England, UK, Wanderlust

35 things to do in Hampshire with kids

When I look back at most of the days out in Hampshire with kids I’ve tried, they tend to split into three – exploring the New Forest, visiting Winchester or a trip to the lovely Isle of Wight.

Standing by one of the New Forest ponies while holding my toddler - the top things to do in Hampshire with kids

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But while there’s plenty to keep families entertained there, that’s only the start of places to visit in Hampshire for kids. There are castles and historic houses, animal attractions, museums, Peppa Pig and the wonderful Mary Rose to discover just for starters

So if you’re wondering what to do in Hampshire with kids, I’ve got 35 ideas to start you off – or if you’re visiting the Isle of Wight, check out my top 15 things to do on the Isle of Wight with kids.

Hampshire castles and historic sites

Mary Rose

I vividly remember visiting this Tudor ship when I was a child, not long after it was raised from the seabed in 1982 – centuries after Henry VIII’s flagship sank during the Battle of the Solent off Portsmouth, where she was built.

Since then, the museum has had a multi-million pound revamp to show off some of the 19,000 artefacts which were excavated along with the wreck – including nit combs complete with nits and a skeleton of a small dog – and some of the information archaeologists have learned.

With interactive displays, plus ideas for things for kids to do at home, it’s a fascinating family day out in Hampshire, as well as being great if you’re visiting Hampshire in the rain with kids.

HMS Victory in the historic Naval dockyard of Portsmouth, as seen from the water - my top things to do in Hampshire for kids

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The Hampshire coast is defined by its naval history, from fortresses protecting against invasion to ships in the harbour (these days including cruise ships) – so you can’t miss a day out at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, is perhaps the best known but it’s only one of the historic ships you can discover, alongside HMS Warrior, the world’s first iron-hulled warship, as well as others from the First and Second World Wars, not least a submarine.

There’s also a museum and other family activities on the site, including the Horrible Histories Pirates exhibition – two sites, in fact, with some across the water in Gosport. A waterbus can take you from the exhibits in Portsmouth harbour, or try a harbour tour.

Portchester Castle

First built in the late 3rd century, Portchester Castle is the best-preserved of the Roman forts on the Saxon Shore, as this stretch of the South East has become known.

There’s an exhibition in the Keep about the castle’s history, from its earliest Roman days to Saxon settlement, Norman castle, medieval royal palace and beyond – as well as a free audio tour to listen to as you explore.

Henry V launched his invasion of France from here, but then for hundreds of years its role was a prisoner of war camp, including for a group brought from the Caribbean in the 18th century and thousands held within the walls during the Napoleonic wars.

If you’re visiting the Isle of Wight, check out Carisbrooke Castle for its Civil War histories and donkeys as well as Queen Victoria’s ‘family home’ at Osborne.

Southsea Castle

Henry VIII watched from Southsea Castle when the Mary Rose sank into the waves, and there are still plenty of links between this historic fort and the famous wreck, including family-friendly events held during the year.

You can explore the ramparts and the tunnels (guided tours of small groups only, so do book) as well as looking out across the Solent yourself.

And while it might not be a clincher when it comes to planning days out in Hampshire for kids, there’s a bonus for adults in the shape of the microbrewery inside the walls: you can buy bottles to take away as well.

Tudor House and Garden, Southampton

Despite its name, Southampton’s most important historic building dates back to well before Tudor times and you can trace the history from some of its earliest owners – a perfect snapshot of how life changed over the centuries from early medieval origins through plague and war.

As well as family events and activities, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to get hands on as you explore. The Tudor House and Garden is also a great point to start a walking tour of Southampton’s Old Town.

View across the lavender and gardens to Mottisfont National Trust - one of my top days out in Hampshire with kids

Mottisfont

One of the prettiest National Trust properties we’ve visited – and there’s stiff competition – Mottisfont’s grounds are a gorgeous mix of formal gardens, including the rose garden, wide open lawns for kids to scamper across, and woodland with a stream running through.

