Bournemouth’s seven miles of sandy beaches and more than seven hours of summer sunshine (on average) makes it one of the most popular resorts to visit in the UK.
But surprisingly, this was still a spot for smugglers and fishermen up until the beginning of the 19th century, when a retired army officer thought it might take off as a sea-bathing town and built some villas for holidaymakers.
Once the railways arrived, there was no stopping Bournemouth – and now it’s the largest seaside resort in Dorset, retaining much of its Victorian charm.
With chalk cliffs, natural beauty spots, a massive stretch of golden beach and some of the best pubs and clubs in the country, you could make it a day trip, but you’ll probably want to stay for the weekend or week.
Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your visit.
1. Make the most of the coast
Bournemouth has the UK’s first and only coastal activity park, next to Boscombe Pier.
Here, you can master the art of bouldering – climbing on rocks to the rest of us – learn to surf or bodyboard with trained instructors, or hire kayaks to explore the coastline.
The climate makes this beach a lovely place to swim, especially during the summer months, and if you hire a beach hut you can make it your base for your trip.
There’s also table tennis, swingball and beach volleyball if you prefer to stay on dry land.
2. See the chines shine
DID YOU KNOW? The word chine originates from the Saxon “Cinan” meaning a gap or yawn and is associated with the steep-sided valleys that are only found in this area of Hampshire and Dorset.
Bournemouth has four “chines”, each of them offering something a little different.
Take the Tree Trail through Boscombe Chine Gardens and see if you can spot the nine different trees the squirrels like to play in.
These Victorian gardens have been lovingly restored, and you can see many of the original features including their award-winning bloom beds, along with newer attractions like mini golf.
See some exotic flowers in the tropical gardens at Alum Chine, the largest chine in Bournemouth. You can also get a birds eye view of this natural attraction from one of the three bridges that cross it (Winston Churchill is alleged to fallen off one in 1892, while playing as a child – fortunately he was ok).
Kids can pretend to be pirates at the Treasure Island themed playground, and there’s also a paddling pool to splash about in.
3. Go to the gardens
Running three kilometres from the pier to Poole are Bournemouth’s beautiful Grade II listed Victorian Gardens.
The award-winning Lower Gardens hosts live events throughout the year, including music played at the historic bandstand. You can also get a view from 150 feet up in the Bournemouth Balloon. On a good day, you can see right across to the Isle of Wight.
There’s a variety of plants and animals at the Central and Upper Gardens; it’s worth picking up one of the guided walk sheets to help you spot everything.
4. Get closer to nature on the coast
The Jurassic Coast is an UNESCO World Heritage Site with 185 million years of history, including dinosaur discoveries. For stunning views, take the short train ride to the dramatic Hengistbury Head, which teems with wildlife and archaeological discoveries.
For non-extinct reptiles, visit Turbary Common, which is is home to all the native British species: adders, grass snakes, smooth snakes, sand lizards, common lizards and slow worms.
Visit the Isle of Purbeck and the idyllic village of Studland, best known for its National Trust beach, nature reserve and views of the white chalked Old Harry Rocks.
It’s also the venue for Britain’s most popular naturist beach.
5. Crawl Bournemouth’s bars and pubs
If the weather’s nice, Urban Reef on Boscombe promenade has a sun terrace and balcony where you can get something to eat and drink.
The Wight Bear in Southbourne bans mobile phone use and doesn’t have music blaring or televisions, so if you’re after a quiet pint of real ale – head here.
The Goat and Tricycle is right in the town centre, and has hand-pulled cask ales. The menus, along with their guest ales, change each day.
One of the oldest pubs in Bournemouth, the Cricketers Arms, dates back to 1847, so check out the original features, including stylish gentleman’s urinals.
If you visit Studland for a walk, pop into the Bankes Arms for a pint in their pub garden; the great views are free.
Or Smokin’ Aces is a nice little cocktail and whisky bar if you fancy something a little more swanky.
