15 Best Things to Do in Swanage, Dorset

Set near the captivating Dorset coastline, the picturesque town of Swanage features a variety of top visitor attractions and things to dol.

From its pristine sandy shores to the rolling hills that surround the town, Swanage offers an idyllic escape where nature, history and enchantment intertwine.

To help you build a travel plan, we’ve put together this guide to 15 of the best things to do in Swanage.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler seeking new adventures, or a curious soul eager to explore some top Swanage attractions, our guide will hopefully help!

1. Go to Swanage Beach

Swanage Beach

The moment you step onto Swanage Beach, you’re greeted by a spectacle of natural beauty that unfolds before your eyes.

Located in the charming seaside town of Swanage in Dorset, England, this coastal gem is a canvas painted with soft golden sand, punctuated by the rhythmic ebb and flow of azure waves.

With every breath, you take in the briny scent of the sea, carried on a gentle breeze.

The beach is flanked by a promenade, offering an array of charming eateries and shops, enriching your seaside experience.

As the day yields to night, you are left with a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the water.

At Swanage Beach, you’re not just visiting a place; you’re creating memories stitched into the fabric of this stunning coastal landscape.

2. Visit Durlston Country Park

Your senses come alive as you venture into the natural wonderland that is Durlston Country Park – one of the top Swanage attractions.

Situated in the southern reaches of Dorset, England, this expansive, 320-acre sanctuary is a symphony of nature’s finest offerings.

You’re welcomed by a rich mosaic of habitats, from the majestic sea cliffs that hug the coastline, to the verdant meadows, peaceful hedgerows and leafy woodlands that extend inland.

As you explore this idyllic landscape, you’ll encounter a vibrant array of wildlife as well as major landmarks like the stately Durlston Castle and the massive Great Globe.

As you explore the network of trails threading through Durlston Country Park, you’ll find yourself not merely an observer but an active participant in this thriving, vibrant ecosystem.

3. Take a Ride on the Swanage Railway

As you step onto the platform of Swanage Railway, you’re embarking on a journey into the storied age of steam.

This operational railway line, nestled in the heart of Dorset, is a piece of living history. As the whistle sounds and you board the vintage carriage, you’re not just sitting on a train; you’re stepping into a bygone era.

The steam from the locomotive fills the air as you embark on a 12-mile journey through the picturesque Purbeck countryside.

This isn’t just a mode of transport, but a significant piece of Swanage’s history, brought to life through careful preservation.

A wonderful way to connect with the past while enjoying the beauty of the Somerset countryside and a worth first entry in our guide to the best things to do see and do in Swanage.

4. Take a Walk on Swanage Pier

 Swanage Pier is a crucial piece of Swanage’s maritime history, stretching out over the blue waters of the English Channel.

Built in 1895, this Victorian-era structure in Swanage, Dorset, stands as a testament to the town’s past, once a vital embarkation point for paddle steamer services along the coast.

The pier extends over 642 feet into the sea, supported by a framework of robust greenheart timber piles.

As you tread along the wooden deck, you’re surrounded by an expanse of azure waters, views of the sandy beach and the distinctive chalk cliffs of Ballard Down.

Marine life thrives beneath its aging structure, creating a unique location for diving, while anglers are a common sight, casting their lines from the deck.

The exhibition centre at the start of the pier tells the story of its history and restoration, a journey through time that adds depth to your visit.

One of the best places to visit in Swanage in our book!

5. See Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

No Swanage sightseeing trip would be complete without a visit to to Harry Rocks.

These chalk formations, located four miles from Swanage at on the Isle of Purbeck are a part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Rising majestically from the turquoise sea, these white, weather-beaten pillars stand like sentinels at the edge of the cliffs.

The two stack rocks, often referred to as Old Harry and his wife, are remnants of a once extensive stretch of chalk cliffs that eroded over time due to the relentless action of waves.

From the high cliff tops or the decks of a tour boat, you’re afforded panoramic views of these natural sculptures set against the dramatic English Channel.

A thriving avian population here offers an added delight for bird enthusiasts.

Old Harry Rocks, in their stark grandeur and storied geological history, encapsulate the ceaseless dance between the Earth and the elements, a symbol of the ever-changing face of our world.

