A base for outings and walks in the New Forest, the village of Lyndhurst is home to the national park’s Heritage Centre and the Forestry Commission.
As the largest swathe of common land in the UK, the New Forest has few fences along its roads.
This enables the park’s famous ponies to go where they please, and you’ll find them on the very edge of the village and sometimes walking its streets with the same of status as sacred cows.
To go with the unfettered beauty of the national park, there’s culture in Lyndhurst at the St Michael and All Angels’ Church, where Pre-Raphaelites like Lord Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris contributed frescoes and stained glass windows.
1. New Forest
The largest contiguous area of unfarmed vegetation in the UK, the New Forest encompasses 566 square kilometres and is a habitat for many mammals and birds not often sighted in the UK. Common grazing rights have been enforced at the New Forest for well over 1,000 years, well before William the Conqueror proclaimed this a Royal Forest for hunting.
Those rules are still in place today, and enforced by officials known as verderers.
One of the New Forest’s abiding qualities is its sense of openness, and this is down to the many grazing animals that keep undergrowth and invasive plants in check.
Thousands of indigenous New Forest ponies, owned by the forest’s commoners, wander in semi-feral conditions, along with herds of hardy cattle like Galloways and Highlands.
Before new protections were passed in 1877 the New Forest’s tree stock had been diminished in the 1700s and 1800s as a source of timber for the Royal Navy.
2. New Forest Heritage Centre
Before striding out into the national park, you could take some time to get to get in touch with its history, traditions and wildlife at this free museum in the middle of Lyndhurst.
You can step inside a traditional cob cottage furnished with old-time tools, try bark rubbing, identify animals by their calls, or by their droppings at Poo Corner and check out some giant bugs that live in the forest.
There’s information about timber cultivation in days gone by, and the New Forest as a venue for royal hunts.
The New Forest Gallery puts on ever-changing art exhibitions about the landscape, and the reference library on the upper floor is the largest collection of publicly accessible printed material on the New Forest.
3. New Forest Wildlife Park
Most of the animals at this attraction in the neighbouring village of Ashurst are, or were once, native to the UK. So together with otters, badgers, 15 different owl species, ferrets, Scottish wildcats and deer, there are also European grey wolves, European bison, lynxes and wild boars.
The New Forest Wildlife Park is engaged in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation projects, especially for otters, but also foxes, deer and owls, and also participates in breeding programmes for water voles, wildcats and harvest mice.
In summer the tropical butterfly house is not to be missed, and every half an hour there’s something new going on, be it a feeding session or keeper talk.
4. Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
The New Forest was a hunting ground for royalty, and still shelters big herds of deer.
But these tend to stay clear of walking trails, so chances are you may never see a deer in the wild.
The answer is to pay a visit to Bolderwood.
As with the rest of the park, the fallow deer at this sprawling meadow can come and go as they please.
But from April to September a Forestry Commission ranger feeds them, and the herd is comfortable being relatively close to people.
Feeding normally takes place between 12:30 and 14:30, and you can watch it all go down from a viewing platform.
The sanctuary has a picnic area in a forest glade amongst the pines, and a choice of walking trails.
5. St Michael and All Angels’ Church
Lyndhurst’s parish church, built between 1858 and 1868, is Grade I listed for the many contributions by Pre-Raphaelite artists.
The mesmerising fresco on the reredos is by Lord Leighton, while the stained glass window on the east end is the work of Edward Burne-Jones.
William Morris, another prominent artist associated with the movement, produced some of finest stained glass of his career for the church’s south transept.
While the writer John Hungerford Pollen, who mixed with the Pre-Raphaelites, painted the fresco on the south wall.
There are also lots of architectural flourishes to admire, like the patterned polychrome brickwork, the column capitals with varying foliage, the sculpted heads in the nave’s spandrels and the tracery of the rood screen.
6. Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park
Paulton Park, ten minutes away in Ower, is a family amusement park, open since 1983 on the former estate of the same name.
In 140 acres there are more than 70 rides and attractions, including five rollercoasters and six water rides, aimed mainly at small children.
Still, rides like Flight of Pterosaur and the Edge will also keep teenagers on board.
In 2011 Peppa Pig World became one of Paultons Park’s four themed worlds, alongside the main park, the Lost Kingdom and Critter Creek.
If you have a toddler or small child obsessed with this cartoon then a visit is obligatory.
Peppa Pig World has all sorts of gentle rides based on this creation, like Daddy Pig’s Car Ride, Grandpa Pig’s Little Train, George’s Dinosaur Adventure and new additions like Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club, which entails a water tour in small boats.
7. New Forest Reptile Centre
As with the park’s deer, the New Forest’s diversity of reptiles and amphibians is normally out of sight.
But you can witness them close up at this attraction close to Lyndhurst.
In spacious outdoor habitats you can observe lizards, frogs, toads and snakes, including adders, the only venomous snake in the country.
The goshawk nests and bird feeders in the trees around the centre have been hooked up with cameras, and you can watch live footage at “pods” in the centre.
There’s much for mini-zoologists to get up to on “Wild Wednesdays” in the school holidays when there are trails, reptile and bird quizzes and other activities.
