Things to Do in Dorset

You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Dorset while you are on holiday here. From wildlife, history and heritage, and beaches and coastline to family attractions, activities and adventure holidays, and watersports, the Visit Dorset website helps you find some great ideas for days out for all the family.




Only booked a few days away in Dorset? Not sure what things to do in Dorset while you’re here on holiday? Why not use our list of some of the most popular Dorset attractions to help you decide. If you are interested in our history and heritage, why not visit the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle, Athelhampton’s Tudor manor house and world-famous gardens, the fascinating Tank Museum at Bovington, the Swanage steam railway or perhaps Sherborne Castle and its Capability Brown designed lake. Or, for the nature lovers, there’s Abbotsbury Swannery with over 600 free flying swans, Brownsea Island nature reserve, Weymouth’s Sea Life Park and Monkey World ape rescue centre. And, for the younger ones, there’s always the Adventure Wonderland family fun park.

You may even just enjoy a day on the coast, exploring Dorset’s unique landscapes and vistas. In the evening settle down for some local fare at any number of spots ranging from casual pub atmospheres to fine dining luxury. You will find something to suit every traveller’s taste. The same can be said for Dorset’s accommodation. Visitors can choose from charming B&Bs to 5 star hotels.

B3157 Chickerell Link Road, Weymouth, Dorset DT3 4AF

Open 30th March to 30th September 2014, 10am to 5pm daily, closed Saturdays.

Flowering from late spring through to autumn, the national and international collections of water lilies at Bennetts Water Gardens near Weymouth create one of the most outstanding displays of water lilies in Britain.

Grass pathways lead you through the series of ponds and lakes, surrounded by wetland plants, native trees, palms, wild plants and flowers. Bennetts Water Gardens are a Site of Nature Conservation Interest and home to an abundance of wildlife. There are scenic places to sit and relax, as well as shaded woodland walks to explore. The Tropical House contains exotic plants, including a cacti collection. There is also a family nature trail to keep the younger visitors interested.

The museum at Bennetts Water Gardens describes the local history of Chickerell village (as mentioned in the Domesday Book), Chesil Beach and the Fleet lagoon. It also contains a fascinating history of the site from the brickworks and clay pits of 1859 through to the modern-day gardens.

Many of the original water lilies planted in the gardens by the Bennett family in 1959 came from the same nursery in France that supplied Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny. These same varieties that Monet painted are among the collections held at the gardens today. The Monet-style Japanese bridge was commissioned for Bennetts Water Gardens in 1999 to commemorate 100 years since Monet’s painting ‘Water Lily Pond 1899’, and recreates the painting of a bridge over a water lily pond.

Bennetts Water Gardens near Weymouth also have a gift and plant shop, a cafe and a licensed restaurant. There is free parking on site, and partial wheelchair access (weather permitting). Dogs are not allowed.

Greenhill, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 7SW

At the edge of the town centre, sloping up from the beach and promenade, are Greenhill Gardens, where you can get some of the best views across Weymouth Bay. The winding paths and brightly coloured flower beds of the Gardens are a true delight to discover but there is also an 18-hole putting green, tennis courts, a bowling green and two cafes to keep you occupied.

Weymouth’s Greenhill Gardens have been recognised as one of the best green spaces in the country.

Liberty Road, Portland, Dorset DT5 1AZ

Portland Castle was built by King Henry VIII to defend the anchorage against possible French and Spanish invasion, and the castle’s squat appearance is typical of the artillery forts built in the early 1540s.

Unusually for a fortress of this period, the castle has seen much interior alteration, although the exterior remains largely unchanged. It first witnessed serious fighting during the English Civil War, when it was seized by both Parliamentarians and Royalists. It became a Seaplane Station during World War I, and was at the forefront of the D-Day preparations which helped to end World War II.

