When we moved from France to Hampshire, I spent time looking at what were the highlights in the county and of course I read about the famous New Forest. It’s the first place we visited and I must say we just fell in love with that gorgeous forest and all the wild horses!
Since 18 months that we have been living in the area we went many times to the New Forest as our kids love it too! Today, I’d like to share with you our favourite spots to enjoy the New Forest with your family!
But first a bit of history: the New Forest was a royal forest at the time of William the Conqueror ; Later the Royal Navy used the timber for the boats. Today it is home to a lot of animals including birds, deer, cows, wild pigs, donkeys, and thousands of wild horses! Every time you go the New Forest you are sure you will meet a lot of ponies, which for my kids is always a magical moment!
Our favourite spots in the New Forest:
It’s the first spot we visited. It’s a very popular place for families so that you won’t be alone! But it has great atmosphere and there’s a lot to do: generally we start with one of the 3 marked walks and we make sure we pass the deer sanctuary (we saw deer in 80% of our visits). Then it’s BBQ time (there are tables and designated spaces to cook). Before we leave, we buy an ice cream if the ice cream van is there. Note that there are not that many places where you are allowed to have a BBQ in the forest that’s why Bolderwood is a very popular spot.
This part of the forest was more quiet. I would say it’s for nature lovers as there is a short and easy circular walk called the tall tree trail (1.5 miles) passing an enchanting tree collection. You will see the tallest trees of the New Forest (Douglas firs, redwoods) and also some sculptures inspired by nature. Note there is also a picnic and barbecue area at this spot.
That’s a very quiet spot we go to a lot. From the car park we walk towards Dockens Water and we just follow this small river. Then we go a bit uphills, not following any particular path, just wandering! Views are beautiful. I guess there are a lot of similar places in the forest. We found and liked this one. We very much enjoy going back again and again. Next time we will try to cycle in this area as we always see some families on bikes.
Running in the fern…
Also a place where we like to follow the river. There will be more people than in the previous spot as it’s a marked and larger path. There’s also a cycle route. Walking or cycling there is easy as it is flat!
The Beaulieu river walk to Bucklers Hard & the Beaulieu museum
We very much enjoyed walking along the river Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard were we enjoyed a drink in a pub with a river view (The Yachtman’s bar). The round trip is a total of 4 miles.
Actually, my husband walked the way back to take the car and he drove to Bucklers yard and pick us up. Note that recently (May 2020) we went back there and the footpath along the river was closed. You can still take another footpath to walk from Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard but it’s not along the water, so not so interesting. In that case I will just recommend to go directly to Bucklers Hard and enjoy a picnic or a moment at the pub there as it is the most beautiful part :
Normally our kids would have walked 4 miles easily but they were a bit exhausted as in the morning we starting by visiting the Beaulieu museum: I particularly enjoyed the grounds, the abbey and the palace house, while the kids liked the car collection in the National Motor museum. Tickets are a bit expensive but I must admit there’s plenty to see!
The walk by the sea to Hurst Castle
What a beautiful place! It feels like the end of the world! The beginning of the 1-hour walk (one way) is in Milford on Sea. On our way we were impressed by the kite-surfers! We also loved the view on the Needles as Isle of Wight is so close! On the right side it’s the open sea with waves and the impression we are at the ocean and on the left side it’s a protected area so that the water is very quiet. At the far end of the walk there is a beautiful white lighthouse. The castle was closed at the time we visited but normally you can go in (it’s an English Heritage site). Instead of walking back we took the little Ferry back to Milford on Sea.
A part f the forest a colleague recommended very much! And he was right! We very much enjoyed the views in this area as there are small hills.
Of course you have to experience camping in the New Forest! The kids love it and it’s a good way to really enjoy every moment and light in the forest, specially sunsets as I am not courageous enough for sunrise! We have a camper van but you can also bring a tent. You need to chose one of the official New Forest campsites. from June to September it’s better to book many days ahead. Ocknell was nice with a lot of families. That also means it’s pretty crowded in the summer but atmosphere is very friendly. From some parts of the campsite you can hear the road. Overall a good experience but we’d like to find a smaller campsite (the problem is that the smallest one are only for camper vans equipped with toilets). See campsite booking site.
Lyndhurst, the capital of the New Forest
A lovely village in the heart of the New Forest. You can find a tourist information center and also a lot of tea rooms and restaurants. I only like to go there in the low season as it is really crowded during weekends in the summer. Not far from the village we love to go and eat at the Oak Inn (book 1 or 2 weeks ahead). And just for a drink after a walk, also outside the village we like the New Forest Inn.
Lymington : the most beautiful village of the New Forest?
We loved this very cute village! I can not be sure it’s the most beautiful one in the New Forest as we haven’t visited all the villages but it was definitely the prettiest we have seen so far! After walking on High Street, it’s nice to hang out by the sea where the kids can go crabbing. You will find a lot of good cafés (Coffee and Drift is great), restaurants and ice cream shops!
The next New Forest spots we’d like to explore?
- The New Forest Lavender Farm: from what I understand there aren’t that many lavender fields but it’s pretty anyway and they bake lavender scones!
- Rhinefield Ornamental Woodland cycle route: we’d like to try this cycle path as it is a good distance for our kids (10 miles) and it’s also a path with no cars at all.
And also, get inspired and just stop at any car parks on your way as you will certainly suddenly see a landscape you love or just lots of horses to admire! Or maybe your kids will tell you they saw a unicorn 😉
Practical information to visit the New Forest:
Best time of the New to visit the New Forest? I must say we are very lucky to live just near this forest so we can enjoy it all year around! In the winter we walked in the snow, in spring we can admire the foals, in Summer we go camping or we just go for a BBQ and in autumn we love the colours of the landscape when the heath flowers!
Protect the forest and the animals: do not touch the animals, don’t feed them. Don’t leave anything in the forest except your footprints ;-).
Where to sleep in the New Forest? Apart from campsites, you can find a lot of beautiful accommodations, hotels and Spas in the New Forest. Here are two places where we’d like to stay some time:
- The Macdonald Elmers Court Hotel (Lymington, with a view on Isle of Wight): a gorgeous hotel with indoor pool and family rooms.
- the B&B Spots in the wood: perfect location to explore the Lyndhurst area. Family room with a lovely garden and terrace.
- Finding a house on Airbnb would also be a good idea if you prefer to have a kitchen.
What about you? Have you been to the New Forest? Other spots you would recommend for a family day out?