10 of the best Dorset attractions  holiday cottages

10 of the best Dorset attractions

Catherine C 06 April 2023

Dotted with pretty villages and breathtaking countryside, Dorset is one of the most picturesque regions of the UK. Located in the South West of England, Dorset is also home to some of the nicest coastal areas in the country. 

There are so many beautiful places to visit in Dorset that it can be hard to narrow down your options and choose where to go. In this guide, we’ll share some of our favourite Dorset attractions. 

From history and heritage to adrenaline-filled adventure parks, museums and aquariums; from gorgeous gardens and steam railways to farm animals and forts, you certainly won’t struggle to find ways to spend your days in Dorset.

The Tank Museum, Wareham

Military tank on grass

The Tank Museum near Wareham is a unique collection of over 300 tanks and military vehicles from around the world. The museum has nine exhibitions and tells the story of armoured warfare from World War One to the present day. The moving exhibitions tell the story of this British invention; from the mud of the Somme to the beaches of Normandy and the deserts of Iraq – featuring powerful stories from soldiers that fought in them.

With trails and quizzes, interactive games and exhibits, indoor and outdoor play areas, and free talks and tours (including getting inside a real tank!), you can easily spend the day at The Tank Museum without getting bored. In the spring and summer holidays, you can see Tanks in Action and ride around the arena in an M548 tracked vehicle, as well as take part in craft activities during term-time weekends.

Address: The Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset, BH20 6JG
Opening hours: Open 10am-5pm, except 24-26 December 
Suggested duration: 3-4 hours

Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park, Weymouth

Fish in aquarium tank

Dive into an underwater wonderland at Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park. Get up close to over 2,500 creatures, including playful otters and rescued sea turtles. 

Spread over 5 acres of land and with the largest man-made rockpool in the country, at Sea Life Adventure Park you’ll discover the remarkable life of seahorses or, if you dare, get nose-to-nose with your newfound pals, sharks! Kids can pick up countless fascinating facts and attend all sorts of talks and feeding demonstrations.

There’s also the Caribbean Cove adventure play area, night and day ocean display where you can experience the 24-hour wonder of a coral reef, plus lots more! During the summertime, you can even cool down in the splash zone with the children’s outdoor pool and fountains. 

And once you’ve finished, check out our guide to other top things to do in Weymouth here!

Address: Lodmoor Country Park, Weymouth DT4 7SX
Opening hours: Depends on the time of year – click here for the most up-to-date opening hours
Suggested duration: 2 hours

Abbotsbury Swannery, Abbotsbury

Beautiful swans

Abbotsbury Swannery near Weymouth is the only place in the world where you can walk through the heart of a colony of nesting mute swans. Spread over a site of some 25 acres, a visit to this beautiful and tranquil place is one of the most popular things to do in Dorset.

The best time to visit is from mid-May until the end of June when you’ll be able to see loads of baby swans (cygnets) running around. You may be lucky and see some of the cygnets hatching before your eyes.

If you are planning on visiting the nearby Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, then it’s cheaper to buy a 'Passport Ticket' which allows entry to both attractions. You don’t have to visit both of these attractions in Dorset on the same day.

For more information about highlights and tips before you go, read our guide on Abbotsbury Swannery here.

Address: New Barn Rd, Abbotsbury, Weymouth DT3 4JG
Opening hours: Open every day 10am–5pm, although they do tend to close for the winter months (November time) and re-open mid-March. 
Suggested duration: 1-2 hours

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Abbotsbury

Set in 20 acres of woodland, protected by evergreen oaks, Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens is no ordinary garden. Just a mile from Chesil Beach, the Victorian walled garden creates a unique microclimate which enables rare and exotic species from all over the world to thrive here. 

The garden is a mixture of formal and informal flowers, famous for its camellia groves and magnolias and well noted for its rhododendron and hydrangea collections. It's been acclaimed by Alan Titchmarsh as "one of the finest gardens I have ever visited".

Don’t miss stunning views of the Jurassic Coast from the viewpoint at the top of the Magnolia Walk. The Burma Rope Bridge, Mediterranean Bank and Lily Ponds are all stunning elements too. Facilities include a coffee shop, a gift shop and a fantastic plant centre where many of the flowers grown in the garden can be purchased. 

For more information, read our guide on Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens here.

Address: Buller's Way, Abbotsbury, Weymouth DT3 4LA
Opening hours: Open every day 10am-5pm, please ring to confirm closing time. Online booking is advisable, but not essential.
Suggested duration: 1-2 hours

Dorset Adventure Park, Corfe Castle

Located in Corfe Castle, Dorset Adventure Park is a family fun waterpark and mud trail, set in 18 acres of woodland and lakes with stunning views of the surrounding area. The waterpark is spread over two lakes which each feature different inflatable obstacles for you to enjoy – and, with more than 200 metres of wet inflatable fun, you’re sure to have a great time!

The mud trail is an outdoor adventure route for any age, with 50 different muddy obstacles over a 2km trail. Whether you’re looking to get wet or muddy, there is something for everyone! 

