Attractions in Dorset




Poole, Dorset

Poole Museum has just undergone a major redevelopment thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The front of the building has been transformed by a new glass and steel structure designed by award-winning architects Horden Cherry Lee, and the light-filled glass atrium creates a stunning new entrance with a viewing terrace on the third floor to provide visitors with an orientation point and views across Poole and the harbour. The museum tells the story of two thousand years of Poole’s history and the new displays enable greater access to the collections and feature objects seen for the first time, including the iron-age log boat.

East Cliff, Bournemouth, Dorset

In 1901, Merton gave his wife Annie a dream home on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was an extraordinary, extravagant birthday present – lavish, splendid and with a touch fantasy.

They filled this exotic seaside villa with beautiful objects from their travels across the world and lined the walls with a remarkable collection of British art creating a unique atmosphere in a most dramatic seafront setting. A home, an art gallery and a museum. Then, they sealed it in time and gave it to the future. The house – beside the sea on Bournemouth’s East Cliff – celebrated the couple’s passion for art and travel, world cultures and natural history.

The main hall is hung floor-to-ceiling with the famous paintings of their day – a remarkable collection of high Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art, including many works by women artists. Rooms and collections are inspired by their travels – to Japan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand – and by their love of the theatre and the decorative arts. The decor is sumptuous; rich colours, stained glass, luxurious wallpaper, painted ceilings, frescoes and patterned floor tiles. The views are stunning and the cliff-top garden is serene. Four galleries, added in the early 20th century, are used for exhibitions and events and a modern wing showcases the world-renowned Japanese collection.

Merton’s extravagant gift is now one of Bournemouth’s most intriguing visitor attractions. There is also an on-site café and shop.

Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm. Find out more at russellcotes.com.

Quay Road, Christchurch, Dorset

The museum contains a variety of objects with local and social historical interest, period costumes, and displays on geology, natural history and archaeology. There is a formal garden with culinary and medicinal herbs and a secluded informal garden with old fashioned roses and uncommon trees and shrubs. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday afternoons, as well as the spring and summer Bank Holidays. There is no admission charge.

lightbulb

The Old Power Station, Bargates, Christchurch, Dorset

This museum is set in an Edwardian power station and contains unique displays of electrical items ranging from a Bournemouth tram car to boot warmers. Open from Monday to Thursday from April to the end of September plus Fridays during school holidays. Admission charges apply.

Hangar 600, Bournemouth Airport, Christchurch, Dorset

The aviation museum contains a unique collection of ex-military and civilian aircraft, some of which still fly. On display are a Meteor, Hunter, Vampire, Jet Provost, BAC-111, Buccaneer, 1934 Dragon Rapide and the world’s last flying Sea Vixen. Open all year, although times vary.

swanagerailway

Swanage to Norden via Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

Operates daily from beginning of May to end of September. Limited service at other times

Dorset’s premier steam railway with unique views of the imposing ruins of Corfe Castle. Special events are held throughout the year, including Days Out with Thomas the tank engine and friends, the chance to drive a 130 tonne steam locomotive over the demanding gradients of the spectacular Purbeck Line, and Santa Specials in December.
Enjoy a 5-course meal on board The Wessex Belle dining train. This popular Dorset attraction operates regularly throughout the year and is available for private hire and corporate events.
Buffets available at Swanage and Norden stations serving hot and cold drinks and snacks. Swanage station also has a Railway Shop.

sherborne

3/4 mile from Sherborne town centre, Dorset

Open daily between end of March and end of October, except Mondays and Fridays (open Bank Holiday Mondays), from 11am; last admission 4.30pm. Castle opens at 2.30pm on Saturdays

Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, Sherborne Castle has been the home of the Digby family since 1617. The State Rooms reflect a wonderful variety of decorative styles from the great periods of English history: Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian, with beautiful collections of art, furniture and porcelain.
30 acres of lakeside gardens with sweeping lawns, colourful flower borders and majestic trees surround the 50 acre lake designed by Capability Brown in 1753. Across the lake to the north lies the ruins of Sherborne’s old medieval castle, which succumbed to Cromwell’s troops in 1645 during the Civil War.
The Lakeside Tea Room, which is on the site of the former nursery building, serves morning coffees, light lunches and afternoon tea. Gift shop located in Castle Courtyard.

orangutan

Bovington, Nr Wareham, Dorset

Daily (except Christmas Day) from 10am to 5pm (6pm during July and August); last admission 1 hour before closing.

A 65-acre woodland park in the heart of the Dorset countryside that is home to over 160 rescued and endangered apes and monkeys.
Talks are given by their expert keepers every 30 minutes from midday onwards.
This Dorset attraction has cafes, picnic areas, gift shop and children’s amusements.

corfe

Corfe, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

Daily (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10am.

