Bournemouth Beach has been voted Britain’s best for two years running by TripAdvisor so we take our children on a trip to Dorset to see it for ourselves
Children start digging their first sandcastles, surfers ride the morning waves and a little land train sounds its horn as it heads along the promenade.
Bournemouth Beach is gearing up for another day doing what this resort does better than most.
And despite its large green spaces, genteel buildings and bustling town centre, it is the beach which remains the big draw here, a beach officially recognised by TripAdvisor, as Britain’s best, in both 2018 and 2019.
You can see why – soft sand, gentle waves and family-friendly activities stretch along the seafront.
The best way to get a feel for the area is to head for its pier. There you can ride the Observation Wheel to get your bearings, enjoy some traditional amusement arcades and set foot on the sand.
The pier itself is home to zip wires, climbing walls and other action-packed activities, which is another example of how this resort is modernising its appeal to families.
The popular land train pootles up and down the promenade, a Red Arrows simulator is available for those who like to move a little quicker and deck chairs to hire are luring those who prefer a leisurely pace.
The seafront runs for miles from surf haven Boscombe at one end to the millionaires’ mansions of Sandbanks at the other.
But what if it is raining? As it was for part of our visit.
It’s a busy aquarium complete with shark tunnel, penguin enclosure and a small children’s play area. There is enough to pass a pleasant hour or two especially if you visit when one of the fish-feeding sessions and talks are on. See our full review of Bournemouth Oceanarium here.
When it does dry up, we head for the beach. It is perfect for young children because the sand is soft, there are no hills or dunes, the tide doesn’t go out too far and the sea suits a paddle. Wild and rugged it isn’t but safe and secure it most certainly is.
It is well worth heading to Boscombe’s seafront too. A couple of miles along from the centre of Bournemouth, they have just as good a stretch of beach here as well as a pier with mini-golf and a musical trail.
Boscombe also has surf schools and volleyball courts on the sand. And it is home to the superb family-friendly restaurant Urban Reef.
Urban Reef restaurant
We ate here during our stay and it has a perfect blend of an informal seaside feel matched with fine food for the adults. Plus, a fabulous sea view.
Urban Reef’s beach setting
There’s a restaurant upstairs and café downstairs and there’s plenty for children – the kids’ menu is designed by eight-year-old chefs, there are books to read, quizzes to do and menus to colour in.
Head to the other end of Bournemouth’s 10 miles of beach and you come to somewhere with a different feel entirely – Sandbanks.
This peninsula has its own pleasant beach but people and property watching is almost as much fun. You can take one of the ferries to Poole Harbour or Brownsea Island to get a glimpse of some of the mansions with their own jetties.
Homes in Sandbanks, view from our ferry
Alternatively, just take a stroll around the streets of Sandbanks, home to the likes of footballer manager and I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp.
We had our own taste of luxury with an overnight stay at Bournemouth’s Orchid Hotel.
The Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth
This stylish venue has 31 rooms and is set just a few streets back from the beach between Bournemouth and Boscombe.
We had the choice of family rooms or two interconnecting rooms. We enjoyed the latter along with its comfortable beds, quality furnishings and a tasty breakfast with lots of good options for small children. (Read our full review of the hotel here).
And filled up with a hearty breakfast it was time to explore again.
Our Famous Five adventure
As this area has three resorts – Bournemouth, Boscombe and Sandbanks – on the same stretch of beach – it was hard to leave.
But we were off on a fabulous Famous Five adventure elsewhere in Dorset – read all about it here.
*Bournemouth was hailed TripAdvisor’s best beach for 2019, is your favourite among the top 10?
Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Scotland
St. Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey
Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon
Barafundle Beach, Stackpole, Wales
Filey Beach, Yorkshire
Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Wales
Gorleston Beach, Norfolk
Perranporth Beach, Perranporth, Cornwall
Newborough Beach, Dwyran, Anglesey, Wales
(Our hotel, restaurant meal and aquarium access were supplied by Bournemouth Tourism and Tourism South East for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own).
Oceanarium is an aquarium in Bournemouth featuring a shark tunnel, penguin enclosure and cafe plus hundreds of types of fish, birds and mammals.
Where is it?
Oceanarium is in a prime location right on Bournemouth beach next to the town’s main pier. You can step straight off the sand and into the aquarium.
What did we think?
