15 Best Places to Visit in Hampshire

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
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From the great ports on the Solent in the south to the distinguished history of Winchester and the splendour of its National Parks and country idylls, Hampshire is nothing if not diverse.

So really, it’s a question of choosing what’s right for you, be it a medieval market town with a Norman church, an adorable hamlet of thatched cottages, or a one-off destination like Chawton, where Jane Austen lived.

From the Norman conquest kings would come for hunting retreats to the Hampshire countryside and in the New Forest you’ll be in a rare natural landscape of moors, heath, glades and beech forest that a medieval king would recognise today.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Hampshire:

1. Portsmouth

PortsmouthSource: flickr

There simply isn’t a better place to come than Portsmouth if you’re fascinated by England’s naval history.

There has been a military harbour here since the Romans, and astounding pieces of heritage are presented to the public: HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship on which he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Then there’s the incredible story of the Mary Rose, a Tudor warship that sank in the Solent in 1545 before being raised in 1982, restored and finally shown to the public along with its artefacts in 2016. And you can also be brought up to date with a boat tour around the harbour where the modern navy is anchored.

2. Southampton

Southampton - Livingston RoadSource: flickr
Southampton – Livingston Road

A cultured spa town in the 1700s, Southampton exploded in Victorian times when the docks were built and the shipyards moved in.

At this time the city was known as the “Gateway to the Empire”.  You may be surprised to read that a third of the victims in the Titanic disaster were from Southampton, and as the ship set sail from this port it makes sense that this should be where you can indulge your curiosity on a designated “Titanic Trail”.

The SeaCity Museum has first-hand accounts and artefacts to give you fresh insights.

The spitfire, a British design icon was also born in Southampton; track the history of this Second World War fighter plane at the Solent Sky Museum.

3. New Forest

New ForestSource: flickr
New Forest

Most of the New Forest National Park’s 380 square kilometres of beech and oak forest, open pasture and heathland lies within Hampshire’s boundaries.

For nature-lovers, walkers and campers nothing else in the southeast of England or the home counties compares to it.

Roaming free in these woods and on the moors are cattle, New Forest ponies, deer and donkeys, which you’ll spot on refreshing rambles and bike rides.

But there are quite a few man-made attractions, from real ale breweries to the sumptuous 13th century Beaulieu Palace House, where the gorgeous Beaulieu Abbey and the National Motor Museum are set.

4. Winchester

Winchester CathedralSource: flickr
Winchester Cathedral

Founded by the Romans as Venta Belgarum, Winchester is steeped in history.

In Saxon times the 9th-century King Alfred the Great made Winchester the capital of Wessex and then all of England after fending off the Vikings.

With the longest nave of any gothic cathedral in Europe, the Norman Winchester Cathedral is outstanding, and also the resting place of the author Jane Austen.

If you’re a history buff you could be here for hours.

But there are other medieval sights that deserve your time in Winchester, like the 14th-century Winchester College, the 12th-century St. Cross Hospital and the majestic Great Hall of the former Winchester Castle.

Add to that a working watermill and a fine array of museums, and Winchester becomes a destination that needs at least a couple of days.

5. South Downs National Park

South Downs National ParkSource: flickr
South Downs National Park

A vast swathe of hilly countryside, the South Downs National Park takes up much of East Hampshire and push on as far as Winchester in the centre of the county.

A typical scene in this newly-delineated park is green rolling hills, hedgerows, quaint villages with thatched cottages and friendly country pubs.

It’s a destination where you can bring children to find out about the ways humans have shaped the landscape through farming and forestry, at an educational farm.

And to strike out on blissful walks in undulating fields with sheep and cows and meadows speckled with wildflowers in June.

6. Andover

Charlton Lakes in Andover, HampshireSource: flickr
Charlton Lakes in Andover, Hampshire

As you head northwest you’ll drive through bucolic countryside of smooth chalk hills.

Andover is right in the Hampshire Downs, one of the most fertile farming regions in southern England and covered with undulating wheat fields.

The tallest of the hills in this region were Iron Age hill-forts, and this goes for Danebury near Andover.

Take a peek at the free Museum of the Iron Age in Andover to gaze at some 5,000-year-old artefacts unearthed on the hill.

Also local is the Finkley Down Farm Park with all of the kids’ farmyard favourites, and the Hawk Conservancy Trust that puts on birds of prey shows.

7. Romsey

Romsey AbbeySource: flickr
Romsey Abbey

The Test Valley is adored for its quaint towns and villages, and the market town of Romsey is up there with the prettiest.

Standing tall in the centre is a Norman abbey that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries because it was also used by the townsfolk as a parish church.

Go in to marvel at the beautiful architecture and stained glass windows and learn some unexpected stories about the community of nuns who lived here.

The streets around the abbey are very cute, and lined with 18th-century townhouses and half-timbered inns and cottages.

In July and August you can book a tour of the regal Broadlands, the country estate where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spent their honeymoon in 1947.

8. Alton

Alton CastleSource: flickr
Alton Castle

Tuesday is market day in Alton, and if you show up you’ll be attending an institution that goes back to at least the 11th century; not only that but it was the most valuable to be listed in all of the venerable Domesday book in 1086. The 11th-century Church of St.

Lawrence saw the final hours of the Battle of Alton in the English Civil War, when Royalists holed up around the church and were eventually overcome by the Parliamentarians.

