10 reasons to love Bournemouth

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum - Credit: Archant

Recently voted the country’s best coastal resort by the British public, Bournemouth has plenty to offer, from hip boutiques and surfing to award-winning gardens and fine dining - not to mention seven miles of golden sands

Surf school on the beach at Bournemouth

Surf school on the beach at Bournemouth - Credit: Archant

As an award-winning holiday destination Bournemouth manages to balance its duel roles as a centre for entertainment and partying and a jolly family-friendly seaside resort. It is also Dorset’s biggest town. Inexplicably its wider reputation still suffers a hangover from the distant past when it was a health resort for retirees and bath chair invalids who came to enjoy its mild sea air and fragrant pine-covered chines.

For the millions who have walked along Bournemouth’s golden sands, enjoyed some retail therapy in its fabulous shopping centre, and watched world class entertainment here - nothing could be further from the truth. Bournemouth is a great place to live and a fantastic town to visit. In fact in 2013 the public voted Bournemouth the Best UK Coastal Resort at the British Travel Awards.


1. Gorgeous Golden Beaches

Bournemouth would simply not be the world-class tourist resort that it is without its famed seven miles of golden sands. The beautiful beaches that extend around the pine-fringed bay are a natural asset that has paid dividends ever since the area first developed as a holiday destination and health spa back in the 19th century. Needless to say Bournemouth is very proud of its beaches which are discreetly raked and cleaned and kept in tip-top order for the tens of thousands who descend daily throughout the summer or indeed any day when the sun chooses to shine.

There are activities galore on the sands, giving the resort an almost Bay Watch ambience. These include beach volley ball, play areas and even lifeguard displays which also serve a practical function, ensuring the team is ready to respond instantly should anyone get into difficulties.

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The town’s landmark beach huts add a colourful dash of seaside nostalgia and range from the traditional - Bournemouth boasts Britain’s very first municipal beach hut built in 1909 - to designer beach-pods recently created by Red or Dead founder and style guru Wayne Hemingway. For those who prefer their sands a little less manicured and busy - a few miles east of Bournemouth’s main beaches is Hengistbury Head, a Site of Special Scientific Interest which features a pebble beach and a nature reserve which is home to rare wildlife and plants.


2. An Art Lovers’ Delight

Just two minutes walk from Bournemouth Pier the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum at East Cliff Promenade is home to one of Britain’s finest art museums. Built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, this quirky and beautiful cliff-side mansion was once the dream-home of larger than life philanthropist, traveller and art collector Sir Merton Russell-Cotes and his wife Annie. Designed to reflect a mix of influences that included Italianate villa, French chateau and Scottish baronial manor, it offered the Russell-Cotes a base that exuded style and influence. It was also somewhere that they could network and entertain their many famous friends including the great actor-manager Sir Henry Irving whose famed Hamlet skull is still displayed in the museum.

A one time Mayor of Bournemouth, Russell-Cotes, who died in 1927, gifted the building and its extraordinary collection of art and curios to the town but the jewel in the Russell-Cotes crown is its world famous collection of Pre-Raphaelite works. A few months ago this attracted an impromptu visit from composer and theatre mogul Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. The multi-millionaire, who is a serious collector of Pre-Raphaelite art himself, arrived completely unannounced to take a look at the paintings - in particular Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Venus Verticorda and Albert Moore’s Midsummer. It’s no wonder that this museum and gallery is a major tourist attraction and a magnet for connoisseurs of both art and architecture. For details of opening times and current exhibitions visit russell-cotes.bournemouth.gov.uk or call 01202 451858


3. A Taste of Bournemouth

Whether you are after cutting-edge haute cuisine, a romantic dinner for two, good honest comfort food or a simple snack you won’t have to go far to find something that hits the spot in Bournemouth.

Is there anything better than fish and chips beside the sea? Find out by visiting the award-winning Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant in Undercliffe Drive on the seafront (harryramsdens.co.uk). This is the biggest Harry Ramsden’s in the world and it recently won Taste of Bournemouth Restaurant of the Year at the Bournemouth Tourism awards. Another great seafront place is Urban Reef (urbanreef.com). This funky bar, cafe, deli and restaurant on Boscombe Promenade, right next to the beach, is a favoured hang-out for surf-dudes and families alike. With its floor to ceiling windows you can still enjoy a beach side view whatever the weather.

Bournemouth also has three restaurants in the 2014 edition of The Good Food Guide - The Print Room on Richmond Hill (theprintroom-bournemouth.co.uk), West Beach (west-beach.co.uk) on Pier Approach overlooking the seafront and Koh Thai Tapas (koh-thai.co.uk) on Poole Hill.

The Print Room, housed in the magnificent former Art Deco press hall of The Echo - the local daily newspaper, and West Beach on the town’s western promenade, have both received glowing reviews and perhaps more importantly AA rosettes. While Koh Thai, which also has a highly popular branch in Boscombe, is praised in the Good Food Guide for being “wonderfully relaxed” and serving “well-flavoured, unpretentious food”.

