The Top 10 Things to Do in Bournemouth, England

Beach huts at Bournemouth, Dorset
Peter Unger / Getty Images

Presiding over 7 miles of powdery white sand that slopes gently into the calm, blue English Channel, Bournemouth is one of the South Coast’s top seaside resorts. Just over 100 miles from London, Bournemouth’s beaches are a hit with day-trippers, receiving 5 million visitors per year. But the town is full of other cool things to do that’ll keep you entertained, even when the classic British weather means you can’t hit the beach.

01 of 10

Sunbathe by the Sea

Bournemouth beach, pier, sea and sand
allou / Getty Images

Traditional seaside pursuits abound in Bournemouth—stroll along the town’s two piers, grab some fish and chips from Jack Black’s favorite chippy, or hire a beach hut for the day. Ice cream is always a good idea, and Bournemouth’s beach kiosks are open all year round to whip up some soft serve. Purbeck and New Forest are the local favorites, and their smooth textures and unusual flavors are worth lining up for. Away from the busiest portion of the shoreline near the town center, you’ll find the beaches of Boscombe, Branksome, Alum Chine, and Southbourne a little less crowded.

02 of 10

Ride a Zip Line Over the Ocean

PierZip zip line

Courtesy of RockReef UK

Pier Approach, Bournemouth BH2 5AA, UK
Phone +44 1202 983983

Speaking of piers, Bournemouth Pier is packed with vacation amusements. There’s a theater, night club, restaurant, fairground, arcade, and even a 250-meter zip line at PierZip. To reach, you'll ascend a spiral staircase until you're 82 feet (25 meters) above sea level. Leaping off the tower feels like launching into flight—you’ll glide over people on the pier, see your shadow speed over Poole Bay, and finally come to a gentle landing on the sandy shores of Bournemouth Beach. Better yet, there are two zip lines, so competitive thrill-seekers can challenge a friend to a race. PierZip is open year-round, with cheaper tickets on offer during the winter season.

03 of 10

Learn a New Water Sport

mid aged woman and teenage daughter paddle board
JAG IMAGES / Getty Images

If you’ve always wanted to get into water sports, don a wetsuit and go, because Bournemouth’s shallow seas are ideal for beginners. Kitesurfing and windsurfing are exhilarating on breezy days; watch surfers catch some air from the shore, or try it yourself if you’re feeling brave. In the heat of summer, catch some relief from the hot and heavy air by hiring a speedboat or jetski to skim over the waves. Interested in discovering the area’s marine life? Get under the surface by learning how to scuba dive.Interested in discovering the area’s marine life? Get under the surface by learning how to scuba dive. If you’d prefer a more lazy, hazy kind of day, take stand up paddleboarding lessons, or even become a sailor for the day by hopping aboard a sailboat.

04 of 10

Visit the Russell Cotes Museum

Exterior of Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

Courtesy of Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

Bournemouth BH1 3AD, UK

Even if you usually find art galleries and museums dull, the Russell Cotes Museum is anything but. The turret-covered mansion overlooks the beach, and its candy cane canopies and green walls reflect the extroverted personality of Merton Russell-Cotes, the eccentric businessman who built it.

The interior design is just as quirky. There are rooms inspired by Russell-Cotes’ global travels, including an Alhambra-themed alcove and a gallery filled with his souvenirs from Japan. Linger around to admire these, as well as a fine collection of 20th century artworks and interactive, hands-on exhibits designed with kids in mind.

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05 of 10

Trace the Paths of Famous Authors

Culture vultures love Bournemouth, and the town has been home to many a famous author. J.R.R. Tolkien retired here, Robert Louis Stevenson published "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" while convalescing here, Lawrence and Gerald Durrell grew up here, and "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley is buried here.

Blue plaques are dotted around Bournemouth, showing where these talented writers once lived and worked. Seek them out and walk the streets of town at the same time. Highlights include the Shelley Theatre, St. Peter’s Church (where the Shelley family grave is), Skerryvore Garden (Robert Louis Stevenson’s former grounds), and the Art Deco Bournemouth Echo building, where travel writer Bill Bryson began his journalistic career.

06 of 10

Sail to the Jurassic Coast

Aerial view of Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, England
Andrea Comi / Getty Images
Old Harry Rocks, United Kingdom

Hop on a boat at Bournemouth Pier and sail past Old Harry Rocks. Marking the start of the Jurassic Coast, these iconic chalk stacks are steeped in local legend. Some say that "Old Harry" is the nickname of Dorset pirate Harry Paye, who allegedly used to hide behind the rocks before preying on French and Spanish ships. Others say that it was a moniker for the Devil, who allegedly slept on the pristine patch of grass atop the chalk. Decide for yourself as you cruise by in style.

07 of 10

Meet Animals at the Oceanarium

Stan the Otter

Courtesy of Oceanarium, Bournemouth

Oceanarium Pier Approach, Bournemouth BH2 5AA, UK
Phone +44 1202 311993

Right by the pier, Bournemouth’s Oceanarium houses a variety of wonderful sea life, including a family of Oriental small-clawed otters. One of the Oceanarium’s star attractions, visitors can interact with them behind the glass, or watch a daily feeding. Feeding experiences for penguins, stingrays, sharks and turtles are also free to enjoy.

Then, submerge yourself into the Oceanarium’s underwater world by strolling through its incredible glass tunnel, while sharks, eels, and tropical fish swim above your head. After your visit, head slightly uphill to Hot Rocks Bar & Restaurant for tasty food, cocktails, and a fun surfboard photo op right outside.

08 of 10

Ride the Cliff Railways

Empty Cliff Lift at onset of winter in Dorset during November
pilesasmiles / Getty Images

If you find yourself near one of Bournemouth’s historic cliff lifts, you can ride up to the town's seaside promenade with ease, sitting back and admiring the view. Currently, there are two in operation. The one at West Cliff takes you from the sand to the Bournemouth International Center (BIC), which plays host to concerts, shows, and massive conferences. The other is located at Fisherman’s Walk; built in 1935, it serves Boscombe Beach and has been recognized by Guinness as the world’s shortest funicular railway. Running for 128 feet, the journey takes about one minute.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Catch a Show or Game

Oldham Athletic v AFC Bournemouth - FA Cup Third Round
Naomi Baker / Getty Images

The BIC isn’t the only place you can go for live entertainment. There’s also the Bournemouth Pavilion, a beautiful 1920s hall which puts on traditional theatre productions, comedy shows, and dance performances. Meanwhile, the O2 Academy, housed in the old Opera House in Boscombe, is the favored venue of the world's hottest musicians, comedians, and speakers. 

If you’d like something more sporty, head over to King’s Park Stadium to support the local soccer team, AFC Bournemouth (colloquially known as the Cherries). From 2015 to 2020, they surprised everyone by staying in the Premier League for five full seasons. Cheering them on is a must for any football fan.

10 of 10

Browse the Victorian Shops

Victorian arcade, The Arcade, Bournemouth
Franz-Marc Frei / Getty Images

Bournemouth is blessed with not one, but three beautiful Victorian shopping arcades. Each features an ornate glass roof, allowing sun to pour in from the ceiling to illuminate mosaic floors, potted plants, and a variety of unique shops.

Boscombe’s Royal Arcade is packed with independent shops, and also hosts a vintage market on the first Saturday of every month. In the center of town, a couple of local jewelers take pride of place in the Gervis Arcade. Wideye is an awesome place to purchase toiletries and personal care products—most of them vegan and eco-conscious. Last—but certainly not least—is the Westbourne Arcade, which features some gorgeous boutiques, art shops, and a 19-seat cinema.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Bournemouth, England