20 fun things to do in Dorset

Days out

Posted by Kate A on 12th January 2022

Fun things to do in Dorset

From the pristine golden beaches and dramatic fossil-rich cliffs of the Jurassic Coast to the verdant rolling countryside of Hardy Country, it’s easy to see why Dorset is a top choice for a staycation. There is a treasure trove of things to do in Dorset, including exciting family attractions, intriguing museums, and some of the most spectacular houses and gardens to be found anywhere.

We have chosen 20 fun things to do in Dorset, whether you’re visiting the county as a couple, a family or a group. Walk the cobbles of the famous Hovis advert, explore an abandoned ghost village, enjoy a tipple in a vineyard, or make a splash at a waterpark; you’re about to discover the best days out that Dorset has to offer.

Need somewhere to stay? Click the button below to browse our collection of holiday cottages to find the perfect base from which to enjoy these fantastic Dorset tourist attractions.

Cottages in Dorset

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Free things to do in Dorset

Explore a ghost village at Tyneham

Nestled among the Lulworth hills lies the lost village of Tyneham which was evacuated in 1943 during the Second World War. Incredibly atmospheric and one of the top free things to do in Dorset, this scattering of crumbling buildings was once home to 225 farming and fishing folk. The village was commandeered by the Ministry of Defence to enable the military to conduct training exercises in preparation for D-Day, and the residents were given notice to pack up and leave within 30 days. Sadly, they were never permitted to return, and the village remains an eerie time capsule which you can explore most weekends – some of the buildings have even been restored to show what country life would have been like before the war.

  • Location: Tyneham, East Lulworth (BH20 5QF)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: weekends and selected dates
  • Stay nearby at: Lime Tree Stables | Sleeps 2 + 2 dogs

Hunt for fossils at Lyme Regis

The Jurassic Coast is renowned for its bounty of fossils strewn along its beaches and cliffs. Ammonites, belemnites, shells and even the occasional dinosaur bone can be found if you know where to look. Therefore, one of the best things to do in Dorset is to visit one of the beaches along the coast and see what you can discover. Lyme Regis is high on the list of places where you’re likely to find these natural wonders – the town became famous after local lady Mary Anning discovered the first complete ichthyosaur in England. There’s even an annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival! There are some superb locations at which you can find fossils all along the Jurassic Coast. Read our blog about fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast for more ideas.

  • Location: Lyme Regis (DT7 3JH)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: Always open. Dogs are not allowed on the main beach between 1 May to 30 September
  • Stay nearby at: Higher Holcombe Farm | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Discover more beautiful beaches in Dorset with our ultimate guide.

Golden Cap

Admire the views from Golden Cap

If you're wondering what to do in Dorset, arguably one of the most rewarding free activities in Dorset is climbing to the summit of Golden Cap. This is the highest point on the South Coast, standing at 191 metres tall which is about twice the height of the White Cliffs of Dover. From the top of this striking gold-coloured cliff you can drink in the incredible views – on a clear day you can see all the way across Lyme Bay to Dartmoor and there are spectacular vistas east to Bridport and Chesil Beach.

  • Location: Golden Cap Estate, Morcombelake (DT6 6EP)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: Always open
  • Stay nearby at: Guard House Cottage | Sleeps 6

Spot some deer at RSPB Arne

One of the best free days out in Dorset with the kids is a trip to the RSPB’s Arne Nature Reserve. Overlooking Poole Harbour, this is a great spot to introduce children to nature, with family-friendly walks, a Bird Bingo game, and Wildlife Explorer backpacks for kids to borrow on their adventures. Amongst the dramatic open heathland and ancient oak woodland, there’s the chance to glimpse all six of the UK’s native reptiles, as well as the Dartford warbler, ospreys, and a great number of wading birds. It’s also one of very few places in England where it’s possible to see sika deer in the wild.

  • Location: Arne, Wareham (BH20 5BJ)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: The reserve is always open, the car park is open 8.30am-6pm, and the facilities are open 9.30am-4.30pm
  • Stay nearby at: Arne Cottage | Sleeps 6

Kids days out in Dorset

Monkey World

Go bananas at Monkey World

Take a walk on the wild side with a visit to Monkey World in Wareham, one of the best family days out in Dorset. This 65-acre sanctuary is home to more than 250 adorable primates of more than 20 different species, rescued and rehabilitated from all over the world. Gain an insight into life at the park during daily keepers' talks, enjoy a guided tour, and watch your own little monkeys swinging and climbing through the play area. Children will love the Chimpanzee Nursery, where the youngest inhabitants are cared for, and keep an eye out for special events throughout the year, including the Easter Egg Extravaganza.

