Kingston Maurward Animal Park and Gardens in Dorchester are currently offering free admission however this may change in the future so it is recommended that you check before travelling. There are wonderful gardens to explore, an outdoor play area, indoor play barn, cafe and lots of animals to see including sheep, goats, ponies, ferrets and guinea pigs.
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 a restaurant, mini steam railway*, bike hire*, Go Ape* and special events during the holidays.
West Bay Discovery Centre is an award winning attraction and free to visit however donations help meet running costs. The informative visitor centre tells the stories of West Bay both past and present.
Museums are full of history and most have additional activities and events running during the school holidays. Free entry can be enjoyed at Wareham Town Museum, Red House Museum in Christchurch, Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, Gold Hill Museum in Shaftesbury, and the Bournemouth Natural Science Society which is open on selected dates throughout the year. Poole Museum is also free however it is currently closed for a refurb until 2024.
There are 2 fantastic Weymouth RSPB reserves at Radipole Lake and Lodmoor which are free to explore. Children will enjoy looking for birds and may even spot some cheeky otters. You can also visit RSPB Arne which offers woodland walks which take you down to the waters edge however admission is now priced per person. 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 free to use car park. Special events and trails are often held during term time and the school holidays.
The Walled Garden at Moreton has free entry and free parking however donations are always greatly appreciated. You’ll find 3 acres of landscaped gardens, animals 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 are 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 the larger one’s located on 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 plus a play area and café. Free parking can be found on many of the nearby roads.
Margaret Green Animal Rescue doesn’t charge an entrance fee however donations are 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. If you would like to read more, please visit our Margaret Green Animal Rescue Blog Post.
Bowleaze Cove has a long sand and pebbly beach with a stream running through to the sea. There is also a small funfair which is ideal for younger children, soft play, restaurant, ice cream parlour and amusement arcade.
Dorchester Borough Gardens is 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 area, tennis courts, toilets and refreshment kiosk.
For green fingered children a trip to a Garden Centre can provide entertainment with lots of plants and flowers to look at. Dobbies in Owermoigne has a small soft play* and Stewarts in Wimborne has a lovely outdoor area with a play frame and animals which should keep the children busy while you enjoy a nice cup of tea.
Walking the Lawrence of Arabia Trail will take you over Moreton Ford, though Moreton Plantation and delightful woodland areas. If you would like to read more about the trail, please see our Lawrence of Arabia Trail Blog Post.
Tout Quarry Sculpture Park started as an abandoned stone quarry and is a wonderful place to wander for a couple of hours. The sculptures have been carved in situ and cover a large area and the sea views are incredible. To read more, please see our Tout Quarry Blog Post.
Badbury Rings is an old Iron Age hill fort near Blandford Forum and perfect for a picnic and run around.
The Rodwell Trail in Weymouth is a 3.5km long path which travels along the old railway line and Sandsfoot Castle.
Upton Country Park in Poole has 160 acres of parkland, woodland, shoreline and formal estate gardens to explore plus play areas and the popular summer 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. Costs apply for the car park and some special events.
Hengistbury Head has a very good visitor centre and staff are 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. The Hikers Café and toilets can be found by the car park.
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.
Locals are 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 Bournemouth, Studland, Swanage, Weymouth and Lyme Regis plus Alum Chine and Sandbanks have the added bonus of a play park.
Kimmeridge Bay is accessible via a toll road.* Before you visit check tide times and take nets to enjoy the rock pools. There is also a long beach and if you look carefully you might even find a fossil! The Marine Centre is worth a visit while you are there to learn about the area.
Hidden away in the Purbeck area is the Spyway Dinosaur Footprints. These incredible footprints were made 145 million years ago and can be easily accessed from the nearby Priest’s Way walking trail, which is located a short walk from the village of Worth Matravers.
Entry to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free however as a charity they appreciate donations. You’ll find an amazing fossil collection inside and you can 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.*
Tyneham Village was evacuated in 1943 during WWII when the area was needed for military training and has been deserted ever since. You can walk 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.
There are parking charges at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door but walking from one to the other is well worth it for the views. There is also a very interesting visitor centre located near the Lulworth Cove car park and this is 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.
