Your holiday starts here if you arrive via the Sandbanks Ferry. That holiday feeling will kick in once your car rolls onto the chain ferry and you step out to admire the stunning views as you cross Poole Harbour.
Connecting Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck to Poole and Bournemouth, the Sandbanks Ferry is both an important lifeline as well as an integral part of a fun day out for both residents and visitors, and cut out a 25-mile return journey between Swanage and Poole.
The four-minute crossing is a gentle way to make part of your journey, and will take you into the Dorset mindset of slowing things down a bit, but with a sense of adventure on the horizon.
Make the ferry part of your day’s adventure
The Sandbanks Ferry isn’t just a way to get from A to B, but is an attraction in itself. Step out of your car and admire the harbour views – which are especially breathtaking from the top deck.
If you’re coming from Swanage, why not park at Shell Bay and take a picnic to Bramble Bush Bay before heading across on the ferry as a foot passenger?
Take the ferry across to explore Sandbanks or catch the Brownsea Island ferry and spend an afternoon red squirrel-spotting along the woodland trails of this island that inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. It’s also a magical spot to have a cream tea.
Or why not leave the car behind completely and catch the open-top no 50 Purbeck Breezer bus from Swanage, across the ferry, and into Poole or Bournemouth for high-street shopping and entertainment options before returning to curl up by the log fire of cosy pub in Swanage or for an evening stroll along beach.
It’s always worth checking the latest events and productions at Poole’s Lighthouse Centre for the Arts, Bournemouth International Centre and the Russell Cotes Gallery and Museum.
Running to and fro daily between 7am and 11pm, ferry timings are as follows:
- Ten past, half past and ten to the hour
- First Ferry at 7.10am and last Ferry at 11.10pm
- On the hour, twenty past and twenty to the hour
- The first ferry is at 7am; the last is 11pm
The ferry normally runs every day of the year, however adverse weather may affect crossing times or normal operation. Check ahead of travelling on the Sandbanks Ferry website: http://www.sandbanksferry.co.uk
Note that there may be other times when the ferry is non-operational, such as its refit every two years.
Payment is taken at the ticket office or toll booth before boarding.
Discounted passes for bulk-bookings are available. Check on the Sandbanks Ferry website: http://www.sandbanksferry.co.uk/discounts.php
Directions to the Sandbanks Ferry
SatNav for Shell Bay/Swanage side: BH19 3BA
SatNav for Sandbanks/Bournemouth side: BH13 7QN
There are car parks on both the Shell Bay and Sandbanks sides.
Peak season advice
The ferry is an extremely popular way for people to visit Purbeck, especially in the summer months, so be prepared for a slight wait to board at busy periods, or plan ahead to beat the crowds
The chain ferry (also known as a ‘floating bridge’) has been in operation since 1926 after an Act of Parliament was passed in 1923, leading to the formation of the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road & Ferry Company, which is still in operation today.
The current vessel – the Bramble Bush Bay – is named after the stretch of quiet sand that runs adjacent to Shell Bay on the Studland side.
She has been carrying people to and from the Isle of Purbeck since 1994.
The fourth ferry to cross from Bournemouth to Swanage, the Bramble Bush Bay is the first vessel to have been named.
She is a diesel-hydraulic vessel, able can carry 48 cars, whereas the first ferry back in 1926 was coal-fired and propelled by steam power could carry just 12 vehicles.
Things haven’t always been plain-sailing for the Bramble Bush Bay, however. In 2019 she was taken out of service due to a fractured drive shaft and in April 2020 she received damage to her hull, requiring repair. She was also taken out of action during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to that the ferry suffered from mechanical problems over the winter of 2018-2019.
Currently fully operational, the ferry continues to be a lifeline for residents and a safe and convenient and fun way to for visitors to get to the Isle of Purbeck.
- Brownsea Island – Catch a separate Brownsea Island Ferry as a foot passenger from the Poole side to explore the walks and wildlife of Brownsea Island – home to the red squirrel
- South West Coast Path – South Haven Point here on the Studland peninsula marks the beginning of the South West Coast Path – the longest national trail in Britain, at 630 miles. The path culminates in Somerset.
- Old Harry Rocks – Walk the South West Coast Path from the ferry, or take a short drive to South Beach car park for a more leisurely stroll up to the stunning Old Harry Rocks
- Bramble Bush Bay – A more secluded beach just a short walk from Ferry Road, home to photo-worthy house boats and with view across to Brownsea Island
- Shell Bay Restaurant & Bistro – Specialising in seafood, Shell Bay is uniquely situated, overlooking Poole Harbour across to Brownsea Island
- The Pig on the Beach – Overlooking Studland Bay toward Old Harry Rocks, The Pig on the Beach is a special place to stay or to dine, with its seasonal menu sourced largely from its own kitchen garden
- Shell Bay Marine and Sailing School – A family-run boat yard and sailing school on the Studland peninsula offering mooring, boat hire and sailing tuition
- Studland Trekking Centre – The stables offers a variety of rides from heathland, woodland and beach rides
- Knoll Beach – This popular four mile stretch of sand is one of Studland’s most famous beaches and draws many thousands of visitors in the summer months. Backed by sand dunes, woodland and heathland, there is also a National Trust café, shop and toilet facilities