Aerial view of Old Harry Rocks in Bournemouth.

Visit Old Harry Rocks in Bournemouth for their sweeping coastal views. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Essential Bournemouth & Portsmouth: What to See, Eat, Drink and Do on England’s South Coast

England’s South Coast is long, varied and drenched in history. At its heart are two very distinct places: Bournemouth, a town that is one of the U.K.’s liveliest seaside resorts, and Portsmouth, the ancestral home of the Royal Navy, with all the tradition and history that implies. Between them, they’ve got a huge amount to offer.



There’s no better base for exploring than the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel. This magnificent structure has been a hotel since 1873, and it’s easy to see why: Thanks to its position on West Cliff, it has breathtaking sea views and proximity to the region’s attractions.

Old Harry Rocks is five miles away, across from the entrance to Poole Harbour, with its own sweeping views. “Old Harry” is a chalk column standing out to sea, at the spot where the Jurassic Coast, a world heritage site, begins. It is the perfect place for a relaxing walk or a picnic.


Bournemouth folk have plenty of choice when it comes to beaches: Alum Chine is perhaps the local favorite. With its fine white sand and colorful beach huts, it’s a great place to while away a few sunny hours.

Not far away is the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. This art Nouveau villa was donated to the town by original owner Merton Russell-Cotes; it still contains his art collection, plus a remarkable garden containing a Victorian stone grotto and Japanese garden.

things to do in portsmouth
Fly high on the zipline. (Photo: Getty Images)

No visit to Bournemouth would be complete without a stroll down the pier. There’s plenty to enjoy, from video games to superb views of the coast — and when you’ve had enough, there’s a super-quick way to get back to shore via the RockReef zip wire, which rises 80 feet above the sea at the end of the pier.


There’s something for everyone at Urban Reef, an oceanfront restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Naturally, given the location, seafood is well represented on the menu.

Not so at Twelve Eatery, but the food is just as tempting. This plant-based place has quickly become one of Bournemouth’s most talked about restaurants: Try the beer-battered tofu and chips, an animal-free version of Britain’s classic seaside dish.


Bournemouth has more than its fair share of places to get a drink, from loud and lively cocktail joints to much-loved local pubs. For somewhere that has a bit of both, try Chaplin’s & The Cellar Bar, a bar, restaurant and live music venue known for its classic cask ales and cocktails.

Bournemouth is on the doorstep of England’s west-country cider heartland, so it’s no surprise that one of the best places to drink cider, The Firkin Shed, is found here. The pub — housed in a building that was once a branch of Blockbuster Video — boasts a range of around 20 different ciders and a lovely garden to drink them in.



For the best view of this historic city, take an elevator to the top of the multiuse Spinnaker Tower, the centerpiece of the redevelopment of Portsmouth Harbour. It boasts panoramic views of the city and, for those without a fear of heights, a glass skywalk. You can make a real day of it by booking High Tea at the Clouds Café in advance, too.

Another option is 430-foot-high Portsdown Hill, where the local wildlife is as impressive as the views over the city and the nearby South Downs, especially in summer.


things to do in portsmouth
Tour the HMS Victory. (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s a huge amount of naval history to enjoy in Portsmouth. In the Historic Dockyard, you’ll find HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, opposite the National Museum of the Royal Navy, where you can find out how life was for those who served in the fleet that built and preserved British power through the centuries.


Portsmouth offers plenty of places to enjoy briny treats: Try Loch Fyne inspired international seafood dishes, The Fisherman’s Kitchen for classic fish and chips, or Boathouse 4, an activity center in the Historic Dockyard with an excellent lunchtime café.


For gin-lovers, Gin & Olive is unmissable, with more than 100 gins to choose from.

The Still and West, meanwhile, has excellent beer and food. This classic 18th-century pub, once a favorite of Royal Navy officers, is a great place to chase away a few hours with a cold one while watching the ferries come in and out of the harbor.