33 delightfully retro things to do in dorset this summer

July 3, 2019

This is what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been sat indoors in a thick knit cardigan, staring out of my window, hoping that the English sun will finally peek out from those dreary clouds and make it socially acceptable for me to wear sunglasses again. 

This whole time that I’ve spent indoors, I’ve been curating a list of things to do in the summer that aren’t “go to the beach”. I crave variety and new explorations. If you’re like me and into culture, nostalgic stories and indulging in something new, I believe my list will make your summer unforgettable.

1. Strawberry Picking

One of my favourite things to do in the summer, anywhere, is to pick fruit. Sopley Farm is a beautiful place to pick strawberries and walk amongst the vines. You can also pick fresh raspberries, blackcurrants and my favourite- potatoes. If you’re not sure what to do with them when you get home, I have some summer recipe ideas on my Pinterest board.

Sopley Farm, Sopley, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 7AZ

2. Create A Summer Perfume

Dorset’s 19th Century Keynestone Mill is home to the biggest botanical gardens in the UK, entirely dedicated to aromatic and scented plants. If you like sniffing things then you can indulge in a scented garden tour or create your own perfume using your favourite fragrances from the garden. Plus, during the summer they host an outdoor cinema in the gardens showing old films like Volver or classic Audrey Hepburn movies. But be quick, they sell out fast.

Keyneston Mill, Tarrant Keyneston, Blandford Forum DT11 9HZ

3. Watch The Sunset By The Jurrasic Cost

I’ve been endlessly recommended by locals to go visit the Jurassic coast. And after a quick skim on Instagram, I can see why. Sharing a glass of wine, overlooking the famous arch of Durdle Door looks like a dreamy end to a summer evening.

The Jurassic Coast

4. Tour A Vineyard

Although England is not known for its wine, we don’t have to hop over to France to visit a vineyard. The South Coast has fine enough weather to have its own. Dorset’s English Oak Vineyard specialises in sparkling wine and is located next to a 17th-century Winehouse. A tour of the whole vineyard with a wine tasting is only £20. Throw in an extra £30 and they’ll set up a cheeky picnic for you. 

English Oak Vineyard, Lowers Drove, Lytchett Matravers, Poole BH16 6BX

5. Old Coastal Walks

Although dogs roaming free usually turns me off quicker than a man who says “fam”, I would still visit Hengistbury Head for its beautifully creamy sands and the coastal walks heaped in history. They even have a nearby visitor’s centre if you thrive on reading historical information rather than looking at it.

6. Discover The Blue Pool

When I came across photos of The Blue Pool I thought I was looking at photos of America. But no, this place is in Dorset. This little blue haven got its name from the water that often changes colour from a dark blue to turquoise.

Old Furzebrook Rd Wareham, Dorset, BH20 5AR

7. Ride The Waves

Being on the coast, you’ll find a lot of surfers mincing around, decked out in the full gear, chatting about the waves, rather than chasing one. There are a number of places located along the coast that will teach you how to surf, even if you don’t shop at Quicksilver.

8. Walk With Swans

The swannery in Abbotsbury is extremely old. Benedictine Monks established the site and farmed the swans to produce food for one of their huge banquets. What’s left of their creation is one of the only places in the world where you can walk among a colony of nesting swans. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating one.

Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd, West Yard Barn, West Street, Abbotsbury, Dorset, DT3 4JT

9. An evening In Sandbanks

Not only does Sandbanks have some of the cleanest beaches and coastal walks, but it is lined with some of the most gorgeous houses I’ve ever seen. If you’re like me, a walk along side these huge beachside houses will fill you with ambition and motivation for what could be.


10. Find A Summer Read

There are many quaint little bookshops to have a nose around. Gullivers bookstore has been opened since the 60s. Or if you want second hand and collectables, there’s a delightful little store in Swanage called Edition One. And for those who want to take their time with an iced coconut latte, surrounded by vintage goods, I would highly recommend The Crooked Book in Boscombe. They seem to stock my entire Amazon wishlist.