If you just want an ice-cream, coffee or a tasty snack head for the Giggi Gelateria in the town centre’s Burlington Arcade. Here the brilliant Luigi Bray produces astonishing Southern Italian style ice cream just like his Mama used to make back home in Puglia. For Sixties music fans with a craving for a gourmet burger beat a path to the Bournemouth Rock Café (bournemouthrockcafe.com) in Beacon Road. This recently opened café cleverly combines locally sourced food in its music-themed menu with the town’s star-studded past. Its walls are covered with rock and pop memorabilia associated with nearly 60 years of music history in the town including Bournemouth’s special relationship with The Beatles. The Fab Four performed at the Winter Gardens in 1963, and John Lennon bought a house for his beloved Aunt Mimi at nearby Sandbanks, which he often visited.


4. From High Street to Hip Boutique

Bournemouth’s thriving town centre proves that the demise of the Great British High Street has been greatly exaggerated when it comes to this seaside resort. For those seeking the big out-of-town shopping experience the vast elevated complex at Castlepoint features every High Street name you could wish for. But Bournemouth’s old town centre still offers major department stores like Beales, Debenhams and House of Fraser as well as the usual high street names.

If you’re looking for something more original, arty or quirky then Pokesdown is the place for you. This Victorian suburb to the east of the town is fast becoming Bournemouth’s creative quarter. Just three miles from the town centre en-route to Christchurch, Pokesdown is easy to find and well worth a visit. Cheaper rents and a vibrant and warm community spirit have attracted artists, craftspeople, musicians, writers and poets to this area which is reflected in the array of vintage shops and creative boutiques that have been springing up all over the place. These include What Alice Found in Christchurch Road, voted Best Vintage Boutique in the South West by Grazia magazine; Clobber another vintage emporium also in Christchurch Road and Love from Hetty and Dave, just a few doors down, which offers a fabulous range of hand crafted leather and fabric bags, shoes, brooches and bespoke hair accessories as worn by the late Amy Winehouse in her fabulous beehive.


5. Award-Winning Gardens

No visitor to Bournemouth could miss the brilliant swathe of green that cuts through the town. The Upper, Central and Lower Gardens extend for two miles following the Bourne Valley and its eponymously named stream from the boundary with Poole to Bournemouth Pier.

Listed Grade II in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, these gardens provide a range of facilities including tennis, putting, mini-golf, art exhibitions and of course the town’s trademark tethered balloon which, on a clear day, offers a panoramic bird’s eye view of Bournemouth and beyond. Most of the action is in the Lower Gardens, close to the town centre and sea. It features a number of major events ranging from the Kids Free Fun Festival to the enchanting 100 year-old tradition of the ‘Candlelit Illuminations’ which attract thousands of visitors on summer evenings to the candle lit gardens.

The Central and Upper sections are quieter and maintain a natural feel. The Central Gardens includes several commemorative trees, the town’s war memorial and an area dedicated to the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Upper Gardens - originally laid out for the Durrant family in the 1860’s - display a mixture of fascinating trees and plants covering three distinct themes - European, Asian and North American. This unusual collection includes what is believed to be the largest Giant Redwood in Britain today. You can find out more about the flora and fauna and learn about the gardens history by taking one of the guided walks run regularly by the council’s parks team. A little further along Bournemouth’s coast Alum Chine boasts award-winning tropical gardens by the sea which thrive in this areas balmy microclimate. Discover more at bournemouth.co.uk/things-to-do/parks-and-gardens.


6. World Class Entertainment

The town’s entertainment industry is worth billions and is one of its principal attractions. With town centre venues like the Bournemouth International Centre and the Pavilion Theatre (bic.co.uk), Boscombe’s O2 Academy (o2academybournemouth.co.uk) and Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts just a few miles away (lighthousepoole.co.uk), there are concerts, plays and musicals featuring some of the biggest names on the touring circuit. Recent concerts at these theatres have included performances by Jake Bugg, Jesse J, Tinie Tempah, Leonard Cohen, The Stereophonics, Burt Bacharach and many more with comedy from the likes of Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard and Lee Evans. There are regular summer seasons and Christmas pantomimes, concerts on the seafront and a rolling programme of entertainment to suit all tastes and ages.

For those who enjoy dance Pavilion Dance (pdsw.org.uk) situated in a beautiful Art Deco building in Westover Road offers a dazzling array of classes from ballroom to hip hop as well as dance performances. In the summer month’s it also hosts free group dance sessions on the seafront.

For lovers of classical music the town is home to the internationally renowned Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), founded in Bournemouth at the end of the 19th century as a municipal band. For decades the orchestra was based at the town’s now demolished Winter Gardens but for the past 35 years it has operated out of Poole’s Lighthouse concert hall. A string of international conductors have helped to raise the BSO’s profile over the decades including Sir Charles Groves, Andrew Litton, Yakov Kreizberg and Marin Alsop, who was the first woman to ever conduct the Last Night of the Proms. The brilliant young Ukranian Kirill Karabits has been the orchestra’s principal conductor since 2008. To find out more about its concerts visit bsolive.com.


