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40 Free or cheap places to go with kids in Dorset

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Entertaining the kids during the summer holidays can be lots of fun but also costly.  Below is some ideas on free or cheap places to go and there's more coming soon!
 
Moors Valley Country Park is loved by many families and although there is a car parking fee you’ll find plenty to do for the day with long trails through the woods and play areas.  There’s also the mini steam railway, bike hire and special events however most of these incur a small charge.

For crafty kids the Dorset Scrapstore in Poole is packed full of supplies.  Pay a small annual fee to become a member and then each visit you’ll be able to get a bag of bits at a low cost.  Keep an eye out for children’s workshops running too!

If you are a National Trust member then you can gain free entry to Corfe Castle, Kingston Lacy, Brownsea Island (ferry costs apply) and also park for free at various locations across Dorset including the lovely beaches at Studland.

Museums are full of history and most even have additional activities and events running during the school holidays.  Free entry can be enjoyed at Poole Museum and Scaplens Court, Wareham Town Museum, Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, Gold Hill Museum in Shaftesbury, and the Bournemouth Natural Science Society which is open on selected dates throughout the year.

You can park at RSPB Arne for a small fee or for free if you are an RSPB member.  There’s a lovely walk down to the harbour’s edge and if you go first thing in the morning or later in the day then you might be lucky enough to see the deer in the fields or the woods.  There is also 2 fantastic Weymouth RSPB sites at Radipole Lake and Lodmoor.  Children will enjoy looking for birds and may even spot some cheeky otters.  Special events run during term time and the school holidays at all locations.  

Stour Valley Nature Reserve in Bournemouth has several pushchair friendly trails and a shallow stream perfect for paddling on a hot day.  For maps, information, coffee and cake you can visit the Kingfisher Barn which is found near the car park.  Special events are often held during term time and the school holidays.
 
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The Walled Garden at Moreton has free parking, 3 acres of landscaped gardens and a play area.  There’s also the Dovecote Café which sells delicious food and cakes plus you can make a day of it and also visit the Ford which is only a short stroll away.

Avon Heath Country Park has recently updated the play area plus there’s some really great trails, some short and others much longer.  Maps can be found in the Visitor Centre and there’s a café and ice cream parlour too.

Amusement Arcades can be fun and affordable if you stick to the 2p machines.  There are found at most seaside resorts with popular larger one’s at Bournemouth and Swanage Seafront, Poole Quay, Bowleaze Cove in Weymouth, West Bay and Lyme Regis.

Redhill Park in Bournemouth has a lovely paddling pool for the summer months, a play area and café.  Free parking can be found on many of the nearby roads.

The Parkland at the Littledown Centre in Bournemouth covers 47 acres with a paddling pool for the summer months, a play area and even a miniature railway which is normally open 2 or 3 days a week.  There’s also the ALTITDE high ropes course and activities within the leisure centre however these are charged.

Margaret Green Animal Rescue doesn’t charge an entrance fee however donations are greatly welcomed.  Nestled in the Purbeck Countryside, the animal rescue covers 35 acres and is home to cats, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and much more.

Hamworthy Park in Poole is set right by the waters edge and the huge paddling pool is due to re-open any day now after its major refurbishment.  There’s also a play area for the children and a café.

There is a car park at Bowleaze Cove and a long pebbly beach with a stream running through to the sea.  You’ll also find a play park behind the restaurant.  The Fantasy Island Fun Park often has special offers for wristbands which includes rides suitable for younger children and a soft play.  There’s also eateries, an ice cream parlour and amusement arcade.

Dorchester's Borough Gardens are just a few minutes walk from the Town Centre and there’s plenty of space for the children to enjoy themselves plus an enclosed play area, splash pool, tennis courts, toilets and refreshment kiosk.
 
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For green fingered children a trip to a Garden Centre can provide entertainment with lots of plants and flowers to look at.  Haskins in Ferndown and Goulds in Weymouth have a little play area, Wyevale in Wimborne has a soft play for little one’s and Stewarts in Wimborne has animals and a children’s play area.

Tout Quarry Sculpture Park in Portland started as an abandoned stone quarry.  The sculptures have been carved in situ and cover a large area with wonderful sea views.

Badbury Rings is an old Iron Age hill fort near Blandford Forum and perfect for a picnic and run around.

Halfway along the Rodwell Trail in Weymouth is Sandsfoot Castle which is set in beautiful formal gardens with stunning sea views.  

