Bournemouth: What to do Besides the Seaside
I recently found myself in Bournemouth, one of the UK’s typical coastal towns complete with miles of sandy beach, promenade, fish and chips, ice cream, and all the other British seaside cliches. Before becoming a tourist hotspot playing host to over 5 million annual visitors, the surrounding coast was regularly frequented by smugglers, until the arrival of the railways and recognition as a ‘spa town’ made things a little more upmarket. Today, it can be hard to see past Bournemouth’s tourist-orientated exterior, especially around the seafront and busy centre, but it is worth taking the time to look more closely to find some great food and drink gems, as well as plenty of lovely spots to spend a sunny afternoon.
Start at the top end of Bournemouth’s compact town centre with a visit to cosy Espresso Kitchen off Commercial Road. An independent coffee shop making delicious beverages at good prices out of locally roasted beans, they offer a breath of fresh air from the coffee chains dotted up the high street. (I can personally vouch for the quality of their flat white – smooth and rich with a caramel crema).
Vegans and milk-averse coffee fans are well looked after too, and gluten-free options are often on offer in their array of cakes. The list of smoothies are also enough to make your mouth water – banana, peanut butter, hazelnut syrup and almond milk (the ‘Smooth Nutter’) whizzed up into a cold frothy pitcher of goodness sounds spot on to me.
After you’ve stopped off for some caffienated liquid gold, head down to Bournemouth’s sea front – and then keep walking. And walking. On sunny days there will most likely be a frenzy of activity around the aquarium and pier area, and your first response might be to grab a spot on the sand with the rest of the hordes and be done with it. However, if you turn to the right (leaving the pier to your left behind you) and keep going, you’ll be rewarded by much more pleasant expanses of (occasionally empty!) sand. During the peak summer months it will be harder to find empty spots like the one pictured here, but it is well worth finding a quieter patch away from the crowds. You’ll also walk past some super cute little beach huts nestled in against the banks of the grass slope rising away from the sea – some painted in bright primary colours, others in a lovely muted mint green.
Once you’ve had enough of fish and chips, ice cream, and sand getting into awkward places, work your way back into town through the Lower Gardens – the counterpart to the larger Central and Upper Gardens through which the River Bourne flows. A walk through the three award-winning gardens would cover around 3k, but there’s also plenty of space for lazing around if that’s more tempting. Attractions ranging from art exhibitions to street food are on offer, and winter sees the addition of an ice rink.
The Lower and Central gardens are a bit more formally laid out in comparison to the natural Upper Gardens, and have well-manicured lawns and rock gardens. Where the sides of the gardens get a little steeper, there are winding walks and viewpoints dotted around, along with the odd cafe. Head up through the Pine Walk to see Bournemouth’s Art@PineWalk exhibition, and stop off at Park Deli Cafe.
For something a little more substantial, head to the super healthy Skinny Kitchen, a short walk uphill from the gardens up and tucked down a quiet side street. Sceptics might be wary of a menu inspired by fitness and clean eating, but everything on the menu is fresh, ridiculously tasty and very satisfying. The helpful menu breaks down the different nutritional benefits of each dish, making it easy to opt for a low-fat, high-protein option if that’s your thing. If not, don’t worry – there are also plenty of tasty burgers and pizzas on the menu as well as desserts, although you’ll probably still feel rather more healthy and smug afterwards than usual: even the pancakes make use of fitness-friendly chia seeds as well as fruits and nuts.
After bolting down the beautiful prawn taco bowl (above), which was stuffed full of tasty mint, mango, avocado and healthy grains, I managed to find room for the delicious brownie (below). Made with natural ingredients like cocoa and honey and scattered with chopped fruit and nuts, it was the perfect way to round off a day scouting out some of the finer spots of Bournemouth’s seaside offering.
69 Commercial Road, BH2 5RT
The Skinny Kitchen
14 Post Office Road, BH1 1BA