If you’re thinking of heading to Dorset, look at our list below of the best things to do in Swanage for a little south coast holiday inspiration. It’s a small seaside town marking the eastern end of the world-famous Jurassic Coast and is very popular for its sandy beaches and coastal walks. On a visit, you’ll find it has a working steam railway, historic pier and plays host to many events and festivals throughout the year.
For a quieter holiday destination, you could head to either Worth Matravers or Langton Matravers, both found immediately west of Swanage, both were originally quarrying villages. Langton Matravers is up the hill from Swanage and Worth Matravers is an iconic Dorset village with a legendary pub only a short way further west.
There is so much for visitors to the area to enjoy in and around this seaside town, so if you're wondering what to do during your short time here, we’ve tried to narrow it down for you. From tourist attractions such as the Swanage Railway and interesting places to visit all along the Jurassic coast and inland, we have found out lots of things for you to do in and around Swanage. It was difficult as there’s so much choice! Read on to find out our top ten things to do in Swanage.
The Swanage Railway is a central part of life here and a key point of interest to visit. With the station located in the heart of town, you can hear the whistles and see the steam as you wander through its streets. Enjoy a ride through the Purbeck countryside on a 6-mile journey to Corfe Castle by steam train as it would have been in yesteryear, or on occasion, a diesel train is available to take you further out to Wareham.
For something extra special, you could book your loved one a driver experience, enjoy dinner aboard one of the dining cars or attend one of the many other events held throughout the year.
You could also: get on your bike and discover the dreamy Dorset countryside on two wheels. Bring your own bike with you or hire one from Cycle Experience at Norden and explore the many trails across the county.
Durlston Country Park is a 320-acre national nature reserve on the edge of Swanage. Start your day at Durlston Castle with a stop by its visitor centre, shop and café/restaurant. Later, set off across the park following the walking trails to explore the park.
You’ll soon come to breathtaking views of the ocean, the dramatic cliffs, and the gentle rolling meadows filled with wildlife. End your visit with a trip to the lighthouse which is an iconic Swanage landmark and the perfect place for a holiday photo.
You could also: visit the beautiful Brownsea Island, which offers wonderful views, history and wildlife including rare red squirrels and various birds.
For more wonderful walks across Dorset, have a read of our Dorset coastal walks guide where you will find some of the best walks that the Jurassic Coast has to offer.
This centre in Swanage teaches traditional stone carving skills to visitors of all ages and you can choose the length of your course to create your masterpiece. You aren’t limited to stone either, Burngate Centre provides a varied schedule of other art and rural craft courses and family activities.
Once your course is finished, you can browse the craft shop or enjoy a coffee and cake in the tearoom while taking in the phenomenal view across Swanage and the seafront, to the Isle of Wight beyond.
You could also: pop into the Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre to uncover the story of the town from the time of dinosaurs and the Jurassic Coast to it becoming a popular seaside resort and though the Second World War.
If there was a nationally recognised go-to for coasteering then Purbeck would probably be the place. The dramatic cliffs make a spectacular backdrop to those brave enough to go exploring the coast.
There are numerous companies that operate off the Purbeck cliffs and who often choose to concentrate their coasteering activities at Dancing Ledge. Two local companies to try out are: Land and Wave and Cumulus.
See a whole different aspect of the Jurassic Coast by jumping off ledges and into the sea.
You could also: try kayaking, canoeing and raft racing if you like your activities water-based, and climbing, abseiling and mountain biking if you prefer to stay on dry land. Try Cumulus activities for some lessons.
St Aldhelms Head, just 6 miles south of Swanage is the most southerly point of the Purbeck Coast. With a Norman chapel, coastguard lookout and a line of white cottages, it is an iconic Purbeck landmark.
Yet there is more to this place than meets the eye. The caves and tunnels have provided an otherworldly backdrop for various sci-fi films and are home to the rare greater horseshoe bat, while the plateau above was the location of secret wartime developments in radar technology.
Take the circular walk from Worth Matravers where, on return, you can enjoy a well-earned rest at the tearooms.
You could also: Soak up the sun on the 4-mile long sandy Swanage beach, backed by a promenade hut lined with glittering amusements and attractions. Hire a deck chair to sit back with a book, or a pedalo if you fancy getting out on the water.
Bringing a four-legged friend with you? Check out our guide to dog-friendly beaches and attractions across Dorset. It's not just beaches in Dorset, though the wide expanses of sand do tend to top most canines' holiday plans! You can also visit country parks, model villages and even ride a vintage railway. Read our guide to find out more.
