From luxury seaside resorts to a thriving young nightlife scene, visitors to the coastal resort town of Bournemouth will find plenty to entertain!
Bournemouth is mostly known for its fun piers and seaside activities, but there are lots of other things to experience as well, including some great cultural attractions.
In this post, we’ll be sharing all our favourite places to visit in Bournemouth, including the best beaches, architecture and gardens.
We hope you enjoy learning about this charming town and be sure to let us know in the comments which Bournemouth must-sees we should add to our list!
While Brighton is often touted as the top seaside escape in Southern England, Bournemouth’s seven miles of golden sand beaches make it a worthy contender for #1 in our books.
The long stretch of sea and sand surrounding the town is one of the biggest drawcards for visitors, so it’s not surprising that the possibility of a swim, stroll or spot of sunbathing makes the beaches some of the most popular Bournemouth attractions.
There’s also a lovely promenade for walking or cycling all the way along the shore, with many cafés, restaurants and other spots to stop for refreshment. If you’re up for it, you can even continue all the way to Poole, which has its own lovely set of attractions and sights.
While all of Bournemouth’s beaches are (of course) connected, they do have individual names. Here are some beachy places in Bournemouth well worth checking out:
- Bournemouth Central Beach: The main Bournemouth Beach area near the city centre is called (surprisingly!) Bournemouth Central Beach or just Bournemouth Beach. This beach is obviously very popular as it’s central, clean and safe, with the famous pier overlooking the sands.
- Durley Chine Beach: If you walk further west along Bournemouth Beach you’ll come to the Blue Flag-winning Durley Chine Beach. Overlooking this beach is a nice cafe as well as the Durley Inn for traditional pub grub. There are some lovely colourful beach huts here as well.
- Alum Chine Beach: Next door to Durley Chine Beach is Alum Chine Beach, which is very popular with families due to its cool pirate-themed playground and water area for kids. The beautiful Tropical Gardens behind the beach are also well worth a visit, plus you can rent beach huts here.
- Boscombe Beach: On the eastern side of Boscombe Pier is Boscombe Beach, which is packed with fun activities for those who don’t just want to work on their tan. There are plenty of sports courts, boulders for climbing, slackline zones, table tennis, surf schools and, of course, the pier itself which is a good spot for fishing.
- Southbourne Beach: As you continue along Boscombe Beach, passing by the Fisherman’s Walk Cliff Lift, you will then come to Southbourne Beach, another one of Bournemouth’s Blue Flag beaches. This beach is usually a bit less busy than the ones closer to the town centre and more popular with locals or families as there are good facilities including public bathrooms.
One of the most well-known and popular Bournemouth tourist attractions is its main pier, lined with shops, a theatre, a cafe and an amusement arcade.
Originally opened in 1880, Bournemouth Pier has been expanded on, partly demolished, restored and then renovated over the years. Today the main arcade is located at the entrance to the pier, then there’s a nice area to walk on until you reach the main two-storey building, which contains the theatre, a restaurant/bar and the Rock Reef activity centre.
Outside at the end of the pier is a zipline back to shore, along with the Key West Bar and Grill. It’s free to walk onto the pier in the off-season but there’s a small charge during the peak season between April and October of £1.40 for adults.
Bournemouth (Upper, Central & Lower) Gardens
The stunning Upper, Central and Lower Gardens complex is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bournemouth, especially if you need a break from the sand!
While the mouth of the River Bourne (which gives Bournemouth its name) is no longer visible, directly behind the pier you can start to walk along the river as it flows through a series of gardens.
The Lower Gardens are located between the pier and the city centre, with plenty of things to discover even though it’s the smallest section. There’s a mini golf course, a bandstand, an aviary, an open-air art exhibition area and a number of food stalls to enjoy.
The Central Gardens contain the city’s war cenotaph and formal gardens along the riverbank, making it a delightful spot for a stroll away from the city’s hustle and bustle. If you continue further up the river you’ll come to the gorgeous Upper Gardens, which were once private gardens and feature a ‘three continent’ theme.