Upton Country Park in Poole has acres of ground to explore plus woodland walks, play areas and the popular splash fountains which are set to come on at certain times of the day.  There are normally children’s events planned for during the school holidays too.

Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth has a very good visitor centre with staff ready to tell you all about the wildlife and conservation in the area.  Take a stroll down to Mudeford Spit or catch the land train and sit back to enjoy the views.

We are so incredibly lucky to have so many long sandy Beaches in Dorset.  Just pack some food, buckets and spades, cozzies and towels and you’re set for a day of free fun!  Popular spots include Studland, Swanage, Weymouth and Lyme Regis plus Alum Chine and Sandbanks have the added bonus of a play park.

Barford Farm in Sturminster Marshall has a delightful garden which is open in the Spring and Summer months (weather permitting).  Treat the kids to an ice cream and enjoy the garden hideaways, flowers and fountains.  Please note – the ice cream shop is unable to take card payments.

There are several PYO Fruit Farms in Dorset or wait until August time and head off in search of blackberry bushes to make a wonderful pudding or banana and blackberry smoothies.

Kimmeridge Bay is accessible via a toll road costing £5*.  Before you visit check tide times and take nets to enjoy the rock pools.  There is also a long beach to wonder and fossils to be found!  The Marine Centre is worth a visit while you are there to learn about the area.

Entry to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free however as a charity donations are welcomed.  You’ll find an amazing fossil collection inside and find out how to discover your own fossils on the beach.  Regular events run through the year which include fossil hunting guided walks, fossil cast painting and fossil slice polishing.  Event prices do vary with some being very reasonable.

Tyneham Village was evacuated in 1943 during WWII when the area was needed for military training and has been deserted ever since.  You can wander around the buildings and read the many information boards about life back then.  If you have enough time and energy then you can also walk down to Worborrow Bay from here.  Please note that access to the village will be closed on certain days when  firing on the ranges takes place.  Opening dates and times can be found on the Dorset County Council Website.
 
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There are parking charges at Lulworth Cove and the walk from here to Durdle Door is tough, but worth it for the views.  There is also a very interesting visitor centre filled with displays, animations and films which tells the story of the Jurassic Coast.

Durlston Country Park in Swanage is a cliff top nature reserve perfect for wildlife spotting and walks.  The visitor centre, gallery and restaurant are all housed in a renovated Victorian Castle.  Entry to the Country Park is free however parking charges apply.

Christchurch Splash Park is a big hit with lots of families and this year they have some new fishy additions to play with.  There is also public car parking, toilets, eateries and a play park nearby. 

Crabbing is a pastime which many children enjoy and you only need a bucket, bait and line.  Popular places to go in Poole are on the Quay, Hamworthy Park and Lake Pier plus there's Mudeford Quay, Kimmeridge Bay, Ringstead Bay, Weymouth Harbour and West Bay.

Gulliver’s Farm Shop in West Moors has a lovely enclosed garden with a children’s tractor play area, playhouse and mud kitchen.  Wander the shop for local produce and enjoy the café serving fresh home baked cakes.

Make use of our wonderful Libraries, some of which have activities running during school holidays.

There are currently 57 Treasure Trails in Dorset with hundreds more across the Country.  Themes and walking distance vary but with most trails under £7* you could go on a great budget family adventure.

Fancy’s Family Farm on Portland is a community farm with plenty of animals to see and a play room for the children to enjoy.  There is no entry fee however donations are greatly received.  

Winspit Caves is worth the challenging walk from Worth Matravers car park.  This walk is not recommended with a buggy due to the steep hill but once you are at the old quarry you’ll be treated to magnificent rock formations and eerie caves.

Pamphill Dairy in Wimborne has a big field for the kids to run around and a play area.  There is also a fantastic café and farm shop selling local produce.

On a nice day the kids will be more than happy if you meet friends at a Pub with a Play Area.

The Plaza Cinema in Dorchester is small with an old fashioned feel but tickets are very cheap and a great activity especially if it’s raining.
 
Wherever you go and whatever you do, have fun! xxx
 
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*Any prices, dates and details are subject to change and were correct at the time of writing.

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  1. Alexia Browning

    This is a brilliant list, thank you. I'd also like to add crabbing at Poole Quay, Muddeford or Swanage. A great way to spend a few hours!

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  2. Libby

    A great help! Thank you for pulling this together

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  3. Lisa

    Great article with lots of fantastic ideas. I just wanted to add Stourvale nature reserve. Donation parking and lovely clear waters that kids can splash in(shallow end) plus pond dipping, a cafe and climbing activities x

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