  • Location: Wareham (BH20 6HH)
  • Prices: View the prices here
  • Opening times: Open every day (except Christmas Day) 10am-5pm
  • Stay nearby at: East Cottage | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Dorset Adventure ParkCredit: Dorset Adventure Park

Make a splash at Dorset Adventure Park

This family-friendly attraction in Dorset has plenty to offer your little ones. Spread over two lakes and surrounded by 18 acres of woodland, Dorset Adventure Park is home to a huge aqua assault course full of inflatable fun. Conquer the Action Tower, the Rodeo Splash, the Flip Bag and many more obstacles on this wet and wild adventure. Alternatively, challenge your family members to the tricky Mud Trail, featuring 50 different obstacles over a 2km trail. There are rope swings, balance beams, tunnels and tyre mangles to face.

Corfe Castle

Conquer the mighty Corfe Castle

If you’re looking for things to do with kids in Dorset, then treat your budding young knights and princesses to a day out at Corfe Castle. Managed by the National Trust, this 1,000-year-old royal fortress is known to be one of Britain's most iconic and evocative survivors of the English Civil War. All ages are sure to be captivated by these dramatic ruins built by William the Conqueror, along with the breathtaking views across Purbeck. Set within the village of the same name, there are often battle re-enactments and archery demonstrations to bring history to life and, if you want to make the day extra special, arrive by steam train via the Swanage Railway which stops in the village. Visit our blog to discover even more great castles in Dorset.

The village of Corfe Castle is also one of our favourite places to stay in Dorset - find out which other destinations made our top 10.

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Adventure WonderlandAdventure Wonderland credit: Instagram @adventure_wonderland_park

Meet Alice at Adventure Wonderland

When it comes to theme parks in Dorset, Adventure Wonderland promises a fantastic day out for young children. Based on Lewis Carol's timeless classic, Alice in Wonderland, this exciting family attraction boasts over 30 fun rides including rollercoasters, turbo teacups, water boats, flying elephants and giant swings. Kids will love meeting Alice, the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Mr Rabbit and the cheeky Cheshire Cat, and if you fancy a challenge, you can attempt to find your way out of the huge hedge maze, the third-largest in the UK.

  • Location: Christchurch (BH23 6BA)
  • Prices: View the prices here
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: Beaumont | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Adult days out in Dorset

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Russell Cotes Art Gallery and MuseumRussell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum credit: Instagram @russellcotes

Browse the Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

One of the best Dorset tourist attractions that adults are sure to enjoy is the Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, filled with a treasure trove of exotic memorabilia from all around the globe. Admire the finest art, experience in-depth talks, tours and workshops, and wander beautiful cliff-top gardens. Once the home of two Victorian collectors and travel enthusiasts, Sir Merton and Lady Annie Russell-Cotes, this remarkable Grade II-listed seaside villa dates to 1901 and was gifted along with its contents to the people of Bournemouth following their deaths.

  • Location: Bournemouth (BH1 3AA)
  • Prices: Adults £7.50, children (5-17 years) £4, under 5s free
  • Opening times: Open Tuesday to Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays) 10am-5pm
  • Stay nearby at: Coast - Bournemouth | Sleeps 4

If the weather’s not on your side, we’ve got some great ideas for days out in this guide.

English Oak Vineyard

Make a toast at the English Oak Vineyard

Sipping cool, sparkling wine amidst rolling vines and majestic oaks in the peaceful countryside has surely got to be the perfect way to spend a warm summer’s day. One of the finest days out in Dorset for adults, the English Oak Vineyard offers special tours on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer months where you can discover the fascinating stages involved in skilfully crafting their award-winning wine. Stroll through seemingly endless rows of Pinot and Chardonnay vines, before indulging in a wine tasting and, if you want to make your Dorset day out even more special, the vineyard also offers a Vineyard Picnic which can be booked along with your tour.

