Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.
As much as holidays are relaxing and the perfect time for family and friends to come together, parents are often faced with the dilemma of how to fill their days without it costing the earth! There are so many activities now available for families but they do add up, especially if you have three or four children. Luckily, the beautiful county of Dorset has a whole host of free or affordable options right on its doorstep. It may mean spending more time preparing things but isn't that what family holidays are for? You may find that much of the fun is in bringing everybody together to get ready for days out!
Think back to your childhood holidays, where days were endless and you couldn't bear to go inside. Where you just grabbed a rounders bat and ball and used your jumpers as posts, flew kites and lay back on the grass looking up at the sky, just laughing and talking about nothing. Win Green Hill is the place to take your children back to tthoseheady days and it will cost you hardly a penny. Head to Shaftesbury first for the best fish and chips in the area and then take them to the hill wrapped in newspaper if you can wait that long! Bring a few large bottles of lemonade from home in a cooler and just have a marvellous day out as a family, eating and drinking, looking out over the Dorset and Wiltshire countryside. Children can explore and climb trees in the round ancient beech corpse and you can all play hide and seek, little ones with an adult or older sibling. Then go on a hunt for colourful butterflies, mushrooms and wildflowers and take photos to put in holiday diaries once home.
- Little or large? From babes in arms to teenagers
- Can we take the dog too? Absolutely but please keep them under control around livestock and wildlife
- Is the price right? Completely free apart from the fish and chips, but you do have to eat!
This hidden lagoon-type lake in the middle of the forest is an amazing spot for a day out. It is a natural water feature that constantly changes colour – each day is different from the next. You can't swim in the lake but it is a great afternoon out with three play areas and special fairy doors for children to find on the Red Route trail around the lake. Do the squirrel hunt (there are model squirrels in the trees!) and get the children to make forest journals of things that they collect such as leaves and twigs. At the end of the hunt, they are given a certificate from the Teahouse which they can store in their holiday diaries. After all that exertion, sit down with the children by the lake and enjoy a cupcake and juice brought from home. Before you leave, pop into the Museum and the Wareham Bears, a collection of over 200 adorable miniature bears all dressed up in little houses, stables and shops.
- Little or large? Suitable for all ages but great for school age kids who can impress their physics teacher explaining how they saw light diffraction of the clay suspension in the lake!
- Can we take the dog too? Yes but please keep them on leads
- Is the price right? Kids go free but adults (16+) are £7.00 each
Perfect for little ones who love our furry friends, Putlake is a proper working farm with lots of different animals to see – some of which you can even hold or bottle feed! There are also go-karts, a playground, trampolines and for a bite to eat, tearooms or picnic areas. Inside is a huge soft play area, ideal for energetic tiny tots with lots of colourful slides and tunnels to play on. Tractor rides are also available which makes this a really fun family day out.
- Little or large? Better for under 12's
- Can we take the dog too? No, due to close proximity to animals
- Is the price right? £28.50 for a family of four with additional children at £7.75 each. While this activity isn't free, it is a whole day out and the children will be exhausted at the end of it. To minimise cost, you can make your own farmyard-themed picnic to take and also take soft drinks and snacks for the rest of the day
A really fun village and castle with lots to do, including battle re-enactments and other fascinating events throughout the year. Children can let their imaginations run wild as they find their way around the dramatic ruins, searching for secret places and fallen fortress walls. There is a shop just a stone's throw from the castle – why not get the children to buy a postcard each to send to their family and friends? Take different coloured pencils with you so that you can sit on the hills and write them together. There is also a traditional sweet shop in the village of Corfe Castle, with lots of original sweeties and lashings of ginger beer that children can spend their holiday money on. Remember to pack a picnic to take with you and lots of snacks so that you don't have to buy them throughout the day. In Corfe Castle, you can grab a family guide to make the most of your visit, which includes a quiz and trail to keep children interested and focused. The Wildlife Walk is wonderful for little feet and watch their faces light up as butterflies follow them around and fluffy white sheep come up to say hello. Older visitors may remember that this castle was featured in the 1970s film Nuts In May.
- Little or large? All ages
- Can we take the dog too? Pooches are welcome and will enjoy the views as much as you will!
- Is the price right? Family tickets are £21 approximately, depending on the time of year
One of the most photographed beaches on the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door Beach with its famous rock arch jutting out into the sea brings visitors from all over the world. The beach has excellent water quality and the aquamarine sea invites to you have a paddle and to fill the buckets of sea water needed for that all-important sandcastle! Take children back in time to beach outings that you enjoyed as a child – fill a basket with banana sandwiches and sausage rolls which will of course end up slightly squashed and a bit sandy! Bring out bottles of blackcurrant juice and water and big bags of crunchy ready salted crisps that give you a taste of the salty sea beyond. This is family picnicking at its best! Bear in mind that toilet facilities are in scarce supply along this stretch of coast so allow little ones to go before you leave the car parks in Lulworth Cove.
