Once you’re done enjoying the whirligig arcades of the Bournemouth Pier, the shimmering sands of long Bournemouth Beach, and the buzzy nightlife of the streets behind the coast, it might just be time to turn your attention to what there is to do in the surrounding region. Cue this list of day trips from Bournemouth, which is guaranteed to spice up that Dorset adventure with something a little different.
It’s got things for a whole host of different sorts of traveler. From petrol-headed motor museums filled with vintage engines to ancient forests that were once used by English kings and queens, it showcases some of the most exciting and alluring parts of the South Coast.
The best part is that we’ve made sure that all of our recommended day trips from Bournemouth really are day trips. None of them require a drive or a transfer that’s longer than a couple of hours from the salt-washed shores of the city by the sea, so you should easily make it back to your B&B overlooking the English Channel come evening. Enjoy…
The name Beaulieu originates from two French words that roughly translate to “the beautiful place” in English. It’s easy to see where it gets the moniker from. This is a glimpse at a handsome country village, where gingerbread pubs and thatched-roof houses line up behind row of manicured rose gardens. But Beaulieu’s charms are just one chapter of the story. There are two major family attractions here that keep crowds coming back and back again.
The first is the National Motor Museum. Situated on the north side of the town center, it’s home to 250 automobile specimens that run the gamut from vintage Mini Coopers to 1875 steam carriages to retro 70s Post Office vans. Visitors there can learn all about the evolution of the motorcar, innovations in design, and the so-called Golden Age of motoring. Once you’re done with the petrol fumes and exhausted with the exhaust pipes (see what we did there?), you can also delve into Beaulieu’s second best-known attraction: Palace House, a manor home built in the Chateaux style that dates all the way back to the 13th century.
It takes just shy of an hour to get to Beaulieu from Bournemouth, which is the second closest major city to the attraction after Southampton. The good news is that the trip is a real adventure in itself, whisking you through the heart of the historic royal hunting grounds of the New Forest (but more on that later!).
New Forest National Park
The New Forest National Park has been a protected reserve in some shape or form since the days of William the Conqueror. For those not into their English history, that means over 1,000 years. Yep, once upon a time this vast tract of heath and moorland was the private hunting estate of the King of England. Later, it was used to cultivate huge oak and beech trees for use in the nearby Royal Navy shipyards.
The result of all that land management is a truly intriguing and unique part of the South Coast countryside. It’s a place where dew-speckled meadows filter out into moss-caked forests, wiggling brooks divide up swamps, and open farmland rolls to the horizon. It’s a gorgeous place to walk and explore, especially if you’re looking to spot bird and animal life – fliers like the Dartford warbler and the native New Forest pony all reside here.
Today, the New Forest is an outdoorsy playground for travelers looking to escape the buzz of Bournemouth. The national park’s boundaries are around 20 minutes’ drive to the west of the center, so you can be there in a jiffy. What’s more, there’s a wide variety of activities, including over 40 marked walking trails, charming villages like the aforementioned Beaulieu, and nature parks like the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary and Furzey Gardens.
Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The Dorset AONB covers nearly half of the whole county of Dorset. It ranges from the sloshing sea waters of Poole Bay in the east all the way to the medieval coastal town of Lyme Regis in the west. Between its two ends, it hosts UNESCO World Heritage Sites, dreamy visions of pebbly bays backed by high cliffs and dunes, ancient chalk mounds, and flowering meadows galore. It’s unquestionably one of the top day trips from Bournemouth for those looking to lace up the boots and get a taste of the great English outdoors…
The Jurassic Coast is perhaps the most famous section of the AONB. That actually straddles two counties, rolling over into Devon in the west, encompassing a truly fascinating part of the country that’s riddled with pre-historic fossils of all shapes and sizes. You only need to check the ground and you could find a 200-million-year-old ammonite or Ichthyosaur bone, so keep the eyes peeled!
But there are plenty of other joys in the region to boot. Corfe Castle lies super close to Bournemouth (about 40 minutes in the car). Head there to see a great citadel built by the Normans, where re-enactments take place in the summer months. Driving a little further could bring you to the eerie Valley of Stones, a land of strange sarsen stones left over from the last ice age. And then there’s eye-watering Durdle Door, where a craggy rock arch hangs over a picturesque beach.
