Home | News | TRAVEL GUIDE: Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch Beach Guide

From Highcliffe to Hamworthy, East Dorset’s iconic coast is home to plenty of beautiful beaches, each with their own unique charm. Whether you’re planning a slow day of topping up your tan, a long walk with your dog or a few hours of exhilarating watersports, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect beach along this part of England’s south coast. 

The question is: when there’s so much to choose from, where do you start?

Well, we’ve got all you need to know about East Dorset’s best beaches right here! Keep reading to discover what you can expect from 10 beaches across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole from famous landmarks like Hengistbury Head to secret spots you’d be remiss to ignore…

Lake Pier

Poole, East Dorset

Photo: Lee Saunders

Best for quiet beach days, kayaking and canoeing, dogs, crabbing and fishing, and beach walks

The lovely, quiet beach at Lake Pier is made up of sand and shingle and is very popular with kayakers and canoers. The beach is dog-friendly all year round with incredible views across Poole Harbour to RSPB Arne, making it perfect for walks. 

Due to the pier’s location jutting out into the harbour, it’s a great place to try your hand at crabbing or fishing. You can take advantage of the beach’s more hidden location during the summer when the main Bournemouth beaches are busy, but it’s truly a wonderful place in the off-seasons as well. 

Photo: Mal Grey

Type of beach: Sand and shingle

Lifeguard service: No

Dog-friendly: Yes, all year round!

BBQs: Not permitted at any time due to the fragile ecosystem surrounding the beach.

Amenities: Public toilets, and sometimes an ice-cream van!

Parking: 60+ spaces at Lake Pier Car Park

Accessibility: The beach is accessible by ramp, and the pier has level access from the car park. However, there is no promenade. 

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Hamworthy 

Hamworthy Beach

Poole, East Dorset

Best for dogs, family fun, leisurely walks and children’s play areas

Located about a mile outside Poole, Hamworthy Park and Beach offers a fantastic child-friendly area to spend a day with the family – including the dog! The beach and park are both dog-friendly all year round, with dogs allowed to run around off-lead everywhere but the promenade. 

In the summer, little ones have the choice of splashing around in the shallow waters of Poole Harbour or the park’s paddling pool, which is open between May and September. Whilst the kids enjoy the two large play areas, you can enjoy views across the harbour to Brownsea Island and the Purbecks.

Photo: Julia Livesey

Type of beach: Sand and shingle

Lifeguard service: No

Dog-friendly: Dog-friendly all year round!

BBQs: Not allowed at any time

Amenities: Public toilets with accessible toilets, baby-changing facilities, café, children’s play area, seasonal paddling pool (May to September)

Parking: 60 spaces at Hamworthy Park Surface Car Park

Accessibility: There is no ramp access to the beach, it is accessible only by steps. However, there is a flat, tarmac promenade next to the beach which has level access from the car park and café. 

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Hamworthy 

Sandbanks Beach

Poole, East Dorset

Best for family-friendly watersports, dogs, sunrises and sunsets, safe swimming and sandy beach days

Widely regarded as one of the finest beaches in the entire country, Sandbanks boasts a stunning stretch of soft, golden sand that stretches for miles along the Sandbanks Peninsula. Sandwiched between the glistening waters of Poole Harbour and the English Channel, the beach offers breathtaking panoramic views which are second to none. 

Another pristine Blue Flag beach, Sandbanks is a favourite destination for sunbathers, water sports enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike, and has won the award more times than any other UK resort. The area surrounding the beach is also renowned for its upscale properties and prestigious reputation, attracting visitors from around the world. 

The beach is understandably popular in summer, but can truly be enjoyed year-round with breathtaking sunsets over Poole Harbour and sunrises over the English Channel. Due to its location on the cusp of the harbour, the area is a popular watersports destination where you have the opportunity to rent jet skis, try windsurfing and sailing, and even charter yachts. 

The Sandbanks chain ferry takes you across the entrance of the harbour to Studland, where more beautiful beaches await. 

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: April to September

Dog-friendly: There is a designated year-round dog-friendly beach area at the western end of the promenade near the chain ferry. The rest of the beach does not allow dogs between May and September. There is a dog wash with warm water, shampoo and dryers near the car park.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Café, kiosks, mini golf, public toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, drinking water, showers, dog wash and children’s play area 

Parking: 550 spaces at Sandbanks Car Park, with harbourside pay-and-display parking along Banks Road.

