Crystal blue waters, sunshine, and near endless opportunity for activity may not be immediately associated with the United Kingdom, but if you look to the southern coastline, you may find yourself surprised.
Bournemouth is a coastal town nestled at the center of Southern England that is famous for being a huge draw for tourists from both inside and out of the UK, attracting over 5 million visitors a year. Known for its sandy beaches, religious landmarks, and lively youthful culture, Bournemouth has established itself as a jewel in the UK’s crown.
Complete with a seaside leisure pier, as well as great food and nightlife, there’s plenty to do in Bournemouth. Whether you are eager to be active on holiday, or simply trying to relax in the sunshine, this list should have something for you to do when you take your trip to one of England’s favorite spots for a long weekend.
Now this list would amiss if the first attraction described was not Bournemouth’s impressive abundance of beaches. From the center of the city along the coastline Bournemouth boasts 7 miles of glorious seafront real estate in which you can swim, sunbathe, or simply walk around to your heart’s content. If you are looking for a classic British beach experience, and feel at home in large crowds of happy people, then the main Bournemouth Beach is the place for you. Close to the city center, surrounded by many restaurants and clubs, with sunbeds available to hire, as well as a fully decked out leisure pier (so good it’s got its own spot on this list!), this is by far the most happening beach in Bournemouth. There’s also plenty of accommodation nearby in the form of hotels and adorable BNBs, so you don’t have to worry about trudging through the town with a picnic basket and your bathing suit if you don’t want to.
If you would rather a more tranquil beach experience, then traveling a little way out of central Bournemouth to Hengistbury Head or Southbourne Beach may be the right choice for you. Slightly less “touristy” and with more wildlife and cliffside walks surrounding them, these are perhaps better choices for a romantic stroll, or if you are looking to do some reading on the beach. Other popular beaches include Alum Chine and the Mudeford Sandbanks, all of which with their own delights on offer, so there’s plenty of seaside to see if you’re looking to expand your coastal horizons!
2. The Pier
Situated on the main Bournemouth Beach, this Victorian pier is a must-visit stop if you’re taking a trip to Bournemouth. The Pier offers a variety of spots in which to eat, drink, and be merry, ranging from a couple of cafés and coffee shops, a pasty place, a fully stocked bar and grill, as well as a place that sells cocktails with a sea view. And as if all of this wasn’t enough, the Pier is also the venue for a variety of live events, with live music being played by local and touring acts most Fridays and Saturdays in the Key West Bar and Grill, as well as major tribute acts often making stops to play on the Pier.
As well as housing great music the Pier is also a great location to watch the Bournemouth Air Festival from, as well as being home to a number of touring dinner theatre options.
And if relaxation and entertainment is not what you seek then look no further than the pier, because alongside all the leisurely activities on offer here, there are also a number of options for adrenaline seekers of all ages in the Pier’s Rock Reef center. For the more adventurous children they have their indoor manmade Caving experience, as well as an aerial indoor obstacle course called the Highline. And for the grown-ups, one can try their hand at the Rock Reef’s Leap of Faith Challenge, or even take a Zipwire back to the beach.
And of course, what is a pier without an arcade? If you have somehow expended the rest of your options on Bournemouth Pier then why not try your hand at one of the many arcade games found in the Family Entertainment Center? Featuring a selection of classic arcade games as well as new school video games, there’s everything to play for in here. With so much on display, you could easily spend a whole day at the Pier, in fact we recommend it.
3. The Food
A long day exploring the beaches or exercising your adrenal gland on the Pier can predictably leave your stomach rumbling, so it’s a good thing that Bournemouth has no shortage of great places to eat. Whether you’re grabbing some of the world-famous Fish and Chips from Harry Ramsden’s, or some killer Sri Lankan tapas from The Coconut Tree, there is something for everyone in this seaside town. With a wonderful contrast between traditional British grub, locally sourced seafood, and exotic ethnic foods, Bournemouth is a wonderful choice for a food centric weekender. With plenty of choices along the coastline, you can enjoy a beautiful setting with your meal, and when venturing more central the options only increase.
There is a wonderfully wide selection of places to eat, ranging from international and British chains, as well as local independently owned businesses all over Bournemouth and nearby neighboring town Poole. Perhaps you want to sample some of the finest French crab and lobster dishes from the Guildhall Tavern, a little pizza and beer from The Stable, or even just a dirty American burger and fries from The Prom Diner with a sea-view. The options really are close to endless, so you might want to plan two trips if you don’t manage to fit it all in the first time around.
