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Things to do in Dorchester

Dorchester is a historic market town steeped in Roman and medieval heritage and a perfect destination for a day out exploring. You can visit the birthplace of renowned writer and poet Thomas Hardy, and immerse yourself in Dorset's natural beauty with a stroll through Thorncombe Wood, a serene woodland offering picturesque trails and tranquil spots for relaxation.

Delve into the town's military history at The Keep Military Museum, featuring exhibits on Dorset's military heritage from medieval times to the present day. With its central location, Dorchester also serves as a gateway to the stunning Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can explore ancient fossils, awe-inspiring cliffs, and pristine beaches. 

Don't miss the opportunity to discover the charms of Dorchester, Dorset, on your next-day trip. From its rich history to its natural beauty, Dorchester is a must-visit destination for a day trip…

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The Shire Hall Museum

The Shire Hall Museum

Where: High W Street, Dorchester, DT1 1UY

About: The Shire Hall Museum offers an exciting and educational experience in the heart of Dorchester.  This unique attraction is a must-visit for anyone interested in British history and culture. Visitors can expect an immersive journey through the town's past and its important role in shaping the country's legal system. Step inside the museum and be transported back in time to the 18th century, where you'll learn about the infamous Tolpuddle Martyrs and the dramatic events that took place in the town during their trial.  

Keep an eye out for their ever-changing guest exhibits which have most recently included The Tiger that Came for Tea.

It's great value for money with the ticket price giving you an annual pass for you to return as many times as you wish.

Best time to go: Great activity on a rainy day but we recommend any day or time of the year.

Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm (last entry 3pm)

Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/DorsetShireHall/

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Borough Gardens

Borough Gardens

Address: Cornwall Rd, Dorchester, DT1 1RG 

About: Dorchester’s stunning Victorian Borough Gardens are the jewel in its proverbial crown and not to be missed on a day out in Dorchester. With a beautifully restored iconic bandstand, an Edwardian Baroque clock tower, fountains, an outdoor gym, a fully enclosed play area for the kids, and a multitude of tennis courts, you really are spoiled for choice.

If activities are not for you, why don't you grab an ice cream from the kiosk and simply enjoy a peaceful stroll amongst the stunning gardens…In the warmer months, they often hold food festivals and live music events along with the Dorchester Cider Festival.

Best time to go: Anytime

Opening Times: Winter - Dawn until dusk. Summer - Dawn till 9pm

Image Credit: https://www.dorchester-tc.gov.uk/Services/Borough+Gardens

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Thorncombe Wood

Thorncombe Wood

Where: Thorncombe Wood, Dorchester DT2 8QH,

About: Thorncombe Wood is a staggering local nature reserve with 26 hectares of mixed woodland and heath.  It is home to hundreds of varieties of trees including mature oaks and giant beech trees and teeming with flora and fauna. Beautiful Bluebell fields carpet the woodland floor from March to May and there is even an ancient Roman road running through it, once connecting  Dorchester to Badbury Rings. 

The cottage where Thomas Hardy was born and wrote ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ is nearby on the edge of the woodland and there are plenty of walks and trails in and around these woods - perfect for an incredible day out with the family. 

Best time to go: Anytime but late Spring for the Bluebells is MAGICAL! 

Opening Times: Always Open

Image Credit: https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/countryside-coast-parks/country-parks-and-visitor-centres/hardys-birthplace-visitor-centre/hardys-birthplace-visitor-centre

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Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens

Kingston Maurward Animal Park & Gardens

Where: Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park , Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 8PY

About: Kingston Maurward is one of our favourite things to do as a family in Dorchester and to top it off - it's free entry (which means you have more to spend in their fantastic cafe which has a soft play area too, so after a tour of the animal farm and gardens, you can relax whilst the kids burn off even more energy!

This stunning estate offers a plethora of activities that are perfect for families from exploring the animal farm where you will get the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, and donkeys. You can even feed them and learn about their habits and behaviours.

You can take a stroll in the gardens, or simply enjoy a picnic, there is something for everyone at Kingston Maurward. One of the most popular attractions at Kingston Maurward is the animal farm. So what are you waiting for? Plan your visit today and experience the magic of Kingston Maurward for yourself!

Best time to go: Any but it can get busy during the school holidays. 

Opening times: The Barn Café is open 10am – 3pm weekdays and open 10am – 4pm weekends.

Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/animalparkdorchester/

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The Keep Military Museum

The Keep Military Museum

Address: The Keep Military Museum, Barrack Road, Dorchester, DT1 1RN

Telephone: 01305 264066

About: If you are looking for something educational to do in Dorchester then a visit to The Keep Military Museum is a MUST! It is an incredibly listed landmark built to resemble a Norman castle, it is a family-friendly museum with a plethora of activities for young historians. Four floors of artifacts spanning a 300-year timeline along with military history exhibitions and realistic battle environments from the time of the Napoleonic Wars to the modern day. Don't forget to visit the roof for unforgettable views of the Dorset countryside.