Accessibility: The beach is accessible via ramp from the promenade which has flat access to the main car park. Between May and September, Mobi-Mats are in place on the beach, allowing wheelchair users direct access to the sand. During these months, there is also one beach accessible wheelchair, which is available on a first-come-first-served basis from the Sandbanks beach office.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Sandbanks 

Branksome Chine Beach

Poole, East Dorset

Best for safe swimming, sandy beach days, woodland walks and family-friendly watersports

Branksome Chine Beach is further west still, and is another of Poole’s best Blue Flag beaches. Popular with both locals and visitors, the soft sands feature a gentle slope into the sea, making it perfect for anyone looking to have a swim or a paddle. 

The beach is a hive of activity in the summer, with volleyball nets available for hire and a section designated for watersports activities including paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing. At the nearby Branksome Dene beach, located between Alum Chine and Branksome Chine, you’ll find Shaka Surf, the South’s only Surfing England accredited surf school. They run a Kids Surf Club in the summer holidays, so even if you’re just visiting for your holiday, the children can try their hand at a new sport out on the water.

The beach backs onto Branksome Chine Gardens, which provides a gorgeous walk through unspoilt woodland which can take you north to Branksome Park Woods and Penn Hill in around thirty minutes on foot. 

Photo: Shaka Surf

Try your hand at surfing with the gorgeous backdrop of Branksome Dene Beach!

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: Summer months only

Dog-friendly: Between May and September, dogs are not allowed on the sand, and must be kept on the lead on the promenade all year round. However, the stretch of sand between Alum Chine Beach Office and Branksome Chine Beach Office is dog-friendly all year round.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Beach shop, restaurant, café, public toilets, accessible toilets, drinking water, seasonal beach office

Parking: 100+ spaces at Branksome Chine Car Park and 360+ spaces at Beach Road Car Park a short walk away
Accessibility:
The beach is accessed by ramp, but the Beach Road Car Park is up a hill. There are accessible spaces at the main Branksome Chine Car Park. There is also one beach accessible wheelchair, which is available on a first-come-first-served basis from the Boscombe beach office from May to September.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Poole 

Alum Chine Beach

Bournemouth

Best for safe swimming, sandy beach days, play areas and garden walks

Nestled between towering cliffs and surrounded by a vibrant tropical garden, Alum Chine Beach offers a tranquil escape from the bustling Bournemouth Beach nearby. The beach’s soft golden sand is perfect for sunbathing and building sandcastles, with the summer lifeguard patrols and calm waters providing a safe area for swimming and watersports for all ages. 

Alum Chine itself is a charming ravine that leads to the beach, surrounded by lush greenery and a peaceful stream that cascades through the gorge. It offers several shaded paths, along with a popular Treasure Island themed play area, as the author, Robert Louis Stephenson, once lived nearby.

The beach is Blue Flag award winning for its cleanliness and safety, and the gardens beyond offer fantastic facilities including an Italian restaurant, Vesuvio right on the promenade.

Enjoy some early morning yoga on a quiet beach!

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: Summer months only

Dog-friendly: Between May and September, dogs are not allowed on the sand, and must be kept on the lead on the promenade all year round. However, the stretch of sand between Alum Chine Beach Office and Branksome Chine Beach Office is dog-friendly all year round.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, showers, drinking water, beach office, restaurants, kiosks, lost children’s centre

Parking: 80+ spaces at Alum Chine Car Park or on West Overcliff Drive

Accessibility: Access to the promenade is via gently sloping pavements from the road or a small hill from the car park. 

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Alum Chine Beach, Bournemouth 

Bournemouth Beach

Bournemouth

Best for cafés and restaurants, arcades, safe swimming, family-friendly watersports, rock climbing and ziplining 

Bournemouth Beach stands as a beloved centre of this coastal town with an expansive stretch of pristine sandy shores. The beach boasts a vibrant atmosphere, bustling with activity and an array of amenities. From sunbathing and building sandcastles to beach volleyball and water sports, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 

The promenade lining the beach is dotted with charming beach huts, trendy cafés, and inviting seaside shops, creating a vibrant seaside ambiance. Like its adjoining beaches, Bournemouth Beach also offers stunning views of the Isle of Wight and the shimmering waters of the English Channel. 

Bournemouth Pier is a hive of activity, with attractions including indoor climbing walls at Rock Reef Activity Centre, a classic seaside arcade, and Aruba, a restaurant and bar with panoramic views of the sea. There’s a number of shops here selling everything from postcards to flip flops. If you’re up for it, you can even try PierZip – the world’s first pier-to-shore zip wire!

This is one of the busiest beaches in the area, due to its central location and famous golden sands. However, it’s well worth a visit!

Photo: PierZip

Not for the faint hearted!

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: Summer months only on both the east and west beaches

Dog-friendly: Between May and September, dogs are not allowed on the sand, and must be kept on the lead on the promenade all year round.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, showers, drinking water, beach office, restaurants, cafés, kiosks, entertainment attractions 

Parking: The closest car parks tend to be very busy and more expensive than others – these are the Bath Road North and South Car Parks, which have 110 and 176 spaces respectively. There are 540 spaces at Winter Gardens Car Park which is a five minute walk from the beach. About a 15 minute walk from the beach you’ll find the Avenue Road Multistorey (1000+ spaces) and slightly further away is the Richmond Gardens Multistorey (950+ spaces).

