Bournemouth fronts a seven-mile run of honey-hued beachfront with its Victorian-era changing houses and chip-scented promenades. One of the holiday jewels of the English South Coast, it draws in a whopping five million people per year and rising. But is Bournemouth worth visiting for you this season?
That’s what we’re here to find out. This guide will run through several of the most enticing aspects of the seaside escape. You’ll learn about the alluring beaches and coves that string along this lovely corner of the Dorset shoreline. You’ll hear about the wild nightlife scene that awaits in the inner-city strips.
We’ll also help reveal the rich historical and cultural side of the city, to paint a picture of a town that not only caters to hedonistic stag-do and bachelor-party participants, but also art lovers and families. Oh, and there’s info on the amazing things you can see on day-trip adventures from the town to boot. So, is Bournemouth worth visiting?
Table of Contents
First off: Bournemouth’s impressive abundance of beaches – the real star of the show! The main beach here clocks up seven miles of glorious seafront terrain. It’s home to yellow-tinged sands and has waters that glow a teal-blue and green when the sun beats down in the warmer months. You can come to swim, to sunbathe, or to simply walk around if the weather isn’t playing ball.
And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to beaches in these parts. Follow the shoreline to the east and you’ll enter the area of Boscombe. That’s a bit of a boho part of town, where surf breaks can pop up on the sides of the main pier and the locals trapse the sand with boards in tow.
To the east, you can follow it all the way through Branksome Chine to Sandbanks. Those are two famous places for good-time summer breaks by the English Channel. The first has wooded hills and chic ocean-view B&Bs. The latter is a sailing hub and great for sampling some of the country’s most celebrated seafood after a day on the sand.
Poking out from the edge of the main beach, the town’s Victorian pier is a must-visit stop if you’re taking a trip to Bournemouth. The Pier offers a variety of spots in for eating and drinking; everything from low-key cafés and coffee shops to traditional English pasty outlets to more full-on sports bars and grills. There’s even a place to sample zingy Caribbean food while glugging tropical rum punches with a view of the sea – check out Aruba!
Prefer action and adventure? The pier has you covered on that front, too. Cue the RockReef experience. Home to an indoor climbing wall, cave tunnels, and ball pits, it’s one for the families with the kids – energetic kids! – in tow. Bolstering that is the adrenaline-pumping PierZip, which straps daring visitors into a harness for a fly-over zipline over the roofs of the pier’s diners!
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, it’s a top spot for whiling away some time when the weather isn’t so good.
Whether you’re pining after some classic English fish and chips or some killer Sri Lankan tapas, Caribbean jerk chicken or a spice-plumed Indian curry, you can rest assured that Bournemouth has you covered. Yep, the town is something of a surprising culinary hub, with a gastronomic offering that rarely fails to draw the eye of even the most discerning foodies.
Let’s start with the top-class establishments. Plaudits should be given to Sobo Fish for its championing of local British seafood, which is served up in hearty platters of chips and salad with zingy lemon marinades and herb mixes. Then there’s Brasserie Blanc, where you’ll taste French haute dishes and North African mezze in a single sitting. Or elegant Arbor, where a seasonal menu flaunts hand-dived scallops and slow-cooked short ribs.
All that’s backed up by an eclectic mix of tastes from all over the world. You can stay regional with vinegar-doused chips on the seaside prom. But you can also get ginger-infused dals and brinjal at the Sri Lankan Coconut Tree or taste saltfish gumbos in the West Indian cookhouse of Aruba.
Sunshine and the seaside go hand in hand, but 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 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, the Pavilion Theatre or Pavilion Dance South West will tickle your fancy, being regular hosts to local productions, West End plays, and classic film screenings alike. If you’re more of a music lover then perhaps a trip to the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) is the choice for you – it’s hosted artists such as Bob Dylan and Katy Perry.
Fore more classic bar-hopping and endless drinking holes, you can simply strut down to Commercial Street. That wiggles through the middle of the town and is the veritable nerve center of nightlife in Bournemouth. It’s got gastropubs like the Dancing Jug next to garden cafés like Eden next to hearty English pubs. If there’s a party happening (and there almost always is!) then this is where it will be.
The urban parks
The focus might be on the pristine beaches of Bournemouth, but there are also oodles of charming green spaces in the city behind the coast. In fact, this city boasts over 1,000 hectares of designated parkland, which accounts for a whopping 20% of the borough as a whole! But where to begin?
You can start at the rockery in the Lower Gardens, where Zen-like stone displays are surrounded by a mixture of tropical and local plant life. Then, head up through the Central Gardens, where visitors can enjoy wider green spaces decorated with hundreds of trees and old Victorian memorials on the banks of the gurgling River Bourne.
You can finish your tour 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: The European Section, The Asian Section, and the North American section, where there’s even a giant redwood!
Museums and galleries
Bournemouth has plenty in store for those interested in science, art, and culture. The main attraction is undeniably the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum. Formerly an Italian style villa situated on top of the cliffs, it’s now home to hundreds of pieces of historic British artwork, as well as many items of interest from yesteryear.
For those with more of a scientific bent, another option is the Bournemouth Natural Science Society. This charitably run organisation showcases artefacts relating to natural sciences and has a mysterious array of relics from ancient Egypt to boot. Oh, and don’t forget the Oceanarium. It’s one of the most celebrated marine exhibits in the UK – get ready to meet stingrays, sea turtles, penguins, and a whole load more!
The surrounding region also comes dotted with some interesting galleries and museums for the culture buffs who want even more. The Museum of Design in Plastics sits to the north in Victoria Park. The Red House Museum and Gardens – a leftover of the 1800s workhouse era – is to the west in Purewell.
The rich history
Bournemouth might be a buzzy stag-do and hen-do haven. But don’t let that distract you from the rich history that swirls around the town. Visitors here can go all the way back to the 12th century with a visit to the preserved Norman House, or even lay eyes on one of England’s most dramatic medieval forts at Corfe Castle.
Beyond the great beaches and spots for greenery, Hengistbury Head and Alum Chine are also notable for being legendary smuggling sites. A trip to either is a great way to get in touch with a more exciting slice of Bournemouth history, when bootleggers would paddle into the local coves in the dead of night.
A stay in the Miramar Hotel is a great choice for those with a passion for the written word, as it allows you to walk the footsteps of a certain JRR Tolkien. It’s actually the place where he retired. You can also go to see the final resting place of Mary Shelley, at gorgeous St Peters Church. Perhaps a pitstop to refresh at the nearby Mary Shelley Pub is in order too!
Is Bournemouth worth visiting? Our verdict
We’d put Bournemouth up there with the most exciting destinations on the English South Coast. Not only has it got a reputation for lively nightlife venues that pump until the early hours in the summer months, but it’s also blessed with over seven miles of uninterrupted urban beachfront. The whole region is loaded with jaw-dropping coastline, though, no matter if you make it to the dunes of Sandbanks and Poole to the west or go east to the old smuggling coves. Talking of those, Bournemouth also brings history and culture, in the form of ancient churches and literary pubs, along with amazing science museums like the oceanarium. What’s not to love?