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18 Muddy-approved attractions in Hants and IoW

From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of 18 unmissable attractions in the area.

HERITAGE

Headliner: The Vyne, Basingstoke

The Vyne, Basingstoke

From Henry VIII to Jane Austen, The Vyne has played host to its fair share of notable visitors. The stunning 500 year-old Tudor manor house-turned-family home is one of the largest in Hampshire, originally built for Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. Be sure to explore the surrounding woodlands, wetlands and beautifully-tended walled garden as you follow-on in their footsteps.

In-the-know intel: Chawton House, Alton

Chawton House, Alton

Home to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, Chawton House has firm roots in women’s literature. Austen herself lived just around the corner in a cottage, where she wrote Pride & Prejudice and Emma. Packed with quirks including a hidden ‘ha ha’, the historic property is home to the research library for early women’s writing. Mojitos on the lawn while watching the latest Austen film screening is de rigueur here, though Regency dress is optional…

FAMILY FUN

Headliner: Marwell Zoo, Winchester

Marwell Hall Zoo Animals

Zebras, giraffes, rhinos, penguins and some seriously beautiful snow leopards are just a handful of the 1200 animals you’ll see at this excellent Zoo. Duck into the newly-renovated Tropical House to meet the two-toed sloth, Rica, while colourful parrots swoop freely overhead. Then, let your little ones swing around the adventure playground, while you get a well-deserved coffee.

In-the-know intel: Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover

Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover

Smile for the birdy! For a real, up-close bird encounter, visit the Hawk Conservancy Trust. Set in 22 acres of countryside, you’ll meet gorgeous tawny owls, peregrine falcons and a giant bald eagle in the flesh. There are daily flying displays, ferret races, tractor rides and a new bird-themed adventure playground. Not only do they host photography workshops and falconry training courses here, but the National Bird of Prey Hospital is also on-site.

BEACHES

Headliner: Sandown, Isle of Wight

Shanklin to Sandown Culver Cliff Ronald Saunders
Photo: Ronald Saunders

It’s no secret that the Isle of Wight is home to some of the country’s best beaches (yes, we’re biased on Muddy Hants & IoW, what of it?!). Grab your bucket and spade and head East for the sandy beach at Sandown, framed by Culver Down and Shanklin cliffs. The esplanade is dotted with seaside cafes, selling ice cream, plus there’s a crazy golf course on the pier. Just next door is Yaverland Beach, home to famous dinosaur bones. While you’re there, keep an eye out for prehistoric footprints – roarsome.

In-the-know intel: Steephill Cove, Isle of Wight

Steephill Cove, Isle of Wight

For a quieter, off-the-beaten track experience, head to Steephill Cove. Tucked between rocky cliffs and smugglers’ coves with no road access, you’ll find this small, unspoilt beach. It reminds us more of Cornwall with its rockpools, quaint cottages and fishermen unloading their catch. Park in the botanical gardens and make sure you grab a crab pasty for lunch.

FOODIE TRAIL

Headliner: The Pig, New Forest

Exterior of ivy clad stately home.

Since it opened in 2011, The Pig has been a huge hit with laid-back foodies, thanks to its true ‘field-to-fork’ ethos. Anything not grown in the kitchen garden is sourced within a 25-mile radius. We literally dream about its saddleback crackling, dipped in apple sauce. The Pig’s wild success inspired hotelier Robin Hutson (formerly of Soho House and founder of Hotel du Vin) to open six more Pig-lets across the country.

In-the-know intel: Chesil Rectory, Winchester

Chesil Rectory, Winchester

Hidden in a Medieval house, you’ll find ex-Fortnum and Mason chef, Damian Brown, cooking what might be the best Sunday lunch in Hampshire. Think dry-aged rump of Hampshire beef by the crackling fire. Chesil doesn’t have a Michelin star like its neighbour, The Black Rat, but it has earned a Michelin Plate, along with a Grade 4 rating in the Good Food Guide and two AA rosettes. Look out for the incredibly good value set lunch. 

