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10 of the best family days out in the New Forest in 2022

Want to horse around in the New Forest area with your family? Our top 10 days out have been recommended by parents, for fun memories guaranteed

Two girls sat on a wooden bench, in-front a large wooden play area in a forest
Published: July 25, 2022 at 11:06 am

Once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror, the 140,000-acre New Forest National Park (around 6 miles from Southampton) is more popular nowadays with hikers, cyclists, horse riders and families looking for a fun day out.

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Kids will love spotting all the various wildlife roaming here, including cattle, sheep, donkeys, pigs, birds and the famous New Forest ponies. Well known for its natural beauty, the area has cute villages scattered throughout – Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Beaulieu, to name a few – and they are perfect for a mooch and an ice cream. Burley village is also magical, seeing as it was once home to ‘Britain’s most famous witch’.

However, there's more than natural beauty and tree-lined walks to enjoy in the area – think theme and wildlife parks, activity farms, a motoring museum and more. When it comes to attractions for families with young children, the area won’t disappoint. Drawing on local knowledge, plus the experiences of MadeForMums parent reviewers, our list of the 10 best family days out in the New Forest area should inspire wide eyes, smiles and happy memories.

Best family days out in the New Forest at a glance

1. Marwell Zoo, Winchester

— Best for animal lovers

Three children playing inside a large teepee

Tickets – adult £25, child (aged 3-16) £21, under 2s free | Best for ages 6-11 | Best in good weather | Free onsite car park | Winchester station 8 miles

How long is a giraffe’s tongue? How many different species of lemur are there at Marwell Zoo? How big are wallabies when they’re born? You can find the answers to all of these questions – and more – at this 140-acre wildlife wonderland. Home to around 2,500 animals, which includes 140 exotic and endangered species, this zoo is a must-visit for all young animal lovers.

Run by conservation charity Marwell Wildlife, everything that you spend here is pumped back into the park, supporting projects to conserve habitats and species both locally and around the world. There are various different zones (The Wild Explorers Exhibit, The Tropical House, The Lemur Loop, The Explorers Trail), five play areas, a tractor ride, a road train and more than enough facts, fun and feeds to entertain kids and adults for a full day. If you think you’ll visit a few times throughout the year, the annual membership is very good value.

As the road train costs extra, MFM reviewer Maxine, who visited the park with her two children aged 3 and 2, saved money by going on the tractor instead. “The highlight of the day for my boys was the tractor ride, which runs in a loop round the zoo.” It’s also great for resting tired legs. Maxine recommends downloading the zoo’s app before your visit, mainly to have a copy of the park’s map to hand.

BTW, the answers are, respectively, around 20 inches, four, and the size of a jellybean.

Pros: Lots of info about animals, interactive exhibits, train and tractor ride for tired legs

Cons: Animals could be hiding, the main café can be a bit of a trek, train costs extra

Read the full MFM Marwell Zoo review

Book tickets at: marwell.org.uk

2. National Motor Museum, Beaulieu

— Best for car fans

Two kids driving small cars with steering wheels

Family ticket from £59 | Best for ages 6-12 | All-weather attraction | Free on-site car park | Brockenhurst station 7 miles | Advance bookings only

Del Boy’s yellow three-wheeler, Mr. Bean’s Mini, The Jaguar from Die Another Day: all cars on display at Beaulieu that your children probably won’t be that interested in, but you’ll likely get a kick out of. However, there's so much for primary aged children to see and do at Beaulieu, a multi-attraction site including the National Motor Museum, World Of Top Gear, Beaulieu Abbey and more.

Your little ones may be more drawn to the ‘flying’ Ford from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the gadgets in the James Bond exhibit, the remote-control cars in The World of Top Gear, the huge grounds perfect for running about in and exploring, the monorail, the vintage bus, the restored Victorian kitchen, the adventure play area Little Beaulieu… or any of the other attractions on offer.

