History & Heritage Attractions

Ever wanted to know more about the traditional way of life in the New Forest and how certain centuries old traditions remain in place today? New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst is the perfect place to start your journey of discovery…

Here you will find an interactive museum which includes the ‘Family Fun Tree’ and an exhibition space that holds regular exhibitions on the local area. There’s also the library here which holds a wealth of information for anyone wishing to research anything about the New Forest.

Our history is pretty special and here you can discover more about the role of the commoners, the verderers and the agisters who all help to keep the New Forest intact and the beautiful place it remains today.

A rich history dating back for centuries

Like many parts of the UK, The New Forest has history from across the centuries with evidence found of Roman artefacts, Bronze Age burials and medieval settlements. Pick up a local Ordnance Survey map and you will find many of these features indicated on the map.

Beaulieu is famed for its Motor Museum but is also home to Beaulieu Abbey, founded in 1204.  While many of the original buildings were destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, much of the original beauty and interest remains. Visitors can learn about the history of the monastery, and the monks that resided in it at the Monastic Life exhibition or by exploring the ruins of the original site including the herb garden.

Alongside the Abbey is Palace House, once the Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey with its monastic origins reflected in the fan vaulted ceilings of the 14th century Dining Hall and Lower Drawing Room. Much of the house has been styled to Victorian tastes as the house became the ancestral home for the Montagu family (who still reside there to this day). Visitors can tour both the Abbey and Palace House with standard Beaulieu admission entry.

Further down the Beaulieu River (and an enjoyable walk or cycle if you have the time) leads you to the small historic ship-building village of Buckler’s Hard. Discover what it was like to live and work in an 18th century ship-building village; home to the ships built for Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar and learn about the river’s important role during WW2; where sections of the 'Mulberry Harbour' were made and where hundreds of craft sailed from in the D-Day landings. There’s also a Maritime Museum onsite telling the unique story of this riverside village.

Hurst Castle, overlooking the Solent was originally built by King Henry VIII to defend the area due to its strategic point overlooking the Solent from the end of Hurst Spit. It was completed in 1544 and was subsequently used as a prison for King Charles I and again as a defence mechanism during the Second World War. Find out more about the fascinating history of this castle on a visit. Today it is managed by English Heritage.

Other sites of historic interest

If you've ever driven through Eling, you will have definitely of seen then Tide Mill, which has been used for 900 years to grind wheat into flour. At the Eling Tide Mill Experience you can watch how the power of the tide moves the millstones and makes it all happen! Enjoy their new interactive exhibition and treat yourself to something yummy from their new Mill Cafe.

The historic properties of Breamore House, near Fordingbridge and Highcliffe Castle make for excellent days out within a short reach of the New Forest.

Breamore House was the location for the production of ‘Children of the New Forest’ and features Elizabethan architecture and a wealth of paintings, tapestries and porcelain as well as the Countryside Museum.

Head to Friends of the New Forest Airfields Heritage Centre to learn more about the 12 airfields that were operational in the New Forest. At the FONFA Heritage Centre you'll find amazing interactive displays, aircraft models, aviation artefacts, stories of pilots, a reference library and so much more interesting facts and information. It's a great visit for everyone! 

At Highcliffe Castle, not only can you expect breath-taking views across the Solent but Romantic and Picturesque architecture. It is also a popular wedding venue.

At Calshot Spit, Calshot Castle can be seen, similarly to Hurst Castle, this was built as a defence castle by King Henry VIII as a means of protecting Southampton Water. Today, it is managed by English Heritage and is open to visitors.

Along the Southampton Water, at Eling, the Eling Tide Mill makes an interesting trip. Here you can learn about the 900 year history of milling and how the tide was used in the production of flour. A new visitor centre has opened at the site and you can also enjoy riverside walks from the centre.

Historic remains of WW2 can be found at the beach at Lepe. Prior to D-Day Lepe was used as a manufacturing site and a launch point for the embarkation of troops. Remains of concrete and brick structures from this period in history can still be found here.

Notable buildings and features of the New Forest landscape

On travelling through the New Forest you may notice a tall tower. This is the Sway Tower, a notable feature in the New Forest skyline. The tower was built in the late 19th century to demonstrate the building value of concrete and stands at an impressive 220 feet tall! It remains privately owned.

Along the coastline between Lymington and Keyhaven old salt pans and marshes now form part of the flat landscape which is rich in wildlife.

The grassy plateau of Stoney Cross played a big role in WW2. Between 1942-1946 the site was used as an airfield with three concrete runways and several buildings. Today, the area has been grassed over but look closely and you can see some of the remains of the runway on the landscape. 

As well as Stoney Cross, there are 11 other airfields that were used in the past across the New Forest. Take a tour to discover these airfields which have been mapped out and created by Friends of The New Forest Airfields Heritage Centre. Enjoy a day or two full of fascinating history exploring!

Be sure to check out some of our historic towns and villages such as the pretty town of Lymington with its cobbled streets, Georgian buildings and harbour. Look out for guided history walks of the area with local guiding companies.

Use the New Forest as a base

If you love history then why not use the New Forest as a base for your holiday or short break? The medieval city of Salisbury is a short drive away, as are the historic ports of Poole and Portsmouth. Winchester, with its Jane Austen connections is also within easy reach, as is the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge.

Save money on visiting some of our history and heritage attractions

If you want to save money off visiting some of our history and heritage attractions then don’t forget to purchase the £10 Go New Forest Card. This card can save you money off nearly 400 days out, activities, places to eat and drink and accommodation in and around the New Forest.

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