6. Stay out late
Bournemouth is a university town and has become a popular clubbing spot in the country.
A combination of the two is The Old Fire Station, which is the Uni’s unofficial nightclub. Acts who have appeared there include Bloc Party, Ed Sheeran and Dizzee Rascal and they have three regular club nights.
Just a stone’s throw from Bournemouth Pier is the award-winning Bar So, which has three cocktail bars, two sun terraces and free entry on a Saturday night.
7. See some live entertainment
The Bournemouth International Centre plays host to the big acts from music and comedy. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and One Direction have taken to the stage here and comedians such as Eddie Izzard and Lee Evans have also performed.
Its sister venue, the Art Deco Bournemouth Pavilion, has live entertainment all year round.
You can see panto, ballet and opera here, along with crowd-pleasers from West End transfers in this refurbished listed building.
Live bands also play at the O2 Academy Bournemouth, a Grade II listed building which has been a music hall, theatre, circus venue and opera house in the last 120 years.
For plays and concerts, the Shelley Theatre was built in 1865, and after a turbulent history has now been restored.
If you time it right you might be able to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra perform in their home town.
8. How about some coastal culture?
The Russell-Cotes Museum & Art Gallery has a great location atop the Bournemouth cliffs.
The interior of this dreamy Victorian villa is pretty good too – look above as you walk into the main hall to see a detailed glass dome, decorated with owls, stars and comets.
If you want to buy or browse some contemporary art, head to the independent Westover Gallery.
9. Pedal along the promenade
A sunset cycle along the beach or promenade is best done in autumn and spring, as there’s no cycling on the prom between 10am and 6pm during July and August. More information and a cycle map can help you plan a route.
10. Let the train take the strain
Blue and yellow land trains are a colourful sight as they make their way up and down the coast.
By paying on the train and getting an unlimited days travel, you can hop on and off where you like. Choose between two routes: Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier and Bournemouth Pier to Alum Chine.
11. See the sea from a zip wire
Jump onto the world’s first pier-to-shore zip wire and fly for half a minute up to 80 feet above the sea on the PierZip. It has two lines, so you can race your friends to the beach.
It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like at RockReef; home to adventure sports like indoor climbing, caves and an aerial obstacle course in the former pier theatre.
12. Play at traditional seaside amusements on Bournemouth Pier
The pier was opened in 1880 and cost £2,600 to build, and still has the wide open promenade to walk down.
You can buy the usual postcards and seaside souvenirs, grab a doughnut or an ice-cream, or try and win some prizes at the arcade.
End-of-the-pier food comes in the form of the Key West Bar and Restaurant. Their open terrace and serves up beer, wine and cocktails along with home-cooked food.
And you can also visit the Aruba bar and restaurant at the pier’s entrance which also has great views of the beach and sea.
13. Take a guided seaside stroll
You can find out more about smugglers in Bournemouth by taking a walking tour. Running between May and November, there is no need to book ahead, just turn up on the day (see website for dates)
You could also download one of the treasure trails in the area, with five available to choose from, you can take the kids on a murder mystery trail through Bournemouth’s gardens.
14. Time your trip with a festival
The annual Bournemouth Air Festival is the largest aviation event of its kind and is usually held in August over four days.
Watch jets and display teams use the sea, cliffs and beach as a backdrop, check out the armed forces’ village, buy local produce at the county show and make sure you catch the Night Air entertainment, where aircraft fly at dusk to live music and before a fireworks show.
The Bournemouth Food and Drink Festival has been running for five years now, and usually takes place in June and hosts pop up restaurants, street food and cooking demonstrations.
In autumn you can get your cultural fix at the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival, a mix of regional and international acts from the world of dance, theatre, film and music, held at different venues around the town.
15. There’s always time for an ice cream
You can buy ice creams on the pier and along the seafront in Bournemouth, or at one of the town’s ice cream parlours.
Giggi Gelateria makes their own Italian ice cream on-site, and has more than 20 flavours to choose from.
