When the sun comes out everyone flocks to the Bournemouth area for sand and sea, fish and chips and 99s by the beach.
But the area has plenty going on whatever the weather and, in fact, if you head down out of sunburn season you’ll be pleasantly surprised – and won’t have to battle through the beach crowds.
With its varied nightlife (all within staggering distance), small but perfectly formed shopping centre, it’s greenery and wildlife, not to mention the coastline, it’s a truly beautiful area.
Here’s 12 reasons to visit Bournemouth and Poole whatever the weather.
The Lower Gardens
These manicured gardens in the heart of Bournemouth, between the High Street and the sea, are gorgeous all year round.
In the summer you can barely move for the crowds, but things calm down a bit later on, and you can enjoy the floral displays, aviary, rock garden and, when it’s back in action, go up to admire views from the tethered Bournemouth Balloon, which is currently being repaired.
Russell-Cotes Art Galley And Museum
This Victorian villa is jam-packed with art, sculptures and curios.
But it’s the house itself that is the real draw, with themed rooms inspired by the owners’ travels such as The Mikado’s Room.
It’s open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm and entry costs £6.
There’s more going on at the pier now than ever before.
At one end you have the arcade and a few shops, at the other Key West bar and grill, which serves everything from big breakfasts to lunchtime salads to steaks and cakes.
There’s also a pier to shore zip wire, which you can have a go on now through til Christmas Eve, a climbing wall and fishing opportunities.
Entrance to the pier costs £1.10.
The quay is the heart of Poole – come here to look round Poole Pottery, go crabbing or simply admire the beautiful range of boats.
A short walk away is Poole Museum, which tells the tale of the area (there’s pirates involved), as well as hosting art exhibitions.
The current one, Lines of Thought, which runs until November 6, features drawings by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
There’s free entry and the museum is open 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday and noon-5pm on Sunday.
One of the best – if not THE best beach in Britain, Sandbanks is a calming stretch of seaside away from the busier Bournemouth.
In this area you’ll also find crazy golf and a Rick Stein restaurant, with beautiful views out the back and, naturally, fresh fish on the three-course set lunch for £25.
There’s also Caff, a great greasy spoon with top breakfasts and milkshakes.
If you’re staying at Bournemouth you can have a lovely day walking from there to Sandbanks along the beach and promenade (it will take a few hours), then you can get a bus back from the stop near the Ferry point.
Right at the end of Sandbanks is the ferry across to Studland (where there’s a naturist beach, the one where the beginning of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was filmed) and Brownsea Island.
Brownsea Island is a National Trust property famed for its red squirrels and its history.
It’s seen monks, a clay industry, the first Scout camp, fires and the fascinating Mary Bonham-Christie, a recluse who bought the island for £125,000 in 1927.
Today it’s just great for a wander round to see the wildlife – although don’t get too excited about that castle in the picture, it’s owned by John Lewis and only their staff can stay there.
For something a little more manicured visit these 10 acres of privately-owned gardens in Poole.
The stars are the Japanese Garden, particularly stunning in autumn, and the Italian Garden and Villa, which is a popular wedding venue. Plus there’s a lovely tea room.
Entry costs £8.45 and the gardens are open from 10am-6pm until October 31, then 10am-4pm the rest of the year (last entry an hour before times given).
If it’s raining you might as well get wetter.
This is the perfect place to finally have a go at paddle boarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, waterskiing or sailing.
There’s also surf schools, based around the artificial reef, although the area as a whole is pretty poor for waves.
This place is so much fun and, when the weather’s truly awful, it’s a Godsend.
There’s Splashdown – the waterpark, a 10 screen cinema, a bowling alley and restaurants including Nando’s, TGI Friday’s and Pizza Hut.
Basically it’s a teenage birthday party but for all ages.
The best fish and chips in the area (or possibly the country) can be found at Chez Fred in Westbourne (between Bournemouth and Sandbanks).
For mouthwatering burgers and delicious desserts head to Sixty Million Postcards.
It’s also the place to go if you’re a beer connoisseur as it has a huge range.
The restaurant / bar is achingly cool and turns into a club later at night.
They also host regular quiz nights and have information on the latest gigs and nightlife in the area.
Bournemouth is the better, prettier and more compact high street compared to Poole, with department stores, a big book shop and plenty of cafes along with way.
If you’re a fan of vintage shops, try Christchurch Road in Pokesdown too.
Try to spend at least a day in Boscombe too – the village along from Bournemouth with a big personality.
The festivals and nightlife
Bournemouth is a great night out, popular with students, stag and hen dos and all ages.
Most of the clubs and bars are around Old Christchurch Road and Exeter Road.
You can start at Aruba bar at the pier for cocktails and dancing, walk through the Lower Gardens then make your way to Halo or Le Chic among others.
For sophisticated drinks with a stunning view head up to Level8ight The Sky Bar in the Bournemouth Hilton.
There’s also events and festivals throughout the year, the next big one being Arts By The Sea from October 8-15.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Bournemouth Hilton which is slap bang in the middle of all the action – a few minutes’ walk from the shops, clubs, pubs and The Lower Gardens.
It’s also about 15 minutes’ walk to the beach.
The ground floor, all-day restaurant, Schpoons & Forx, serves up every kind of breakfast imaginable.
The hotel is interspersed with fun, quirky decor ideas such as a whole wall of bells at the front desk, bowler hats as lights and old-fashioned phones on the wall in the business lounge and pinwheel motifs in the gorgeous, box fresh rooms –
But the showstopper here is the aforementioned Sky Bar which is worth a visit whether you’re a guest or not.
Rooms at the hotel cost from £101 for a king guest room.
How to get there
South West Trains run direct services from London Waterloo to Bournemouth from £51.80 return travelling off-peak.
Make sure you check the trains beforehand – you can do the journey in 1 hour 45 minutes but, if you get a stopping train, it can take more than three hours.