12 Best Things to Do in the New Forest: Top Attractions to Visit

by Jem
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When most travelers think of England, they picture the bustling streets of London, the historic allure of Stonehenge, or the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. But there’s a hidden treasure awaiting those who venture south: the New Forest. A verdant expanse of woodlands, heathlands, and old-world villages, the New Forest feels worlds away from the typical tourist trail. Established nearly a millennium ago by William the Conqueror, this National Park isn’t just a testament to England’s rich history; it’s a living, breathing ecosystem where ponies roam freely and ancient trees stand tall.

Beyond its natural beauty, the New Forest is a hub of activity. From cycling routes that wind through picturesque landscapes to traditional pubs that offer a taste of local life, there’s no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in this unique region. And with a rich tapestry of cultural events, artisan markets, and historical sites, every visit promises new discoveries.

Dive into this guide, and discover why the New Forest, with its blend of history and nature, should be at the top of your UK travel bucket list. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do in New Forest.

The nicest places to visit in New Forest right now
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Best Places to Visit in New Forest

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in New Forest? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this charming vacation spot in England. So keep reading to discover all these unique New Forest places to visit.

Are you looking to go hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and birdwatching in pristine natural surroundings? Or would you prefer to explore museums, visit charming villages, and savor delicious local cuisine? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in New Forest can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in New Forest that you should know about.

1. Lyndhurst

Lyndhurst, often referred to as the “Capital of the New Forest,” is a charming village that serves as a perfect starting point for any New Forest adventure. With its bustling high street, the area is filled with quaint shops and cafes. Additionally, the renowned New Forest Museum makes it a hub of activity and information.

Among the best things to do in New Forest, taking a leisurely stroll through Lyndhurst is a must. The village offers insights into the region’s history and culture. The New Forest Museum, located here, provides visitors with a comprehensive overview of the forest’s past, its traditions, and its unique ecology. If you’re a fan of architecture, don’t miss the neo-gothic St. Michael and All Angels Church. This spire is visible from various points in the village.

For those looking to refuel, Lyndhurst has a plethora of eateries offering everything from traditional English fare to international cuisines. And if exploration is your thing, the village has something for you. It is well-connected to various walking and cycling trails that delve deeper into the forest’s beauty.

A great place to begin any journey in the New Forest.
A great place to begin any journey in the New Forest.

2. New Forest’s Safari

One of the most immersive ways to experience the New Forest is by embarking on a safari. Yes, you read that right! While you won’t spot lions or elephants, the New Forest’s Safari offers a chance to see native wildlife in their natural habitat.

The forest is home to five species of deer, including the elusive fallow deer and the majestic red deer. Guided tours, often led by local experts, take you through off-beat tracks, increasing your chances of spotting these creatures. But deer aren’t the only stars here. The New Forest is also home to ponies, cattle, and a variety of bird species.

Beyond the wildlife, these safaris offer insights into the forest’s unique ecology and history. You’ll learn about the ancient traditions of commoning, where local residents have rights to graze their animals on the open forest.

For those keen on photography, the safari provides ample opportunities to capture the essence of the New Forest. From serene landscapes to candid animal shots, there’s always a picture-perfect moment waiting around the bend.

The safari in the New Forest provides an opportunity to view local animals in their natural setting.
The safari in the New Forest provides an opportunity to view local animals in their natural setting.

3. Beaulieu

When you think of the New Forest, the quaint village of Beaulieu might not be the first thing that pops into your head. But, trust me, it should be on your radar. Beaulieu Palace House isn’t just some old building; it’s a trip back to the 13th century. The Montagu family’s ancestral home gives you a real feel for medieval life, minus the whole “no electricity” thing.

Right next door, you’ve got the Beaulieu Abbey. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and it’s got that old-world charm that’s hard to find these days. The monks might have left a long time ago, but their spirit lingers.

But here’s the kicker: the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Even if cars aren’t your thing, this place is impressive. We’re talking about a collection of over 250 cars, tracing the UK’s motoring history. And yes, they’ve got that World of Top Gear exhibit that everyone raves about.

