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Secret UK: Bournemouth and Poole

Two people walking along the beach near the pier in Bournemouth

By David Jones at ETC International College 
4 July 2014

Bournemouth and Poole are known for their award-winning beaches, stunning coastline and abundance of shops, restaurants and bars. They also play host to dozens of festivals throughout the year, from the Bournemouth Air Festival – where aircraft perform spectacular
displays above the beach and Pier – to the Arts Festival by the Sea, which features innovative plays, exhibitions and art installations.

But it's not just for summer tourists – Bournemouth is also the most popular destination for English language students outside London, and over 50,000 international students study in Bournemouth each year! (Office for National Statistics, 2012) The area has a huge student community, attracting those who want to combine their studies with lively activities in a vibrant seaside location.

Key facts

Location: On the coast! Bournemouth and Poole are neighbouring towns in the county of Dorset, in southern England
Population: 187,503 (2011 census)
Famous for: The New Forest National Park, the Pier, the weather (the area has the greatest number of sunlight hours and most temperate climate in the UK), Bournemouth Air Festival (Europe's largest free air festival), Sunseeker power boats, parks and gardens, bands and music
Bournemouth musicians: Alex James (Blur), Andy Summers (The Police), Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
Major sporting teams: AFC Bournemouth, Poole Town FC, Poole Pirates (motorcycle speedway team)
Closest airports: Bournemouth International Airport, Southampton Airport, London Heathrow
Train to London takes: 1h 50m

A surfing lesson in Boscombe, Bournemouth ©VisitBritain / Rod Edwards

Best places to go…

On a sunny day: In Bournemouth, paddle alongside the beach in a kayak and then have a meal of locally-caught fish at one of the restaurants such as Urban Reef or West Beach on the seafront. In Poole, laze on the beach at Sandbanks – possibly watching the polo matches or a game of volleyball, while enjoying an ice-cream.

On a rainy day: Wander around the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery, then wander down the hill and learn about some sea life at Bournemouth’s Oceanarium. Or in Poole, go shopping in the Dolphin Centre and meet friends in one of the cafés.

To eat: For lunch or coffee, Del Marco in Bournemouth for fabulous pecan pastries or Café Shore in Poole, where you may be able to spot a film star or football celebrity. For dinner, Day’s ‘all you can eat’ buffet is great value and has an amazing choice of international cuisine. 

With friends: This is a tricky one – it’s difficult to choose between going paintballing, taking part in a fishing cruise and having a barbecue on the beach! At night, go dancing at one of the area’s nightclubs – many run special student nights on a Wednesday or Thursday, where you can bop until you drop.

To get away from it all: Take the ferry from Sandbanks across to Studland beach and ride a pony along the sandy coastline. Or to get some studying done, the award-winning library in Bournemouth’s town centre offers a wealth of resources and free computer use.

Inside the Russell-Cotes Museum ©VisitBritain / Rod Edwards

Events in Bournemouth and Poole

Bournemouth Air Festival (29 August1 September): Attracting hundreds of thousands of people from around the world – plus aircraft from modern military jets to acrobatic biplanes, as well as live music and entertainment – this festival is believed to be the largest free event of its kind, and has been named one of the top 10 air shows in the world (USA Today).

British Beach Polo Championships (1112 July): Taking place on the glamorous Sandbanks peninsula, the British Beach Polo Championship brings in a host of celebrities, VIPs, international players and spectators. 

Arts Festival by the Sea (20 September12 October): This annual arts festival has something for everyone – there are 23 days of outdoor performances, music, film, digital art, visual art, animatronics, spoken word and more. You’ll see the best local artists and performers alongside some of the world’s biggest names, plus workshops to get involved.

Sunset at Durdle Door, on Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Photo by Bournemouth University student Nabil Hasshim, from Singapore

Bournemouth 7s Festival (22–24 May 2015): Launched in 2008, this event has established itself as the world’s largest rugby, netball and music festival, attracting over 20,000 people and famous faces from the worlds of sport and entertainment.

Bournemouth Food and Drink Festival (2029 June): This is one of the top food events in the region, showcasing local produce and international cookery. The Festival takes place in the heart of Bournemouth and features stalls, cooking demonstrations and themed days for cuisine from around the world. 

International Wheels Festival (2931 May 2015): Bournemouth was the venue for the world’s first truly international ‘wheels festival’ in May 2014. This free family festival brings together an exciting collection of exhibits and shows including classic cars, hot rods, skateboard and BMX stunt riding, monster truck demonstrations, custom vehicles and motorcycles. 

Bourne Free (1113 July): Bournemouth’s LGBT Pride Festival, this is an annual celebration of all diversities that live in Bournemouth, and a campaign for equality through entertainment and awareness.

Thai Festivals (23 August in Bournemouth and 67 September in Poole): These two summer festivals are a feast of Thai food and culture. You’ll see Thai dancing and musical performances, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), fruit carving, traditional clothes, Thai massage and stalls with hand-woven Thai silk, toys, crafts, and a wide array of foods and delicacies.

Other local festivals and events: Poole Dragon Boat Race, Winton Carnival, Wimborne Minster Folk Festival, Poole Bike Night, Quay to my Car, Summer Breeze on the Quay with Fireworks, Friday Family Fiesta, Bournemouth Music Festival, Folk on the Quay, Poole Festival of Running, Sky Ride and Night Sky Ride, Candlelight Nights

Aerial view of Bournemouth town centre ©VisitEngland Images

For more tips about events and attractions, visit Bournemouth and Poole Tourism.

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