The official county town of Dorset is a darn fine place to while away a day outside of Bournemouth. It’s easy to get to. There are regular buses to and from both cities. The drive is quick, too, taking you straight westwards down the A35 in less than an hour.
First settled by the Romans way back in the 40s AD, Dorchester is nothing if not old. You can see remnants of that ancient past by strolling The Walks, a series of interconnected paths that weave along the 2,000-year-old defenses. There’s also an amazing Roman Town House in the center of the city, with completely exposed ancient mosaic floors.
Talking of the center, it’s a wonderful medley of medieval and modern architecture. You can lunch in quaint pubs like the Blue Raddle and the Old Ship Inn. You can hop charming teahouses and shop for antiques. There’s also a statue dedicated to the county’s most famous literary son, Thomas Hardy.
Isle of Wight
The largest island in England is a pretty darn interesting place. Bashed by the waves some five miles from the shoreline of Hampshire, it’s long been a haven for family vacationers on the hunt for wholesome caravan parks by the sea. Towns like Shanklin and Sandown still host all that, along with the ubiquitous Victorian-era pier and beachfront dotted with colorful changing cabins and ice-cream parlors.
However, the Isle of Wight is also home to one of the country’s most iconic music festivals, which has a pedigree that includes Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, and Miles Davis! On top of that, it’s an upcoming culinary hotspot (check our Django’s and Heron), and a budding surf destination that’s got some of the most reliable waves in the whole English Channel.
For day trippers, the journey here should take about two hours each way. From Bournemouth, you’ll need to head east to Southampton to pick up a ferry through the Solent. Your arrival point will be the town of Cowes on the north shore of the Isle of Wight. From there, it’s a 30-minute drive to the south coast sights, but you could also simply visit Osborne House in the north – that’s Queen Victoria’s onetime holiday home.
Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Ditch the coast for a day by heading north to the Cranborne Chase AONB. A whopping 380 square miles of bucolic English countryside, it spreads over four counties in all. The landscapes change and vary from corner to corner, with high escarpments of windblown chalk ridges rising in the west and densely wooded valleys dominating in the north. Through it all, time-stood-still English villages punctuate – little Tollard Royal, pretty Tisbury, church-topped Sutton Mandeville.
Of all the day trips from Bournemouth on this list, a jaunt to the Cranborne Chase AONB is probably the one that offers the biggest dose of nature. There are walking routes that take you to high lookouts over the Wiltshire country, along with shorter walks along riverways and valley bottoms. Horse riders have got loads of ancient bridle paths to trot down, and ornithologists have birding hotspots aplenty.
Families also won’t be disappointed. There are separate day trips from Bournemouth within the Cranborne Chase that are just about perfect for those with the kids in tow. Take Longleat House and safari park (1.5 hours’ drive from the city). You can head there to meet zebras and rhinos next to an old Elizabethan estate.
Snowtrax Alpine Activity Centre
The Snowtrax Alpine Activity Centre is one of the UK’s leading dry-slope centers for budding skiers and snowboarders keen to taste the adrenaline offered by the Alps and other winter destinations. Only here you don’t have to leave England. In fact, you don’t even have to leave Dorset! The complex is a mere 20-minute drive to the north of Bournemouth downtown.
If you’re feeling a little uncertain about donning the skis for the first time, the £10 taster sessions could be just what you’re after. It’s a quick romp up the slope in the company of a fully qualified ski instructor and all equipment is included. For more of a full day’s activity (and many more after it!), consider becoming a lift pass holder, which includes unlimited recreational skiing at the Snowtrax Centre.
There’s plenty more than just one of Britain’s top-rated dry slopes on offer here, too. There’s an onsite Alpine café and bar where you can glug Gluhwein and hot chocolates just like you would between the snow-capped Austrian peaks. There are also tubing routes and ski bob courses for the little ones.
So, what are the best day trips from Bournemouth?
This list of the top day trips from Bournemouth is really just scratching the surface. This fun-loving beach town sits in the very heart of one of the most stunning sections of shoreline in the British Isles. You’ll find everything from breezy coastal paths to ancient woodlands to historic cities crowned by centuries-old castles in the vicinity.