When people talk about Bournemouth, variety is the keyword. This idyllic seaside town on the south coast of England is bursting with opportunities for entertainment and outdoor leisure activities, as well as being the winner of numerous awards for its clean golden beaches and biologically diverse gardens. For residents and foreign visitors alike, it offers up a perfect mix of excitement and calm.
1. Award-winning beaches
There’s 7 miles of sandy beaches spanning the coast of Bournemouth with over 1400 colourful beach hut sites. In 2018, Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards ranked its beaches best in the UK, and fifth-best in the whole of Europe. The beaches have also won various awards for their water quality and sustainability. On a sunny day, you can catch a scenic land train along the coast, or even a cliff lift to rise above it all. You’ll see delightful views of soft sand, glistening sea and blue skies.
2. Arts by the sea
Every September, Bournemouth’s coastline jumps into action with a spectacular cultural extravaganza. A celebration of art, culture and community, this is Arts by the Sea. The event ensures there’s enough variety so everyone can enjoy themselves, from literary readings and open-air theatre events, to dance acts and live performances known as ‘Sounds by the Sea’.
But the creative scene doesn’t end once the festival is over. Bournemouth is a lively epicentre for creative minds all year round and has hundreds of creative agencies and a university specialising in the arts. None of this is really surprising though, once you know of the city’s famous literary connections to writers like JRR Tolkien, Enid Blyton and the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
3. Pier to pier
Bournemouth hasn’t only won awards for its beaches, it’s also well known for its picture-postcard Victorian Pier which makes a good family day-out because of the amusement arcade on it. A nearby village called Boscombe also has an impressive pier, which has a seaside cafe and a beach shop. But besides the piers magnificent architecture and entertainment attractions, there’s something else particularly special about them; every year, thousands of people dive into the sea to take on the Pier to Pier challenge. Participants race from Bournemouth pier to Boscombe pier, a distance of 1.4 miles, and have a maximum of 2 hours to complete it.
4. Vintage variety
After you’ve looked around the quaint stores along the pier near Poole Harbour, amble down Christchurch Road and you’ll find numerous antique shops and second-hand stores to explore. You’ll reach a suburb of Bournemouth called Pokesdown, which is quickly establishing itself as the new ‘Vintage Quarter’ of the city. You can also visit the huge Bournemouth Vintage Emporium. Despite appearances, this rather industrial looking building is home to a host of vintage treats which you could certainly spend a whole afternoon just sifting through their stock. There’s even a vintage tea room attached to it so you can put your feet up on some vintage sofas after all that shopping.
5. Outdoor options
Bournemouth’s Upper, Central, and Lower Gardens are all award-winning. The Lower Gardens are perfect for a lunchtime stand because there’s a bandstand, a mini-golf course, an aviary and street food stalls. If you’d like to exercise you could play tennis at the quiet Central Gardens or run by the stream and rockeries at the Upper Gardens. But if you’re looking for something a little more fast-paced, you can go kayaking, sailing, canoeing, surfing, scuba-diving, snorkelling, wakeboarding, windsurfing, jet skiing… the options are endless.
If it’s a rainy day you can take the fun inside and visit the RockReef activity centre, which has an obstacle course, a climbing wall and a zip wire.
6. Quirky architecture
You might think you’ve gone mad when you see Bournemouth’s upside-down house. And though this modern art installation is distinctive enough in itself, it stands out even more so given its setting among classic Victorian buildings. Once you’ve seen the house, and strolled along both the Victorian piers, you can visit the nearby historic town, Christchurch. This town, which dates back to the Norman times, is located at the meeting point of two rivers (the Avon and the Stour) and along its cobbled streets you’ll find plenty of old-world English pubs. Don’t forget to visit the gothic Highcliffe Castle here, too.
7. Friday fireworks
On most Fridays throughout the summer Bournemouth is lit up by fireworks on the pier. So gather your friends, some good food and a picnic blanket and then marvel at the spectacle. It’s not only breathtaking, it’s also free. Of course, an exciting firework display also takes place on 5th November every year for Bonfire Night, which is an annual event in the UK marking the failure of Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. A little-known and interesting fact is that the designers of the Bournemouth firework displays actually supplied Guy Fawkes with his gunpowder.
8. Old Harry Rocks
About 3 miles from Bournemouth, you will find the Old Harry Rocks. These three chalk formations stand majestically in the sea and mark the end of the Jurassic Coast, which is a stretch of the English Channel’s coast known for its many fossils and natural features showing 185 million years of geological history. The rocks are also shrouded in mystery and magic due to the numerous tales attached to them. Legend has it they get their name from a famous pirate from Poole named Harry Paye who hid his ship behind the rocks. However, some also say the Devil slept on the rocks and the Devil was euphemistically known as Old Harry.
9. Very British treats
Fish and Chips by the pier or English breakfast at a deli cafe? Or maybe afternoon tea in a vintage courtyard cafe? There are many classically British choices for eating and drinking throughout the day in Bournemouth. There’s even a way to have high-tea on the move if you don’t have time in your sightseeing schedule for a long break at a tearoom. Frieda’s Teabus will drive you along the coast of Bournemouth all while serving you a fancy British pastries, cakes and tea.
10. Island getaway
From Poole Harbour, take a ferry across the sea to the nearby Brownsea Island, brimming with thriving wildlife. Grab your camera and be ready to snap the rare red squirrel, kingfishers, peacocks and sika deer. Despite allowing thousands of visitors on the island and to its Outdoor Centre, the island remains a pleasant natural setting because it is owned by the National Trust, an organization that protects sights of historic interest and national beauty.