The coastal towns of Bournemouth and Poole are so much more than retro English seaside resorts. While there’s still plenty of kitsch charm to enjoy, the southern England destinations have everything for a modern family getaway.
For some time, Bournemouth has been trying to shake off its pensioner paradise reputation of zig-zag pathed cliffs, or chines as they’re known locally, leading to bucket-and-spade sandy beaches. A visit to its historic pier is still a must but an updated activity centre puts a 21st-century spin on the classic family day out.
Poole, a 20-minute drive west of Bournemouth, retains a sense of old-world charm on its historic quayside, where you can board boats puffing out to picnic islands. As they go, they pass the moneyed industry of superyachts being manufactured in the Sunseeker shipyard.
Here’s how to spend the perfect long weekend on the self-proclaimed ‘coast with the most’.
Check-in to: Haven Rockley Park, just outside of Poole’s town centre. The perfect base for not only exploring the coast but also splashing around whether the sun shines or not. Stay in a traditional caravan, with prices to suit all pockets, or a new glass-fronted cabin called The Pod. Either way you can self-cater if you don’t fancy eating out.
The park has a heated outdoor swimming pool surrounded by loungers if the weather plays ball, offering parents some much-needed downtime while kids splash around. If not, there’s a heated indoor pool complete with slide and flume to keep the little ones entertained.
Courtesy of Haven
There are also dozens of activities that are either free or can be accessed via an Activity Bundle, which starts at £50 for 12 activity passes. These range from the more sedate pottery painting and nature walks to a climbing wall, archery and football coaching.
Take a stroll to: Rockley Point beach where you can grab a local Purbeck ice cream or coffee from the Harbour’s Edge café and watch the sailors, kayakers and paddle boarders push out onto the calm waters of Poole Harbour. Or you can pull on your swimmers and have a go yourself with Harbour’s Edge Watersports.
Eat dinner at: The Harbourside restaurant at the holiday park. It specialises in fish dishes like salmon, prawns in chilli, and the classic cod and chips in nautical surroundings. Or grab a takeaway from the Cook’s chippy next door and watch the sun go down over the harbour at Rockley Point.
Head for: Bournemouth’s pier. Rather than the variety shows of the past, the pier’s former theatre now offers family fun of a different type in the RockReef Activity Centre.
Adrenaline junkies can fly over the sea instead of surfing on it with a go on the world’s first pier-to-shore zip line. Accessed via a tower of stairs at the end of the 19th-century pier, it’s a fairly heart-in-mouth moment staring over the water to the landing jetty jutting out from the sand. But once you’ve made the leap it’s a thrilling ride that gets fairly close to the heads of people enjoying a dip.
If that’s not enough thrills and spills for the kids, there’s also Clip ‘n’ Climb where they can tackle a variety of climbing walls, plus other activities including a frankly terrifying-looking vertical slide and an artificial cave system.
Lunch at: Hot Rocks near the pier, which offers daily fish specials, wood-fired pizzas, and, for bigger appetites, the 10oz Big Kahuna burger. If there’s a chance to soak up some rays, you can eat on the restaurant’s terrace.
Visit: Back on dry land, the Oceanarium is a decent-sized aquarium with displays dedicated to different regions of the world. Highlights include Shark Wreck Reef, a walk-through tunnel through a tank of scary-looking black-tipped reef sharks, a graceful loggerhead turtle and a huge honeycomb moray eel.
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Meanwhile at Penguin Beach Encounter, spy on a raft of Humboldt penguins from both above and below the water in a simulated coastal environment. There are twice-daily feeding events which provide excellent insights into these fascinating creatures.
What’s more, you can enter and leave the Oceanarium as many times as you can like, making it a decent respite from either rain or shine, or just somewhere to go if the beach becomes a little boring. Not that it should, with a long stretch of sand meaning there’s always somewhere to pitch up with a bit of space, even on the sunniest of days.
Stock up: at the supermarket, if you’re self-catering. Look out for Dorset delicacies like the moreish Blue Vinny cheese, Dorset apple cake, and the local and very quaffable Southbourne Ales.
Explore: Poole’s quaint quayside and walk in the footsteps of pirates and seafarers. A couple of streets back, the free Poole Museum will guide you through the town’s maritime history.
Grab coffee and cake: at the Harbour View Café and watch boats both old and new setting sail.
Hop on a ferry: from either City Cruises or Greenslade Pleasure Boats out to Brownsea Island in the centre of the harbour. On the way over, download one of the National Trust’s self-guided walks from its website, which highlight the history, fauna and flora of the island.
Once you’re over there, look out for the reclusive red squirrel which lives here unthreatened by its grey cousin and can often be spied scampering in the trees. There are also five bird hides – grab some borrowed binoculars and see what you can spot. If you feel inspired by the bucolic surroundings to stay on another time, camping on the island is no longer restricted to the Scouts.
Eat lunch at: The National Trust’s Villano Café on the island offers gorgeous views across the harbour and sells the Trust’s regular range of tasty soups, sandwiches and jacket potatoes.
Drive: via the salubrious streets of Sandbanks to the chain ferry. It’s closed for repairs at the time of writing but keep an eye on the website for updates. It’ll carry you over to the wild strand of Studland Bay – a National Trust-owned white sand beach on the Isle of Purbeck which offers great swimming, walking and bird-spotting opportunities.
Lead image: Nicholas E Jones/Shutterstock
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