11. Eat Local Seafood

Being near the sea, fresh local seafood is plentiful and I’ve had a few recommendations from locals; there’s The Seafood Shack located in the beer garden of the 18th-century pub Thomas Tripp in Christchurch, The Crab for fine dining with Michelin-star-trained chefs or dinner with a sea view in WestBeach.

12. Spend A Day In Thomas Hardy's World

The famous writer Thomas Hardy was inspired by a lot of Dorset, and namely the small town of Shaftesbury. The town looks as cute as a button and you may recognise this road from a bread advert. Can you guess which one?


13. Play Volleyball On The Beach

The sport of Volleyball officially became recognised as an Olympic sport in the 60s. Flash forward to modern day and I officially recognise it as a fun sport to play on the beach. I don’t think I’m the only one. There are a few volleyball courts scattered along the coast. I’d recommend heading to Sandbanks or Boscombe where there are volleyball courts that you can rock up to and play for free. But bring your own ball… and maybe some players. It can get pretty exhausting playing alone.

14. Drink Champagne In A Hot Air Balloon

If you want to see the coastline in all its glory, hit up a hot air balloon and glide along the shore. The first modern hot air balloon was built in the 60s, and they’ve became a recreational past time in the UK ever since. A family company called Aerosaurus offer Hot Air Balloon tours of Dorset, accompanied by champagne. Although, I might need to drink the whole bottle first, just to get me in one.

15. Sunday Lunch In An Italian Garden

A man called Thomas Simpson bought Compton Acres in the 1920s and designed his huge garden to reflect his travels. Each section of the garden has a theme like Japanese, Italian and even a wooded valley. Now these gardens are open to the public and provide a hearty Sunday lunch with a view.

Compton Acres, 164 Canford Cliffs Road, Poole Dorset, BH13 7ES

16. Picnic In Bournemouth's Gardens

If you’re sick of getting sand EVERYWHERE then having a picnic in Bournemouth’s upper, central or lower gardens are a favourite alternative for most locals. The 18th-century gardens are stretched alongside a small stream, so even if it’s busy in the town centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a picturesque place to pitch up.

27a Surrey Rd, Bournemouth BH4 9HW

17. Wander By Weymouth Harbour

Weymouth harbour has been in operation since at least the 1300s. It played a role in the fight against the Spanish Armada, Dunkirk and many more civilised moments in history. By the ’60s, the harbour’s engineers were put out of action. It’s now become a beautiful place to wander, look at boats and be tempted by a trip to France.

18. Drink Wine In A Castle

Yes, I found the perfect place to drink wine. Sherbourne Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh and has been beautifully preserved. The gardens are also said to be hugely unaltered by time. So, a beautiful place to explore, and they make their own wine on site. A must for rosé lovers.


Sherbourne Castle, New Road, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 5NR

19. Wake Up By The Beach

Waking up to sea views isn’t just reserved for the people living in Sandbanks. Grab a tent and pitch up in Acton Fields, a campsite that has been opened since the ’40s. Or you can go rogue and find your own spot along the coast.

20. Drink A Local Gin

One of the oldest and most popular gins in Dorset is Conker gin, a take on a London Dry, brewed in Bournemouth’s first distillery. You can either grab a drink on site or grab a bottle from a quaint little bottle shop called The Craft Cow in Poole. 

21. A Day In A Victorian Town

The town of Swanage is a vintage postcard dream. It’s full of little treasures like kooky sweet shops, a small but pretty beach and a Steam railway. After one visit, I am itching to go back, explore more and purchase a straw hat I found but decided not to get. The regret of my life.

22. Breakfast On The Pier

Bournemouth’s pier opened in the 1800s and is still an extremely popular location today despite the council putting a toll both in place. I always think it’s best to avoid the crowds by visiting in the morning. They have a place to grab breakfast in the Key West Bar & Grill, -a delicious way to start a summer morning surrounded by the sea.

