It’s a hard pick, but Dorset may be the most interesting county within England. The fact that there is plenty of things to do in Poole and surrounds, only adds to its appeal. Read on to find out what you should do when visiting Poole and Dorset.
Dorset is a stunning county with a lot to offer visitors – particularly those based in and around Poole.
There’s a strong history to the area, both natural and man-made.
Within Poole you can explore gorgeous gardens, have a great night out and learn about the history of one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
Beyond, you can go fossil hunting, explore cute country towns, take in some breathtaking beaches and check out the World Heritage listed Jurassic Coastline.
In this guide we’ll cover things to do in Poole and the surrounding countryside. Let’s dive straight in.
Is Poole worth visiting?
Not only is Poole incredibly picturesque – it has a rich history. It’s best known for its massive harbour and remains an entry point in and out of the United Kingdom.
Poole is best experienced as a weekend getaway, especially if you’re coming from London. This will give you enough time all that the town and surrounds have to offer.
Things to do in Poole & County Dorset
1. Take a cruise of the harbour & nearby Jurassic Coast
The number one thing to do in Poole in my opinion, is to take a cruise out of the Harbour to ogle the Jurassic Coast.
The World Heritage Site stretches out at a distance of 154 km (96 miles) along the southern coast of England, bordering the English Channel.
This ancient coast is littered with arches, pinnacles, coves and stack rocks. It’s definitely best seen by boat.
The coastline here is made out of millions of fossils, which compressed to form rock over thousands of years.
On a trip from Poole, you’ll pass three chalk formations at the most eastern part of the Jurassic Coast. These are the ‘Old Harry Rocks’.
Rumour has it that Old Harry was named after Poole pirate Harry Paye. He often hid behind the rocks before sacking passing merchants. Sounds like a real nice guy.
Read more about visiting the Jurassic Coast.
2. Jump off the ferry at Swanage
If you hop on a boat early enough in the morning, you can ride your way over to Swanage.
City Cruise run boats across the harbour every few hours. Check out prices and times.
Once in Swanage, you can spend a few hours exploring this delightful little town.
You can also walk along the nearby beach and check out the colourful huts that align it.
On this particular tour, you’ll pass by several sights, along with the aforementioned Jurassic Coast.
Brownsea Island is the biggest island in Poole Harbour, owned by the National Trust. We’ll come back to it later on in this post.
You’ll also pass a row of houses that are the most expensive within the UK.
One has to have a few million quid up their sleeve to buy property here. And that’s just for the land – new owners tend to demolish the houses to rebuild on the expensive blocks of land.
Might I daresay some people have more money than sense? Well, I have said it now, so that’s that.
3. Visit Lulworth Cove & see the Durdle Door
Durdle Door is a natural limestone arch that frames the most eastern side of the coast stretching into Lulworth Cove.
The beach is highly photogenic and serves as a popular destination for hiking, swimming (I presume in warmer weather) and kayaking.
Are you a fan of 80s music and wondering why the Durdle Door looks strangely familiar?
This might be because it served as the setting for the music video of Tears for Fears 1984 hit Shout!
Find out more about taking a day tour to Lulworth Cove & the Durdle Door.
4. Hunt for fossils in Lulworth Cove
At low tide, it’s possible to head to Lulworth Cove and go fossicking for… you guessed it, fossils!
There are admittedly less fossils here than at other sites around Dorset, but it’s still great fun to go and explore.
To get to the Fossil Forest, you walk from the carpark, up a slight hill to the west side of the cove.
Take the path that heads east around the top of the cover to get to the ‘Forest’.
See more information about fossils in this part of the UK.
5. Explore Man of War Bay
Adjacent to the Durdle Door is the beautiful Man of War Bay.
This sheltered cove provides excellent fodder for anyone who wishes to argue that the UK doesn’t have great beaches.
It does. There are some stunners. And I say this as a snobby Australian.
Man of War Bay is well-worth having an amble along, to take it all in.
If you want to take in the splendour and do something good for the environment, please pick up any rubbish you see along the way.
It seems people are fond of having BBQ on the beach, then leaving their M&S bags full of empty beer bottles, soft drinks and crisp packets on the beach.
Shame on them and I’m sorry you’re having to pick up after these slobs. You’re a good person.
6. Wander the streets of West Lulworth
West Lulworth may have been an interesting place in its own right back in the day. It certainly has the vibe, at least.
Now it seems to exist as a popular tourist destination, a sleepy village full of B&Bs. .
The town remains delightful to look at, particularly if you’re a fan of colourful front doors (guilty as charged).
It’s worth wandering along the streets of the village to the local pub, the Castle Inn.
It’s one of the oldest surviving pubs in Dorset and has a rocking beer garden, when it is open to the public.
Which it wasn’t while we were there…
Keen as mustard to spend a night in West Lulworth? I don’t blame you.
7. Order seafood at the Poole Arms Pub
If you’re a fan of both seafood and cosy English pubs, get thee to the Poole Arms.
I took it upon myself to order a series of seafood hors d’oeuvre, followed by local fish for mains when I ate here.
And oh goodness. This has to be one of the most satisfying meals I’ve had in England.
Their chef knows what he’s doing, particularly with mussels and scallops, which are not easy to cook. I know this from personal experience!
The place itself is intimate and warm. Good food, good atmosphere and good service. a ten out of ten in my book, for sure.
8. Poke around the town
The township of Poole is quite lovely to explore – it’s rather what I imagine bigger seaside towns in Britain to look like.
The place has a fairly lively nightlife as well.
I had one memorable night out there which took me days to recover from.
9. Check out Poole Harbour
A fun fact – Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
Its “rivals” include the likes of San Francisco Bay, Cork Harbour and Sydney Harbour.
