The coast town of Swanage in Dorset UK is a great place for a holiday throughout the year. Best known for its traditional beach-side amusements that are perhaps best enjoyed when the sun is out, there are also a great number of things to do locally and in the surrounding area. To help you decide, I have put together a list of my top 10 things to do in Swanage. The list is in no particular order, and I suggest that you pick from the top 10 list depending on the day’s weather.
1. Swanage Beach and Town
Swanage hosts a lovely sandy beach directly next to amusement arcades, shops, and cafes. It is certainly your quintessential traditional English seaside town. Many people will spend much of their time here swimming in the lifeguard protected waters and enjoying an ice-cream from Fortes Gelato. Fish and Chips are readily available, as are the souvenir sticks of rock candy.
For a different perspective of the town, take a walk up to Peveril Point. Only about 10 minutes from the town centre, this walk gives the opportunity to walk along the shoreline at low tide and then back along the grass as the tide comes in.
2. Swanage Historic Railway
Steam trains can often be heard in Swanage as they journey between the town and Norden park and ride. Although great fun to take a ride on, you can also get much of the experience for free by hanging around the station and watching the steam engine get ready. Fantastic for kids young and old.
Take a look at the Swanage Railway timetable to check when the steam trains are running, because they occasionally replace them with historic diesel trains. Longer term there are plans to provide a permanent link to the mainline in Wareham and then onward into London.
3. Studland Beach
Studland Beach is owned by the National Trust and is much more natural than Swanage beach. In the summer months it does get busy around the car parks, but I would recommend walking along the beach until you get to an empty bit of sand. The beach goes on for miles and so there will always be a space if you walk far enough. Just be aware, there is an official nudist / clothing optional section of the beach half way between Knoll Beach and Shell Bay.
Studland beach provides great swimming in quite shallow waters. There is also the opportunity to hire various water craft. Facilities are only available at the main car parks, so I would advise bringing your own food and drinks if you plan to stay for a while.
Studland beach car parks are also a great launchpad for walks into the heaths behind the village. These heath paths can be quite sandy but I have seen people mountain biking here. There is also a stables where you can book horse riding tours.
4. Durlston Country Park
Located to the south of Swanage bay, Durlston provides some great nature walks along with a cafe and historic building. They also host regular shows in their art gallery. Durlston is also home to the famous stone globe and has an interesting involvement in the development of radar during world war 2.
I recommend the nature walks as a great way of seeing butterflies and seeing the ocean from a different perspective. Occasionally it is possible to see dolphins playing out to sea. The nature paths are also great for including as part of a longer run along the coast.
5. Walking from Swanage to Studland
Although a bit of a trek, the walk from Swanage to Studland, and back again, is very enjoyable. On a good day, the views provide a clear outlook of Swanage Bay, the Isle of Wight, Studland, Poole Harbour, and Bournemouth. There is also a great pub in Studland where you can have a refreshing drink and some food before heading back to Swanage. A round-trip should take about 4-5 hours.
6. Monkey World
This must see attraction is actually an ape rescue centre that is world renowned for its work in saving primates. Monkey World is about a 25 minute drive from Swanage. Enclosures are huge compared to a typical zoo and they often give educational talks. On site there is also a play area for kids to throw themselves around on ropes, and there are multiple cafes and shops.
7. Corfe Castle
This National Trust icon dates back to way before the English Civil War. The castle certainly has the scars to show it, with many of the fortifications having been attacked by catapult and fire. As you walk around there are various educational activities to interact with, and in the school holidays there are often reenactments of various battles. These are particularly fun as the actors dress up in the period costumes, camp in an adjacent field, and sometimes invite audience participation. Corfe castle is certainly an outside activity, best seen on a sunny day.
8. Arne Bird Sanctuary
If you are into bird watching or enjoy nature walks, then the Arne Bird Sanctuary is for you. Entry itself if free, but the car park is chargeable. Depending on the weather and the season, there are many different birds, reptiles, and other animals to see here in the wild.
9. Tank Museum
The Tank Museum is located about 25 minutes drive away from Swanage, near to Monkey World. If you enjoy military history, or would like a fun day for the kids scrambling around old tanks, then this is a good bet. In the summer and some weekends the Tank Museum puts on live displays of the tanks driving around, with fire and explosions to make you jump out of your seat!
10. Wareham Market & River
The first main town inland from Swanage (if you don’t count Corfe Castle), Wareham has a regular Saturday morning market, a number of quaint shops, and a lovely river. A boat service from Wareham provides an opportunity to explore Poole Harbour. The town also has a number of old buildings and has a history dating back to Roman times.
If you get a chance to book ahead, I would recommend having Afternoon Tea at The Priory Hotel. This lovely hotel has great views on the bank of the river.