There’s also free parking and a snack shack offering hot and cold food and drinks – perfect for anyone who wants to watch the fun from afar. And whilst you are in the area, click here to read our guide on other things to do in Corfe Castle

Address: Arfleet Mill Lakes, Studland Road, Corfe Castle BH20 5JG
Opening hours: The park is open 10am–5pm (9am–7pm during summer holidays). Generally open weekends from May to September and 7 days a week during school holiday periods. 
Suggested duration: Sessions are 1 hour

Farmer Palmer's Farm Park near Wareham

Playful goats running

 Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park, near Wareham, is an award-winning, family-run farm park designed specifically for children 8 years and under. Enter a world of discovery for little ones – see adorable animals, take a tractor-trailer ride, explore outdoor play, bouncy castles and even pedal go-karts.

Once you take into account that there are different activities every half an hour, as well as the many dedicated play areas, you’ll realise you've got full entertainment for little ones. Meet and feed goats, tickle pigs, pat ponies, cuddle guinea pigs - the list goes on! Just check the timetable on arrival for activities available – there's so much to see and do, whatever the weather.

Address: Wareham Rd, Organford, Poole, BH16 6EU
Opening hours: Depends on the time of year – click here for the most up-to-date opening hours
Suggested duration: More than 3 hours

Swanage Railway

Swanage RailwayInstagram: @swanagerailwayofficial/ Matt Toms photography

Located in the Isle of Purbeck, the rebuilt Swanage Railway is the perfect attraction to visit for an enjoyable day of excitement and nostalgia. The heritage railway attraction operates full-size steam and diesel passenger trains along the 5.5 miles of line from Norden to Corfe Castle and down to the Victorian seaside town of Swanage.

The line has stations at Corfe Castle and Harman’s Cross as well as a halt at Herston, on the outskirts of Swanage. There are refreshment buffets at Norden and Swanage stations with picnic tables at most of the stations so you can soak up the atmosphere.

You can buy a variety of one-way, freedom-of-the-line (all day, hop on/off) tickets as well as standard day-return tickets. Also, whilst in the area, check out our guide on other things to do in Swanage here!

Address: Station House, Railway Station Approach, Swanage, Dorset, BH19 1HB
Opening hours: Steam trains run most weekends throughout the year and daily from April to October.
Suggested duration: A single journey is 25 minutes, and a return journey is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Monkey World and Ape Rescue Centre, near Wareham

Rescued ape

Monkey World is a 65-acre park near Wareham and is home to over 250 primates of more than 20 different species. Many have been neglected, kept in unnatural conditions or experienced unbelievable cruelty. Some are now part of international breeding programmes for endangered species. Here, they can all enjoy the company of their own kind in a safe and natural environment.

The park was set up in 1987 by Jim Cronin to provide a permanent, stable home for abused Spanish beach chimpanzees. Today, Monkey World continues to work with foreign governments worldwide to stop the illegal smuggling, abuse or neglect of primates from the wild.

The daily keeper talks provide a captivating insight into life at the park and its inhabitants, and pre-bookable guided tours are also available.

Whilst in the area, check out our guide to things to do in and around Lulworth Cove here.

Address: Tout Hill, Longthorns, Wareham BH20 6HH
Opening hours: Open every day, (except Christmas Day) 10am to 5pm
Suggested duration: 2- 4 hours

Nothe Fort, Weymouth

Nothe Fort, WeymouthInstagram @nothefort

Nothe Fort is Weymouth's number one heritage visitor attraction offering something for all the family as well as fantastic views across the Jurassic coastline! 

Discover a maze of underground tunnels, a nuclear shelter, a museum, a parade ground, and large guns positioned high on the ramparts. Learn more of the fort's historical past and its role in protecting the Naval Harbour at Portland since 1860 and how advances in military technology changed the fort until its decommissioning in 1956.

There’s a wonderful cafe and fun trails to keep the children busy. Nothe Fort also hosts many fascinating events throughout the year; visit their website for further details.

Address: Barrack Rd, Weymouth DT4 8UF
Opening hours: Depends on the time of year – click here for the most up-to-date opening hours
Suggested duration: 2-3 hours

Dorset Museum, Dorchester

Dorset Museum, DorchesterImage from Dorset Museum website

The Dorset Museum, in Dorchester, is a place to discover over 250 million years of Dorset’s history. Uncover the county’s natural, historical and cultural heritage through the word-class collections on show.

The museum has internationally significant collections of archaeology, art, literature, geology, and natural and social history on display. There’s also an interesting collection on Dorset’s famous novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), where you can dive into key themes of his personal and professional life, as well as a beautiful gallery full of the museum’s collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and textiles.

Visitors can relax at the TASTE cafe here too – the perfect spot for a coffee after a fascinating few hours looking back at Dorset’s past.

Address: High W Street, Dorchester DT1 1XA
Opening hours: Open daily 9am - 4.30pm, Sundays 10am - 4.00pm and bank holidays 10am - 4pm.
Suggested duration: 1-2 hours

Map of Dorset attractions

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Stay with us in Dorset

Are you ready to book a holiday cottage in Dorset and discover these fantastic Dorset attractions for yourself? Browse our wide range of self-catering holiday homes and cottages today. From romantic cottages for a weekend escape, just for two, to larger properties for the whole family, we have a great selection of cottages in Dorset for your next break.

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.

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