Buzzing Bournemouth

With a tourism-rich past, Bournemouth has long been a seaside getaway, but as Blue Islands discovers, the beautiful South Coast town offers far more than just a break with a bucket and spade.

With Bournemouth just a 45-minute drive from Southampton Airport, it's well worth hiring a car and making your own way there. Plus, there are plenty of places to stop along the way - from Paulton's Family Theme Park and the New Forest Reptile Centre, to Go Ape Forest Segway in Ringwood where you can get off the beaten track and explore the forest for an hour of fun before carrying on your way. If, however, you don't have a Satnav and that old school skill of map-reading causes nothing but headaches, you can do the same journey on a train in about an hour.

Once in Bournemouth you'll be spoilt for choice for where to lay your head; with countless B&Bs and seaside hotels to pick from. If you're looking for a little luxury, the five-star Balincourt Guest House offers just that in a beautiful setting close to Boscombe beaches and the town centre. Guests are guaranteed a relaxing and peaceful stay (take peaceful to mean no under-16s allowed). If the kids are in tow, check out family-run Marsham Court Hotel where under-5s stay and eat for free, spacious family rooms can sleep up to six people and all the junk - I mean necessities - that kids require are provided for you, from travel cots and bed guards to swimming aids, potties and child-friendly cutlery (more luggage space for your shopping).

Speaking of shopping, Bournemouth's suburbs offer different shopping experiences; Pokesdown's array of vintage shops, Southbourne's independent stores and Boscombe's Open Air Market on a Thursday and Saturday. Back in town the pedestrianised high street has a wonderful selection of department stores and high street favourites in which to flex your credit card. And if you're yet to try a Shakeaway, take a pit stop at its founding store where you choose what to blitz up in your milkshake. Faced with over 180 flavours and millions of possible combinations it's hard to choose, but Oreos, fresh bananas and butterscotch come highly recommended. Shopping's thirsty work after all.

Bournemouth's iconic seafront is a better place than any to take in the surroundings. With seven miles of award-winning beaches, a magnificent cliff line and the pier, there's everything you could want from a day at the beach. You can even hire a beach hut for a truly traditional day. Deck chairs, sunbeds, windbreaks and parasols can all be hired along the beach - just help yourself to whatever you need and an attendant will collect the money once you're settled. How's that for relaxing?

The seafront is also home to several key attractions. Wander down through the beautiful Lower Gardens and head to Pier Approach where there are fairground rides, arcade games and the nearby Oceanarium, which overlooks it all and visitors come face to face with otters, turtles, penguins and sharks to name just a few. Why not top it all off with a very British fish and chips (or a battered halloumi burger if you're of the vegetarian persuasion) from Harry Ramsden's and a walk along the sand?

If it's all about the water for you but the sand gets in your sandwiches, there are plenty of places to get wet. The Littledown Centre in the town centre offers swimming and water slides, while further afield Splashdown Waterpark in Poole will have you howling down the sheer vertical drop of the Screamer and plunged into darkness on the Black Thunder.

Sticking with the more active vibe, take to the skies at the Bournemouth Eye, a tethered hot-air balloon in the Lower Gardens which will give you a spectacular panoramic view of Bournemouth and its surroundings for up to 20 miles. On a clear day you might even catch a glimpse of the Isle of Wight. Those looking to get the adrenaline pumping should head to Snowtrax and partake in some skiing or snowboarding. There's a ringos and ski-bobs slope too for those less gifted in the balance department. Be sure to soak up the atmosphere in the Alpine Bar afterwards.

If you keep hold of that hire car for the duration, be sure to plan a trip to Monkey World. It's pretty much what it says on the tin - an ape rescue centre home to over 250 rescued and endangered primates. You'll be able to watch spider monkeys play, enjoy the gibbon noises and see the largest group of chimps outside of Africa. It's also home to Europe's only orang-utan crèche and successfully breeds Bornean orang-utans as part of the European Endangered Species Programme.

With so much to accommodate all ages and interests and a constant flow of seasonal events, such as the upcoming Wheels Festival in June and the Air Festival in August, it's fair to say Bournemouth is always buzzing.

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