Summer Sun Over The Meon Valley From Butser Hill In South Downs In Hampshire

The Best Things to Do in Hampshire

There are many things to do in Hampshire to suit all tastes. Families can whizz through the North Wessex Downs countryside on a bike ride, see history brought to life at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard or have fun at Peppa Pig World. Meanwhile, couples and groups of friends might like a trip to Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) or to visit a vineyard for a sparkling afternoon tea.

Read on to discover more things to do in Hampshire.

Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey, home of the Granthams

Highclere Castle

If you were glued to the period drama, Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle will be instantly recognisable as the home of the Grantham’s. In real life, Highclere Castle belongs to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon (Lord and Lady Carnarvon).

The good news is, you can glimpse what life here was, and is, like for yourself. The house and its gardens are open to the public during the summer months and on other selected dates.

A tour includes the main state rooms, some of the gallery bedrooms, the downstairs staff quarters and the Egyptian Exhibition in honour of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s joint discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. A fascinating collection of the Earl’s antiquities are on display too.

A variety of special tours are also available including movie-themed tours, Valentine’s afternoon teas and Christmas at the castle. Pre-booking is usually essential.

New Forest pony silhouettes

Visit the New Forest

Covering part of South West Hampshire and a grazing ground of the famous New Forest ponies for hundreds of years, this national park boasts some of the most picturesque scenery in South East England.

A walker’s paradise, if you love nothing more than a good hike, choose from paths through shaded woods, mossy groves and heathland. Or head down to the New Forest’s coast, for example, Barton on Sea, which is part of the long-distance Solent Way.

If you’re feeling adventurous there’s canoeing and kayaking on the River Beaulieu. However, if you’re visiting on a family holiday in Hampshire there are family-friendly cycling routes and the Peppa Pig World theme park to enjoy.

A beautiful view of Beaulieu in Hampshire overlooking the still river towards pretty houses

National Motor Museum – Beaulieu

Beaulieu is an award-winning day out in the New Forest and one of the best things to do in Hampshire. Attractions here include the Palace House and Gardens, Beaulieu Abbey and World of Top Gear. However, it is arguably best known for the National Motor Museum.

There are over 280 vehicles in the collection with the oldest dating from 1875. There’s  everything from F1 racing cars to Land Speed Record-breakers, classic family saloons to pioneering cars, plus a host of motorcycles.

With a variety of galleries, exhibitions and motoring memorabilia on display, the museum is a real hit with petrol heads of all ages and tastes. Don’t miss cars featured on screen including Mr Bean’s Mini and Del Boy’s Reliant Van.

The Spinnaker in Portsmouth, Solent

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth is a port city rich in maritime history with strong ties to the Royal Navy. If you’re a history lover, a visit to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is one of the best things to do in Hampshire.

There are all kinds of things to see and do here. Climb aboard famous ships including Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, used during the Battle of Trafalgar and HMS M.33, one of the last surviving British First World War ships.

Take a harbour cruise for a look at modern day Royal Navy vessels, including aircraft carriers. Visit the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Mary Rose Museum or take the water bus to the Submarine Museum… the list goes on.

Along the way you will hear first-hand accounts and see history brought to life through actors in period dress and a host of interactive displays.

Jane Austen's Chawton House, with snowdrops in the foreground

Follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen

Jane Austen is a much loved and celebrated writer, famous for novels including Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park. She was born, worked and died in Hampshire, so it’s the perfect place to find out more about her.

Visit Jane Austen’s House in the pretty village of Chawton where Austen penned her ideas. Also, head to the Elizabethan Chawton House that was owned by her brother and contains Austen family heirlooms.

There are self-guided walking trails to follow too, including a 1.5-mile walk from Alton to Chawton with Jane Austen Trail signs to help you navigate your way. Plus, a variety of events are held throughout the year including the Jane Austen Regency Festival in June.

Grape picking

Visit a vineyard

Hampshire’s beautiful countryside is home to some excellent vineyards. So, if you like a tipple, read on as these vineyards all offer tours, tastings and the opportunity to purchase a bottle to enjoy back at your cottage.

