Cultural Days Out in Dorset

1/ Kingston Lacy, Wimborne Minster: Built to resemble an Italian palace, this lavish country house is famed for its stunning gardens; has historic paintings on display by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel; and boasts the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. Special events are scheduled throughout the year - see

2/ Forde Abby & Gardens, Chard: This family, working estate has stunning gardens and is a popular place for weddings and special events. Go to wander around its 30 acres of magnificent gardens or attend one of the classical concerts often held here.

3/ Athelhampton House & Gardens, Dorchester: A 15th-century tudor house with stunning gardens and a rich history (Thomas Hardy used to visit here frequently). Available for weddings and private hire, special events are held throughout the year and there's a cottage to rent if you want to stay overnight on the grounds. See the website for more details

4/ The Lulworth Estate, Lulworth: Kids love this magical castle set in the heart of Dorset countryside close to the Jurassic coastline. Climb the tower, walk your dog in the grounds and if you don't come prepared with a picnic, there's a great pub serving hearty food opposite. In summer there are jousting competitions in the grounds and Camp Bestival is held here too every July/August.

5/ Highcliffe Castle, Highcliffe: If you're in Christchurch, take a detour to see this castle close to the coast. Famous for its Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture, this Grade I listed mansion offers fascinating guided tours by volunteers who will take you into parts of the house not normally open to visitors - book

6/ Sherborne Castle, Sherborne: Built by Sir Walter Raleigh and with gardens by Capability Brown, this castle hosts a number of events such as a country fair, firework displays , classic car rallies, weddings, corporate and private events.

7/ Compton Acres gardens, Poole: One of England's most important gardens, there's 10 acres to wander around with seven distinct areas including the famous Italian and Japanese Gardens. A plant shop and two cafes are

8/ Hardy's Cottage, Dorchester: Few people can visit Dorset without tracing the footsteps of the county's most famous writer Thomas Hardy. Born here in 1840, visitors can expect a traditional thatch cottage and garden with roses around the door.