The best things to do in Hampshire include museum tours that tell the story of the region’s central role in the naval and aviation industries as well as national parks where wild ponies roam free. There are also seaside resorts, medieval religious monuments and unique dining experiences. And, with theme parks plus activities like horse-riding and cycling, you won’t struggle to entertain the kids.

    Explore quaint hamlets to see the best of the English countryside or climb aboard some of the most iconic ships in British military history. From sunbathing to hiking and guided tours, here’s the best of what Hampshire has to offer.

    1

    Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

    Climb aboard Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory and a Tudor warship

    Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is one of the city’s best navy-related museums, home to historic warships dating back as far as the 16th century. You can view icons such as the Mary Rose, a Tudor warship that was rediscovered in 1971, and Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. There are plenty of original naval artifacts on display, along with interactive exhibitions like The Trafalgar Experience.

    For a view of Portsmouth and the naval base from the water, the Harbor Tour operates from the museum and lasts around 45 minutes. For more insights into the history of Portsmouth and its role as a naval base, head next door to the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The Royal Marines Museum is about 3 miles southeast of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

    Location: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)23 9283 9766

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    2

    Winchester Cathedral

    Explore one of Europe’s largest cathedrals

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    At 560 ft, Winchester Cathedral is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe. Construction of the modern-day religious monument began in the 11th century. Because alterations were made through most of the following centuries, you’ll see architectural elements from Norman, Gothic and Early English styles. The cathedral’s mortuary chests contain the remains of Saxon kings such as Eadwig of England.  

    Notable decorative elements include the highly detailed 15th-century stone screen depicting the crucifixion, which you can admire at the High Altar. You might notice there’s something strange about the West Window – it’s a collage made from shards of the original window that was smashed in 1642 by the Parliamentarians.

    Location: 9 The Cl, Winchester SO23 9LS, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1962 857200

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    3

    Solent Sky

    Learn about the history of aviation in Southampton

    Solent Sky is a museum that pays homage to Hampshire’s status as the center of aviation development between 1910 and 1960. As you learn about over 26 aircraft manufacturers that were established in Hampshire, you’ll see over 20 historic airframes on display, including the legendary Spitfire. There are also a few flying boats, such as the Supermarine Seagull and the Short Sandringham.

    One of the most popular exhibits is the Hawker Siddeley Harrier – the famous jump jet. Sit in the cockpit for a jet-fighter pilot’s experience complete with sound effects. Remember to book in advance if you want to climb aboard any of the aircraft. You don’t need to reserve a spot to explore the museum, though

    Location: Albert Rd S, Southampton SO14 3FR, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday from noon to 4pm

    Phone: +44 (0)23 8063 5830

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    photo by Hugh Venables (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    4

    Paultons Park

    Take the kids for a day out in Hampshire’s premier theme park

    Paultons Park is a family theme park with over 70 attractions surrounded by 140 acres of parkland. Peppa Pig World is one of the most popular sections for kids, but there are also thrill rides, roller coasters, water parks and indoor play neighborhoods. The estate provides a home to around 80 species of animals and birds. For nature lovers, the New Forest National Park is just next door.

    It can be quite pricey for a family day ticket, but you can save a bit by booking online at least a day in advance. You can also purchase ‘Short Break’ packages, which include 2-day tickets for the price of 1.

    Location: Ower, Romsey SO51 6AL, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)23 8081 4442

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    photo by Martin Lewison (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    5

    Chawton

    Enjoy a self-guided tour of Jane Austen’s house

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    Chawton is a small village full of charming thatched cottages and historic structures that date as far back as the 13th century. The most popular visitor attraction is Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen spent the last 8 years of her life and produced many of her most well-known novels. Other notable landmarks include St Nicholas' Church and Chawton House, a Grade II listed Elizabethan manor.

