If you are looking for things to do in the New Forest, you won’t be disappointed – there are museums, farms, award winning gardens, historic houses, shopping, horse riding, wildlife parks, cycling, beaches and of course just enjoying the wild nature and freedom of the area.
The New Forest officially became a National Park in 2005. The unspoiled ancient woodland and wide open heath land is dotted with beautiful, picturesque towns and villages, stretching across south-west Hampshire, south-east Wiltshire and towards East Dorset.
If you head away from the towns, villages and car parks, you can easily find yourself in the peace and tranquillity of the forest, blow away the cobwebs and appreciate the rewards of nature away from modern day living. Due to the vastness of the area you can easily find spots that allow you to imagine you are the only one there.
1. Ponies and Donkeys
Ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs roam freely throughout the forest, adding to the wild and natural feel of the park. The ponies are greater in number so you are more likely to spot one of these.
Although they are friendly (being used to visitors), I would recommend admiring them from a short distance away, not only for safety reasons, but also to not frighten them. Please do not be tempted to feed them, it is forbidden and can incur a fine.
If you are catching the train from London Waterloo, you will arrive in Brockenhurst. It is one of the largest villages in the New Forest where ponies and donkeys can be seen in the high street. Brockenhurst is a delightful village with restaurants, cafes and high quality shops.
The open forest and woodland walks can be easily accessed from Brockenhurst, making it the perfect starting point for your day in the New Forest. Why not hire a bike and explore the surrounding area on wheels?
The town of Lyndhurst is another main hub of the New Forest, and is the ‘capital’ of the forest. It is a sizeable town with lots of tea rooms, fine restaurants, pubs and shops. It is also home to the visitor centre with helpful staff on hand to advise you on all matters relating to the forest.
Within Lyndhurst, visit the church of St Michael and All Angels where the grave of former Lyndhurst resident Alice Liddell can be seen (the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland).
Learn about the history and heritage of the forest with a visit to the New Forest Museum.
The charming waterside market town of Lymington is a beautiful town to explore. A well-known yachting town with a marina and cobbled quay. There is a wide choice of dining options and a great selection of high quality and unique shops.
The pretty Georgian High Street puts on a traditional street market each Saturday, first established in 1250. Market stalls sell food produce, antiques, craft items, plants, bric-a-brac and other general market items.
If you fancy getting on the water, take a boat trip around the Solent from Lymington Marina. Puffin Cruises offer half hour river cruises, a 1 hour picnic cruise, a 1.5 hour 3 Forts cruise (taking in Henry VII’s Hurst Castle, Fort Albert and Fort Victoria), or a Needles Rocks and Lighthouse cruise.
Lymington is also home to St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, a family friendly museum with lots of interactive opportunities for children.
Not far from Lymington is the small village of Sway, on the edge of the New Forest. Although small, Sway is a bustling village with a railway station, places to eat and an award winning butchers. Sway is also well known for its 220ft 17th century tower, now a listed building.
Burley is a unique village that time forgot. Burley is another place where ponies and cattle can be found around the streets of the village. Thatched cottages, gift shops, tea rooms and nearby heath land for walking or cycling, make Burley the perfect place for relaxing and enjoying the old world charm of the village.
Burley is known for witchcraft, smuggling and dragons, adding to the village’s unique allure. In the 1950’s a famous ‘white’ witch called Sybil Leek once lived in Burley, walking around the village in a long black cloak and her pet jackdaw on her shoulder. Many Burley gift shops sell cauldrons, broomsticks and other witchcraft items! Head for the famous ‘A Coven of Witches,’ named by the famous witch, and stocking a variety of gift ware.
Burley has its very own cider farm. Head for the post office and look for the cider barrel, follow the directions from here to New Forest Cider. Enjoy sampling some of the traditionally brewed cider with English apples from their own orchard, together with Cider fruit from Herefordshire and Somerset.
The picture postcard perfect village of Beaulieu dates back to the 13th century and is a great location for visitors to explore. With a range of shops including arts, crafts, chocolate, village stores and gift shops.
The world famous Beaulieu National Motor Museum was founded by the current Lord Montagu of Bealieu. The museum has many iconic cars from all over the world. Your entry ticket includes the following;
National Motor Museum
With over 250 motor vehicles, showcasing the first motor carriages in Britain up to the present day. Also on display are F1 racers and famous cars from TV and film, including Harry Potter, James Bond, Mr. Bean, Only Fools and Horses, Wallace and Gromit and Heartbeat. Your entry ticket also includes the following highlights;
Palace House – a Victorian gothic styled country home.
Beaulieu Abbey – Visit the conserved ruins of what was once a large medieval abbey.
Secret Army Exhibition – Learn about the Secret Operations Executive agents from World War II.
Gardens – Explore the glorious grounds and immaculate lawns of the Palace House.
