The New Forest

A trip to the New Forest is about as close as you can get to going on safari without buying a plane ticket. As you make your way down dappled lanes and across the heather-covered heath you’ll be watched the famous ponies, which have grazed there for thousands of years, plus free-ranging Highland cattle and pigs hoovering up fallen acorns. Don’t fancy being stuck in the car all day? Hire a two-seater electric Twizzy buggy to explore in, or book a beginners’ hack at one of the stables. Don’t forget to make time for a proper ploughman’s lunch at the Royal Oak in Fritham.

Including one of the largest areas of open heathland and forest in England’s south east, the best things to do in the New Forest are simply stunners. Encompassing parts of Hampshire, east Dorset and Wiltshire, its boundaries are similar to the picturesque New Forest National Park. Lush scenery makes this part of England particuarly popular for outdoor activities, whether that’s horse riding, paddle boarding, hiking or wild pony-spotting. Fancy exploring this special part of the English countryside? We’ve rounded up the very best things to do in the New Forest

Day 1
New Forest National Park

Where is it? The heart and pretty much the entirety of the New Forest area.

What is it? Best known for its heathland, forest trails and native ponies, New Forest National Park covers parts of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire.

Why go? New Forest National Park is pretty much a paradise for nature lovers. Hike, cycle or horseback ride your way round hundreds of kilometres of glorious land. If you’re after a spot of luxury stay at Limewood Hotel. With a spa, cookery school, and stylishly decked out cabin rooms, the hotel is only a short stroll from the river Test, where guests can try their hand at fly-fishing. Don’t miss Bolderwood at the very heart of the New Forest – the Deer Sanctuary is the main attraction, but there’s a scenic designated picnic area too, so bring some sandwiches.

Day 2
Hurst Castle

Where is it? Milford on Sea.

What is it? An artillery fortress established by Henry VIII in the 1500s.

Why go? Used as a prison for 17th century captives, Hurst Castle was completed in 1544 under the reign of Henry VIII. It was deemed the ideal location to defend the western approach to the Solent (the strait separating the Isle of Wight from mainland England). Modernised during the Napoleonic wars, and again in the 1870s, it is now open to the public (managed by English Heritage). The castle sits on a shingle spit that extends 1.5 miles from Milford on Sea, and the end is less than a mile from the Isle of Wight. Enjoy the views from the top of the castle, or hire a boat from the Hurst Marine Fleet

Day 3
Exbury Gardens

Where is it? Between Beaulieu and The Solent.

What is it? A 200 acre informal woodland garden in Hampshire.

Why go? With two spectacularly pretty designated picnic areas – and a tearoom in which you can grab a locally-made ice cream – Exbury Gardens is ideal for a wholesome family day out. Adventure trails are devised for kids of all ages, but the real star attraction is the Exbury Steam Railway. A 20-minute journey carries visitors across the pond in Summer Lane Garden, along the top of the rock gardens, and into the beautiful American Garden.

Day 4
Where is it? Between Beaulieu and The Solent. What is it? A 200 acre informal woodland garden in Hampshire. Why go? With two spectacularly pretty designated picnic areas – and a tearoom in which you can grab a locally-made ice cream – Exbury Gardens is ideal for a wholesome family day out. Adventure trails are devised for kids of all ages, but the real star attraction is the Exbury Steam Railway. A 20-minute journey carries visitors across the pond in Summer Lane Garden, along the top of the rock gardens, and into the beautiful American Garden.

Where is it? Near Salisbury.

What is it? New Forest Lavender Farm is (as the name implies) a fragrant lavender farm and plant nursery.

Why go? A plant nursery, café and accommodation all rolled into one, it’s no wonder that New Forest Lavender Farm is so popular. Browse a curated selection of top quality garden plants before tucking into a plate of lavender shortbread in the tearoom. A newly built holiday cabin provides a comfy place to stay with a hard-to-beat view over the lavender fields – not to mention varied wildlife including deer and pheasants.

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