30 December 2022
This wondrous area between Bournemouth and Southampton is one of the only places in Southern England where you can experience proper wilderness in all its glory. William the Conqueror declared it a Royal Forest almost a thousand years ago, and it hasn’t changed much since.
The ancient natural beauty and a few modern additions provide endless delight for your family. Here are some of the best things to do in New Forest National Park.
Believe it or not, the Park’s forty miles of coastline provide some great opportunities to add a day at the seaside to your family holiday.
Engage in some action sports at Calshot Beach or kick back and relax at the tranquil Tanners Lane Beach, set at the edge of a bird reserve.
While you’re at the coast, why not visit one of the New Forest’s two coastal fortresses? Hurst Castle sits impressively on a spit of land projecting from Milford-on-Sea, while the smaller Calshot Castle sits at the eastern end of the Park’s coastline.
Both were built by Henry VIII to protect against naval attack, and both offer stunning views across The Solent and the Isle of Wight. Your kids will still love exploring and finding out about the history of the forts.
The New Forest is a unique and important habitat, with several species exclusive to this area. With nature reserves scattered around the Park, there’ll be plenty of animal encounters for your kids.
Go on a deer safari - can your kids spot all five species of deer that inhabit the forest? Or scan the wetlands for some of the rare wading birds that call the New Forest home.
And you’re bound to come across some of the thousands of ponies, cattle, pigs and sheep that roam the forest. Ancient custom dictates that farmers can let them loose in the area.
With over a hundred miles of cycle tracks, you can savour all the New Forest has to offer on two wheels.
You can access many of the family-friendly routes by train and there are plenty of places where you can hire bikes.
Be sure to stick to the New Forest Cycling Code to ensure the safety of other people and protect the countryside.
Hundreds of local people have harnessed the natural gifts of the New Forest to produce some fabulous stuff. Look out for the New Forest Marque logo to find locally produced offerings.
Your kids can indulge their sweet tooth with cakes, chocolates and jams produced using locally sourced ingredients.
And you grown-ups will be able to taste the Forest in everything from cured meats, shellfish and chutneys to delicious gins and ales.
For almost a thousand years, kings and queens have roamed the forest on horseback. And if you’re willing to spend a bit of cash, you can too.
Several stables provide guided hacks through the forest and surrounding landscape, ranging from short half-hour outings to longer half-day expeditions.
The treks have minimum age limits so check before you book.
All six species of the UK’s native snakes and lizards are found in the New Forest. While an encounter is unlikely in the wild, you’ve got a much better chance at the New Forest Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst.
As well as reptiles, several species of amphibians are found here. The animals are kept in outdoor pods that are very similar to their natural environment, so it’s not guaranteed that you’ll spot them.
The centre is free to enter, but it’s closed through autumn and winter as the animals are hibernating.
If you’ve got little ones, they’re probably obsessed with Peppa Pig. And at Paulton’s Park, near Southampton, they can enter the world of that playful pink porker.
They can take a ride in Daddy Pig’s car or Peppa’s Hot Air Balloons, or even cruise along the river in Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club.
There’s enough to entertain your older kids in other areas of the park, with impressive thrill rides and a decent collection of exotic animals.
The stunning Beaulieu (pronounced ‘Bew-lee’) estate provides an unforgettable family day out. Explore the majestic Victorian Palace House and grounds before stepping back in time at the ruined abbey.
There’s also the National Motor Museum, where kids can see some legendary cars, including classic F1 cars, land-speed record holders and even Mr Bean’s mini.
This amazing venue has loads more to keep the kids entertained.
Of course, there’s nothing better than pulling your walking boots on and roving through the wilderness. The New Forest is such a magical place that simply being in amongst it all will be enough to provide a wonderful experience for your family. Who knows what you’ll find?