  • Location: Lytchett Matravers (BH16 6BX)
  • Prices: Public tours £20 per person
  • Opening times: Fridays and Saturdays between June and September
  • Stay nearby at: Shillong Cottage | sleeps 4

Thomas Hardy's Cottage

Visit Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

Fans of the literary great, Thomas Hardy, should definitely add this popular Dorset attraction to their holiday itinerary. This evocative cob and thatch cottage in Higher Bockhampton, built by his grandfather, was where the author was born in 1840 and little has altered since the family left. In this quintessential country cottage with its pretty garden and roses around the door, Hardy penned several of his early short stories, poetry, and novels, including 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. Now owned by the National Trust, it is a great way to experience rural Victorian life, and to learn how his early years in the countryside formed the connection with nature which runs throughout his written works. If you love films, then read our guide to where the recent adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd was filmed.

To get the full Thomas Hardy experience, visit nearby Max Gate, the house the author designed and moved to on the outskirts of Dorchester.

  • Location: Higher Bockhampton (DT2 8QJ)
  • Prices: Adults £7.90, children £3.95, family £19.75
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: Bramble Cottage | Sleeps 5 

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Dorset Seafood FestivalNyetimber Dorset Seafood Festival credit: Instagram @dorsetseafoodfest

Tantalise your taste buds at the Dorset Seafood Festival

Why not time your holiday in Dorset around the annual Nyetimber Dorset Seafood Festival? A perfect day out for foodies, you can sample delicious local produce, be entertained by celebrity chefs, and gain a better understanding of the superb seafood available just off our wonderful shores. This two-day event along Weymouth Harbour is bustling with around 100 stalls, with plenty of live music and entertainment. Indulge in a glass of English sparkling wine from title sponsors Nyetimber, bring an appetite and plenty of cash! Find more fun things to do in Weymouth.

  • Location: Weymouth (DT4 8BG)
  • Prices: Free to attend, but you’ll need cash for the various stalls
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: Sun Beam - Weymouth | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Unusual things to do in Dorset

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The Blue PoolThe Blue Pool credit: Instagram @dronemagic_photography

Marvel at a mysterious colour-changing pool

One of the lesser-known Dorset attractions, the Blue Pool at Furzebrook on the Isle of Purbeck is a hidden oasis. Enveloped by glorious sun-dappled woodland, heathland and wildlife, this large pool in a former chalk pit dates to the 17th century. The reason why this dazzling natural wonder is so special and unique is that the water changes colour, as if by magic! Transforming across a spectrum of colours, sometimes it’s blue, sometimes green or turquoise, and sometimes even red, all caused by light diffracting from the fine clay suspended in the water. Delight in a peaceful stroll around the pool before tucking into a cream tea at the Blue Pool Tea Rooms.

  • Location: Wareham (BH20 5AR)
  • Prices: View the prices here
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: Nightjar Cottage | Sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Abbotsbury Swannery

Spend the day with some swans

Considered by many to be one of the best experiences in Dorset, at Abbotsbury Swannery you’ll find yourselves in the heart of a vibrant colony of Mute Swans. This unique Dorset attraction is the only place in the world where you can get up close to around 600 of these majestic birds as they nest. On the site of a former 11th-century Benedictine monastery, this fenceless sanctuary is best enjoyed during the midday and late afternoon feeding sessions, along with the nesting and hatching period between the end of May and June – at this time, you will often find yourself standing right beside the hatching eggs, watching the fluffy cygnets being born.

  • Location: Abbotsbury (DT3 4JG)
  • Prices: Adults £12.75, children £9.75, family £47
  • Opening times: Open daily between 18 March and 28 October 10am-5pm
  • Stay nearby at: The Old Sweet Shop | Sleeps 5 + 1 dog

Coasteering in Dorset

Throw yourself off a Jurassic cliff

For those who want to take their days out in Dorset to the next level, why not book an adrenaline-fuelled coasteering expedition? Enjoy an exciting day exploring the Jurassic Coast, by throwing yourself off it! There are many companies dotted along the coastline who offer the chance to test your nerve swimming through caves, scrambling across rocks and climbing through tunnels. Lulworth Outdoors offers a host of challenging activities, as well as the chance to hire a kayak and explore the coast at a more relaxed pace.

