With mile after mile of open countryside and moorland to explore, the New Forest National Park is a great place to head to if you’re looking to escape from it all. While there are plenty of lovely small towns and villages to discover within the park's boundaries, the hustle and bustle of larger towns and cities are not far away. Offering fantastic days out in Hampshire, and just over the border in Dorset and Wiltshire, holidays based in the New Forest have a bit of everything.
Boasting history, unique attractions and winding streets, a visit to these towns and cities makes for a great day out in Hampshire. What’s more, they are less than an hour’s drive away, making a New Forest cottage the ideal base from which to explore the South Coast and beyond.
Christchurch is found only around five miles to the south-west of the New Forest’s boundaries, meaning you could even cycle there if you wanted to, with plenty of fun things to do, activities and attractions found in and around the town. Located on the Dorset coast, close to the border of Hampshire, Christchurch is home to several beautiful beaches – perfect if you’re looking to escape to the seaside for a day.
Across its 4-mile-long coastline, Christchurch is home to six wonderful sand and shingle beaches: Highcliffe, Avon, Mudeford, Friars Cliff, Gundimore and Highcliffe Castle. These are great for family days out in Hampshire, watersport activities and coastal walks alike, with views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and the Needles.
- Sightseeing at Christchurch Castle and Highcliffe Castle
- The town’s popular festivals: The Food and Wine Festival held, the Christchurch Festival, the annual Cheese and Chilli Festival, or arts festivals of Mudeford and Priory.
- Learning about the story of Christchurch at the Red House Museum and Garden
This charming port city can be found just across the water, to the east of the New Forest and it offers a vibrant day out in Hampshire. Its maritime associations are one of its main draws, as it hosts some of the country’s biggest waterside events, including the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and the International PSP Southampton Boat Show. The SeaCity Museum further examines Southampton’s connections with the sea and is set in the heart of the city’s Cultural Quarter.
Entry to the SeaCity Museum also includes entry to the Tudor House Museum, perhaps the most important historic building in Southampton. Spanning eight centuries of art, ranging from the Renaissance to the present day, the Southampton City Art Gallery is also an interesting cultural attraction, featuring everything from painting and drawing to sculpture, film and photography.
- Take a guided walk through the Old town or a boat ride along the River Solent
- Try your hand at sailing or take to the slopes at the Alpine Snowsports Centre
- Treat the kids to a day at The Quays, an enormous pool complex, and one of four major diving centres in the UK.
Although located over 30 miles from the New Forest, the waterfront city of Portsmouth is one of Hampshire’s biggest days out, packed with world-class attractions, an abundance of shopping opportunities and steeped in fascinating maritime history. Famed for its collection of ships and historic attractions, The Historic Dockyard is a must for your day out in Portsmouth! Not forgetting the imposing Emirates Spinnaker Tower, which rises 170m in the air and enjoys panoramic views of the city.
As the birthplace of Charles Dickens and with connection to Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate these literary greats through both annual events and museums.
Slightly further west along the Dorset coast from Christchurch lies Bournemouth, the county’s largest town and a thriving coastal resort. With seven miles of golden sandy beaches to enjoy, Bournemouth offers all the fun of a classic seaside day out just across the Hampshire border and much more.
Set in the middle of the beach is the town’s famous pier while lining the seafront are all the traditional amusements and attractions to keep the whole family entertained: arcades, crazy golf, the Oceanarium and even a zip wire.
- Relax in Bournemouth’s 2000 acres of gorgeous gardens
- Get creative in the town’s pottery and ceramic cafes
- Discover a great collection of Victorian art as well as treasures from across the world at Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.
Another popular day out in Hampshire is the historic city of Winchester, which was once the heart of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and today there are still many well-preserved historic sites that reflect this changing location over the centuries. Amongst Winchester’s medieval streets, you will discover the thousand-year-old Cathedral, the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, once the home of Anglo-Saxon bishops, and the City Mill, the oldest working watermill in the UK. The Great Hall is another site steeped in legend, said to contain King Arthur’s Round Table.
One of the best ways to take in the city’s history and sights is to follow one of its many interesting trails. Trace the footsteps of King Alfred on the City Walk, follow the Jane Austen Trail to learn more about the famous writer, discover Winchester’s wartime past on the Military Trail and explore the Viaduct Way, the city’s restored historic railway.
Just across the Hampshire border, Poole is Bournemouth’s next-door neighbour and Dorset’s second-largest town, with much to offer in terms of things to do. One of Britain’s most famous beaches, Sandbanks, can be found in Poole, as well as two other lovely sandy beaches: Shore Road and Canford Cliffs.
For even more natural scenery, head to the nearby Upton Country Park, where there are woodland trails to wander along and stunning gardens to soak up. You can also take a boat trip out to the National Trust’s Brownsea Island, rich in both wildlife and adventure.
- Go crabbing, watch the fishing boats and explore Poole’s Old Town from the bustling quay
- Learn about the town’s history in Poole Museum
- Great for rainy days, enjoy a family day out at Tower Park, one of the largest entertainment centres on the South Coast
One of the UK’s smallest cities, just across the Hampshire border in Wiltshire, Salisbury is world-famous for its stunning cathedral, which is home to one of the four original Magna Carta manuscripts. The streets are equally as historic, decorated with timbered buildings, where to can step back in time, including Mompesson House, a quintessential Queen Anne townhouse, Arundells, the home of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, and the award-winning Salisbury Museum.
Get to know the city on one of the many guided walks available, and visit Old Sarum, located two miles north, the original site of Salisbury, which dates back to the Iron Age. For a more unusual thing to do, take the family to the Salisbury Escape Rooms.
- A colourful schedule of events run through the entertainment venues of the Playhouse, City Hall and Arts Centre
- Shopping in the city's three shopping centres and the charming independent stories
- The largest independent art gallery in the South West, Fisherton Mill
Isle of Wight
From the New Forest harbour town of Lymington, you can make the ferry crossing over the Solent either by car or on foot to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, taking just 40 minutes. A visit to the Isle of Wight is a day trip from Hampshire that the whole family with find exciting!
Yarmouth is the gateway to the island, with its buzzing harbour, Grade II-listed pier and 16th-century castle. Located in the western corner of the Isle of Wight, this is a great place from which is explore some of the area’s beaches and coastal resorts.
- The lively town of Cowes on the north coast
- Fresh Water Bay, one of West Wight’s most picturesque beaches
- Beautiful views of The Needles (a row of distinctive chalk sea stacks) from Alum Bay
Book a New Forest cottage
Have you been inspired by these places to visit in Hampshire and Dorset? The great thing about choosing a cottage in the New Forest is that you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside but with easy access to plenty of fun things to do in the rest of Hampshire too! Our cottages come in all shapes and sizes from romantic boltholes for two, to large houses perfect for groups and families. Some of our cottages are dog-friendly too! Tap the button below to view the full New Forest collection.