8. Longdown Activity Farm
A day at this children’s farm is a whirl of activities like bottle-feeding kid goats and calves, feeding adult animals like ducks and goats, and tractor & trailer rides.
There are many more friendly animals to meet, like alpacas, donkeys, cows, ponies, Kunekune pigs, rabbits and chicks in a special “chick shed”. Aside from the many animal encounters, little ones can play crazy golf and go wild at indoor and outdoor play areas like the straw bale and trampoline barn.
Longdown Activity Farm organises lots of seasonal activities, like egg hunts at Easter and a Christmas Barn in December.
The farm shop meanwhile stocks fresh fruit and veg, eggs, meat, sausages, honey and homemade condiments, all sourced from local producers.
9. Furzey Gardens
In ten peaceful acres ensconced in the New Forest, Furzey Gardens was laid out in an informal style in 1922 and surrounds a charming thatched woodland cottage from the 1500s.
The gardens have been planted to ensure there’s something to see in all seasons, whether it’s the blooming heather in autumn and winter, the crocuses, daffodils and bluebells in spring, or the colourful herbaceous borders in summer.
In 2012 a team of gardeners with learning difficulties designed a garden for Furzey at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and won a gold award.
That garden has since been recreated at this site, while you can also take a peek inside the cottage, which has ceiling beams and floorboards repurposed from warships.
Kids will be entertained hunting down more than 40 little fairy doors in the garden, while the tearoom has an indulgent selection of cakes and signature cream teas.
10. Queen’s House
During Edward I’s bloody conquest of Wales in the 13th century, his queen Eleanor of Castile resided in Lyndhurst, and this is the origin of the grand house at the top of the High Street.
The Queen’s House was rebuilt in the 16th century, while its current design is from the reigns of Charles I and Charles II in the century that followed.
This is thought to be the only example of purely Carolean architecture in the whole of Hampshire.
Both kings spent time here while hunting from Lyndhurst, as did James II and George III in 1789. The last member of a royal family to live at the Queen’s House was Adolphus, son of George III, who lived here between 1827 and 1849. The house, fronted by four triangular gables, incorporates an 18th-century Verderer’s Court (for officials dealing with common land in former royal forests) and is now the headquarters for the Forestry Commission.
11. Bolton’s Bench
This yew-capped hillock to the east end of Lyndhurst’s High Street brings the New Forest up to the village’s backdoor.
At the top are benches and you can turn your gaze on the village, framed in the distance by the Georgian mansion Northerwood House.
Or you look east to ponder trademark New Forest vistas of untamed heathland, woodland, sandy hillsides and grazing ponies, donkeys and cattle.
Just down the slope there are often cricket matches in summer, which can be a strange sight because of the animals minding their own business on the boundaries.
12. Knightwood Oak
Often called the “Queen of the Forest”, the Knightwood Oak is both the largest and most famous tree in the national park.
You can find this 500-year-old pedunculate oak a few miles south-west of Lyndhurst.
The Knightwood Oak is ringed with a wooden fence to protect its roots, and has an information board telling its story.
After hundreds of years of pollarding, as a way of harvesting its timber while allowing the tree to survive, the oak continues to grow and has a girth of almost 7.5 metres.
The site is just off the A35, and there’s a car park and surfaced path leading to the tree, suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
13. Beaulieu National Motor Museum
Home to a branch of the Montagu family for almost 500 years, the village of Beaulieu has a riveting past, going back to a Cistercian abbey founded in the 13th century.
The Montagus built their mansion on what was once the abbey’s gatehouse.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866-1929) was a motoring pioneer who amassed a glittering fleet of cars.
In 1952 his son Edward set up a museum to honour his father and it has since blossomed into one of the country’s great motoring collections.
There are almost 300 vehicles, from Formula One racing cars to British land speed record breakers and veteran cars like the Daimler 12 and 22 hps and a Mercedes 60 hp.
The Luxury of Motoring exhibition shows off some of the most opulent vehicles ever conceived, as well as a gleaming array of 28 glass ornaments by the great René Lalique.
To experience the protected landscapes around Lyndhurst all you have to do is start walking.
Ten different walks have been plotted on the paths around the village, and four of these lead past pubs for a drink or cosy meal.
After visiting Bolton’s Bench you may feel drawn to the countryside beyond, and you can amble out towards the Beaulieu River on the heathland of White Moor.
To sample some of the New Forest’s ancient woodland you venture west of the village, past the hamlets of Emery Down and Swan Green, to track the bubbling stream, Highland Water.
15. Lyndhurst High Street
All of Lyndhurst’s sights and attractions are on or next to the High Street, which weaves down the hill from west to east.
Fitting for a well-heeled village that receives a lot of visitors, the High Street has no lack of diverting independent shops for crafts, interior design, jewellery, fashion and antiques.
There are pubs of course, as well as cafes, restaurants (fish and chips, French, Indian, Italian and Chinese), tea rooms, ice cream parlours and the sort of amenities you’d hope to find in any rural village, like butchers and bakeries.
And to remind you that this is a well-to-do kind of place, there’s a Maserati dealership at the foot of the hill.
The New Forest is one of the best places to cycle in the UK, for its endless common land and low traffic.
The Woods Cyclery at the bottom of the hill offers a range of road bikes, mountain bikes and e-bikes for hire.