25 Best Things to Do in Poole | A Local’s Guide [2023]

25 Best Things to Do in Poole | A Local’s Guide [2023]

I’ve loved Poole since long before I moved to Christchurch in 2002. Partly because a few connections popped up before I ever even saw the town. My step-grandfather was from Poole, and sadly died around the time I was born. Everyone loved ‘Ernie from Poole’, who apparently spoke with a bit of a West Country burr.

Then a schoolfriend moved to Poole. The little I heard about where she was going to live spoke to me of palm trees and sunny skies – far more exotic than the Northumberland I grew up in.

Later, as a teen, I really got into ordering from a company called Cosmetics to Go, who were based at 29 & 1/2 High Street, Poole. That business later changed its name, and what was the very first branch of LUSH now occupies the whole of 29 High Street.

Since then, I’ve been to Poole far more times than I can count, as I’ve now lived in Dorset for over two decades. I even gave birth in Poole in 2013, and love the fact that my daughter’s passport bears the name of the place where my late and much loved step-grandfather came from. Though, tragically we never met due to his sudden death.

There are so many places to visit in Poole, and things to do around the Poole area. Hence this guide to the Poole attractions to add to your itinerary when visiting the town. Having already covered stuff to do in the nearby town of Bournemouth (which basically adjoins Poole; in fact the main Bournemouth University campus is actually in Poole), here are 25 perfect things to do in Poole. Come rain or shine.

Things to do in Poole contents

Poole Quay is a working port – and (possibly) the second-largest natural harbour on the planet

25 of the best things to do in Poole

See the second-biggest natural harbour

Some say that Poole Harbour is the world’s biggest natural harbour, but I disagree. I did live in Sydney for about six months, after all. Vast, glittering Port Jackson in the Australian city is surely indisputably the world’s largest natural harbour.

There is some debate over which natural harbour takes second place. If you ask Google, the search engine will cite the BBC’s Coast series, which puts Poole at number two. I for one am content to settle for that! Of all the things to see in Poole, this is definitely number one.

Also according to the BBC, Poole Harbour’s waters are so shallow that special channels have been created there to allow larger boats to enter the quay. In fact a highlight of visiting Poole Harbour is to see all the glittering vessels, including the deluxe yachts made by local company Sunseeker.

There are plenty of pubs, snack bars and eateries clustered around the harbour. Including, incredibly, a great value branch of Wetherspoon’s called The Quay. If you’re lucky, you might even bag a table here with those stunning views, though obviously they go very fast.

We once parked our vintage VW at Poole Quay during Quay For My Car one summer. The quay lined with classic vehicles was one incredible sight!

Find out more about Poole Quay restaurants in this post.

Walk or cycle eastwards from Poole Quay

If you’re the energetic, ourdoorsy sort and the weather’s fine, you could potentially walk a long way when heading east from Poole Quay. I recently did just that, catching a train to Poole then walking all the way to Bournemouth train station. Which is a fair old hike, I have to say!

Heading east, first of all you’ll see the Old Lifeboat Station. Next up is Baiter Park, then Whitecliff. After that it’s really a question of how far you want to go. I simply headed east and passed through Lilliput, Canford Cliffs and Branksome Chine before cutting through Westbourne towards Bournemouth. It did take some time, but it was a lovely day.

I loved seeing the palatial homes of Lilliput and Canford Cliffs, which are second only in the area to Sandbanks. The course at Parkstone Golf Club is glorious, too; if I had any inclination to pick up a club then I’d be heading straight there. You may also pass Compton Acres when heading this way.

Head east from Poole Quay and you’ll see more and more sand and green space

Stroll the streets of the Old Town

The streets just inland from Poole Quay are also an interesting place to take a wander. Or stop for a bite to eat, or a bit of retail therapy. High Street Is the main one to follow, and you can find the original LUSH store here at number 29.

There are some quirky little shops in this area, such as the Truly Scrumptious traditional sweet shop at number 5 near the harbour end. In fact the High Street stretches from there all the way to the Dolphin Centre. The end near the water is best for one-off independent stores, while as you approach the shopping mall you’ll see more and more big name brands.

Sakuna Khrua Thai and Diva Italian are my favourite eateries in the High Street. Yum! Wandering through the town to track down your own preference, though, is among the best things to do in Poole, as there are such tempting choices.

Hit one of the sandy Poole beaches

Hamworthy Park car park, Lulworth Avenue, Hamworthy, Poole BH15 4DH

LIke neighbouring Bournemouth, Poole boasts an abundance of sandy beaches to stretch out on, swim at or stroll along. That’s one of the reasons why people flock to the region for a holiday or short break.

