Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
The New Forest National Park is one of the gems of southern England, offering ancient forests, unspoilt countryside and picturesque villages. The region is a popular holiday destination, and on a hot summers day, you may fancy a trip to the beach.
You may expect there to be many decent beaches close to the New Forest, as it borders the Solent and the English Channel, but in fact, there are very few.
Much of the coastline is marshy mudflats (around Lymington) or shingle beaches (around Calshot and Milford on Sea), while the Solent Estuary is lined with mud banks, along with the industrial complex of Fawley Oil Refinery.
There are good beaches to be found near the New Forest, but they tend to be much further to the west, and you will have to drive at least 20 minutes to reach them.
Related articles: The best of the New Forest
Here is a quick summary of the best beaches of the new Forest region:
• Best sandy beach in a lively setting – Bournemouth beach
• Best sandy beach in a calmer setting – Southbourne Beach and Boscombe beach
• Best beach for young children – Avon beach and Friars Cliffs beach
• Best beach with a natural and pristine setting – Lepe and Hengistbury Head
• Best location for water sports – Calshot and Christchurch Harbour
• Hidden gem - Mudeford Sandspit (a ferry is needed to travel here)
The interactive map below shows the location of all of the beaches in the New Forest region.
The green markers are sandybeaches,
the blue markers are a mix of sand and shingle,
and the yellow markers are non-sandy beaches.
The New Forest beaches from west to east: 1) Bournemouth beach 2) Boscombe beach 3) Southbourne Beach 4) Hengistbury Head 5) Mudeford Sandspit 6) Avon beach 7) Friars Cliffs beach 8) Highcliffe Castle Beach 9) Highcliffe beach 10) Barton-on-Sea/Hoburne Naish beach 11) Barton-on-Sea beach 12) Milford-on-Sea 13) Lepe 14) Calshot
The following section will detail the beaches of the New Forest region, from west to east.
Sandy beach - 18miles from Brockenhurst (New Forest)
Bournemouth beach is the most famous sandy beach of the Dorset coastline and is always an exciting hive of activity during the summer. The beach tends to attract a young and trendy crowd, but there is an equal mix of families and older visitors, all drawn by the soft sands and clean seawaters.
The only downside to Bournemouth beach is its popularity, which means the section around the pier will be packed, and it is a nightmare to find anywhere to park.
Bournemouth beach is fantastic for a beach day if you're happy to get up early in the day, and drive the 40 minutes to Bournemouth. For most people on holiday in the New Forest, it's a bit too far to travel.
Sandy beach - 16 miles from Brockenhurst (New Forest)
Boscombe is an amazing beach for families and older visitors, and is the calmer and more mature version of Bournemouth beach. Boscombe beach offers the same gorgeous sands and clean waters, but the average age of the visitors is much older.
The beach sits at the base of a cliff, and extending along the 2.5km beachfront is a scenic beach promenade, lined with traditional beach huts.
Boscombe is a massive beach, and there is always space on the sands to be found, but you will experience the same car parking difficulties in the summer as with Bournemouth.
Sandy beach - 14 miles from Brockenhurst (New Forest)
Southbourne Beach is the lesser-known side of Bournemouth bay. Southbourne beach is very similar to Boscombe with soft sands and found at the base of a cliff, but is situated in a calm, residential area. This beach is popular with locals, but little visited by tourists, who prefer the hecticness of Bournemouth 6km further around the bay.
Southbourne beach is fantastic for young families or older visitors as it is the calmest and quietest of Bournemouth bay.
If you are based in the New Forest, Southbourne Beach is a good choice as the journey is much shorter (around 20min) than to Bournemouth/Boscombe (40/30min).
Sandy beach – 14 miles from the New Forest
Hengistbury Head is the headland that divides the Bournemouth and Christchurch bays, and the area is a protected nature reserve.
This headland is a popular location for its coastline hiking trails, but it also offers a beautiful sandy beach too. Hengistbury beach is the continuation of Bournemouth bay, so has more of the soft sands and clean seawaters, while being surround by unspoilt countryside.
The only downside is that the beach faces a westerly direction and is exposed to the prevailing winds. The beach was a popular area for kite surfing and kiting until the local council banned kites with a span larger than 3.5m in 2018.
Related articles: Hengistbury Head guide
The unspoilt coastline at Hengistbury beach
Sandy beach – 12 miles (a ferry is needed to travel here)
Mudeford Sandspit is the hidden gem of a beach within the New Forest region.
Mudeford Sandspit is a sandbar peninsula, which sits at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour and on the sheltered eastern side of Hengistbury Head. The sandbar beach offers powder-soft sands, clean seawaters and the pristine scenery of Hengistbury Head. Along the beachfront are colourful beach huts, which are the most expensive in England (costing an eyewatering £340,000).
Mudeford Sandspit is highly recommended for your beach day.
Advice: The best way to travel to Mudeford Sandspit is to park at Mudeford Quay and catch the ferry (£2) across Christchurch harbour.