6. Go to the Purbeck Mining Museum

When you step into the Purbeck Mining Museum, you are immersing yourself in the rich industrial heritage of Dorset.

This museum is a dedicated space preserving the history of ball clay mining, a once vital industry in the region.

Within the museum, you’ll find a wealth of artefacts, exhibits, and displays, each shedding light on the techniques and tools used in ball clay extraction and transport.

One of the museum’s highlights is a reconstructed mine tunnel that offers a glimpse into the conditions experienced by the miners.

Set within an old clay works, the museum also includes the restoration of a narrow-gauge railway line once used for moving clay, now offering rides to visitors.

Historical buildings, like the drying sheds and the dragline excavator, further transport you to a bygone era.

If you’re looking for a bit of Swanage history and heritage, then this captivating mining museum is not to be missed.

7. See Dancing Ledge

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures in Swanage, then Dancing Ledge, is an ideal destination and a unique feature of the Jurassic Coast.

This flat area of rock at the base of a small cliff is roughly the size of a dance floor, hence its name.

Carved out by quarrymen in the 19th century, Dancing Ledge served as a shipping point for the purbeck limestone they extracted.

Evidence of this history can still be seen in the form of cranes and cuttings in the cliff face.

Your path to Dancing Ledge meanders through verdant fields and a challenging descent, offering breathtaking views of the undulating coastline and the vast English Channel.

Once you arrive at the ledge, exploration awaits: discover the rock pools created by past quarrying activity—one of which has been transformed into a unique swimming spot—or simply revel in the stunning seaside panorama.

The area is also a hotspot for wildlife, so keep an eye out for a diverse array of bird species and, if you’re lucky, a dolphin. 

A visit to Dancing Ledge delivers an enriching blend of natural splendour, wildlife sightings and a tangible connection to the region’s historical narrative.

8. Enjoy the Views from Peveril Point

 Peveril Point is a  rugged headland marking the eastern boundary of Swanage Bay.

This spit of land juts out into the English Channel, presenting a natural promontory that has guided mariners for centuries.

From Peveril Point, you can take in sweeping views of Swanage Bay to the west and, on clear days, the Isle of Wight to the east.

The headland’s high vantage point offers a panorama that stretches across the blue expanse of the Channel, making it a popular spot for visitors and locals alike.

Closer examination of Peveril Point reveals a fascinating variety of wildlife and plants, nurtured by the diverse micro-habitats created by the rocky outcrop and surrounding grassland.

The area is also dotted with man-made structures, such as the remnants of Victorian-era coastguard buildings and a lifeboat station.

Your journey to Peveril Point offers an escape into natural beauty, stunning coastal views and a peek into the region’s maritime history.

It’s another must-see attractions if you’re looking for things to do in Swanage and the surrounding area.

9. Visit Studland Bay

When you set foot on Studland Bay, you’re stepping into a natural sanctuary nestled within the Isle of Purbeck.

This beach, a wide arc of soft, golden sand extending for four miles, is framed by undulating dunes and vibrant heathland, crafting a picturesque seaside tableau.

As you meander along this seaside sanctuary, to one side you’ll find the serene, shallow water lapping at the shore, while on the other, a bustling ecosystem thrives.

This bay is a refuge for an array of flora and fauna, counting among its residents every one of Britain’s six native reptile species and a rich variety of bird species.

The southern extremity of the bay yields views of the renowned Old Harry Rocks, while the northern tip is known for its designated naturist area.

A short journey away, the Studland Heath National Nature Reserve waits to be explored, offering a change of scenery and further wildlife encounters.

Whether you’re drawn to the gentle sway of the sea, the tranquillity of a beachside stroll, or the thrill of bird-spotting, Studland Bay provides a harmonious blend of scenic beauty, biodiversity, and leisurely activities.

Here, you’re not just visiting a beach – you’re immersing yourself in a vibrant, natural tableau tucked away on Dorset’s captivating coast.

10. Explore Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The sight of Corfe Castle rising above the landscape is nothing short of majestic.

This iconic ruin, set on the Isle of Purbeck, hails from the 11th century and stands as a powerful testament to Britain’s tumultuous past.

Constructed by William the Conqueror and once a royal fortress, Corfe Castle bears the scars of centuries of battles and sieges.

