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Mare and Foal enjoying the early morning sun, New Forest
Mare and Foal enjoying the early morning sun, New Forest

Things To Do In The New Forest

One of the New Forest's biggest fans is Martin Freeman: "I love the times when I am back there. The peace and pace of the countryside – it's incredibly nurturing and therapeutic for me."

The New Forest. The Perfect Marriage of Coast, Outdoor Adventures, Wildlife and of course Forest

It may be Britain's smallest National Park but what The New Forest lacks in stature it makes up for with delights like wild ponies, ancient woodlands, pristine beaches, incredible countryside views, and proper village pubs serving perfectly pulled pints. It certainly deserves its status as one of Britain's most popular holiday destinations - one visit is never enough!

 
 

Discovery Days

Rockford Commom, New Forest
Rockford Commom, New Forest

Brockenhurst

One of the biggest appeals the New Forest has to both locals and visitors is its charming villages. Spend a happy day discovering the delights of Brockenhurst in the heart of the national park, with its pretty streets lined with thatched cottages and delightful shops, and wild ponies and deer roaming in the surrounding pasture land. Despite its peaceful, bucolic feel, Brockenhurst is well served by roads and rail (just an hour and three quarters from London) making it the perfect base for your New Forest holiday.

Burley

Burley is another New Forest gem. Less well known than Brockenhurst and Lymington, you should not pass up the opportunity to sample the local cider at the historic Queen's Head on Chapel Lane. Now a comfortable pub with a sprawling outdoor terrace for summer drinking and a cosy fireplace for winter suppers, it was once a favourite hangout for smugglers who hid weapons and booty in a secret cellar.

Driving around the village, you are as likely to give way to a pony as you are a pedestrian. Nowhere will you feel the magical appeal of the New Forest more strongly than in Burley which boasts an impressive history of witchcraft and a fantastic witchcraft inspired gift shop.

Lymington and Yarmouth

Lymington is a thriving Georgian port town overlooking the Solent towards Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. It is worth visiting at any time of year but is particularly vibrant on Saturday when the local market - which dates back to the 1300s - is held. Lymington is well known and loved by sailing enthusiasts who flock to the town's two sailing clubs. Surrounded by ancient forests and heaths, and full of quirky boutiques and excellent pubs and restaurants, you could easily spend your entire New Forest holiday in Lymington and not get bored, but it would be a shame not to take a day trip to the Isle of Wight which is only thirty minutes by ferry away.

Lymington in the New Forest
Lymington in the New Forest

The Isle of Wight is like something from an Enid Blyton book with picturesque villages separated by swathes of rolling countryside and fringed with golden sandy beaches. Regular foot and car ferry services go between Lymington and Yarmouth, so jump aboard and add another memorable dimension to your stay in the New Forest. You will find some of the oldest buildings on the island around Yarmouth including the George Hotel which was once home to Sir Robert Holmes, the man responsible for the capture and punishment of pirates in the late 1600s.

IOW Ferry
Isle of Wight Ferry

Barton-on-Sea

As well as wonderful woods and forests, the New Forest has easy access to great beaches such as Barton-on-Sea. It is the starting point for the Solent Way - a fantastic coastal footpath which rewards walkers with breathtaking views across the water. The town itself is well equipped with shops and cafes where you can rest your feet and enjoy delicious meals made from local Hampshire produce.

Barton Clay is renowned for the number and age of its fossils. There aren't many places where you can decorate your sandcastle with gastropods, sea snails and sharks' teeth that are millions of years old, so take the kids there for a unique bucket-and-spade day out. For the safest fossil hunting, make sure you go at low tide as the beach can almost disappear under water at high tide.

Buckler's Hard

Bucklers Hard graces the bank of the Beaulieu River and makes up part of the Beaulieu Estate. Its name changed from Montagu Town to represent the shipbuilding industry which was so important to Nelson's fleet, producing 43 Royal Naval ships in the 1700s. The village also played a significant role in WWII by being one of the key landing sites for the invasion of Normandy.

Bucklers Hard
Bucklers Hard

The village is now a living museum, and you can get a great feel for what it was like in its heydey by visiting the Maritime Museum, Shipwright's Cottage, and St Mary's Chapel. Stretch your legs by walking the woodland trail, or venture further afield by following the riverside path for two miles to Beaulieu.

