Up until two hundred years ago, Bournemouth was an uninhabited stretch of heathland regarded by contemporaries as desolate wilderness. Today, things could hardly be more different, and Bournemouth is now a thriving Victorian seaside town – the largest seaside resort in Dorset. Each year thousands of visitors are drawn to town, keen to spend the day or a weekend relaxing on its sandy beaches and exploring its sunny coasts.
With shops, museums, gardens, cafes, and other attractions to choose from, Bournemouth’s beach remains its biggest draw. There’s much to see even by walking just down the promenade, and this article highlights some of the best sites to visit next time you’re on the Bournemouth coast.
Walk along the Bournemouth Pier
Bournemouth Pier was first erected in 1856 initially as just a small jetty, and has been consistently demolished and rebuilt over the next century whether due to damage by storms, or as a precaution against invasion during WW2.
Today’s structure is over 1000ft long, and consists of numerous shops, attractions and cafés along its length. Situated as it is at the centre of Bournemouth’s beach, it forms a natural starting point for any seaside walk no matter which direction you choose to travel, and is a useful landmark for navigating from as you wend your way down the coast.
To help cope with the large number of visitors who walk upon it each year, the local council has placed a small fee to the pier during peak seasons. If you’re visiting between April and late October, expect to pay either £1.20 for adults or 80p for children.
The pier’s walk is flat and well maintained but be careful of the odd uneven plank. Benches and seating are plentiful across its length.
Explore the Hengistbury Head Nature Reserve
Head towards Christchurch, further east for an hour and three quarters on foot up the shoreline, and you’ll reach the Hengistbury Head Nature Reserve.
Forming one of the UK’s most important Sites of Scientific Interest, Hengistbury Head Nature Reserve forms the home for hundreds of different species of bird, mammal, reptile, and insects, including the extremely rare natterjack toad. It encompasses numerous habitat types, offering a highly varied and interesting excursion for those who like to surround themselves with more natural settings.
In addition, the heights of Hengistbury Head offer some of the best panoramic views of the south Dorset coastline, including glimpses of the Isle of Wight during clear weather.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome on the trails, and benches are spaced frequently along the paths. Be mindful that the hills can be steep to climb, so may not be accessible to those with poor mobility. If you wish to get here by car to save your energy, parking is provided.
See the Old Harry Rocks
Found south down the coast from Bournemouth, either a fifty-minute drive or a three-hour walk, the Old Harry Rocks form one of Dorset’s most distinctive geological features.
The Old Harry Rocks are three chalk pillars that stand in a row from the cliffs, they’ve formed a part of the landscape for centuries. There used to be more – one of Harry’s “wives” collapsed in the 16th century – but continue to draw curious sightseers the world over. Naturally approaching the stacks is restricted due to health and safety concerns, but there are plenty of spaces to view them from and take photos.
Discover the Oceanarium
A great place to head to if you’ve done all you want and need to at Bournemouth Pier, the Oceanarium is just off the coast and offers its visitors a chance to discover more about the rich world of marine life. Featuring creatures from various aquatic biomes all under one roof, it’s a great place to visit no matter the weather.
At select times, visitors can observe feeding times for its animals, and guests can also book a place on special animal experience events to get up close and personal with the animals. Whether visiting on your own or with the grandchildren, it offers something to do on every visit. The Oceanarium also comes with its own cafe and gift shop, making it a great place to rest and pick up souvenirs.
The exhibits have wide, open passageways that are more than large enough for wheelchairs and buggies, and lift access is provided between both floors. Stairs are clearly marked and there are always alternative routes available.
Relax on Durley Chine Beach
No visit to the seaside is complete without spending a day or two at the beach. Bournemouth boasts some of the most scenic coastline in Dorset, with long sandy beaches and bracing sea views. Bournemouth beach itself can get quite busy during good weather, though, so consider taking a stroll further down the coast to the Blue Flag award-winning Durley Chine Beach.
Not too far from the town, it’s nevertheless worth the journey as it is a little less crowded and hectic than the shoreline immediately by the town. A promenade offers ease of access along the coast, and there are numerous shops and facilities located nearby. The sand is pristine and lifeguards are on duty to help ensure everyone enjoys their stay.
It’s a perfect spot to lay down a towel or set up a deckchair and watch the surf.
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