10 family-friendly things you should do in Christchurch, Dorset

by Jan

Where are the best things to do in Christchurch, Dorset with kids?

With lots of family-friendly activities to enjoy by the coast and in town, there’s no shortage of things to do in Christchurch with kids, Dorset.  Whether you fancy a day at the beach, exploring a castle or messing about on the water, it’s easy to keep the kids entertained.

Christchurch is the most easterly coastal town on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.  It is a beautiful town with a rich history dating to Saxon times and you can still see a lot of significant historic buildings there today.

It would be easy to overlook the historic town in favour of its popular neighbour Bournemouth.  Yet, with lots of child-friendly activities, Christchurch has lots to offer visitors and is ideal for a family holiday.

Plus, with its prime location between the New Forest and Bournemouth it offers a good base for exploring Dorset and Hampshire too.  You’ll have an endless choice of day trips to the beach and countryside.

We’ve just come back from a long weekend exploring Christchurch and the surrounding area.  So, if you’re wondering what the best things are to do in Christchurch with kids, you’ve come to the right place!

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Hit the beach

View of Beach and Sea from grass cliff.

At the top of our list of the best things to do in Christchurch with kids is a day at the beach.

Christchurch boasts miles of golden coastline and has some of Dorset’s finest beaches.  It has 7 beaches in total, starting at Highcliffe Beach in the east to Hengistbury Head beach in the west.

The award-winning Christchurch beaches are sandy and ideal for digging and building sandcastles.  Many of the beaches have a designated safe swimming zone, so are perfect for families.

Alternatively, Christchurch is also a short drive to Bournemouth but be prepared for crowds on a sunny day!

Try the watersports at Christchurch Harbour

Boats moored in Christchurch Harbour

No visit to Christchurch would be complete without a visit to the harbour.

Christchurch Harbour is a large natural harbour, formed over 7000 years ago.  It’s the point where the Rivers Avon and Stour meet and flow out to the Solent Sea.  At one time Christchurch Harbour was a popular haunt for local smugglers, but nowadays it is a mecca for watersports lovers.

The calm, shallow waters of this picturesque harbour are perfect for beginners and kids trying new watersports.    You can have a go at paddleboarding, kayaking, or windsurfing.  If you need lessons or want to hire equipment, head to ShoreSports (who are based at the harbour).

Go crabbing at Mudeford Quay

Two boys looking over their buckets whilst crabbing at Mudeford Quay, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

At the entrance to Christchurch Harbour, you’ll find the charming Mudeford Quay.  This pretty fishing village is a popular destination for families, as it’s one of the best places for crab fishing in Dorset.

Without doubt, crabbing is at the top of our list of things to do at Christchurch Harbour with kids.  It’s just so much fun.  And it doesn’t cost a penny (apart from a bit of bait to tempt the crabs).

On a sunny day, the quayside at Mudeford is lined with children hoping for a tug on their net.  Just take one peek in the buckets how easy it is to catch crabs here.  The other bonus is that crabbing is one of the best free things to do with kids in Christchurch.

Click here for more details on how to have a brilliant day out at Mudeford Quay.

Visit Christchurch Priory and Castle

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Priory, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

Christchurch is steeped in history dating back to Saxon times and this is evident as you tour the town.  If you want to make your town visit more interesting for children follow the Christchurch Millennium Trail.  It leads visitors to all the Blue Plaques and sites of historic interest in Christchurch.  You can buy a map of the trail from the Information Centre.

The main historical attraction is Christchurch Priory, the stunning church which gave the town its name.  It’s a magnificent building which dominates the Christchurch skyline.  It’s one of few monastery churches to have survived under King Henry VIII and is reputed to be the longest church in England.

For history-lovers, Christchurch Priory is one of the best things to do in Christchurch.  However, if your kids aren’t keen on churches, head to Christchurch Castle.

Christchurch Castle

Christchurch Castle, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

One of the top historic attractions in Christchurch is the castle.

The ruins of the 12th century Christchurch Castle sit atop a hill.  Children will have fun climbing the steps up the hill to explore within the ancient Norman tower.

Only two main walls remain today, so it doesn’t take long to visit.  However, you can see the footprint of the moat and imagine how this Motte and Bailey castle provided defence for the townsfolk.

Admission to Christchurch Castle is free.  It’s worth a visit, even if it’s just to get some of the best panoramic views of Christchurch.

Explore the Norman House

Norman House Christchurch, Dorset, UK

Another of Christchurch’s popular historic attractions is the Norman House.  Just a short walk from Christchurch Castle, Constable’s House is a grade-1 listed building.

Built around 1160, the house provided accommodation for the Lord of Christchurch.  A map inside shows how the house would have looked at the time.  A plan shows that residents lived in the first-floor hall, whilst the ground floor was for storage.

It is here they would have entertained guests such as King John, who visited Christchurch 10 times.  The Norman house has a large fireplace and exhibits a rare example of a Norman chimney.  Admission to the house is free.

