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A complete guide to New Forest National Park, England

Updated On 30th August, 2021

New Forest National Park is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in England, it’s even a strong contender for the best places to visit in the UK There are so many fun things to do in the New Forest, and in this blog post I’m going to share some of my favourites with you!

The New Forest National Park is one of ten National Parks in England and one of 15 in the UK. It’s the second smallest national park in the UK and covers approximately 580 km2 (224 sq mi) of stunning landscapes in southern England. It’s centred on one of the largest remaining areas of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest, and spread across Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. 

The New Forest National Park includes rivers, heathland, woodland and moorland, so it’s a great place to go walking in England. If you’re the type of traveller that seeks long hiking trails, stunning coastal views, and plenty of adventure, New Forest National Park is going to be right up your street. The very British weather I’ve experienced there (rain), has not taken away from the beauty and fun I’ve had in this UK National Park. 

In this New Forest National Park travel guide I am going to share with you the best places to stay in the New Forest, the best things to do in the New Forest National Park and my favourite adventures so far.

From going on challenging day hikes to trying water sports, from seeing the wild ponies in the New Forest to exploring some of the picturesque villages in the park, my time in England has been nothing short of adventurous! 

The best things to do in the New Forest National Park, England
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

New Forest National Park: my complete guide

Where is New Forest National Park?

If you came here wondering ‘where is New Forest National Park’, ‘where is the New Forest’, or ‘what does a map of New Forest National Park look like’ you’re in the right place. New Forest National Park is in southern England, spread across Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire.

To drive to the New Forest National Park, it’s about 2.5 hours from London, 2 hours from Bristol, 5 hours from Cornwall or Leeds. If you’re using a Sat Nav, pop in the postcode of your accommodation or one of these car parks.

If you want to take public transport to New Forest National Park, you can get a train or bus to one of the main towns and villages in the New Forest, such as Ashurst, Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Lymington, New Milton or Sway. Book your train tickets online on thetrainline.com. There are also bus connections all over the National Park. 

Check out this map of New Forest National Park to see where in England it is:

The best things to do in the New Forest National Park, England
Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Where to stay in the New Forest National Park:

Where to stay in the New Forest National Park really depends on what type of accommodation you’re looking for, and where you want to be based.

For example, if you want to stay in a hostel in the New Forest National Park, YHA have their YHA New Forest hostel. This is the the perfect option for budget accommodation with close access to various locations in the New Forest. Book your YHA New Forest stay here.

Check out booking.com or Airbnb for more hotels or apartments in the area, or get inspiration and recommendations directly from the New Forest National Park website here.

There are also lots of campsites in the New Forest National Park. Check out my camping packing list here. Note that wild camping and parking overnight outside of campsites is not allowed in the New Forest. Check out campsites and caranvan sites in the New Forest here. 

Find out more about responsible van life here. 

The best things to do in the New Forest National Park...

1. Go canoeing on the Beaulieu River or try other outdoor activities in the New Forest.

The Beaulieu River is England’s only privately owned river, and you can go canoeing on it in Canadian style open canoes! Explore the tidal currents, hidden creeks and wonderful views as you see the New Forest from the water. You can also go kayaking on the Beaulieu River, and New Forest Activities even offer seasonal tours such as Christmas canoeing or spooky Halloween tours, making this one of the best things to do at Halloween in England. 

If you don’t fancy canoeing or kayaking, you can also get an adrenaline rush from other watersports or outdoor activities in the New Forest such as paddleboarding, archery, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and high ropes courses. 

Check out the best things to do in England here. 

2. Take on one of the many walks and hikes in the New Forest.

There are so many walks and hikes in the New Forest National Park… it really is one of the best places to go walking in England and even in the UK. with breathtaking coastal views, stunning moorland and magical woodland, it’s enjoyable come rain or shine! 

There are loads of walks and hikes in the New Forest for you to try, no matter whether you’re a beginner hiker or if you’re looking for a bigger challenge. (If you’re a beginner hiker, check out my hiking top tips here!).

It’s the smallest national park in the UK, but that doesn’t mean there are a shortage of walking trails. In fact there are over 140 miles of walking trails in the New Forest, and there’s something for everyone, fom short strolls to long distance trails. With so much on offer, it’s no surprise that walking and hiking are some of the best things to do in the New Forest National Park.

Some of the best places for hikes and walks in the New Forest include: 

  • Bolderwood – the Radnor Trail
  • Keyhaven Marsh (coastal walk)
  • Pipers Wait (highest point in the New Forest)
  • Villages walks through Burley, Brockenhurst or Lymington (and the surrounding area)

Long distance hikes in the New Forest include:

  • Solent Way (60-mile route between Milford-on-Sea and Emsworth Harbour)
  • Avon Valley Path (34 miles, from Salisbury to Christchurch Harbour)

Remember that if you don’t want to walk the full route, the long distance trails can be completed in sections!

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3. See the New Forest ponies.

