With the green leaves of summer starting to turn golden yellow, rusty orange and ruby red, it can mean only one thing - autumn is on its way.

Dorset’s amazing autumn colours easily rival America’s famous ‘Fall’ - in fact we think they are even better! Stroll through beautiful vistas, breathe in crisp fresh air and gaze into bright blue skies as the season changes all around you.

Here are our top picks for enjoying an autumnal day out for the young and young at heart.

Sherborne Castle and Gardens

Brush away the cobwebs and enjoy a bracing walk around Sherborne Castle’s magnificent gardens and glistening lake, famed for their Autumn colour. 

Paths and trails lead you through gardens and pleasure grounds with views of more than 1,000 acres of parkland beyond.

Autumn tree colours reflecting in the lake at Sherborne Castle and Gardens

Photo credit - Sherborne Castle Estates

There’s an audio tour as well as an interactive map with over 30 points of interest around the estate including the Fossil House, Cascade, Raleigh’s Seat, Sunken Garden and Boathouse.

There is plenty of space for the kids to burn off some energy and you can enjoy a picnic by the lake. The café is also open with outside seating for snacks, drinks and ice-creams.

The gardens are open at the weekends until 1st November and their annual Autumn Colour Weekend will be taking place on 24th and 25th October.

Exbury Gardens

Exbury Gardens is located alongside the Beaulieu River and the extensive grounds means there is lots of space for the little ones to run, play and discover. They can also feed giant koi carp and golden orfe fish at Top Pond, let off steam in the wooden play area or get involved with some fun activity sheets.

For an extra charge you can ride on the narrow gauge steam railway to see parts of the gardens not accessible on foot.

Exbury Gardens in autumn

Photo credit - Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway

This is a garden for all seasons and in autumn the acers, nyssas, tulip tree and many others all put on a spectacular show.

The gardens are open every day and pre-booked tickets are required.

Kingston Lacy

The seven acre Japanese Garden takes centre stage at Kingston Lacy at this time of year with over 40 varieties of acer changing colour with the season.

At Nursery Wood look out for the peeling bark on the paperbark maples and stroll down Lime Avenue as the leaves of these majestic trees turn a brilliant yellow.

Kingston Lacy house and gardens in autumn

Photo credit - National Trust Images

If you want to explore a little further, there is a Woodland Trail so you can enjoy the best of autumn as the beech trees turn a burnt orange and the oak trees a deep russet red. For mini adventurers, stop by the Shepherd’s Hut at the start of the Woodland Trail to collect everything you need to begin your wild wander - have a go at wild weaving, stick sculptures, and pebble poetry.

You can now also go inside the House as the ground and state floors have recently re-opened.

Pre-booked tickets are required which need to be booked at least 18 hours in advance. National Trust members will be able to book for free, while non-members will need to pay in advance for their tickets.

Thorncombe Wood

Thorncombe Wood becomes a myriad of Autumn colours at this time of year and is a wonderful place for a walk with nature. The Wood is found next to the Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre and a short walk leads you to Hardy's Cottage. Please note that you cannot go inside Hardy's Cottage at the present time.

Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre near Dorchester, Dorset

The trees are undressing…as Thomas Hardy wrote in his poem Last Week of October. ‘The trees are undressing and fling in many places - A leaf each second so is flung at will, here, there, another and another’.

You can take part in a Scavenger Hunt and then get creative by making a natural picture with your treasure. You’ll find more about what to hunt for at the Visitor Centre.

You’ll find Under The Greenwood Tree café next to the centre where you can get something to eat or drink after your walk in the woods.

The Centre is open everyday except Monday and entry is fee (parking charges apply). The café is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am. 

Lulworth Castle and Park

The parkland at Lulworth Castle is home to ancient oaks as well as stunning scenery across the Lulworth Estate.

Let the children go wild on the adventure play area while the adults enjoy feeding the resident peacocks (pick up some bird food from the Castle).

Lulworth Castle and Park, Dorset

Photo credit - Lulworth Estate

You can also Hunt the Bat (inside the Castle) or Hunt the Squirrel (out in the Park) with a small prize for finding them all.

The grounds are open every day except Saturday and parking is just £3 for all day.

The Castle is open if you'd like to go inside (charge applies) and it’s advised to pre-book your tickets before you arrive.

Brownsea Island

Autumn is the perfect time to visit Brownsea Island because it’s when the red squirrels are storing their food away for winter and are spending much more time on the ground – which makes them a lot easier to spot! If you hear rustling in the leaves, stop, listen and be quiet for a chance to see one of these rare and incredibly cute creatures.