It doesn’t take long to visit the Norman House, so could be tied in with your visit to Christchurch Castle and Priory.

Take a ferry to Mudeford Spit

Beach huts, Mudeford Sandbank, Dorset, UK

Another of the best things to do at Christchurch with kids is a short ride on the Mudeford Ferry.  This will take you from Mudeford Quay to the sandy peninsula, called Mudeford Spit.  This sandbank forms a natural barrier between the harbour and the sea.

Once you’re on Mudeford Sandbank you can enjoy the sandy beach or take a look at some of the UK’s most expensive beach huts.

If you enjoy taking in views, take a hike across the nature reserve to Hengistbury Head.  Or, if you don’t fancy a walk, catch a ride on the Land Train.  You’ll get amazing views over Christchurch Harbour and the nature reserve.

If you’re looking for refreshments, you can choose from The Beach House Café or the Hengistbury Visitor Centre.

The Mudeford Ferry runs every 15 minutes in the summer and takes about 10 minutes.  It also operates at weekends and school holidays in winter, if the weather conditions are favourable.  You don’t need to book and you can pay on board, but they only take cash.

Discover Highcliffe Castle

Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

Highcliffe Castle is a 19th century mansion and gardens.  It’s an impressive building and popular wedding venue.  You can wander round the grounds or stop for refreshments in the tea rooms.

If you’re visiting with children, there’s a small woodland play area, or a path leading down to the beach.  The woodland also connects to the Steamer Point Nature Reserve, a conservation area on the cliffs.

Make a splash at the Quomps

Christchuch Quay, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

It’s no surprise that a visit to the picturesque Town Quay is one of the best things to do in Christchurch with kids. The town’s unique position nestled between two of the UK’s longest rivers, makes it ideal for fun on the water.

From Christchurch Quay, you can take a riverside walk to Wicks Ferry, hire a boat, or feed the swans.

However, if you’re with kids the top attraction for kids is the grass area known as The Quomps.

The Quomps is one of Christchurch’s best family attractions and admission is free.  On a sunny day kids can play in the splash zone, which features water fountains and a paddling pool.   It also has a play area, sports field, and mini golf.  It’s definitely one of the must-do attractions if you are in Christchurch with children.

Spend a day at Alice in Wonderland

If you have younger children, one of the best days out near Christchurch is at Alice in Wonderland.

This theme park near Bournemouth Airport is for 3-10 year olds.  Alice in Wonderland offers a fun-packed collection of rides and attractions.  Fly through the sky on an elephant, get lost on the Alice maze or wet on the flumes, the little kids are bound to have a fantastic time.

Try out the ducking stool

The Ducking Stool, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

The last of our suggestions of things to do with kids in Christchurch is a visit to the Ducking Stool.

For centuries they used a ducking stool as a form of punishment for scolds and nagging wives in Christchurch.  Once sentenced by the court, the culprit was raised and lowered into the Mill Stream to cool her down.

Today you can see a replica ducking stool by the Mill Stream.  Children can sit on the ducking stool, but it doesn’t move so you can’t dunk them in the shallow stream!  You will be able to spot lots of little fish though.

Afterwards, pop into the adjacent Ducking Stool Tea Rooms, where you can treat the kids to a luxury milk shake.

Getting to Christchurch

By car

Christchurch is easy to access from London and Surrey using the M3 and M27.

By road

South-West Trains provide regular direct trains between London Waterloo and Christchurch.  The journey takes about 2 hours.  You can also take a regional train from Bournemouth.

Accommodation in Christchurch

There’s a good choice of accommodation to suit all budgets in Christchurch.  Choose one of the luxury spa hotels, a mid-range guesthouse or a campsite.  Here are just a few options of accommodation in Christchurch.

Luxury accommodation

If money’s no object, choose from the Christchurch Harbour Hotel or the Captain’s Club Hotel.  Both are on the beach and offer spa facilities.

Mid-range accommodation

For mid-range accommodation try the Avon Causeway Hotel or the Grosvenor Lodge Guest House, both of which offer family rooms.

Budget-friendly accommodation

Of course, you can save your money and opt for a budget-family option, like a homestay.  Educatefirst offers basic, functional accommodation in a home.

We were on a budget weekend, so stayed at Sionna Campsite.  This pop-up campsite in the nearby village of Burton was fairly basic.  However, it was really cheap and in an ideal location for exploring Christchurch and the surrounding area.

Eating with kids in Christchurch

It’s easy to find somewhere to eat in Christchurch, both in the town and by the beach.  We ate fish and chips at the Mudeford Inn and paninis on the beach at Southbourne.

On our final evening we had delicious pizza at the Soho Garden Terrace.  Kids can watch the pizzas cooking in the enormous wood oven or indulge in some fruity mocktails.

We'd love to hear from you!

Have you tried any of these things to do in Christchurch?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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