When you’re visiting the beautiful county of Dorset there is so much to see and do. From walking along the Jurassic coast to discovering wildlife and relaxing on stunning beaches, the list could be endless. Therefore, we have come up with our top 10 things to do in Dorset, to help you decide where to begin. 

For more ideas, you can also view our Dorset Guide.

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Brownsea Island

If you love wildlife, hop aboard the foot ferry from Poole Quay to the National Trust’s Brownsea Island. Spectacularly set in Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island is a superb example of conservation and a great adventure for the whole family.  

Covered with woodland, heathland and a lagoon, Brownsea Island a fantastic habitat for rare red squirrels and an array of water birds, including terns, oystercatchers and kingfishers. 

There are free trails to follow so you can explore at your own pace and learn about the island as you go. Or join a free guided walk with one of the volunteers to find out more about the island’s history, including some of its eccentric characters.

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Sculptures on the Lakes

Spend a day at Sculpture by the Lakes, a beautiful sculpture park set in 26 acres of countryside. If you love art and spectacular gardens, you’re in for a treat. Over thirty impressive works by sculptor, Simon Gudgeon, along with pieces from other international artists, are on display. 

Simon’s wife, Monique, is the one with the green fingers and the peaceful, botanic gardens here are inspired by art from around the world. There’s also a gallery showcasing sculpture, paintings and prints from across the globe.  

When you’re feeling peckish, take the weight off your feet at the café, or ‘build your own picnic’ at the Artisan’s Pantry that stocks food and drink from local suppliers. 

It’s worth noting that visitors must be over 14 years old. 

Abbotsbury Swannery

At Abbotsbury Swannery, near Weymouth, you can visit the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans. Here, about 800 free-roaming swans call this 25-acre natural habitat home.  

It was the Benedictine Monks from the local monastery (that no longer exists) who established the swannery in the 1040s. At that time the swans were farmed for food to feast on at their extravagant banquets.  

Today, the swannery makes a fantastic and quirky family day out. Have hours of fun helping to feed the swans and working your way through the huge swan-shaped willow maze. Little ones will also love playing on the swinging nests in the play area. 

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Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove is a picturesque, secluded bay on the Jurassic Coast which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cove is well-known for its unique geology and its sheltered beach that’s popular with families. Generally, it’s safe to bathe here and it’s a great place for a coastal walk.  

One such walk is to Durdle Door. You’re bound to recognise it. It’s one of the most iconic stone arches that sticks out above the sea found anywhere in the world. 

It’s certainly one of the main attractions on this stretch of coast. The footpath between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is steep in parts but is well worth the journey for the spectacular views over the cliffs and the sea.  

Monkey World

The comical antics of the residents of Monkey World in Wareham are sure to bring smiles to faces of all ages. First and foremost, this 65-acre park is a sanctuary for rescued and endangered primate species, however it’s also lots of fun to visit.  

It’s home to apes and primates including chimpanzees, orang-utans, gibbons and capuchin monkeys and you can even ‘adopt’ one. Book a guided tour or listen to one of the enthralling talks by one of the keepers to find out some fascinating facts.  

Once you’re done, children can be let loose to run round in the Great Ape Adventure Play Area before you enjoy lunch at one of the picnic spots in the park.

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Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle is a pretty village on the Isle of Purbeck peninsula, between the towns of Wareham and Swanage. Standing on a hill overlooking the village, is a castle of the same name, which is the main attraction. Corfe Castle is a National Trust site and is a great day out for history lovers.  

This iconic site survived the English Civil War, although was partially ruined by the Parliamentarians in 1646. Discover over 1,000 years of history, including the castle’s place as a Saxon stronghold, a Norman fortress and a royal palace. Plus, the views from the castle across the Purbeck are simply captivating. 

Golden Cap and Jurassic Coast

The National Trust’s Golden Cap Estate is a beautiful part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and England’s only natural world Heritage Site. It’s a popular place with walkers and Stonebarrow Hill is a good place to connect with 25 miles of footpaths. 

A variety of walks are available and there are magnificent views at almost every step, plus wildlife and rare orchids to discover. Climb Golden Cap itself for the most incredible coastal views across Lyme Bay. Head through Langdon Hill Wood for a good all-ability circular walk. Or venture to the ‘lost village’ of Stanton St Gabriel that’s tucked away in a peaceful valley. 

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Kingston Lacy House

If you like beautiful historic houses, the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy House is a real gem. This 17th century country mansion was the seat of the wealthy Bankes family, and it was William John Bankes who, in the 1800s, commissioned changes to the house to transform it into the style of a Venetian palace. 

The house is full of the Bankes’s treasures and home to an important collection of art including pieces by Rubens, Titian and Van Dyck. There’s also a superb display of artefacts from ancient Egypt.  

With beautiful formal gardens and parkland too, you can make a day of it, explore the Japanese garden and savour a picnic on the lawn.

Sandbanks Beach

Sandbanks is one of the most beautiful beaches in England and has held a Blue Flag award for over thirty years. It’s positioned on a small peninsula at the mouth of Poole Harbour and attracts visitors with its golden sands, pristine waters and magnificent views towards Studland and Old Harry Rocks.  

As well as relaxing and building sandcastles, there is lots more to keep everyone entertained including water sports, volleyball and crazy golf.  

For a change of scene, head for a stroll along the promenade, or hop aboard the mini tourist train that tootles up and down the seafront. There are lots of lovely cafes and restaurants nearby too, perfect for a cool drink or a leisurely lunch. 

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Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

One of the most spectacular views in Dorset, and indeed England, is from Gold Hill, Shaftesbury. You may well recognise it, as it was made famous in a 1970s TV advert for Hovis bread, which has been voted as Britain’s favourite TV advert.  

This pretty, cobbled hill runs beside the walls of the ancient Shaftesbury Abbey and it’s well worth the climb to the top for the views back down. You can also visit the 14th-century St Peter’s Church and Gold Hill Museum to get a real feel for the area. Or enjoy a walk around the town, to discover its charms including its thatched cottages and winding country lanes. 

 

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