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12 things to do in Bournemouth

From indie and vintage shopping, via brilliant beaches and nature reserves, to Michelin star food, cocktails with views and one of the UK's smallest cinemas.

The Muddy pick of what to do when you’re hanging out with friends or fam in Dorset’s largest town.

Shop the indies

Westbourne ‘village’ is a bit of a golden triangle of hip independent shops, restaurants and cafes, including So Furniture for on trend interiors, Almond & Co for sustainable shopping, Westbourne Bookshop for the obvious and Mint Tea women’s boutique. Afternoon teas at Dot Teas, pub classics at The Libertine pub and kitchen. If it all gets too much, an hour or so in the Urelax massage and spa may help.

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Chill on golden beaches

Photo Bournemouth BCP

There are seven glorious miles of them! Many are Blue Flag standard: Alum Chine (near the Tropical Gardens and pirate playground), Durley Chine (a trad pub and cafe on the prom), the quieter Fisherman’s Walk and Manor Steps (near Boscombe) and Southbourne (especially good for young families) – and its own micro climate. Jump on a land train from Alum Chine to Bournemouth and Bournemouth to Boscombe. Two working funicular railways at East Cliff and Fisherman’s Walk will take you up from the beach to the top of the cliffs.

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Witness a phoenix rising

Elsewhere in the UK, Debenhams department stores may be lying empty; not so in Bournemouth, where Bobby & Co in the centre of town is being brought brilliantly back to life. For now: a beauty hall and Venue beauty salon, DRAGNFLY Champagne and sushi bar, ice cream parlour, South Coast Makers, edgy contemporary art gallery GIANT (the largest artist-run gallery space outside London), pop-ups and more. Coming soon: a top floor restaurant and terrace bar, a bakery, event space, a smokery and craft ale bar.

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Nosh on Michelin star food – sustainably

Book a table at Terroir in cool Southbourne, recently awarded a Michelin Green Star for excellence in sustainability as well as in gastronomy, to enjoy a globally inspired small plates menu, using British/local/ethical ingredients and cooked over an open fire. Four courses during the day (and Weds and Thurs eves); ten course tasting in the evening Tues to Sat. Southbourne itself has a clutch of nice indies too, including women’s boutique Sugar Mango.

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Step back in time

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s famous Venus Verticordia

The seafront Russell-Cotes Museum & Gallery is an OTT Victorian mansion crammed with art and artefacts from around the world collected by hotelier Sir Merton Russell-Cotes and his wife Lady Annie. Highlights: Venus Verticordia by Pre-Raphaelite artist Rossetti, the room dedicated to actor Henry Irving (his make up box complete with pan stick and fake moustache is poignant) and the sheer scale of the collection. This year is the museum’s centenary so there will be special events.

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Reconnect with nature

Standing on top of Hengisbury Head, towards Southbourne. Photo: Jack Pease Photography, pXhere

A dramatic headland just south of Christchurch harbour, Hengistbury Head nature reserve‘s wetland, woods and heaths are renowned for their wildlife (watch out for natterjack toads, skylarks, sand lizards) and archaeology (human evidence dates back 12,00 years). There are walks, a visitor centre, cafe, events and great views across beautiful beaches, to the New Forest, the Isle of Wight and the Purbecks.

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Have a poke around Pokesdown

The Attic, Christchurch Road, Pokesdown

The enticing independent shops along and around Christchurch Road in Pokesdown make up Bournemouth’s antiques and vintage quarter. Clobber, one of the largest and oldest vintage fashion stores on the south coast, sells clothing from the 1920s to the 1980s. The Attic may be tiny but its two floors are crammed with good, reasonably priced clothes (I know, I bought a vintage jacket there for £20). Over 50 different traders at the Bournemouth VIntage Emporium sell an eclectic collection of furniture, art, industrial stuff and bibelots, alongside a quirky tearoom. And there’s lots more…

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Whizz down a zip wire across the sea

Harness up for a ride down the world’s first pier-to-shore zip wire at RockReef. Launch yourself off the 25m high zip tower on the pier and whizz 250m across the sea before landing safely on the beach at the other end.

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Slurp cocktails sky high

Drink in the views – as well as the cool cocktails – from the highest bar in the South West at Level8ight Sky Bar, on the 8th floor of the Bournemouth Hilton (open to non-residents), and overlooking Bournemouth and the coast. Come for cocktails, wines and spirits, tapas-style small plates or afternoon tea inside with the chandeliers and plush decor or out on the terrace.

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Take in a film at one of the UK’s smallest cinemas

The Bournemouth Colesseum Bar & Cinema in the Victorian Westbourne Arcade, has a bar above and tiny 19-seater/two screen cinema below, and shows new releases, classics from the 50s, 60s and 70s, film noir, world cinema, live-streamed events, live jazz, blues and soul music with supper clubs, and more. Feeling posh? Reserve tickets in the ‘Royal Box’.

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Explore this world and beyond – virtually

Turns out Europe’s largest virtual reality venue is in Bournemouth. The Centre VR has 30 stations of VR headsets and 100+ games, simulators, escape rooms and more, so you can swim with whales, launch yourself into space or express yourself through the medium of modern dance (yes, honest).

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See big names on stage

Top comedy or music act on a UK tour? Chances are that you’ll catch it at the seafront Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), one of the largest venues on the south coast. Coming up this year: Stormzy, Paloma Faith, the Pet Shop Boys, Years & Years, Gladys Knight, Ronan Keating, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Katherine Ryan, Adam Kay….

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