They also have great exhibitions for kids (including one on Charlie & Lola author Lauren Child when we visited) as well as a few highlights for children in the house, from the old nursery to the snappy surprise in the bathroom on the servants’ floor.

Hinton Ampner

With 80 acres of ancient parkland plus formal gardens, there’s plenty of space for families to explore at Hinton Ampner, including trails, walks and lots of spots for a picnic. Pick up the family trail to discover clues on the site about life in Tudor times or look for the sculptures in the woods

The house itself has had a long and dramatic history, including a fire last century, and is apparently still home to ghosts…

Winchester cathedral

The city of Winchester was England’s first capital, and if your kids love history, it’s a fabulous day out in Hampshire. Don’t miss looking around the cathedral: my daughter had her first visit when she was a toddler – there is a children’s trail to help explore, as well as occasional special family trails and activities during holidays.

Keep an eye out for a couple of hedgehogs on gravestones and a diver’s helmet in the retrochoir as well as heading down into the crypt to discover an Anthony Gormley sculpture.

You can also try the Winchester Cathedral and City Treasure Trail which are a great way to explore with kids, while during the winter, the Christmas market and ice rink in the shadow of the cathedral are wonderful.

For more things to do in Winchester with kids, check out my pick of the best

Looking up at Winchester cathedral - why Winchester is one of my top days out in Hampshire for families

Winchester Great Hall

All that remains of Winchester Castle, the Great Hall dates back to the 13th century – and while it’s the Round Table which is the biggest attraction, there’s more to discover here with kids.

You can debate whether Winchester really was Camelot or retell a few of the Arthurian legends, as well as following the children’s trail of villains, heroes and ghosts, including those in the Long Gallery.

There’s also the chance to try on some costumes and take a selfie with your head on the executioner’s block, or wander through Queen Eleanor’s garden, enjoying its peace and 13th century plants.

The Vyne, near Basingstoke

This National Trust property played host to Tudor royalty before becoming a 17th century family home, plus there are gardens, woodlands and wetlands for explore.

But as well as the usual National Trust attractions for families, The Vyne also has a small adventure play area which kids will love.

The Hidden Realm is inspired by fantasy and legend, with a wooden fort and water play, with a little stream running to the sandpit and the chance to build dams. Pack spare clothes…

Titchfield Abbey

You can still explore the ruins of this 13th century abbey turned Tudor manor, although don’t expect the building to be intact. Wandering through what’s left of Titchfield Abbey is distinctly atmospheric though, and many walls are still standing – you can even stand up inside one of the huge fireplaces.

For a bit more history, there are boards with information, as well as being able to see where the missing walls would have stood.

Perfect for kids to run around or for a family picnic with a difference, there’s no charge to enter so it’s ideal if you’re looking for free days out in Hampshire with kids.

View of the grand Chawton House in the village of Chawton - a great family day out in Hampshire

Chawton House

Owned by Jane Austen’s brother, the author spent hours at Chawton House, just a short walk from the cottage where she lived – but while it’s a great day out in Hampshire with teens, it’s not just for fans of her novels.

There are activity trails and the chance to play in the gardens as well as exploring the estate – plus you can spot graffiti done by the Austen family on the paintings indoors. The 400-year-old house has plenty of history to discover as well, including witch marks and a herb garden with plants used in 18th century medicine.

Butser Ancient Farm

It’s tricky to know quite how to categorise Butser Ancient Farm apart from being a fantastic day out in Hampshire with kids – part outdoor museum, part historic site, part animal attraction, it’s a unique blend of all three.

Set in the South Downs National Park near Petersfield, this experimental archaeology site features reconstructions of ancient buildings from the Stone Age and Iron Age through Roman Britain and into the Anglo Saxon era. There are also prehistoric crops, as well as rare animal breeds such as goats and sheep which the original inhabitants on these homes would have recognised.

