Things to do in New Forest

Explore delightful villages and seaside towns, admire wild ponies and vintage motor cars and enjoy the thrill of the great outdoors in the beautiful surroundings of the New Forest

New Forest National Park

With nearly 219 sq miles of pasture, heathland and forest, and 40 miles of wonderful coastline, the New Forest is a fantastic destination for a relaxing break away. The area was named ‘nova foresta’ or the ‘new hunting ground’ by William the Conqueror in 1079 and the area remains largely unchanged to this day. The many varied natural habitats are home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles and animals, including cattle, deer, donkeys and of course the famous ponies, which graze the land and wander freely through the forest’s villages and towns.

The great outdoors

The New Forest is a haven for ramblers with over 140 miles of tracks to explore. You can follow food trails, enjoy pub treks or join guided walks led by local experts. Cyclists are well catered for with a wide range of routes and networks available to suit all ages and abilities, and there are plenty of cycle hire options throughout the area. The New Forest is a great location for horse riding and is well served with stables and riding centres for both experienced riders and beginners. Families can enjoy the many activities on offer at the Calshot Activities Centre and the New Forest Activities Centre in Beaulieu, while water-sports enthusiasts can experience the thrill of cable wakeboarding at the New Forest Water Park, or kayaking, paddle-boarding, wind-surfing and sailing at various locations along the coast.

By the seaside

The Georgian market town of Lymington was once an ancient seaport. Its cobbled streets and historic quayside are full of independent shops, lively pubs, stylish bars and fabulous restaurants, making it a great destination for a day out with family or friends. If you’d prefer something a little more relaxing then head for the beaches at Barton-on-Sea and Lepe, which provide safe swimming and are a lovely spot for families. You can watch ocean liners and boats from the busy Georgian town of Hythe or walk the cliff tops from Barton-on-Sea to Milford-on-Sea, where you can enjoy fine views of Christchurch Bay, the Needles and the Isle of Wight.

New Forest breaks

Days out

You’ll find a wealth of things to do in the New Forest with families especially well catered for. Attractions include Paultons Park, complete with thrilling rides and animatronic dinosaurs, and Longdown Activity Farm where kids can pet small fluffy animals. At the New Forest Wildlife Park, you can see otters, pine martens and lynx in 25 acres of woodland. For some even more unusual animals, visit Liberty’s Owl, Raptor & Reptile Centre in Ringwood.

The New Forest is also home to some fascinating museums, including the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. The museum features more than 250 vehicles, the World of Top Gear exhibition and the Palace House, all set in beautiful grounds – there really is something for everyone.

Keen gardeners will love Exbury Gardens, where you can take a tour of the grounds on the narrow-gauge steam railway, and the enchanting Furzey Gardens with its recreated RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Award-winning garden by Chris Beardshaw.

You can discover more about the national park at the New Forest Centre, delve into its intriguing maritime history at Buckler’s Hard on the banks of the Beaulieu river, and relive history at Hurst Castle, which stands at the end of a 1.5-mile shingle spit near Milton-on-Sea.

Towns and villages

There are plenty of things to do in New Forest towns and villages. Lyndhurst is an ideal place to start your visit. It is home to the New Forest Centre, which has a museum, gallery and visitor information. There’s a wide selection of shops to browse and you’ll find snug tearooms, cafes, restaurants and traditional pubs.

Brockenhurst is known as the gateway to the New Forest. It’s the interchange for bus and train services and the starting point for many walking and cycling routes. Stroll along its main street and you could well see donkeys, deer, ponies or cows wandering free through the village.

New Milton is a market town between the forest and the sea. It offers an interesting selection of shops, pubs and restaurants, and if you’re looking for entertainment, the Forest Arts Centre is the place to go. It has a year-round programme of theatre, music, films, exhibitions and workshops.

Food and drink

There are some fabulous restaurants in the area and local favourites include Lanes of Lymington, and the Verveine Fishmarket Restaurant and La Perle, both in Milford-on-Sea. The New Forest is also home to a wealth of wonderful pubs offering a warm welcome, great food, and local beers and wines, making them the perfect place to relax and unwind after a busy day exploring.

If this quaint collection of town and villages sounds like the perfect weekend break for you, then check out our hotel options in New Forest.