Winter in the New Forest is a magical time. It’s a season of crackling, frosted leaves; of snow and storms, dark, starry skies and dramatic sunsets. And in the New Forest there is plenty to see and do during this colder season!
Winter is the perfect time to walk or cycle in the forest – fewer cars on the roads, fewer users of the tracks and more chances of getting close to nature.
Enjoying the great outdoors in the winter months
Don the layers and head out into the great outdoors. There is beauty all around you as you enter our National Park, even in the winter months!
Take your little ones on a nature walk and try to identify the bare trees from their structure alone or crunch the fallen leaves in our ancient woodland. Another popular activity is to spot animal tracks in the mud - deer, ponies, cattle and more… What will you see?
The winter months are a great time of year to do some bird watching. Birds of prey including merlin, peregrine falcon and short eared owl make regular appearances on the heathland. The great grey shrike, with its distinctive black mask and grey feathers is another winter visitor to the heathland. A great place to visit for some birding in the winter is the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Blashford Lakes nature reserve in the Avon Valley, near Ringwood. Here, huge flocks of overwintering birds fly onto the lakes to roost during the winter months.
Check out the date of the Winter Solstice (it changes a little every year but is usually around 20/21 December). Then set your alarm so you can wake up in time to take a hike up Piper’s Wait, near Bramshaw - officially the New Forest’s highest hill. Alternatively walk up Bolton’s Bench at Lyndhurst or stand atop the heathland at Minstead and take in the magnificent sight of the sun rising on the shortest day of the year, which is also the first official day of winter.
If it’s dark and clear, park up at one of our heathland car parks one evening (just don’t forget your torch!). Why? The New Forest has some of the UK’s darkest skies in the relatively light-polluted south-east. Nearly 90% of our skies are in the three darkest categories which make us the perfect place to see the Milky Way, spot Orion and the annual winter meteor showers.
If it snows check all the safety advice before heading out to see what conifers really look like in their native, snowy habitat. Build a snowman using pinecones and twigs for arms and a nose. In the snow the New Forest looks like a real-life Narnia!
Days out that pack a punch
If you’d prefer to be warm indoors then winter is the ideal time to take in some of our local museums. Lymington’s St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery runs a packed programme of exhibitions and events throughout the year.
In the heart of the New Forest, the New Forest Heritage Centre offers a fantastic and educational day out for everyone. Learn about the fascinating history and heritage of the New Forest whilst having loads of fun with all of the interactive ways of learning. The New Forest Heritage Centre is a great place to visit no matter what your age is and also regularly hosts events such as talks, exhibitions and more.
Beaulieu, with its National Motor Museum and Palace House, is open every day of the year (except Christmas Day). Here you can not only get to discover history about some of the world’s greatest motoring achievements but you can also step back into Victorian times. Regular events take place at Beaulieu including the popular Victorian Christmas event.
Continuing with the motoring theme, the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum, near New Milton is open on weekends over the winter, ideal for anyone who is keen on motorcycles and their history. Dotted alongside the museum is a selection of independent craft shops too.
Paulton’s Park, the home of Peppa Pig World, opens on various dates in the lead up to Christmas as part of the Christmas at Paulton’s celebrations. Experience Peppa Pig World in a festive setting and whizz around on some of the rides and rollercoasters that are open. Early booking is strongly recommended due to high demand. Activities change each year so be sure to check out their website to find out what’s on.
Families can enjoy the New Forest grotto and animal themed festive activities at Longdown Activity Farm at Ashurst in the lead up to Christmas as well as activities at Moors Valley Country Park, near Ringwood.
Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway is open throughout the year and offers tranquil and colourful walks in its own special New Forest countryside. The miniature steam railway is an ever popular feature of the gardens for visitors of all ages.
Sample some of our tempting treats - ideal for a foodie break
Buy some locally produced sausages (or even some Pannage pork from our acorn eating, free-roaming pigs) at one of our butchers, pre-make some sausage sarnies and pop some soup in a flask. Then take your food to one of our picnic locations deep in the woodlands, or you can even cook up the sausages at the beach at Lepe Country Park.
Try out some of the seasonal locally-sourced dishes on offer at some of our country pubs and restaurants. Is there anything better than sitting in front of a roaring log fire after a winter’s walk? Enjoy a pint of local ale from one of our many New Forest microbreweries. In fact, why not book onto a tour of Ringwood Brewery and discover how they make their ales? The tour finishes with a tasting session in the Pinroom Bar and there are opportunities to buy gifts and souvenirs from the on-site shop.
Head to Lyndhurst or Brockenhurst and stop in at one of the cafés or tea rooms that can be found in their high streets and surrounding areas after a couple of hours exploring the New Forest. Think homemade cakes, warming cups of tea and coffee and light lunches and you’ll get the picture.
