From pristine Blue Flag beaches to a quirky, cluttered Old Town, the seaport of Poole offers visitors so much to enjoy while exploring Dorset.
Poole is most known for containing Europe’s largest natural harbour (and the second-largest in the world after Sydney, Australia) and many excellent beaches, but there is definitely more to discover than just these seaside attractions!
In this post, we’re sharing our favourite places to visit in Poole, including the best museums, parks and beaches.
We hope you enjoy learning about this historic coastal town and be sure to let us know in the comments which Poole must-sees we should add to our list!
Since the town is famous for its large natural harbour there is no doubt that the main quay area is one of the best places to visit in Poole.
Poole Quay is lined with traditional pubs, bars, apartments and listed buildings on one side, with yachts gently bobbing on the water at their berths on the other side.
Here is where you can take a boat cruise in the harbour, to the islands, or along the famous Jurassic Coast (we highly recommend this one, which we loved).
Or, you can even catch a ferry further afield to France or the channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
There are public artworks along the quay along with the many places to eat and drink.
The Customs House for instance is a Grade II Listed Building from 1814 which now houses an excellent restaurant and bar. Our other favourites include the pretty green-tiled Poole Arms (pictured below) as well as the traditional Jolly Sailor and Lord Nelson pubs which are next door to each other a little further down the quay.
Of course, for sunseekers, the town’s sandy beaches are among the most popular Poole tourist attractions… but if it’s the crown jewel of Poole beaches you’re looking for, look no further than dreamy Sandbanks.
Located on the spit at the mouth of the harbour, on the opposite side from the quay, Sandbanks is a peninsula and residential area, with some of the most expensive properties in the UK looking out over the golden sands. Little wonder why Sandbanks Beach consistently wins a Blue Flag award every year, thanks to its spotlessness and safety record.
In terms of activities, Sandbanks Beach is great for kitesurfing or wind-surfing and there are usually beach volleyball nets set out on the sand too for those hoping to get some exercise in.
But there’s really something to do for everyone here. As well as just sunbathing or splashing about, there are a variety of places to eat out behind the beach, as well as a saltwater sauna in a trailer and a crazy golf course!
PS: The dog-spotting here is truly excellent.
Canford Cliffs is a suburb of Poole that’s located roughly halfway between Sandbanks and Bournemouth, with another stunning Blue Flag beach to enjoy.
Of course, the seashore between Sandbanks all the way out to Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth is basically one big stretch of sand, but different sections have different beach names and facilities. Finding your favourite is all part of the fun when visiting!
The cliffs backing onto Canford Cliffs Beach are covered in shrubs and trees with a promenade at the base, watched over by long lines of wooden beach huts. It’s generally more popular with locals than with visitors as there isn’t parking directly by the beach. If you are coming by car there may be parking on Cliff Drive, but spots fill up fast so get there early.
It’s not all about the beaches in Poole! The town is also home to the magnificent gardens called Compton Acres that are well worth spending some time exploring.
Considered one of the finest privately-owned gardens in England, Compton Acres was founded in 1920 by Thomas William Simpson, a wealthy and successful margarine manufacturer! There are five themed sub-gardens spread out over ten acres here with additional splendid spectacles such as fountains, statues, topiary and ponds.
The five sub-gardens include:
- The formal Italian Garden, contains a stately villa, water feature and a statue of Bacchus in a domed temple
- The Japanese Garden, with plants and trees native to Japan alongside a beautiful tea house draped in wisteria (and yes, that means cherry blossoms in spring!)
- The Heather Garden, with many varieties of heather that are particularly incredible to see during the springtime bloom
- The Rock and Water Garden, contains many interesting water features, rocks (duh) and more than 300 plant varieties
- The Wooded Valley, a small forested area of pines with pathways winding amongst dramatic waterfalls
There are also multiple places to eat and drink within the garden complex while the Italian Villa is a popular location for weddings.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: Compton Acres is open seven days a week from 10am – 5pm (closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day) although the cafés and shops have slightly varied opening times so check the website if you wish to ensure they are open when you visit. Entrance costs £8.95 for adults but there are a number of concessions and passes so make sure you check the website for those too!
