If you can drag your kids away from the seaside allure of Weymouth then there’s plenty of adventures to be had along the Dorset coastline and in nearby historic Dorchester. Here are some of our top picks
© Trinity House
Take a half-hour drive outside Weymouth to the tip of Portland Bill where you’ll find this iconic lighthouse. There has been a light here for more than 500 years, with the task of protecting seafarers navigating the English Channel. The current lighthouse was built in 1906.
Alongside the lighthouse you’ll find a visitors’ centre with interactive displays and an immersive stormy sea experience. Climb the lighthouse itself for a bird’s eye view of Dorset’s Jurassic coastline. Visitors must be 1.1m tall to go up the tower and be able to climb unaided.
© The Tutankhamun Exhibition
This exhibition is a true-to-life recreation of the artefacts recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun and put on show at the British Museum in 1972. Step inside a recreation of the tomb’s antechamber as it would have looked on the day Howard Carter entered it in 1922 and see a hauntingly realistic mock-up of the burial chamber.
The real artefacts are now being preserved in Egypt but the craftsmanship that has gone into recreating Tutankhamun’s treasures makes this an awesome place to visit for young archeologists.
Top tip: If your kids love history you can visit five attractions in Dorchester for the price of two. Combine your time at the Tutankhamun Exhibition with The Dinosaur Museum, the Teddy Bear Museum, the Terracotta Warriors Museum and the Mummies exhibition. Just ask for a Gold Saver Pass.
© Julien Lightfoot
Fancy a cuddle with a guinea pig or lunch with alpacas? There are plenty of hands-on experiences to enjoy at Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. Throughout the day you’ll find a programme of animal encounters like pony riding and bottle-feeding lambs that young children will adore. As well as meeting the friendly farm critters kids can race toy tractors, let off steam in the undercover play area or leap about to their hearts’ content on the bouncy castle.
Keep an eye on the farm’s events calendar for owl flying displays and ferret racing during the school holidays. Buy a combined ticket with Abbotsbury Swannery and Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens for a great value multi-attraction deal.
Visit one of the UK’s leading military museums to find out the origins of armoured warfare and how tanks are used by the armed forces today. The Tank Museum has more than 300 vehicles including the first-ever tank, Little Willie.
© The Tank Museum
As well as the spectacle of these powerful machines, families can appreciate what it was like to be a World War I soldier in a recreated Somme trench, and listen to the recorded stories of troops who served in both world wars through to more recent operations in Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating history lesson for youngsters, especially those studying past and contemporary conflicts.
© Julien Lightfoot
Kids will enjoy discovering the hidden features in this 250-year-old garden originally created as a vegetable plot. Since then it has expanded and now includes a Burma-style rope bridge, lily ponds and acres of exotic plants. Don’t miss the Jurassic Coast viewpoint or a slice of homemade cake in the Colonial Restaurant. Much of the garden is pushchair-friendly but expect a few gravel paths that are harder to negotiate.
The good news for dog owners is that you can bring your four-legged friend on a lead, making it a day out for the whole family. Check out the three-attraction pass with Abbotsbury Swannery and the Children’s Farm.
A natural wonder that should be on every Dorset visitor’s bucket list is Durdle Door. This limestone arch has stood in the sea off Lulworth for 10,000 years. You can admire it from the coast path or take a walk down on to the sweeping shingle beach to look back up at the formation from below.
Keep a look out for folding layers of rock in the cliffs and fossils on the beach. For a lesson in the area’s geology, a 30-minute walk from Durdle Door is the Lulworth Visitor Centre, where you can see animations of how this piece of coastline has been formed over the past 150 million years.
Step back into Tudor England at this historic manor house not far from Dorchester. Inside you’ll find grand fireplaces, classic and modern works of art, plus frocks fit for nobility.
The gardens are full of magical features for kids to explore like the towering pyramid-shaped yew trees and formal ponds with fountains. Work up an appetite for a tasty lunch in the Coach House Restaurant with a walk along the River Piddle that runs along the estate boundary.
Come prepared to make a splash as you tackle inflatable obstacles across the park’s two lakes. Wobble over bridges, swing across the monkey bars and whizz down the slides. Be warned: staying dry is not an option.
This active day out for families with children aged six and up is set in woodland just around the corner from the historic Corfe Castle. Book your one-hour session on the lakes in advance as they get booked up fast, particularly during warmer weather.
© National Trust images, David Levenson
This Norman castle may have seen better days but it is teeming with history. There are tales of murder, kings and war to be discovered, plus ruins to be explored. Some of the remaining walls appear to hang at precarious angles offering ideal places for a game of hide-and-seek.
The staggered terraces of the motte, or artificial mound on which the castle stands, are a great place for a picnic with views of the Purbeck countryside. Come prepared for all weathers as this is an outdoor attraction in an exposed location.
Find out about Portland’s earliest inhabitants from the Neolithic period and how the area’s stone was quarried and exported over thousands of years to build national treasures like St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The museum itself also has a claim to fame: one of the two country cottages that house exhibitions about Portland inspired a setting for Thomas Hardy’s novel The Wellbeloved. Combine your time at the museum with a visit to the playground at nearby Easton Gardens.