Accessibility: There are accessible toilets near Bournemouth Pier, and the land trains running to both Boscombe Pier and Branksome Beach are wheelchair-friendly. There is also one beach accessible wheelchair, which is available on a first-come-first-served basis from the Boscombe beach office from May to September.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Bournemouth

Boscombe Beach

Bournemouth 

Photo: Dylan Jones

Best for restaurants and bars, safe swimming, family-friendly watersports and on-beach sports

Boscombe Beach is known for its relaxed and laid-back vibe, and visitors can enjoy the restaurants, cafés and shops which line the promenade along to the restored Victorian pier. Here, you can enjoy an array of watersports activities including surfing, paddleboarding and even kitesurfing. On-beach activities such as volleyball and table tennis are also popular here, and fishing is permitted from the end of the pier. You can even try your hand at climbing the purpose-built boulders and slacklining!

Whilst Boscombe Beach does get busy during the summer, you have the advantage of being close to local amenities and a wide range of wonderful restaurants and bars, making it a great place to spend a warm summer evening. The beach is also perfect for spending a day at the beach, especially for families who can make use of the ice cream kiosks and nearby toilets. 

The walk between Bournemouth Pier and Boscombe Pier takes about half an hour, and there is a land train running along the promenade between April and October. 

Photo: Dylan Jones

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: Summer months only on both the east and west beaches

Dog-friendly: Between May and September, dogs are not allowed on the sand, and must be kept on the lead on the promenade all year round.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, drinking water, showers, surfing equipment hire, beach office

Parking: 70+ spaces at Overstrand Car Park plus parking along Boscombe Overcliff Drive. Parking can get difficult here, so we recommend getting to the beach early, taking the land train from Bournemouth, making use of public transport, or parking in Boscombe proper and walking down.

Accessibility: The promenade is accessed from Boscombe Overcliff Drive via various sloping zigzags, whilst the Overstrand is a few minutes walk uphill from the beach. There are accessible toilets at Boscombe Overstrand, plus three wheelchair accessible beach huts for hire. The April to October land train is also wheelchair accessible. Between May and September, Mobi-Mats are in place on the beach, allowing wheelchair users direct access to the sand. During these months, there is also one beach accessible wheelchair, which is available on a first-come-first-served basis from the Boscombe beach office.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Boscombe

Southbourne Beach

Bournemouth, East Dorset 

Best for safe swimming, family-friendly watersports and sandy beach days

Continuing west along from Hengistbury Head will bring you to Southbourne Beach, which boasts the same beautifully soft, golden sands as the popular beaches of Boscombe and Bournemouth. Despite the wonderful setting and close proximity to Southbourne’s lively collection of pubs and restaurants, this end of the beach tends to be slightly quieter than its western counterparts. 

Adorned with vibrant beach huts, Southbourne Beach is one of the area’s best Blue Flag beaches, and beachgoers can enjoy the crystal-clear waters under the watchful eye of lifeguards through the summer – making it perfect for young families. On the promenade is Southbourne Beach’s new café and bar, Sobo Beach, which is open 7 days a week and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks into the evening. 

Photo: The Times

Book a beach hut and you won’t have to spend a minute away from the water!

Type of beach: Sandy

Lifeguard service: Summer months only

Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs are only allowed on the sand east of Fisherman’s Walk Beach to Southbourne Beach during the summer.

BBQs: There are electric beach BBQs for use here, and disposable BBQs can be used between 6pm and 10:30pm only.

Amenities: Toilets, baby changing facilities, lost children centres, ice cream kiosks, showers, accessible parking, café 

Parking: 180+ spaces at Warren Edge Car Park, 70+ spaces at Southbourne Crossroads plus free all-day parking along Southbourne Coast Road & Southbourne Overcliff Drive
Accessibility:
Access to the promenade is via gently sloping pavements from both car parks and the road.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Southbourne

Hengistbury Head Beach

Christchurch

Photo: Ian West

Best for hiking and walking, wildlife-spotting, geology, archeology and flying kites

Just around the corner from Mudeford Spit is Hengistbury Head’s own beach, which is one of England’s most important SSSIs with a wide variety of habitats creating a home for a huge variety of plants, birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals. 

Warren Hill makes up the elevated area of Hengistbury Head, with incredible panoramic views of Christchurch Harbour, Bournemouth Bay and the Isle of Wight. The hill gives way to imposing clay and ironstone cliffs which back the south-facing pebble beach. In the Iron Age, this peaceful landscape was in fact a bustling town, though people have been leaving a trail here since the end of the last Ice Age when the dry land ran all the way to France.

