30 unmissable things to do in the New Forest

by Jan

Whether you’re looking for woodland walks, family attractions, outdoor activities, or fun by the sea, you’ll find plenty of things to do in the New Forest.  It offers the perfect blend of coast and countryside for its visitors.  Plus, it has some of England’s top spa hotels and restaurants, which are perfect if you want to add some luxury to your break.

The New Forest really is a brilliant place to visit.   It’s perfect for couples who want a cosy weekend getaway or families who want to go for a week’s holiday.

With so much to see and do, our New Forest travel guide will help you plan a memorable trip.  You’ll discover the top activities, places to go, and family attractions in the New Forest to ensure you have a fantastic holiday.  We’ve even added some indoor activities, in case it’s raining.

We live fairly close to the New Forest and have been many times, both with and without the kids.  We have tried and tested many of these activities, and are still working on the rest!

So, come with us to discover the best places to visit and things to do in the New Forest.

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Where is the New Forest?

Before we start on the best places to visit in the New Forest, let’s just chat about where it is.

The New Forest is one of the UK’s National Parks in southern England .  It covers an area of 220 square miles in Hampshire and stretches down to the South Coast.  The New Forest is one of the largest areas of lowland heath and ancient woodland in southern England.  This makes it a fantastic destination for anyone wanting to enjoy the great outdoors.

Read on for 30 unmissable things to do in the New Forest

Spot New Forest ponies

Two light brown ponies grazing in the New Forest, Hampshire, UK

No matter how many times I visit, I never tire of spotting New Forest ponies.  They are everywhere, often just standing at the edge of the road.  Or even in the middle of the road, causing traffic chaos!

There are about 5, 000 ponies and they are undoubtedly one of the New Forest’s top attractions.  The ponies are free to roam and graze and are have shaped the landscape that we all enjoy today.

What might surprise you more are the donkeys and cows that you might spot roaming around too.

Discover the New Forest Wildlife Park

Otters, owls, bison, polecats, and wallabies are just some of the animals you’ll encounter at the New Forest Wildlife Park.

If you’re looking for things to do with kids in the New Forest, this could hit the mark.  Not only does the Wildlife Park have animals, but two fantastic adventure playgrounds.  For younger kids, there are climbing frames, diggers and sand pits, whilst older children can enjoy climbing ropes, nets, and swings.  This all makes for a fun family day out in the New Forest.

Spend a day at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu

Beaulieu Motor Museum, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

One of the top days out in the New Forest is at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.  The motor museum has over 285 vehicles, including some F1 winners, land speed record holders and on-screen favourites, including the car from Chitty Bang Bang.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a motorhead to enjoy the Motor Museum.  As well as cars, you can explore Palace House, family home to the Montagu family, Beaulieu Abbey, and the Top Gear exhibition.  There is also a monorail and interactive adventure play area for children.  It really is one of the best all-round family attractions in the New Forest.

Take a walk to Hurst Castle from Milford on Sea

Walk to Hurst Castle, Hampshire, UK

One of our favourite walks in the New Forest is along the shingle spit from Milford-on-Sea to Hurst Castle.

Hurst Castle is a Tudor fortress, built in 1544, as one of King Henry VIII’s chain of artillery defences.  Visitors can explore this fortress, now owned by English Heritage.

Afterwards, you can retrace your steps along the spit, but it’s more fun to take the little passenger ferry to Keyhaven Harbour.  You should add a visit to Hurst Castle to your list of the best things to do in the New Forest.

Go to the New Forest Heritage Centre

If you are interested in the history and traditions of the local area, head to the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst. This museum is a focal point for arts and heritage and will help you discover everything you need to know about the history of the New Forest and Lymington.

If you’re thinking of free activities to do on a rainy day near Lyndhurst, this is an ideal place to go.

Hire a bike

The Old railway trail, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

With over 140 miles of traffic-free cycle trails, a bike ride is the perfect way to explore the New Forest.  There are several way-marked routes to suit cyclists of different abilities.

If you don’t want to take your own bicycle, there are several bike rental shops in the New Forest.  We used the one in Burley, but there are other rental shops in Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Lymington.  You could even do a day trip from London.

We had a fantastic day out on our bikes and definitely rate cycling as one of the best New Forest activities.

Read more:  Family cycling in the New Forest

See Peppa Pig at Paultons Park

Paultons Park is home to Peppa Pig World and is one of the best theme parks in Hampshire for younger children.  Expect your toddlers and little kids to be blown away by the nine Peppa Pig themed rides.  I ask, does it get any better than a ride on George’s dinosaur or a train trip with Grandpa Pig?

As well as Peppa Pig World, this family amusement park has plenty for older children too.  Big kids can enjoy roller coasters, splash parks, zoo animals, and indoor play areas.  It’s undoubtedly one of the top places to go with little kids in the New Forest.