Top picks regarding seaside places to visit near Poole town centre include Canford Cliffs, Branksome Chine, Hamworthy Park, Lake Drive, Branksome Dene, Shore Road, Flaghead Chine and Rockley Point.

My top locals’ tip is to head for Hamworthy, which is relatively off the tourist radar. Though it can still get very busy during heatwaves or the school summer holidays in July and August. You can see the Purbecks and Brownsea Island from here. There’s also a kids’ playground, a paddling pool and a large, open green expanse that’s perfect for picnicking.

If you want to see the sea and how the other half live, though, my recommendation has to be upmarket Sandbanks. Which other Poole tourist attractions allow you to spot celebs (maybe) and enjoy the best Blue Flag beach in Britain?

Trips to Sandbanks are very popular with visitors to Poole

Visit ‘Millionaire’s Row’ in Sandbanks

Sandbanks Beach car park, Poole BH13 7QQ

Well-heeled Sandbanks boasts more Blue Flags than any other resort in the UK. It’s also home to some seriously enviable and Instagrammable real estate. They don’t call it ‘Millionaire’s Row’ for nothing. For many, this is one of the top places to see in Poole.

So you can visit just for a beach day, or if you’re curious do take a wander around to gawp at the breathtakingly beautiful settings of some of the properties here. It’s a favourite spot among celebrities, especially footballers. At one point Harry and Sandra Redknapp and Jamie and Louise Redknapp all lived here.

At the beach there’s also games to keep you busy like table tennis, volleyball and mini golf. There’s also a kids’ play park and a lifeguard service in summer.

Spy red squirrels on Brownsea Island

Brownsea Island is the biggest in Poole Harbour. It’s managed by the National Trust, and is home to one of the healthiest populations of red squirrels in the British Isles. I grew up in Northumberland with red squirrels eating from the bird table outside the kitchen window. It was only when I got wed, and guests gaped in awe at the red squirrels running amok in the hotel grounds, that I realised how rare that was.

Now, the best chance anyone in the Poole and Bournemouth area has of seeing red squirrels is on Brownsea Island. If they’re taking place when you visit you can join a red squirrel walk for free, maximising your chances of seeing these enchanting creatures. They’re a lot smaller than grey ones.

Some rare birds can also be seen on the heathland or woodland or by the lagoon at Brownsea. Species to look out for include Oystercatchers, Nightjars, Kingfishers, Terns, Dunlins and more.

Apart from wildlife, Brownsea Island is also known as the spiritual home of the British Scouting and Guiding movements. It all began here in 1907, when Baden-Powell took 20 boys there to camp and learn life and outdoor skills and about the local wildlife.

As a former Brownie with two pack holidays and a horrendous uniform under my belt and a daughter now attending her own unit, this history only adds to the appeal of a visit to Brownsea Island. You can get there by ferry from Sandbanks or Poole Quay.

For any wildlife fan, or a current or past Girl Guide or Scout, Brownsea Island tops the list of things to do near Poole.

One of the Brownsea Isand ferries in Poole harbour. Spot the red squirrel!

Spot birds at RSPB Arne

Arne Road, Arne, Wareham BH20 5BJ

Outdoor activities in Poole don’t come better than this when you’re a bit of a twitcher (like me). At Arne there are more than 550 hectares of marsh and heathland. Which are heaven as a habitat for our feathered friends.

This is also one of the best things to do in Poole for families, as the walks you can take here are child-friendly. Missy loves to see anything with wings and we simply have to stroll to school via the little local lake each day. Which has paid dividends. There I’ve spotted a Tufted Duck, a pair of ‘Manky Mallards’, a Muscovy Duck, a Cormorant, a Shoveler and – wonder of wonders – a Kingfisher.

Anyway, Arne is even better. Here you might get to spy a Spoonbill or two, an Avocet, a Harrier, the Dartford warbler, an Osprey, a Godwit, a Stonechat, a Nightjar or a Great Spotted Woodpecker. You may also hear a cuckoo’s call.

It’s not only about birds, though. Other wildlife you can expect to see includes any of the half dozen reptiles resident in the UK, as well as Sika Deer. Smaller wildlife like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies are prolific here in summer, while in autumn red and white fly agaric toadstools pop up within the woodland.

Play at Poole Park

Poole Park, Poole, Dorset BH15 2SF

Over 100 acres of parkland await, just by Poole Harbour. Poole Park is an oasis within the built-up areas of central Poole. You can see the swans skimming elegantly over the surface of the saltwater lagoon here, or feed the ducks (bird food or grains are recommended rather than bread).