    After visiting Jane Austen’s former home, learn about her life by embarking on the self-guided Jane Austen Circular Walking Tour, where you’ll follow in her footsteps across countryside trails to nearby towns such as Alton and Farringdon. Chawton is in the South Downs National Park, around 16 miles northeast of Winchester. 

    Location: Chawton, Alton, GU34 1SG, UK

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    6

    Bombay Sapphire Distillery

    Sample premium gins in a historic mill

    The Bombay Sapphire Distillery offers guided tours to the public, where you can learn about the distillation process and the exotic botanicals that give this famous gin its unique taste. In the Botanical Dry Room, you’ll discover your flavor preferences, which your host will use to recommend a free cocktail to enjoy in the Mill Bar.

    Even though the museum is still a working distillery, children accompanied by adults are welcome – admission is free for kids under 5. Remember that all tours must be booked in advance. Experiences tend to last for around 2 hours. Cocktail Masterclasses are available if you want to learn the art of mixing. 

    Location: Laverstoke Mill, London Rd, Whitchurch RG28 7NR, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1256 890090

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    photo by Andrewrabbott (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    7

    Mayflower Theater

    Watch a performance inside Southampton’s largest theater

    With a capacity of nearly 2,500, The Mayflower Theater is one of the largest live performance venues in the South of England. Since opening as The Empire Theater in 1928, it’s hosted acts such as The Beatles, Iron Maiden, Kate Bush, Queen and Led Zeppelin. Today, the Grade II listed building hosts mainly theater productions and musicals, including West End shows that tour the UK.

    The Mayflower Theater is just a 5-minute walk from Southampton Central Station. Also within walking distance are tourist attractions such as SeaCity Museum and the Southampton City Art Gallery. You’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants surrounding the theater for post-show bites and beverages.

    Location: 22-26 Commercial Rd, Southampton SO15 1GE, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +44 (0)23 8071 1811

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    photo by Phil Guest (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    8

    New Forest National Park

    Spot wild ponies while traversing natural trails

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    The New Forest National Park covers around 220 square miles of forest trails, heathland and quaint villages. It’s perhaps best known for its native ponies, but there’s plenty of wildlife to see. The Deer Sanctuary in Bolderwood, toward the center of the park, is a popular attraction. Keep your eyes peeled for rare birds, or test your fly-fishing skills in the River Test.

    Besides wildlife watching, popular activities at the New Forest National Park include hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Remember to pack some sandwiches to eat in the designated picnic area, where you can relish unspoilt natural views.

    Phone: +44 (0)1590 646600

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    9

    Hayling Island

    Water sports, countryside vistas and miles of unspoilt beaches

    Hayling Island is a seaside resort that lies off the south coast of England, to the east of Portsmouth. The island’s main draws are its 3 beaches, which have all won the Keep Britain Tidy Group Seaside Award Flag and the European Blue Flag. As the birthplace of windsurfing, Hayling Island is a prime destination for water sports, including kayaking and paddleboarding (and windsurfing, obviously).

    For an adrenaline-fueled day out with the kids, head to Funland Hayling Island, which has around 20 rides, an arcade and a pirate-themed golf course. For unspoilt coastal views, visit the Chichester Harbor Neighborhood of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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    10

    Outside-In Food Court

    Taste Hampshire cuisine at Portsmouth’s home of street food

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    The Outside-In Food Court is Portsmouth’s largest indoor food court, with local and international favorites sold by around half a dozen independent food vendors. There’s also a bar stocked with locally sourced sodas, wines, beers and spirits.

    Because Outside-In Food Court has a limited number of vendors, menus change frequently, but main courses can cost as little as a few pounds. We recommend booking a table in advance if visiting with more than 4 people.

    Location: 56 Middle St, Southsea, Portsmouth, Southsea PO5 4BP, UK

    Open: Wednesday–Thursday from 5 pm to 9 pm, Friday–Saturday from noon to 9 pm, Sunday from noon to 4 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)

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    Joshua Saunders | Contributing Writer

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