Visit Liberty's Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre

Animal lovers should add Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre to their list of things to do in the New Forest.

As the name suggests, the centre is home to a collection of owls, reptiles and birds of prey.  They offer daily flying displays so that visitors can see the birds in action.  After visiting the animals, small children can head to the play area, where they have a sandpit, fort, and balance trails.

Go Crabbing at Keyhaven

crabbing at keyhaven bridge, Hampshire, UK

Just outside Milford-on-Sea is a “crabbing bridge”, which is perfect for catching crabs.  Just take a bucket and line and you can hang off the little bridge until a crab bites.

The kids thought this was one of the must fun activities in the New Forest.  Alternatively, you can head along the coast to Mudeford, which is one of the top spots on the south coast for catching crabs.

Have a day out at Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway

One of the prettiest places to visit in New Forest is Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway.  In spring, the gardens are bursting with colour from the stunning collection of rhododendrons and azaleas

With over 200 acres of woodland gardens, there’s plenty for kids to explore.  Plus, there’s an adventure playground.  Afterwards,  you can take a ride through the grounds on the 12-guage steam train.  Then, stop for lunch at Mr Eddy’s or head to the Old Tennis Courts Café for an ice-cream.

Step back in time at Buckler's Hard

Bucklers Hard, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

One of the most unique attractions in the New Forest is Buckler’s Hard, near Beaulieu.

Buckler’s Hard was once a thriving shipbuilding village, where they built ships for Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar.  Nowadays, visitors to the historic village can go inside the reconstructed cottages to see how the families lived in the 18th century.  In summer, you can also take a river cruise down the Beaulieu River.

Admission to Buckler’s Hard is free, but there is a charge for the boat ride.

Walk the Solent Way

Bucklers Hard Boats, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

The New Forest is a hotspot for hikers, but it’s not all about woodland walks.  The Solent Way is a long-distance coastal trail, that starts at Milford-on-Sea and stretches to Emsworth Harbour, passing through the New Forest on the way.

The walk is 60 miles long and will take you to some of the New Forest’s top attractions, such as Hurst Castle, Buckler’s Hard, Beaulieu and Lymington.

Climb a wall at Calshot Activities Centre

One of the best things to do on a rainy day in the New Forest is head to the Calshot Activity Centre, where they offer a variety of indoor adventure activities.  You can have a go at climbing, archery, air rifle shooting, and abseiling.  The activities centre also houses the only banked velodrome in the south of England.

If you want to get out on the water, they offer other water activities, including sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing.

Follow the Tall Trees Trail

Tall Trees New Forest. Hampshire, UK

There are so many fabulous walks in the New Forest.

If you’re looking for an easy circular walk, try the Tall Trees Trail, just off the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive.  It’s not a long walk, but does include some of the oldest trees in the UK.   Look out for the impressive collection of Douglas fir trees and the mighty Redwoods – they are gigantic!

The Tall Trees Trail is about 1.5 km and starts at the Blackwater Car Park.

Read more:  8 family-friendly walks in the New Forest

Spot pigs in the pannage season

If you visit the New Forest in autumn, it’s not just ponies and donkeys you’ll see roaming around the trees.  This is a special time of year when the pannage season takes place and the forest is full of pigs!

During the pannage season, hundreds of pigs are released to eat the acorns, nuts and chestnuts from the woodland floor.  This tradition, which dates back to medieval times, ensures that the pigs eat the fruit and nuts that are poisonous to other New Forest animals.

If you can get down to the New Forest in autumn, it’s an event not to be missed.

Pamper yourself in a spa hotel

There are lots of luxury spa hotels in the New Forest and they all look amazing.  Unfortunately, I haven’t stayed in any of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a wish list!

Top of the list is Chewton Glen Hotel, a luxury country house set in 130 acres of countryside.  Another of New Forest spa hotels that looks fabulous is Careys Manor Hotel, an 18th century Manor House with an award-winning Thai spa.  Of course, there are many more, but that’s enough dreaming for today.

Make a splash at the New Forest Water Park

On a hot day, one of the best places to visit in the New Forest with kids is the Aquapark.  In fact, you get a choice of two, .

The New Forest Water Park has two inflatable aqua parks, Poseidon and Neptune, and they look so much fun.  Clamber your way across walls, swings, trampolines, flippers, hurdles, and monkey bars.  It sounds exhausting just writing about it!

Other fun activities in the New Forest Water Park include kayaking, supping and wakeboarding.

Indulge in some fine dining

The Elderflower, Lymington, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

The New Forest is a magnet for food lovers who want to enjoy gourmet food in an exquisite setting.   It is well known as a top destination for fancy restaurants in Hampshire.

One of the best restaurants for fine dining in the New Forest is the Terrace at the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu.  Here they offer diners a modern British menu with ingredients from the local area.  Another top choice is the Limewood, where guests can choose from a menu of Italian dishes created by chef Angela Hartnett.