Its weathered stones tell a tale of power, betrayal, and conflict, most notably during the English Civil War when it was partially demolished by Parliamentarian forces.

As you wander through the ruins, you’ll see remnants of once grand halls, towers, and defensive walls, all silently narrating their stories.

The castle commands a strategic position atop a hill, offering sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, a panorama that transports you back to medieval times.

Visiting Corfe Castle is about stepping into history, feeling the pulse of centuries past, and losing yourself in a narrative etched in stone and time.

11. Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre

Entering the Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre, you’re about to take a walk through the history of this lovely Dorset town.

It’s brimming with artefacts, exhibits and detailed accounts that vividly chronicle Swanage’s vibrant past.

You’ll discover displays encompassing a broad spectrum of the town’s history, from prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the area to the Victorian era, when Swanage blossomed into a beloved seaside resort.

Each collection is a window into a distinct period, offering you a glimpse of life as it unfolded then.

The museum places considerable emphasis on the significant local industries that were instrumental in moulding Swanage.

These include the legacy of stone quarrying, the railways and its maritime undertakings.

There are also intriguing exhibits showcasing the town’s military history, its contribution during World War II, and the geological wonders of the Jurassic Coast.

At its core, the Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre is a richly woven tapestry of the town’s heritage and stands as one of the best things to do in Swanage.

12. Take a Trip to the Isle of Purbeck

The Isle of Purbeck is a stunning peninsula near Swanage.

Although not an island in the true sense, it’s referred to as an ‘isle’ due to its distinct geographical boundaries, being surrounded by water on three sides.

The English Channel lies to the south and east while Poole Harbour and Bournemouth is to the north.

The Isle of Purbeck is celebrated for its diverse landscape, which includes chalk downs and a beautiful coastline that forms part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

This variety of natural environments supports a rich array of wildlife and flora, making it a paradise for nature lovers.

Significant landmarks on the Isle of Purbeck include Corfe Castle and Old Harry Rocks (see above)

The Isle of Purbeck is also renowned for its tradition of quarrying Purbeck stone – a practice that’s been carried out for thousands of years and which has left a lasting impression on the local landscape.

13. Tour Anvil Point Lighthouse

Anvil Point Lighthouse is a notable landmark located on the Jurassic Coast near Swanage.

It is an operational lighthouse that stands atop the limestone cliffs of Anvil Point, providing navigation aid to ships along the English Channel.

The lighthouse was first established in 1881 and has since played a crucial role in guiding vessels safely through the treacherous waters off the coast.

Anvil Point Lighthouse is constructed of local stone and features a distinctive white tower with a lantern room that houses the light.

The light emits a characteristic sequence of flashes, which helps sailors identify their position and avoid hazards.

Guided tours are run allowing your to learn about the maritime history of the region while taking in the stunning coastal scenery of the Jurassic Coast

14. Enjoy The Square and Town Centre

The Square and Town Centre in Swanage exude a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere, making it the heart and soul of this picturesque coastal town.

A bustling hub of activity, it entices visitors with its charming streets, diverse shops, and inviting cafes and restaurants.

The Square itself serves as a central gathering place, featuring cosy benches and green spaces where people can relax and soak up the lively ambiance.

Surrounding it are an array of delightful independent boutiques, gift shops, and galleries, offering a delightful assortment of unique treasures and locally crafted goods.

Events are also held throughout the year, from festivals to live music. Be sure to sample the local fish and chips as well! You won’t be disappointed.

15. Hike the Cliff Paths

Swanage Bay

These untamed pathways wind along the rugged coastline, revealing nature’s raw beauty in its most breathtaking form.

As you embark upon these trails, you’ll be able to enjoy some absolutely stunning coastal views of the sea and dramatic cliffs which tower over the tempestous waters below.

The trails, which are well sign-posted, wend they’re away along the Jurassic coast, past hidden covers, headlands and secluded beaches.

These trails guide you past an assortment of natural wonders, hidden covers and secluded beaches.

A must visit for those of you looking for things to do in Swanage and a wonderful opportunity to experience the majesty of the land and sea.

 

Dale Shelabarger

Dale is the owner and founder of Cottages to Rent which he launched back in 2005. As well as promoting holiday cottages, Dale blogs regularly about top UK holiday destinations, visitor attractions and places of historical interest.