Kids can also try the family trails and quizzes, as well as some activities with a difference, including mosaic making and wattling fences, plus some special events during holidays.

If your kids love history – and mosaic making – Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight is a great place to explore too

Animal attractions

Marwell Zoo

With 1,200 animals set across 140 acres, there’s a huge amount to discover at this wonderful Hampshire zoo – and that’s quite apart from the extra family attractions you find from time to time at Marwell Zoo (including Brickosaurs, or lego dinosaurs, when we visited).

There’s a stamp trail to follow, although the animals themselves are enough of an attraction, from amur tigers to zebras, not to mention cheetah, red pandas, penguins. You can also hop onto little trains, as well as finding adventure playgrounds.

For more animal attractions on the Isle of Wight, check out the Isle of Wight Zoo, Amazon World Zoo Park and the Monkey Haven.

Red panda sitting in a tree at Marwell Zoo - one of the top things to do in Hampshire with kids

New Forest Wildlife Park

If you’d like to see some of Hampshire’s local animals, you’ll love the New Forest Wildlife Park which specialises in British wildlife – some, like the grey wolves, are past inhabitants while there are also deer, badgers, hedgehogs and more, including Scottish wildcats, still to be found on these shores today.

There are also four species of otter and seven species of owl. Make a note of some of the talks and feeding times, as well as some extra events and activities during holidays – plus adventure playgrounds here too.

Hawk Conservancy

This award-winning Hampshire attraction is perfect for a family day out – as well as a focus on conservation (as you might guess from the name) and rehabilitation, you can also see flying displays and kids can get close to the beautiful birds of prey.

There’s also the chance to watch feeding times, with around 150 birds in the 22-acre site, head into the wildflower meadow or take a tractor ride, plus a stamp trail around the grounds of the Hawk Conservancy.

For smaller kids, it’s not just larger birds: keep an eye out for the burrowing owls as well, or try pond dipping.

Longdown Farm, New Forest

This family-friendly farm is great if you’re visiting Hampshire with toddlers and younger kids – you can bottle-feed the kids (the baby goats, that is) as well as seeing other small farm animals, from ponies and pigs down to rabbits and guinea pigs.

Children can get properly hands on holding some of the smaller inhabitants of Longdown Farm in the animal encounters, play indoors and out – which is good for a rainy day in Hampshire – and take tractor trailer rides.

Check out my review of Longdown Farm with a toddler.

My husband carries our toddler daughter on his shoulder around Longdown Farm in the New Forest - my review of our day out at Longdown Farm New Forest - one of the best days out in Hampshire with toddlers

Manor Farm Country Park

Step back into the past at Manor Farm Country Park, with its traditional farm machinery, Victorian kitchen and schoolroom – for those who saw BBC2’s Wartime Farm, showing how farms were run during the Second World War, this estate in Eastleigh will be very familiar.

You can still help by milking the cows or meeting the animals, where kids can hold chicks and rabbits, or catch up on some lessons in the 19th century schoolroom.

Once you’ve finished your work, watch the farmer’s wife go about her tasks, or hit the play areas – an outdoor one with a play tractor and combine harvester, and a new indoor play barn with different zones for toddlers up to eight-year-olds, ideal on a rainy day in Hampshire with kids.

Blue Reef Aquarium Southsea

We’ve visited a few of the Blue Reef Aquariums around the country – including Hastings just along the coast and Newquay in Cornwall – and they’re a lovely option if you’re visiting Hampshire in the rain with kids, as well as if you have small Octonauts fans.

With rays, sharks, jellyfish and turtles, as well as the otters, there’s plenty to discover beyond the fish as well at Blue Reef Aquarium Southsea, near Portsmouth.

Time your visit for one of the talks or feeding times, find Nemo among the clownfish or peer at the piranhas, as well as finding out more about the marine life in rockpools… ideal if you’re also planning to hit the beach in Hampshire.