In the Upper Gardens, you can see plants from around the world in the Asian garden, European garden and North American garden. It is quite a walk if you want to visit all the gardens in one go, but there are also cycle lanes if you’d rather explore by bicycle!
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
If you’re looking for some art and culture (or just need a break from all the beach frolicking) then the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is one of the best places to visit in Bournemouth.
The Grade II listed building was commissioned by Merton Russell-Cotes, the owner of the Royal Bath Hotel (which is next door) as a birthday present for his wife, Annie. Constructed in an art-nouveau style, the building itself is quite beautiful and enjoys views directly across the beach to the pier.
Annie Russell-Cotes donated the building to the town of Bournemouth as a museum in 1907, and Merton also donated his art collection along with it, even though they remained living in the house until their deaths. A visit to the museum today is fascinating not only for the many items and paintings on display, but also to explore the stunning rooms showcasing typical Victorian-era grandeur.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday (and on Bank Holiday Mondays) from 10am until 5pm. Adult tickets cost £7.50 but there are a number of concession prices available so make sure you also check the website.
St Peter’s Church
Bournemouth is home to a number of historic churches, although St Peter’s Church is probably the most significant.
A Grade I listed building, St Peter’s was Bournemouth’s first church, completed in 1879 and demonstrating gorgeous Gothic Revival architecture. Inside the church are stunning stained glass windows and unusual paintings, while the 62-metre tower is a landmark sight from most parts of Bournemouth.
St Peter’s Church is also where Frankenstein author Mary Shelley is interred, apparently along with the heart of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who died in Sardinia. The Shelley tomb also contains the remains of her parents (Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin), her son (also named Percy) and his wife.
One of the best Bournemouth destinations, located a little outside of the town but well worth the short journey, is the headland known as Hengistbury Head.
Not only are there a number of very pretty privately owned beach huts on the headland (which can be rented for exorbitant prices), but Hengistbury Head is also home to a large number of significant archaeological sites and special conservation areas.
The main beach of Hengistbury Head is beautiful and unspoilt, with a variety of walking trails to spots with stunning views across the channel. The protected nature reserve provides habitats for numerous plant, insect, bird, reptile and mammal species.
Hengistbury Head’s visitor centre is a great first stop to learn about the history of the headland, with displays providing information about the area’s archaeology, ecology and geology.
While the main Bournemouth Pier is the most well-known, the city of Bournemouth is actually home to two historic piers, the second of which is called Boscombe Pier.
Boscombe Pier is shorter and slightly younger than Bournemouth Pier. It was designed by the architect Archibald Smith and opened in 1889, although some renovations and extensions have taken place since then. The main entrance building is now a Grade II Listed Building with some small shops underneath it.
Unlike Bournemouth Pier, it’s always free to walk along Boscombe Pier. Although there aren’t attractions on the pier itself, it’s still definitely worth a visit, with covered seating areas and information panels about the history of the pier, plus you can get fishing permits if you want to go fishing off the end.
Boscombe Chine Gardens
No, that’s not a typo! A ‘chine’ is a steep gorge where the river flows into the sea and the Boscombe Chine Gardens were developed around one such natural spot, directly behind the Boscombe Pier in Bournemouth.
The gardens were developed during the Victorian era but fell into disrepair before being rejuvenated in the 1990s. There’s a mix of formal garden beds, children’s play areas and a wide grassy spot for relaxing, along with a mini golf course.
These gardens are one of the most unique places to go in Bournemouth, even though they’re often overlooked. If you start at the Squirrel Cafe and Mini Golf (near Christchurch Road) then you’ll be able to enjoy a delightful walk through the gardens down to the beach.
Pug’s Hole Natural Reserve Area
It’s believed that this conservation area in Bournemouth is named for a local smuggler named Captain Pug, who may have buried his ill-gotten gains in the area – rather than for the dog breed!
While you shouldn’t start digging for treasure here, Pug’s Hole is a lovely spot for walking through the densely wooded valley. The slopes of the valley are quite steep but there are walking paths throughout the area to explore.