- Little or large? All ages – little ones can paddle and build sandcastles and older children can swim and do water sports. Be aware that there are no lifeguards and that the beach shelves sharply in places so adult supervision is necessary at all times
- Can we take the dog too? Yes, they will love the feeling of sand between their paws although check restrictions in summer
- Is the price right? The price is certainly right at Durdle Door as it's completely free. The only expense is if you fancy an ice-cream from the kiosk in high summer – much recommended!
You just have to experience this amazing adrenaline-filled day out! Hop aboard the Sea Spirit inflatable boat as she whizzes you along the Jurassic Coast. Choose between the 30-minute RIB Ride which will thrill both adults and children alike or the 50 minute Jurassic Coast Cruise which is slightly more sedate. Relax aboard and photograph the iconic coast line while the kids take selfies to send their friends. The lovely crew also take some photos during the trip which you can then see free of charge on their website when you get home.
- Little or large? All ages over 5. Safety is taken seriously by the crew so no need to worry
- Can we take the dog too? Pets are allowed in the area but they certainly won't feel the need for speed!
- Is the price right? From £12 (children under 12) and £15 (adults). This isn't the cheapest of our selection but would be a special day out in between cheaper beach days, or perfect if your family isn't too large
Make a splash at the Dolphin Leisure Centre! There are three swimming pools and lots of water activities as well as a swim school for those who are still learning. This is a great afternoon out if you have organised a day at the seaside and the weather has let you down. At least you will be able to offer the children something water-based; once they get there and have fun splashing about, they will forget all about the beach!
- Little or large? Perfect for all ages
- Can we take the dog too? While we are sure that your dog loves a swim, this isn't the place!
- Is the price right? Yes! Adults are £4.55 and children £2
Choo-choo back in time as you experience the Littledown Miniature Railway. Mini trainspotters can hop aboard one of the locomotives and take in the surrounding scenery sitting atop these lovely vintage trains. There are limited hours and days for this so do make sure that you check in advance. Afterwards, head over to the park where toddlers can splash about in the paddling pool and older children can have fun in the playground. Take them to look at the ducks in the duck pond and see how many they can count, then enjoy a picnic on the grass before heading back home.
- Little or large? Babies to 12 years old, although there is no age limit for the trains!
- Can we take the dog too? Yes in some areas of the park but not on the railway
- Is the price right? Just £1.00 - we can't say fairer than that! The park is free so the only expense would be an ice-cream
This award-winning hub of activity offers adventures galore for children. Regardless of the weather, you can be guaranteed a brilliant fun-packed day out. With soft play zones and different levels of adventure packed with tunnels, slides and interactive zones, there is something for everyone. Babies and toddlers have their own special zone and parents can see what their children are up to from the indoor and outdoor seating areas. If teenagers are tagging along, get them off their phones and onto the ice skating rink where you can show them what you are made of (or embarrass them, however you want to look at it). Finish off with an ice-cream sundae before you head back home.
- Little or large? From babies up to 12 years old and any age at the ice-skating rink
- Can we take the dog too? No - there is nothing fun for dogs to do here!
- Is the price right? Only children pay in the soft play area and it is free for infants and adults, £5.00 for under 3's and £6.00 for over 3's. Ice-skating for an hour is £5 for children including skate hire and £6.00 for adults
This gorgeous beach with its soft golden sands has been awarded both Green and Blue Flag awards and is also home to the sumptuous Tropical Gardens. There is a paddling pool for youngsters and a pirate-themed playground which is an added bonus. There are lifeguards on duty over the summer and it is a very safe place to swim - great for teaching little ones in water wings. The famous seafront land trains operate daily over the summer and on weekends during the winter so you can also head down by train. As always, a beach picnic is the most economical way to go and there are drinking water areas provided. If you need a pick me up at the end of the day, walk to the nearby Giggi Gelateria for a gelato ice cream – you'll definitely get bonus points for that!
- Little or large? Perfect for all ages
- Can we take the dog too? Yes, but bear in mind hot days and hot dogs don't mix. There are also some restrictions
- Is the price right? Yes because it's completely free although you will have to pay to park nearby and for the land train
Take a holiday in Dorset and discover all of these wonderful things to do with the family!