Everything you need to know before you visit Brownsea Island

Wonderful views of the harbour - a great reason to visit Brownsea Island.

The county of Dorset and Robert Baden Powell have one thing in common: Brownsea Island. The simple reason for this is that the island lies just off the coast of Dorset, and scoutmaster Robert Baden Powell used this island to set up his experimental camp. As well as its interesting history, you can expect to find yourself on an island with plenty of adventure prospects. Whether it involves a day’s hike, a camping weekend, or a few hours of birdwatching, Brownsea is guaranteed to be Dorset’s hotspot for excitement. This guide will explain everything you need to know before you visit Brownsea Island.

What is Brownsea Island?

Brownsea Island is a tourist attraction that is owned by The National Trust and can be described as one of Dorset’s largest attractions. You can recognise the island on a clear day as you stroll along Poole Harbour. It can be perceived as a floating village with its own church, castle and café. It is also a location that is especially popular for school and scout trips which can take place all year round.

Brownsea Island consists of peaceful areas and areas that provide a heap of noise, mostly thanks to the squawking birds you can find in these areas. If you are lucky, you may also encounter some of the red squirrels that live on this island.

How to Get to Brownsea Island

A red and white ferry crossing over the sea to visit Brownsea Island.

Getting to Brownsea Island can never be simpler. Many ferry journeys are made to the island from Poole and Sandbanks, with a yellow ticket kiosk located in both of these areas.

All you need to do is approach this kiosk and purchase a Brownsea Island ferry ticket, valid as a return ticket. You can also pre-book a ticket if you are leaving from Sandbanks. With your ticket in hand, you can board the ferry to the island and then enjoy your brief 20-minute cruise, knowing you don’t need to purchase another ticket to get back to the mainland.

The ferries run at select times from Sandbanks and Poole Harbour, both on and off-peak. Click Here to read more about these timings and prices. If you want, you can also book a guided tour, like one of these.

Things to do on Brownsea Island

Some of the best activities you can take part in on the island include the following:

  • Hiking – For one island, there is a good selection of hiking trails that are very simple to complete and handy for those who are getting into hiking. Getting your steps in will also allow you to learn facts about the island, such as how many different tree varieties there are in total.    
  • Wildlife Watching – If you are a keen ornithologist, or you just fancy bringing some binoculars to try out, then there are plenty of good areas to keep your eyes peeled to make wildlife encounters that are usually rare. Even the kids can have a go at this. All they need is a booklet they can collect from the island’s reception area and record what they find.
  • Embarking on a Tour – Volunteers who work as part of the National Trust are more than willing to offer free tours of the island. This will come in handy if you are a teacher eager to develop the school kids’ geography skills as well as their history skills. They may even become inspired by Robert Baden Powell’s story relating to this island and may want to follow in his footsteps.
  • Attending Church – If you wish to do so, you can visit Brownsea Island only to take part in a family service at St Mary’s Church. These services take place weekly every Sunday from May to September every year.

Brownsea Island Accommodation

If you fancy spending the night on Brownsea Island, be assured that there are several accommodation choices for you. These can range from the simple option of sleeping in a tent on the island’s campsite to getting a slightly more luxurious feel by staying in one of the available houses.

The campsite on the island can pitch up to 40 tents. A range of camping options are available and will suit you if you are an adventure camper or a camper who wants that extra touch of luxury while embracing the wildlife around them. Note that no matter your camper style, all stays on the campsite must be a minimum of two nights. Group camping trips can also be arranged for scout and guide groups.

Or, if you are someone who prefers to stay under a roof, a selection of houses and lodges are available to choose from. These are as follows:

  • South Shore Lodge – This sea-view lodge can accommodate up to 12 guests and has three dormitories that can sleep four people each. All dormitories contain two bunk beds.
  • Agent’s House – Providing a more luxurious feel, this house can accommodate up to six guests and has three bedrooms (two double and one twin) and one bathroom.
  • Custom House – Located right on the seafront of Brownsea Island, this house can accommodate up to four guests and is complete with two bedrooms (one double and one twin), both of which are en-suite.

You must book a minimum of three nights for all lodges and houses, and the prices of each house/lodge will vary depending on the season. Even though the prices will be more expensive than pitching up your tent, there is more of a guarantee that you will be protected from rainy weather.

