15 best New Forest towns & villages to visit 

Lymington New Forest Town

The New Forest is a place I keep returning to time and time again, as I can’t get enough of its beautiful scenery and quaint villages. There are so many New Forest towns and villages to visit, which begs the question: how do you choose which ones to spend your precious time in? 

I’ve gathered my years of experience exploring this region to bring you my guide to the 15 top New Forest towns and villages. I’ll explain what each has to offer, so you can decide where to stay, eat, relax and rejuvenate.

All of the best villages in the New Forest have something unique to offer, and you can also explore the New Forest coastal towns if, like me, you like to be beside the sea. 

Whether you want to spot New Forest ponies, take to horseback, have a spa day, indulge with a sumptuous afternoon tea, shop til you drop or cool your heels by the sea, the towns and villages of the New Forest have so much to offer every kind of visitor.

And that’s before you even begin to explore a plethora of walking and cycling trails. 

Here are my favourite 15 options, so you can choose which is the best New Forest town or village for you. Though you are highly likely to want to visit more than one of these beauties!

Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

1. Brockenhurst 

Best for: Travelling by train

Top three things to do in Brockenhurst:

  1. Spa day
  2. Pub lunch
  3. Afternoon tea

Where to stay: Careys Manor

Where to eat: The Pig

The Pig Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst is among the best towns to stay in the New Forest due to a good choice of accommodation. My personal favourite place to stay is The Pig Hotel, where you’ll find an exceptional food and drink offering.

Or I’d recommend booking a decadent spa day at the likes of Careys Manor, the Balmer Lawn or Rhinefield House. These hotels also offer a range of restaurants, all of which serve a delicious afternoon tea. 

Brockenhurst is also home to some fabulous pubs where you can savour a long, lazy lunch or intimate evening dinner.

I think this village is just the right size for wandering, and is surrounded by forest trails. A train station makes access easy too, even for those who aren’t driving. 

2. Lyndhurst

Best for: Access to London

Top three things to do in Lyndhurst:

  1. New Forest Heritage Centre
  2. Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
  3. Shopping trip

Where to stay: The Crown Manor House Hotel

Where to eat: Hartnett Holder & Co at Limewood

Lyndhurst in the New Forest

While Brockenhurst is something of a hub, Lyndhurst is the true capital of the New Forest. It’s where the district council and New Forest Heritage Centre are based.

I love wandering the central main street, which is lined with attractive shops, cafés and restaurants. 

Just outside Lyndhurst is Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, one of the best things to do in the New Forest. Here, sightings of the pretty woodland creatures are practically guaranteed – and I’ve been lucky to spot them many times.

Lyndhurst is also top among the best towns in the New Forest for access from London, as it’s right by the M27. 

3. Beaulieu

Best for: Petrol heads

Top three things to do in Beaulieu:

  1. National Motor Museum
  2. Palace House
  3. Beaulieu Chocolate Studio

Where to stay: Montagu Arms

Where to eat: The Terrace at the Montagu Arms

Beaulieu New Forest

Beaulieu is a name that’s well known way beyond the New Forest.

The National Motor Museum can be found here, and petrol-heads from all over the country flock here to see vintage vehicles, the World of Top Gear and more. I’d also recommend visiting the historic Palace House at the same time. 

Beaulieu is postcard-pretty, and you may well see New Forest ponies grazing by the water at the edge of the village.

The Montagu Arms here also makes a fabulous base. Even if you don’t stay over, I love visiting the pub and restaurant here. Don’t miss the fantastic little Beaulieu Chocolate Studio too.

4. Lymington

Best for: Coastal vibes

Top three things to do in Lymington:

  1. Stylish shopping
  2. Harbourside eateries
  3. Seawater baths (in summer)

Where to stay: The Old Mill

Where to eat: Elderflower Restaurant

Lymington New Forest Town

Smart, well-heeled Lymington is awash with Georgian architecture, cobbled lanes and a coastal lifestyle vibe. In my opinion, this is one of the prettiest towns in the New Forest and a personal favourite.

The lanes lead you from the high street down to the harbour, and there are pretty views en route as well as when you reach the water’s edge. 

In summer, you can swim and play at the seawater baths in Lymington. Look out for Sir Ben Ainslie’s gold post box on the high street too – the Olympic champion is a local resident.

It’s easy to spot when shopping, and if, like me, you love outdoor lifestyle brands then you’ll be in seventh heaven here.