If your group includes younger children, a ride on the monorail and time exploring the vintage bus and playground will be your best bet – they won’t get quite as much from this attraction as older kids. Also, bear in mind the path around the large pond isn’t particularly pushchair-friendly. Your child – and you – don’t have to be particularly ‘into’ cars to enjoy a fun day out here, but if they/you are, you’ll be in gearhead heaven.

Pros: Regularly updated On Screen Cars exhibit, great indoor and outdoor areas, plenty to keep parents entertained too

Cons: Not many vegetarian/vegan choices in the cafe, some exhibits feel a bit ‘squashed in’

Read the full MFM Beaulieu review

Book tickets at: beaulieu.co.uk

3. Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park, Romsey

– Best for preschool-aged children

A child standing in front of a large toy tractor

Family tickets from £155 | Best for ages 2-5 | Best in good weather | Free on-site car park | Southampton Central station 8 miles | Ticket price includes entry into Paultons Park

“Doo do do do do” *Sung in a jovial fashion*

You will hear the Peppa Pig theme tune played many times throughout your visit to Peppa Pig World. It may drive you slightly bonkers but seeing your little ones’ smiles as they ride on George’s Dinosaur Adventure, Miss Rabbit’s Helicopter Flight, Grandpa Pig’s Boat Trip – or any one of the nine rides and three play areas inside this oink-tastic park – will overshadow your desire for earplugs.

“Peppa Pig World is a preschooler’s paradise,” says MFM reviewer Sarah, who visited the park with her two children aged 5 and 2. But the fun doesn’t stop there – Peppa Pig World is just one of the five themed ‘worlds’ inside Paultons Park. The whole of the theme park, which includes Tornado Springs, Lost Kingdom, Critter Creek and Lost Africa, has more than 70 rides, as well as splash parks, indoor and outdoor play areas, shows and demonstrations, beautiful gardens, and an array of animals and birds.

‘There’s a Paultons Park app you can download’, suggests Sarah, ‘which I would thoroughly recommend.’ Parent tester Kate Elizabeth agrees: ‘The app was great for knowing where the queues were so we could try to avoid them.’

Pros: Rides for all ages, handy app, queue times often clearly displayed

Cons: Food a bit disappointing, not a lot of indoor activities if it’s rainy

Read the full MFM Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park review and our list of the 10 best UK theme parks for families.

Book tickets at: paultonspark.co.uk

4. Moors Valley Country Park and Forest, Ringwood

— Best for children of varied ages

Two girls sat on a wooden bench, in-front a large wooden play area in a forest

Free entry | Best for ages 2-12 | Best visited in good weather | Paid onsite parking | Christchurch station 10 miles

Do you have a Gruffalo fan in your family? If so, you may not make it past the forest picnic area at Moors Valley, which is home to a lifesize sculpture of the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s Child, as well as the fox, mouse, owl and snake. If you manage to coax your bookworm away, you’ll discover all manner of other outdoor fun to be had in this 1,000 acre country park and forest.

There are adventure playgrounds, a treetop trail, fishing lakes, plus walking and cycling trails galore. Parent tester Hannah really rates the play trail that has wooden structures to clamber on. “The play trail keeps little ones interested enough to walk quite far without much complaining.” MadeForMums Consumer & Reviews editor and mum of 3, Christy, agrees, saying: "My 6 and 8 year old loved exploring the wooden structures, while my husband let our 2 year old alternate between walking and hopping in the buggy to keep up. We went on a fairly wet day in June, but wellies and raincoats kept us dry enough to enjoy a full afternoon's walk."

Hannah adds: “My favourite part is probably the toddler play area though, as it's huge, enclosed and there’s plenty of variety.” A miniature steam railway, bike hire and Go Ape ropes course are also available for an extra charge. Plan a visit by perusing the array of themed maps on the website.

