Cheap or free family activities in Dorset this summer

A well kept garden leads to the ruin of a castle on a cliff looking out to sea

Sandsfoot Castle - Credit: Alastair Campbell, Flickr

With the summer holidays around the corner, we've found some amazing places to visit as a family that are budget friendly.

The summer holidays in July and August can seem impossible to fill. With six long weeks to plan for, it may feel like you have to pull out all of the stops to make memories as a family. But have no fear, it is possible to enjoy yourselves in Dorset without breaking the bank this year. We've found some fun and family-friendly locations across the county which are either free to enter or won't empty your wallet. 

Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre

With free entry to the Centre, meet the Charmouth dinosaur and explore the past and present of this incredible coastline. There is also chance for a guided fossil walk where you can take home your own fossil from the Jurassic Coast. Children and adults will be amazed by what they learn. 

Plaza Cinema

Nowadays, it can cost a pretty penny to go to the cinema. Not if you head over to Dorchester though. Plaza Cinema manages to get all the latest movies (as well as some classics), yet tickets are only £3.50 during the week. This is perfect if the weather is bad or you fancy a down-day with the kids.

Stour Valley

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The Stour Valley is a great place to bring the whole family. This beautiful three-mile stretch of river, with woodland and meadows, is the setting for nature walks, river and pond dipping, a wild art club, and much more. Enjoy one of several self-guided trails and keep an eye out for the resident otters who will be playing in the river. 

The Walled Garden

The Walled Garden is a beautiful five-acre landscaped formal garden situated in Moreton, Dorset. With on site café, garden shop (including a huge range of plants for sale), children’s play park, and a range of small animals to see. For the formal gardens, a suggested Admission Donation of £3 is politely requested.

Dorchester's Borough Gardens

The Borough Gardens were laid out to a plan by William Goldring of Kew, and were opened to the public on 30th July 1896.  Although never closed the Gardens were ‘opened' again on 7th May, 2007 by oscar-winning local resident Julian Fellowes to mark the completion of a £1.4m plus restoration and refurbishment project. There is a fully enclosed play area which has facilities for all age groups. For the warmer days there is also a splash area that shoots water from the ground. 

Sandsfoot Castle

Sandsfoot Castle was completed in about 1539, on the order of King Henry VIII, but nowadays isn't much more than a ruin. That said, the view and chance to explore the area are well worthwhile. The ruins are accessed via a gorgeous set of formal gardens which are very enjoyable in the sun. 

The Rodwell Trail

Sandsfoot Castle is actually on the route of the Rodwell Trail, a 3.5km path that was once a local railway. It takes you from Westham Bridge in the heart of Weymouth's town centre to Ferry Bridge.

Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens

Our next location has everything from ducks, pigs and sheep, to chickens, guinea pigs and bunnies! Get to know the animals as you walk around the Animal Park, all for free. Take a peaceful stroll round the stunning formal gardens, which were laid in 1922 in the Jardin Anglais style of the famous landscape gardener, Capability Brown.

Pick your own Fruit

Whilst it's easy to pop over to your local farm shop and buy a punnet or two, Dorset is also full of places where you can pick your own fruit and enjoy an afternoon in the sun. You can find our round up of PYO fruit farms here.

Further ideas

If you're still looking for more ideas, you can find our editor's 20 favourite places to visit in Dorset here. This includes a huge range of activities such as heritage sites, parks, and museums. 

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