Today, Hengistbury Head still holds many secrets within its striking geological formations, and the rangers and volunteers work hard to protect the incredible landscape, wildlife and archeology whilst also providing access to over a million visitors every year. Keep an eye out for Skylarks, Sand Lizards and Natterjack Toads – the latter of which is one of Britain’s rarest creatures.

Photo: Dylan the Schnauzer

Your dog will love Hengistbury Head as much as you do!

Type of beach: Pebble

Lifeguard service: No

Dog-friendly: Yes, though due to the rich wildlife calling this area home, there are some areas where the use of leads is recommended.

BBQs: Not permitted at any time.

Amenities: Visitor centre, toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, café, accessible parking

Parking: 700 spaces at Hengistbury Head’s main car park
Accessibility:
Much of the area now features tarmac paths, and even the route to the top of the headland is possible for wheelchair users with some support. The visitor centre is fully accessible with a lift. The land train is also wheelchair accessible.

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Hengistbury Head, Christchurch

Mudeford Sandbank

Christchurch

Best for scenic walks, picnics, sandy beach days and family-friendly watersports

Home to the UK’s most expensive beach huts, Mudeford Sandbank is a sandy spit sitting at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour, jutting off the end of the Hengistbury Head peninsula. There are a few ways of accessing this more isolated beach, as you can’t simply drive up and park there. Either take a short ferry ride from Mudeford Quay or a longer ferry from Christchurch Quay, or hop on the land train which runs between the spit and the Hengistbury Head main car park. Alternatively, you can walk from the Hengistbury Head car park, which takes around 30 minutes.

The Beach House Café is an open-air festival-style food and drink takeaway including a burger van, pizza kitchen, seafood counter and a beach bar. Both the café and the beach itself can get very busy in the summer months, but is just as beautiful in the off-seasons, with views across the sea to the Isle of Wight on the east side and Christchurch Harbour on the west.

Type of beach: Sand

Lifeguard service: No, and note that there are very strong currents around the entrance to Christchurch Harbour, so care must be taken. 

Dog-friendly: Yes! No restrictions.

BBQs: Not permitted at any time.

Amenities: Toilets, accessible toilets, 

Parking: 400+ spaces at Mudeford Quay, 28 spaces at Christchurch Quay, 100+ spaces at Christchurch Priory and 700 spaces at Hengistbury Head

Accessibility: The pedestrian route from Hengistbury Head’s main car park mainly follows a tarmac path, though some areas can be steep or bumpy, so support is recommended. The land train which runs from April to October is wheelchair accessible. 

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Mudeford Sandbank, Christchurch

Highcliffe Beach

Christchurch


Best for wildlife-spotting, safe swimming and family-friendly watersports

Located on the boundary between Dorset and Hampshire, at Dorset’s most eastern point, is Highcliffe Beach, a wide, mostly shingle Blue Flag beach with sandy patches. The beach sits below the iconic 19th century Highcliffe Castle and is surrounded by unique cliff habitats featuring clifftop woodland and grassy dunes. These cliffs are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, providing a home to some of the UK’s rare birds, reptiles and insects.

The main car park is located at the eastern end of the beach, next to the Cliffhanger Restaurant. There’s a short walk down the sloping zigzag to the beach, which is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Further west sits the castle, which features the Tea Rooms and another, smaller car park. The westernmost point of Highcliffe Beach is backed by Steamer Point Nature Reserve, where there is a visitor centre and picnic tables. 

The nearby Grade I listed Highcliffe Castle is the perfect place for a picnic after your walk on the beach.

Type of beach: Shingle and sand

Lifeguard service: Summer months only

Dog-friendly: Yes, though no dogs are allowed between groynes H4 and H8 from May to September.

BBQs: Not permitted at any time due to the surrounding woodland

Amenities: Toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, restaurant, café, accessible parking

Parking: 400+ spaces at Highcliffe Cliff Top Car Park and 100+ at Highcliffe Castle Car Park

Accessibility: Sloping zigzags at the main car park and castle car park are both suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs

Self-catering holiday accommodation near Highcliffe, Christchurch

Planning a beach staycation for your next family holiday? We know you’ll love these East Dorset beaches just as much as we do, and we’re here to help you with your holiday every step of the way. 

Our range of self-catering holiday properties in Christchurch, Poole and Bournemouth are each beautifully unique – whatever you’re looking for, we’re passionate about finding the perfect holiday property for you. From quaint cottages for small families to spacious, modern five-bedroom houses, we’re proud to offer a true home-from-home experience on Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast.

Browse our range of self-catering properties or get in touch with us to get started.

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