The best things to do in Bournemouth, including Brownsea Island, Boscombe and Bournemouth Piers and a selection of amazing food and drink
When it comes to quintessential seaside towns, Bournemouth should be top of your list. It’s got the lot: inflatables, sun hats and technicolour windmills all playing in the breeze; long stretches of sand; the wonderful and (thanks to Bournemouth’s microclimate) temperate sea. It’s not all candy floss camp though; there’s sophistication here by the bucket and spade full. Amazing food, unforgettable attractions, and a line up at the Bournemouth International Centre (known locally as ‘The BIC’) that would rival a major city. All that said, every year around 750,000 ice creams are bought on the seafront, so definitely don’t forget about the seaside bit.
Bournemouth is incredibly easy to get to and to get around. Jump on the 9.05 from Waterloo and you’ll be here by 11.00 – you could have your feet in the sea and your head in the clouds by 11.15.
Get some breakfast
Of course, it’s always easiest if you get your caffeine boost on the train and arrive eager to attack the day. But no worries if you wait either – there are some great places to grab a snack (or a hefty meal) all across town.
Urban Reef is a Swiss Army Knife of an eatery. Arrive in the morning and it’s all relaxing with the papers, sipping at a latte on the sun deck, admiring the great views. When the sun drops by the yard arm it becomes a place of sophisticated cocktails and fine dining in the restaurant on the first floor balcony. For now though, why not pore over those papers with a veggie, vegan or full English breakfast.
Head out to sea
After breakfast – and not just because you’ll have been admiring it for the last 40 minutes – head to Boscombe Pier. After its recent refurb the pier has been rejuvenated into a short but wonderful wander into the sea. Come here for great views, the wind in your hair and to watch the over-energetic surfers as they flicker between the waves.
If the view inspires you to take a dip then head to the Sorted Surf Shop on Sea Road, just three minutes’ walk away. Here you can buy or hire all the kit you need and even book some surfing lessons. The website also has a Boscombe Pier Surf Cam so you can see just what you’re missing out on (or not) right now.
Have a sit down
If the idea of heading out into the surf and reliving your Point Break memories doesn’t really wax your board, then why not head for something a little less frenetic and rent out a Beach Hut? These come with three deckchairs and even a gas ring and bottle – so the more organised of you can actually cook up a storm. The rest of us can settle for a mug of tea. Daily hire is between £40 and £60 a day, all the information you need can be found on the council’s website and there’s a map of locations here.
Hit the shops
Whether you’ve been diving between the waves or are just emerging from a blanket, it’s now time to get your shop together.
If you’re still in Boscombe then on Thursdays and Saturdays there’s Boscombe Market – perfect for an amble and even a bite to eat from one of the street food traders. After your wander you can head to Boscombe’s Royal Arcade. Here you’ll find a selection of independent stores underneath the wonderful glass canopy, which also make it a great, and well lit, Instagram stop.
A little further east and heading into Southbourne’s suburbs, you’ll find Sugar Mango – a great stop-off for women’s fashion, beachwear, jewellery and gifts.
Boscombe’s vibe is local and friendly, which is why it’s known as ‘the village’. Now though it’s time to head to the centre and some bigger brands. Aim for the pedestrianised area known as The Square and you’ll be in the heart of the town and the centre of the high-street brands. This is where you can find your Debenhams and TK Maxx and even peel off to The Arcade for House of Fraser and Cath Kidston.
A bite to eat
After all this activity maybe it’s time to settle down again. Heading for a later lunch from the centre of town gives you tons of options, but we want to head back to the sparkling sea so it’s off to West Beach. With doors opening out to the shore, light floods the restaurant, making it a perfect lunchtime stop for beer battered fish and chips (or a quinoa beetroot and pomegranate salad with halloumi). The quick lunch menu runs from 12-3.30 (5pm on Sundays) alongside the á la carte menu (at the time of writing dishes range from around £10-£15).
Discover, Like and Share Russell-Cotes Museum
After recharging your batteries at lunch, it’s time to re-engage the grey matter. If you’re after some architectural joy and maybe even an Instagram fix then the Russell-Cotes Museum is where you should head.
As birthday gifts go this trinket box overlooking the sea is right up there. The building is a fantasy of domes, spires, pilasters and verandas and was given by Merton Russell-Cotes to his wife Annie in 1901, whereupon they quickly filled it with all of the treasures from their global travels. Come here for the picture opportunities and leave having seen wonders of architecture, amazing décor and a dazzling standing collection of art and artefacts.
Wine and dine the night away
When the sun starts to set, it’s time to get your glad rags on and head somewhere special for a meal. As we mentioned, Urban Reef caters all day long, and serves a wonderful evening menu in its restaurant. More great restaurants are found dotted across Bournemouth, and these are just a couple of our favourites…
Arbor is the town’s newest 2 AA Rosette restaurant, based in The Green House hotel right in the centre of town. These guys are fanatical about provenance and all their ingredients are sourced from within a 50 mile radius. 1805 is the new kid on the chopping block, opening in 2018 to a lot of fanfare and all of the area’s glitterati on hand. Happily after such a bold start it has delivered the goods again and again. The setting is opulent, you’re offered traditional Chinese dishes with a modern approach, and the terrace is a great place to kick back and reflect on the day. The Crab is another AA 2 Rosette holder and, again, it’s just around the corner from both the pier and the BIC. This is your destination for fresh and incredibly locally sourced fish, so close to their origin that the fish could have cycled here themselves.
Get sand in your toes
A walk along the beach is always a welcome treat, but with so much beach in Bournemouth you could spend almost the entire day trying to map it. It’s been voted Britain’s Best Beach with seven miles of golden sands to explore, and these are some of the cleanest beaches in the country too – there are four Blue Flag beaches along the coast at Bournemouth and the stretch at Durley Chine has held a Blue Flag for 30 years, ever since the scheme was started. Yet again the council website comes up trumps with its selection of walking guides and inspiration.
Pier to pier
A simple beach stroll will take you from Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier (sadly not yet known as the Napster ramble) in just 30 minutes. Wander on for a further half hour and you’ll come to hipster pub chain – Brewhouse and Kitchen’s Bournemouth hostelry – where you can sup on a craft beer brewed on the premises and enjoy a Roast Beercan Chicken. If you can’t be faffed with the walk, the journey from Bournemouth Station to Pokesdown Station takes four minutes. However, if you do decide to walk and stay on the beach, you’ll get the added bonus of seeing or travelling on the world's shortest funicular railway.
For something more upscale for your midday meal, all of the restaurants mentioned above also do amazing Sunday dinners and Arbor is rightfully boastful of its roasts.
For a further stroll and a sweet dish after lunch, you could always walk from Bournemouth to Sandbanks, hop on the ferry and enjoy a slice of cake with one of the best views, from the National Trust’s Brownsea Island Café. You’re also then on Brownsea Island with all the joy that brings.
After all this, it’s time to head back to your train with the Sunday papers, ready to discover that you missed out on visiting Mary Shelley’s grave in the centre of the town.