Ponies by Hatchet Pond
Hatchet Pond, nr Bucklers Hard

While there are many pretty picnic spots in the area, one of the best is Hatchet Pond. It's around a mile from Beaulieu and has a gentle circular two-mile walking path around the pond which you may find yourself sharing with some local ponies. There are toilets and usually an ice-cream van in the summer months. Linking Buckler's Hard to Hatchet Pond via Beaulieu is around a 5-mile walk, though most of it is relatively easy going.

Rainy Days

Things to do on A rainy day in the New Forest
Salisbury Cathedral

Beaulieu

There is far too much to do in the New Forest for rain to dampen your spirits. If the heavens open then make your way to the biggest indoor attraction around - the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. While not cheap (though you can save by buying online in advance) you genuinely get a full day of entertainment. Tickets give entry to the motor museum and the famed World of Top Gear, as well as the Palace House (and gardens, if the weather clears up), Beaulieu Abbey, and unlimited rides on the monorail and vintage bus. The undercover eating area won't put a stop to your picnic, and there is also a decent restaurant serving an extensive choice of seasonal meals and snacks.

Donkey in the New Forest
New Forest Donkey

Lyndhurst

Head for Lyndhurst if you can picture no better way to spend a rainy day than with a pot of tea and a slice (or two!) of freshly made cake that would satisfy even the demands of William the Conqueror. As the largest village in the New Forest, it's only right that Lyndhurst should have a good choice of cafes. Peggy May's on the High Street is dog-friendly, and you won't find a better choice of teas than at Tea Total a few doors down.

While you may be happy browsing the shops and boutiques, it's not the most exciting day for kids so take them for a visit to the New Forest Centre. The free museum with hands-on exhibits will help them learn about their surroundings and keep them busy for an hour or so. Just out of the village is the New Forest Reptile Centre. This is only suitable for spring and summer as the native snakes and amphibians go into hibernation when the temperature drops and a lot of the exhibits and interesting walks are outside.

Ringwood

On the western border of the New Forest, Ringwood's busy Wednesday morning market has been popular with locals since medieval times. There are some pretty walks along the River Avon if the rain stops otherwise you can stay dry in the town's shopping centre and boutiques. A short drive away is Liberty's Owl and Raptor Centre which has an indoor flying area so you can still see the majestic birds of prey on rainy days. It's not a full day out but will certainly distract younger children for a few hours. The cafe has a basic menu of tasty food, but there is no indoor picnic area so unless you want to buy lunch, we suggest you time your visit for the morning or afternoon.

Salisbury, Bournemouth, Winchester and Portsmouth

One of the great things about a holiday in the New Forest is its proximity to several of the UK's most beautiful and historic cities. You don't have to be a history buff to appreciate the magnificence of Winchester Cathedral, which is every bit more impressive on the inside than it is from the outside. Jane Austen is buried there, and younger children will love spotting the intricately carved animals and faces in the choir stalls. The Cathedral Choir is famous worldwide for the beauty of their voices so try to time your visit to coincide with one of their services if you enjoy choir music.

River Nadder in the New Forest
River Nadder, New Forest

Salisbury's attractions are a pleasant distraction from inclement weather. It also has an incredible cathedral, as well as fantastic shops and cafes in quirky historical buildings. Portsmouth's rich naval heritage is celebrated around the city, while Bournemouth can offer an amazing aquarium as well as plenty of shopping. All of these places are within easy reach of the New Forest so if it's bucketing down when you wake up just jump in the car or on a train to keep the holiday fun rolling.

Adventure Days

Solent RIB
Photo credit: Solent RIB

Moors Valley Country Park and Forest

Sure, you can appreciate the majesty of the New Forest from the ground, but you can get a better feel for it up high. Go Ape! at the Moors Valley Country Park is a breathtaking mix of zip wires, obstacle climbing, and Tarzan swinging, as well as Segway tours, cycling and walking trails.

Solent RIB Charter

Forget a humdrum dingy and step aboard a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) for an experience that will have you whooping with delight. Solent Rib Charter boasts the largest fleet of Ribs in Europe and takes pride in maintaining their vessels to the highest standard. As they say: "there's water but no speed limit" so push yourself further than you've been before.