Hampshire theme parks

Paulton’s Park and Peppa Pig World

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ll already know of Hampshire’s top theme park – as Paulton’s Park is the home of Peppa Pig World. But as well as the gentle rides and chance to meet Peppa and George if you’re visiting Hampshire with a toddler, there’s plenty more heart-racing fun.

A Grandpa Pig statue at Peppa Pig World in Paulton's Park - the best Hampshire theme park and a great family day out

There are more than 70 rides, acres of grounds and animals to meet, as well as several themed areas: Lost Kingdom is all about dinosaurs, while Critter Creek is great for younger ones, so there’s something for older and taller kids who want some adrenaline thrills as well as less scary options.

Add in playgrounds, a discovery trail and other events and shows, and it’s very easy to fill your day out.

Check out my tips for visiting Peppa Pig World and Paulton’s Park.

If you’re visiting the Isle of Wight, head to Blackgang Chine which has its own rides and plenty of options to play, plus one of the world’s biggest collections of animatronic dinosaurs

Museums in Hampshire with kids

Beaulieu motor museum

Although your ticket includes several attractions, including Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House with its costumed guides, it’s the motor attractions which tempt most visitors at Beaulieu: the National Motor Museum and the World of Top Gear as a bonus.

From some of the earliest motor vehicles through to F1 cars and land speed record breakers, the museum truly is a journey through car history.

There are some chances to get hands on, as well as being able to meet the Beaulieu crash test dummy, explore a 1930s garage before heading over to see some of the weird and wonderful creations from the complete Top Gear series, including the challenge cars.

Winchester City museum

This small family-friendly museum tells the story of the city, from its origins through its Roman incarnation of Venta Belgarum, to the home of Alfred the Great and England’s ancient capital up to Regency times and Jane Austen’s links with the city.

There’s plenty to bring it alive for kids as well: spot a medieval mayor’s wooden toilet seat, try your hand as an amateur archaeologist, try on Roman and Saxon costumes, or follow the museum spotter trail.

There’s no charge to enter, although donations are welcome, so it’s great if you’re looking for free days out in Hampshire for kids.

The statue of King Alfred in Winchester - discovering Winchester's history at some of the best Hampshire museums for kids

Westgate Museum

For more Winchester history, the Westgate Museum in the last of the city’s main medieval gates tells the story of Tudor and Stuart Winchester, as well as of the building, once a debtors’ prison.

You can try on a replica coat of armour and Tudor costumes or have a go at brass rubbing, while there’s also a spotter trail and family activities.

Winchester Science Centre

This science museum has the largest standalone planetarium in the UK but that’s really only the beginning, with so many interactive displays and exhibits that you’ll struggle to fit it all in to one day.

The Explorer: Space zone takes you on a voyage through the solar system, then you can bend light, stroke a meteorite and more with the hands-on section. Throw in live science shows, an area to get inventing and the 3D delights of the planetarium, and it’s fantastic for kids who love experimenting.

Perfect for rainy days in Hampshire with kids, but you don’t need bad weather to visit – there’s also an outdoor area, with a trail and water play.

Read my review of a day at Winchester Science Centre with kids

Milestones Museum

Step back into the past at Hampshire’s Museum of living history, where you can do everything from buying retro sweets in the traditional sweetshop to checking out the vintage vehicles.

The Victorian and 1930s streets at Milestones Museum are based on original buildings from in and around Basingstoke, with shops and factories as well as houses. Pop inside the miller, the saddler and the ironmonger and chat to some of the inhabitants in period costume to hear more tales of what life would have been like. Your ticket also gets you free return entry for the rest of the year.

Other days out in Hampshire with kids

Spinnaker Tower

At 170m high, the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth is taller than Blackpool Tower or the London Eye – and on a clear day, you can see for 23 miles. Head up to gaze out from one of three viewing decks, with information on just what you’re looking at, and a great panorama including the ships sailing in and out of port.

