Beach Vacations

Visiting Sandbanks, England

Where is Sandbanks?

It has been called England’s answer to Malibu. But that’s a bit like calling Hugh Grant England’s answer to Brad Pitt. A nonsense. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to see why the analogy sprang up.

Sandwiched between the seaside towns of Bournemouth and Poole on England’s South coast the Sandbanks peninsula juts like a pointed finger about a mile out to sea. It is so narrow at one section that you can see the waves lapping along the edge of both of its sides from the road.

People pay a high price for the awesome views out across one of the world’s largest natural harbours, taking in the golden dunes of Studland nature reserve on the opposite shore and then out over the English Channel to the Isle of Wight. In fact, it is said to be one of the most expensive places on earth per square metre to buy a home and the property price tags have given it a reputation as a seaside playground for the ultra rich.

There are a few fantasyland lairs, from which Bentleys and Porches glide in and out, but if you come here hoping to spend a few days living the millionaire lifestyle you will be largely disappointed.

Think instead of wide stretches of golden coastline where kids fish for crabs in the rock pools, as Dad finishes off the sandcastle development they started earlier. Both desert their pursuits in a flash when the ice-cream boat arrives. The real Sandbanks is the traditional British seaside resort of yesteryear.

A traditional British seaside resort

And the two sister hotels, the Sandbanks Hotel which stands at the entrance to the resort and The Haven, which sits at its tip are testament to this. The Haven is the more luxurious of the two, and its delicious faded grandeur is part of its charm. Whilst the more family-oriented Sandbanks is a real buckets and spades resort that children have been traipsing sand into for decades.

Both hotels are on the Bournemouth-side of the peninsula famous for its wide golden sands that gently slope away into the crystal clear water, making it perfect for young children.

If you do have kids-in-tow, and you want to explore this part of the South coast, you would be mad not to stay in Sandbanks itself, but if you can’t get a room, there’s a large car park at the entrance to the peninsula.

Mind you on a hot summer day, you’re better off arriving by open-top bus, taxi or boat from nearby Swanage, Poole, or Bournemouth. Once you’re here there’s little need for a car.

What’s to do?

Ella (5) and Lily (2) are quite happy on the sand from dawn until dusk. The beach gets less crowded and much less commercial as you walk towards the tip of the headland, there’s not a refreshment stand or kiosk laden down with sunshades and inflatables in sight. All you see are beach, sea and sand dunes, politely overlooked by exclusive apartment blocks and ultra modern largely glazed houses.

Although the sea is more appealing in the summer, as long as the sun is out Sandbanks is inviting all year round. My girls will happily kick off their wellies and dip their toes into the surf in November, and they are never the only kids doing so.

If that’s not for you and yours though, wrap up for a wintery game of crazy golf or a bracing walk along the beach ending with a fireside seat and a cup of hot chocolate laced with cream and marshmallows at Jazzy’s on the beach, next door to the Sandbanks hotel.

On a warmer day unwrap and lie back and soak up the rays on the sand or if you are feeling more active hire a pedalo or canoe and admire the bay from the sea.

There are dedicated sections of this coast for windsurfers, boarders, jetskiers and swimmers. If you need to brush up on your windsurfing, kitesurfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, sailing or paddle boarding, you can grab a few lessons from the The Watersports Academy just at the entrance to Sandbanks. They run kids activity clubs in summer too.

When you get hungry, you can either paddle out towards that ice-cream boat which makes regular stops along the beach on a sunny day, make for the designated barbecue area and cook your own lunch or put on your flip flops for a sandwich and shake at Le Café, opposite the carpark.

For a more expensive meal, try Café Shore next door. It has enticing menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can either watch the world go by and admire the luxury cars outside on the road side or gaze out onto Poole bay with a table over the terrace.

Day trips in and around Sandbanks

There is plenty to do in and around Sandbanks to keep you occupied for at least a week. You can take the chain ferry or what is also described as a floating bridge next to the Haven Hotel over to the National Trust’s Studland beach and Nature Reserve, where the golden sand dunes merge into protected heathland. This is where Enid Blyton got the inspiration for Noddy’s Toytown.

You can also take the open top bus from Sandbanks onto the ferry and down into the seaside town of Swanage, where you can lie back in a deckchair whilst the kids watch the Punch and Judy show.

And from Swanage pick up the steam train that will take you to Corfe Village. Peek through the windows of the tiny historic houses and browse the cute shops, which are overshadowed by the 1000-year-old Corfe Castle. A partially successful attempt to blow up the castle in the 17th century has left behind a ruins that kids have been hiding in and exploring for hundreds of years.

You could also take the open top bus from Sandbanks to the bustling seaside town of Bournemouth, with its Aquarium and theatres. Or head to Poole with its wonderful Victorian park, where you can go ice-skating, boating and take a trip on the model railway.

Oh and how could I forget Brownsea Island? It’s the perfect place for a picnic. Boats run regularly to this tiny car free island from Sandbanks Jetty. Get your kids a tracker pack at the jetty entrance to help them in their quest to spot the rare and elusive red squirrel and other wildlife that inhabit the island. Or let them roam free imagining that this is their very own treasure island.

Where to stay

For faded grandeur wrapped around a nice swimming pool complex and spa and enveloped by wonderful views choose The Haven.

For a more family-oriented hotel opt for The Sandbanks Hotel. They have indoor and outdoor children’s play areas and regular kids activity programmes. The restaurants are good too, but the interior is somewhat jaded.

Photos courtesy of Anna Tobin

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino recommended England family hotels

Holidays with kids in the Cotswolds

Visiting Dover Castle

London sightseeing with kids

London Eye photos and tips

London food tour with kids

Toddler playgrounds in London

Kids attractions London, free family-friendly museums

Great family-friendly guides and walking tours in Europe

VisitEngland – official website for English tourism

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