Covering 220 square miles and filled with rolling meadows, chocolate box villages and vibrant wildlife, the New Forest is a location in the south of England like no other. It was given National Park status in 2005, making it one of Britain’s newest (and smallest) National Parks, and it’s famously home to the small but perfectly formed New Forest ponies. There are more than 9,000 free-roaming ponies, donkeys and cattle throughout the ancient woods and dramatic heathlands, and they’re not shy, so you can get a good glimpse of them as you walk or cycle by.
The New Forest is relatively flat, so it’s the ideal destination for both walking and cycling. This is a year-round destination, and more than 15 million people come to enjoy it each year, so whether you’re planning a summer cycle or a winter walk, a fun and cheap day out or a weekend away, there’s no better place for it.
Read on for more information on the New Forest, including how to get there, things to do and places to stay.
The New Forest National Park is in the south of England, covering south west Hampshire and south east Wiltshire.
The National Park is open 24 hours a day.
The New Forest is a fantastic destination for a day trip or weekend break, and it’s easy to get to, especially by public transport.
The New Forest has no less than nine train stations, so taking the train (and bringing your bike with you) is a great way to get around. You can find a train station in the following New Forest locations:
The train from London Waterloo to the New Forest takes as little as 90 minutes, and you can also hop on at Clapham Junction. Catch a direct train to Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest, or you may need to change at a nearby town or city like Southampton or Bournemouth.
Things to do in the New Forest
Whether you’re visiting for a day, a weekend or even longer, there’s plenty of things to see and do in the New Forest.
Walking is a great way to experience the very best of the ancient woodlands, quaint villages and 40-mile stretch of coast. Whether you prefer short strolls or long-distance rambles, there are more than 140 miles of tracks and footpaths to enjoy. Some of the most popular walks include the Bolderwood to Radnor Trail (1.9 miles), Keyhaven Marsh (3.5 miles), Burley Village Walk (4.2 miles), Lyndhurst on foot (8.5 miles) and the Avon Valley Walk (34 miles).
Put on your helmet and get pedalling – the New Forest is extremely popular with cyclists thanks to its 140+ miles of car-free cycle trails. Bring your bike on the train with you, or hire a bike once you arrive.
Whichever cycle route you take in the New Forest, expect spectacular views. The 17.8-mile Northern Forest Circular trail claims to have the best of them all, and the 14-mile Ashurt to Lyndhurst loop also has amazing forest views, plus the chance to see two beautiful villages either end of your cycle.
If you fancy a trip to the seaside as part of your day out, fill your lungs with fresh sea air on the Looping Lepe and Exbury trail. Over 9.3 miles, you’ll travel along the charming coastline before heading inland. Or enjoy an alternative 9-mile cycle along a disused railway as part of The Old Railway trail.
As if walking and cycling weren’t enough, there are loads of other activities to enjoy in the New Forest too, from horse riding and fishing to golf and water sports. Quaint Beaulieu and the frozen-in-time hamlet of Buckler’s Hard are great for kayaking, while Lymington is home to the oldest sea water swimming baths in the UK and has more than 200 metres of inflatable obstacle courses for you to jump on (and fall off of).
Whether you’re visiting the New Forest on your own, as a couple or with your family, make the most of your time in the great outdoors and try something new.
While you can easily spend a day or a weekend walking, cycling and enjoying being at one with nature, there are a whole host of other attractions to entertain you.
If you’re looking for things to do with the kids, Paulton’s Park is a family theme park home to Peppa Pig World. Kids will love experiencing their very first roller coaster, meeting their favourite characters and making friends with the resident animals.
For more wildlife fun, there’s the New Forest Reptile Centre, Wildlife Park and Deer Safari, as well as the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary and Longdown Activity Farm.
On a rainy day, explore the history of the area at the New Forest Heritage Centre or the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, or if you fancy yourself a bit of a motorhead, pay a visit to the National Motor Museum or the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum.
The New Forest is also home to several historic houses, including Breamore House and Museum and Beaulieu Palace House. The 18th century shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard is also well worth a visit, and just across the river is Exbury Gardens, home to its very own steam railway.
Food festivals, country shows, live music and markets are just some of the events that take place in the New Forest each year. Find out more here about what’s on and when.
Remember the New Forest code
While you’re busy enjoying all that the New Forest has to offer, please make sure you respect the New Forest code to help protect the landscape, livestock and wildlife:
- Keep your distance from the animals – don’t feed or touch them
- Take home litter and dog waste
- No fires or barbecues
- Keep dogs under control. Don’t let dogs’ approach or chase any animals
- Park only in car parks
- No wild camping
- Stick to the permitted cycle tracks
- Drive with care – animals on the road!
- Help wildlife by keeping to the main tracks
Food and drink
While the New Forest is the perfect place for a picnic, there are plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to visit too.
For a fancy affair, try Burley Manor, The Pig, The Zen Garden or The Mill at Gordleton, or for a quintessentially British cream tea head to Hockey’s Farm or The Old Station Tearooms.
You'll find cosy country pubs dotted throughout the National Park, including The Rockingham Arms, The Waterloo Arms, The Drift Inn, The Cave, The Trusty Servant Inn and The New Forest Inn. Pop in for a post-walk drink or enjoy some hearty pub grub to fuel your adventures. You could also check out the Ringwood Brewery, which sits just outside the New Forest, to sample some of the best beers the New Forest has to offer.
Places to stay in the New Forest
Upgrade your day trip and make a weekend of it by booking a night or two in one of the New Forest’s hotels or bed and breakfasts. Or if you want to feel the closest possible to nature, why not pitch a tent at one of the many campsites?
Whether you’re visiting with your partner, friends or children, there are plenty of options to suit every group and budget.
The New Forest is home to numerous hotels for luxurious stays, including Lime Wood, The Pig, Burley Manor and Balmer Lawn Hotel. Make your stay as convenient as possible with a hotel close to a train station, like The Crown Manor House Hotel, Woodland Lodge Hotel or Beaulieu Hotel.
Bed and breakfasts
There’s also a range of bed and breakfasts to choose from, including The Lazy Lion, The Kings Head, Rudder’s of Lymington, Bridge House and Little Forest Lodge.
Cottages and self-catering
Make yourself at home in your very own cottage. The New Forest Cottages, Undercastle Cottage, Riverside Park and the Forester’s and Keepers Cottages are all fantastic options.
Camping, glamping, and holiday parks
Whether you’re on a romantic getaway or a trip with the kids, the New Forest is the perfect spot for camping and has loads of facilities to choose from. Pitch a tent at New Park Farm Campsite or Long Meadow Campsite or enjoy a glamping experience at Green Hill Farm or in the Arniss Bell Tents at Chapelfield Camping.
Access to the New Forest
Access to the New Forest and New Forest National Park is accessible to all. Find out more about accessibility here. It’s also free to enter and enjoy, though there are some activities that may come at a price, so visit the New Forest National Park website for more information before you go.