A compact aquarium in a great location and perfect when you need a bit of time indoors if the weather is bad or too hot. It is a bit narrow in places so may be a bit of a squash at busy times. We weren’t overly impressed with the café, it was a bit chaotic, but perhaps we were there at a bad time.
*The Great Barrier Reef – an underwater tunnel you can view from above and then head down the stairs and walk through to see sharks and turtles.
*Kids play zone – this little bonus hidden in the far corner of the site is a small indoor play area and a kiosk selling ice creams. Mainly for children aged two to eight, the equipment gives parents a chance to sit down while their offspring burn off some energy.
*Penguin beach encounter – this is a dry weather activity ideally as it is mostly outdoors although there is a small viewing area undercover. You can see the penguins above ground and view them underwater downstairs in the aquarium.
Our top tips
*The most popular talks are on the hour with shark feeding time at 2pm when we visited, so try and visit then if you can.
*The site emptied at about 3pm when we visited so if you want a bit more space to explore then leave your visit until later in the day.
*If you eat in the Offshore Cafe, be aware that to use the toilet you have to key in a code from your receipt to get in and the keys are hard to press. The cafe was very busy and chaotic when we visited.
Oceanarium, the Bournemouth Aquarium information
*Offshore Cafe serving sandwiches, jacket potatoes and simple children’s meals like cheese on toast plus cakes, snacks, fruit and drinks.
*Bay View Terrace cafe, with views of Bournemouth beach (closed in the winter).
*There’s also an ice cream kiosk at the play area.
Opening hours: open daily from 10am
Cost: Adult £12.50, child £8.50, under 3s free. Family ticket for four £29.95.
Best for: Ages three to eight
Time needed: one hour plus
Access and restrictions: There are lifts available for the two floors. It is narrow in places so wheelchair users would struggle at busy periods although the site is accessible.
Address: Oceanarium, Pier Approach, West Beach, Bournemouth, BH2 5AA.
For a full review of our trip to Bournemouth, click here and see our video below!
We stay at the chic Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth with our two children – read the review and see the exclusive video from our family stay.
What is it?
This is a stylish but relaxed boutique hotel in Bournemouth with 31 rooms, all with en suites. It opened in 2004 but has recently had a complete refurbishment.
Where is it?
The Orchid Hotel is near the centre of Bournemouth on Gervis Road, a few minutes’ walk from the town’s main beach and pier.
Is it family-friendly?
It is modern, quiet and welcoming with friendly staff. We felt completely at ease with our children there. There are some nice child-friendly touches like boiled egg and soldiers on the breakfast menu.
There are different style rooms to choose from for a range of prices.
One of our interconnecting rooms
We had two interconnecting rooms. These are located either side of an entrance hall behind one shared front door. The two inner doors are heavy and could not initially be left open. This would have disappointingly giving us two separate rooms (not much use unless we split up with one adult and one child in each room. But we checked at reception and were given two door stops. Once the doors were propped open, it gave us a luxurious two-bedroom suite.
The other interconnecting room with single beds
One room had a king-sized bed and bathroom, the other had twin beds and a smaller bathroom. Both had televisions and each had chairs to sit at in the window.
One of the en-suites
Food and drink
We enjoyed a good quality breakfast with a choice of cereals, fruit, yoghurt and all the hot food needed for a full English. Guests can eat outside in the garden on sunny days.
We were tempted by the restaurant (called No. 39 and run by a Michelin-starred head chef) for our evening meal. But we decided to go for a safer option with our two and found Urban Reef on the sea front in nearby Boscombe. It was fabulous – read more about it and our full review of Bournemouth here.
The Orchid Hotel is near to the town centre and a 12-minute walk from East Cliff beaches, Bournemouth Pier and Bournemouth aquarium Oceanarium. Bournemouth Gardens are a 13-minute walk and Bournemouth Railway Station is a 14-minute walk away. See our full review and video of Bournemouth here.
*The size – not too big, not too small with a cosy, relaxed feel.
*The decor – tasteful and modern, especially the main areas.
The bar area
*The location – not in the busy heart of Bournemouth but close enough.
*Free parking with several spaces in front and a car park behind.
*There is also free Wi-Fi.
The Orchid Hotel, 34 Gervis Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 3DH
How to book
For more information see The Orchid Hotel website.
Our exclusive video showing you around the hotel
We stayed as guests of The Orchid, all views are our own.