Horseriding

Horseriding in the New Forest
Photo credit: Burley Villa

The New Forest has over 570 square kilometres to explore so save your feet and see it on horseback. There are several stables providing horses to suit riders from novice to experienced equestrians. Burley Villa offers the chance to ride out traditional English style or Western (you can even do a BBQ trail through the forest!), Brockenhurst Riding Stables offers one and two-hour hacks (including a pub ride!) from their stables in picturesque Brockenhurst. All levels from beginners to the more advanced can be catered for, with a mix of ponies and horses to suit all humans great and small! You can even finish the day with a cream tea at the Balmer Lawn Hotel.

New Forest Water Park

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to wakeboard, or had an urge to dive from an enormous inflatable playground, you will love the New Forest Water Park. There are two types of wakeboard cables, an aqua park, kayaks and stand up paddleboards which you can take out on the adjoining lake. You'll leave exhausted but happy, with plenty of exciting moments to share with your friends.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking in the New Forest
Mountain Biking in the New Forest

Ditch your desk, throw your bike on the bike-rack, and less than an hour and a half from London you could be breathing fresh New Forest air as you pedal along more than 100 miles of designated cycling routes. If your legs need a real challenge why not take Blissford Hill, aka "The Wall" for its steep 25% gradient. If you don't have your own wheels, you can easily hire a bike to suit your riding style from several top firms. Trax is based in Lyndhurst but will deliver to your holiday cottage, while Cyclexperience is in Brockenhurst, and Forest Leisure Cycling is in Burley.

New Forest Outdoor Centre

The team at the New Forest Outdoor Centre have a thing about firing missiles. They're happy to help you whether you want to shoot arrows or crossbows, fire a rifle, or even throw an axe. If that wasn't enough, you can take the "Leap of Faith" from their mobile climbing wall, and feel pretty awesome about what you've achieved in the process. There is also a high rope, zip wire, giant tree climb, and abseiling. If there are a few of you holidaying together, speak to the team about a bespoke programme.

Lazy Days

Picnic in the New Forest
Lazy Days in the New Forest

In addition to being active and adventurous, the New Forest is the perfect place to unwind and relax. Being surrounded by woodland that has been enjoyed for thousands of years has a way of making you automatically slow down and reflect on their natural beauty. We have plenty of ideas for pleasantly lazing away days in the New Forest.

Exbury Gardens

Exbury Gardens is a slice of Hampshire heaven. Your kids won't miss their screens with so much to see and do, including magnificent gardens designed to look beautiful all year round (although particularly special when ablaze with spring colour), a steam railway, and an exciting play area. Much of the woodland was planted almost a century ago with some trees, including a majestic Cedar of Lebanon, being nearly 300 years old! Gardeners flock to Exbury to be inspired by the impressive collection of plants, and you are almost sure to spot some native wildlife.

The entire site is very family friendly with easy walking paths to suit little legs and picnic sites near the fish pond, play area, and gallery. There is a cafe serving basic meals and coffee, but the gardens are so nice that you're better off taking a picnic if the weather is dry.

Lepe Country Park

Lepe Lighthouse
Lepe Lighthouse in the New Forest

Tucked just a few miles away from Beaulieu, Lepe Country Park is another jewel that will make your New Forest holiday so enjoyable. A vast expanse of grassed area with flat paths, plus a mile of coast (good for playing, not safe for swimming) give you the perfect day out with amazing views, lots of benches and places to spread out a picnic, and a play area.

There are two barbeque sites which you can book in advance - the large site is ideal if you are spending the day with a group of family and friends. Entry to the park is free, but the two car parks are pay and display.

New Forest Picnic

Since you're in the thick of 220 square miles of National Park - 120 square miles of it protected further as a Site of Special Scientific Interest - it makes sense to relax surrounded by nature so pack a picnic and dine alfresco at any one of these locations.

Knightwood Oak - at 400 years old the Knightwood Oak is one the oldest trees in the park, and certainly the largest with a trunk that's 7.4 metres around. The picnic site is a short walk across the road from the car park.

Whitefield Moor - you may be joined by grazing ponies on your picnic at Whitefield Moor near Brockenhurst. The flat expanse of grassland is great for playing and running around, while the Ober Water Trail is an easy, accessible route, going through woodland and along a pond. Free parking, benches, and toilets make this a good spot to spend a few hours. Park management requests that you please do not feed any four-legged locals who are curious about your picnic!