5. Burley

Best for: New Forest ponies

Top three things to do in Burley:

  1. Spot New Forest ponies
  2. Follow the forest trails
  3. Horse riding

Where to stay: The White Buck

Where to eat: Burley Inn

Burley in the New Forest

If you love all things equine, then Burley has to be the pick of the villages in the New Forest.

There’s a good horse riding stable here, and it’s also one of the best places in the forest for spotting the local ponies. They’re generally found to be wandering freely all over the village. 

Stylish Burley Manor is good for a spa day, or I’d recommend following the forest trails from the village that lead in all directions.

The village also has some good pubs and an eclectic mix of shops, some of which have a witchcraft theme. 

6. Bucklers Hard

Best for: The Beaulieu River

Top three things to do in Buckler’s Hard:

  1. Wildlife spotting
  2. Maritime Museum
  3. Boat trip on the Beaulieu River

Where to stay: Montagu Arms

Where to eat: The Master Builder’s House Hotel

Bucklers Hard

Buckler’s Hard is just down the road from Beaulieu, and I often take a walk in the forest between the two.

Here you can find the Master Builder’s House by the river, plus a little Maritime Museum. Boat trips on the Beaulieu River are popular in summer, and you can spot local wildlife here at any time of year.

Or I’d recommend booking a table at the Riverview Restaurant at the Master Builder’s. Here you can watch the world go by while feasting on good gourmet food and sipping fine wine. 

 7. Milford on Sea

Best for: Beach life

Top three things to do in Milford on Sea

  1. Beach day
  2. Walk to Hurst Castle
  3. Children’s playground

Where to stay: Pebble Beach

Where to eat: Verveine

Stunning sunset over a row of brightly coloured beach huts at Milford on Sea on the Hampshire coast

If peaceful New Forest seaside towns are your idea of utopia, head to Milford on Sea for a spot of R&R.

This small place has a few pubs, some decent shops and a good beach. There are beach huts here, plus a good kids’ playground with ocean views. 

It’s one of my favourites because Milford on Sea is good for foodies, as there are restaurants, cafes and takeaways. There’s also some interesting independent shops.

For fresh coastal breezes or a wander to Hurst Castle, this is the place to be. 

8. Ashurst

Best for: Access to Southampton

Top three things to do in Ashurst:

  1. Pub lunch
  2. New Forest Wildlife Park
  3. Walking and cycling trails

Where to stay: The Regent Guest House

Where to eat: Merritts Coffee Lounge

Beacon tower Ashurst

Ashurst is located between Lyndhurst and Southampton. Like Brockenhurst, it has a train station, so it’s a good spot for access without a car.

A couple of pleasant pubs make this a great pitstop, and you can work off a large lunch afterwards by taking to the trails from here. 

There’s not a lot else in Ashurst, so I wouldn’t recommend a long stay here. But you will find amenities like a petrol station, convenience stores and a small post office: the latter is located at The Happy Cheese pub (what a great name!).

It’s also close to New Forest Wildlife Park, and the Ashurst campsite is right at the edge of the village. 

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9. New Milton

Best for: Five star style

Top three things to do in New Milton:

  1. Stay, spa or dine at Chewton Glen
  2. Beach at Barton-on-Sea
  3. Play and skate park

Where to stay: Chewton Glen

Where to eat: The Cliff House Restaurant

Chewton Glen Spa

New Milton has a train station and plenty of town amenities within easy walking distance of that. Supermarkets and a choice of local shops can be found here – it’s not a touristy town as such.

A good kids’ play park can be found just behind the main street, and there are skate ramps here for teens too. Many people come to New Milton to venture beyond the town centre, however.

The biggest draw for some (myself included) is the Chewton Glen New Forest hotel, one that’s regularly placed among the best in Britain. This can be found in the Barton-on-Sea area.

The shingle beach itself is great for cliff top walks and cafes, and is also lined with colourful beach huts. 

10. Ringwood

Best for: Local beer

Top three things to do in Ringwood:

  1. Ringwood Brewery
  2. Moors Valley Country Park
  3. Go Ape (also at Moors Valley)

Where to stay: Burley Manor

Where to eat: The London Tavern

River Avon at Ringwood in early September

Like Lyndhurst, Ringwood is ideal for access from London and other parts of the south east.

It’s a nice market town and I love its local feel, and again a good range of shops can be found here. The market takes place on Wednesdays too. 

Moors Valley Country Park is one of the biggest draws of the Ringwood area, and it offers many miles of trails to explore, plus a Go Ape attraction. It’s free to enter, but parking is paid.

Ringwood Brewery is also a popular place to visit locally. The beers brewed here are sold in pubs all over the south coast and beyond. 

