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48-hours   ›   Short breaks  ›  South West of England

48 hours in - what to do in the New Forest with kids over 2 days

If your little nippers are animal-mad, then a short break in the New Forest with kids, I promise will be an absolute winner.

Once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror, the New Forest is home to some of South East England’s most picturesque countryside. The forest is known for its majestic trees, miles of crystal clear streams, and of course the famous free-roaming New Forest ponies, all to the backdrop of the most outstanding natural beauty. Made up of a whopping 566 square kilometres, there’s more than enough space for a brilliant fresh-air-filled short break in the New Forest with kids.

My two-night itinerary for what to do with kids in The New Forest will ensure you all have a fabulously fun and memorable short break in what I consider to be the most magical forest in the UK. Where ponies, donkeys and deer roam free, and attractions encourage children to learn about the wildlife that calls the New Forest home.

March 3, 2023

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Friday afternoon in the New Forest with kids

The best way to get acquainted with the New Forest with kids is to start by taking a walk.

My favourite walks are situated in the heart of the forest all within close proximity of each other. Take your pick from the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, where there is a selection of signposted walks, the most popular being the well named Tall Trees Trail. This is a short walk (about 1 1/2 miles) on an even gravel track – the kids will love the open spaces as they follow the winding route on the colour-marked trail.

My kids used to love standing up against the giant redwood trees for a photo to see just how tiny they looked in comparison to these huge trees – the perfect memory of the New Forest with kids for your album.

There is usually an ice cream van parked in the main car park for a well-deserved treat after your walk; and something for the kids to look forward to.

On the other side of the main through road you’ll find Bolderwood, with a free car park and another ice cream van to tempt you, this is another great option for a wonderful wander in the New Forest with kids.

Bolderwood is one of the best places to see deer, with a purpose built deer watching platform overlooking a large meadow and colour-guided trails to follow. We have spotted many deer and even a stag in all his splendour nestled amongst the bracken. Dogs are welcome and there is disabled access and toilets.

If you have some time, pop down to the New Forest Reptile Centre. Situated near Lyndhurst and only a couple of miles from the walks mentioned above, it is a brilliant and educational way to top off your afternoon in the New Forest with kids. See snakes and lizards up close and help support their re-introduction programme to get these reptiles back to nature across the UK.

Open seasonally, check their website for opening times, and with only donations requested for entry, this is a savvy money-saving activity on your New Forest with kids short break,

Friday evening in the New Forest with kids

Once you’ve had chance to check in to your accommodation (see my kid-friendly recommendations at the bottom of this article), head to one of the New Forest’s picture-perfect country pubs, some of which have gorgeous thatched roofs.

Here’s a couple of perfect pub options that cater well for children in my New Forest with kids itinerary.

1) The Drift Inn on the Beaulieu Road
With an outdoor play area and children’s menu, The Drift Inn caters for all, serving locally sourced ingredients and pub classics. On the kid’s menu are delicious sounding chicken strips, mac and cheese and burgers. This pub also has a commitment to sustainability – supporting local food and beverage suppliers – we love this here a t Girl About Travel!

2) The Alice Lisle at Rockford Green
This pretty pub is another child-friendly spot with a dedicated children’s menu and a fabulous outdoor play area. It’s likely you will see ponies and donkeys roaming around outside hoping to be fed.
NOTE – please do not feed the ponies – they are wild and this is discouraged in the New Forest.

To end your day, just up the road is a large sand dune – the kids just love sliding down it and it’s a lovely place to catch the last of the day’s sunshine. There is also a very shallow ford and stream to paddle in or take a fishing net and try to catch a Minnow.

Saturday morning in the New Forest with kids

Start the day with a good breakfast. Head to Beaulieu, a small village in the South-East of the New Forest and home to The British National Motor Museum, which is todays destination. Beaulieu village is picture postcard pretty, with a huge pond and charming thatched-roofed houses and cute little shops, tearooms and ice cream parlour. More opportunities to bridge the little ones with ice cream so you can have a wander on your New Forest with kids break.

The National Motor Museum boasts a whopping 285 vehicles, from F1 cars and the famous Bluebird to special exhibits such as the James Bond sportscars – check the website for their special events list. This was a firm favourite of mine as a child, I loved to ride the monorail over the grounds and look at the vast array of spectacular historic cars.

Also included is entry to Palace House, the family home of the Montagu’s. Once the gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey, it has been the Montagu residence since 1538. The children will enjoy visiting the restored Victorian kitchen from years gone by, and explore the grounds and gardens – they are exquisite. Walk amongst the flowers in the wilderness garden, spot birds on the Mill Pond walk and check out the tree carvings. Look out for Jack Frost!

Favourite characters from Alice in Wonderland can be seen in the topiary display. And no visit would be complete without a ride on the monorail, the oldest in England at a mile long; it passes through the roof of the museum and through the grounds.

Hop aboard the Veteran replica 1912 London open topped bus to end your visit.

There really is something for everyone here on a New Forest with kids break – enough to keep the whole family entertained. You could easily spend the whole day exploring.

Saturday afternoon in the New Forest with kids

Head straight from the museum in Beaulieu to The New Forest Wildlife Park, near Ashurst just a 12-minute drive away.

Open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, this compact park is a real hidden gem. Passionate about conservation and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned species, the knowledgeable staff are keen to teach you about their Harvest mouse, water vole and Eurasian otter captive breeding programmes to name just a few of the amazing projects here.

I visited with my friend and fellow Girl About Hampshire last year with her little one and we were mesmerised by the little mice going about their day, they are just super cute with little painted houses to pop in and out of and various obstacles to climb, they are very quick but also provide great photo opportunities.

Your kids will love the animal feeding and keeper talks – the otter ‘feed and talk’ is fascinating. Children are encouraged to ask questions and at certain times of year animal encounters are available too.

If there is still some energy left in the tank, then there is an adventure playground to run around in to ensure a good night’s sleep. You can also eat at the park too before returning to your bed for the night.

Sunday morning in the New Forest with kids

This morning on your New Forest with kids break take the short drive to Furzey Gardens – a tranquil woodland garden with a cosy chocolate box thatched cottage tea room – a common site here in the New Forest.

In the gardens there many rare and unusual plants covering the grounds, and there are over 40 fairy doors to hunt for.

What I really love about Furzey Gardens is that each visit helps support work experience for people with learning disabilities. The head gardener leads a team of approximately 30 people with learning disabilities and 20 volunteers each week, working hard to maintain the gardens and grow many plants in the nursery.

The main attraction for kids is hunting for the magical fairy doors, hidden in tree stumps and around the grounds. These little doors are hidden in various places – some are easy to spot and some will take all of your detective work to track down, we have yet to find all 40 of them!

For a really magical activity – write a letter to the fairy queen and get a reply, younger children will love this.

There is also a play area featuring wooden play structure, a boardwalk and a bamboozalom! You will have to visit to find out what that is.

Have a bite to eat in the pretty café before heading home. Choose from soup of the day, sandwiches and cakes or if the weather is on your side, book a picnic hamper or an early afternoon tea.

Purchase souvenirs in the on-site gift shop, which is full of local crafts from artists from the area, and be sure to get a pot of jam or chutney. make with love by the lovely folk with additional needs who work here.

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March 3, 2023