There’s a couple of lovely gardens to enjoy too – the fragrant and colourful Rose Garden or the appealingly serene Quiet Garden. Two kids’ play parks, a pottery centre and a cafe add to the list of things to do in Poole Park – and there’s even The Ark indoor soft play centre for wet weather days. Missy recently went to a party there and loved it!

Simply taking a walk around the water’s edge is my favourite pastime here. If you feel like getting out on the water, hire a small dingy or pedalo from the concession based here. More energetic pursuits on offer include running, following the fitness trail, or playing tennis or crazy golf.

Working boats and luxury yachts can be seen at Poole Quay

Hop aboard a harbour cruise

While in Poole, why not view the second-largest natural harbour in the world from the water? You can take in sights including Sandbanks and Brownsea Island while sailing the calm seas here. Seeing the photogenic quay from the water is surely key among things to do in Poole Harbour.

The 70-minute cruise departs from Poole Harbour and you’ll pass Green, Long, Furzey and Round Islands as well as Brownsea. You can also spot Henry VIII’s castle on Brownsea from your boat – plus the homes of the mega-rich in Sandbanks.

Depending on the weather, you can sit out on the deck in the sunshine or shelter from the rain within a spacious saloon. Don’t forget to capture some images of the picturesque Poole Quay buildings as you sail away!

Click here to book the Poole Harbour and Islands boat trip

Jump on the open-top Purbeck Breezer

If you haven’t got your sea legs and would rather travel by bus, you could take a trip on the Purbeck Breezer instead. This open-top bus calls at the Canford Cliffs parade and Sandbank ferry stops when travelling between Bournemouth and Swanage.

Take the bus into Bournemouth or the classy suburb of Westbourne when heading east. Or opt to go west and you can hop off at Shell Bay, Studland or Swanage, which is the final destination. These are some of the best Poole places to visit for those who appreciate the stunning coastline in this part of the UK.

For more info, check out this complete guide to the Purbeck Breezer.

Sweet-toothed types shouldn’t miss Truly Scrumptious in Poole Old Town!

Sail along the Jurassic Coast

Another option for those who do want to take to the water is to hop onto a two-hour cruise along the Jurassic Coast. This one also departs from Poole Quay. Again you’ll pass Brownsea, Round, Furzey, Green and Long islands, and see Sandbanks from the water. Of all the things to do in Poole Quay, getting out there on the water is one of the most appealing.

As with the Purbeck Breezer, the final destination is Swanage. You can also see Old Harry Rocks when taking this cruise. All cruises are subject to favourable weather conditions, and again you can sit out on deck or inside depending on your preference and how the day goes.

Don’t forget to picture dinosaurs roaming along by the coastline, as you travel by boat looking back at the land! That’s why it’s called the Jurassic Coast, of course.

Click here to book this Jurassic Coast cruise from Poole Quay

SUP your way to Old Harry Rocks

For something different, stay on the water by learning to paddle a SUP. This experience starts down the road in Swanage, and will take you to the chalky white faces of Old Harry Rocks.

Everything you need to get waterborne is supplied, including tuition, wetsuits, life jackets and of course a stand-up paddle board. You could even see oystercatchers, seals, cormorants or even dolphins as you skim across the harbour waters.

Click here to book this SUP tour to Old Harry Rocks

The very first LUSH shop at 29 & 1/2 High Street, Poole

Ride an e-bike to Corfe Castle

Make like the Famous Five (Corfe Castle is said to have inspired Kirrin Castle) and head west from Pool to explore Dorset by e-bike. You’ll ride a Cube e-bike, just like the one I own and love, past glittering Sandbanks, chalky Old Harry Rocks and the stunning Studland Beach and Nature Reserve. In fact it was taking this tour that inspired me to invest in a Cube hybrid of my own!

If you haven’t tried an e-bike before, be warned! You’ll be a convert, as some effort is required but it takes the hard work out of climbing hills. It’s a cost-effective way to test a cycle worth a few thousand pounds, while seeing Dorset at the ideal pace. One of the most fun things to do in Poole for sure.

Click here to book an e-bike tour from Poole

Take cover at Tower Park

Yarrow Road, Poole BH12 4NY

If it’s indoor activities in Poole you’re looking for, then Tower Park is the town’s answer to Bournemouth’s Bh2. Here you’ll find plenty to keep everyone smiling, even when the Great British weather isn’t quite so – well… great.