This is a real back-to-nature, fresh-air kind of attraction, which caters for the whole family. Little ones will love the ever-changing ‘character trail’, which takes them to meet their favourite book characters in the forest while encouraging them to fill in an activity pack (which can be obtained from the visitor centre). Past trails have featured Zog, Shaun the Sheep, Superworm, Percy the Park Keeper, the Highway Rat and – Oh help! Oh no! – the Gruffalo.

Pros: Loads to do, rangers can help you plan your day, GPS tracker service in case you get lost

Cons: No covered picnic areas, not all trails are pushchair-friendly.

Book tickets at: moors-valley.co.uk

5. Snowtrax Alpine Activity Centre, Christchurch

— Best for adventure

Two kids sliding downhill, both inside rubber rings
Picture: Snowtrax Alpine Activity Centre, Christchurch

Ringo/ski bob £10 for half an hour, Alpine Adventure Park £5.30 per child (under 2s go free) | Best for ages 3-10 | Best visited in nice weather | Free onsite car park | Christchurch station 4.5 miles | Ringos and ski bobs must be booked in advance

Who needs actual snow when you’ve got Snowtrax Alpine Activity Centre? These dry ski slopes accommodate skiers and snowboarders, as well as ski bobbers and ringo riders. The latter two activities are fantastic fun for little ones and provide a thrilling day out that’s a break from the ordinary. Age restrictions apply, with children aged three and over allowed on the ringos and aged six and over allowed on the ski bobs. If your child isn’t a ‘woo-hoo, let’s go!’ kind of kid, they may need a bit of encouragement to set off as they teeter on the edge of the slope. Staff are helpful and can walk them halfway down the slope and give them a nudge from there.

After (or before) their slope session, there’s an amazing adventure playground on the grounds with a lifesize pirate ship, complete with smugglers’ tunnels, canons and a treasure chest – Goonies, eat your heart out! There are also trampolines, zip wires, a wooden fort with bridges, climbing frames and fireman’s pole, slides, swings and a toddler play area. If your child is going to hit the slopes as well as the playground, tickets cost £4.50 (rather than the full price of £5.30) for the Alpine Adventure Park. Adult tickets into this area are £2.95 but a voucher of the same value can be redeemed for food and drinks.

Pros: Unique attraction, great for little thrillseekers, varied equipment in the adventure playground, plenty of picnic benches

Cons: Ski bobs has a ski lift but children have to walk ringoes back up to the top of the slope

Book tickets at: snowtrax.eu

6. New Forest Wildlife Park, Southampton

— Best for wildlife

Two young girls standing in-front of some deer in a forest

Family ticket from £40.50 | Best for ages 3-11 | Best visited in nice weather | Free onsite car park | Ashurst New Forest station 2 miles

While the New Forest is famous for its free-roaming ponies, venture into the New Forest Wildlife Park and you will come face to face (or face to snout/beak/horns/antlers/whiskers) with all manner of fascinating, beautiful, and unusual animals. The cheeky otters are often the biggest hit with kids, who will watch for ages as they swim, play and lark about together.

There’s also bison, deer, ferrets, wolves, wild boar, lynx, Scottish wildcats, wallabies, mouflon, harvest mice, badgers and hedgehogs – one called Sonic and one Hermione. Speaking of Harry Potter characters, if you have a fan in tow, they’ll probably want to pay a visit to the snowy-owl Hedwig lookalikes – just one of the 10 owl species homed here. The information boards at each enclosure are educational and give reasons for the animals being in captivity, plus explain how the park is helping conservation efforts. The park is quite compact so it’s easy to navigate, with less risk of little legs getting tired.

Mum of 3 Christy says: "We've visited the park several times. I like the fact it's fairly compact and easy to explore with kids aged 2-9, but also we find something new each time, like feeding the deer or listening to a wildlife talk – my daughters were thrilled to hear how dangerous piranha-munching wild otters can be! It also has plenty of pocket-money priced toys in the gift shop if you want a souvenir without breaking the bank."

