Think Bournemouth and you probably go straight to the headliners: excellent beaches, pretty gardens and the classic arcade pier. Though Bournemouth had a heyday as a Victorian spa destination and remains popular with coach tours, it also maintains a buzzing nightlife and attracts plenty of party-goers, particularly stag and hen dos. Bournemouth's proximity to Dorset's Jurassic Coast makes it an easy place to spend a few days exploring this remarkable coastline, and there are also lots of family activities and child-friendly beach facilities. These are the best things to do in Bournemouth.
Relax (or Not) on Bournemouth's Beaches
Bournemouth has around seven miles (11km) of sandy beaches stretching in a golden arc around Poole Bay. The city's most popular beach is also its namesake: Bournemouth Beach. Here you'll find a classic Victorian pier, complete with arcades and traditional British seaside amusements. There are also huts with deckchairs for rent and a variety of cafes, bars, fish-and-chips vendors and beach-toy shops. Grab a ride on the pier-to-shore zipline for a quicker ride back to the beach from the pier.
Book it: Half Day Old Harry Rocks Kayak Tour
Get out on the Water in Poole Bay
If you can't resist the look of the water, you can get out on a boat to cruise the entirety of Poole Bay. You can catch daytime sightseeing cruises (and longer ferries to destinations abroad) from the Quay Landing in nearby Poole, which is a 10-minute train ride from the centre of Bournemouth. Most cruises head out around the islands near Bournemouth, and some depart for longer excursions down the Dorset coast.
Bournemouth is also a great place for water sports, from sea kayaking around the coast to sailing, windsurfing and wakeboarding. And, of course, this is the surf capital of the South Coast, with beach breaks near the pier that can be busy but are easily accessible (head along the coast to Highcliffe for something a little more challenging and less crowded).
Visit the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum
This ornate Victorian villa was the private home of Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes, who pioneered local tourism. They turned the house into a museum chock-full of art, decorative objects, paintings, sculptures and trinkets they collected while travelling the world. The museum is situated on a seaside cliff and is worth a visit as much to get a look at the extravagant Italianate architecture and gardens as for the collection inside.
Visit the Grave of Mary Shelley at St Peter's Church
Frankenstein author Mary Shelley is buried in the cemetery of St Peter's Church and you can visit her grave and pay tribute to her life and legacy here. Though Shelley never lived in Bournemouth, her family home was built here and she always intended to move here with her son, as doctors suggested the sea air might help combat her ailing health. In addition to Mary's grave, also buried at St Peter's is the heart of her husband, Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Ride the Cliff Lift Railways
Bournemouth's three Victorian feats of engineering are both a fun attraction and a practical form of transport. The cliff lifts are essentially funicular railways, so you can ride them up and down between Bournemouth's various sand beaches and the clifftops that rise above.
There are three cliff lifts in Bournemouth: East Cliff Lift, which goes from the beach to Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, West Cliff Lift, which links the beach and Bournemouth International Centre, and the Fisherman's Walk Cliff Lift, which is handy for families, as it goes between the beach and a clifftop cafe, where there's also a children's playground. East Cliff Lift is currently closed due to damage from a land slip, and repairs are ongoing.
Walk the Forest Pathways through Alum Chine
Bournemouth has four chines, or steep valley ridges, with walking paths down them. Chines are a peculiar feature of this part of the Dorset coast, as well as the nearby Isle of Wight. Alum Chine is the largest of the four Bournemouth chines, and gets its name from the mining industry, which extracted alum, which is often used for dyeing wool, here. Later the land was bought, and woodland and gardens were cultivated, which today make for a pleasant pathway down the chine and onto the beach.
If you don't want to walk down to the beach, you can cross the ravine using the three historic suspension bridges that cross Alum Chine at various points.
_Photo by Hayley Harman on Unsplash_Stroll through Bournemouth's gardens
Developed in the 1870s, Bournemouth's three tiers of gardens (Lower, Central and Upper) are pleasant places to stroll, and you can walk them as one path from the seafront all the way up to the Upper Gardens, or pick and choose a section to explore. The Central Gardens have roses and heather, as well as a rhododendron walk. The Lower Gardens tend to be the busiest, as they are the closest to the seafront and have a popular aviary. Food stalls are often set up here, too, so it's a pleasant place to eat lunch during your walk.
Find somewhere to stay by checking out our hotels in Bournemouth.