The Governor’s Garden, designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole as part of the Contemporary Heritage Garden series, contains an impressive circular amphitheatre made from local Portland stone, with two-level seating for about 200 people. This perfectly sheltered spot is a great place to relax and enjoy the dramatic sea and harbour views.

There are audio tours and a touch tour for the visually impaired. You can even come face to face with Henry VIII in the Great Hall!

Facilities

  • Parking
  • Food and Drink
  • Picnic Area
  • Toilets
  • Gardens
  • Audio Tours
  • Family Friendly
  • Education
  • Foreign Language Audio Tours
  • Venue Hire
  • Commercial Photography and Filming
  • Guide books are available

** CONDOR FERRIES NO LONGER OPERATES FROM WEYMOUTH, DORSET **

Condor Ferries operate a regular, high-speed ferry service between Weymouth and Guernsey, Jersey and St Malo in France.

Weymouth to Guernsey

Service operates all year. Crossing time 2 hours 10 minutes
With its scenic harbours, quaint cottages, beautiful countryside and sandy beaches, the island of Guernsey is like a big picture postcard. The island has over 100 miles of coastline with sandy beaches and dunes, secret coves and rock pools, rugged harbours and beautiful cliff walks.

The island’s capital, St Peter Port, is a vibrant harbour town with a mixture of well-known high street stores and more individual shops. Many of the retailers in Guernsey offer low duty prices on a range of items, so big savings can be made on jewellery, photographic and electrical goods.

When it comes to visitor attractions, the Guernsey Aquarium is a popular choice. Its displays include local sea fish and European freshwater fish as well as tropical marine fish, anemones and inverts of various kinds. Another family favourite is the Little Chapel, which is beautifully decorated with seashells, pebbles and colourful pieces of broken china.

With an environment that is conducive to outdoor pursuits, it is not surprising that a range of sporting and other activities are available on Guernsey. These include cycling, horse riding, golf, surfing, windsurfing, diving, angling, sailing, scuba diving and kayaking.

Guernsey offers visitors a good choice of pub food, bistro dining or contemporary cuisine, where Indian, Turkish, Spanish and Italian culinary styles sit comfortably alongside more traditional restaurants. St Peter Port also has a good choice of lively pubs and bars where you can soak up the atmosphere, along with a few cocktails or locally brewed ales.

Weymouth to Jersey

Service operates all year via Guernsey. Crossing time 3 hours 25 minutes
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands boasting spectacular coastal scenery, beautiful countryside, fascinating history, golden beaches, great dining and entertainment, plus sporting facilities that are second to none.

Plemont, situated on the north coast has a reputation as Jersey’s most beautiful beach. Plemont is a sheltered sandy cove where the golden sand is covered at high tide, but when the water retreats, pools with sandy bottoms are exposed – ideal for young children to play in. Alternatively, Green Island is a favourite local beach on the east of the island. St Ouens Bay stretches for five miles along the length of Jersey’s Atlantic west coast, and is one of the best beaches for surfing in the UK. Jet skiing and cycling are other popular activities.

One of the island’s top visitor attractions is Jersey Zoo, headquarters of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The zoo is set in 31 acres of land with over 190 species of rare and endangered mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Jersey also has two award-winning museums, the Jersey and the Maritime Museums, containing interesting exhibits for both adults and children with a glimpse of Jersey’s past and maritime heritage. Jersey’s aMaizin! Maze and Adventure Park is a popular attraction with activities for all ages, including go-kart tracks, crazy golf and a maze in the shape of the island.

Jersey has built an international reputation for its cooking styles and range of restaurants. Seafood is the specialty of the island, and is complemented by a wealth of fresh local produce. Around St Helier, St Aubin and St Brelade are a range of simple cafes, family-friendly brasseries, traditional country pubs and gourmet restaurants.

St Helier is the shopping centre of Jersey. The main streets provide an eclectic mix of high street stores, small boutiques and local gift shops. Many of the retailers offer low duty prices on goods such as jewellery, photographic and electrical goods. Further afield, areas such as St Brelade, St Aubin and Gorey offer a selection of shops and garden centres.

