no alt text

Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 07 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

Created by William I as a royal forest in the 12th century, this historic slice of countryside offers something unique and magical – almost a thousand years on.

Swathes of shady ancient woodland open out onto purple heather-clad heathland, and ponies amble freely along the country roads and bridleways. Car parks are dotted between the trees, offering ready access to miles of walking and cycling trails through the beautiful landscapes.

The forest is dotted with postcard-perfect traditional villages, home to cream tea and fudge shops, along with some seriously slick accommodation and fabulous gastropubs. There’s something for everyone here – a great destination for families looking for activities, and the perfect choice for a romantic, outdoorsy break.

Orientation

Flanked by Southampton Water to the east and the pretty towns of Ringwood and Christchurch to the south, the New Forest National Park covers 200sq miles, running right down to the Solent (English Channel).

The main gateways and hubs are the pretty towns of Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst; head away from these tourist honeypots and the forest becomes a quieter, calmer place.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

National Motor Museum

Beaulieu, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A world-famous motoring museum, boasting the biggest collection of vintage and contemporary cars in the country, alongside iconic vehicles from film and TV.

Best for ages: 4+ | £26

New Forest’s best food & drink

Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Home to dozens of specialist food producers, the New Forest is an under-the-radar gastro gem, offering everything from hand-made chocolates to cider, cured meats and cheeses.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Website >
Overview >

Cycling in the New Forest

Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Superb cycling all year round for all ages and abilities, in a stunning ancient forest criss-crossed with cycling tracks.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

Website >
Overview >

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Fallow Deer New Forest Hampshire
Experience

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary

Lyndhurst, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

This viewing platform, set above a large meadow area where fallow deer regular gather, offers the best chance of spotting these shy, beautiful creatures.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
The magnificent Breamore Elizabethan Manor House set in the countryside
Experience

Breamore House

Fordingbridge, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A glorious Elizabethan manor house, famous for its art collection, that remains privately owned. Pre-bookable house tours are available on Tues, Weds, Thurs and Sundays.

Best for ages: 13+ | £14

Website >
Overview >
Many people sitting in a row on concrete shore line catching crabs to crab traps and nets,
Experience

Crabbing at Mudeford Quay

Christchurch, Dorset, United Kingdom (UK)

Families line the quay at this sleepy waterfront village, armed with lines and crabbing buckets, to see who can catch the largest crustacean.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free | 1-3 hours

Website >
Overview >

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Guided Walking Tour of New Forest National Park in Hampshire

Guided Walking Tour of New Forest National Park in Hampshire

South East England

Getting off of the beaten track this tour will explore a diverse mix of habitats looking both for wildlife and exploring the rich history of...

£15 | Rating 5 / 5 [9 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Small-group New Forest Discovery Walk from Lyndhurst

Small-group New Forest Discovery Walk from Lyndhurst

South East England

Getting off of the beaten track this tour will explore a diverse mix of habitats looking both for wildlife and exploring the rich history of...

£20 | Rating 4.8 / 5 [10 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

The Huntsman of Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A chic, chintz-free gastro pub with stylish rooms and wood-fired pizzas served in the charming garden. Perfect central location.

Official star rating:

Daisybank Cottage

Brockenhurst, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A chic, boutique B&B in an elegant Arts & Crafts house, right in the convenient heart of the New Forest.

Official star rating:

Master Builder’s Hotel

Beaulieu, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Stay in a slice of Britain’s seafaring history at this magical hotel, in an idyllic setting by the Beaulieu River.

Official star rating:

Rhinefield House Hotel

Brockenhurst, Hampshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A classic country house hotel, surrounded by 40 acres of lush gardens, stretching into the forest beyond.

Official star rating:

When to go

The forest gets crowded in school holidays (July-August) – the campsites and hotels are full, the roads get clogged, and getting anywhere takes ages, so stay away from the main hubs if possible. At all other times of the year – even the winter months – it’s a delightful place with far fewer tourists.

Spring sees the birthing of foals, and forest floors carpeted with bluebells and daffodils. Autumn (September-October) is a riot of colour as the deciduous trees shed their leaves.

Getting there and away

The forest is highly accessible, located right at the end of the M3 motorway. The main road in from the east is the A27, which joins the A31 (coming from the west) in the middle of the forest. There are train stations throughout the forest – the main entry point, Brockenhurst, is a 1.5-hour train ride from London Waterloo. Southampton and Bournemouth airports, on either side of the New Forest, are about a 20-minute drive away.

Getting around

The forest is criss-crossed with small lanes and paths – fine for cars except in summer, when traffic can be heavy and roads become clogged. Otherwise, it’s easy to get around by car and there’s plentiful parking.

With miles of waymarked paths, the best way to explore is by bike and the forest is set up to be a cycle-friendly destination. Efficient, bike-friendly trains connect the main towns and villages.

Where to stay

There are excellent hotels dotted throughout the forest; there’s no need to stay near a town. Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst are the most accessible, but get crowded especially in summer. Beaulieu and Burley are two of the prettiest villages, and the sailing town of Lymington is at the southern edge, perfect for getting out on the water. Historic Christchurch, also south of the forest on a fine stretch of coast, is another excellent base.

The Forestry Commission has some great campsites dotted around the forest – many in beautifully unspoilt areas – even for non-campers, they are great for a night or two.