The highest, the Sky Garden, has a mesh ceiling so you can feel the breeze. Or look down to the harbour through the glass floor of the Sky Walk – only 6cm deep, it can hold the equivalent of two black rhinos. For the most extreme adrenaline thrills, teens aged 14 and over can abseil down the side (accompanied by an adult!).

If that doesn’t appeal, there’s also also a virtual reality experience and The Sail of the Solent animated film. If the weather takes a turn for the worse and the tower is lost in the mist? If you can’t see all three Solent forts on the day of your visit, you can get a free ticket to return another day (within three months).

View of Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower from the ferry to the Isle of Wight - one of the top things to do in Hampshire with kids

Take the Hythe Ferry

The historic Hythe Ferry links Southampton with the village of Hythe – and while it only takes 20 minutes to cross, it’s a lovely way to take in the views of the ferries, cruise ships and other boats at the port, as well as giving great views of local landmarks including the Spinnaker Tower.

A ferry has been running across this stretch of the water since 1880, and when you arrive at Hythe Pier, the world’s oldest pier train – a small gauge electric pier train dating back to the First World War – takes you 640 metres along one of the 10 longest piers in the British Isles.

If you’re visiting Hampshire with young kids, it’s also a lot easier than testing their attention span on a long boat trip.

If you fancy a longer trip at sea, you can’t beat cruising out to The Needles off the Isles of Wight. There are short voyages around Alum Bay or you can sail from Yarmouth which connects to Lymington on the mainland in the New Forest.

Go Ape at Itchen Valley Country Park

Explore 440 acres of fields, water meadows and woodland at Itchen Valley Country Park – either from ground level for younger kids, or head right up into the tree to check out the Go Ape course. The Treetop adventure is suitable for all ages, while the Treetop challenge is for ages 10+ (and a minimum of 1.4m tall)

If you don’t fancy the high ropes, there are also off-road bike tracks, trails to follow and several play areas, including an indoor play zone, The Holt, for kids aged six and under, plus two outdoor playgrounds for different ages. There’s also the Play Trail including a giant squirrel, climbing frame and snail slide – this and the Forest Trail are both pushchair friendly if you’re visiting Hampshire with a baby.

Ride the Watercress Line railway

The Mid Hants railway is better known as the Watercress Line – and quite apart from having one of the most fun names around, it’s a lovely day out in Hampshire for kids (and their grandparents!)

As well as occasional Thomas the Tank Engine themed days, steam trains chuff between several small stations – and your ticket lets you hop on and off all day – including stops between Alton and Alresford, plus a trail leaflet with six things to spot along the way and other activities.

A mini railway also runs on Saturdays from April to October.

Harry Potter fans can also walk in the young wizard’s footsteps over the Harry Potter bridge: the real bridge which doubled as Kings Cross where Harry receives his Hogwarts Express ticket in the movie.

If you’ve got a small train fan, there’s also a steam railway on the Isle of Wight with a chance to ride the trains as well as look at the locomotives.

Spot ponies in the New Forest

One of the loveliest spots in England, the New Forest is packed with pretty villages, lovely walks and most excitingly for small kids, ponies which roam freely – not to mention a few donkeys.

If you’re exploring the New Forest, the chances are you’ll see some along the way but a good place to spot them is near Brockenhurst, around Beachern Wood.

Finding them is a good excuse to set out on a walk or a cycle ride. From Brockenhurst, there’s an off-road trail to Bank, or we cycled from nearby Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard on the waterfront.

View of the Beaulieu river and Bucklers Hard in the New Forest - one of my top places to visit in Hampshire with kids

Canoeing in the New Forest

There’s more than one way to see the New Forest – and as well as walking and cycling, you can take a canoe or kayak out on the Beaulieu river.

It’s a tidal river, so it’s worth getting advice from the experts on the best time to go out – we tried New Forest Activities – and if you’re lucky, you can spot seals.