As well as the animals, there are two adventure playgrounds. Go Wild includes a log jumble, climbing ropes, swings and spider nets, while Mini Go Wild, which is aimed at children aged six and under, has a sandpit, diggers, slides and climbing frames.

Pros: Separate playgrounds for big and little kids, plenty of talks/feeding times, interesting animals

Cons: Sometimes the animals are ‘hiding’, not many indoor areas if it’s raining

Book tickets at: newforestwildlifepark.co.uk

7. Furzey Gardens, Lyndhurst

— Best for fairy doors

Furzey Gardens
Picture: Getty Images

Family tickets from £24 (suggested donation) | Best for ages 3-8 | Best visited in nice weather | Free parking adjacent | Ashurst New Forest station 6 miles | Only assistance dogs allowed

There is no better way to encourage a child to explore than by telling them there are fairy doors hidden nearby. See their imaginations fire up at Furzey Gardens, which has stunning flowers and 40-plus fairy doors scattered throughout woodland. Your little fairy hunters can either freestyle it or use the Fairy Door Trail map, which highlights 10 of these doors along an easier route that is accessible for pushchairs. There’s a strict ‘no glitter’ rule as it’s harmful to wildlife so leave your sparkles at home and instead sprinkle bird seed that you can get from a member of staff. Your child may also want to write a letter to a fairy and pop it in the postbox by the entrance. Cute!

The shady, rustic play area is also great fun, with climbing apparatus, a boardwalk, high tower, thatched huts, swings, a ‘bamboozalom’ (bamboo structure) for hide and seek and a boat for imaginative play. There are also a couple of designated climbing trees for your little monkeys.

Hungry tummies can be filled in the tearooms, which sell a yummy selection of cakes and scones, as well as savoury treats. Furzey Gardens is run by charity Minstead Trust, which provides people with learning difficulties support and a place to work. Entry into the gardens is by suggested donation and everything you give is ploughed back into the charity.

Pros: Charitable cause, beautiful gardens, fairy doors to find.

Cons: Some of the paths aren’t pushchair-friendly

Book tickets at: minsteadtrust.org.uk

8. Longdown Activity Farm, Southampton

— Best for farm animals

Two young girls holding a basket of cherries
Picture: Longdown Activity Farm, Southampton

Family ticket from £37 | Best for ages 1-6 | All-weather attraction | Free onsite parking | Ashurst New Forest station 1.5 miles | Advance bookings only | Dogs can be left in kennels in the car park

Moo! Oink! Hee-haw! Squeak! Neigh! You will hear all of these noises (and more – what sound do alpacas make?) at Longdown Activity Farm. Visitors are able to get up close and personal to the animals, whether bottle-feeding the calves and kid goats, feeding the larger goats and ducks, or holding the guinea pigs and chicks.

When playtime with the animals is over, kids can enjoy playtime in the piggy-themed play barn, outdoor play area, trampolines, ride-on mini tractors (plus rides on the big tractor with trailer – it’s bumpy!), go-carts (on the ‘Farmula One’ track) or on the Go Quackers duck-race game. There’s also a crazy golf course and some diggers, both of which require pound coins to play. Cash back is not available at the farm so be sure to bring a few pound coins if you think your little ones will want to pitch, putt or dig.

The farm isn’t that big, so is better suited for smaller children and even when the weather isn’t great, there are some indoor activities to dodge the rain. There’s a gift shop and farm shop selling locally-sourced produce, but if you fancy a souvenir that’s more on the feathery side, there are chickens for sale. Cluck!