So, if you’re in the New Forest and looking for a mix of history, nature, and some good old-fashioned car geekery, Beaulieu’s got you covered.

Beaulieu Palace House is more than just a historic structure.
Beaulieu Palace House is more than just a historic structure.

4. Buckler’s Hard

Buckler’s Hard is a historic village in the New Forest that’s all about shipbuilding. Located on the Beaulieu River, it’s a spot where you can really get a sense of the 18th-century shipbuilding hustle. The village was a hub for constructing ships for the Royal Navy, and the Georgian cottages give you a feel for the era.

If you’re into history, the Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum is your go-to. It’s packed with information about the village’s shipbuilding past, with exhibits that detail the construction of naval ships. You’ll get insights into the ships that were built here and their roles in significant naval battles.

For those interested in architecture, the village church is a must-visit. Its quaint design and historical significance make it a charming stop on your tour.

For a different perspective, consider taking a river cruise. It’s a straightforward way to see the Beaulieu River and the surrounding nature. And if you’re feeling peckish after all that history, the local pubs are a good shout. They’re the perfect spots to grab some food and have a drink. Take a moment to think about the shipbuilders who once called this place home.

Shipbuilding is the main industry in the medieval New Forest community of Buckler's Hard.
Shipbuilding is the main industry in the medieval New Forest community of Buckler’s Hard.

5. Hurst Castle

One of the unique things to do in New Forest is visiting Hurst Castle. This coastal fortress, located at a strategic point on a narrow spit of land, offers a mix of history and stunning sea views. Built by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the structure has a rich history. It was later expanded during the Victorian era, showcasing a blend of ancient and more modern military architecture.

The castle played a role in various historical periods, from the Tudors to World War II. Inside, you’ll find exhibitions detailing its storied past. As you wander through the rooms, you can imagine the soldiers’ presence. They once patrolled its walls, always vigilant for potential threats.

Getting to the castle is an adventure in itself. You can take a pleasant ferry ride or, if you’re up for it, enjoy a two-mile walk along Hurst Spit. The journey offers panoramic views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Once you’ve explored the castle, the nearby beach is a great spot to relax and perhaps enjoy a picnic.

Hurst Castle is one of the New Forest's most unusual places to visit.
Hurst Castle is one of the New Forest’s most unusual places to visit.

6. Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst is the kind of place you’d stumble upon and wonder why it’s not all over Instagram. Located smack in the middle of the New Forest, it’s less about the flashy tourist spots and more about genuine experiences. Think local shops with crafts that you’d actually want to buy, not just look at. Hungry? Grab a bite at one of the traditional bakeries – no frills, just good food.

While you’re there, make a pit stop at the New Forest Cider shop. It’s not just about tasting; it’s about understanding the craft behind every bottle. And if you’re the kind who needs to stretch their legs, Brockenhurst won’t disappoint. There are walking and cycling trails aplenty. Sure, you might get a bit muddy, but that’s part of the fun. Oh, and keep an eye out for the New Forest ponies. They’re not shy.

If you’re traveling with family, the village offers a range of activities to keep the young ones entertained. From horse riding lessons to interactive wildlife encounters, there’s something for every curious mind. For golf enthusiasts, there’s something special in Brockenhurst. The Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club provides a challenging course, set against the backdrop of the stunning New Forest landscape.

Visiting in summer? There are natural swimming spots around the village. It’s cold, clear, and exactly what you need after a day of exploring.

It's more important to value real experiences than glitzy tourist destinations.
It’s more important to value real experiences than glitzy tourist destinations.

7. Fordingbridge

Fordingbridge might not be the first name that pops up when you think of the New Forest, but it’s a hidden gem that deserves a spot on your itinerary. Situated on the banks of the River Avon, this charming town offers a mix of history, nature, and local culture.

Start with a visit to the Fordingbridge Museum. It’s small but packed with information about the town’s history and the New Forest. You’ll get a sense of how the community has evolved over the centuries. For those looking to relax, the town’s riverside park is a must-visit. It’s a perfect spot for picnics, with ducks gliding across the water and children playing around.

