For a coastal resort town whose crowning glory has historically been its seven-mile sandy beach, Bournemouth often surprises first-time visitors with its array of hidden cultural gems. In fact, the city’s cultural scene has been going strong ever since its Victorian heyday, when the area rose to prominence as one of Britain’s most popular resorts. Couples, families and solo travellers can find plenty of diversions beyond the lure of the beach, from art galleries and festivals to big-name music and theatre events at the Bournemouth International Centre and the O2 Academy Bournemouth.

Art beside the seaside

The story of the Russell-Cotes House begins, as many great stories do, with a passionate love affair. Perched dramatically on a cliff overlooking the sea, the villa was originally a gift given by Sir Merton Russell-Cotes, a celebrated mayor of Bournemouth and art collector, to his wife Annie, for her birthday in 1901. Its interiors, gallery and garden are now open to the public as a museum, allowing visitors to explore what this adventurous Victorian couple with exotic tastes collected on their travels around the world. With more than 1,000 objects on display, fans of the Pre-Raphaelites and British and Japanese art in particular will find lots to admire. Set on the East Cliff promenade overlooking Bournemouth pier, the view from the conservatory alone is reason enough for a visit.

Loved by locals and visitors alike, the Arts by the Seafestival is a highlight of Bournemouth’s cultural calendar. Every October, the fun-spirited festival packs more than 50 events, ranging from literature and theatre to comedy, dance and virtual art, into a single week. In 2018, it will take place from 29th September to 6th October. A boundary-breaking, genre-bending event that always defies expectations, you’ll find beloved local musicians and internationally-renowned artists performing in the same evening.

Music, theatre and entertainment

As one of southern England’s largest entertainment venues, Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) delivers a calendar of entertainment with something for everyone, from comedy to rock shows, classical concerts, youth theatre, tea dances and themed parties. Recent highlights at Bournemouth International Centre include whimsical offerings like a sing-a-long screening of Beauty and the Beast and a performance by 1980s rock legends Squeeze. Located near Boscombe Beach, O2 Academy Bournemouth was originally christened in 1895 as the Boscombe Grand Theatre. The soaring arches in its palatial theatre double as a luxurious clubbing spot come the weekends. Every month you’ll find an ever-changing calendar of contemporary music acts, from drum and bass to pop, rock and folk.

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