Best time to go: Anytime - check the website for special events and admission costs

Opening Times: Every day from 10am-4:30pm, last entry at 3:30pm.

Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/keepmilitarymuseum

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Teddy Bear Museum

Teddy Bear Museum

Address: Eastgate, corner of High East St. & Salisbury St, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1JU

Telephone: 01305 266040

About: Britain's oldest teddy bear museum is right here in Dorchester and has hundreds of teddy bears on display dating all the way back to 1906. The collection includes antique bears, vintage bears, life-size bears, and replicas of some of the most world-famous bears from Winnie the Pooh to Paddington Bear. Whether you are a teddy bear lover, a collector, or just ‘bear’ curious, this will be a trip down memory lane for anyone… 

Tickets can be bought on the day at the museum and discounts are available on the website.

Best time to go: Anytime - check the website for holiday opening times and admission costs

Opening Times: Every Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm  

Image Credit: www.teddybearmuseum.co.uk/the-museum

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Where: Poundbury, Dorchester, DT1 3YB

About: Poundbury is essentially an ‘urban experiment’ developed and devised by the now King Charles III, based on traditional architecture and New Urbanist philosophy. An interesting concept and certainly a fascinating place to spend the day exploring. It has a vibrant community, and plenty of independent boutiques, restaurants, retailers, and pubs - The Duchess of Cornwall Inn on the edge of the square is a must for pints and people-watching! 

Aside from the award-winning shops and quirky streets there is an art gallery, three parks with play areas, and a high-end beauty salon, Monart Day Spa. The central point of the town is Queen Mother Square, with a 3-meter bronze statue of her and home to a monthly farmers’ market.

This visually attractive ‘new town’ is totally devoid of anything garish, there are no road markings on the streets, as the emphasis is on pedestrians and perambulation. 

Not to worry though - if you prefer to drive, all the parking is free! 

Best time to go: Anytime but the annual Dorset Food & Arts Festival is held on the first Saturday in August.

Image Credit: https://poundbury.co.uk/

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Hardy's Cottage

Hardy's Cottage

Where: Cuckoo Ln, Dorchester DT2 8QJ

About: Thomas Hardy's Cottage is a must-visit National Trust destination for literature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. This picturesque thatched-roof cob cottage offers a unique glimpse into Hardy's early life and literary inspirations. The cottage has been preserved as a museum, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the humble surroundings that influenced Hardy's works. 

The authenticity has been well preserved and maintained to reflect the 19th-century rural Dorset lifestyle, providing visitors with a genuine experience of the time when Hardy lived and wrote. 

You can explore the various rooms, including the sitting room, bedroom, and kitchen, where Hardy spent his formative years and drew inspiration for many of his iconic works. The cottage's surroundings are equally enchanting, with a beautiful garden that Hardy's father tended and which features in several of his poems. The house is also where Hardy wrote his early works, including 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.

Whether you are a fan of Hardy's literature, interested in history, or simply looking to soak in the beauty of the Dorset countryside, a visit to Hardy's Cottage is an excellent way to spend a day in Dorchester.

Best time to go: During the spring and summer months as the garden is in full bloom but the cottage is open to visitors from April to October, and guided tours are available, providing in-depth knowledge about Hardy's life.

Opening Times: Closed Every Monday and Friday. Tuesday - Thursday and Saturday/Sunday - 10am to 4pm - Please note that Hardy's Cottage is open for pre-booked guided tours only - Book on the website HERE.

Image Credit: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/dorset/hardys-cottage#place-opening-times

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Sculpture By The Lakes

Sculpture By The Lakes

Where: Pallington Lakes, Dorchester, DT2 8QU

About: Sculpture by the Lakes is a unique destination for art and nature lovers alike. Set in 26 acres of stunning Dorset countryside, this outdoor sculpture park offers an immersive experience, where you can enjoy an array of sculptures set against the backdrop of tranquil lakes, meandering pathways, and lush gardens. The park features sculptures by renowned British sculptor Simon Gudgeon, as well as other established and emerging artists. 

The park changes with the seasons, offering different perspectives and experiences throughout the year, making Sculpture by the Lakes a place worth visiting at any time of the year.

The park also has an excellent eaterie, The Kitchen, where you can indulge in homegrown produce and sensational seasonal cuisine, or you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at the lakeside café. The park also hosts art workshops, talks, and events throughout the year, and don't forget to visit Gallery by the Lakes! The gallery exhibits work by both local and international artists.

Sculpture by the Lakes is a destination that will inspire and captivate art and nature enthusiasts alike, making it a must-visit attraction in Dorchester, Dorset.

Best time to go: Beautiful any time of year

Opening Times: Wednesday – Sunday | 10am – 5pm/Closed Monday and Tuesday. Book your tickets HERE.

Image Credit: https://tickets.sculpturebythelakes.co.uk/

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