11. Fordingbridge

Best for: Local history

Top three things to do in Fordingbridge:

  1. Breamore House
  2. Fordingbridge Museum
  3. Rockbourne Roman villa

Where to stay: The Bell Inn Hotel

Where to eat: The Cartwheel Inn

Multi-span stone bridge at Fordingbridge over the River Avon in Hampshire

Fordingbridge is home to one of the UK’s most incongruously named holiday parks: Sandy Balls!

This is the ideal place for history buffs to make their New Forest base, as there are various architectural and cultural attractions around the town. 

You can find the Fordingbridge Museum in town, and it has some kids’ toys to keep young visitors interested.

I’d also recommend Breamore House as a star attraction – this Elizabethan mansion lies within the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Rockbourne Roman Villa, meanwhile, is small, but very well preserved. 

12. Sway

Best for: Cycling and riding

Top three things to do in Sway:

  1. Sway to Setthorns route
  2. Horseback riding tours
  3. Woodturning workshops

Where to stay: The Manor at Sway

Where to eat: The Silver Hind

Sway is a small village just a few miles from Lymington. I’d recommend this as a place for those who like to ride bikes or horses.

You can join the lovely, nine-mile Sway to Setthorns route here, which leads you past some of the New Forest’s most picturesque parts.

Woodturning workshops are also available at Graham Turner wood turner, if you’d like to see for yourself what can be made from all those trees. 

The presence of Coombe Stables in Sway makes this one of the best New Forest villages for those who love to be on horseback.

You can take a tour of the forest this way from here. They cater for all levels, including complete beginners.

13. Minstead 

Best for: Sherlock fans

Top three things to do in Minstead:

  1. Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave
  2. Furzey Gardens
  3. Rufus Stone

Where to stay: The Crown Manor House Hotel

Where to at: The Trusty Servant

Minstead is another small New Forest village. As it’s just a couple of miles north of Lyndhurst, I’d recommend venturing here if you’re interested in literary history, glorious gardens or historic sites.

In this area you can find Furzey Gardens, one of the most popular New Forest spots in spring and summer for its colourful collection of azaleas and rhododendrons. 

Sir Walter Tyrrell famously shot King William II, aka Rufus, in Minstead in 1100. Apparently the intended target was a stag, but legend has it that red-haired William II was an unpopular King in any case!

The Rufus Stone now marks the spot, and can be seen by a tree in the village. The other famous name associated with Minstead is Arthur Conan Doyle, whose grave is in the churchyard at All Saints. 

14. Lepe 

Best for: Escapism

Top three things to do in Lepe:

  1. Lepe Country Park
  2. Lepe Beach
  3. The Lookout restaurant

Where to stay: Montagu Arms

Where to eat: The Lookout

Lepe Coastal New Forest Town

While Lepe is merely a hamlet, it’s famous for its remote beach and Lepe Country Park.

It’s popular with local dog walkers all year round, as well as with anyone who wants to discover a less-visited coastal part of the New Forest.

The Country Park at Lepe has a range of attractions. There are D-Day remains to be seen, and wildflower meadows to enjoy. It’s free to enter, though paid parking is in operation. 

For those with little ones, I’d recommend taking them to the Sensory Gardens and Wild Play area. There’s a good stretch of sand here too.

If you want to dine with a sea view, one of my favourite dining spots in the region is The Lookout – booking in advance is advised. 

15. Fritham

Best for: Deer spotting

Top three things to do in Fritham:

  1. Fritham Walk
  2. Royal Oak pub
  3. Eyeworth Pond

Where to stay: The Bell Inn Hotel

Where to eat: The Royal Oak

A single oak tree near Fritham in the New Forest

Fritham lies far more inland, in the north of the New Forest and close to Wiltshire.

I think it offers one of the loveliest walks in the forest, and this may well give you the chance to see deer in their natural habitat.

During mid-autumn, you may even see male deer locking horns in the woodland around Fritham Plain. 

The village pub here is very well-known and a popular spot with locals. It’s a quintessential New Forest pub with a thatched roof, real fires, local ales and a beer garden.

Eyeworth Pond is also one of the area’s attractions. It was created back in the late 19th century via a dam to supply a nearby gunpowder factory with water. 

If you have any questions or recommendations for visiting the New Forest towns and villages then do let me know in the comments!

Planning a trip to this beautiful part of the UK? Read my New Forest travel guide, discover the best restaurants in the New Forest or find the best hotels in the New Forest.

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Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

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