10 great places to visit in Hampshire with kids
South Winchester Lodges is a family-run business, so we know how important (and how challenging!) a family holiday can be. By combining our personal experiences with the conversations we have with our guests, we’ve come up with the following list of great days out in Hampshire when you have the kids in tow.
#1 Explore Winchester on foot
Winchester is a beautiful, historical and easily walkable city. It’s a ten-minute drive/bus ride to the city centre from the Lodges and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring the former capital city of England.
Highlights include the excellent family playground in Abbey Gardens. Located next to the highly regarded River Cottage Canteen, this is a great place to spend a few hours with the kids. Next to the Gardens, you can gain access to the Itchen Way - a beautiful riverside walk that leads all the way to Southampton on the south coast.
We also recommend exploring the Cathedral grounds and trying some of the friendly pubs and coffee shops in the city centre. Other highlights include the Theatre Royal Winchester and the Winchester Discovery Centre which both regularly hosts family-friendly events.
For our final recommendation for children who prefer a little more engagement, check out the Treasure Trail specific to Winchester. This trails take approximately two hours to complete and can be downloaded as a PDF to be viewed on your phone or printed at home.
#2 Marwell Zoo
For children with even a passing interest in animals, Marwell Zoo is an essential family day out. With more than 100 animals – including tigers, giraffes and penguins, this 140-acre park is packed with exciting encounters for families. There’s a train running through the zoo, five adventure playgrounds, and a cafe for refreshments. For children who want to learn more, there are daily talks and animal feeds to experience.
#3 Paultons Park
It was already the leading ‘big ticket’ family attraction in Hampshire and Paultons Park has grown even more of a must-visit destination this year with a raft of new rides and features. The big news is that Peppa Pig World is being extended for 2018, including two new rides: The Queen’s Flying Coach Ride and Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club. The former takes an elevated view of the park starting from the top of the Queen’s Castle, while the Sailing Club takes you on an aquatic adventure to “discover Pirate Island”. New characters will also be walking around greeting children, while the extension also includes a new catering outlet (The Queen’s Kitchen) and a dedicated baby care centre.
The other new addition to Paultons in 2018 is Little Africa, which lets visitors meet a range of exotic birds and animals.
Paultons has enjoyed significant investment in recent years, with the Lost Kingdom land being the most recent addition. This relatively new area houses a couple of cracking rides, some big, some small. This maintains Paultons’ excellent balance of rides which cater for older thrill seekers and younger children.
Book in advance to secure cheaper tickets.
#4 The Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium
This interactive museum immediately springs to mind as a rainy day destination, but is so good that it deserves a visit even if the sun shines. Housing as it does the UK’s largest planetarium cinema and a wide-range of interactive science exhibits and talks, the Winchester Science Centre is ideal for inquisitive children and adults who enjoy joint family activities.
#5 Itchen Valley/Go Ape
There are many county parks and outdoor destinations in Hampshire, but Itchen ValleyItchen Valley is one of the best. Located just outside Southampton, Itchen Valley includes two impressive play parks: one a huge adventure playground, the other a pirate-themed toddlers playarea. Children activities and a cafe are also housed in the High Barn Activity Centre. There’s a family-friendly adventure trail, woodland walks and even provision for bringing along a BBQ.
If you’re feeling brave and what to splash out, the Go Ape high rope adventure trail is also located in Itchen Valley. This two/three-hour high wire activity puts visitors high up in the trees and it’s certainly not for the flight-hearted!
#6 Beaulieu Motor Museum and World of Top Gear
Located in the heart of the historic New Forest national park, Beaulieu is a real gem. Palace House and its grounds and gardens are highly regarded and well worth a visit. However, the highlight for families are undoubtedly the National Motor Museum and Top Gear Experience.
The National Motor Museum is billed as the “finest collection of cars, motorcycles and motoring memorabilia in the world”, and includes 285 historic vehicles including iconic F1 and rally cars. New for 2018 is the Luxury of Motoring exhibit which charts the history and highpoints in a timeline of luxury motoring.
The World of Top Gear has recently been updated to reflect the new show and its presenters Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid, and features cars and exhibits that have been integral to the iconic BBC driving programme. Visitors can also try the Top Gear simulator and post a lap time with the remote control cars on a scaled-down version of the Top Gear track.
#7 Watercress Line
Run by the not—for-profit Mid Hants Railway, the Watercress Line is a preserved heritage railway which recalls the heydays of steam railways. Running 10 miles between the market towns of Alresford and Alton, the railway houses a number of historic trains and takes passengers through a stretch of beautiful countryside synonymous with the watercress beds.
For young children, the big draw will be Days out With Thomas which allow you to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine. These themed days run during Easter and summer holidays, and a £54 family ticket lets you take unlimited rides on Thomas and Toad the Brake Van, experience live entertainment and rides in Ropley, including vintage swing boat rides (new for 2018) and various other activities such as colouring and earning stickers. For a full day of activity, it sounds like great value and booking is essential.
Days out with Thomas:
Easter: 30th March - April 8th 2018 (9.30am - 5.00pm)
Summer: 4th - 12th August 2018 (9.30am - 5.00pm)
#8 Longdown Activity Farm
This is a great destination for families with small kids. Longdown Activity Farm combines a working farm with a raft of family-friendly activities, including go-carts, digger rides, animal feeding experiences, an adventure playground and the brilliant and VERY bumpy tractor rides!
Longdown is also a decent bet for those changeable weather days. Although admittedly more pleasant in the sunshine, there are a number of covered actives, such as the trampolines and indoor play area that ensure it’s not a washout, and there are plenty of buildings in which you can take shelter if the rain persists.
Online bookings receive 10% discount.
For older children or simply an activity closer to the lodges, the Everyman cinema in Winchester is a great option for movie aficionados who want a more authentic classic cinema experience. Everyman is an independent cinema with an arthouse feel that shows a combination of arthouse indie flicks alongside crowd-pleasing blockbusters. The building is stunning; there’s a funky bar and parents are allowed to take a well-earned glass of wine into the screen with them. Each seat has a small table and you can order food which is delivered during the film. It’s certainly a more memorable experience than the slightly impersonal multiplex experience and as it's located in the heart of Winchester, it’s a great base to explore the city.
If there are no suitable films showing, you can head to nearby Eastleigh and use the perfectly functional, modern and well-equipped Vue cinema. It’s not as characterful as Everyman, but a step-up from many run-down large cinema chains. There’s also a bowling alley and video game arcade located next door to the cinema in the modern Hollywood Bowl if you need further refuge from the rain, plus a selection of family-friendly restaurants such as Nando and Frankie and Bennies.
#10 country walks
There are many stunning places to walk with the children in Hampshire. As well as the aforementioned Itchen Way, we recommend a walk in the New Forest. It’s a stunning location and there are numerous walks which can be enjoyed with all the family.
Another favourite is St Catherine’s Hill, a stunning spot on the outskirts of Winchester. We’ve found that the long, sloping hill is perfect for dealing with those children who have too much energy!
Note: Both Longdown Activity Farm and Beaulieu are located in the New Forest if you want to plan some combined activities.
Winchester Hat Fair
Winchester’s annual Hat Fair is a massive draw each summer. Themed around live theatre, the Hat Fair is three-day event featuring performance activities throughout the city, and this year it takes place 29 June - 1 July.
Sunday at Oram’s Arbour is a particularly good day for families. Performers set up at random spot around this beautiful park for families to enjoy while they picnic or sample food and drink from the various food trucks and stalls. It’s always a great atmosphere and great way to soak up some culture while the kids run and play.