You can still make out the damage from musket shots in the south door.

There’s a lot of compelling details inside, including 15th-century frescos, an Anglo-Saxon font and a small hoard of artefacts dating to the battle in 1643.

9. Lymington

LymingtonSource: flickr

On the southern boundary of the New Forest, Lymington is an elegant Georgian coastal town at the mouth of the river of the same name.

Being on the Solent, sailing is part of the culture in Lymington, and is as good a place as any to take lessons.

You can let someone else do the navigating by crossing over the strait to the Isle of Wight or embarking on a short voyage up the Lymington River into the New Forest where semi-wild ponies graze on the banks.

The town warrants an amble for its tight cobblestone streets, inns and flat-fronted houses, and was the haunt of smugglers in the 18th century.

The newly restored Lymington Open Air Sea Water Baths is the oldest lido (outdoor pool) in the UK, dating to 1833.

10. Basingstoke

BasingstokeSource: flickr

Basingstoke was a originally a smallish market town, but expanded dramatically in the post-war period as a commuter town for London.

By train you can get here from Waterloo in 45 minutes, while the M3 motorway passes close by.

With lots of accommodation it’s a useful place to base yourself and then take excursions to all the interesting places close by.

One is Silchester, a village next to what used to be a Roman Oppidum, where perhaps the best-preserved Roman wall in England can be seen.

At the Milestones Museum you’ll sample life in Hampshire in Victorian times and the 1930s.

Potter around reconstructions of homes, amenities and street scenes, enriched with real artefacts like a vintage Portsmouth tramcar and vehicles made by defunct Hampshire manufacturers like Taskers of Andover and Thornycroft.

11. Lyndhurst

LyndhurstSource: flickr

The unofficial capital of the New Forest, Lyndhurst is the largest village in the park.

After the New Forest was declared a royal hunting ground in the 1070s this location would be visited by royalty for almost 800 years.

Many came to a manor on the site of the present Queen’s House, which was rebuilt in the 1600s, and King George III was the last monarch to stay here in 1789. St.

Michael and All Angels Church is from  Victorian times, but you need to check out the interior frescos, painted by the pre-Raphaelite Frederic Leighton.

And of course, there are natural attractions all around Lyndhurst, like the deer sanctuary where you should see the herds if you go quietly.

12. Chawton

Chawton HouseSource: flickr
Chawton House

Moments from Alton is the small village of Chawton, which will forever be linked to Jane Austen, one of Britain’s most celebrated authors.

She spent the last eight years of her life in a cottage here, during which time she revised Sense and Sensibility and wrote Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

Her house is now a museum, and indispensable for Austen enthusiasts.

There are sights around the village to add some colour to your Austen tour; Jane’s mother and sister are buried at St.

Nicholas Church, while the Elizabethan manor, Chawton House was owned by Jane’s brother and is the home of a foundation for early women’s writing.

You can tour the house on weekday and Sunday afternoons.

13. Stockbridge

StockbridgeSource: flickr

It comes in a small package, but the village Stockbridge is flush with listed historic buildings.

There are more than 20, most from the 1600s and 1700s, and the oldest with elements going back to the 1200s.

Like several high streets in the region, the main road through Stockbridge is noticeably wide.

This is a vestige from when Stockbridge was on a cattle drovers’ road; shepherds would walk their livestock all the way from Wales to sell in London in medieval times.

You’re also on the edge of the Salisbury Plain in Stockbridge, a massive chalk plateau that has been an army training area since the 19th century.

See the Museum of Army flying in nearby Middle Wallop for a wonderful cache of vintage planes and rotorcraft.

14. Petersfield

PetersfieldSource: flickr

Ensconced in the gentle green landscapes of the South Downs National Park, the village of Petersfield was built from scratch in the 12th century.

Here from the start was the Church of St. Peter, dating to 1120 and despite a few alterations down the years a great deal of the architecture maintains the sober Norman style.

Come for the markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well as the farmers’ market on the first Sunday of the month.

On the high street  is a “physic garden” planted with the same species you’d have found in a medieval medicinal garden.

The nature outside Petersfield is stunning, and nowhere more so than Heath Pond, set in acres of heathland and a haven for waterfowl.

15. Fareham

Titchfield AbbeySource: flickr
Titchfield Abbey

Tucked into the western nook of Portsmouth harbour is the market town of Fareham.

This place saw a lot of development  in the 60s and 70s, so isn’t the most charming of these picks.

But there’s much to recommend it close by.

First you’ve got the ruins of Titchfield Abbey, which are managed by English Heritage and have survived far better than most.

You can even see a medieval floor mosaic in the refectory reminding monks to remember the poor.

Also close is Portchester Castle once a hunting lodge for King John, and briefly captured by the French in the early 13th-century.

Get the inside track on Fareham’s story at the Westbury Manor Museum, where you’ll find out about the local brickworks  that supplied the bricks for the Royal Albert Hall.

15 Best Places to Visit in Hampshire:

  • Portsmouth
  • Southampton
  • New Forest
  • Winchester
  • South Downs National Park
  • Andover
  • Romsey
  • Alton
  • Lymington
  • Basingstoke
  • Lyndhurst
  • Chawton
  • Stockbridge
  • Petersfield
  • Fareham