Bournemouth vs Brighton: Showdown of the English Seaside

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Great Britain is packed with amazing seaside holidaying spots. Yep, beyond the city sights of London and the wild mountains of the Lake District, you’ll find oodles of sandy beach towns with clear seas to get stuck into. But the battle between arguably the two most iconic can be found on the South Coast of England: Bournemouth vs Brighton.

Bournemouth and Brighton are seaside towns separated by less than 100 miles, but a visit to either is a truly unique experience. Because each has its own distinct atmosphere and set of attractions, it’s crucial that you pick the one that’s right for you

Here, we’ll pit Bournemouth vs Brighton by taking a look at six key aspects of the towns. That should help you make an educated decision for this year’s beach break, covering everything from travel arrangements to evening engagements and, of course, where has the best sands overall.

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Travel to and from

a plane
Photo by Nick Fewings/Unsplash

For Britons, neither town is particularly out of reach, with most domestic visitors traveling by car. Others may travel by train, to one of either town’s dedicated stations. It’s a little different for international travelers flying in…

Bournemouth has an international airport all of its own, conveniently named the Bournemouth International Airport (BIA). As a fully commercial airport, only a 12-minute drive from central Bournemouth, this is the ideal option for arrival. Other nearby airports include Southampton Airport (24 miles away) and Bristol Airport (55 miles away).

A trip to Brighton from outside the UK is best approached via a flight to London Gatwick (LGW). Once on the ground at LGW, you’ll only be 18 miles from Brighton, and can reach the city by car within around 30 minutes. That might sound a touch less convenient than Bournemouth, but there do tend to be more arrivals into Gatwick as it’s bigger overall. What’s more, Brighton is linked directly to London by regular commuter trains, so it’s a cinch to get to from the capital (which has three more arrival airport options its sleeve!).

Winner: Brighton, mainly thanks to the proximity to London.

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Culture and identity

Bournemouth vs Brighton
Photo by Benjamin Holway/Unsplash

Bournemouth is a quintessential British seaside town. With golden sandy beaches, heritage sites dotted around, and numerous bars and restaurants all over, it is a great place for a summer break. Spots around the main beach and pier are known to feel a bit ‘touristy’, but it’s the place to be if you’re on the hunt for a few English ciders and a party. Wholesome, traditional, but still with plenty to do, Bournemouth is a wonderful family getaway, as well as being a perfect site for a stag or hen do.

Brighton, while being historic, is anything but traditional. A colorful and vibrant place, the vibe of Brighton is impossible to pin down. A walk through the various high streets of this coastal cultural haven will transport you across the world. Independently-owned businesses are everywhere and thriving, especially in the student-led Lanes area – think vegan cafes and vintage stores galore. It is also known as a hub for LGBTQ+ culture in the UK.

Winner: Brighton!

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Beaches

Bournemouth beach
Photo by Dami Akinbode/Unsplash

Now, what is a seaside list without a mention of the beaches? And there are some corkers in both these towns, with piers, soft sands, and long stretches of pebbles to boot…

Bournemouth Beach is more a classic English strand. With seven miles of golden sand running along the balmy Dorset shore, it’s an idyllic place for an afternoon of sunbathing or swimming in the sea. Perpetually busy but buzzing with energy, the beach is a favorite hangout for locals and tourists alike. And then we have the pier…Bournemouth Pier is one of the best-kept leisure piers in the world, let alone England. There is just so much to do up there, from indoor adventure playgrounds to zipwires that take you all the way back to the sand.

Brighton Beach, meanwhile, isn’t sandy, but pebbly. In keeping with the atmosphere of the town, it’s not the most traditional beach – think Punch and Judy shows meet quirky LGBTQ bars close to handsome Georgian-era coast mansions. However, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a lot to offer. Walks along the beach will put you in contact with a number of restaurants and cafés, as well as food stalls and even art shops and galleries. The pier doesn’t have quite the same draws as its counterpart in Bournemouth, but there’s lots of history surrounding the burned-out West Pier to get stuck into.

Winner: Bournemouth. Will Poole close and Dorset all around, the beaches are just better than in Brighton.

