We recently returned from a glorious week in delightful Dorset with the mancub who is two and a half.
We did so much – Dorset may be a small county but it is packed full of beautiful scenery and days out for all ages.
Going out and about with a small person in the midst of the terrible twos can be daunting, especially on holiday when copious amounts of ice cream and other sugar-filled treats have been consumed – so here is my lowdown on the best places to visit in Dorset with a toddler.
Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park
For us this ticks all the boxes and is especially awesome on a warm Summers’ day – the newly opened Caribbean Cove adventure playground is perfect for small people and has something for all ages. We loved the water fountains, take swimwear with you – we spent ages there with a picnic and the mancub loved running through the fountains. There is a paddling pool but this was closed when we visited. Sea creatures wise we were blown away with the staff – they were all so passionate and friendly and the talks are well worth hanging around for. Facility wise we could not fault it – plenty of toilets, baby change, and the park was fully accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs. We loved the penguins and seals, and spent a good five hours here. Tickets on the door can work out expensive so look out for vouchers – for more information visit https://www.visitsealife.com/weymouth/.
We love a zoo and we visited Monkey World on a blistering hot Saturday. Ticket wise we found it really reasonable and luckily the park has a lot of shade. I believe most if not all the apes have been rescued from various states of cruelty and although living in captivity each enclosure was as big as possible and well maintained and looked after. Although busy it didn’t seem rammed and we saw plenty. The cafe near the entrance surpassed our expectations – it had a soft play area which the small one loved and the food and drink was amazing – I had a BBQ chilli beef salad and it tasted amazing plus the cost was reasonable. Again, lots of toilets,, baby change, and wheelchair/pushchair friendly. It is worth mentioning that there is special consideration given to visitors with additional needs and the play areas have swings and equipment suitable for wheelchair users and there are sensory areas dotted around. A wonderful day out for all and we spent three hours here – in fairness it was scorching hot, we probably would have stayed longer otherwise. You can find more info here.
We love a hidden gem and Abbotsbury Swannery surprised us with how much we enjoyed our visit. Abbotsbury is a village not far from Weymouth and the Swannery is a nature reserve dating back hundreds of years. It overlooks the Fleet lagoon and every year thousands of swans return to lay their eggs and hatch their offspring. Parking is easy and there are a variety of ticket options that allow entry to the Childrens Farm and Tropical Gardens too. There is a bit of a walk to the swannery from the car park but I believe a shuttle runs at peak times and on request. There is a hay-bale maze and pedal go-karts which we(the responsible adults) had good fun on. We visited mid-June and saw lots of swans and cygnets, as well as stunning scenery and views. It is worth saying that they nest near to the paths and you need to be calm, quiet and slow around them, so it may not be ideal for small children at certain times of the year but as long as you take a pushchair and are aware it’s fine. Facility wise the only toilets and baby change are by the entrance and there are none down at the swannery which isn’t ideal but didn’t affect our visit. There is a cafe but we didn’t visit, again it is by the entrance. We loved the sensory maze, and would recommend a visit, especially when the baby swans are around. For more info click here.
Abbotsbury Childrens Farm
For us this was one of our highlights – so much so we visited twice. Situated not far from the swannery the farm is situated in and around an ancient tithe barn, and is absolutely stunning. Parking is next to the Swan Inn for a small charge and it is a short walk to the farm. The farm has micro pigs, sheep, alpacas, small animals, ponies, and so much more. Across our two visits we cuddled guinea pigs, bottle fed lambs, and had so much fun. It is only small – we spent two hours there each time but that could easily be stretched if need be. The ancient barn contains a soft play area and a bouncy castle. There is also other toys and things and a table tennis table which me and the hubs took full advantage off. This is a must-do if you are nearby – perfect for small people. More info here.
The Swan Inn, Abbotsbury
It is a little random to mention a pub but we stopped for lunch here and could not fault it – we had a delicious meal and in the room at the back we found a bowling alley and vintage toys, which kept the mancub entertained while we waited for our food. More info here.
Portland is a strange place – a mound-like island accessible by bridge and we spent an afternoon driving around and exploring. There is an incredible old fort, Verne Citadel, which was once a prison but now an immigration centre, which we would have explored had we more time(and it not been illegal – I mean following the footpaths around it). Fancy’s Farm looked like great fun – we didn’t have time to visit but it looked great for little ones. Portland Bill has a lighthouse, and I believe there is a castle there too. I’ll be honest – the small one was asleep in the car and we needed to kill some time and it did not disappoint as somewhere to drive around and explore.
I wasn’t keen on Bournemouth as somewhere to take a small one – parking was expensive, and tricky to find a space, plus it didn’t seem child-friendly. We ate in the Wetherspoons in the town which was perfect as always, but as a day out goes I wouldn’t recommend it.
We visited Lulworth Cove on a whim and it was a gamble that paid off – what a beautiful place to visit! You can walk up a long and steep slope(AKA the hill of doom – walk it and you will see why) to view the Durdel Door which we attempted but found to be totally unsuitable for a pushchair and small child. We laugh now but it was hard going on a hot day and we probably wouldn’t recommend to anyone with children under 5. The cove itself was pretty and I devoured the most amazing Lemon Crunch and Salted Caramel ice-cream I have ever tasted. The village and beach had a relaxed vibe and we will definitely return when the mancub is older to explore a bit more. Take a baby/toddler carrier – there are lots of walks.
Weymouth & Lodmoor Country Park
The Sea Life Centre is right next to Lodmoor Country Park and has a small train, sand sculptures and lots of things to entertain small ones. To walk into Weymouth town takes about 15-30 minutes depending on speed and it is a lovely flat walk along the esplanade. More ice cream was devoured and we collected some stones and shells from the beach. There is a building on the front with beach huts in it, which looks old, possibly Victorian and was so pretty and vintage. We didn’t make it all the way to the Jurassic Skyline but we had admission as part of our Sea Life tickets. We spent a couple of hours strolling along the sea front and an hour or so at the park. You can find more info here.
A few months back I binge-watched all three seasons of Broadchurch and as a result I insisted we visited West Bay, where it was mostly filmed. Who can forget the breath-taking opening and closing shots of those cliffs? West Bay is a small place and previously was known for appearing in Harbour Lights back in the nineties. We parked next to the old railway station which has been converted into a restaurant and even though the town was busy parking wasn’t an issue. There isn’t a lot there – it is a pebble beach and we had fun skimming stones. We walked up the pier, around the harbour and I insisted on having my photo taken outside ‘Broadchurch Police Station’. A hidden gem we found was the old Customs House, which is a treasure trove of gifts and vintage bits and bobs. It isn’t the most tourist-friendly place but it is pretty and we spent a good few hours there. The fish and chips smelt amazing, I wish we had got some!
- Parking in most places is coins or by phone only – keep lots of change on you as almost everywhere charges for parking.
- Most of the beaches are stony, so aqua or jelly shoes are a must. Flip-flops on a pebble beach = pain.
- Take a packed lunch – generally we found it was more expensive to eat out at lunch than it was in the evening, so we took a packed lunch out with us.
- Take the pushchair – sometimes the mancub will walk, sometimes not. I was unsure of access at some places so left it behind and regretted it.
- Take a baby/toddler carrier – there is so much natural beauty to walk and places to explore but a pushchair isn’t suitable; take a carrier and enjoy the landscape.
Dorset is beautiful – we can’t wait to come back!
**PLEASE NOTE – we visited all places mentioned as paying guests, and these reviews are my personal opinion. For more information please read my disclaimer here.**