  • Location: West Lulworth (BH20 5RQ)
  • Prices: View the prices here
  • Opening times: Open daily 9am-5pm
  • Stay nearby at: Christopher Cottage | Sleeps 6

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UK LlamasUK Llamas credit: Instagram @ukllamas

Trek the rolling Dorset hills with a llama

When it comes to unusual things to do in Dorset, it doesn’t get much more unique than setting out on a scenic hike with a llama by your side. At UK Llamas you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience, navigating the undulating pathways of the spectacular Jurassic Coast, or weaving your way along the idyllic patchwork countryside of West Dorset, in the company of one of these gentle animals. Known for their calming influence, spending the day with these hardy Andean creatures is sure to be a relaxing one, and there’s even a delicious cream tea to round off your walk afterwards.

  • Location: Beaminster (DT8 3HE)
  • Prices: View the prices here
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: South Cottage | Sleeps 6 + 1 dog

Places of interest in Dorset

Old Harry Rocks

Be wowed by Old Harry Rocks

One of our top recommendations for things to see in Dorset is Old Harry Rocks, three astonishing 65-million-year-old chalk outcroppings which mark the end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Perhaps one of the best views in Dorset, these dramatic white pillars which rise from the swirling waters, stand guard over the coastline. According to legend, the stacks were named Old Harry as a euphemism for the devil, who allegedly used to nap on the rocks. Another story tells of the pirate and smuggler Harry Paye who stashed his loot somewhere near the rocks. You can reach this mesmerising spectacle via the easy 3.5-mile Old Harry Rocks Walk from South Beach car park in Studland.

  • Location: Handfast Point, Studland (BH19 3AX)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: Always open
  • Stay nearby at: Heatherview – Studland | Sleeps 6

Durdle Door

Explore Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door 

Two of the best places to visit in Dorset are Lulworth Cove and neighbouring Durdle Door, which can both be admired on a stroll along the Jurassic Coast. These Dorset points of interest are a must for any photographer, geographer or family day out and are true wonders of nature. Begin with a picnic at Lulworth Cove, a scallop-shaped pebbly cove which was formed around 10,000 years ago by the power of water. Lapped by the crystal-clear sea, this is a wonderful beauty spot to relax for a while. Then, follow a short but steep cliff path to Durdle Door and be wowed by the enormous limestone arch, chiselled into this distinctive shape over many years by sea erosion. For even more inspiration info about Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, read our guide to the things to see and do.

  • Location: West Lulworth (BH20 5RQ)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: Always open
  • Stay nearby at: Bricklesey Cottage | Sleeps 6

Our guide to coastal walks in Dorset highlights some more great beauty spots to visit.

Red squirrel on Brownsea Island

Spot red squirrels on Brownsea Island

Accessible by ferry, Brownsea Island is one of the most popular attractions in Dorset, thanks to its abundance of wildlife and captivating scenery. Owned by the National Trust, this is the largest of the islands in Poole Harbour, yet is still only 1.5 miles long and less than a mile wide, making it easy to explore on foot. Once the scene of the formation of the worldwide Scout movement back in 1908, the island is today a nature reserve, and one of the only places in southern England where indigenous red squirrels can be spotted in their natural habitat. Explore the visitor centre and museum, enjoy a cuppa in the café and don’t miss the open-air theatre performances during the summer.

  • Location: Poole (BH13 7EE)
  • Prices: Adults £7.90, children £3.95, family £19.75
  • Opening times: View the opening times here
  • Stay nearby at: Woodridings | Sleeps 8

Gold Hill

Visit the street from the Hovis advert

Nestled in the quaint hilltop town of Shaftesbury is one of Dorset’s most famous streets, Gold Hill. Considered one of the prettiest places in the entire county, this charming cobbled street lined with stone cottages is true Instagram perfection, especially when it takes on a golden hue in the summer sun. If you’re thinking this picture-postcard scene looks familiar, then that’s because this is the iconic street featured in the famous 1970s TV advert for Hovis. Why not recreate the famous scene by cycling down the cobbles just as the boy from the advert once did?

  • Location: Shaftesbury (SP7 8HB)
  • Prices: Free (parking charges may apply)
  • Opening times: Always open
  • Stay nearby at: The Lodge at Paynes Place Farm | Sleeps 2 + 1 dog

Book your break in Dorset today

We told you there was a lot of things to do in Dorset! Why not make a holiday of it and see how many of these attractions you can tick off the list? Whether you’re travelling as a couple, a family, a group or bringing your canine companion along, you’ll find a lovely cottage to call home for a while within our collection of Dorset cottages. Just click the button below to browse our full collection.

Cottages in Dorset

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.