Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
The New Forest is the beautiful national park of Southern England, which covers a vast and varied region. Found within the New Forest are areas of dense forest, unspoilt heathlands, and picturesque villages lined with thatched cottages.
The forest may be referred to as the "New" Forest, but it has ancient origins, being founded in 1079 as the private hunting grounds of Willian the Conqueror. Since its formation, medieval laws have allowed livestock to graze freely over the lands, and to this day, many thousands of ponies, cattle and pigs roam freely.
As a tourist destination, there is a lot to see and do in the New Forest, but as it covers such a large area, it is very easy to miss the highlights of the region. This article will detail the very best of the New Forest and help you get the most from your visit here.
Related articles: The best beaches near the new Forest
Even though the national park is known as the "New Forest", large swathes of it are farmland or nondescript heathland that have been grazed on for centuries. The forest sections are within "Inclosures", protected from the grazing farm animals by fences and cattle grids.
The best forest inclosures are around Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst or along the "Ornamental Drive", and the Ornamental Drive is our recommendation if you are after a walk in the forest.
Insight: The forest "inclosures" are named after the medieval spelling of enclosures as they originate from the "Inclosure Act" passed in 1801
"Bratley View" overlooking the heathlands of the central New Forest
The best towns and villages: 1) Lymington 2) Burley 3) Brockenhurst 4) Lyndhurst 5) Milford-on-Sea
The best nature and walks: 1) Tall Trees Trail and Blackwater 2) Bolderwood 3) Lepe 4) Wilverley Inclosure and plain 5) Hatchet Pond 6) Knightwood Oak (a 600-year-old tree).
The unique sights: 1) Exbury Gardens 2) Beaulieu National Motor Museum 3) Hurst Castle 4) Buckler's Hard 5) Paulton's Park (for young children)
The interactive map below displays the location of the highlights of the New Forest. The yellow markers display the best towns and villages, the green markers are the best walks, while the blue pins show the tourist attractions.
Key: 1) Lymington 2) Burley 3) Brockenhurst 4) Lyndhurst 5) Milford-on-Sea 6) Tall Trees Trail and Blackwater 7) Bolderwood 8) Lepe 9) Wilverley Inclosure 10) Hatchet Pond 11) Knightwood Oak 12) Exbury Gardens 13) National Motor Museum 14) Hurst Castle 15) Buckler's Hard 16) Paulton's Park
The following sections will detail the best of the New Forest and why you should visit.
If it rains, Rhinefield House is a grand setting for Afternoon-Tea
Lymington is a delightful harbour town and must be visited during your visit to the New Forest.
Lymington is a historic town that has become a centre for luxury yachting, and today contains one of the largest marinas in England. There is a lot to see in Lymington, there is a pretty quay and harbour, a traditional Highstreet, and scenic walks around the coastal nature reserve.
For families, there is the amazing "Lymington Sea Water Baths" with its 200m long inflatable obstacle course, while on Saturdays, the town comes alive with its bustling market. A whole day of sightseeing could be spent in Lymington, and a trip is often combined with Hurst Castle and Milford-on-Sea
Related articles: Lymington guide
The Tall Trees Trail is the finest walk of the New Forest, and this footpath leads from the car park at Blackwater. The path meanders through a forest of massive Redwood trees and Douglas firs, as it follows the "Rhinefield" section of the "Ornamental Drive".
The Rhinefield Inclosure was planted during the Victorian era when it was fashionable to grow exotic species of plants, such as the non-native redwood trees.
The southern section of the Tall Trees Trail crosses the Blackwater stream, and this gives the area its name. The Tall Trees Trail is only 2.5km long, but there are many other longer paths leading from the car park at Blackwater.
Blackwater is the best forested area of the New Forest, but it can get very crowded in the summer.
A bridge crossing the Blackwater steam
Burley is the quintessential New Forest village.
Found within Burley are traditional cottages and characterful thatched houses, while wild ponies wander freely about the village. The centre of Burley has a varied selection of independent shops, cafes and pubs, and is a delightful place to visit after a walk in the forest.
In Burley, bikes can be hired, or for something more sophisticated, "Afternoon Tea" can be taken at Burley Manor.
Insight: Burley is only a small village and does not take long to visit
Bolderwood is another beautiful section of the New Forest, which provides trails through native British forests. From the car park are three signed routes; the Deer Watching Trail (0.75km), the Jubilee trail (1.6km) and the Radnor Trail (3.2km).