Having visited all three and lived in one, I can say – Poole, you’re in good company.
A major port in the 1700s and a big player in WWII, these days you can head to the Harbour for a scenic boat ride, or to board a ferry across the Channel.
Don’t got your sealegs? Stroll along the foreshore, preferably with ice cream in hand and take in the sights.
Beware of buying cockles from vendors though – do question where they come from.
I ended up with £4 worth of cockles that as it turned out, were fresh from… London!
10. Visit the Poole Museum
Any self-respecting list of things to do in Poole will tell you to visit the Poole Museum and for good reason.
Inside this Victorian quayside warehouse, you can learn about the history of the town of Poole, which is very interesting indeed. There are four floors of galleries, which tell the story of the town from prehistory, to this century.
There’s also the Poole Logboat, which is a preserved Iron Age vessel. Carved from a single oak tree, it dates back over 2000 years. Yikes.
This is one of the top things to do in Poole and a must for lovers of history, natural or otherwise.
11. View the Crumbling Ruins of Corfe Castle
The village of Corfe and its crumbling castle are worth a proper poke around in.
The Castle has been around since the 900s(!).
First constructed in wood, it was rebuilt in stone by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century.
A royal fortress for six hundred years, it passed into the possession of the aristocracy in the 1500s.
These days, it’s managed by none other than the National Trust.
I’d tour the castle during an afternoon before heading to the nearby tearoom, to partake in a spot of cream tea.
12. Take the chain ferry across the harbour
On my last visit to Dorset, I ended a scenic drive by crossing the Harbour via the chain ferry!
It costs £4 to board with a car, but is free if you’re on foot.
The crossing takes around three minutes.
This is enough time to climb to the top deck and feel the wind whip through your hair, like you’re Rose onboard the Titanic.
After screaming out “I’m the King/Queen of the world!”, you’ll have to quickly rush down to your car as the ferry docks onto the other side.
13. Visit Sandbanks Beach
The aforementioned “beyond-sickeningly-rich” people’s mansions that you saw from the boat? They’re lining this gorgeous beach.
Like Man of War Bay, this beach is one of the best in the UK and popular to boot.
There are plenty of restaurants on site and the beach is popular for water sports – windsurfing, jet skiing and swimming of course.
Check out the nearby crazy golf course too, if you’re a fan of such a thing!
14. Stroll across Shell Bay
If you’re after a beach that’s a touch more understated, head to Shell Bay, across the Harbour from Sandbanks.
It’s got Sandbank’s gorgeous golden sand, but there’s only protected dunes and peace and quiet behind it. No McMansions to be found here.
Nearby Studland Bay boasts views of Old Harry, but also contains a nudist beach in its remotest section.
Look in the wrong direction and you may cop an eyeful of more than you bargained for.
15. Check out Brownsea Island
Brownsea Island is not only a popular destination – it’s home to a colony of red squirrels.
These cute little critters have been under threat since the introduction of the American grey squirrel to the UK, alongside loss of habitat.
As an aside, I lose my mind whenever I see a squirrel, even the grey ones. The red ones make me feel as though I’m in some kind of Disney movie.
Don’t judge – I’m sure you’d do the same if you saw a kangaroo.
The island is also famous for being the place where the Scout movement was born. Remember this fact for your next trivia night!
Many of these sites can be explored in a day trip. If you’re carless, consider jumping on a tour, like the one below.
16. Explore Compton Acres
What to do in Poole if you’ve got a bit of spare time? Stop and smell the roses at Compton Acres!
I dunno about you, but I love me a garden. Particularly a privately-owned one that you can freely explore. Well, after paying the entry fee, that is.
Constructed in 1920 by Mr Thomas Simpson, these gardens sprawl across 10 acres of land.
The separate gardens are laid out in a circular route, designed for prime ambling.
There’s everything from Italian Gardens, to ornamental Japanese green spaces, rock and water gardens and one area filled with plants that grow nowhere else in the county.
You’ll be in horticultural heaven, that’s for sure.
17. Check out the county’s chalk drawings
I find Britain’s chalk drawings so, so interesting, although I’ve sadly never seen one in the flesh.
So, this is top of my own personal list of things to do in Dorset, the next time I’m in the county.
The best known of Dorset’s chalk drawings is probably the Cerne Abbas Giant.
Found in Cerne Abbas, it “stands” at 55 metres and depicts a nude male figure, waving both a club and a prominent erection. Delightful.
He’s considered to be a symbol of fertility. No surprises there.
No one is quite sure of how old the giant is. He could be ancient, or he could’ve been banging (lol) about since the 1700s, when it’s first mentioned in history.
We can at least date the Osmington White Horse to 1808. This figure is of King George III riding his horse.
You can take the kids along to this one, as the king is full clothed.
These works are made by the digging of shallow trenches in turf that are then backfilled with chalk rubble.
They’re best viewed from a distance, so you can take them in in all their chalky glory.
18. Travel on to the Channel Islands
After you’ve explored the best things to do in Poole, why not continue on with your journey – by boat.
From Poole, you can travel on to destinations such as Guernsey, Jersey, or even onto France. Discover the best things to do in Jersey before you head there to experience it for yourself.
What are the top attractions to visit in Poole?
If you’re short on time, the best things to do in Poole are:
- cruise around the Jurassic Coast
- feast on delicious seafood
- check out Poole Harbour and the museum<
- explore Man of War Bay
- take the chain ferry to the beach.
So there you have it – there’s plenty of things to do in Poole and Dorset. You can easily fill a weekend exploring this fascinating, beautiful and historic county. After some UK inspiration? Read what it’s like to go ‘champing’ (that is, staying in a church overnight) in Kent and check out some unusual tours to do in London.