We spend a day exploring the spiritual home of the Famous Five in Enid Blyton’s beloved Dorset
“Dick,” shout my children, calling to their dad as we climb the hill to ‘Kirrin Castle’.
“DIIIIICK, come here!”
I fare best when our children ask us to pretend we are the Famous Five for I get to be feisty cousin George (Georgina).
My son is Julian, my daughter, Anne and Timmy is our imaginary dog.
Today’s game feels far more real, as we are playing at the very locations in Dorset which inspired the Famous Five stories.
I devoured Enid Blyton as a child. Night after night I’d stay awake until all hours reading book after book, series after series.
So, it’s been magical to revisit childhood favourites with my own children from The Magic Faraway Tree through to the Adventures series.
The Famous Five stories may be old fashioned with some outdated ideas (I take the opportunity to explain this as I read). But with more than 100 million copies sold they remain as popular today.
The daring children have remarkably grown-up free adventures, finding treasure and smugglers and, it strikes me these days, never needing the toilet!
All amidst a rural backdrop of blue skies, sea and countryside, bicycle rides and lots of deliciously described picnics.
Today we are exploring the Dorset Enid Blyton loved and visited with her family for over 40 years, on the Isle of Purbeck, (which is more a peninsula than an isle).
The first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published over 75 years ago, in 1942.
In it, we are introduced to Kirrin Castle, on Kirrin Island, which belongs to George, near her home in Kirrin Bay.
“It had been built of big white stones. Broken archways, tumbledown towers, ruined walls – that was all that was left of a once beautiful castle, proud and strong.”
The inspiration for Kirrin Castle is said to have been Corfe Castle in Purbeck, so this becomes our first stop.
It is not on an island but our children are thrilled as we near the fabulous ruins which loom over the surrounding area.
Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle
They race up the grassy slope to explore the 1,000-year-old castle, which survived the English Civil War when it was partly demolished by Cromwell’s troops and now belongs to the National Trust.
We explore all the hidden nooks and crannies and remember the adventures the Five had here, such as finding lost gold.
Even without the Blyton connection, we would have had a great time.
(Tip: If it is a school holiday get there early as parking in the small village of Corfe can be difficult. The small car park opposite the castle fills up quickly and the other option through the narrow village is a five to 10 minute walk away and was almost full when we visited).
Enid Blyton first saw Corfe Castle when she arrived by steam train.
The steam train at Corfe
And this is something you can still do today – Swanage Railway runs steam trains between Swanage and Norden. There is a picturesque stop at Corfe Castle so you could arrive or depart from here on your Famous Five adventure.
Of course, the Famous Five often travelled by steam train – particularly to return from their boarding schools ready for the holidays and more adventures.
Bathing – Swanage Pier
Next stop is the pretty seaside town of Swanage where Enid Blyton enjoyed swimming around the pier with her husband.
It was too cold for a swim when we went but we enjoyed a picnic, sadly no hard-boiled eggs, lashings of ginger beer or lemonade for us though.
On quiet days – if you are in the car – you can park on the seafront, alternatively there are large car parks a short walk from the beach.
Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, is said to have been the inspiration for Whispering Island, described by Enid Blyton as Keep Away Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.
In Enid Blyton’s day, visitors were not allowed – but now it’s owned by the National Trust.
The ferry to Brownsea island
We caught a ferry over from Sandbanks to explore. Brownsea Island Ferries run regular services from Sandbanks and from Poole Quay to the island. Greenslade Pleasure Boats also run a ferry service from Poole. Departures are about every 30 minutes with the last boat leaving at 5pm.
Once you have landed on the island there is lots to explore, the wildlife there includes rare red squirrels and we were lucky enough to spot three.
A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island
There are also clifftop walks, which lead down to rocky beaches. If you explore the far end of the island you can see where the first Scout camp was held by Baden-Powell in 1907.
Exploring Brownsea Island
A trip to an island, always led to an adventure for the Famous Five and we wished we had longer here. But our only adventure was nearly missing the last boat back!
This is a fabulous way for Enid Blyton fans to spend their ‘hols’ with lashings of fun.
You can base yourself in the Isle of Purbeck but it is only a 25-minute drive to family-friendly Bournemouth which has more accommodation and activities for children if you want to make your Famous Five day into a mini-break in Dorset.