First, let’s look at how tourism originally started in the area. It began with King George III who spent many summers here, making his first visit while recovering from illness in 1789 to bathe in the salt water of the sea. In fact he used one of the first bathing machines, designed as a mobile changing room that could be wheeled into the water. In 1815 a figure of George III on horseback was carved into the chalk hillside at Osmington and in 1810 a statue was erected in the town to commemorate his regular visits to Weymouth.
The town remained a popular English resort, and the world was introduced to both Weymouth and Portland when it played host to the sailing events for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The legacy of these games can still be seen at various points around the town.
Most important to visitors is the award-winning three miles of beach – as well as the sand they can walk along the majority of this on a level promenade, which in itself is a just minute from the town centre and harbour. Weymouth promotes itself as a traditional seaside town, offering Punch and Judy, donkey rides, fairground attractions, an international sand sculptor, live music and arts, international sporting championships, star attractions and plenty of places to eat and drink. Deckchairs, sun loungers and pedalos can all be hired from beach attendants and a land train runs along the seafront.
Away from the beach, much smaller winding streets offer a good shopping experience with many high street names. The quayside is different again – visitors can enjoy alfresco dining and award winning fish and chips; but it is also a busy, traditional, working harbour where the historic town bridge lifts regularly throughout the day.
From the quay, visitors can catch a pleasure boat ride along the Jurassic coast, a white-knuckle ride out in the Bay or a Row Boat Ferry across the harbour.
At its highest point Portland is 500ft above sea level and offers fantastic views. It is famous for its rugged scenery and for its National Sailing Academy – it has some of the best natural small boat sailing waters in the world.
We have seen in the County module that visitors come to Dorset for activities at all levels, and Portland offers rock climbing, abseiling, diving, kayaking, pony trekking, walking and cycling. There are also museums, castles and lighthouses to explore, folklore to discover and arts to admire.
One of Portland’s biggest exports is stone – its quarries provide some of the most famous stone in the world, used in the construction of Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Somerset House, The Bank of England, The National Gallery and even the United Nations building in New York.
Lighthouses have stood on Portland Bill, the southernmost point, for nearly 300 years and Trinity House lighthouse is open to the public (there are 153 steps to the top). Nearby is Pulpit Rock – its surrounding surface is known as Snail Shore and contains millions of snail, oyster and mollusc shells – it was once a Jurassic seabed thriving with marine life around 150 million years ago.