Hampshire Holiday Planning Guide
Famous for evoking images of the rural landscapes of Jane Austen's novels, Hampshire also features numerous bustling seaside resorts and two of England’s largest ports, Southampton and Portsmouth. These thriving cities not only attract history hounds with a multitude of attractions celebrating the country’s maritime heritage, but they also feature modern wharfs packed with trendy restaurants, shops, and bars. The energy of Hampshire’s big cities is contrasted by secluded corners of tranquility found deep in the countryside, where idyllic villages preserve the old-world charm unique to this part of England.
Places to Visit in HampshireSouthampton
: Centered around a major port frequented by cruise ships and surrounded by museums, opportunities for nightlife, and unexpected historical sites, the largest city in the county should be an essential stop on your Hampshire itinerary.New Forest National Park Hampshire
: Originally established as the deer hunting reserve for King William I, today this national park area is a haven for nature lovers who can explore small towns, camp, cycle, horseback ride, and hike among the unique flora and fauna of the area, including the New Forest Pony. Portsmouth
: Spend time in the United Kingdom’s only island city and get your fill of sea air and maritime culture--a stroll along the docks and cobblestone streets will reveal an array of attractions, including historic ships and the 170 m (558 ft) Spinnaker Tower. Winchester
: The former capital city of England has layers of history, from its time as an Iron Age settlement to its current life as the home of University of Winchester and Winchester College. Don’t miss the Winchester Cathedral, which is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Romsey
: This small market town on the banks of the River Test is a great place for a relaxed holiday in Hampshire. The town is very walkable, and visitors can stroll around town visiting restaurants, pubs, markets, and historical sites such as Romsey Abbey, or take a break by the river, which is famous for fly-fishing. Basingstoke
: This old market town was rapidly expanded during the 1960s, giving a modern feel to a city that is a prime destination for a variety of Hampshire attractions, including a leisure park with options such as skydiving and indoor karting, and The Vyne, a historical family home that inspired Jane Austen. Ringwood
: Located on the River Avon, this picturesque town is a great base for explorations of the New Forest. Its historic weekly market is not to be missed, and it is the home of Ringwood brewery, which produces beer and wine and runs five pubs in the town.Lyndhurst
: Home of the New Forest Centre, delicious restaurants, art galleries, cafes, and comfortable inns, this village is a convenient place to stay while visiting the New Forest.Gosport
: This calm coastal town was a major military base for the British Navy until the late 20th century. Visit the town to tour former military sites that have been opened up to the public, or explore nature on the town’s woodland paths, rocky shore, harbor, and grasslands. Lymington
: A popular destination with yachters, this seaside town is worth a visit even if you don’t have your own boat: cobblestone shopping streets, historical sites dating back to the Iron Age, and a bustling harbor will provide a prime English harbor town experience.
Things to Do in Hampshire
Popular Hampshire Tourist AttractionsPaultons Park
: Fans of the hit children’s television show and other families with young children should make a point to stop here, where the kids will have a blast experiencing over 60 rides and attractions including roller coasters, water slides, train rides, and live shows. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
: Dive into 800 years of naval history with a visit to this Hampshire attraction, where you can tour historic ships and submarines, relax and take in the views on a harbor cruise, or visit one of many excellent maritime museums. Spinnaker Tower
: Take an elevator up the 170 m (560 ft) sail-shaped tower for sweeping views of the harbor and city below--for the especially brave, stop at Observation Deck 1, which has a glass panel that makes you feel as though you’re floating over the city. National Motor Museum, Beaulieu
: Auto and motorcycle enthusiasts should make a stop at this museum, which has over 250 vehicles on display, as well as a monorail, playground, and restaurant. Winchester Cathedral
: One of the largest cathedrals in Europe, this religious site is influenced by Norman and Gothic architectural styles and has an expansive collection of unique features including choir stalls carved in detail with images of animals and people, artwork, various memorials, and a patchwork of stained glass that is the result of a haphazard repair after the English Civil War. The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
: Visit this museum for a hands-on experience of maritime history. The boat-shaped building was constructed around the surprisingly intact remains of the 16th century warship The Mary Rose, and you can take a glass elevator up three stories to peek into the ship and view artifacts and scenes from daily life on the boat.New Forest
: Add a healthy dose of nature to your Hampshire vacation with a visit to this national park, where cycling, walking and horseback trails crisscross the landscape of heathland, coastline, pasture, and forests. For rainy days, visit the many museums and historic houses open to the public, or stop in one of the small villages for some New Forest cider. HMS Warrior 1860
: Four decks on this restored iron-hulled warship from the Victorian era will provide hours of entertainment, as you can see and pick up artifacts from the ship, get a taste of naval life by trying a gun drill, or select from a variety of demonstrations and activities. Marwell Zoo
: This sprawling, 57 hectares (140 acres) zoo and wildlife park has over 235 animals on display in enclosures that mimic their native natural habitats. Take a stroll on the wooded trails to see free range local wildlife. Buckler's Hard
: A former hub for British naval shipbuilding, today this complex of historic sites is a prime area for exploring history. Stop by one of the Georgian cottages, where you might find a cafe or a display of artifacts, visit the maritime museum, or stroll along the 3,642 hectare (9,000 acre) estate, which includes grounds and part of the Beaulieu River.
