Are you planning some days out in Dorset and wondering where to go? In this guide we’ll help you discover some of the best things to see and do and make sure you don’t miss out on Dorset’s finest attractions.
Dorset is a beautiful county in South West England and has many attractions to offer visitors. It is known as the Jurassic Coast because of its miles of wonderful beaches and cliffs, which are abundant with ancient fossils. However, it also has sandy beaches, historic houses and plenty of family attractions.
Here are our suggestions for 10 great days out in Dorset:–
Hit the beach at Branksome Chine
One of our top things to do with kids in Dorset is head to the beach. Dorset has 100 miles of beautiful coastline and some of the best beaches in England.
Our favourite is Branksome Beach, just west of Bournemouth. Branksome Beach has a long expanse of golden sand, which is perfect for sandcastles and burying your friends.
If you want food, you can pop into Branksome Beach Restaurant, which serves all day. Or there is a small shop, which sells ice-creams and beach paraphernalia.
There is a small car park in front of the beach, but it can get very busy on a sunny day. We always park at Lakeside Road and take the picturesque walk down through Branksome Chine Gardens. However, it’s a bit steep on the way back up, so you might want to send someone to fetch the car!
Of course, this isn’t the only great beach in Dorset. Other favourites include Swanage, Sandbanks and Studland.
Coastal Walk to Bournemouth
From Branksome Beach, you can take a leisurely stroll to the city of Bournemouth, which is less than 2 miles away. It takes just over half an hour, but the views are fantastic and there’s plenty going on. If you don’t fancy the walk, take the land train which heads into Bournemouth.
Bournemouth is a vibrant city, with attractions for visitors of all ages. If it is a sunny day, you could visit some of the many beautiful gardens, Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf or head for Bournemouth’s own large, sandy beach.
If you are looking for rainy day attractions in Bournemouth, try The Bournemouth Aquarium, Oceanarium.
Alternatively, pay a visit to Bournemouth’s popular Victorian pier, with its traditional amusement arcades. It has plenty of adrenaline-filled attractions, such as indoor climbing on the Rock Reef, indoor caving in the Pier Cave and the world’s first zip wire on a pier, PierZip.
Crabbing at Mudeford Quay
One of the best days out in Dorset for kids is crab fishing (crabbing) at Mudeford Quay. Mudeford is a small ex-fishing village, in the East of Christchurch Harbour. It is ideal for crabbing as the quay has water on both sides.
Our children love crabbing here and think it is one of the top things to do in Dorset. You don’t need much equipment, other than a crabbing line, a bucket and bait. If you don’t have your own, you can buy it at the quay.
Quite honesty, it’s really easy to catch the crabs (though usually I am just the chief bucket holder). The skill lies in keeping them on your line long enough to reach the bucket.
At the end of the trip, all crabs are released down the slipway in a fabulous crab race. This is actually my favourite part, though I suspect each crab is probably caught more than once in a day!
Take the ferry to Hengistbury Head
Once you have finished crab fishing, you could go for a walk along Mudeford seafront.
However, we prefer to take the ferry across to Mudeford Spit. This is an unspoilt strip of land which leads to the nature reserve of Hengistbury Head. Here you can enjoy spectacular sea views and a wide variety of wildlife and rare plant species.
There is an easy, picturesque trail to the Hengistbury Head Visitors Centre. Look out for the 344 beach huts, the most expensive in England.
When you get to the Visitors’ Centre, you can stop for refreshments or ice cream. Inside the centre, you’ll find interactive displays about the local area.
From here you can continue to Southbourne Beach or retrace your steps to Mudeford.
Durdle Door is probably Dorset’s most iconic landmark. And is certainly the most photographed! It is a limestone arch, which has been naturally formed by waves over many years. Moreover, the coastline has such geological importance that it became England’s first natural World Heritage Site in 2001.
You can access the beach using the path from Durdle Door Holiday Park. We stayed here for a couple of nights in one of their wooden pods.
You should remember to take everything you need down to the beach, as it’s a steep path back up. Refreshments and toilets are available at the top, but not on the beach.
Durdle Door beach is full of pebbles and shingle, so is not particularly comfortable, but it is definitely worth a visit, as it is one of Dorset’s finest natural attractions. Plus, the views of this natural wonder are spectacular.
The sea at Durdle Door is an amazing turquoise colour. You can swim out to Durdle Door, but there is no lifeguard, so is not suitable for inexperienced swimmers. It is also rather cold!
After a trip to the beach, you can walk East from Durdle Door to Lulworth Cove in West Lulworth, using the South West Coast Path. Lulworth Cove is another of the iconic geological features on the Jurassic Coast. It is 1.3 miles from Durdle Door and the walk takes approximately 35 minutes. It is a downhill walk but remember this means uphill on the return.
West Lulworth village is quaint and picturesque, with little shops and cafes. Lulworth Cove beach is shingle, but has shelter from the wind and clear water. It is ideal for young children to swim or paddle.
Whilst you are there, visit the Lulworth Cove Visitor Centre for displays and facts about the amazing geology of this area, from the past 150 million years!
If you have visited by car, you could also pay a visit to the 18th Century Lulworth Castle in East Lulworth.
Fossil hunting at Charmouth
Another of the children’s favourite days out in Dorset is to go fossil hunting at Charmouth. Charmouth is 2 miles from Lyme Regis and is considered to be Britain’s top fossil hunting beach.
Charmouth is very picturesque and unspoilt, without the attractions of some of the other British seaside towns. The coast and cliffs around Charmouth are world famous for their fossils and the area is known as the Jurassic Coast.
By searching through the stones on the beach, you can easily find ammonites and belemnites. With more searching, you may also find fossils from fish and other marine reptiles.
Kids are happy to spend hours wading through the stones, on the quest for treasure! It’s definitely one of the best free things to do in Dorset.
One of the best family attractions in Dorset for animal lovers is Monkey World, a 65-acre rescue centre near the village of Wool. Children will love a visit to this rehabilitation centre, which is home to hundreds of monkeys and apes.
Monkey World has a very natural setting and provides a sanctuary to rescued monkeys from all over the world. Once you have enjoyed watching the antics of these cheeky chimps,head for the fabulous adventure playground.
Monkey World is open every day apart from Christmas.
Bovington Tank Museum
One of the best days out in Dorset on a rainy day is the Bovington Tank Museum. Not far from Monkey World, the museum has a large collection of over 300 armoured tank vehicles. Kids will love it, as it is very interactive, and they can touch the tanks and even climb in some.
Even better, is that they offer free tours in the Chieftain tank. You could also go on a tour about World War II or life in the trenches.
There is lots to do at Bovington Tank Museum for kids, as they can do an activity leaflet on the way round. Even more excitingly there is a soft play area, outdoor play area and picnic spot.
Moors Valley Country Park
Another great family day out in Dorset is at the Moors Valley Country Park, on the edge of the New Forest.
Moors Valley has woodland play trails, a tree top trail, 2 adventure playgrounds and a steam railway. There is enough to keep children entertained all day. Admission is free, you just must pay for parking.
There are also some additional activities at Moors Valley which do have a cost, such as Go Ape, Nets and the Segway trails.
Corfe Castle is a quintessentially English village in the Isle of Purbeck, not far from Wareham. The village is dominated by the magnificent ruins of Corfe Castle, which stands on a hill overlooking the Purbeck Hills.
Corfe Castle was built over 1000 years ago in the Norman times and is steeped in the history of its turbulent past. Today it is a National Trust property, so definitely worth a visit if you have membership. There are plenty of activities for children, including quizzes, treasure trails and even a Teddy zip wire!
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