Even though Pug’s Hole is the smallest nature reserve in Bournemouth, it’s still filled with tree varieties such as Scots pines, sycamore, hazel and rowan. If you keep your eyes peeled you might also spot local squirrels, woodpeckers and other birds. The reserve is lovely at any time of year but particularly pretty during autumn.
The Arcade Bournemouth
Not to be confused with the arcade area of Bournemouth Pier, “The Arcade” in Bournemouth is a shopping centre inside a lovely covered row of shops from the Victorian era.
This covered pedestrian arcade connects Gervis Place and Old Christchurch Road, on the north side of Bournemouth Lower Gardens. Inside is a mix of local and national shops, including high-end brands like L’Occitane, Kath Kitson and Waterstones as well as pop-up stalls in the Central Aisle.
At Christmas time the Arcade is particularly pretty and fun, with seasonal pop-up shops and stalls selling gifts along with tasty treats!
West Cliff Lift
Aside from the entrance to the main piers, much of Bournemouth’s beaches are lined with steep hills and cliffs. If you don’t fancy walking up steep zig-zag paths then there is another option: the cliff lift!
Just to the left of Bournemouth Pier (as you face the shore) is the most well-known of these interesting cliff lifts, the West Cliff Lift. This unique funicular structure is actually classified as a light railway and provides gorgeous views as you are whisked the short distance up the cliff on a series of tracks.
There are actually three of these cliff railways in Bournemouth, although the East Cliff Lift (located in between the two piers) has been closed since 2016 because of a landslip causing damage to the line.
The Fisherman’s Walk Cliff Lift is located east of Boscombe Pier and is apparently the shortest funicular railway in the world!
The Upside Down House
One of the more unusual places to visit in Bournemouth is an Upside Down House, which you can even go inside of to get some very trippy photos!
While there are a few similar upside-down houses in the UK, this one in Bournemouth was the first inverted experience to open. The house is built to look like it’s sitting upside-down on its roof and once you head inside, all the rooms appear to be upside-down as well.
This is a fun spot to get some silly photos where it seems like you’re upside-down and kids especially love it! It’s also pretty affordable and a great option if you manage to encounter a day with less-than-stellar beach weather.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: It costs just £5 for entry to the Upside Down House in Bournemouth. It’s currently open seven days a week (including Bank Holiday Mondays) from 10am until 8pm.
Bournemouth Oceanarium is the city’s aquarium and a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy seeing aquatic wildlife up close.
Located directly behind Bournemouth Pier, the Oceanarium contains 11 different zones where visitors can see all manner of fish, sharks, stingrays, crocodiles, penguins, otters and turtles, often during live talks/feeding times. It’s an excellent attraction for children, with specific play areas and activities but even adults will find all the creatures totally charming!
Highlights include the shark reef underwater tunnel which you can walk through, while sharks and other fish lazily float above. The mischievous otters are adorable and the playful Humboldt penguins are all named with very distinct personalities. Visitors can also take part in exclusive enrichment or feeding activities, or just enjoy a wander and then relax at the Offshore Café.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: Bournemouth Oceanarium is open daily from 10am every day of the year except Christmas Day. It usually closes at 6pm in summer or 5pm in winter and costs £15 for adult tickets at the gate. You can save money by booking directly online though!
Lastly, if you’re looking for a nice place to visit in Bournemouth (ish) in the evening, or perhaps during a rainy day, be sure to put the Bournemouth Colosseum (supposedly the smallest cinema in the UK) on your list.
Originally created as a hobby business, this tiny cinema contains just two screens and 27 (very comfy) seats, but it’s definitely one of the most unusual things to see in the Bournemouth area (in Westbourne, to be precise).
They show a range of different films here, from art-house and film noir to foreign films or modern classics. Special themed events are also organised, plus the space can be hired for private events, which would make for an awesome intimate movie party.
Did we miss any of your favourite places to visit in Bournemouth?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more Bournemouth must-sees to our list!