My Experience of Brownsea Island

Booking ferry tickets to the island for me was very easy, and even though sitting on the top deck of the ferry proved to be choppy, the excitement of exploring this island was there.

After arriving on the island and embarking on my first nature trail, I immediately heard the slowly-increasing loud squawking of birds. As my ears aren’t sensitive, I didn’t mind this at all. There’s no hardship in having to see a mallard with her baby chicks, teaching them to swim for the first time.

The educational aspects of this island were certainly noticeable in that I was able to learn the different tree varieties. I also had more insight into how Robert Baden Powell’s experimental camp progressed and what he did while on this camping adventure.

After completing long stretches of walking, I found some good spots to stop briefly and re-energise before my next stretch. It was also easy to notice how submerged I was in the most peaceful parts of the island.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spot any red squirrels running around. I would advise bringing binoculars to see if you can spot any squirrels running in the distance. They will also be handy if you wish to try and spot any other wildlife roaming (or even flying) around.

After completing my long trek around the island and filling my head with fun facts, I headed to Villano Café, which had a delicious range of sweet and savoury food. The Gift Shop is in the same building so thus didn’t take long to reach. I settled with feeling a bit of satisfaction and pride, seeing as they sell cuddly red squirrels (at least I saw a red squirrel, right?).


Visit Brownsea Island FAQS


  • Q: What is the Brownsea Island population?

  • A: There is no set population of people who live on Brownsea Island. However, the number of tourists visiting the island can range between 100,000-150,000 tourists per year. The wildlife population itself is countless.
  • Q: Can dogs visit Brownsea Island?

  • A: Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed to visit the island with you unless you are someone who is assisted by a guide dog. Anybody who wishes to bring their guide dog with them, and is also looking to stay on the island, will need to notify the National Trust when booking.
  • Q: Where is Brownsea Island?

  • A: Brownsea Island is a tourist attraction located south of Poole Harbour in Southern Dorset. The island is easily reachable via ferry, and the tickets can be purchased from yellow kiosks which are located in Sandbanks and Poole. Tickets can be pre-booked if leaving from Sandbanks.
  • Q: What is the best time to visit Brownsea Island?

  • A: You can visit Brownsea Island anytime from the middle of March to the end of October each year. The island itself is open from 10:00-17:00 each day, and the Villano Café timings are from 09:30-17:00 each day. The Campsite is open every day from April each year.
  • Q: How much are Brownsea Island ferry tickets for 2023?

  • A: The 2022 ferry ticket prices for Brownsea Island are currently on sale for £8.50 per adult (18+) and £5.00 per child (6-17), and kids under 6 can use the ferry for free. Information on the 2023 ticket prices has not yet been confirmed, but it is hoped they will be available very soon.
  • Q: Is Brownsea Island worth visiting?

  • A: Visiting Brownsea Island is guaranteed to be something you won’t regret. As well as its interesting history, you can expect to find yourself on an island with plenty of adventure prospects. Whether it involves a day’s hike, a camping weekend, or a few hours of birdwatching, Brownsea is guaranteed to be Dorset’s hotspot for excitement.
  • Q: Can you visit Brownsea Castle?

  • A: Brownsea Castle is currently open and operating as a holiday centre. It is allowing guests who work for Waitrose and John Lewis to stay overnight. Brownsea Castle boasts extremely comfortable beds, gorgeous sea views, and exclusive access to the private beach.


  • Q: What are the Brownsea Castle ticket prices in 2023?

  • A: Unfortunately tickets to Brownsea Castle are not available as it is being operated as a holiday centre exclusively for John Lewis and Waitrose employees. 

In Conclusion

A view of Brownsea Island's shores.

This guide has covered the reasons why visiting Brownsea Island will prove exciting. There are, of course, other tourist attractions in Dorset that aim to educate and engage its visitors. However, visit Brownsea Island, and you will be sure to leave it with the spirit of adventure surging inside you, which can be refuelled by returning to it.

Louie Amos is a freelance travel writer currently operating in the UK. Having achieved his NCJ Diploma in Travel Journalism, he regularly posts articles on his website The Travelling Foodie as well as Everything UK Travel.


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