If you’re into art, the Augustus John statue is worth a look. He was one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century and called Fordingbridge home. And if you’re wondering about other New Forest things to do, consider taking a scenic walk along the Avon Valley Path, which passes right through Fordingbridge. It offers picturesque views and a chance to immerse yourself in the serene New Forest landscape.

One undiscovered treasure that ought to be on your itinerary is Fordingbridge.
One undiscovered treasure that ought to be on your itinerary is Fordingbridge.

8. Ringwood Brewery

When you think of the New Forest, vast green landscapes and wild ponies might come to mind. But there’s another side to this region that’s equally compelling – its local brews. And there’s no better place to dive into this world than at Ringwood Brewery.

Located in the market town of Ringwood, this brewery has been crafting beers since the late 1970s. It’s not just about the beer here; it’s about the story, the process, and the passion. Take a guided tour and you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how their popular ales are made. From the mashing of the barley to the fermentation tanks, it’s a journey through the art of brewing.

Of course, the highlight for many is the tasting session. With a range of ales, from the deep and rich to the light and hoppy, there’s something for every palate. Don’t forget to stop by the brewery shop before you leave. It’s stocked with bottled beers, merchandise, and unique gifts. Ringwood Brewery is a testament to the New Forest’s diverse offerings, proving that there’s more to this region than just scenic beauty.

The Ringwood Brewery is the best place to start exploring this cosmos.
The Ringwood Brewery is the best place to start exploring this cosmos.

9. Lymington

Lymington, a historic port town on the southern edge of the New Forest, offers a blend of coastal charm and forested beauty. With its cobbled streets, Georgian architecture, and bustling marina, it’s a spot that effortlessly draws visitors in.

Start your visit at the Lymington Quay. Here, you can watch boats come and go, or even consider a ferry ride to the Isle of Wight for a quick day trip. The Saturday market is a must-visit, with stalls selling everything from fresh produce to artisan crafts. It’s been a town tradition for centuries and is a great way to mingle with locals.

For those keen on the outdoors, the nearby Lymington salt marshes offer fantastic walking trails. You’ll get panoramic views of the Solent and might even spot some local wildlife. If you’re into sailing, Lymington is a hub for the sport, with events and regattas happening throughout the year.

Whether you’re here for the maritime history, the shopping, or simply the natural beauty, Lymington has something to offer. It provides a refreshing coastal escape in the heart of the New Forest.

Lymington offers a unique combination of woodland splendor and coastal charm.
Lymington offers a unique combination of woodland splendor and coastal charm.

10. Burley

One of the best things to do in New Forest is to explore the enchanting village of Burley. Nestled deep within the forest, Burley has a rich history intertwined with tales of witchcraft and smuggling. It’s a place where folklore comes alive, and every corner has a story to tell.

Start your journey at the Burley Wagon Rides. Here, you can take a traditional horse-drawn wagon tour around the village and its picturesque surroundings. It’s a unique way to see the area and learn about its past. As you wander through the village, you’ll come across several shops. These shops sell witchcraft-related items, a tribute to Burley’s association with the famous White Witch, Sybil Leek.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Burley Fudge Shop is a must-visit. They craft some of the most delicious fudge you’ll ever taste, using traditional recipes. And if you have an interest in the village’s smuggling history, the local pubs are a great place to start. Establishments like The Burley Inn offer a cozy setting to enjoy a pint and listen to tales of smugglers from days gone by.

In Burley, history, mystery, and natural beauty come together, making it a captivating stop in the New Forest.

Discover Burley, a charming village.
Discover Burley, a charming village.

11. New Forest Wildlife Park

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, the New Forest Wildlife Park is a must-visit. Situated in a serene woodland setting, this park offers a chance to see native and exotic animals in spacious, natural enclosures. It’s not your typical zoo; here, the emphasis is on conservation and education.

The park is home to a variety of animals, from the playful otters and majestic European bison to the elusive lynx. One of the highlights is the deer encounter, where you can get up close with some of the park’s friendliest residents. For those interested in Britain’s native species, the park offers a special treat. It has a dedicated area showcasing animals like the wildcat, pine marten, and polecat.