NATIONAL PARKS

Headliner: New Forest National Park

New Forest National Park

Home to wild ponies and England’s biggest trees, the New Forest National Park was once the royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror. You won’t find royalty on horseback here anymore, although you might spot A-list celebs at nearby Lime Wood Hotel. Cycle through tree-lined groves before stopping at the chocolate box village of Lymington for a dip in the sea baths (see below).

In-the-know intel: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield

Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield

Right in the heart of the South Downs, the Queen Elizabeth Country Park might not be as big as the New Forest but it certainly gets our vote. From hiking paths to dedicated mountain bike trails for the speed demon in your life, there’s truly loads to explore, not to mention assault courses, outdoor pizza ovens, yoga classes… Head up Butser Hill for spectacular views from the highest point of the National Park.

OUTDOOR POOLS

Headliner: Lymington Sea Water Swimming Baths

Lymington Sea Water Baths Southpoint Films
Photo: Southpoint Films

Saltwater is so much better than chlorine, right? Built in 1833, the Lymington Sea Water Swimming Baths are the UK’s oldest lido. This 110m pool is not just for swimming lengths, it’s home to a giant 200m inflatable obstacle course and stand-up paddle boarding. You can even go swimming with your dog. The only downside is this pool isn’t heated – it is baltic, even in June! So get ready for a hot toddy in The Mayflower afterwards.

In-the-know intel: Petersfield Open Air Swimming Pool

Petersfield Open Air Pool

With an old-school English vibe, Petersfield Open Air Swimming Pool is a real hidden gem. It’s heated to a balmy 27°C, so even on those slightly chilly April mornings, you won’t catch a cold. BBQs, sundowners and moonlit yoga all take place here when open from April to September. Look out for a new tiddler’s paddling pool coming in 2021, the perfect spot for a splashabout.

KIDS’ ACTIVITIES

Headliner: Paultons Family Theme Park, Romsey

Paultons Park

Rollercoasters, candy floss and Peppa Pig World. What more could a kid ask for? With over 70 rides, it’s been voted the UK’s number one theme park, five years on the trot. No pun intended. Spinning balloon rides, ferris wheels, loop-the-loop rollercoasters and boat trips – if that doesn’t make you dizzy, the Peppa Pig toy shop certainly will. If it all get’s too much, escape the crowds and find tranquility in one of the parks four horticultural havens.

In-the-know intel: Southsea Skatepark, Portsmouth

Southsea Skatepark, Portsmouth

One of the UK’s original 1970s skateparks, Southsea Skatepark is a true Portsmouth establishment. With roller discos to kids birthday parties, it’s a hive of activity down there. Book into a mini wheelers session for 3-10 year olds, so you don’t need to worry about your little darling getting trampled by a teenage Tony Hawk.

ADVENTURE

Headliner: Calshot Activity Centre, Southampton

Calshot Activity Centre, Southampton

High octane adventurers – look no further. Whether it is scaling a wall, whizzing down a zip wire or spinning down a ski slope in a rubber ring, Calshot Activity Centre has it all. Adults and kids can learn to ski, sail or windsurf, with helpful instructors to fish you out of the water when you (inevitably) fall in.

In-the-know intel: Alpine Snowsports Centre, Aldershot

Does skiing give you Bridget Jones-style nightmares? Get your bearings on the dry ski slope at Aldershot before hitting the hard stuff. A two-hour lesson with one of their friendly ski instructors is a great way to test the water and see if you fancy booking an actual ski holiday. It’ll cause your wallet (and your ego) less pain in the long run.

CASTLES 

Headliner: Portchester Castle, Fareham

Portchester Castle, Fareham
Image credit: Neil Thompson

Castles have been Hampshire’s ‘thing’ ever since the Romans landed here in 54BC. Portchester is an unusual sandwich with a medieval castle built inside a Roman fort, overlooking the rolling waves of the Solent. A great place to bring a picnic and imagine you’re inside a Robert Harris novel.

In-the-know intel: Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight

Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
Image credit: Matt Brown

Stashed away on the Isle of Wight is Carisbrooke Castle, not one of the most well-known fortresses but certainly packed with history. King Charles I was imprisoned here during the English Civil War before his execution. He famously tried to escape – and failed – by getting wedged in the window bars. Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Beatrice, had much better luck – she lived here happily and there’s a pretty garden in her name to stroll around.

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