Tower Park offers restaurants, a bingo hall, a cinema, bowling, a kids’ soft play centre and Splashdown Water Park. So you can see a film, win a big prize, slip down the waterslides, try ten-pin bowling or simply enjoy a delicious feast.

Kids love Lemur Landings and Splashdown in particular. A friend of Missy’s had a birthday party at the soft play place a few years back and they all had a brilliant time. The food we ordered from the cafe there was pretty good too.

Eateries to pick from at Tower Park include Nando’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Express, Burger King, Day’s and more. Day’s is an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and we love eating here. Offer me as much Asian food as I can fill my face with and I’m always in. Don’t miss the chicken satay or veg tempura starters, and the range of Chinese and Thai style curries and noodles.

For places to go in Poole that don’t require blue skies and sunshine, head to Tower Park on any day of the week.

Poole Museum can be found in the Old Town, close to the quay

Get arty at Poole Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is Poole’s ‘Centre for the Arts’. Here you can see a Shakespeare play or opera, check out the artwork created by the students of Arts University Bournemouth, watch a film or stand-up comic, or attend a live music gig.

Poole Lighthouse offers something for everyone – from kids to fans of literature, modern art, dance, music, outdoor arts and more. Taking in a show or exhibition here is a must for visiting culture vultures. Some of the most quirky things to do in Poole also take place right here.

Discover Poole Museum

4 High Street, Poole BH15 1BW

Poole Museum is right in the centre of town, and in fact one of my neighbours at my past address used to work there (maybe still does; we’ve lost touch). You cannot miss the glass-fronted entrance when you’re at Poole Quay or in the Old Town area.

This part was built in 2007, but the site goes back way further. The Poole History Centre is housed in Victorian Oakley’s Mill, and the medieval Wool Hall here is thought to date back to the 14th century. Scaplen’s Court Museum’s origins also lie in that era.

The museum also manages Sir Anthony Caro’s Sea Music sculpture on Poole Quay, and is home to the local tourist information centre too. With permanent and temporary exhibitions and a packed calendar of events, there’s always something to see and experience at this impressive museum. No admission charge also means it’s one of the finest free things to do in Poole.

Poole Lifeboat Museum is just east of the quay and the RNLI has its HQ in Poole too

Visit Poole Lifeboat Museum

Poole Old Lifeboat Museum and Shop, Fisherman’s Dock, Poole BH15 1HU

The RNLI is headquartered in Poole. In fact head office jobs are often advertised here in the local press and online. The RNLI College is also based here, on West Quay Road.

Though there are other museums across the country in places like Whitby, Eastbourne and Salcombe, Poole’s is to lifeguarding what Brownsea Island is to Girl Guiding (and Scouting). Visiting is another of the top things to do in Poole on a rainy day and it’s also free to enter.

Poole’s station was based in the boathouse here until 1974. Now there’s a museum and shop here, including a vintage vessel. Head east from Poole Quay and you’ll soon reach Fisherman’s Dock and the museum.

You can even stay at the RNLI College if you’d like to, as it offers hotel accommodation!

Go to Upton Country Park

Poole Road, Upton, Poole BH17 7BJ

Upton Country Park makes a great escape from the town, and a change from the coast. It’s one of the most popular attractions near Poole, and offers a historic home, a parkland setting, an art gallery, a children’s play trail, a plant centre and a lovely tea room.

140 acres are in fact at your disposal when you visit Upton Country Park. Georgian Upton House is also a Grade II listed building and the park has been awarded Green Heritage Site Accreditation. It’s also free to enter, though there is a charge for using the car park.

One of the simplest pleasures here is to take an energetic hike or relaxed wander through the vast and well-kept grounds. You can also take part in a free health walk if you want to!

We know someone called Upton locally (in Christchurch). I wonder if they’re any relation?

See an Italian villa and a range of gardens at Compton Acres in Canford Cliffs

Explore Compton Acres

Canford Cliffs Road, Poole BH13 7ES

Compton Acres is closer to the coastline in Canford Cliffs (another wealthy part of Dorset). It has a beautiful privately owned garden that was built on the back of margarine manufacture. Yes, really!

What’s special about Compton Acres is that you can experience the gardens of the world in just one place. There’s an Italian Garden complete with ornamental porticos, a Heather Garden that appeals to my Scottish clan roots and a Japanese Garden – Mister’s favourite.

To see glorious fauna from all over the planet, days out in Poole don’t come better than this.

Fun at Farmer Palmer’s

Wareham Road, Organford, Poole BH16 6EU

We discovered Farmer Palmer’s when we won a family ticket at a local summer fair. This place is packed with cute creatures, so is ideal for kids who love to see a farm animal or two.

