This post was most recently updated on February 11th, 2017
The New Forest is an area of southern England that includes one of the largest tracts of unenclosed pasture and forest in otherwise heavily populated south eastern England. However, The New Forest is also a former royal hunting area, created in 1079 by William the Conqueror.
The New Forest is a unique area with historical, ecological, and agricultural significance that holds onto rural and historic practices like pasturing ponies, cattle, pigs, and donkeys in the open forest.
The region also has an attractive coastline that borders the Solent, a stretch of water dividing the Isle of Wight from the mainland. With coastline, pasture, forest, and plain, the New Forest has a wide variety of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. In fact, the New Forest is hugely popular as a tourist destination both for its natural beauty and the many historic sites in the area, including castles, churches, and even the ruins of a Roman villa.
Wildlife is abundant in the New Forest, including large animals like deer and ponies. The New Forest’s ponies have been present in the area for thousands of years, and today’s carefully maintained breed is the result of over 1,000 years of animal husbandry.
We’ve made a list of ten of the most fun things to do while visiting or staying in the New Forest. Enjoy!
1. Buckler’s Hard
Buckler’s Hard, on the banks of the Beaulieu River, is a historic village that was a 18th century shipbuilding hub for the British Navy. The village is filled with historical plaques that help tell the story of the area.
Visitors can enjoy the Maritime Museum, the Labourer’s and Shipwright’s cottages, and the SS Persia exhibition. Even simply strolling through the village is a delightful way to pass a few hours.
2. Beaulieu National Motor Museum
Beaulieu, in the heart of the New Forest, is the home of the National Motor Museum. The museum has over 250 vehicles from World Land Speed Record breakers to Formula 1 racers. A pod ride journey takes visitors through 100 years of motoring.
Included in a ticket to the National Motor Museum is entry to Palace House, home of the Montagu family since 1538 and to Beaulieu Abbey.
3. New Forest Activities
New Forest Activities is a center that offers a huge variety of fun outdoor activities for the whole family. Canoe, hike, tackle rope courses, archery, rent bikes, take guided walks or grab a map and hike the trails.
There’s something for everyone, and you can be assured that whatever activities you pick, you’ll have a blast!
4. Highcliffe Castle
Highcliffe Castle is one of the most important surviving homes, boating Romantic and Picturesque architecture, which flourished at the end of the 18th century. The castle’s Gothic revival features and ancient stained glass imported from France make it look much older than it is.
While the castle was built between 1831 and 1836, it was the realization of Lord Stuart de Rothesay’s childhood dream to live upon the cliff-top site overlooking Christchurch Bay. The home was lavishly furnished in an 18th century French style, and remained a family home into the 1950s. Now it is open to the public for tours.
5. All Saints Church
This 13th century church was mentioned in the Doomsday book as Mintestede. The church has a very rare three deck pulpit and an 11th century font. One of the surviving churchbells is said to be over 600 years old, while another is said to be over 400 years old. The site is popularly visited by lovers of the Sherlock Holmes books, as their author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is buried in the churchyard.
6. Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway
The steam railway leaves Exbury Central Station and enters the Summer Lane Garden with a bridge, tunnel, causeway, and a series of themed gardens. These gardens can only be seen from the train, and you’ll enjoy spotting woodland creatures and contemporary sculptures along the way.
The train journey is about 20 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the walk-through exhibition “A Dream Come True”, focusing on the construction of the railway.
7. Hurst Castle and Ferry
Hurst Castle sits on the sea, just three-quarters of a mile from the Isle of Wight, and the views from the top of the keep are spectacular. The castle is home to a variety of exhibits including the Garrison Theatre, the Trinity House lighthouse exhibition, and an Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ display.
If you feel peckish on your day visit, there is also a small café on the grounds.
8. Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
The deer sanctuary is one of the most popular free attractions in the New Forest, and consists of a pleasant, serene area that offers graded walks through the giant Redwoods. Viewing platforms allow visitors to peer into the fenced area of the sanctuary where Fallow deer are kept.
9. The New Forest Wildlife Park
Visitors to the wildlife park can enjoy 25 acres of unspoiled woodland and get up close to the Sika, Fallow, and Roe deer that roam throughout the park. Watch excitable otters squeak at feeding time, and view owls, bison, wild boar, red deer, Muntjac deer, Scottish wildcats, lynx, and many, many more animals.
10. Liberty’s Owl, Raptor, and Reptile Centre
The centre is named for Liberty, their Alaskan Bald Eagle, and visitors can find a large collection of birds of prey, including owls, hawks, falcons, and vultures. Of course, the centre is also a reptile home, and you can meet dozens of reptiles.
The centre offers falconry days, photographic experience days, and even hawking days for those who want an opportunity to get up close with the animals.