Smugglers’ Way is another circular walk, this time from Worth Matravers to Seacombe. You walk down the valley through fields from Worth Matravers, just a 6-mile drive, along to Winspit Cove, a disused quarry famous for its caves which were used as a backdrop for Doctor Who in the 1960s and ‘70s. This cove boasts a limestone lagoon, great for swimming and snorkelling in good weather, making it the perfect stop on any holiday.
After visiting the cove, head eastwards along the South West Coast Path to Seacombe – a rocky limestone ledge that’s also great more swimming. You can then either extend your walk to Dancing Ledge or return to Worth Matravers by heading up the valley.
You could also: follow a different type of trail - an art trail! Try Swanage Seen Art Trail which follows a trail of paintings of Swanage by famous artists.
For another fascinating point of interest, head 12 miles west to Tyneham where you can visit Dorset's very own ghost village. Read our guide first to discover why the War Office needed this seaside village during the second world war and why it is still deserted.
Tucked away in a pedestrianised lane in the centre of Swanage is Dorset’s answer to Willy Wonka’s factory – a chocoholic’s heaven. The handmade chocolates at Chococo are to die for, and you can either buy from the shop to indulge in chocolate treats at home or enjoy their Chocolate Kitchen opposite. They even have chocolate workshops where you can learn their secrets – no ‘golden ticket’ required.
You could also: have a browse around Purbeck Artisan Yard in Wareham, a community of local artists, crafters, vintage collectors, printmakers and more. They too offer workshops but this time, you won't put on any calories!
The Cabin is Swanage’s best-kept secret. Tucked away at the eastern end of Swanage is this great café set right on the beach.
Famous for its lobster ’n’ crab burger which is a must-try, as well as its fantastic location, this café caters for everyone enjoying a day at the seaside. You can dine al fresco at the chairs and tables they provide outside, or you can just order a takeaway to eat down on the award-winning sandy beach.
You could also: have a bite to eat at the café on the restored Victorian pier - after a yummy snack, you can stroll down arm-in-arm, visiting the exhibition and shop as you go.
Gee Whites is an al fresco seafood restaurant on the quay in the centre of Swanage. This is a great spot to watch the harbour’s comings and goings and relax as the world goes by.
Make sure you head upstairs as many people miss is the extra seating area that offers a fantastic view right across the bay. Up here, you can take in the coastal sights while hiding away from the crowds.
You could also: have an amazingly tasty fry-up at The Salt Pig in Swanage. Using pork from their own rare breed pigs, you can be sure that you will be getting the best quality in the area.
Many people refer to this pub as the best pub in the world. Well, it's the best one we know anyway and it’s certainly popular among the Swanage locals.
The bar is a small hatch in the wall where you can find a selection of cider and real ale as well as homemade pies and pasties on paper plates. Add in the amazing view down the valley to the sea, the fossil museum, the large stone tables and benches outside, the chickens wandering around, and the many events on offer throughout the year, and this becomes a must-visit pub in an iconic Dorset village.
You could also: head 4 miles along the coast to The Bankes Arms in Studham, an old smuggler's haunt with gorgeous sea views.
TOURIST INFORMATION: Find out more about this area and places to visit at the Swanage Information Centre, located at The White House in Shore Road.
Need somewhere to stay in Swanage?
When it's time to retire for the night, you will need somewhere welcoming to lay your head. We have a wide selection of cottages in and around Swanage to choose from.
Are you bringing little ones? Then have a look at our family-friendly properties - some even have great games rooms to keep younger family members occupied. Try Seaforth in Worth Matravers, just 4 miles from Swanage - this excellent contemporary property sleeping 10 guests and a four-legged family member is a light and spacious retreat with fabulous views of the sea and the picturesque Purbeck Hills. Older kids will love the games room with pool table and table tennis and little ones will have lots of fun on the enclosed lawn with trampoline and play area including swings and slide, swingball and croquet.
Or perhaps you are looking for a luxurious property where you can take a couple of canines? They do exist, and as proof, we can offer you various dog-friendly holiday homes where elegance and grandeur are not forgotten. How about a couple of gorgeous traditional stone properties in the idyllic Dorset village of Corfe Castle? Not only do they boast enough space for all the family or a large group of friends, but they can also be booked together for up to 30 guests - an excellent choice for a much-awaited family reunion or a fabulously festive Christmas celebration. Two dogs are welcome in each, so that's up to four hounds welcome to join in the luxury!
If you want to find out more about these delightful two properties, have a look at Well Court and Well Court & Cottage - both just 6 miles from Swanage.
For more luxury properties, have a flick through our guide to 5 of our best luxury cottages in Dorset which actually features two of our aforementioned properties! You can also check out all of our cottages in Swanage and find the right one for you.
There’s so much more to this section of the Dorset coast. If you know of any other fantastic Swanage attractions that should be on our list, let us know!