4. The Nightlife
Sunshine and the seaside go hand in hand, but do not be fooled, Bournemouth does not just switch off when the stars come out. As a hot tourist destination and cultural center, as well as a town with a growing student population, there are plenty of things to do and places to go when evening turns into night-time in Bournemouth. If theatre and performing arts float your boat, then check out one of the many venues that live in this town. Maybe the programmes at the Shelley Theatre, Pavilion Theatre or Pavilion Dance South West will tickle your fancy, being regular hosts to local theatre productions, West End plays, and classic film screenings alike amongst many more options.
If you’re more of a music lover then perhaps a trip to the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) is the choice for you, being the premier venue of A-List talent in the town, having been the site for performances by artists such as Bob Dylan and Katy Perry. Bournemouth is also home to one of the nationally beloved O2 Academies, renowned for getting some of the hottest bookings for touring artists from around the world.
And if you are just trying to have a few drinks and maybe a little boogie, then look no further than Bournemouth’s nightclub scene, as there are enough bars and discos to satisfy any subculture. From seeing Drag Queen Comedy at Ruby’z Cabaret, to enjoying Cocktails at Be At One Bar, or even having a shuffle to some Drum n Bass in The Old Fire Station, there’s no shortage of options for a night out in Bournemouth.
5. Parks and Gardens
While Bournemouth may be most notable for its yellow sandy beaches and clear blue seas, don’t be fooled into thinking that is the end of it. Where yellow and blue meet, there will always be green, and the same applies for Bournemouth, a town that boasts over 1000 hectares of parks and gardens, covering around 20% of the borough as a whole. Approaching the beach in the central part of the resort town are the Lower, Central and Upper Gardens, an interconnected series of Victorian greenery and scenery sites that are favorites of tourists and townspeople alike.
You can start at the Rockery in the Lower Gardens, a massive collection of beautifully placated stones surrounded by a mixture of tropical and local plant life, before making your way to the Central counterpart. Once in the Central Gardens, visitors can enjoy wide green spaces decorated with hundreds of trees and old Victorian memorials while walking alongside the River Bourne.
You can finish your tour of the Gardens at the Upper Gardens, a beautifully serene location for an afternoon stroll. The Upper Gardens are notable for being split into three distinct sections based on their history and their stylistic layout and design; being The European Section, The Asian Section, and a final section based around North American plant life (including a real GIANT Redwood, the largest tree in the UK). And it does not end there, with more green options than you can shake a finger at ranging from the nature on display at the previously mentioned Hengistbury Head, and the Boscombe Chine Gardens which can be reached from Bournemouth Pier on a historic Land Train for very cheap.
6. Museums, Galleries, and More!
For those interested in science, art, and culture, Bournemouth has plenty in store for you. The main attraction is undeniably the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, formerly an Italian style villa situated on top of the cliffs, now home to hundreds of pieces of historic British artwork, as well as many items of interest from yesteryear. Also, some of the venues and theatres described earlier, such as the BIC and the Pavilion Dance South West, are not only known for the performative arts they showcase there, but also the exhibitions that they frequently host there that display more modern touring and local works of art alike.
For those with a scientific thumb, another option is the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, a charitably run organisation that showcases artefacts and history relating to natural sciences, as well as being an encouraging force in independent study to its visitors. And while there are other noteworthy museums and galleries in Bournemouth, it would be wrong not to mention the Oceanarium. While not strictly a museum or a gallery, this large scale indoor aquarium is one of the towns premier attractions, home to hundreds of species of fish and sea life. So, whether you’re into watercolors or water-bound creatures, there’s bound to be something to see in Bournemouth.
7. History and Religion
Now, while Bournemouth is as happening and relevant and ever, that does not detract from the rich history contained in the town, including a strong lineage of literature and some definitive Christian landmarks. Beyond being great beaches and spots for greenery, Hengistbury Head and Alum Chine are also notable for being legendary smuggling sites, and a walk through their grounds is a great way to get in touch with a more exciting slice of Bournemouth history.
A stay in the Miramar Hotel is a great choice for those with a passion for the written word, as it allows you to stand in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien in the place where he retired. Another great spot to awaken the writer inside is the resting place of Mary Shelley, at the gorgeous St Peters church. And to feel her presence further one can stop in for a drink at the Mary Shelley Pub just down the road! A trip to St Andrews Church is another recommendation for those who enjoy a look into the past through the forum of an active parish church. With idyllic surroundings and classical architecture, this is a must-visit for those who take an interest in Christianity and religion as a whole.
So don’t waste time and think about booking your weekend in Bournemouth now! Through reading this list or any of their many official guides, you’d be hard pressed to run out of things to do in this seaside resort town.