Sample premium sparkling wines at Hattingley Valley that also offers special events such as cheese and wine tastings and a flower arranging workshop complete with a glass of wine to help inspire your designs.

Meanwhile, Black Chalk Wine in the stunning Test Valley also offers tours and tastings, plus sparkling afternoon teas served with a vintage glass of Black Chalk Classic – it’s an indulgent treat.

If you’re looking for lunch, try Hambledon Vineyard where the restaurant serves fine English cuisine. Or for something informal book a sparkling vineyard picnic. It includes an exclusive picnic spot in the pretty grounds with views over the South Downs and a bottle of fizz on ice.

Bottles of Bombay Sapphire and tonic on a tablecloth

Bombay Sapphire gin distillery tour

Prefer gin to wine? Hampshire is the home of premium spirit, Bombay Sapphire. Housed in a former paper mill in beautiful countryside, the distillery is both historic and picturesque.

Not just a place where you can sample gin, but an attraction in its own right. Book a Discovery Experience that includes a G&T to sip in the on-site cinema room where you’ll learn more about the brand, a tour of the distillery and a visit to the glasshouse where the botanicals are grown.

There are many more experiences available too, including an Infusions Experience, a Gin Cocktail Masterclass, a Premier Cru Experience and Summer Cinema Nights.

Willow weaving a basket

Gilbert White’s House and Garden

If you don’t know already, Gilbert White was a pioneering naturalist of the 1700s. If you love natural gardens and a slice of history thrown in for good measure, you should visit Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

True to its original design, the garden is a series of landscapes from where nature can be admired. Some of the original features include the Great Oak, which was planted in 1730, a Greek temple-inspired alcove for birdwatching, a sundial and a fruit wall that trapped the sun’s warmth to help the fruit trees grow.

Special events are held throughout the year too, from pond dipping for kids in the summer holidays to guided bat walks and willow basket weaving.

the 18th-century country house of Mottisfont - The gateway into a walled garden at Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

Discover National Trust treasures

Hampshire is home to beautiful stately homes and historic buildings owned by the National Trust. If you like English heritage and interesting architecture, a step back in time at any one of them is one of the best things to do in Hampshire.

Perhaps, the 18th-century country house of Mottisfont will appeal with its collection of 20th-century art and riverside walks in the stunning garden. Or maybe you’re prefer The Vyne, a Tudor palace turned family home. Highlights here include a pre-Reformation chapel, a 17th-century summerhouse and beautiful woodland walks.

Then there’s Hinton Ampner, a country house that rose from the ashes when it was reconstructed after a fire in 1960. Today, it is home to collections of art and ceramics, while perfectly manicured gardens give way to vistas of the South Downs.

North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Breathe the fresh air in the North Wessex Downs

The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is perfect for an outdoor adventure in nature. Get your walking boots on and pack a picnic for a day of exploring on foot. There are plenty of rights of way, routes and trails to follow whether you’re looking for uphill hikes or gentler terrain.

If you prefer to cycle or go horse riding, there are plenty of opportunities along quiet country roads or bridleways. There is lots of wildlife to spot too, especially in spring and summer, including butterflies and skylarks.

You might want to include the famous Uffington White Horse that’s carved into the chalky downland of the North Wessex Downs. Although there are eight of these interesting carvings in total.

Freshwater Bay at the Isle of Wight, UK

Day trip to the Isle of Wight

You can take a day trip to the Isle of Wight, from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. (Or you might like to consider Hampshire with the Isle of Wight as a twin-centre cottage holiday.) Car and foot passenger ferries, and crossings of varying journey times, are available.

The Isle of Wight is a charming island where there are fantastic beaches, great restaurants, incredible attractions and a wonderful way of life. If you choose not to take the car, there is a good bus service on the island.

If you’re crossing over to Cowes there is an old town area, speciality shops and a marina, along with Osborne House, the elegant summer home of Queen Victoria to visit. Meanwhile, other things to do on the Isle of Wight include visiting The Needles and fossil-hunting.

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