The New Forest is a region of amazing natural beauty and a national park that has enjoyed its status as a popular holiday destination for centuries. It includes one of the biggest areas of unenclosed pasture land, heath and forest in the south. There’s so many places to discover in the area that it's no wonder people visit time and time again.
Below we offer you just a glimpse of what you can enjoy on a New Forest holiday.
A natural habitat
The New Forest is a vast tract of Crown land in Hampshire on the south coast of England. Some of the areas are SSSI (Sights of Special Scientific Interest) because of the scarcity of a particular type of habitat. It’s uncommon to find large unpopulated areas in the south, so for most visitors it’s a real pleasure to explore the unspoilt, wild natural open spaces. Walks along wooded paths, beside rivers and across heath land will soon have you meeting ponies, sheep and cattle as they graze peacefully.
New Forest wildlife
Birdwatchers love the New Forest because it is home to a large variety of species of birds of prey. The forest is the perfect habitat for goshawks, buzzards, sparrow hawks, kestrels and hobbies. Also look out for lapwings, woodlarks, redshanks, and snipe that also live safely within the borders of the New Forest. You can see examples of most of the UK's native species of lizards, snakes, frogs and toads at the The New Forest Reptile Centre, while at the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary you can see these gracious creatures in action. Be sure to look out for the New Forest ponies who can be seen grazing on the land and even roaming through local towns and villages.
Find out more about the fantastic New Forest wildlife you can encounter throughout the park with our guide.
The New Forest skirts the south coast, mainly the Solent, which is a wide body of water that separates the Isle of Wight from the British mainland. From the corner of Southampton Water in the east to Hengistbury Head in the west, there are many holiday jewels to be found.
In the days of Henry VIII, this coast was particularly vulnerable to seaborne attacks, so a string of forts were commissioned, some of which still stand today. Calshot Castle and Hurst Castle are the most popular with holidaymakers. Highcliffe Beach, with its castle, is one of the best kept secrets along the coast because of its lack of a traditional promenade. It's mostly sandy and reasonably secluded with great views of the Isle of Wight and the sandbanks of the Hengistbury Head peninsula. The wood fringed beaches around Lepe and Calshot are also well worth visiting for their beautiful views and perfect picnic spots.
Head to our detailed guide to find out more about the coastal New Forest castles.
Boats and beaches
If boat watching is your thing, Calshot is a good and relatively unknown spot from which to see some of major yacht races in the region like The America's Cup. Any given weekend or summer's day you will love the amount of activity on the open waters of the New Forest. Gaze at the variety of vessel making their way out to the English Channel. You'll see speed boats and jet-skis darting in and out of the yachts, ferries, submarines, and cargo ships - a mesmerising pastime. There are one or two small fishing fleets active along the coast at Lymington, Mudeford and Keyhaven, so rest assured your seafood will have landed the very same morning you buy it.
Within the National Park, there are beaches such as Lepe Beach to discover, while further along the coast, just outside the New Forest, you have the long sandy beaches of Southbourne, Boscombe and Bournemouth.
Our top beaches
- Avon Beach
- Hengistbury Head
More of our top New Forest beaches can be found in our great guide.
Places to dine
The New Forest is a great place to dine out. There is no shortage of good restaurants and gastro-pubs in the National Park and the surrounding area. You can find everything from the best in British local fare to exotic wonders from overseas. Being a rural area, the meat is generally sourced at local farms and the fish landed at one of the small fishing villages along the coast.
Visit our guide to the best New Forest restaurants for more details and inspiration.
Lyndhurst: the capital of the New Forest
Lyndhurst is located centrally in the New Forest. There’s been a settlement at Lyndhurst since William the Conqueror established the surrounding area as royal hunting grounds shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Nowadays the surrounding area is Europe's largest surviving area of ancient pasture woodland.
Today it is one of the largest villages in Hampshire and is well worth a visit for the New Forest Centre alone, which is also the home of the tourist information. It’s packed with informative displays and activities where visitors can interpret historical and local traditions. Some of the exhibits are interactive, making it a great place to pick up lots of local tips and learn the history of the National Park under one roof.
The centre of Lyndhurst has a small supermarket, a butchers, greengrocers and a bakery, along with a handful of independent shops to browse around too. If you like antique hunting visit the Lyndhurst Antique Centre, with around 30 dealers, sells all kind of treasures.
Take a look at our collection of Lyndhurst cottages so you can base your next holiday at the heart of the New Forest.
New Forest facts
More than just a forest...
- It is not a forest in the common sense of the word. It is only partially tree-covered. There are large expanses of open heath, bog and grassland too
- There are 146 miles of public footpaths in the National Park
- It has35 miles of public bridleways
- There are 103 square miles of public Crown land
- The New Forest ponies aren't wild. They are owned by 'Commoners' who make use of an ancient rite to let their animals graze freely
- Donkeys, sheep, pigs and cattle also graze freely
- Arthur Conan Doyle and Florence Nightingale are both buried in the New Forest
New Forest attractions
Peppa Pig World at Paulton's Theme Park: Under-5s will be in heaven at Peppa Pig World, the major feature at Paulton's Theme Park. Meet Daddy Pig, Peppa Pig and the whole family throughout a colourful hog wonderland of rides and games. Also at Paulton's is The Lost Kingdom, featuring two rollercoaster rides through the Jurassic Period, full of Dinosaurs to marvel at.
Lyndhurst Church / St Michael & All Angels: The graveyard is the final resting place of Alice Lidell, the true life inspiration for Alice of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.
The Reptile Centre lies a few miles outside of town and it well worth a visit if you love cold blooded critters. There are eight enclosed open air pens that are home to dozens of a species of snake, frogs, toads, newts, lizards and other reptiles.
Buckler's Hard is a restored ship builders village on the Beaulieu River famed for being the place where Nelson had most of his fleet built for the Battle of Trafalgar.
Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary should be included on any itinerary for nature lovers. Visitors can view deer from a tiered platform that gives panoramic vistas of the park.
Beaulieu – National Motor Museum & Estate is one of the finest highlights in the New Forest National Park. It's a big draw for petrol heads and garden lovers alike. Beaulieu is home to one of the best and largest collections of automobiles on earth, set in ornate gardens beautiful enough to pique anyone's interest in horticulture.
You'll find even more fantastic New Forest days out in our guide.