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13 things to do in the New Forest

Nestled on England’s stunning South coast, with its picturesque wild ponies, sweeping expanses of purple heathland and an incredible array of wildlife, the New Forest National Park is a treat to visit. With an array of walking and cycling routes to explore, forest activities to enjoy and quaint towns to visit, you’ll be spoilt for choice on what to do next from our cottages with self catering in the New Forest. To help you pick, we’ve rounded up our favourite 13 things to do in the New Forest.

1. Cycle between Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard

Best for: An easy bike ride which all the family will enjoy. 

This two-mile-long cycle route between the pretty villages of Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard is very popular with families. You can hire your bikes in Beaulieu if you don’t have your own, before setting off along the riverside path towards the picturesque shipbuilding hamlet of Buckler’s Hard. Once you’ve explored the hamlet, you can retrace your footsteps, stopping off at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu when you get back.

2. Take to the countryside on the Ashhurst Stroll

Best for: Getting a true taste of the New Forest. 

What better way to see the New Forest than by setting out to explore on foot? Just 2.8 miles long, the lovely Ashurst Stroll takes you through a variety of areas which really characterise this lovely national park. From wild ponies grazing on open forest lawns to enchanting ancient woodland and the historic remains of a saltpetre house, this easy walking route takes in many of the wonders of the New Forest and is perfect for all ages and abilities.

3. Go horse riding in the forest

Best for: The pony mad.

The New Forest has been home to its lovely wild ponies for 2,000 years now. With around 5,000 of them wandering around the park, it’s not hard to catch a glimpse of them grazing in the meadows or snoozing in the sun. If you want to go one step further and do some horse riding while you’re in the park, then there’s an array of riding schools dotted throughout the area, where you can book a forest ride or riding lesson. 

4. Head to the beach at Lepe Country Park

Best for: Those who do like to be beside the seaside. 

Although not many people think of the New Forest as coastal, it does, in fact, have its own beach. Lepe Country Park is a beautiful stretch of beach with amazing views across the Solent. You can check out historic D-Day remains, explore the wildflower meadows and let the children run wild in the many play areas. It’s pet-friendly and they even allow BBQ’s in certain areas of the beach, so it’s really perfect for a family day out.

5. Explore New Forest Wildlife Park

Best for: Wildlife lovers and conservationists.

Home to an array of species which would have once been indigenous to the New Forest park and surrounding areas, you can get a real taste of what the local landscape would once have been like at the New Forest Wildlife Park. Boasting red deer, giant otters, owls, grey wolves, wild boar, European bison and many more species, the park is passionate about both wildlife and conservation.

Image source: New Forest WIldlife Park

6. Have a splendid day at Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway

Best for: A relaxing afternoon out for railway enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Exbury Gardens are home to 200 acres of stunning grounds, a tea room and play area and a steam train which runs along a track through the gardens. Hop aboard and chug your way past the rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and rare trees which characterise these gardens. Once you’re done exploring, tuck into an ice cream at Mr Eddy’s Restaurant and Cafe. It’s the perfect end to an idyllic day. 

Image source: Exbury

7. Watch the kids have fun at Paulton’s Family Theme Park

Best for: A fun-filled family day out for big groups.

Are the little ones a bit Peppa Pig-mad? If so, then you’re in luck because New Forest’s Paultons Family Theme Park is home to the one and only Peppa Pig World! What’s more, the older ones will love the Lost Kingdom of dinosaurs and the array of thrilling rollercoasters and water rides. And for those who prefer a little less excitement, there are gardens to wander around, a lake to sit by and animals and birds of prey to observe.

Image source: Paulton’s Theme Park

8. Learn something new at Bucklar’s Hard Museum

Best for: A little slice of local history. 

There’s no place better place to learn something new in the New Forest than at the Buckler’s Hard Museum. Right on the banks of the Beaulieu River, it will give you a peek at the history of this 18th-century shipbuilding village and the vessels it created!

Image source: Bucklar’s Hard Museum

9. Walk in the footsteps of royalty at Hurst Castle

Best for: History buffs, keen hikers and little ones with big imaginations. 

Built by Henry VIII, this remote seaside castle is a striking sight to behold. Located right on the edge of a coastal spit, Hurst Castle offers incredible panoramic views of the Solent and was one of the most advanced artillery fortresses at the time of building. What’s more, Hurst Point Lighthouse is nearby the castle and the lovely town of Milford-on-sea is just a 45-minute stroll away, along the coast. 

10. Pay homage to the majestic Knightwood Oak

Best for: Seeing a true wonder of the natural world.

Although the New Forest is full of trees, this one is particularly special. Also known as ‘Queen of the Forest’, the Knightwood Oak is the largest and oldest tree in the entire forest. Over 500 years old, this ancient oak has a 7.4-metre girth and towers above visitors. Simply sit back in the majestic tree’s shade and contemplate all the things it must have seen.

Image source: the New Forest

11. Watch deer at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary

Best for: Spotting Bambi in the wild.

Head to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary for the chance to see wild fallow deer up close. You can settle down on the purpose-built platform here, which is set over a meadow and the adjacent woodland, keeping an eye out for the herd which are fed daily by the local New Forest keeper. The feedings occur between the months of April and September, between noon and 3 pm, so make sure you time your visit right and you’ll be in with a good chance of seeing the deer in the wild.

12. Smell the flowers at New Forest Lavender Farm

Best for: A fun and fragrant afternoon out.

With great swathes of lavender-filled countryside, an incredible array of top quality plants on sale at the nursery and a cracking tearoom on site, you’ll have a lovely time whiling away the afternoon at New Forest Lavender Farm. Wander along by the beautiful lilac lavender fields, admiring the pretty purple views and breathing in the fragrant air, before heading to the tearooms and tucking into a slice of delicious lavender shortbread. Pure bliss!

Image source: New Forest

13. Browse the stalls at Lymington’s Charter Market

Best for: Picking up some local produce.

Every Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm, an array of market stalls selling arts and crafts, local food produce and bric-a-brac take over the town of Lymington’s High Street. The biggest street market in the New Forest region, the market has been taking place since Medieval times and is as much a part of the town as the High Street itself. Head to the market in the morning and fill up a hamper with delicious local fare, before heading out into the countryside to find the perfect picnic spot to spend the afternoon.

Image source: Lymington Market