The British seaside is a fabulous place to be when the sun is shining. In some places, though, like Bournemouth, it can be a great place throughout the year. Prices are a lot lower in the winter in comparison to the summer and there’s still loads to do, whatever your interests.
This is an expanded version of an article I have written for VisitEngland.co.uk. I have a column there which involves me travelling the country looking for great, low-cost ways to have a lovely holiday in beautiful England.
Arrive at Bournemouth rail station and take a taxi into town (about £4.50) to drop your bags off at your hotel. Either walk or take a bus or taxi down to the seafront (most parts of Bournemouth are walk-able to the beach but it depends how you’re feeling whether you want to go on foot or not!)
Go to the gardens next to the seafront and take a ride in the Bournemouth Balloon, a giant tethered helium balloon that offers panoramic views of Bournemouth and the English Channel. It costs £12.50 for adults but there are concessions for children, OAPs and families.
Next… Pop down to the seafront itself (a two-minute walk) and have a leisurely lunch at the wonderful WestBeach restaurant which looks straight out onto the sea and serves a variety of foods, including fabulous fish dishes with fish caught straight from the sea you’re looking out on.
In the afternoon…
You’ve eaten local fish, now take a look at them close up at the Bournemouth Oceanarium. It’s just a few steps away from the Westbeach and costs £9.95 per adult although you can get it for just £8.45 if you buy it on the internet.
There’s a fascinating selection of fish and other marine life. They even have a lovely family of otters romping about. Walk underneath the shark pool, particularly when they’re being fed. That’s a sight!
Did you know… Mary Shelley, an English romantic/gothic novelist and author of Frankenstein is buried in the graveyard of St. Peter’s Church, Bournemouth? Shelley was married to romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley whose heart was snatched from his funeral pyre and kept by Mary for the rest of her life – it is now buried with her.
I stayed at the Hallmark Hotel which is easy to get to from the seafront and from the station. The Hallmark is handy because it has a spa and an indoor swimming pool so even if the weather isn’t too hot, you can swim and spend some time being pampered. In fact, you could even spend the evening having dinner here and getting a treatment.
Even better, though, is to go to The Print Room for dinner. This restaurant, sister of the Westbeach, is in what used to be the actual print rooms of the Bournemouth Echo. It’s a great Art Deco-style building with a bar and restaurant. The food is good and you can enjoy a cosy tete-a-tete in one of their special booths.
If you’re feeling energetic, take a dance class at Pavilion Dance in the gardens. They have a wide range of excellent classes and also a lot of great performances to watch.
Let’s assume that the weather is good! Actually, it regularly is here. Bournemouth has 7.7 hours of daily sunshine, which is way above average. Why not treat yourself to your very own beach hut for the day, or half day? Charges start at £8.50 for the day depending on when you’re there. You get a gas ring, a table and four deckchairs. The rest you bring yourself. It’s a bit of old-world fun and a good place to store things while you’re in the sea. Book one before you go at their website.
Did you know… Bournemouth is home to the UK’s first beach hut and boasts around 2,000 more, running alongside the promenade?
Walk east along the beach to Boscombe. Try out their pier for a different view of Bournemouth and the sea. Then have lunch at Urban Reef, a relaxed cafe, deli and restaurant that is committed to using fresh, local and seasonal produce. Either sit in the restaurant on the first floor overlooking the sea or have a sandwich and cake in the downstairs cafe, also looking out onto the beach.
Did you know… Bournemouth is the only place in England and Wales where couples can legally have their wedding or civil partnership on the beach itself? You get to be married in a special beach hut followed by the reception.
Get the X1 or X2 bus from Bournemouth High Street to Highcliffe (or drive to Christchurch and follow signs to Highcliffe) to visit the former home of ‘Mr Selfridge’, Highcliffe Castle. This beautiful semi-ruin is a fascinating place to walk around and it has delightful grounds just above the sea which are lovely to walk around when it’s sunny.
Costing £3.25 for adults there’s lots to see including the history of the place, pictures of how it would have looked in ‘Mr Selfridge’s’ time and original 19th century architecture. The ‘castle’ also has a lovely tea shop with home-made meals and great cakes. Definitely worth half a day of strolling around!
Everyone is different, so you might like to replace some of my itinerary for one or more of these alternatives:
- Take the 50 or 52 bus from Bournemouth Town Centre (or drive) to Sandbanks, the extremely well-heeled, beautiful bay between Bournemouth and Poole. Many tourists flock to the beach yearly and in the summer. The beach is so shallow that you can walk out into the sea almost 200 yards. It’s a very popular place for watersports fans so if that’s you, spend a day or an afternoon chasing the waves. It’s tricky to get to Sandbanks by public transport but if you have a car it’s off the A35 from Bournemouth.
- If you’re in the car take a trip along the A338 to Poole to take a look at the potteries and Poole Harbour.
- Feeling even more adventurous? Drive over to Corfe Castle, a National Trust property on the other side of Poole. You can spend a very happy afternoon looking round the ruins, taking in the information centre and having a cuppa in the tea shop in the village. You could even take a quick trip on the steam train from Corfe station for a bit more nostalgia!
- Bournemouth is great for shopping, so whether you’re trying to get out of the rain or you just want to pick up some nice things, you can easily pop into the shops straight from the beach. The town centre (just on the other side of the gardens from the beachfront) is packed with all kinds of department stores and familiar names like Boots, Borders, Debenhams, Dingles, Habitat and Marks & Spencer. The Bournemouth Arcade is a lovely Victorian pedestrianised shopping area with quality shops and cafes. There are also a couple of cinemas next door which you can pop into in the evening before or after dinner.
Did you know… Sandbanks is the fourth most expensive place to live on the planet? Some people call it ‘Britain’s Monte Carlo’.
- If you’re going by train remember you can get a third off your ticket with a railcard and they only cost £28 each.
- Also, the earlier you can book the better for getting cheap deals. If you’re not completely sure of your dates but you want a good deal, book with Southern Railway as you can book any ticket with them and they will give you a full refund if you don’t use it.
- Megabus.com has amazingly cheap trips from various parts of Britain to Bournemouth. The earlier you book, the cheaper they are.
- Bournemouth hotels are not cheap but you can get good deals off-season, particularly if you’re able to go during the week. Many are nearly empty at that time. Look at the hotels further away from the seafront for the really good deals. Try Laterooms.com for last-minute bargains.
There are regular trains to Bournemouth from London and elsewhere. It’s an easy and pleasant journey, some of it by the seaside!
By car it’s off the A338 between Poole and Southampton.