Monorail and Veteran Bus – Ride the monorail around the grounds or take a ride on the replica 1912 veteran open top bus.
The charming and traditional village of Milford-on-Sea has some fantastic cliff top walks and a long shingle beach. The village has numerous eateries, including pubs, restaurants and cafes, alongside the usual high street shops.
Head to Sturt Pond for a spot of crabbing from the bridge, or spot the villages very own Forest Ponies grazing by the pond.
Nearby is Hurst Castle, built by King Henry VIII as a coastal fortress. Catch a ferry from Keyhaven Harbour, or walk along the 1.5 mile shingle spit from Milford-on-Sea. Hurst Castle is open from April until September. Please visit the English Heritage site for opening times and latest prices.
9. Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway
Exbury Gardens is home to 200 acres of beautifully captivating gardens. The steam train can take you on a 1 and a quarter mile loop through the gardens, allowing you to sit back and relax and enjoy the stunning scenery going past.
The gardens are a brilliant mix of formal and natural and depending on the time of year, you will be treated to a colourful display of rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and azaleas among other beautiful flowers.
There are 3 wood and parkland areas that kids will love to explore. Keep an eye out for a range of birds, pheasant, squirrels, dragonflies and butterflies in the summer. Children will have fun looking for plants that existed before and during the time of the dinosaurs! There is also an adventure playground area.
10. Lepe Country Park
Lepe Country Park is the perfect place to enjoy the coast with over a mile of beach and incredible views over the Solent. Historic D-Day remains can be seen along the beach, where thousands of troops left Britain for the Normandy beaches.
Families will love Lepe Country Park with an adventure playground, waterfront walks, birdwatching and picnic spots.
Getting Around the New Forest
There are a variety of ways to get around The New Forest with ease.
Hire a bike and explore the area on wheels. With over 100 miles of cycle routes within the forest, much of it off road and traffic free, it provides a brilliant way for everyone, including children, to get around. If you arrive by train, you can hire a bike at the station from Cyclexperience.
The New Forest Tour offers an open top bus experience, it’s a fantastic way to explore the forest, taking you through historic villages, open countryside and the stunning coastline. Tours run daily from late June to mid-September. There is a choice of 3 routes. You can switch between routes and hop on and off along the way. You can use your ticket for discounts in local restaurants, pubs and attractions.
Red Route – Lyndhurst, Burley, Ringwood, Fordingbridge, Sandy Balls, Ashurst, New Forest Wildlife Park, Lyndhurst. This route takes in northern part of the New Forest.
Green Route – Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Lymington, Beaulieu, Exbury Gardens, Hythe Ferry, Lyndhurst
This route takes in the south east of the New Forest.
Blue Route – Lymington, Brockenhurst, Burley, New Milton, Barton-On-Sea, Milford-On-Sea, Keyhaven, Lymington
This route takes in the south west of the New Forest, the coast and the beach.
Local buses run year round. Bluestar has 3 bus routes, the number 6 being the best option, linking Lymington, Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Ashurst. More Wilts & Dorset is another local bus company with services linking Lymington, Everton and New Milton with Bournemouth.
You can drive around the forest to reach various towns, villages and walking spots. Car parks are found throughout. If you are driving within the forest please remember to drive slowly and be very aware of the free roaming animals. Towns and villages can get congested, especially during summer months.
In the Area
If you are lucky enough to be in the New Forest for more than 1 day, you can hopefully make some time to experience some of the surrounding areas. The beautiful sandy beaches of Bournemouth and Poole not far away, as is the very picturesque quayside town of Christchurch to the south of the New Forest.
Can You Visit The New Forest As A Day Trip From London?
A day trip to the New Forest from London will offer you a taster of what a longer trip could offer. Although perfectly accessible from London for the day, the sheer size and number of experiences available would require a stay of at least a few days, more likely a week, to fully appreciate.
But that’s not to say you can’t have a very special day out. Arrive early (the first train from London arrives in Brockenhurst at 7.17am) and use this guide to plan out what you want to see to make the most of your day.
If you can spend longer in the this beautiful area, you will find plenty of things to do in the New Forest to keep you busy.
Getting There From London
Car – Lyndhurst in The New Forest is approximately 90 miles from central London, so, depending on traffic, about 2 hours.
Train – Direct trains go from London Waterloo to Brockenhurst in The New Forest. They take 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Lyndhurst Visitor Information Centre, Main Car Park, Lyndhurst SO43 7NY
A Quick History of the New Forest
The New Forest, despite its name, has a long and unique history, existing as a woodland since the end of the last Ice Age. The New Forest was created as a royal forest and hunting ground in 1079 by William the Conqueror. The fascinating history of the New Forest continued through Tudor times, the period when Henry VIII broke with Rome to establish the Church of England. A full insight to the fascinating history of The New Forest can be found here.