Blackwater Arboretum - eat in the shade of ancient and towering Douglas Firs at Blackwater Arboretum on the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. There are several walks with clear signage to help you make the most of your time here, and barbeque spots that can be booked in advance.

When it comes to what goes into your picnic, you don't need to settle for bland supermarket fodder. Instead, stock up on local ingredients at New Forest markets in Ringwood and New Milton (Wednesday morning), Lymington (Saturday all day, but morning is best), or Hythe (Tuesday morning).

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary

While the New Forest is well known for its ponies, it was once a royal deer hunting ground. Bolderwood keeps the tradition alive (the deer, not the hunting!) in this brilliant park. There is enough here to keep you happy for a day with waymarked woodland walks, a large picnic spot, toilets, flat grassy areas for a kick about, and a platform for watching deer which are fed daily by the keeper between April and September.

Deer at Boulderwood in the New Forest
Bolderwood Deer Sancturary

The only caveat to Bolderwood is that it can get very busy on nice summer days as it is so popular with both locals and visitors, so go early if you don't want to queue for the car park.

Milford on Sea

Milton on Sea
Milton on Sea, New Forest

Work up an appetite with a coastal walk at Milford on Sea. Follow one of several walking paths around the village and along the coast, go crabbing at Sturt Pond Bridge, sit and enjoy a cuppa while the kids play in the playground overlooking the Solent, or crunch along the shingle beach and throw pebbles in the ocean. There are several good cafes if you want an ice cream after lunch.

Tuck into Afternoon Tea

You can't beat a decent pot of tea and wedge of cake for an afternoon treat. Some of the best places for afternoon tea in the New Forest include The Cider Pantry in Burley, which has amazing homemade cakes; Rosie Lea Tea House and Bakery in Brockenhurst; and the Lyndhurst Tea House.

Weekenders' Guide

Essential Guide to the New Forest
A whirlwind tour!

We've given you plenty of amazing activities to suit any style and budget for your holiday in the New Forest, but if you only have a limited time and you want to get a real flavour of this incredible part of Britain, here is your ultimate bucket list.

Visit the village of Burley

Here you will find thatched cottages, comfortable tea rooms, ponies and cattle wandering freely and grazing on the common as they have done for hundreds of years. Burley is charming and authentic without a whiff of "ye olde Englande" some villages in other parts of the country have.

Visit to Ringwood Brewery

The tour gives a fascinating insight into one of Britain's oldest industries, but if you don't have time for a tour (or you have minors with you) the shop is good for picking up some tasty New Forest souvenirs.

See the Rufus Stone

See the Rufus Stone marking the spot where King William II was believed to have been shot with an arrow on 2 August 1100. The monument is signposted from the A31 between Stoney Cross and Cadman.

Hurst Castle

Hurst Castle in Milford-on-Sea is the highlight of a day on the coast. It's open every day between April and October and features a lighthouse, 38-tonne guns, an excellent museum with WWII exhibits, and stunning views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Experience the Forest by bike

Bring your own or hire a bike and cover some of the 100 miles of dedicated off-road cycle routes suitable for all fitness levels through the forest and around the coastline.

Last Minute Offers in The New Forest

Thinking of a break in The New Forest? Let us tempt you with a selection of our best last minute offers. Remember, we don't charge a booking fee, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Did you know?

...that the tallest tree in the New Forest is a neck-cricking 55 metres (178 feet) high! The Redwood on Rhinefield Drive was measured by a tree climber who scaled its heights and dropped a tape measure down.

…the New Forest has been used as a film set for a number of movies, dating as far back as The Famous Five in 1978, Robin Hood in 1991 and more recently Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise in 2015 and The Infiltrator in 2016 starring Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad).

…pigs are released into the Forest each year to hoover up the acorns. Pannage season runs for the duration of 60 days and the weather dictates when the season begins.

…Whilst the New Forest ponies may be 'wild' they are actually all owned by 'commoners' (local people). There are some 3000 ponies that play a vital role in keeping the Forest in check and preventing it getting over grown.

… You can get fined £200 (plus get a criminal record) for feeding the wild ponies. You may also get nipped or kicked! Many ponies get knocked down by vehicles so please do not feed them from or near your car as it only encourages the ponies to get used to vehicles.