For fish-lovers, Verveine in Milford on Sea, is an award-winning fish restaurant and always a good option.

However, for an amazing taste sensation, we would recommend the Elderflower in Lymington, who serve a myriad of surprise dishes in their signature tasting menu.

Visit St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

Located in the heart of Lymington, St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery is home to some of the best art exhibits in the New Forest.

Inside the museum, the collections represent the cultural heritage of the New Forest.  The displays give visitors an insight into local history and art.  The art gallery aims to produce a programme of cultural events, which appeal to all ages.

Have a paddle at Ober Water

Ober Water Whitefield Moor, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

There’s a shallow stream at Ober Water, that’s just perfect for a little paddle on a hot day.  There are several woodland walks here too and a good chance you’ll spot ponies.

Another of the best streams for paddling in the New Forest is at Mill Lawn Brook.

Check out the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum

If you’re interested in motorbikes, get yourself across to the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum, in New Milton.  What started as the private collection of motorcycling legend, Sammy Miller, is now a museum with about 500 rare and exotic bikes from all over the world.

As well as motorcycles, expect to see donkeys, alpacas, and other farm animals roaming around.  There are also two aviaries.  If you’re thinking of things to do in the New Forest in the rain, this is a great choice.

Go kayaking on the River Beaulieu

If you are looking for fun water activities in the New Forest, what about kayaking or canoeing on the River Beaulieu?  You can hire canoes or sit on-top kayaks from New Forest Activities and choose from a taster session or join a 2-hour guided tour.

Alternatively, if you don’t fancy the water, they offer a variety of land activities, including archery and bushcraft sessions.

Spot deer at Bolderwood

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, New Forest, Hampshire, UK

One of the best places to see deer in the New Forest is at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, in Bolderwood.  Here you’ll find a purpose-built viewing gallery overlooking the meadow.  New Forest rangers feed the deer between 12.30 and 2.30 between April and September, so you are most likely to see them then.  However, they do visit at other times.

There are several family-friendly woodland trails in Bolderwood or you could play games on the large green by the car park.

Eat out at the Pig Hotel

Grand Entrance to The Pig Hotel, Brockenhurst, Hampshire

Another place for fantastic food in the New Forest is at the Pig Hotel near Brockenhurst.  This is the original of the Pig chain and offers tasty British dishes with home grown produce.

In summer guests can also enjoy more casual dining on the terrace at the Pig, with pizzas from the outside wood-fired oven.  This is a good option if you are with kids, or don’t have the budget for the main restaurant.

Feed the animals at Longdown Activity Farm

For families with younger children, one of the New Forest’s most popular attractions is Longdown Activity Farm, near Ashurst.  This fun farm offers a full programme of interactive activities for kids, including feeding and stroking the animals and tractor rides.

Outside at Longdown Farm, children can enjoy the all-inclusive play area, trampolines, go-carts, diggers and a zip wire.  There’s also a crazy golf course for all the family.

Have a day out at Lymington

Children sitting on wall looking into sea, with boats in background.

High on your list of things to do in the New Forest should be a day out at Lymington.  This upscale seaside resort will charm you with its cobbled High Street, boutique shops, and vibrant port.

Kids can enjoy crabbing in the harbour or you could join a chartered fishing trips.  You’ll also see some fun pirate boats.  On a sunny day, you can enjoy lunch at the Ship Inn, overlooking the water or wander along the quay to the outdoor swimming pool.

Enjoy a round of golf or crazy golf!

If you want to play golf whilst you’re away, you’re in luck, as there are about 10 golf courses in the New Forest.  You might even see ponies whilst teeing off at the New Forest Golf Club near Lyndhurst.

If you’re not a golf pro, how about a game of crazy golf?  Designed to mirror the local area, the New Forest Adventure Golf near Lymington has models of lots of the favourite New Forest attractions.

It looks like a fun family activity for all ages.  Plus, there’s no need to book, just turn up and play.

Have lunch in a New Forest pub

Although the fine dining restaurants look amazing, there’s nothing better than a lunch in one of the traditional New Forest pubs.  Or you could stop for a pint after a hard day’s walking.

There are some brilliant pubs in the New Forest, many with gardens, so you can enjoy the views.

Ride a horse

One of the more unique ways to discover the New Forest is on horse back.  There are several reputable equestrian centres around the New Forest who offer a range of riding experiences for all abilities.

At Burley Villa Riding School, children can enrol on a 30 minute pony walk or a grooming experience.  They also offer longer rides through the forest for older, more experienced riders.

Learn to kitesurf at Calshot Beach

man in sea kite surfing

If you’re feeling adventurous, how about learning to Kitesurf or Wingfoil at Calshot spit?  Nomadic Kitesurf offers calm, friendly tuition sessions, which are tailored to your ability.   Start on the pebble beach and then progress to the sea as you make progress.  You could also enrol for paddle board sessions.

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