Award-winning beaches and some of the UK’s finest seaside architecture help make the resort town of Bournemouth a popular minibreak destination.
Located on the English Channel just west of Christchurch, Bournemouth is one of many British towns that rose to prominence at the end of the 18th century as leisure time grew among the wealthy and middle classes. Today it continues to attract large numbers of visitors with its quintessential seaside attractions together with a bustling town centre, driven by its sizeable student population. For unique things to see and do there’s no shortage of options – and here are 10 of the best.
Enjoy a classic seaside pier
Ask someone to list the three most common features of a British seaside town it’s very likely their answer will include a pier. These distinctive landmarks are not only a beacon on the landscape but also invariably packed full of entertainment and – in the case of Bournemouth Pier – even its own zip wire. Framed by the Isle of Wight on one side and the Purbeck hills on the other, the pier draws huge numbers of families every year, many of whom will even brave the bracing out-of-season winds to enjoy the arcade machines, adventure activity centre, array of eating and drinking options, and gift shops. The pier remains open throughout the year.
Pier Approach / Mon-Sun 9am-7pm
Immerse yourselves in natural history
Arguably one of the town’s most fascinating cultural attractions, Bournemouth Natural Science Society & Museum attracts large numbers of visitors throughout the year with its vast and impressive collection of fossils, minerals, Egyptology artefacts, animals of all types and other items of scientific interest. Housed within an interesting Victorian-era building about a mile east of the town centre, as well as the dazzling array of exhibits on display the natural history museum also hosts an extensive programme of events throughout the year, including lectures, open days, exhibitions, field meetings, cultural visits and social activities.
39 Christchurch Road / Tues 10am-4pm Closed Weds-Mon (Open on other selected days also – please check www.bnss.org.uk for more details)
Take a stroll through Victorian-era gardens
A few minutes’ walk inland from Bournemouth’s shoreline brings you to the pristinely-maintained Lower Gardens. Visitors who walk through the Victorian-designed gardens are treated to gorgeous floral displays and there’s also an aviary, a mini golf course, a large rock garden and a bandstand where regular live music performances take place. Plenty of green space makes for ideal picnic spots and depending on the time of year there are seasonal events to enjoy, including open-air art exhibitions during summertime and a Christmas Tree Wonderland in winter.
Book on to a hop-on hop-off bus tour
The centre of Bournemouth is fairly compact and walkable, but if you’d prefer to see the town in a more relaxed way then you could always book on to an organised bus tour. There are a number of guided tours that invite you to board a bus, sit back and enjoy the sights complete with live commentary that tell you about the history of the town and the places of interest that you pass. One of the options is to purchase a hop-on hop-off bus tour ticket that allows you to board and disembark open-top buses at designated stops across the town at your leisure. Both 24 and 48-hour tickets are available.
You can book hop-on hop-off Bournemouth bus tours at GetYourGuide
Take in some arts culture
In the UK, large historic homes are ten-a-penny, but they are typically found far out in rural areas. Not so, the Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, which is situated on a clifftop overlooking the sea about a mile from the town centre. The venue showcases the distinctive tastes and personalities of Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes who became closely involved in town politics in the late 19th century and who were also avid art collectors. Originally bought as a home for the duo, it houses many pieces from the duo’s sizeable and diverse collection, including a large number of works by female artists, as well as European painters and paintings from the Tempera Revival period, plus items gleaned from their travels around the world.
East, West Cliff Promenade / Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon
Head to the beach
Seven miles of picture-perfect Blue Flag beaches, nestled beneath a majestic cliff line and overlooking a scenic bay, help make Bournemouth one of the UK’s most popular coastal towns. The long stretches of sand have all of the quintessential trappings that beach lovers could hope for, from the kid-friendly pier entertainment, to the ice cream vans, to the quaint colourful beach hats where regular beach-goers store their paddleboards and small fold-up furniture used for light al fresco lunches with idyllic views.
Test your senses in a topsy turvy house
For most of us, “turning the house upside down” is a metaphor only applied in the event of a true disaster – such as losing the remote control – but at one Bournemouth landmark, it is not so much a turn of phrase as a permanent state of being. Situated on the Pavilion Terrace, the Upside Down House is one of the town’s most quirky attractions – visible from far and wide where it catches the eye with its distinctly topsy turvy appearance. Inside, visitors’ senses are challenged with the ceiling where the floor should be and vice versa, but if you manage to get your bearings you should still be able to enjoy the beach-friendly décor and artwork provided by local artists.
Westover Road Pavilion Theatre / Mon-Sun 10am-8pm
You can book tickets for the Upside Down House at GetYourGuide
Catch a live show at a 1920s theatre
There’s no shortage of raucous student-filled pubs and bars in Bournemouth, but for many visitors the kind of bygone era entertainment offered up at the Bournemouth Pavilion and Ballroom is likely to carry a touch more allure as an option for a fun night out. Dating back to the 1920s and still boasting its original Art Deco design, the theatre venue plays host to a packed programme of musicals, opera, ballet, pantomime, comedy, fairs, dances and fashion shows throughout the year, drawing visitors with its enticing mix of state-of-the-art facilities and vintage charm.
Explore an array of exotic marine life
There are few more sure-fire winners for a family day out than a trip to an aquarium. Located on the seafront close to the pier, Bournemouth Oceanarium is split into 11 naturally themed zones, each featuring a specific category of sea life. Among them are sharks, crocodiles, clownfish, piranhas, a loggerhead turtle, otters, and Humboldt penguins. Visitors can also enjoy interactive displays, daily feeding presentations, and insightful talks that shed light on the common characteristics of the venue’s underwater inhabitants.
Let your hair down on a night out
Any suspicion that this is merely a sleepy seaside town can be put aside by heading into the bustling centre come nightfall when Bournemouth’s nightlife kicks into gear. The large number of university students ensures this is a town that rarely sleeps, with an assortment of buzzing pubs, bars and clubs full to the rafters on all nights of the week. Many will offer student discounts, but even if you haven’t got a cherished student card to claim your cheap pints then you’re still likely to find wallet-friendly prices.
You can book jump-the-queue entry passes to multiple Bournemouth nightlife venues at Viator