Things to do indoors in Dorset

Whether it’s rainy, cold or too hot, there’ll probably be times during your holiday or day trip to Dorset where you’ll want to head indoors.

You’ll find lots of places to seek shelter from the weather such as cool castles, marvellous museums and stunning stately homes. For families there is soft play, waterparks, cinemas, aquariums and indoor swimming pools.

So, if you’re visiting during a heatwave or looking for somewhere to warm up in winter, take a look at our ideas for things to do indoors.

Castles and Forts

On hot days you can escape the heat of the day by stepping into a historic castle or fort to cool down.

Portland Castle is one of King Henry VIII’s finest coastal forts. Overlooking Portland Harbour, it was built to protect England from invasion. Inside, there are lots of rooms to explore, games to play and costumes to try on. Outside on the gun platform you’ll see fabulous views towards Weymouth, or you could find a shady spot in the garden for a cream tea.

Lulworth Castle was built in the 17th Century to entertain aristocracy and royalty. This fairytale castle comes complete with a tower you can climb for far reaching views and is set within extensive grounds where there are woodland walks, a children’s playground and plenty of space to enjoy a picnic under a shady tree.

Once owned by Harry Gordon Selfridge (who founded Selfridge’s department store), Highcliffe Castle has the added bonus of being perched above a glorious sandy beach. So you can go for a morning walk along the beach and then head for the castle grounds for a picnic under the trees or lunch at the café. The inside the castle you’ll discover almost 200 years of history, along with the stories of the two fires which almost destroyed it.


Perfect for rainy days, why not choose to visit one of Dorset’s fabulous museums.

Located in Dorset’s county town, Dorset Museum is a place to connect with 250 million years of history. As you delve deeper into Dorset’s history you’ll find out about the areas prehistoric past, famous author Thomas Hardy’s life as a local resident, what Dorchester was like in Roman times, and much more.

The Tank Museum is tonnes of fun, quite literally! It’s home to over 300 huge military vehicles and machines spanning over a century of history. You can join a free talk or tour, and for younger members of the family there are trails, quizzes and interactive games.

The Museum of Jurassic Marine Life is home to The Etches Collection – Late Jurassic fossils of prehistoric marine reptiles, giant predators, and flora and fauna which would have been living 152-157 millions years ago in the shallow, tropical seas where the village of Kimmeridge is now located. Featured on the BBC’s Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster tv programme, this museum may be small but it is mighty, and the overhead CGI imagery feels like you’re under the sea swimming with the monsters!

Stately homes

For the best of both worlds, Dorset’s stately homes and gardens are just the ticket for something to do on a sunny day. You can make the most of the good weather and explore the glorious gardens, and then if it gets too hot, head inside to explore the beautiful buildings.

Athelhampton House and Gardens was largely constructed during Tudor Times and the reign of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. There are 20 rooms to explore inside this picturesque house, and outside you can wander around the 12 acre garden, which includes the impressive topiary pyramids.

The 17th Century Italianate palace at Kingston Lacy is home to paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel. And if Egyptology is your thing, you can explore the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. This once family home is lavishly decorated with artwork and antiques, and is now looked after by the National Trust.

Warm up with a spa day

During the depths of winter, there’s nothing like pampering yourself with a spa day. Soothe your soul and treat aching muscles with the heat of a sauna or steam room.

There are a variety of spa breaks on offer in Dorset, as well as Monart Spa Poundbury which offers luxury day spas.

Fun for younger children

For families with young children, why not have an under-the-sea adventure at Sea Life in Weymouth or Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium? At Sea Life there’s over 2,000 creatures to see, including playful otters, rescued sea turtles and fairy penguins. The small aquarium at Lyme Regis’ famous Cobb harbour allows children to get hands on and up close with sea creatures, including the grey mullet feeding experience.

Sticking with the theme of water, there are indoor swimming pools at Leisure Centres across the county. Perfect for practising swimming skills or just splashing around for fun, many of them also have cafés where you can get a budget friendly snack afterwards.

Seals Cove is a family-friendly indoor adventure centre featuring the Jurassic Ridge Climbing Centre, Reef Soft Play and Barbaroasters Coffee and Café. Their anti-viral air conditioning is perfect for escaping the summer heat.

Over at Lemur Landings there’s a traditional multi-level, huge playframe with tunnels to crawl through, biff bags to negotiate, slides and bridges to cross; there’s a dedicated play frame for younger children, baby room, and exciting interactive climbing zone.

Things to do for teenagers

Keeping teenagers entertained and indoors can sometimes be difficult, so here’s a few ideas for families with older children.

There are cinemas in many of Dorset’s towns – from large multi-screen complexes to small, independent cinemas. Showing family favourites and the latest blockbusters, grab an ice-cream or carton of popcorn and enjoy the movie!

Splashdown Waterpark in Poole has 13 fantastic rides to choose from - enter the lair of the resident Dragon, plunge into the Mississippi Drifter, or get into a spin on Infinity with its funky laser lights and jukebox. There’s free parking and it’s located in a leisure complex with cinema, bowling alley and lots of restaurants to choose from.

For teenagers with a head for heights, they can go indoor climbing at Rock Reef on Bournemouth Pier. There’s 28 themed climbing walls to try out, each with challenges to suit beginners through to more experienced climbers. The Stairway to Heaven will test your balance, and the HighLine aerial obstacle course will test your courage. If you make it around the course first time, take on the challenge again, this time blindfolded!


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