by a local artist, along with one of the prettiest and most unique views over Gold Hill that most tourists bypass completely. It’s easily one of the best things to see in Shaftesbury!
7. Swan’s Yard
Just off the Shaftesbury High Street, you’ll find the pretty pocket of town known as Swan’s Yard, so-named after a coaching inn that once stood here until the late 18th century.
Today, Swan’s Yard is known as the creative heart of Shaftesbury, with lots of artisan shops and the quirky (but well-named) Ugly Duckling Café! This cute little street also hosts regular music and art events, especially during summer.
Be sure to stop by the Cygnet Art and Craft Gallery, one of the best places to visit in Shaftesbury to peruse local art, including many, many unique representations of the town’s most famous hill.
8. The Shaftesbury Heritage Trail
If you want to see as many Shaftesbury attractions as possible during your visit, follow the Shaftesbury Heritage Trail!
There are 12 blue plaques/information boards throughout the town, at key points, where you can find interesting information and old photos about the history of Shaftesbury at each particular spot. Walking between each of the 12 boards is a great way to explore the town while also getting a little glimpse into the past.
For fans of the famous British novelist Thomas Hardy (author of Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, among others) there are also a number of sites in Shaftesbury mentioned in his books to find.
9. Farmer Keith Bench
Lastly, for one of the more unusual places to visit in Shaftesbury, take a moment to stop by the Farmer Keith Bench, located in front of 2 Salisbury St.
This beautiful iron bench stands in memory of a local man known as Farmer Keith, who was brutally murdered at the age of 87 for only £40 in cash.
Today, the bench serves as a daily tribute to Keith, who will forever be remembered as a beloved figure of the Shaftesbury community.
Did we miss any of your favourite places to visit in Shaftesbury?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more recommendations to the list!