Kids will be drawn to the adventure playgrounds. These are designed to mimic the natural environment, letting them climb, swing, and explore in a manner reminiscent of the park’s animals. Throughout the day, the park has scheduled events. They host informative talks and feeding sessions, providing visitors with insights into the lives and habits of the animals.

A visit to the New Forest Wildlife Park is not only entertaining but also educational, making it a perfect day out for families and nature lovers alike.

Views of both local and exotic animals are available at this park.
Views of both local and exotic animals are available at this park.

12. Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway

When you’re in New Forest, Exbury Gardens should be on your list. Spanning 200 acres, it’s not your typical garden. Think of it as a massive outdoor museum of plants. The collection here is impressive, with rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias stealing the show. Spring is the prime time, but honestly, there’s always something catching your eye year-round.

The Centenary Garden, a recent addition, celebrates the 100-year legacy of Exbury Gardens. It’s a modern space that beautifully complements the historic aspects of the gardens, showcasing innovative planting designs and water features.

Now, about the Exbury Steam Railway. It’s a 20-minute ride that loops around the gardens. You’re not just sitting and watching; the train drivers drop fun facts about the place and its connection to the Rothschild family. It’s a bit of history and sightseeing rolled into one.

Got kids? There’s a play area to burn off that extra energy. And if you’re hungry after all the exploring, grab a bite at the café. It’s casual, just like everything in New Forest. Lastly, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop. It’s stocked with a range of gardening books, unique plants, and souvenirs. This makes it the perfect place to pick up a memento of your visit or a gift for a loved one.

Imagine it as a huge botanical museum that is outdoors.
Imagine it as a huge botanical museum that is outdoors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in New Forest

Looking for more content on the top things to do in New Forest? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to New Forest:

What’s the best time to visit New Forest?

The ideal time to explore New Forest is during spring and early summer. This period showcases vibrant foliage and active wildlife. The weather is also pleasantly mild, making outdoor activities enjoyable. However, if you’re aiming for a quieter experience, the shoulder months offer fewer crowds, giving a more serene atmosphere, though the weather might be a tad unpredictable.

Is New Forest family-friendly?

Absolutely! New Forest is a haven for families. The vast landscapes offer open spaces for kids to run around, and the wildlife parks provide educational encounters with animals. Attractions like steam railways add an interactive element to the trip. The region boasts various walking and cycling trails, ensuring that family members of all ages have something to engage with.

How do I get around New Forest?

Driving is the most straightforward way to navigate New Forest, offering flexibility in your itinerary. However, if you’re not keen on driving, the area is well-serviced by public transport. Buses and trains run frequently, connecting major points. For those looking for a more active mode of transport, bike rentals are available, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty.

How do you spend a day in the New Forest?

Spending a day in the New Forest can be a delightful experience. Here’s a suggested itinerary to make the most of your day:

Morning

  1. Breakfast in a Local Café: Start your day with a hearty breakfast in one of the charming cafes in one of the New Forest villages like Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, or Burley.
  2. Visit the New Forest Wildlife Park: A great spot for families, this park offers a chance to see native animals like otters, deer, and owls, as well as some non-native species.
  3. Explore the Villages: Spend some time wandering through one of the picturesque villages.

Midday

  1. Picnic Lunch: Pack a picnic and enjoy it in one of the many scenic spots. The New Forest is full of open spaces perfect for a relaxing lunch amidst nature.
  2. Go for a Walk or a Bike Ride: Post-lunch, embark on one of the many walking or cycling trails. The New Forest has over 140 miles of tracks and footpaths. Popular routes include the Tall Trees Trail or the Deer Sanctuary walk.

Afternoon

  1. Visit a Historic Site: Consider visiting Beaulieu, home to the National Motor Museum, the 13th-century Beaulieu Abbey, and Palace House.
  2. Afternoon Tea: In the late afternoon, stop at a local tea room for traditional English afternoon tea. Many places offer a selection of teas, scones, sandwiches, and cakes.

