Historic castles, sprawling water parks, vast English country manors and historic Victorian coastal forts: there’s something for everyone in our Dorset activities roundup.
Activities in Dorset
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Dorset, Monkey World is a primate rescue centre, home to hundreds of chimpanzees, apes and monkeys. The 65-acre park has large enclosures which are home to some of the most endangered species in the world with regular keepers’ talks providing insight into their natural habitat. Monkey World also has a large Great Ape Adventure Play Park and a cafe.
Dorset Adventure Park
Dorset Adventure Park spans two huge inflatable parks across two lakes in a dramatic woodland setting near Corfe Castle. The Wipeout-style water park includes over 200m of inflatable fun including flip bags, a rodeo splash and an action tower. The real adrenaline-chasers will also enjoy their 2km mud trail assault course, with both attractions open from Easter until mid-October.
Adventure Wonderland is another leading family-friendly day out several miles north of Bournemouth and Christchurch. The large amusement park has a wide range of rides including trampolines, runaway trains, mini rollercoasters, water rides, laser games and more.
Dorset Steam Fair
Now into its sixth decade, the annual Great Dorset Steam Fair is a four-day celebration of countryside heritage, steam engines and more. The huge 600-acre festival is one of the largest outdoor festivals in Europe and welcomes 200,000 people across the August Bank Holiday. There’s plenty to do and see beside steam engines, with live music, entertainment, dozens of food and drink stalls, events, shows and entertainment.
SEA LIFE Centre Weymouth
From the world’s smallest penguins to an underwater tunnel teeming with sharks, turtles, seahorses and more, SEA LIFE Centre Weymouth is a fascinating family day out. As well as a wide range of aquatic habitats, informative talks and feeding sessions, the centre has an outdoor splash zone, cafe and mini-golf course. Plus, your ticket allows you to return as many times as you want throughout the year for free, providing good-value-for-mone
Dating back to the 8th century, Sherborne Abbey is rightly considered one of England’s ‘most beautiful parish churches’ and the cathedral of Dorset. The Benedictine heritage continues with daily prayer while the stunning church has an ornate vaulted ceiling and historic Elizabethan tombs. The abbey is open daily from 8.30am to 6pm and has regular organ and choir concerts.
National Trust property Kingston Lacey is a gorgeous Italian-style country manor with an impressive range of art and artefacts from across the world. The vast, 8,500-acre estate is bursting with history including a Roman road, Iron Age forts and walls decked out in paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck and Titian. The globe-trotting feel continues in the Egyptian room, stocked with priceless ancient artefacts, and the gorgeous Japanese garden.
You could spend a week touring Dorset’s amazing collection of castles, but we’ve narrowed our selection down to these four.
Highcliffe Castle is a must-visit, if only for the views over the cliffs and down to Christchurch beach. The castle is actually much newer than it looks (it was built in 1836) thanks to its Gothic revival styling, with gorgeous interiors, a glorious garden and tearoom all vying for attention.
Maiden Castle is a much older fortification dating back to the Iron Age. Spreading over the equivalent of 50 football pitches, Maiden Castle is one of the largest and most complex of its kind in Europe, with large ramparts and Neolithic and Roman stylings. The area also has plenty of walking trails and nearby hikes which take in the rolling countryside and distant sea views.
A royal palace, fortress and historic reminder of the English Civil War, Corfe Castle is another must-see Dorset sight. The dramatic, tumbledown castle has over 1,000 years of history on its side and now hosts regular open-air theatre events and a recreated medieval village where you can interact with knights and scribes from the period.
Lastly, Lulworth Castle is a few miles from Corfe Castle and home to a wide range of attractions. Climb the towering 17th-century castle to take in the views across the Jurassic Coast and the extensive grounds before witnessing one of their regular historical reenactments and events including Camp Bestival, the family-friendly music festival held each year.
Museums and Galleries
If you’re interested in army history and tanks, the Tank Museum in Bovington is a must-see with dozens of working tanks plus interactive activities, exhibitions and events.
Staying in the military world, Nothe Fort is a Victorian coastal fort-turned-museum with three levels of exhibitions and ramparts packed with gun decks and a maze of underground passages. There’s also plenty for kids to enjoy as well as a cafe, shop and cannon and artillery firing every Sunday.
Dorchester’s Dorset County Museum neatly brings the county’s history together including Iron Age exhibits, fossils and a local art gallery. The museum is currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment and is due to open in the middle of 2020.
Perched on the most southerly tip of Dorset, Portland Bill Lighthouse dates back to 1906 and is a converted lighthouse packed with maritime exhibits. As well as jaw-dropping views across the Jurassic coast, the lighthouse runs regular tours lasting 45-minutes including climbing all 153 steps to the top of the tower.
Lastly, Sand World in Weymouth opposite our Weymouth Seafront hotel has been carving unique sand sculptures for over 90 years, with a hands-on sandpit for those looking to recreate Corfe Castle with a few million grains of sand. There’s lots of other options nearby which you can see in our guide to activities in Weymouth.