If you want more hand-on stuff to do in Poole, then you can even get stuck in during an animal feeding session. Days out near Poole don’t come much better – assuming you can cope with the smell of a real life working farm, that is!

There are various rainy day attractions here too, including a kids’ barn and the soft play zone. You can also dine as a family at the Hen House restaurant.

Canford Cliffs is another well-heeled Poole suburb by the sea

Ape around at Monkey World

Tout Hill, Longthorns, Wareham BH20 6HH

Just down the road in Wareham is Monkey World. It reminds me, every time, of my late Nanna, who loved to watch the TV series following the animal antics here. Of all the things to do in and around Poole, this one has emotional resonance for me.

In fact Missy visited for her first-ever day out here – she was only four and was kindly invited to go with another family and their son. She still loves the monkey she picked up at the gift shop, so do be warned that you may need to fork out…

On a 65-acre site, Monkey World is a real-life ape and monkey rescue centre that’s starred on TV. Rescue and rehab are the primary focus, and you get to see a range of primates in as close to their natural habitat as possible.

Tour the Tank Museum

Bovington, Dorset, BH20 6JG

Close to Monkey World is Mister’s favourite Dorset depository – the Tank Museum. I never get tired of hearing about his visit, honestly…

It’s not really one for me – or Missy for that matter – but we enjoyed heading off to Lulworth Cove while the big and little boys explored the world of military vehicles. Not to be missed if that describes someone you know.

Admittedly, it is one of the top things to do in Poole in the rain, if you really have run out of ideas 😉

I passed this charming little church in wealthy Lilliput while walking between Poole and Bournemouth

Taste fine wine at the vineyard

Flowers Drove, Lytchett Matravers, Poole BH16 6BX

Discovering English Oak vineyard is something of a surprise – but a very welcome one indeed. You can book a tour or tasting here, or might even glimpse a haapy couple tying the knot when you visit.

The vineyard is only around quarter of an hour by car from Poole. As well as tours and tastings, they can even supply you with a delicious picnic to enjoy here with a vineyard view. A peasant or deer might even stroll on by if you’re lucky!

English sparkling wine is the speciality here, so don’t miss out on taking away a bottle – or case – of Blanc de Noirs, Cuvee, Rose or Blanc de Blancs. If you love fizz, then this is one of the finest places to go near Poole.

Head to Poole Hill Brewery

41-43 Poole Hill, Bournemouth BH2 5PW

Strictly speaking, Poole Hill Brewery is in Bournemouth, but it has Poole in the name. Placing it firmly in any list of things to do in Poole today, tomorrow or anytime. Another of Mister’s local favourites here!

This local brewery has a taproom, where you can taste the beers at the bar. The range includes vegan brews, and you can watch what’s going on in the brewhouse through the internal windows. Book a tour to see how beer is made, or step into the cellar to see how it’s all stored before bottling.

Branksome Chine and beach is one of Poole’s glorious outdoor spaces

Party on on a sunset cruise

This fun cruise departs from Poole Quay at 7pm and you’ll sail around the harbour for three hours. Again this cruise passes all the islands in the harbour, including Brownsea. It’s among the best Poole Harbour things to do by night!

Don’t worry about the darkness, as there are disco lights to get the party started. You’ll also be served Caribbean style street food, washed down with a decadent and delicious rum punch. African beats will get yout toes tapping too.

As well as feasting, drinking and dancing, you can see Sandbanks, Poole and Bournemouth beaches, Old Harry Rocks and Swanage.

Click here to book this Poole Harbour party cruise

Where to stay in Poole

So that’s the best places to visit in Poole to visit covered. How about where to lay your head? Here are my five top choices when it comes to Poole hotels.

  • RNLI College – Stay where lifeguards are trained, with a bar and restaurant
  • Hotel du Vin – 4 star hotel with bar offering deluxe rooms close to Poole Quay
  • Harbour Heights – 4 star boutique hotel with harbour views & cocktail bar
  • The Canford – 4 star Canford Cliffs hotel with restaurant, car & terrace
  • The Antelope – 3 star hotel by Poole Quay housed in a 15th century inn
The Antelope pub and hotel in Poole could not be in a better spot for exploring and enjoying the town and quay

Which things will you do in Poole?

There are plenty of things to do in Poole Harbour, the town and further afield. Whether you’re visiting solo, with a family or as one of a couple, Poole sightseeing and other attractions could easily keep you occupied for weeks!

You will really love this part of southern England – the only question might be when to return or which nearby area to visit next. I’ll never regret making Dorset my permanent home, that’s for sure!

Polly x

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