Planning a Hampshire Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Hampshire with Kids
With tons to do indoors and outdoors, much of it directly appealing to children, a vacation to Hampshire is a great choice for a family trip. Families who love nature and wildlife should visit the New Forest National Park Hampshire
, to camp, hike, cycle, or horseback ride. When traveling with children, Romsey
should be another essential stop on your Hampshire itinerary, for a visit to Paultons Park
and low-key explorations of the town. Portsmouth
also makes a great hub for a family holiday, with its many maritime attractions. Round out your trip with a visit to Basingstoke
, where exciting leisure activities and intriguing historical sites will keep the family entertained.
Things to Do in Hampshire with Kids
From hands-on historical sites to seaside spots to opportunities for encounters with wildlife, there is a wealth of things to do in Hampshire for children of all ages. Head to the New Forest
for a horseback ride or leisurely walk, and keep your eyes open for the wild ponies and rare birds that live in the park. For even more close-up encounters with animals, visit Marwell Zoo
, where kids can get close to new animals on the open paths populated with local species or enclosures designed to look like the animals’ original environments. Fans of the TV show and young amusement park enthusiasts will love a visit to Paultons Park
, where visitors can ride rides, see shows, and interact with characters who roam the park in costume. Older children will be fascinated by the region’s historic sites--some of the most interactive attractions that should make their way onto your Hampshire itinerary include the The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
and HMS Warrior 1860
, where visitors are invited to look at and touch artifacts from historical vessels.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Hampshire
Hampshire is a prime destination for traveling with children, and many Hampshire attractions specifically cater to families, which makes for an easier holiday. Many historical sites, for example, have exhibits and programming designed to appeal to all ages. Most tourists visit the area in the summer, and off-season visitors should be aware that many attractions close or have reduced hours during the winter. While renting a car will be the easiest way to get around with the family on your Hampshire vacation, consider taking the train instead of (or in addition to) driving: the area is well-serviced by trains, especially the cities, and a train trip can be a relaxing way to travel and take in some scenery.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Hampshire
Cuisine of Hampshire
Since the region is known as a destination for foodies, try to plan your Hampshire holiday with time to enjoy local food and drink. The area is famous for its fresh local produce, especially watercress, which is indigenous to the area and is now cultivated in the many clear, flowing streams and rivers that traverse the region. The rivers also provide fresh fish which is important to the cuisine, especially trout and salmon. Meats, such as lamb, beef, and pork, are thought to be especially good here: New Forest National Park Hampshire
pigs fed on a diet of acorns, beechnuts, and fallen apples produce delicious bacon and ham, or try some locally popular pork dishes such as Hampshire Hasslet, a pork loaf, or rasher pudding. Winchester
is becoming a destination town for fine dining, such as the Michelin-starred The Black Rat.