Red squirrel at Brownsea Island, Dorset

Photo credit - National Trust Images

You can also take part in the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾, get back to nature with some Forest Bathing or have a picnic on the shores of Poole Harbour. Top tip - the sandiest beach is located at the far end of the Island.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

At Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens explore 30 acres of rare and exotic plants from all over the world.

New for 2020, you can follow the Wonderland Sculpture Trail. See if you can spot Alice, the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, Mr Jeremy Fisher and characters from many other childhood fairytales as you wander around these gorgeous gardens.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

If you are feeling energetic you can hike up to the Jurassic Coast viewpoint or just saunter around the gardens and take a seat near the lily ponds.

The gardens are open daily with pre-booked tickets required. The cafe, plant centre and gift shop are also now open.

Related

Sherborne Castle and Gardens
Historic House/Palace
Autumn colours at Sherborne Castle and Gardens, Dorset

The Castle Gardens are open from 10am-5pm every Saturday and Sunday until 1st November, last admission 4pm. The Tea Room and Gift Shop are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 4pm. Unfortunately the Castle will not be open during 2020. Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 & home of the Digby family since 1617. View Magnificent Staterooms, Nationally Important Collections of Art, Furniture & Porcelain, Raleigh’s Kitchen & a Museum. Explore 42 acres of English Landscape Gardens designed by ‘Capability Brown’ and discover a 50 acre lake, herbaceous borders, magnificent specimen trees and sweeping vistas.

Autumn Colours at Sherborne Castle
School Holiday
The Anenome Walk in Autumn at Sherborne Castle and Gardens, Dorset

Enjoy the spectacular display of autumn colours in the beautiful lakeside gardens. Tea Room and Gift Shop open. Reduced price entry to gardens & grounds. Free entry for children under 16 years old.

Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway
Garden
Exbury Gardens New Forest Spring Azaleas

Exbury Gardens are now open. Please check their website for which facilities will be open. You can watch virtual garden tours on their social media channels. Now more than 100 years old, Exbury Gardens is a spectacular collection of woodland, herbaceous, contemporary, formal and wildflower gardens. At over 200 acres, these impressive gardens (created and managed by the Rothschild family) border the Beaulieu River and boast a narrow-gauge steam railway, wooden play area, newly refurbished restaurant and an outdoor cafe.

Kingston Lacy
Historic House/Palace
Kingston Lacy House and Gardens

Kingston Lacy parkland, garden, takeaway cafe, shop and toilets are now open. The ground and state floors in the house are open but with limited availability. Pre-purchased tickets are required. Please check the National Trust website before visiting. Kingston Lacy is an elegant 17th century Italian inspired country mansion set in attractive formal gardens and extensive parkland. Wander around Kingston Lacy house and discover the Spanish Room with its gilded leather and gilded ceiling brought from the Contarini Palace in Venice. Witness paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel and explore the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. Stroll around the Japanese Garden, complete with authentic tea house or

Lulworth Castle & Park
Castle/Fort
Lulworth Castle, Dorset

The Castle and Parklands are now open. Welcome to Lulworth Castle and Park, situated at the heart of the privately owned Lulworth Estate. Follow the fascinating story of the castle and the inspiring past of its dedicated owners. Discover breathtaking views over the Dorset countryside from the Lulworth Castle tower, picnic in the grounds, enjoy a cream tea in the Castle Tearoom, wander through ancient woodlands and explore the historically significant Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Mary's. Feel free to participate in lawn games such as pitch 'n' putt, swingball, giant jenga, noughts & crosses, and boules.

Hardy's Birthplace and Thorncombe Woods
Country Park/Nature Reserve
Thornecombe Woods

Thorncombe Woods (and its car park) is now open. The Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre, cafe and toilets are currently open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am. Discover more about Thomas Hardy's early life at the Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre. The Centre is located on the edge of Thorncombe Wood Local Nature Reserve and a short walk from Hardy's Cottage. Thorncombe Woods is home to a great diversity of trees including mature Oaks, Sweet Chestnut and Beech. It is a mixed woodland and heathland nature reserve, covering 26 hectares. Explore the paths and connecting rights to way to Puddletown Forest and Dorchester. Running through the site is a well preserved Roman road which would have stretched from Dorchester to Badbury Rings near Wimborne.

Brownsea Island
Country Park/Nature Reserve
Red Squirrel on Brownsea Island

Brownsea Island has now re-opened for pre-booked ticket holders. A beautiful island with wonderful views, history & wildlife including rare red squirrels and birds, and is also the birthplace of Scouting and Guiding.

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
Garden
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Dorset

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens are now open for pre-booked ticket holders. They are asking everyone who wishes to visit to book online, indicating their date and time of arrival.

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