As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the New Forest, Florence Fortnam picks out a selection of Museums, exhibitions, farms and gardens in this glorious protected area in the south of England.
Fascinating museums and exhibitions, lessons on nature conservation and lush green gardens – the New Forest National Park has something to offer every member of the family.
At around 900 years old, the New Forest has a unique and interesting history dating back to William the Conquerer and there's no better way to discover the past than by exploring one of the many museums and exhibitions hidden within the park itself. Alternatively, meander through acres of protected parks and gardens or hop on the world's oldest pier railway line to Southampton. Whether you're learning about wildlife conservation in the New Forest Centre or enjoying the scenery from an open top bus, there's always something to do or see.
Discover Exbury’s hidden beauty as you explore this 200-acre site, famed for its flora and fauna including Rothschild Collection of rhododendrons, azaeleas, camellias and rare trees and shrubs. A steam railway line follows a picturesque circular route through the gardens along the ‘Rhododendron Line’ and there’s also the chance to hire a chauffeur driven buggy for private tours. If you tire of exploring, a number of interesting exhibitions are available to visit, including the story behind the construction of the Rhododendron Line. exbury.co.uk
This family theme park is home not only to exciting thrill rides and activities, but also a wide range of exotic birds and mammals and a collection of beautiful gardens. Children can learn about everything from emus to meerkats while the main garden, once the site of Paulton's house, boasts magnificent cedar trees that are over 160 years old as well as a network of paths only discovered during a recent renovation. The tranquil lake is fed by a tributary of the River Test, and is home to a surprising amount of wildlife. paultonspark.co.uk
Jutting out at the seaward end of the shingle spit that stretches 1.5 miles from Milford-on-Sea, Hurst Castle has a uniquely rich history. Originally built by Henry VIII it was once used to imprison Charles I, as well as being used as a prison and garrison during WWII. Hurst is now open to the public and offers many interesting exhibitions including the Garrison Theatre and the Trinity House lighthouse exhibition where you’ll learn more about the castle’s interesting past. What's more, the views of Milford-on-Sea and the surrounding coastline from the top centre keep are spectacular. hurstcastle.co.uk
National Motor Museum
At the world-renowned Motor Museum, you'll discover a collection of over 250 vehicles from every motoring era in history. There's also the chance to explore the science behind motor technology or enjoy the ‘Wheels’ exhibitions, where you’ll ride through motoring history, from the invention of the wheel to transport possibilities in the future. New to 2011, the 'Feats of Endurance' exhibition will also showcase vehicles that have braved extreme conditions around the globe and survived. The multi award-winning Jack Truck 1930s garage replica is a must see, having been lovingly created over the last 25 years. beaulieu.co.uk/attractions/national-motor-museum
Eling Tide Mill
Visit the only fully working and productive tide mill in the UK, producing flour using a tradition dating back some 900 years. Perched on the edge of Southampton Water, the site was abandoned in the 1940s but was restored in 1975 and now exists as both a working mill and a museum paying tribute to its industrial heritage. If you’re hoping to catch them milling, check the website for milling times. elingexperience.co.uk
New Forest Centre
In the heart of the National Park, the New Forest Centre is packed full of displays and activities. The New Forest Museum provides information on many aspects of the Park, from its geology and history to its commitments to wildlife and conservation. For children, the interactive family fun tree exhibition allows them to discover more about the park’s animal inhabitants while the New Forest gallery has a year round exhibition programme. The New Forest Centre is a must see as a first stop for visitors. newforestcentre.org.uk
Longdown Activity Farm
Great for children and animal lovers alike, Longdown Activity Farm lets visitors join in with their daily schedule of activities that includes feeding kid goats, calves and ducks, meeting the pigs, and getting to cuddle with baby rabbits, chicks and piglets at the baby animal encounter. Tractor and trailer rides are a great way to spend the afternoon while the farm shop offers locally-sourced Hampshire produce including everything from free-range meat and eggs to local honey and ground flour from the Eling Tide Mill. longdownfarm.co.uk
New Forest Tour
While it may be a great form of public transport, the New Forest Tour is also a great way to see the National Park. Relax as the bus ventures past magnificent heathland and woodland, then hop off whenever you feel like it to explore further. On-board commentary will provide information on all the important sites you pass, and you’ll be given a guide showing a wide variety of fantastic cycle routes. The tour runs every day during the summer months and even has space for several bicycles on board. thenewforesttour.info
Hythe Ferry & Pier Railway
Discover a little more of the New Forest's history with the Hythe Ferry and Pier Railway. Together, they link the Hampshire village of Hythe with Southampton, running every half hour, seven days a week. The railway is the oldest continually operating pier train in the world, having remained unchanged since the 1920s. Whether you choose to enjoy a boat trip or hop on the train, this is a great way to see the area surrounding the National Park. The pier also carries a walkway and cycle way. hytheferry.co.uk
For information on characterful places to stay, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our