Shopping in Hampshire
From markets to malls, shopping is a popular aspect of Hampshire tourism. The region has many shopping centers and malls that will delight shoppers: try Westquay
to snag a deal at one of the many outlet shops, or Gunwharf Quays
for shopping with a beautiful water view. For a more localized shopping experience, try one of the area’s specialty boutiques, such as Handmade New Forest
, where you can buy locally crafted gifts, bath products, and confections. For foodies, a visit to one of the local farmers markets is not to be missed: pick up some smoked trout, preserves, or produce to have for a picnic or take home as gifts. Winchester Farmers' Market
is the largest farmers market in Europe and offers fresh local produce, baked goods, and gifts.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Hampshire
History of Hampshire
Hampshire has a long history. Archeologists believe it has been inhabited by humans since the last Ice Age, when Britain was still attached to Europe. While the area was initially thick with trees, the arrival of agriculture in 4000 BCE brought deforestation that has shaped the modern landscape. In the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, people built hilltop settlements, such as Danebury Iron Age Hillfort
, which lives on today as an interesting Hampshire tourist attraction. Visitors especially interested in this time period should pay a visit to Andover Museum and Museum of the Iron Age
, a free museum staffed with volunteers eager to talk about life in the Iron Age.
The area was occupied by the Romans on and off from 55-410 CE, during which time many towns built defensive walls, and the pottery industry of New Forest National Park Hampshire
spread across the region. After the Romans withdrew, the area transitioned into being the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex, the most powerful kingdom in Britain at the time. By the time of the Norman conquest, political power had shifted in favor of London, although the region still remained important, especially as the New Forest National Park Hampshire
was the favorite hunting ground of the British nobility.
By the 12th century, Hampshire's ports became increasingly important sites for the military and trade. Numerous castles and forts were built over the years to defend the ports, including Portchester Castle
, the ruins of which you can visit today. Due to these fortifications, Hampshire ports remained important even as other British ports declined. Learn about the history of a major port while visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
, which walks you through 800 years of naval history. The area was especially important to the military during World War II--for an immersive experience, add a stop at HMS Alliance Submarine
to your Hampshire itinerary, where you can board and explore a submarine used in the war.
Landscape of Hampshire
Your trip to Hampshire would not be complete without having time to appreciate the area’s natural surroundings, and what better place to start than with a visit to the New Forest
. Visitors to the national park can explore a patchwork of coniferous forests, heathland, deciduous forests, and grassland on foot, by bike, or on horseback. The northern and central parts of the county are filled with chalk hills and valleys, including the Hampshire Downs, which is a major agricultural production area for the country. The area is home to many rivers and streams, including the trout-heavy Test River and the River Itchen, which you can enjoy at Riverside Park
. The coastline of Hampshire is known for its historically important ports, but go off the beaten path to enjoy the natural beauty of the coast, at Hampshire attractions such as the pebbly and uncrowded Eastoke Corner Beach
Holidays & Festivals in Hampshire
Because the county has a wide offering of festivals, you may want to plan your Hampshire holiday around one (or more) special events. Art and culture enthusiasts will be interested in Basingstoke Festival, held every summer, which includes works from all arts disciplines including music, book readings, and art installations. Those with a more nontraditional taste will enjoy the Winchester Hat Fair, a celebration of street art including a children's parade, outdoor works, and music. Foodies should come during July, when the Hampshire Food Festival runs a month-long celebration of local food, including farm and vineyard tours, cooking classes, picnics, and special menus at restaurants. Sports enthusiasts can cheer on contestants during Cowes Week in August, which brings in about 1,000 sailors from all over the world to compete in various contests. At Christmastime, there are many local events toasting the holiday, including the famous and busy Winchester Cathedral
’s Christmas market and ice skating rink.
Hampshire Travel Tips
Climate of Hampshire
The climate of Hampshire is milder than the rest of Britain, with an average daily temperature of 9.8-12 C (49.6-53.6 F). July is the hottest month, with average temperatures around 21 C (69.8 F). Most tourists take their Hampshire holiday during the summer, and many tourist attractions close or have reduced hours in the colder months. January is the coldest month, with average daily temperatures around 3 C (37.4 F) and snow falling 12-15 days per year.
Transportation in Hampshire
Hampshire is conveniently serviced by a number of transportation options, as well as being accessible from major roadways. Southampton international airport is a great option for getting to the region. The maritime life of the county lives on today, and major ports have a variety of ferries and cruise ships that provide transportation for leisure, getting to islands, or getting to mainland Europe. Numerous train lines provide service to the area, including the South Western Main Line, the Wessex Main Line, and the Portsmouth Direct Line.