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 we’ve tried to narrow it down for you. 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. 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.
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.
This centre 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.
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.
St Aldhelms Head 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.
Smugglers’ Way is another circular walk, this time from Worth Matravers to Seacombe. You walk down the valley through fields from Worth Matravers 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 for anyone of their holidays.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Need somewhere to stay in Swanage?
Inspired to take a trip to Swanage? Look at our cottages in Swanage and throughout the Purbeck peninsula here.
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!