The New Forest ponies have lived here for about 2,000 years, and there are about 5,000 of them. The ponies are all wild in the sense that they can roam freely, but they are technically owned by the New Forest Commoners. The ponies are an important part of  the New Forest’s history, heritage, culture and landscape. Take a look and get a photo, but they are wild so don’t approach or feed them. Also be careful of the ponies when you are driving in the New Forest!

The best things to do in the New Forest National Park, England
Photo by Liam Charmer on Unsplash

4. Visit Goodall's strawberry farm.

I absolutely love fresh strawberries, even more so when I know they are local! At Goodall’s Strawberry Farm you can pick your own, enjoy a New Forest Cream Tea in the cafe, and then take them home to bake with (if you can resist eating them on the way back) – why not try them in my turmeric berry bowl? In autumn they have a pumpkin farm, making Goodall’s one of the best places to visit for Halloween!

5. Go camping in the New Forest.

If you love a down-to-earth holiday and enjoy a night under the stars, there are plenty of great places to go camping in the New Forest National Park. Note that wild camping and overnight parking aren’t allowed, so whether you’re in a tent or a van you’ll need to find a campsite in the New Forest, but if you’re looking for things to do in the New Forest and you want to stay overnight, camping should be on your list! 

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6. Get a car from New Forest Classic Car Hire and do the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive.

One of the most unique things to do in the New Forest is to hire a classic car for a day! New Forest Classic Car Hire allow you to enjoy self-drive experiences across the National Park, and you can choose from cars such as a Jaguar or an Austin Healey. 

Whether you do this in a classic car or your won, the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is beautiful, and one of the best ways to see the New Forest if you don’t enjoy walking. Take in the Redwood trees, stop for photos or a picnic, and continue your drive. 

7. Explore the towns and villages in the New Forest.

If you’re looking for places to visit or places to stay in the New Forest, make sure you don’t miss out on the cute villages and market towns. Soak up a bit of English culture as you wander around the streets, have an afternoon tea or a pub lunch, and chat to some of the locals. The communities are full of variety, culture and character.

The best towns and villages in the New Forest to visit include…

  • Brockenhurst (don’t miss St. Nicholas Church)
  • Milford-on-Sea (wonderful views across to the Isle of Wight and the Needles; don’t miss a visit to Hurst Castle)
  • Lyndhurst (the “capital” of the New Forest, home to the New Forest Heritage Centre)
  • Burley
  • Lymington (St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery)
  • Beaulieu (National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Palace House)
  • Ringwood
  • Minstead
  • New Milton
  • Sway (the tower)
  • Fordingbridge (there’s a medieval stone bridge, it’s also gret for watersports here)
  • Hythe (take the cruise around the harbour)
The best things to do in the New Forest National Park, England
Photo by Ellen Kerbey on Unsplash

8. Go cycling in the New Forest.

If you enjoy cycling, one of the best things to do in the New Forest is to rent a bike and enjoy the cycle paths. Whether you want to cycle along the quiet village roads and stop for a cup of tea, to have a quiet day in the countryside or forest, or the ride a bike along the English coast, the New Forest offers something for every avid cyclist. 

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9. Go to the beach for a walk or a swim.

Many people don’t associate the New Forest with coastline, but it is in fact home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK. The 40-mile coastline gives you plenty of opportunity for swimming in the cold English water or for beautiful walks along the coastline. Some of the best beaches in the New Forest include Barton-on-Sea, Milford-on-Sea, Lepe, Calshot and Keyhaven. 

10. Taste the local beer or cider.

If you want to take a break from all the walking and cycling, one of the best things to do in the New Forest is to taste the local beverages! Pay a visit to the Ringwood Brewery to taste some local beer, or to New Forest Cider in Burley to taste the local cider. 

11. Visit Exbury Gardens and take the steam railway.

Taking the traditional steam railway through Exbury Gardens is one of the most relaxing things to do in the New Forest. The gardens cover more than 200-acres and offer a variety of plants, tranquility and nature. The entrance ticket, which is £18.50, includes your 20-minute steam train ride and as much time in the gardens as you want.

12. Go horse riding in the New Forest.

So, obviously you can’t ride the New Forest ponies, but many riding schools in the New Forest, such as the Burley Villa School of Riding, offer riding experiences in the New Forest. Enjoy the forest from a different perspective to walking or cyclnig and enjoy being close to these majestic animals.

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13. Smell the lavender at New Forest Lavender Gardens.

I absolutely love lavender and all its health benefits, and one of the best things to do in the New Forest is to visit the New Forest Lavender Gardens. Located in Salisbury, take a walk through the gardens and then visit the nursery and the tearooms. 

Lavender is really important in terms of its medicinal and wellness properties. Explore wellness further on my blog here. 

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What are your favourite things to do in the New Forest National Park?

Where are your favourite places to visit in the New Forest? Anything you’d add?

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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A complete guide to New Forest National Park, EnglandA complete guide to New Forest National Park, England
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