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Nature

forest
Photo by Marcus Cramer/Unsplash

Bournemouth, being in Dorset, is a great jumping-off point for various nature walks and trails. You can even get your fill of the great outdoors through a walk through Upper, Central, and Lower Gardens in the center. They form a number of well-maintained parks and gardens within the confines of the town itself. But, traveling a little way out of town to the nearby areas will reveal much more in the way of South Coast countryside. You can experience cliffside wildlife at Hengistbury Head, woodland walking in Wareham Forest Way, or even trek down the Stour Valley, to mention a few. There’s more than enough in and around Bournemouth to satisfy even the most adventurous ramblers.

Brighton is not unlike Bournemouth in this respect, as it also a great place to start when looking for outdoor expeditions. With the massive South Downs National Park nearby, as well as a number of public parks in the town itself, Brighton is a top place for all nature enthusiasts. The South Downs has numerous potential walks and trails, along with fantastic bird watching and nature trails. You can experience the vast open spaces near the local village of Glynde. You can wander around Hollingbury Park and castle, without even leaving the boundaries of the town itself. You can even visit Ashdown Forest, legendary home of Winnie the Pooh!

Winner: Draw!

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Price comparison

the beach
Photo by Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Here’s a look at the various costs you can expect in Bournemouth and Brighton, so you know how much spending to account for before you make the journey.

Service/ActivityAverage Price BrightonAverage Price Bournemouth
1 night in a hotel, 2 people£353£206
1 night in an AirBnb, 2 people£162£134
Inexpensive meal for 1£15£10.50
Dinner out for 2£60£45
Pint of beer£4.50£3.95
Cappuccino£2.86£2.86
Note: Accommodation costs calculated from Hotels.com and Airbnb, whilst living costs were sourced from Numbeo

As you can clearly see, a trip to Brighton is likely to put a little more strain on your wallet. In fact, it’s the second most expensive place in the country to get a pint of beer after the capital. It is also worth noting that there are many fewer traditional ‘hotels’ available to be booked in Brighton than in Bournemouth. A stay in Brighton is probably better spent at one of their many local B&Bs, where prices start at around £100 a night for two people.

Winner: Bournemouth!

Bournemouth vs Brighton: Attractions and nightlife

drinking at pub
Photo by James Sutton/Unsplash

Both of these towns are chock full of great things to do. Whether sunning yourself on the sand in the daytime or drinking merrily through the evening, there’s plenty to fill the time in both Brighton and Bournemouth…

Bournemouth’s main attractions are, of course, its beach and pier. However, if you look back to the town there are oodles more than just the coast…For those seeking history, science, and art, look no further than the museums and galleries of Bournemouth. You can marvel at historic pieces of British artwork in the Russel-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum or learn about the intricacies of the world around us at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society. You can even witness wildlife from the sea firsthand at the Oceanarium, a massive indoor aquarium. And at the end of the day, there are plenty of great spots for an evening drink, especially around Westover Street and Old Christchurch Road. Bournemouth is also home to a number of great venues to see music, performance art, or to go dancing. Local favorites include the Drag Queen Comedy Night at Ruby’z Cabaret, and the internationally recognized O2 Academy that hosts a variety of musical acts.

Brighton has a similar wealth of activity for its visitors to enjoy. Of course, loads of people come here simply to laze on the beach, too. However, walking through The Lanes of Brighton can feel like stepping into a work of art in itself, with vibrant vegan bars and arty clothes shops as far as the eye can see. That area can also bring you to the award-winning Kellie Miller Arts, one of many low-key galleries that can be found in Brighton. And of course, there is the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, a major attraction with a variety of exhibits. Finally, you can even get a panoramic view of Brighton from the British Airways I360, a rising pod that allows you to see across the whole town and then some. Once the sun goes down there is a wonderful array of choices for a night out to boot. You can go and dance to drum and bass in Concorde. You can snap your fingers to jazz in Casablanca. Or you can simply get into the pubbing mood at one of the many hearty drinking holes across the town.

Winner: Brighton! But only just!

Conclusion

Now that we’ve covered the defining features of each of these towns, it’s time to make our recommendation. Our Winner: Brighton!

Bournemouth has a lot going for it. The charming sandy beaches, as well as some great heritage sites in and around the town, make it a great option for a holiday. It covers both family trips and rowdy weekends away with your mates.

Brighton just about tops that thanks to its mixture of subcultures and communities. The town is somewhere totally exciting and unique, with diversity reflected in everything from the food to the nightclubs. Of course, it’s a little bit more expensive, but the best things in life come at a price!

The good news is that it shouldn’t be too hard to visit both on your trip to England this year – they’re only 2.5 hours’ drive down the South Coast from each other, after all.

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