Also, at Bolderwood is a Deer Sanctuary, a meadow where the deer are fed (May to September) which contains a viewing platform at the top of the hill to watch the timid animals.
Note: The deer are very shy and nervous, and are often difficult to spot, as they hide at the bottom of the hill.
Bolderwood is the most popular area of the New Forest, so expect the car park to be busy in the summer.
Bolderwood deer sanctuary
Lyndhurst should be the finest town of the New Forest, but sadly it is choked with traffic, and if you drive, its endless traffic will fill you with despair.
The town is the administrative centre for the New Forest and is the crossing point of the forest's two main routes (hence the bad traffic). Within Lyndhurst, is the New Forest Heritage Centre, a Victorian church, a characterful shopping street and a Ferrari garage (Meridien Modena).
Lyndhurst has a decent selection of restaurants and pubs, and is worth visiting, but do check traffic first, as there is no point getting stuck in 30 minutes of traffic just to visit it!
The highstreet of Lyndhurst – just as the traffic lights turn red so there is no traffic!
For beachgoers, the New Forest does not have a great coastline, with the majority of it being marshlands or privately owned. Lepe is the only section of the coastline that has a partially sandy beach and is accessible.
Lepe has a wild and unspoilt appearance, and is more a destination for appreciating natures beauty than for spending time on the beach. Along the coastline are views over the busy Solent Estuary, while to the eastern side are remains of the secret naval docks constructed during World War Two.
The beach at Lepe is a mix of shingle and sand, and is okay for families (it is the best beach in the New Forest), but there are strong currents in the sea.
Insight: For good beaches you need to travel to the west, to Highcliffe (Avon beach), Christchurch (Mudeford Sandspit and Southbourne beach) or Bournemouth.
Related articles: The best beaches near the New Forest
The Lepe coastline is outstanding for walking but only average for a beach day
During the 18th century, Buckler's Hard was a major naval shipyard, constructing massive sailing ships from the New Forest's oak trees.
Buckler's Hard is a unique historic sight, and comprises of two rows of labourers' cottages, separated by a large grassy avenue on which the trees would have been stored, and leads down to the former docks on the Beaulieu River.
Along with the historical sights, there are boat tours along the Beaulieu River, and there is a footpath to Beaulieu (2.5km to the north).
Note: The walk from Buckler's Hard to Beaulieu used to be very scenic and followed the river, but now due to damage (and protecting the natural environment), the path is inland.
The labourers' cottages in Buckler's Hard
Knightwood Oak is the oldest tree in the New Forest, and this magnificent Oak tree is estimated to be over 600 years old. Knightwood Oak is on the northern side of the Ornamental Drive and to the rear of the car park are forest tracks that are great for cycling.
Knightwood Oak may not be as tall as the Redwoods at Blackwater, but it is much more ancient
Brockenhurst has become the tourism centre of the New Forest. This large village offers everything you could want tourist-related; there are bike rentals, pubs, restaurants and shops.
Brockenhurst has a decent selection of pubs, and it is an enjoyable place to spend an evening. Brockenhurst also has the main train station of the region, with direct services to London.
One of the highlights of the village, is Brockenhurst Beach, a shallow section of the Lymington River where children can splash in the river and families have picnics.
The village centre of Brockenhurst
In the summer the most popular areas of New Forest (such as Bolderwood and Blackwater) can get extremely busy. At these times it is better to head to lesser-known areas of forest such as Wilverley.
Wilverley is surprisingly good, with a large forested enclosure and a heathland plain where ponies wander freely. Wilverley also has the advantage that it is close to A35.
Forest walks around Wilverley Inclosure
Hurst Castle is the heavily fortified and fascinating castle that has defended the Solent Estuary since the reign of Henry VIII in 1640.
The castle stands at the end of a shingle peninsula that juts out into the estuary, and behind the massive fortifications are rows of huge cannons that protected Southampton up until 1945s.
The castle is reached either by walking along the 2km shingle bank or catching a ferry from Keyhaven.
The formidable defences of Hurst Castle
Hatchet Pond is where the ponies gather to drink water, and to be photographed by tourists!
This is one of the prettiest heathland areas of the New Forest and there is a pleasant 2km walk around the lake.
Exbury Gardens is famed for their wonderous displays of rhododendrons, scenic wooded walks and model steam railway. The gardens are part of Exbury House and were created by the Rothschild family during the early 20th century. www.exbury.co.uk
The model steam railway of Exbury