Things to do in Christchurch
Nestling just to the east of Bournemouth is the small town and parish of Christchurch. It lies just 13 miles east of our Rockley Park Holiday Park by road. Two of England’s longest rivers, the Avon, and the Stour, meet here, making it a haven for those who love fishing, boating or just dabbling in the water.
Christchurch is something of a hidden gem, when compared to its much more famous neighbour. There’s a load of stuff to see and do, making this Jurassic Coast town well worth a visit.
Here are some of the best things to do in Christchurch.
1. Hit the beaches
The rivers flowing into Christchurch Bay create a natural harbour, with sandy strips on either side of the estuary. On the eastern side, Avon Beach runs into Highcliffe Beach, creating a pristine and sandy two-mile stretch. Avon Beach has more facilities, including cafes, restaurants and beach huts. Highcliffe is adjacent to Steamer Point Nature Reserve, which is worth a visit in its own right – there’s an information point and shady woodland trails.
To the west of the Harbour, there’s east-facing Mudeford Sandbank, reachable by foot through the picturesque rolling dunes of Hengistbury Head, or via a ferry from Christchurch Quay. There’s also a west-facing pebbly strip extending for almost 10km to Bournemouth, perfect for runners or walkers.
2. Stroll Christchurch Quay
Stepping a little further inland, on the northern bank of the Stour, just before it joins the Avon, is Christchurch Quay with its promenade and relaxing sunset views of moored boats bobbing on the water. You can walk a mile or so to Wick’s Ferry via the amusingly named Quomps, a local park featuring a children’s play area with opportunities to splash about on hot days.
3. Explore ancient Christchurch
Like many of the coastal towns in this region, Christchurch has its share of archaic fortifications and lookouts. These include the ruins of an 11th-century castle, atop a small hill with a good view of the surroundings. Nearby you’ll find the better-preserved Norman Constable’s House, which dates to 1160 AD. Remarkably this stone-built building still has its chimney intact – one of only five surviving structures of this type in Britain.
4. Stroll through history
History buffs seeking more local landmarks can take the blue plaque walk, which takes in 19 local sites. These include evidence of neolithic farming and settlements dating back over 10,000 years!
There are a range of other walking tours curated by the Christchurch Historic Centre. Alternatively, just wander and let serendipity be your guide. You never know what you’ll encounter.
5. Take to the water
For those who like their experiences a little more active, Christchurch is a great place to try some watersports. The waters of the extensive natural harbour are calm enough to form the perfect environment for learning to kayak, windsurf, or paddleboard. Situated on Mudeford Quay, Shore Sports offer a range of courses for both beginner and intermediate sailors and surfers.
Why not be a trend-setter and try the new sport of winging? It’s like windsurfing but with a horizontal handheld wing instead of a vertical sail.
While you’re down at the Quay, you can check out the historic fishing village and try your hand at a spot of crabbing. If you’re lucky you might catch the annual seafood festival (even if you fail to catch any seafood!)
6. Ride a R.I.B.
Rigid inflatable Boats (RIBs) are a kind of speedboat capable of speeds up to 70 knots, similar to those used by the RNLI. You can see a lot of coastline at half that speed (although you might want to take a trip before lunch, rather than after, especially if the sea is choppy!)
RIB trips leave Mudeford Ferry or Christchurch Quay daily, and there’s half a dozen different options to choose from including one-off trips to follow the Fastnet and Isle of Wight sailboat races. Coastal highlights include the needles (a group of towering sea stacks), Sandbanks and the Isle of Purbeck.
7. Explore a Grade I-listed Mansion
It isn’t just the Home Counties where you’ll find stately homes – Dorset has its share of extravagance too. One such must-see home is Highcliffe Castle, set in 14 acres of ornate grounds and offering an excellent clifftop view of the Isle of Wight.
Built between 1831 and 1835 by Charles Stuart, the 1st Baron of Rothesay, the house has a gothic revival style and boasts fine formal gardens laid out by renowned landscaper Capability Brown. The house hosts music concerts and art exhibitions. You can also tour the interior and stroll the grounds admiring the view.
8. Visit a drive-in cinema
We bet you weren’t expecting that! It’s true however – Christchurch boasts its own American-styled drive-in cinema. Located at the Old Holmsley Aerodrome in Bransgore, the big outdoor screen shows legendary films and new releases. Expect crowd-pleasing seasonal classics and family favourites.
9. Stretch your legs
Christchurch is a fantastic focal point for hikers. Here are some of our favourite walks:
Hengistbury Head and the Mudeford Sandbank. You can access this unspoilt region of dunes and sandbars by means of a regular ferry from Christchurch Quay, or by driving to the car park near the Solent Meads Golf Centre. If you take the latter route, visit the Visitor Centre which illuminates the nature reserve’s treasures. Bring binoculars if you want to try spotting a reed warbler or ringed plover.
Stour Valley Way – With a 64-mile river trail, there’s plenty for even the most ardent walker or runner to explore. Tuckon Bridge to the Mudeford Sandbank is a manageable local stretch.
Avon Valley Way – Christchurch’s other celebrated river also features a trail. This one is 34 miles long and runs from Christchurch all the way to Salisbury.
Christchurch Coastal Path – you can walk as much or as little of the 7.7 miles to Bournemouth. In the opposite direction, you can walk 6.7 miles via Highcliffe Beach to the southern extent of the New Forest, ending up in Barton-on-Sea.
There are so any things to do in Christchurch, you could easily spend several days here. And remember, from Rockley Park Holiday Park, you’ve got Poole and Bournemouth on your doorstep too!
10. Shop for classy souvenirs
Say goodbye to fancy fridge magnets! Instead wander the side-streets and you’ll find plenty of quaint little art galleries, antique and craft shops selling the work of local artists and artisans.
There are also plenty of boutique shops selling clothing, sweets, and even locally distilled gin. A traditional street market takes place on the High Street every Monday.