Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
Christchurch is a peaceful harbour town that sits on the mouth of the Stour and Avon rivers, as they flow into Christchurch Harbour.
This region of sheltered bays was a major iron age fort and England’s first major port (100bc), while later, the marshlands and hidden bays were notorious for smuggling.
Today, Christchurch is an affluent town, which has greatly matured, having the dubious title of the “retiree capital of Britain” (the town with the highest percentage of retired people). This does mean Christchurch has a relaxed and slow pace, perfect for whiling away a day on a boat cruise across the harbour, exploring the magnificent Priory or simply watching the boats on the Stour River.
The historic centre of Christchurch
For your trip to Christchurch, the pretty historic centre can be easily seen in a couple of hours, but there is always a lot to discover in the surrounding region. There are scenic coastal hikes Hengistbury Head, the pristine beaches on Mudeford Sandspit or the fishing harbour at Mudeford Quay.
Christchurch is one of those destinations that is frequently overlooked by tourists (preferring flashier Bournemouth or traditional Lymington), but it has a surprising amount going for it.
Christchurch Priory – A magnificent 12th church, steeped in legends and decorated with beautiful Gothic architecture
The River Stour – Scenic riverside walks, hire a boat, feed the swans, or watch the summertime boating activities
Hengistbury Head nature reserve – Pristine beaches, scenic coastal hikes and tranquil nature trails around Christchurch harbour
Christchurch harbour – Sheltered harbour ideal for kayaking, SUP or windsurfing
Note: Christchurch harbour is best visited from Mudeford quay (guide here)
A day trip to Christchurch typically focuses on one of three areas; the town, Hengistbury Head and Christchurch harbour.
Christchurch is a relatively small town and only takes a couple of hours to fully explore, but the pretty Stour River and Priory makes the town a destination you will want to visit.
The headland of Hengistbury Head contains the beaches of the Christchurch region, but most visitors come here for the coastal walks and unspoilt scenery.
Christchurch Harbour is separated from the town by Stanpit Marsh and Wick Meads, and is not that easily accessible. The best area to discover Christchurch harbour is from Mudeford Quay, which is on the eastern side of the harbour. For a guide to Mudeford please click here.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested day trip to Christchurch. The green line shows a suggested tour of the town, which is 3.5km and takes two hours to walk. On the map are the highlights of the Christchurch region.
Sights of the tour: 1) Quomps Park 2) Ferry to Mudeford Sandspit 3) Place Mill 4) Convent walk 5) Norman House 6) Christchurch Castle 7) Ducking Stool 8) The Regent Centre 9) Christchurch Priory 10) Red House Museum 11) Quomps Splashpark (for children and free) 12) Stour River view
Around Christchurch: 13) Hengistbury beach 14) Hengistbury head viewpoint 15) Mudeford sandspit beach 16) Mudeford Quay 17) Southbourne Beach 18) Stanpit Marsh 19) Highcliffe Castle
Note: zoom in and out on the map to see more detail
Quomps Park is always a hive of activity on a summer’s day
The ruins of the Norman house, sit on the banks of the Avon River
Christchurch is not a common holiday destination, but it has a lot going for it, and is ideal if you are an older visitor or have young children.
Christchurch has a calm atmosphere and is much less hectic than Bournemouth, which is only 5km to the west.
The beautiful beaches of Hengistbury Head are often overlooked but are only 2km and a short bus ride from the town centre. In the town are many café, pubs and restaurants, and the overall standard is very high due to the affluent nature of the region.
From Christchurch, there are many enjoyable day trips, and these include Poole harbour, the beaches at Bournemouth, the New Forest (Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst), and charming Lymington.
Related articles: The best of the New Forest
Saxon Square is the main shopping centre of Christchurch, but like many small English towns, most of the shops are coffee shops, estate agents or charity shops….
Christchurch sits at the eastern side of Bournemouth bay, and has fantastic beaches close by.
Hengistbury beach is the undiscovered gem of the region. This beach extends along the entire western of the Hengistbury Head nature reserve, and boasts beautiful natural senary, clean seawaters and plenty of sand.
The beach is a mix of sand and shingle, but there is ample sand for a beach day. Hengistbury beach rarely gets busy, as most visitors come for the coastal walks or nature trails.
The only downside to Hengistbury beach is that it is exposed to the prevailing winds, and can get very blustery if there is any wind.
Related articles: Hengistbury Head
The beautiful beach of Hengistbury, just check there’s no wind first before going!
Further to the west from Christchurch, is Southbourne Beach, another glorious sandy beach. Here is the start of the promenade to Boscombe, and the beachfront is lined with colourful beach huts.
On the eastern side of Hengistbury Head, is Mudeford sandspit, a sandbar peninsular that has a beautiful sandy coastline. Mudeford sandspit beach offers soft sands, clean seawaters and more of the unspoilt tranquillity of Hengistbury Head. The only way to travel to Mudeford Sandspit from Christchurch is by ferry, but the 40 minutes ride means it’s not really suited for a beach trip.
Mudeford Sandspit beach
Christchurch is great destination for families and young children.
There are a host of activities along the Stour River harbour front; you can hire a motorboat (£25 half hour), ride the ferry to Hengistbury or simply feed the swans.
Within the Quomps park is Quomps Splashpark, a modern water play area and paddling pool which is free, along with a kids play area. Another family favourite of the area is riding the road-train on Hengistbury Head to Mudeford Sandspit.
The Hengistbury road-train
Towering above Christchurch is the 12th-century Priory, and this church is the main tourist attraction of the town.
The church dates from 1150 and the Norma era, but was greatly extended 13th century, with the raising of the roof and the addition of side aisles.
Unlike many gothic churches and cathedrals, there is no spire, as the wooden spire collapsed in 1402 during a violent storm. Instead of replacing the spire, the tower was constructed in the third round of remodelling work in 1480.
Christchurch Priory is the longest church in England, so much so that it does not fit in one image
For much of the medieval period the Priory was referred to as Christ’s church, after a miracle occurred there during its construction.
During the 12th century construction of the Priory, a key beam was miscut, much to shame of the workers. The following day when the workers returned (and expected to be reprimanded) they discover the beam had been perfectly fitted. This was taken as an act of god, and the Priory was known as Christ’s church.
This ultimately gave Christchurch its modern name from its much older name of Twynham.
The sombre main chapel with the lighter 15th-century “lady chapel” to the rear
One of the lesser-known but beloved attractions of Christchurch is the replica of the Ducking Stool.
This punishment device acts similar to a seesaw, and originates from 1350. A criminal bound to the seat as it was repeatedly lowered into the Avon River.
The punishment was more for humiliation and for used lesser offences such as women guilty of verbal abuse and dishonest tradesmen. The last recorded use of Christchurch’s ducking stool was in 1806, and the Ducking Stool replica was installed in 1986
Mudeford Sandspit is the sandbar peninsula that forms the south-eastern side of Christchurch harbour. This beautiful sandbar is protected by the Hengistbury head nature reserve and is lined with some of the most expensive beach huts in Britain (each costing more than £350,000).
An enjoyable excursion from Christchurch is to catch the ferry and cross the harbour to Mudeford Sandspit. The relaxing boat ride on the traditional wooden ferry takes 40 minutes, and a return costs £9.00.
There are shorter ferry cruises up the Stour River to Tuckton, and a return is £6.50
The ferry Mudeford Sandspit