Corfe Castle was destroyed by Cromwell’s men in 1646 and its imposing ruin is now a popular tourist attraction in Dorset. The ruins we see today are actually an 11th century re-build of a wooden castle dating back to the 9th century.
The castle and village of Corfe are built mainly from the local Purbeck stone, which is probably the finest limestone available for building and polishing in England.
Corfe Castle, which has been described as “one of the most evocative ruined castles in England”, is now owned by the National Trust. There is an extensive country estate to discover and explore and the Swanage Railway operates a steam train service to Corfe.

brownsea

Poole Harbour, Dorset

March to October.

Brownsea Island wildlife sanctuary and nature reserve is now owned by the National Trust.
In the 19th century, china clay was mined on the island and that brought with it a community requiring a church, cottages, gardens, a farmyard and a school. In 1907, General Baden-Powell held an experimental camp on the island, which was the start of the Boy Scout movement.
The last private owner of Brownsea Island, Mary Bonham Christie, allowed it to become a haven for wildlife – free from farming, forestry and human disturbance. It was after her death that the island came under the protection of the National Trust.
The island is one and a half miles long, with a 248 acre nature reserve on its northern side managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Access to the nature reserve is restricted.
Coffee shop serves a range of hot and cold snacks and afternoon teas. National Trust shop.

tank

Bovington, Dorset

Open daily 10am to 5pm except Christmas

The Tank Museum at Bovington brings the story of tanks and tank crews to life, with the world’s best collection of tanks and explosive live action displays. As you explore the museum’s six large halls, you will come face to face with a unique collection of over 200 armoured vehicles. Four powerful exhibitions bring the story of the tank to life. ‘The Tank Story’ tells the story of the tank from its birth in 1915 to the present day. ‘Battlegroup Afghanistan – The Armoured Soldiers’ Story’ puts you in the front line, as combat veterans give on-screen accounts of service alongside the vehicles used on operations today. ‘The Trench Experience’ places you into the shoes of a World War One soldier, from the recruiting office to the front line. In ‘The Discovery Centre’ you will find out how different tanks are used in different ways, find out more about the life of a tank crewman and see inside a ‘cut in half’ tank. There are also explosive Tank Action displays during school holidays, with thundering engines, life-like explosions and expert commentary. You can even experience for yourself the thrill of riding in a tracked vehicle.

athelhampton

Athelhampton, Nr Dorchester, Dorset

OPEN March to October, Sunday to Thursday from 10.30am to 5pm. Open Good Friday. House opens at 11am; last admission 4.30pm. November to February, open Sundays only 11am to dusk.

One of the finest manor houses in England with its earliest parts dating back to the 15th century. Built by Sir William Martyn, the house almost became derelict after several hundred years of neglect, until it was restored in the 1890s by Alfred Cart de Lafontaine. Athelhampton was bought by the Cooke family in 1957 and is still their family home today.
The glorious gardens, which are dominated by 12 giant topiary pyramids standing over 30 feet high, contains fountains, pools and the River Piddle as well as camellias, magnolias, roses, sub-tropical plants and rare trees providing interest in season.
The Topiary Restaurant, Bar and Tearoom serve snacks, light lunches, cream teas and a la carte or a carvery for Sunday luncheon. Gift shop.

alice

Bournemouth International Airport, Nr Christchurch, Dorset

OPEN daily (including Wild Thing!) mid-March to mid-September from 10am to 6pm; last admission 4pm. Wild Thing! open alone during the winter months from 10am to 6pm; last admission 5pm.

This tourist attraction in Dorset is a firm family favourite, packed with more than 30 rides and attractions, primarily aimed at children up to about 12. There’s the super swinging Ghostly Galleon, Space Orbiter, Wild Bill’s Runaway Train, the third largest maze in the UK plus much, much more.
Wild Thing! is a massive indoor Aztec Adventure Play Centre.
Lounge, cafe, shop and party room.

swannery

New Barn Rd, Abbotsbury, Nr Weymouth, Dorset

7 days a week during spring, summer and autumn. Mid-March to beginning of October, 10am to 6pm; last admission 5pm. During October, 10am to 5pm; last admission 4pm

Dorset’s world famous sanctuary for hundreds of nesting swans and their broods. From mid-May to the end of June you can watch the cygnets hatching. Mass feeding sessions are held at 12 noon and 4pm daily.

Touch one of the first Bouncing Bombs, tested there on The Fleet in 1943. Live outdoor theatre, play area, ugly duckling trail, coffee shop and gift shop.

Lighthouse Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 2JL

Castle & visitor centre open daily 10am-5pm. Cafe open 9.30am-4.30pm. Park open dawn to dusk.

Durlston Country Park in Dorset is situated on the cliffs overlooking Durlston Castle. The all-weather facility includes a café, visitor centre, roof-top Belvedere, exhibition and gallery (art, science, performance, weddings and more). There are great opportunities for walking and getting up close to the wildlife.