The King’s Arms, Dorchester: a charming escape two hours from London
Whisk yourself away from the busy city life of London in exchange for a weekend retreat in Dorchester at the King’s Arms.
The hotel, which has seen centuries of history pass through its doors, is a remodelled iconic and treasured landmark. With its history entwined with writer Thomas Hardy, and a rollcall of glamorous guests including Queen Victoria, the Beatles, and Hardy himself, a stay here is sure to be memorable.
Where is it?
The hotel is situated inside the walls of the Roman town of Dorchester. It’s just a 11-minute walk from both Dorchester South station and Dorchester West. Nestled on the north side of town, The King’s Arms is a stone’s throw from Dorset Museum, Shire Hall (Dorset’s courthouse from the last 1700s to 1950s), and St Peter’s Church — three places oozing with history that I recommend popping into to take full advantage of what the town has to offer. Also nearby are the only remaining Roman townhouse ruins left in the country, which are free to visit. To get the most from these places, hire a guide who can talk you through the history and intricate details.
And, if you really want to treat yourself while in the area, take a 10-minute taxi ride to the beautiful Monart Day Spa, in Poundbury. The thermal experience is the ultimate day of relaxation and one of the most luxurious spa experiences I’ve ever had.
The King’s Arms is where cosy meets modern, with an interior designed by Ali Guttridge, it is a marriage of the unexpected and memorable. The Grade-II listed building, though originally constructed around 300 years ago, received an upgrade in 2022, bringing it into the modern era while maintaining its historic charm.
It’s decadent yet open and warm. There is no lobby at the King’s Arms, instead, the check-in desk is a quaint nook next to a winding staircase right inside the entrance. Behind the desk, trinkets and plants sit on shelves and several mini-antique chandeliers catch your eye as they float above the stairs.
To the left, an archway welcomes you into a lengthy cocktail bar where forest-green silk lampshades with dip-dyed fringing hang above the tables. Just past the stairs to the right, double doors lead guests into the dining area, which is filled with wooden tables and booths surrounded by a mix of club chairs in soft cotton teal and yellow velvets and dining chairs featuring woven textured fabric.
The ground floor of the hotel includes a restaurant, cocktail bar, an old smoking room â — used as extra dining space and a delightful spot to indulge in afternoon tea and something sweet â — and an outdoor patio garden for warmer weather days. Guest rooms are located on upper levels.
The Epic Suite
There are 34 bedrooms, all of which have a feeling of being right at home. The rooms have hand-painted wallpapers, layered textiles, and contemporary finishes, such as handcrafted brass wall light fittings in the shape of figurines, and the sun and bedside chest of drawers and desks topped in natural Carrara marble. There are six different room types, from Snug to Epic, each varying in size, price, and amenities. Rooms on the first floor are dog-friendly.
The Epic is a particularly luxurious, wood-floored haven with high ceilings and large windows. The room is accented in tones of blue, grey and green and includes a freestanding, roll-top bath that sits against the bay window. A bold-coloured sofa or chairs create a space for reading or lounging. One of my favourite touches of the room was a Pure radio playing classical music upon arrival, transporting guests to a different time.
All rooms are equipped with a smart TV, Pure Radios, hairdryer, and Nespresso machine.
Food & drink
The hotel restaurant serves unfussy, seasonal food that’s locally grown and organic whenever possible.
The vibe of the restaurant keeps with the aesthetic of the rest of the hotel, modern yet cosy. In the dining room, enjoy a multi-course feast of butternut and sprout arancino, grilled bavette steak with green peppercorn sauce, and dauphinoise potatoes paired with a specialty cocktail or glass of wine. A table favourite was gin-based cocktail Dorset Bramble. End the meal with something sweet, like sticky toffee & ginger pudding or chocolate mousse and cinnamon doughnuts. Or, for something more savoury, finish off dinner with the King’s Arms cheese platter – a variety of Dorset-made cheeses, homemade crackers, and ginger chutney.
After dinner, stroll across the foyer to the bar and enjoy tea, coffee, or another cocktail. This part of the hotel is a buzzy hotspot for an evening with friends or people-watching, if you manage to get a seat near the front window.
In the morning, guests can return to the restaurant for breakfast, choosing from a buffet of fresh fruit juice, pastries, and cereal, then move on to the à la carte menu, which includes the King’s Arms take on a full English.
A peaceful weekend away just two hours from London. Enjoy a beautiful stay while retracing the steps of history.
The Epic room is £225 per night, add on breakfast for two plus a dinner credit for an extra £20.
Other rooms range from £105 to £200 per night.