Evening

  1. Dinner in a Local Pub: End your day with dinner at one of the New Forest’s traditional pubs. Many offer locally sourced food and a cozy atmosphere.
  2. Stargazing: If the weather permits and you’re staying late, the New Forest is a wonderful place for stargazing due to its low light pollution.
Above and beyond its scenic splendor, the New Forest is a center of activity.
Above and beyond its scenic splendor, the New Forest is a center of activity.

Are there any local delicacies I should try in the New Forest?

Certainly! New Forest takes pride in its culinary offerings. The region is renowned for its local ciders and ales, providing a refreshing taste of the countryside. Traditional cream teas are a must-try, offering a blend of local flavors. And for those keen on trying local meats, the New Forest venison is a delicacy that stands out in the culinary scene.

Is it expensive to visit New Forest?

Tourist destinations can sometimes be pricey, and New Forest is no exception. However, with careful planning, you can find accommodations and activities that won’t break the bank. Remember, some of the most memorable experiences, like wandering through dense woods or enjoying a riverside picnic, come without a price tag. It’s all about balancing paid attractions with the abundant free natural wonders.

What is the New Forest famous for?

The New Forest, a treasured national park in England, is renowned for its vast, unspoiled woodlands, heathlands, and wetlands. It’s a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife, including the iconic New Forest ponies that freely roam the area. Established by William the Conqueror in 1079 as a royal hunting ground, its rich history and cultural heritage are evident in the charming villages and ancient landmarks scattered throughout.

Is the New Forest worth a visit?

Absolutely! New Forest offers a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and adventure. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or just someone looking to escape the urban hustle, New Forest provides a refreshing retreat. With its picturesque landscapes, abundant wildlife, and myriad of activities ranging from hiking to exploring historic sites, it promises a fulfilling experience for visitors of all ages and interests.

Why should I visit the New Forest?

Visiting the New Forest offers a unique and enriching experience for several reasons:

Natural Beauty and Wildlife

  1. Diverse Landscapes: The New Forest is a mosaic of ancient woodlands, heathlands, and grassy plains, offering breathtaking scenery and tranquil natural beauty.
  2. Wild Ponies: The area is famous for its free-roaming ponies, a charming and iconic sight that adds to the region’s allure.
  3. Rich Biodiversity: Home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, rare birds, and other native species, it’s a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife watchers.

Outdoor Activities

  1. Walking and Hiking: With miles of footpaths and trails, it’s a paradise for walkers and hikers of all levels, offering everything from leisurely strolls to more challenging hikes.
  2. Cycling: The New Forest has an extensive network of cycle paths, making it ideal for exploring on two wheels.
  3. Horse Riding: Experience the forest on horseback, a unique way to connect with the landscape.

Cultural and Historical Attractions

  1. Historic Villages: Explore quaint villages like Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, and Burley, each with its own charm, history, and traditional English pubs and tea rooms.
  2. Heritage Sites: Discover historical sites like the Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House, and the National Motor Museum.

Relaxation and Leisure

  1. Tranquility: The New Forest is a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life, offering peace and tranquility.
  2. Local Cuisine: Enjoy local produce and traditional English fare in various restaurants, cafes, and pubs scattered throughout the area.

Family-Friendly

  1. Activities for All Ages: From wildlife parks to outdoor adventures, there’s something for every family member to enjoy.

Accessibility

  1. Proximity to Major Cities: Located close to Southampton and Bournemouth, and just a train ride away from London, the New Forest is easily accessible for a day trip or a longer stay.

Concluding Thoughts on Exploring New Forest

Exploring the New Forest is a journey into England’s natural and historical treasures. This vast national park offers more than just scenic views; it’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and a haven for history buffs.

Whether you’re trekking through its dense woodlands, spotting free-roaming ponies, or diving into the stories of its ancient villages, there’s no shortage of adventures. The New Forest isn’t just a destination; it’s an experience that stays with you. So, pack your bags, lace up those hiking boots, fly to England, and get ready to discover one of the UK’s most captivating regions.

The top things to do in the New Forest for all types of travelers
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