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15 family-friendly things to do in Dorset

School's (almost) out and right on time, here's our pick of the fun stuff to do over the summer for you and the fam, from sailing on a classic ship to a game of footgolf

1 Sail on a classic tall ship

Weigh the anchor! Hoist the mainsail ! All hands on deck of the Moonfleet, a steel-hulled ship built in the 1930s to take goods from Amsterdam to other North Sea ports. The ship now sets sail from Portland Marina and heads out into Weymouth Bay and along the Dorset coast on all sorts of trips, from an hour to a full day, with a 10% family discount.

2 Make like a knight

Lulworth Castle

Your archetypal ruined castle, the dramatic 1000-year-old Corfe Castle, partially destroyed during the English Civil War in 1646, is fun to scramble over, with arrow slits, murder holes and great views of the surrounding Isle of Purbeck. Other Dorset castles include the 17th century Lulworth Castle (above) close to Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast; the ruined Sherborne Old Castle, once lived in by Sir Walter Rayleigh before he built his own pad Sherborne Castle next door (more of a mansion than a trad castle); and Henry VIII’s coastal fort, Portland Castle, overlooking Portland Harbour.

3 Take an alpaca for a walk

Meet, feed and take a walk through the Dorset countryside with one of these friendly and mild mannered camelids at Hope Farm Alpaca Rescue near Dorchester. Book with Portland Alpacas and you’ll take in views of the Jurassic coast en route.

4 Shimmy up those high ropes

Sky high rope adventures at The Tunnel Treetops, 15 acres of woodland just outside the seaside village of Charmouth in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and at Go Ape at the Moors Valley Country Park, nestled between the New Forest and the south coast beaches.

5 Hunt for fossils

Ammonite at Lyme Regis, Mark Godden, Shutterstock

The Jurassic coast is famed for its fossils – ammonites (above), belamnites, ichthyosaur verterbra and the like – but for the richest pickings head to Charmouth which has a Heritage Centre where you can see fossils, find out more about them and book a guided fossil walk, and Monmouth Beach or Church Cliff Beach at Lyme Regis (birthplace of Mary Anning who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton).

6 Get tanked


One of the world’s best collections of tanks and other armoured vehicles – nine exhibitions covering 100 years of history, with 300 vehicles from 26 nations – is here in Dorset at The Tank Museum in Bovington. As well as the exhibitions, there are tanks in action displays, rides, trails, hands-on games and interactives and more.

7 All aboard a steam train

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Thomas The Tank Engine or Hogwarts Express? Take a ride on a steam train on the Swanage Railway, from the blue flag beach seaside resort of Swanage to Corfe Castle and back again.

8 Explore a ghost village

Back in 1943, the residents left Tyneham near Lulworth, so the village could be used as an army training ground and they never returned. Today mooch around the ruined cottages, schoolhouse and the church and then pootle 20 mins down a path to Worbarrow Bay, a spectacular yet little known cove.

9 Spot a (red) squirrel

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Jump on a foot ferry from Poole Quay to National Trust-owned Brownsea Island and see if you can spot any of the 200 rare red squirrels that live there. Signs to watch for: the sound of squirrels scurrying up and down tree trunks; untidy balls of sticks, mosses, leaves and grasses in the forks of branches (their nests); leftover cones (not the ice cream variety) left on the ground; squirrels feeding on the woodland floor in the hot weather. Guided walks, family trails, picnic spots and camping.

10 Spend a day on the beach

With 100 miles of coastline – including 25 Blue Flag and Seaside Award beaches – whatever kind of beach you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in here in Dorset. From bucket and spade beaches to hidden coves; from the soft golden sands of Bournemouth, Mudeford (above), Weymouth, Studland and Swanage to the pebbly/shingley Lulworth Cove, Ringstead Bay, West Bay and Burton Bradstock.

11 Play a round of footgolf

Kick start the hols with a game of the pitch ‘n’ putt/football combo. You’ve not heard of Footgolf? There’s a national association, you know. At Jurassic Footgolf, you kick footballs (not hit golfballs) around the 9-hole meadow style course set over 5 acres at the top of Lyme Regis. No need to book; just rock up, pay and play. Open every day during the school hols, from 10am-5pm.

12 Bounce around on giant floating obstacle courses

Boiiiing! Adults and kids alike can tackle giant obstacle courses on two lakes surrounded by 18-acres of woodland at the Dorset Adventure Park. with the ruins of Corfe Castle as a backdrop. Wetsuits and shoes can be hired; there’s a mud run, space for picnics and a shack selling snacks (last time I visited, there was delicious homemade Dorset apple cake).

13 Cool off down in the cells

Dress up in the courtroom, go down to the cells and use the interactive guides to discover the stories of the people who’ve stood trial at the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Dorchester. Over the summer, kids only pay a quid to get in (but how much will they have to pay you to let them out?).

14 Jump off the top of a tower

Launch yourself and the kids off the 25m high Zip tower – the world’s first pier-to-shore zip wire – at RockReef on Bournemouth Pier, and whizz 250m across the sea before landing on the beach at the other end. If you dare. There are five other adrenaline-drenched activities to try, while you’re there.

15 Swan around

Established by Benedictine monks in the 11th century to provide swan meat for their banquets, Abbotsbury Swannery near Weymouth, is the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world and one of Dorset’s unique experiences. The swans, giant willow maze, swinging nests, play area, cafe and gift shop should keep everyone busy.

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