Poole Old Town
The quaint and quirky Old Town is one of the best things to see in Poole, especially if you want to learn more about the town’s fascinating history.
From the 16th-19th centuries, Poole had a very prosperous period of trade between the fishing colonies of Newfoundland and Europe. Much of the architecture in Poole’s Old Town area reflects this prosperity as a number of Georgian mansions originally belonging to merchants have been preserved to this day.
One of the best ways to explore Poole’s Old Town is via the self-guided Cockle Trail, where a free guide helps visitors follow a series of cockle brass plaques set into the pavement throughout the town. This is an especially good way to get kids more excited about looking at old churches, almshouses and other architectural delights they may otherwise find boring!
As an additional random thing to see in Poole Old Town, keep an eye out for the Lush on High Street. Now with almost 1000 stores worldwide, believe it or not, this was the very first location of the global cosmetics company, which has been headquartered in Poole since 1995.
Not far from the city centre, and adjacent to Poole Harbour, the beautiful Poole Park sits on the north side of the Boating Lake.
This park first opened during the Victorian era and has remained a popular spot with locals ever since, with lots of space to relax or have fun.
There are multiple play areas for children along with tennis courts, a bowling green, miniature golf and a cricket field (with pavilion) within the bounds of the park, as well as the aforementioned boating lake which is popular for sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, rowing and model yacht racing. Keen to get in on the action? Pedalos and dinghies can be hired from Rockley Watersports.
For the young and young at heart, there’s also a really cute rideable mini train called the Poole Park Railway, which runs on weekends throughout the year and during the week in school holidays.
In addition to this lengthy list of activities, Poole Park is home to a stunning rose garden, a modest war memorial and a couple of cafés… so be sure to pack a picnic if the weather cooperates and make a day of it.
PS: If you’re packing extra for the local birds to enjoy, make sure to feed the resident ducks and swans birdseed rather than bread!
Looking for more historic things to see in Poole? The town museum is, of course, one of the best Poole attractions for learning more about the rich history of this seaside town.
Poole Museum is located in a Victorian quayside warehouse, with a modern glass atrium that was added in 2007. One of the most iconic objects on display is the Poole Logboat, a 2,000-year-old Iron Age boat that was found in 1964 while the harbour was being dredged.
Permanent exhibitions include examples of Poole Pottery and the history of Poole all the way from prehistoric times till today. The third floor is all about the people of Poole and even has a cute interactive kitchen from the 1950s. The terrace café on this floor is also a lovely spot for some food and drink while looking out over the harbour.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: The Poole Museum is totally free to visit and open daily from 10am – 5pm between April and October. Check the website for winter opening times if you are planning a visit then!
Scaplen’s Court Museum
Across the road from Poole Museum is the Scaplen’s Court Museum, located inside a Grade I Listed house from the fifteenth century.
Scaplen’s Court Museum and Garden is also run by the Poole Museum, offering unique hands-on activities for schools, but also just as fun for regular (adult) visitors!
Most of the house dates from when it was a courtyard inn called The George, built in the 1500s and 1600s. Next door is a beautiful walled garden which has been restored as a herb and physic garden.
The interior of this museum documents what life was like in Poole through the ages, with examples of a Victorian schoolroom and kitchen, as well as a nursery and other displays. In summer there’s a pop-up café and the garden is a tranquil little spot to relax on a busy day.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: Like the Poole Museum, Scaplen’s Court is free to visit, although donations are welcome. This museum is run by volunteers, so it’s always best to check the website in case they’re unexpectedly closed. The usual summer opening hours are daily from 1pm – 4pm and from 10.30am – 4.30pm during school holidays.
Upton Country Park
Just north of the city of Poole is the stunning Upton Country Park, 140 acres of gorgeous gardens, parkland, woods and shoreline, with a Georgian Mansion in the middle.
The Grade II Listed Georgian manor house is only open to the public on selected open days, but the surrounds and other attractions are usually open every day, including the tearooms next to the pretty walled garden. There are a variety of play areas for children and a number of refreshment kiosks as well, making Upton Country Park a wonderful day out!