Crabbing is a pastime which many children enjoy and you only need a bucket, bait and line. Popular places to go are Poole Quay, Hamworthy Park, Lake Pier, Mudeford Quay, Kimmeridge Bay, Ringstead Bay, Weymouth Harbour and West Bay.
The Parkland at the Littledown Centre in Bournemouth covers 47 acres of green space 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.
Hamworthy Park in Poole is set right by the waters edge so children can enjoy the short beach, play park and large shallow paddling pool. Toilets and a cafe can be found nearby too. To read more, please see our Hamworthy Park Blog Post.
The walk from Coy Pond to Bournemouth Pier is great in all seasons. There’s lots of beautiful trees and flowers to see, little red bridges to walk over and there’s even a play park just before you reach the Lower Gardens.
Gulliver’s Farm Shop in West Moors has a lovely garden with a play area for children to enjoy and animals to see. While you are there, head to the shop for local produce and enjoy the café serving fresh home baked cakes and local dishes.
Make use of our wonderful Libraries, some of which have free activities running during school holidays.
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, farm shop selling local produce and an ice cream parlour.
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.
The Plaza Cinema in Dorchester is small with an old fashioned feel but tickets are much cheaper than other cinemas in Dorset.
For crafty kids the Dorset Scrapstore in Poole is packed full of art supplies and recycled materials. Pay a small annual fee to become a member and then each visit you’ll be able to get a bag of craft materials at a low cost. Keep an eye out for children’s workshops running too.
Christchurch Quomps is a big hit with lots of families as there’s lots of wildlife to see, a play park and splash park.
Thorncombe Woods Nature Reserve in Dorchester covers 64 acres of woodland and heath with a great diversity of trees and plants. Running through the site is a well preserved Roman road and you’ll also find plenty of wildlife in the area including ponies, grass snakes and amphibians. The site is also close to Hardy's Cottage which is the birthplace of novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.
The Great Field in Poundbury has an impressive new play area which was based on Poundbury itself. There’s huge play structures, play towers, tunnel slides, climbing wall, high ropes course, swings, a wooden horse and carriage, a low play structure with seating underneath and water play feature with pumps and damns. The southern part of the field also has sports pitches, multi-use games area and outdoor gym equipment plus there’s a mile long walking, running or cycling track around the field. Pavilion in the Park is a family and dog friendly cafe which serves drinks, homemade cakes and dishes of the day.
The team at Wimborne DSME have open days on the miniature railway on the 1st & 3rd Sunday of each month from Easter through to Halloween. Rides are free however donations are welcomed.
Milldown Nature Reserve in Blandford Forum is a great spot for nature walks through the meadow and woodland area. The reserve is close to the North Dorset Trailway so it can be combined with a longer walk or visit the River Stour nearby to see if you can spot a kingfisher or otter. There’s also free parking and a great play area with picnic benches, play frames and a zip slide.
Poole Park covers a large area and within it you’ll find the boating lake, miniature railway, 2 play areas, The Ark which has a café, soft play* and pottery painting parlour* plus The Kitchen Restaurant and Scoops which serves fabulous ice creams. There’s 3 free car parks within Poole Park and additional parking in surrounding roads but always check the parking restrictions.
Walking up Colmers Hill takes about 45 minutes but once you’re at the top you’ll be treated with wonderful views of Symondbsury and beyond.
The Parks Foundation is a wonderful charity which delivers community projects and events in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch parks and green spaces. During the holidays there are normally multiple nature based activities for children to enjoy and the best bit is that they’re mostly free.
Maiden Castle in Dorchester is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Europe and covers a whopping 47 acres. The site has multiple ramparts, high banks and ditches and dates back to the 1st century BC.
Some Splash Parks and Paddling Pools have been mentioned already but there are more to explore and most are open from May until the end of summer.
On a nice day the kids will be more than happy if you meet friends at a Pub with a Play Area.
Whatever you do and wherever you go we hope you have lots of fun!
*Costs may apply.
Please note: Any prices, dates and details are subject to change and were correct at the time of writing.