Related articles: Mudeford guide
Mudeford Sandbank beach (right) and Christchurch Harbour (left)
80% sand 20% shingle – 11 miles from the New Forest
Avon beach is the most popular beach of the Christchurch bay region, and is a fantastic location for your beach day.
The beach extends eastwards from Mudeford Quay, and is a beautiful sandy beach that has small patches of shingle. Avon beach has calm waters, is sheltered from any winds, and is very popular with families.
Behind the beach is a pretty beach promenade that connects Mudeford to Highcliffe castle beach, and is lined with colourful beach huts.
Avon beach is a very popular, so plan to get here early to find car parking.
The beach side promenade along Avon beach
90% sand 10% shingle – 10 miles from the New Forest
Friars Cliffs beach is the continuation of Avon beach and often considered part of it. There is more sand at Friars Cliffs beach than Avon beach, and the beach becomes much less crowded as you head further to the east.
Friars Cliffs beach is a favourite with locals as dogs are allowed on the beach all year round.
Friars Cliffs beach is another outstanding beach for a beach day trip from the New Forest. The only downside is that there is only a small car park.
There is much less development near Friars Cliffs
60% sand 40% shingle – 11miles from the New Forest
Highcliffe Castle beach is named after the neo-gothic mansion that stands atop the cliffs above the beach. The beach is a mix of sand and shingle (slightly less sand than Avon beach) and is surrounded by forested cliffs of the Steamer Point Nature Reserve.
Highcliffe Castle beach is great for children, but there is very limited car parking, so most visitors to the town of Highcliffe head to Avon beach or Highcliffe beach.
Related articles: Highcliffe guide
50% sand 50% shingle – 10miles from the New Forest
Highcliffe beach is a good backup option if everywhere else is too crowded or you are unable to find anywhere to park.
Highcliffe beach sits at the base of 300m high cliffs (hence the name of the town), and the beach is set between massive sea groynes. As part of the coastal defences, there are large banks of shingle, but along the shoreline there are large patches of sand
This is a low-key beach, which is suitable for children, and is always less busy than Avon beach. At the top of the cliffs is a large car park and an excellent restaurant (the Cliffhanger Café), and Highcliffe town is only a short walk away.
Insight: A visit to Highcliffe beach can be easily combined with Hoburne Naish beach (see next beach)
The eastern side of the Christchurch bay is more exposed to any winter storms and has less sand than the western side
100% sand – 10 miles from the New Forest
Warning: very small beach at high tide
Hoburne Naish beach lies at the base of the cliffs on which the Hoburne Naish campsite sits. This section of coastline has significantly eroded more than the cliffs at Highcliffe. At the base of the cliffs there is a sandy beach, but it almost disappears at high tide.
There is no public parking within the campsite, so the best way to visit is to park at Highcliffe beach car park.
The heavily eroded cliffs of Hoburne Naish beach, as seen from Highcliffe beach
70% sand 30% shingle – 8 miles from Brockenhurst (New Forest)
Barton-on-Sea beach refers to the 3km stretch of coastline that extends along the front of the village of Barton-on-Sea.
This is a coastline very similar to Highcliffe beach, with massive sea defences, banks of shingle, patches of sand and very high cliffs to climb.
Barton-on-Sea is an area popular with locals but barely known by tourists. If you want somewhere low-key and close to the New Forest, Barton-on-Sea is a good choice of beach.
The cliffs are very steep at Barton-on-Sea
Shingle – 9 miles from the New Forest
Milford-on-Sea is a pretty coastal town that has a large shingle beach backed by colourful beach huts. If you are happy with a shingle beach, then Milford-on-Sea is the best option.
The shingle bank extends for over 3 km to the coastal fortifications of Hurst castle, and Hurst castle makes for a fascinating day trip while in the New Forest region.
Related articles: Milford-on-Sea guide
Milford-on-Sea has pretty beach huts, but the beach comprises purely of shingle
40% sand 60% shingle – 13 miles from the New Forest
Wild and tranquil is the best way to describe Lepe beach, which is set within an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". The coastline is surrounded by unspoilt countryside (the Lepe Country Park), and the beach itself is a mix of sand and pebbles, with some large sandy sections.
Along the Lepe coastline are many remnants from WWII, as this was where the allied troops prepared and launched the D-Day landings from. Structures from the war include gun pillars, slipways and boat moorings. For children, there is a play park and a "sensory garden".
If you are looking for somewhere unique for a beach day, then consider Lepe.
Shingle – 14 miles from Brockenhurst (New Forest)
Calshot beach sits at the mouth of the Solent Estuary and is a long shingle bank, which is buffeted by strong winds. These constant winds make the area popular for water sports, such as windsurfing and kite surfing. If the winds or currents get too strong, there is a sheltered lagoon to the rear.
Calshot is not really suited for a day on the beach, but is an enjoyable place to partake in the water sports or to simply watch them.