You can also create your own Frappé (milkshake) by combining three flavours, of your choice, with milk – there’s 10,000 possible permutations.
16. Fancy fish and chips?
It wouldn’t be a trip to the seaside without a bag of Britain’s finest cuisine.
17. Learn about Bournemouth’s literary links
Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkein spent his latter years in retirement in Bournemouth, after spending childhood holidays in the area.
Children’s classic novelist, Enid Blyton, also lived in Bournemouth, while Studland became the inspiration for Toytown, where Noddy lived.
It was in his home in Westborne, that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Boscombe Manor was built for Mary Shelley, the author of the gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, but sadly she died before the house was completed.
Despite having never visited the town, she wanted to be buried in Bournemouth in the family plot in St Peter’s churchyard, alongside her parents and the heart of her husband, the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The church spire is a local landmark, and you can visit the headstone in the grounds.
Coming more up-to-date, author Bill Bryson spent time at the Bournemouth Echo newspaper, and the town is mentioned in his breakthrough book, Notes from a Small Island.
18. Cheer on The Cherries
AFC Bournemouth play their home games at the Vitality Stadium, and were finally promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their long history in 2015.
Their nickname either comes from the fact their kit featured cherry-red stripes, or that their old stadium, Dean Court, was next to several cherry orchards.
Until their promotion, their finest moment was during their giant-killing cup run in 1984,under manager Harry Redknapp, which saw them beat Manchester United.
19. Be where the aquatic action is
The Oceanarium is the town’s aquarium, home to baby crocs and penguins.
Try and plan your visit for the daily feeding times, and watch as the small sharks, otters and turtles have their fill.
20. Browse some seaside shops
For unique, independent shops, visit Southbourne, where there are plenty of bespoke craft stores (and the beach there has Blue Flag status).
Westbourne is good for fashion boutiques, and has art galleries and cafes to visit when you’re not shopping.
If you want large high street brand stores, take a drive out to Castlepoint Retail Park on the outskirts – it also has a big Marks and Spencer, two supermarkets and plenty of places to eat and drink.
21. Try the local markets
Open every Thursday and Saturday, Boscombe Market, sells the usual fruit & veg, along with jewellery, flowers and bags in the open air.
Boscombe Vintage Market takes place inside Boscombe’s pretty, Royal Arcade. Currently this is held quarterly, but it should become monthly in 2016 (see website for dates).
22. Potter along to Poole
Bournemouth’s next door neighbour has a lively quayside, with bars, restaurants and shops surrounding the largest natural harbour in England.
See how the artists at Poole Pottery create their award-winning ceramics at their studio near the quay.
23. Then cycle or stroll down to swanky Sandbanks
Hailed as one of Britain’s best beaches, the golden sands stretch for several miles along a natural peninsula, and it’s become one of the most exclusive property spots in the country (by area it has the fourth highest land value in the world).
It’s the place to go for a sophisticated night out, as its bars and restaurants have some of the best beach views.
If you’re feeling inspired to make your trip a longer one, we have plenty of hotels in Bournemouth and the surrounding area.
Take a boat or hovercraft over to the Isle of Wight for a short break if you are staying down there for a longer period.
There’s plenty of other day trip suggestions to discover near London if you want to discover more about the English countryside.
We’ve also featured Dorset and Hampshire in our best weekend breaks in the UK suggestions, so you can find our more about the nearby New Forest.
It takes just over an hour and a half to get to Bournemouth from London on a fast train via Southern West Trains.
If you’re driving, it’s around three hours (depending on traffic). There’s plenty of parking in Bournemouth, even near to the beach. Visit Bournemouth Borough Council’s website to find the best spots and parking prices.
You can also fly into Bournemouth Airport from Glasgow, Manchester and Jersey in the British Isles.
Do you have any Bournemouth tips?
Perhaps you live in Bournemouth or maybe you’ve visited there before? We’d love to hear what your favourite things to do are.
Please share your experiences and recommendations by leaving a comment below.