Kids aged 12 and over can take out a single kayak (accompanied by an adult) or there are double kayaks, as well as family canoes and guided canoe trips.

Take the New Forest Tour

If you’re visiting Hampshire with young kids, or simply fancy an alternative to walking (and don’t want to drive), the open-top New Forest Tour bus is a great way to discover the National Park.

There are three different routes and if you are exploring without a car, details on bus connections to Southampton, as well as Bournemouth and Salisbury if you’re staying across the border in Dorset or Wiltshire.

The hop-on hop-off routes mean you can explore along the way, and each shows a different side of the forest, from the wilder north-west to the coast in the south and a third linking pretty Brockenhurst and Beaulieu. There are multiple day tickets if you want to use the buses over your whole stay to explore throughout the New Forest with kids.

Two model dinosaurs watch my daughter hunting for fossils on our guided walk on Yaverland Beach - finding Isle of Wight dinosaurs is perfect if you're visiting Hampshire with kids

Discover dinosaurs

The Isle of Wight is known as dinosaur isle, so if your kids are fascinated by all things dinosaur, it’s worth taking the ferry across the Solent to discover the Dinosaur Isle museum and the fossil hunting walks they run.

For older kids, you can’t beat heading out onto the beach to hunt for remains of the dinosaurs which would have menaced the area millennia ago – we discovered a fossil or part of a carnivorous dinosaur arm, helped by our guide, along with a fun lesson on some of the geology of the island.

On an earlier visit, I visited Dinosaur Isle with a toddler, and discovered it’s a great place to explore with younger kids including plenty of chance to get hands on among the models. 

Hit the beach

If you’re looking for beaches in Hampshire with kids, they may not be as well-known as some of the other stretches of England’s south coast, but there are still plenty of options for a few sandcastles and paddling.

The mainland coast has long stretches of shingle – lovely Southsea beach has sand at low tide and joins up to Eastney beach as you get closer to Portsmouth. Or Hayling Island has sheltered stretches for swimming as well as great windsurfing for older kids at West Hayling.

For some of the best sandy beaches in Hampshire, you need to head to the Isle of Wight. Appley beach near Ryde is one of our favourites, with a playpark as well the sand, plus it’s close to the Fishbourne ferry dock from Portsmouth if you’re just heading over for the day.

Or at Priory Bay, there’s some great crabbing and rockpooling on the Isle of Wight alongside a sandy beach, while further around the coast, Freshwater Bay is a great suntrap on a warm day.

That’s only the start of the Isle of Wight beaches though: the beaches around Sandown Bay, by Sandown and Shanklin, have won awards, and there are little coves galore.

Check out my top Isle of Wight beaches with kids in this post

My daughter on the beach at Freshwater Bay - if you're looking for Hampshire beaches, a visit to the Isle of Wight with kids is unmissable

Go for a walk

The New Forest and Itchen Valley Country Park (above) are just a couple of the places with some great walks for families in Hampshire.

River Hamble Country Park is home to ancient woodland and roe deer, with activities to download including I Spy and Leaf spotting. Among the walking routes, there are some which are suitable for pushchairs (and wheelchairs) not to mention play areas for kids.

Manor Farm (see animal attractions) is also nearby so you can visit both in one day

For a longer trek, the South Downs Way National Trail starts at Winchester, while you can also follow part of the Pilgrim’s Way which heads to Canterbury. Or follow the Solent Way along the coast.

PIN FOR LATER: THINGS TO DO IN HAMPSHIRE WITH KIDS

The top things to do in Hampshire with kids - the best family days out in Hampshire, UK, from the New Forest and Isle of Wight to historic Winchester, Peppa Pig World, zoos, museums, animal attractions, castles and more #hampshireuk #ukdaysout #mummytravels

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Images: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Chawton and Buckers Hard images courtesy of Depositphotos, all other images copyright MummyTravels

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