Pros: Interactive activities, plenty of play equipment, both indoor and outdoor attractions, a good range of vegetarian and gluten-free food

Cons: Outdoor play area can get slippery and muddy when wet, the car park is located across the road

Book tickets at: longdownfarm.co.uk

9. Buckler’s Hard, Brockenhurst

— Best for history

A family listening to a woman dressed in traditional maid's clothing and pointing to old objects on a table
Picture: Buckler’s Hard, Brockenhurst

Museum family ticket £16, cruise family ticket £20 | Best for ages 6-11 | Best visited in good weather | Paid onsite parking | Brockenhurst station 9 miles | River cruise runs Easter to October

Buckler’s Hard is both a hamlet and a beautiful history lesson. There are many things to see and do here, with the museum and river cruise being the only two paid attractions. If you don’t know where to start, there’s a suggested itinerary on the website. Backing onto Beaulieu River, there is plenty of green space for your little ones to let off steam – who’s up for a roll down a grassy hill? If you’re after more ‘structured’ exertion, the two-mile walk to Beaulieu village (home of the motor museum – see no. 3) along the river is lovely, and pushchair-friendly.

The Shipwright’s Cottage, St Mary’s Chapel, Captain’s Table and Master Builder’s House Hotel are some of the other free places to visit. There is a maritime museum too, that is much bigger than it looks but under 5s probably won’t get much out of it (unless they like sea shanties). Expect a quiz trail and a few interactive activities for older children, however.

On a sunny day, the 30-minute river cruise is gorgeous. Audio commentary reveals the river’s history, while kingfishers and deer can be spotted.

Pros: 5-minute drive/1-hour walk from Beaulieu, some free attractions, beautiful scenery with plenty of space for kids to run about.

Cons: Parking is expensive, young children may not enjoy the museum

Book tickets at: bucklershard.co.uk

10. Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Ringwood

— Best for bird watching

An audience of small children and adults watching an owl

Family ticket from £37.50 | Best for ages 3-11 | Best visited in nice weather | Free onsite parking | Hinton Admiral station 7 miles | Dogs can be left in kennels in the car park

Duck! No, that’s not a bird you’ll see here – it’s what you’ll have to do as an owl, hawk, vulture, falcon or eagle comes swooping past your head during one of the daily flying displays. These displays, hosted by knowledgeable falconers, are definitely the highlight at this centre, and will have your little ones gawking and gasping with delight as they learn about various birds of prey and see them in action flying from perch to perch. Liberty’s is involved in many breeding and conservation projects, and also works as a rescue centre for various injured wild birds. If your children are inspired, they may want to sign up for a falconry or owl experience day, where they can handle and fly the birds themselves (minimum age is 10).

The talk inside the reptile centre is also great, with the keepers bringing the snakes, lizards, spiders and other creepy crawlies up close to visitors while offering facts, stories and the offer of petting the 11-stone python named Cuddles (no thanks!). There are also some giant African tortoises and giant rabbits, which are more ‘sweet’ than ‘eek’.

The centre is geared up for small children, with smooth footpaths and ramps making it easy to navigate with a pushchair. There’s also an ‘old boot’ play area and sandpit with toys in, both situated close to picnic benches so you can enjoy a sandwich from the cafe (or home) in peace while your kids play.

Pros: Educational and fun, birds and animals are well looked after, staff are knowledgeable and engaging

Cons: Talks and displays are quite infrequent so you may have a wait, some children might find the creatures in the reptile house scary

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Book tickets at: libertysfalconry.com

How we tested

When compiling this list, we wanted to provide a range of different activities that will appeal to children of varying ages with different interests – animal lovers, car fans, thrillseekers, mini history buffs… The New Forest is best enjoyed in fair weather but, this is Britain, so that can’t always be guaranteed (waterproofs and brollies at the ready!). While most of the attractions are best enjoyed on a nice day, there are also ones with indoor areas if the heavens have opened. We drew on the experiences of various parents who have visited the attractions, as well as the author, who lives nearby and has explored far and wide with her children. 

About the author

Katherine Bebo is a freelance writer with more than 15 years’ experience. She has written many books, including 111 Places in Poole That You Shouldn’t Miss and 111 Places in Bournemouth That You Shouldn’t Miss. Both venture to the surrounding areas, with the Bournemouth book including the New Forest. She is mum to two adventurous boys, aged 8 and 6, who love a day out. And collecting sticks.

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