Explore our historic towns and villages
While away some time by heading to Lymington. The Georgian High Street is lined with independent shops and some High Street favourites where you can pick up a new outfit, some Christmas gifts or just simply a treat. The weekly Saturday market which takes place in the town is also another great place to pick up items of jewellery, furniture, crafts as well as fruit, veg and other fresh produce, plus meet some of our locals.
The historic market town of Ringwood is a town full of fantastic history and heritage. The weekly Wednesday market has been held in the Market Place since a charter was awarded in 1226 and is a great place to purchase some great local crafts. Just up the road from Ringwood is the lovely Fordingbridge, another great place to browse through local shops and enjoy a warming hot drink at one of their cafes and tearooms. Fordingbridge is also a great place for a relaxing walk, especially down the long-distance Avon Valley Path.
The picturesque village of Beaulieu is a delight. You will often find donkeys or New Forest ponies wandering past the local stores and cafés plus there’s an enjoyable walk that leads you predominantly along the Beaulieu River to the historic maritime village of Buckler’s Hard.
Take in some bracing sea air on a trip to Milford on Sea, Barton on Sea or Lepe, or how about catching the ferry at Hythe to cross over the Southampton Water - perfect for spotting the luxurious cruise liners in their berths.
Spend the day in Burley, a traditional village known for its history and witchcraft. Pick up some witchcraft items in the quaint local shops, such as cauldrons and broomsticks, and learn more about the crazy history of this village by talking to the lovely locals. Head to one of Burley’s many pubs, cafes or restaurants for a refreshing drink and something delicious to eat.
Book a winter break
With some amazing days out, ample activities and lots of tempting treats on offer it’s well worth making a break of things over the winter months. Look out for special offers at our accommodation providers, particularly if you book for a couple of nights. We also offer Christmas, New Year and Twixmas breaks that often include meals and entertainment. Take a look at our accommodation pages today and plan your winter break here.
Top things to do in winter in the New Forest
Crisp winter walks. Enjoy the peace of the New Forest at a time when the tracks and trails are quieter. There is beauty all around, and so much to see. Try the Burley walk with views of heathland and wetland, or Whitefield Moor with its romantic hilltop views – perfect at sunset. Travelling with a family? Why not take your little ones for a walk? They'd love to swish their wellies through the carpets of leaves, and see if they can identify the bare trees from their structure alone.
Bird watching. The winter months are a great time of year to do some bird watching. A great place to visit for some birding in the winter is the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Blashford Lakes nature reserve in the Avon Valley, near Ringwood. Here, huge flocks of overwintering birds fly onto the lakes to roost during the winter months.
And breathe… plan your January detox. If you already feel a festive season of overindulgence is on the horizon, there’s no better place to start the new year. Relax as you indulge yourself in the tranquillity of a wonderful spa day or spa stay at one of the beautiful Hotels in the New Forest. Spas at Careys Manor Hotel, Balmer Lawn Hotel, Chewton Glen and Lime Wood hotels all offer a luxurious and rejuvenating experience. Add some treatments to your experience such as a full body massage, a specialist massage or body facial wraps, all of which will leave you feeling extra radiant.
Christmas at Paulton’s Park. The magic of Christmas through little ones’ eyes is something the whole family can enjoy. The New Forest’s award-winning amusement park takes on a festive feel with Peppa Pig and friends getting set for Christmas.
Pub lunches. There’s nothing better than sitting in front of a roaring log fire in one of the New Forest’s cosy country pubs after a chilly winter walk. Many of them feature local produce.
Museums and attractions! Beaulieu, with its National Motor Museum and Palace House, is a top day out for all the family and it’s open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Lymington’s St Barbe Museum runs a packed programme of exhibitions and events year-round. And the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst offers a fascinating, interactive insight into the Forest’s heritage. For bike fans, the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum at New Milton houses one of the finest collection of fully restored motorcycles in the world
Cycle trails. Two wheels is a great way to explore the New Forest, and if you don’t have your own bike there are several places to hire them from. There are miles and miles of off-road tracks and low speed limit roads where you can enjoy a leisurely day riding by herds of ponies in stunning scenery. One of the most popular routes for families is the two miles from Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard. Or, for a longer stretch, the six-and-a-half miles from Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst is a favourite – and all but 0.2 of those miles are off-road tracks.
Award-winning dining. Enjoy indulging in fine dining at destination restaurants including The Montagu Arms and Chewton Glen. Many others offer an AA rosette or two, so the New Forest can boast some truly special dining experiences.
Winter breaks. Whether it’s full-on luxurious pampering you’re after or a cosy family stay in a holiday park, the New Forest is a welcoming winter destination. Relax and enjoy getting closer to nature with the promise of a comfortable bed and a hearty breakfast.