With all the lovely beaches along the Jurassic Coast you may not want to stray far from the seaside but if you fancy a change there’s lots of attractions for families in the area. Here’s a quick round-up, picked to all be within a 45 minute drive of the cottage. From Monkey World to the Tank Museum, a Sea Life Centre to local animal farms. And a bit of seaside fossil hunting too. Just click on the links to find out more, get directions and check opening times, some of the attractions are seasonal.
In and around Dorchester
The ancient county town of Dorchester is 16 miles away, roughly a 30 minute drive. Attractions include Thomas Hardy’s town house, shops, pretty streets and churches and child-friendly eating places. There are several little museums serving up an eclectic mix. These include a Dinosaur Museum, a Teddy Bear Museum, and Tutankhamun, Mummies and Terracotta Warriors exhibitions. Sadly these display copies rather than the actual Tutankhamun treasures, mummies or warriors. Individually they seem pricy given the size of the exhibits but you can get a saver ticket which combines entry to all five of them. The Dorset County Museum is better value. There’s also a military museum, Keep Museum.
Traces of Dorchester’s prehistoric roots include the Maumbury Rings and Maiden Castle, an ancient earthwork on the outskirts of the town. The largest iron age hillfort in Europe, Maiden Castle dominates the skyline and once protected hundreds of residents. Excavations have revealed occupation began more than 6,000 years ago. Have a climb, a walk and enjoy the superb views. Free entry and parking.
Near Dorchester is Kingston Maurward gardens and animal park, a grade II-listed gardens set around a large Georgian English country house (now an agricultural college). Children will especially love the animal park, with its pigs, alpacas, cows, ponies, sheep, ducks and hens and plenty of room to play and have a picnic.
Bridport and inland
Bridport Museum on South Street is worth popping into when you are in the town. It’s recently undergone a major refurbishment. Find out about Bridport’s history from prehistoric times onwards. There’s a special emphasis on the story of the rope and net making industry which has shaped many of the town’s streets and buildings. This informative little museum has free entry and is child-friendly with interactive exhibits and a dressing-up box.
Kingcombe Centre, a 25 minute drive inland from the cottage near Hooke, has natural history, wildlife, craft and art courses throughout the year. Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve surrounds it. The centre has activities such as pond dipping and nature walks for families and children. Have a look here to see if anything appeals.
In and around Wareham
Roughly a 45 minute drive from the cottage, Monkey World in Wareham is a monkey sanctuary, a rescue centre, for primates. It has decent sized enclosures for the animals and a very large outdoor adventure playground for children. A perfect outing for any monkey fan.
West of Wareham, the Tank Museum in Bovington (again about 45 minutes drive) is, not surprisingly, a museum with lots and lots of tanks. Good for a rainy day if you like tanks, or you know someone who does.
Also near Wareham is Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park. Loads for young kids to see and do with lots of animals and activities including go-carts and pedal tractors.
Heading west along the coast
The Jurassic Coast is where you’ll find some of the best fossil hunting in the UK and Charmouth is the very best place to start. Entry to Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free and it’s packed with interactive displays and fun things to do. There’s a fossil display which contains some remarkable finds. You can rent a hammer to hunt on your own or follow a guided walk led by one of the centre’s experts. Either way it’s a great day out and will always reveal exciting finds. Book online for a fossil hunting walk or rock pool ramble. But be careful, the cliffs around Charmouth are very unstable.
Lyme Regis is a lovely town for families to visit and in particular it’s a good place for fossil and dinosaur enthusiasts. In 1811, after a storm caused parts of Lyme Regis’ East Cliff to collapse, Mary Anning, twelve years old and already a keen fossil-hunter, discovered a complete dinosaur skeleton, an ichthyosaur over 5 metres long. There are two museums in Lyme with fossil exhibits, Dinosaurland Fossil Museum and the Lyme Regis Museum. One of the buildings on the Cobb houses an aquarium too.
Heading east along the coast
Situated near Burton Bradstock, The Jurassic Fun Centre at Freshwater Beach Holiday Park is a handy rainy day destination. Activities include a fun pool with slides and a ten-pin bowling alley.
Keep going along the beautiful coast road to Swyre and you reach Vurlands Animal Farm. This is a family run business suitable for a day out with young children. There are plenty of farm animals to see, a play area, and, in the summer months, a free bouncy castle. It’s wheelchair and buggy friendly. Your ticket is valid for a further seven days for free re-entry. The Eggcup Tearooms are on site for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
Go further east along the coast to Abbotsbury where you’ll find two superb attractions located within the village, Subtropical Gardens and the Swannery. If possible visit the Swannery during cygnet hatching time between mid May and the end of June. The gardens have spooky illuminated fright nights near Halloween. You can buy a passport ticket which allows two visits to the Abbotsbury attractions.
On Portland there’s Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve. Entry and parking is free. An abandoned quarry has been turned into an sculpture park, the sculptures carved in the Portland stone. It’s an atmospheric place with lovely views over Chesil Beach and Lyme Bay. The park is a maze of pathways through the quarry with sculptures dotted around. Keep your eyes peeled to spot them! The hidden sculptures include a fish, a Viking boat and the famous “falling man” by Antony Gormley. Wear decent shoes. Afterwards you could head out to Portland Bill, the most southerly part of Dorset, to see the red and white lighthouse and the waves crashing around Pulpit Rock.
Weymouth makes a good day trip. The Sea Life Adventure Park is a facinating aquarium, with general tickets including access to the Jurassic Skyline viewing tower. The park has a new play area called Caribbean Cove. It includes a splash zone so pack swimming costumes even if you are not planning on a beach day.
Alternatively the Victorian Nothe Fort, located at the entrance to Weymouth Harbour, is a labyrinth of (apparently haunted) underground passageways and outdoor areas with plenty of space for children to run free. The interactive exhibits are full of interesting facts about the fort, the harbour and Weymouth as well as more general military history. Kids love finding the hidden mice too! It has a brilliant view over the harbour from the ramparts.
If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.