Along with play areas for children, Upton Country Park is very dog-friendly, with multiple areas for dog walking on or off lead, along with a special training area, an enclosed playpen and a DIY dog wash station. There are numerous trails for walking or cycling within the park, as well as opportunities for great photos.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: The park is open every day for free, although there are costs if you want to park your car. Opening hours are from 8am – 9pm in summer and 8am – 6pm in winter. Check the website for more info, including open days for the manor and information about private events which might see sections of the park closed at times.
When it comes to nearby Poole destinations you cannot miss out on a visit to the harbour island of Brownsea.
There are actually eight unique islands in Poole Harbour, but Brownsea Island is the largest, with plenty of things to see and do. It’s most famous as the birthplace of the Scouting movement, with the first-ever scouting camp held here in 1907, organised by Robert Baden-Powell who founded the Scout Movement and (with his sister) the Girl Scouts/Girl Guides Movement.
Today visitors to Brownsea Island can camp overnight between April and September, while an open-air theatre is run on evenings between July and August. The island is managed by the National Trust and is one of the only places in the United Kingdom where red squirrels survive since grey squirrels were never introduced.
The island is also a prime location for bird-watching, with terns, herons and egrets coming here to nest, along with a small population of peacocks.
The Old Lifeboat Museum
One of the more unusual places to visit in Poole is the tiny but interesting Old Lifeboat Museum, housed inside the boathouse that was once the Poole lifeboat station.
Poole has always had important links with sailing because of its harbour. Even today, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is headquartered here, so if you want a little more context around that facet of Poole’s story, this interesting museum brings it to life. Even though it’s small, this free museum is quite fun, with opportunities to try on lifesaving kit.
The main display at the Lifeboat Museum is the Thomas Kirk Wright lifeboat, the first of the “little ships” that arrived at Dunkirk during the Operation Dynamo evacuation.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: The Poole Old Lifeboat Museum is open daily from 10.30am until 4pm and as we mentioned, is free to enter! It’s located on the east end of Poole Quay, opposite Fisherman’s Dock.
On the western side of Poole Harbour lies Hamworthy Park, a lovely waterside park and beach, with pretty beach huts looking out over the water.
Hamworthy Park is only a short five-minute drive from the Poole city centre (or a half-hour walk), so it’s nice and close if you want to go to the beach without much hassle. As well as the beach there’s also a huge park area with lots of things for kids to play on, in or with, including a big round splash pool that’s open in summer.
This is also a good beach/park choice with facilities, as there are public toilets and a café for refreshments, as well as accessible paths all the way through for wheelchairs or prams. Hamworthy Park is popular for flying kites and playing sports on the wide open lawns, along with swimming, canoeing or paddleboarding off the beach.
One of the most exciting places to visit in Poole is Tower Park, which isn’t actually another park but a massive leisure, entertainment and retail complex located a little north of the city centre.
Inside Tower Park is enough to keep a whole family occupied for at least an entire day, with a cinema, bowling alley, a waterpark, a children’s soft play centre and plenty of places to eat whether you’re in the mood for a cheeky Nando’s or just a mountain of candy.
The Splashdown Waterpark might be the coolest part of Tower Park, with 13 outdoor and indoor waterslides, some that are very thrilling while others are a bit more sedate. And, of course, there’s always the outdoor splash pool or jacuzzi if you just want to relax.
Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park
Since it’s designed specifically for young children, Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park is one of the best places to go in Poole if you’re visiting with kids.
Of course, even those who are young at heart, or just really really like to pat cute fluffy animals, will be in heaven here! There are lots of farm animals which visitors can pet or even feed, from guinea pigs to goats, sheep, alpacas, chickens, ducks, cows and more.
Along with seeing, feeding or patting animals, children can play on a bouncy castle, drive pedal tractors or go-karts and watch some pig racing too! In summer there’s a ‘maize maze’ of corn and there are always so many different play areas for kids it’s unreal. Don’t miss out on the seasonal events either, especially at Christmas and Halloween!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park is usually open from 9.30am – 4pm, closing a little later at 5pm during school holidays. We recommend booking tickets online as it’s cheaper than just rocking up.
Did we miss any of your favourite places to visit in Poole?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more Poole must-sees to our list!