7. Surfs Up!

The coastline between Bournemouth and Poole - Europe’s largest natural harbour - is a real haven for watersports enthusiasts. Forget the embarrassing faux pas of the much lauded Boscombe surf reef, now generally considered an expensive mistake. It hasn’t put the surfers off though – they still flock to the town’s beaches to enjoy the chance of riding a wave. It may not be Waikiki or Bondi but Bournemouth still attracts a year-round stream of surfers and paddle-boarders. Many arrive as individuals just to do their own thing but this beautiful stretch of coastline also provides plenty of organised groups offering a superb mix of activities. With clean bathing and blue flag beaches, it’s an environment for experts and novices alike. Where better to learn to surf, body board or paddle board? There are plenty of surf schools too. So check them out.

Favoured spots for the wet-suited hordes include Bournemouth and Boscombe Piers and the beach at Southbourne. Meanwhile just a few miles away the shallow waters of Poole Harbour offer a perfect spot for tuition in wind or kite-surfing and sailing. The stunning coast-scape of this part of Dorset makes it an exhilarating location for motorboating, kayaking, and jet-ski-ing too.

For more information about watersports in Bournemouth and Poole visit coastwiththemost.com.


8. Famous People

For a town that only celebrated its 200th birthday in 2010, Bournemouth boasts a surprisingly long list of famous people who were either born here or strongly associated with the town. The list is impressively diverse and includes Lord of The Rings and Hobbit author JRR Tolkien, who holidayed regularly, with his wife, at Bournemouth’s Miramar Hotel before the couple moved to Alum Chine in 1968; entertainer and singer Max Bygraves who also lived at Alum Chine; the comedian Tony Hancock who grew up at his family’s hotel in Bournemouth, and Blur bass player turned cheese-maker Alex James, who was born and bought up in Boscombe.

Many famous residents have blue plaques marking their one-time homes including Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped while living in Westbourne in the 1880s, and Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Mary is buried in St Peter’s parish churchyard alongside the remains of her mother, the pioneering 18th century feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, and the heart of Mary’s husband the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who drowned in a boating accident in Italy.

Other former Bournemouth luminaries include the artist and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, Hollywood actor Stewart Granger, the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Hubert Parry who wrote the music for Jerusalem, the king of romantic strings Annunzio Mantovani, Forsyte Saga novelist John Galsworthy and the detective at the centre of the Jack the Ripper investigations Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline.

More recent movers and shakers associated with the town and its surrounding area include Dark Knight star Christian Bale, broadcaster Tony Blackburn, Year of the Cat singer Al Stewart, Duncan James from Blue, Police guitarist Andy Summers and King Crimson founders Robert Fripp and Greg Lake.


9. Bournemouth Air Festival

From vintage bi-planes to iconic World War II fighters and bombers through to the very latest in aviation technology, the annual Bournemouth Air Festival has it all. This free air show - one of the finest in the country - has been a major summer holiday attraction since 2008. With a dizzying array of magnificent men (and women) in all manner of flying machines and the occasional wing-walker too, it just gets bigger and bigger.

Last year more than 1.4 million visitors poured into the town during the four day festival packing the cliff-top, promenade and beach for prime viewing positions for displays that ranged from supersonic to super-adventurous. This summer’s festival (28 – 31 August) will feature all the usual favourites including the Spitfire and Lancaster Battle of Britain flypast and hopefully the Vulcan bomber which was pulled from last summer’s show because of a fuel leak. The star attraction is the magnificent Red Arrows. The RAF Aerobatic Team have become particularly close to the town after one of their own - Flt Lt Jon Egging - was killed in a crash following their 2011 display at Bournemouth’s Air Festival. There is now a fitting cliff-top memorial in his memory. Watch out for specific announcements being made as flyers and aircraft are confirmed for 2014 at bournemouth-beaches.co.uk/bournemouth-air-festival---------------------------------------------------------------

10. A Tale of Two Piers

It’s impossible to think of Bournemouth without picturing its iconic award-winning pier. A quintessential seaside attraction, over the years it has featured on a million picture postcards and taken centre stage in countless holiday snapshots. There’s even an annual Pier to Pier swim where intrepid swimmer compete to cover the mile of channel to Bournemouth’s other pier at Boscombe.

There has been a pier of sorts at Bournemouth since 1856. The current pier is essentially Victorian. It was originally opened in 1880 but partially demolished during the Second World War to prevent German invasion. It reopened after the war and in 1979 it underwent £1.7m restoration programme.

The Pier’s famous theatre is currently being converted into an exciting new all-weather adventure attraction, but for the past 50 years it has seen some of Britain’s best known entertainers take to its stage for summer seasons and one night stands. During its hey-day household names like Sid James, Bob Monkhouse, Eric Sykes, Terry Scott, Les Dawson and Roy Hudd performed here to great acclaim.

Though the great entertainers of yesteryear maybe long gone Bournemouth Pier remains the perfect place to meet for a coffee, a drink or a meal in the Key West Cafe with its spectacular sea views. Alternatively simply enjoy sitting in the sun and chatting with friends on the benches that line the pier. It also offers excellent sea fishing and is the embarkation point for a number of cruises around the Poole Bay.