Weymouth to St Malo

Service operates all year. Crossing times from 5 hours 15 minutes (may require a change of vessel in either Guernsey or Jersey)
St Malo in Brittany is famous for its old walled city where you will find beautiful buildings, museums, restaurants, cafes and open markets in a maze of tiny cobbled streets.

St Malo offers a range of art, music and book shops, as well as a choice of hypermarkets and specialist shopping.

The Grand Aquarium is situated a few miles south of the citadel. It houses fish and sea life from around the world in eight different aquariums, including a circular fish tank where visitors can stand in the middle of swirling fish shoals, and an open air touching pool. Cobac Parc is another popular tourist attraction in St Malo. Inside the park’s 12 hectares of woodland, the whole family can take part in around 30 different activities, including a water park, mini golf and a merry-go-round. The Chateau de St Malo, to the right of the city’s main gate, houses the Musee de la Ville. This museum has exhibits covering all elements of St Malo’s historic past incorporating piracy, colonialism, slave trading and the German Occupation during World War II. Visitors will also enjoy the Cathedral of St Vincent dating back to the 9th century, and the walk along the 12th century city ramparts, which stretch from St Vincent Gate to the St Thomas Gate and provide fantastic views of the old town’s houses, the bay and the islets at the mouth of the Rance estuary.

As you’d expect, St Malo has an abundance of good places to eat to suit all tastes and budgets. Local specialties include fresh lobsters and Cancale oysters, as well as other classic French fare such as crepes and moules. Some of the most popular restaurants and cafes are situated in a long line inside the city ramparts between Porte St-Vincent and the Grande Porte.

** CONDOR FERRIES NO LONGER OPERATES FROM WEYMOUTH, DORSET **

Leaving Swanage - Cliff Baxter

Weymouth Pleasure Pier, DT4 8ED

The Waverley is the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. This historic ship is operated by a charity and carries over 250,000 passengers each year, transporting them to favourite seaside haunts or to marvel at the unfolding landscape around the south of England’s Jurassic Coast.

The paddle steamer Waverley was built on the River Clyde in 1947. In 2003, a major restoration project was completed, returning the ship to the original 1940s style in which she was built. The Waverley is the only remaining real Clyde steamer and the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. In 1974, The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society bought the 693-tonne ship for £1 to preserve it for the future.

On the cruises, passengers can gain unrivalled access to spectacular scenery, miles of golden sandy beaches and an island steeped in history. This award-winning attraction provides a range of day, afternoon and evening cruises on selected days throughout September from Weymouth Pleasure Pier to various ports including Bournemouth and Yarmouth.

Cruise by the famous Lulworth Cove one of Dorset’s most recognisable features heading onwards past Durlston Head with its imposing castle on the hilltop and into Bournemouth, the perfect place to spend a day out with the family. Take a ride on the mini land trains, play with the kids on one of the cleanest beaches in the UK or enjoy a quiet stroll through Bournemouth’s glorious gardens.

Alternatively steam through the Solent and view the magnificent coastal scenery of the Isle of Wight. Stop off at Yarmouth with its natural harbour, which is a mecca to numerous boats and yachts that visit, or stay on board and enjoy a cruise around the Isle of Wight passing Newtown, Thorness and Gurnard Bay and along the coast to Cowes, famous for its huge sailing events during the summer.

Finally, don’t miss the legendary Evening Showboats with a live jazz band on board and make it a night to remember!

The Waverley has excellent onboard facilities including a restaurant serving hot and cold snacks, two bars, heated lounges, engine room and paddle wheel viewing gallery, and a souvenir shop.