23. Catch Crabs

Going “crabbing’ is a thing in Dorset. I had never heard of it before I moved here. It’s an activity involving catching (shockingly) crabs. Most people chuck the crabs back when they’re done, which is similar to swimming whilst eating a sandwich- absolutely pointless. I’d rather take them home and eat them with a lovely seasonal salad. A good spot to catch crabs (other than Cameo Nightclub) is Mudeford Quay where a beach shop is on hand for all your “crabbing” needs. The quay is especially retro, being built in the 1940s. And, when you get bored with crabs, you can go check out the late poet William Rose’s house.

24. Cocktails In The Smugglers Inn

The Smugglers Inn used to be the headquarters of a French smuggler Pierre Latour. Now, it’s a cute pastel building with a beautiful garden serving their own signature cocktail – a Rhubarb & Custard. If you plan on hitting the cocktails hard and don’t fancy the journey home, they have rooms available for the night.

Osmington Mills, Weymouth, Dorset, DT3 6HF

25. Swimming In 18th Century Baths

A lido with hot tubs? I’m 100% there. The sea water baths in Lymington is the oldest lido in the UK and was known in the 1800s for health-giving properties. I’ve always been fascinated by English lidos that were popular in the 1930s, but this one looks like one of the largest I’ve seen so far.

Lymington Sea Water Baths, Bath Road, LYMINGTON, SO41 3SE

26. Eat From A Local Chippy

If you haven’t had enough of the local seafood, then I’d recommend grabbing a cheeky fish & chips from Chez Fred. This chippy opened in the ’80s and dishes up locally sourced fish and homemade sides, giving you a flavour of Dorset. With it being a 15 min walk from the beach, it’s the perfect place to grab a decent chippy and watch the tide come in.

10 Seamoor Rd, Bournemouth BH4 9AN

27. Cruise On A Vintage Yacht

In Poole, you can hop on a 1938 Vintage Yacht and get a little barracho with Dorset Cruises. The Dorset Queen has been in service for over 80 years and is now offering to carry guests on trips like a sunset cruise, gin cruise, a craft ale cruise and even a champagne & oyster cruise, all throughout the summer.

28. Cheeseboard, But Make It Dorset

Picture this; a summer afternoon in the garden with a bottle of wine and a cheeseboard. Sounds like pure bliss, right? You can make it Dorset-style by adding Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese to your spread. It’s a traditional crumbly cheese that has blue veins and has been awarded Geographical Status, only allowing cheese made in Dorset to use its name. Woodbridge Farm is well known for producing Blue Vinney cheese and it can be picked up in a local market…

29. Shop In An Outdoor Market

Where is a local market though? Wimborne is the answer. Wimborne’s Outdoor Market was founded in 1860 by a chap called Thomas Ensor and has been managed by his family ever since. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the market boasts of 200 different market traders selling vintage treasures, food and much, much more. 

12 Station Rd, Wimborne BH21 1QU

30. An Evening Row

Although I’m not partial to getting in waters where creatures do their business, I do find being surrounded by water relaxing. Rowing boats have long been a past time in the pretty Christchurch Harbour. And up until the ’60s, rowboats were used as ferries. Now you can rent one with a friend or completely alone and just drift whilst reading your summer book.

31. Take An Open Air Bus

This may seem like an obvious choice but exploring the Bournemouth area via an open-air tour bus has been popular since the ’60s. And I don’t want to break from that tradition because feeling the breeze whilst seeing the sites isn’t a bad way to see the coast. Many open-air busses can be caught from Bournemouth town centre and will take you right along the Dorset seaside.

32. A Night In Hotel Miramar

Hotel Miramar is famed for having J.R. Tolkein stay there every single summer for 20 years before he decided to make Dorset his permanent home. It’s not hard to see why when you find out that they have cosy rooms with sea views and dining areas next to a panoramic view across the bay. That Lord Of The Rings author has some great taste.

East Overcliff Drive, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 3AL

33. Rent A Beach Hut

And of course, those pastel coloured beach huts that line the Dorset coast are the cutest places to spend some time in the summer. In Mudeford, there are a few that are over 100 years old. According to the official Bournemouth website, you can rent a beach hut for as little as £39 a day.

Do you live in Dorset or are you planning a trip there? Which one are you gonna do first? Tell me in the comments!

P.S. Don’t forget to share with your friends!

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