Osprey Quay, Portland, Dorset DT5 1SA

Monday- Friday: 9am-5pm Saturday & Sundays: 8am-6pm

The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA), which was the host venue for the London 2012 Olympic sailing events, has an established global reputation for its outstanding facilities. WPNSA was formed in 1999 as a not-for-profit company by a group of far-sighted individuals who identified the brown field site with immediate water access into Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay as a huge asset to not only the local Weymouth and Portland communities but as a destination that would attract sports people and events at national and international levels.

Looking at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy from a purely sailing related perspective, the surrounding waters of Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay are some of the best sailing waters on the planet. The clean winds, sheltered waters and weak tides also have added value due to these natural conditions being preferential to a large and growing range of water sports.

In fact the Academy is ideally suited to hosting water based events including sea swimming and rowing, canoeing and sea kayaking, motor boating, sport fishing, model boating, water skiing and wake boarding. In addition, a range of land-based events from running, cycling or indoor rowing and combined events such as triathlons are run from the centre.

Spinnakers Restaurant, positioned in the heart of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, boasts breathtaking views across Portland Harbour and beyond. This unique venue is open for Sunday carverys throughout the winter as well as being available for private hire when not required for sailing events.

Preston Beach Road, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 7SX

Monday - Sunday. Various Times.

A state-of-the-art centre for skateboarding, rollerblading and BMX in a great seafront location.

The Sk8park currently has three distinct sports areas: a beginners’ area; the main street course with long planter; and the bowl, halfpipe and spine section. These offer challenges to suit different ability levels allowing for progression and choice.

There is a vast array of ramps to suit all levels of user. There is an undercover beginners’ area plus street and ramp obstacles for the more experienced.

Sessions run all year round, after school, at weekends, in school holidays, and at other times by arrangement. There is also a regular events programme. Low key supervision and support is provided by first-aid trained staff and sk8park volunteers. There is a simple membership scheme and entry fees are kept as low as possible.

The Front, Weymouth’s Sk8park is a not-for-profit community enterprise managed by the Weymouth Skatepark Association.

Facilities

  • custom-built ramps for all levels from beginner to expert
  • helmets for hire
  • skateboards for hire
  • snack bar and cafe
  • pool table
  • car park

Hope Square, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8TR

A re-developed Victorian brewery in Weymouth’s Old Harbour with places to eat and traders selling antiques, collectables and vintage furniture.

After being closed for a number of years, Brewers Quay finally re-opened at Easter 2013.

The complex in Hope Square now houses an antiques emporium and an Italian restaurant, Il Porto. Brewers Quay currently has over 50 dealers selling retro items, antiques, collectables, furniture and vinyls.

Further redevelopment/refurbishment is planned to include a military museum, cafe and offices.

New Bond Street, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8LY

This nine-screen cinema is located in the heart of the town centre, near Debenhams. Adjacent to the cinema is a 450-space multi-storey car park with 10 disabled bays. Free parking is available after 6.30pm for cinemagoers, and the car park closes 30 minutes after the last film.

The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8ED

Every day except Christmas Day from 10am to at least 5pm

Weymouth Pavilion is no longer operated by Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. It is now run by a not-for-profit company called Weymouth Pavilion Community Interest Company. The Pavilion Complex aims to have ‘something for everyone’, by having a wide range of shows and events and by making The Pavilion accessible to many different groups, for many different uses.

The Cafe Ritz is open every day from 10am to 4pm serving hot and cold drinks, a selection of alcoholic beverages and delicious cakes. Hot and cold food is served daily from 12pm to 3pm and can be enjoyed in the cafe or upstairs in the Piano Bar where you can take in the magnificent views across the Harbour and the Seafront. Pre-show meals are served from 6pm in the Piano Bar before every Theatre show – tables can be booked by contacting the Box Office. Basket Meals are served during most events in the Ocean Room.

Pay-and-display parking for is situated behind the Pavilion Complex. A free, short stay car park (30 minutes) is available immediately in front of the Pavilion for making bookings or collecting tickets.