With buzzing cities, a sweeping coastline and serene countryside, there are plenty of great things to do in Hampshire.
I’m just back from a gorgeous few days exploring the English county of Hampshire. Do you know what, it’s a county I’ve been to several times before, but only to the same spots! So, if someone asked me what Hampshire is like, I’d talk about the New Forest and Portsmouth!
Finally, it was time to find out more about this large county in the south of England. There’s a huge variety of things to do in Hampshire, making it a great year-round destination. Summers can be spent out on the water around the coast, while places like the New Forest are ideal for frosty winter walks and cosy pub meals.
City lovers will enjoy trips to Southampton, Portsmouth and Winchester. Each is filled with attractions, shops and great places to eat. Along the coastline of the Solent you can enjoy water sports, boat trips and beach time. Plus, there’s endless spectacular countryside to explore including the South Downs, New Forest and the North Wessex Downs.
From gin tours and pretty hikes to top attractions, our visit incorporated a little bit of everything! If you’re looking for ideas for staycations, here are a few of my favourite things to do in Hampshire.
12 Amazing Things To Do In Hampshire
Learn about gin (and drink some too!) at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Did you know Hampshire is the home of luxury gin brand Bombay Sapphire? When we heard you could tour the distillery (located close to Whitchurch) we couldn’t wait! The Discovery Experience tour was an excellent way of learning not only about the gin production process, but also to gain a greater understanding of what makes this part of northern Hampshire unique.
The gin brand is located in the old Laverstoke Mill, right on the banks of the River Test. As well as several pretty red brick buildings, there’s a cute row of worker’s cottages which you walk around during the tour, seeing different stages of the production process as you go.
The most spectacular part? The stunning glasshouses designed by Thomas Heatherwick. They’re designed to look like gin is pouring out of the warehouse (if only!) Inside you can see the plants that make up the blend of 10 botanicals that give Bombay Sapphire its unique flavour.
After learning about the history of the buildings and how the brand distils its gin, we were taken to the Mill Bar to enjoy one of 11 signature cocktails. I’d recommend The Laverstoke, which is a tasty spritz with flavours of elderflower and mint. We also enjoyed a cocktail masterclass where we got to shake up a few of our own! A trip to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is definitely one of the best things to do in Hampshire.
If you’d like to hear more about this tour, read the definitive guide to the Bombay Sapphire Tour on the Great British Bucket List.
Enjoy delicious Asian fusion cuisine in chic surroundings at The Palm Brasserie
If you’re looking for somewhere to line the stomach before or after your trip to Bombay Sapphire, I’d recommend booking a table at The Palm Brasserie. Located in Deane, just a 7-minute drive from the distillery, this is a chic, modern restaurant serving top quality food.
The interiors are lovely, with stylish glass pendant lights suspended over colourful booths, and smart marble and gold tables. The restaurant also has glass doors along one edge of the main dining area, allowing light to stream through into the dining area.
While you’ll find plenty of classics on the menu, there are Asian influences too, which I loved! For example, the sea bass roulade is served with pickled seaweed and a wasabi mayo. Meanwhile, the chicken burger has katsu flavours and is served with a Siracha relish.
I ordered the Thai chicken supreme which was absolutely divine. Tender charred and marinated chicken breast came with an indulgent Thai sauce which had hits of ginger, chilli and spice. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again!
Relax with an overnight stay at The Watership Down Inn
One of my biggest recommendations if you’re visiting Bombay Sapphire, is not to drive! You’ll want to enjoy a few gins while you’re there, so think about booking a taxi from wherever you’re staying.
The Watership Down Inn would be my recommendation. It’s located half a mile away so you could even walk there and stagger back! This is an absolutely charming pub, dating back to the 1800s, with a beautiful outside area and cosy bar and restaurant. It also has seven bedrooms, including four garden rooms. It’s got an informal vibe, and you can even bring your dog!
Our garden room was very comfortable with a large en-suite bathroom. We heard great things about the food at this pub but couldn’t squeeze a meal in this time. That didn’t stop us from perusing the menu though, which features starters such as a whipped goats cheese tart with textures of beetroot, walnut and parmesan, and mains including confit pork belly with a smoked bacon and apple emulsion. It’s definitely somewhere that takes gastronomy seriously, so arrive hungry!
Another great thing about The Watership Down Inn is that it’s located on The Mill Trail – a fabulous circular walking route around Whitchurch, the old mills and the River Test. You can find out more about this walk here.
Take in the views from the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth
After a day exploring the northern side of Hampshire, it’s time to share a few highlights from the south coast.
At 170m, the architectural wonder that is Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower is designed to sway slightly in order to withstand high winds. To reach the viewing platform you hop in the high-speed internal lift which takes just 30 seconds, travelling at a whopping 4 metres per second.
It’s an incredible moment when you first step out of the lift and see the panoramic view stretching around the structure. From the main viewing deck you’ll be 100m up, with views of the city of Portsmouth, the Solent and the Isle of Wight all around. There are interactive screens and markers around the deck so you can identify key landmarks. I enjoyed watching the ferries and boats coming and going from the port too. A trip up the Spinnaker Tower is one of the most popular things to do in Hampshire and a great way to get your bearings too.
For a special occasion you could book brunch or high tea at The Clouds – the restaurant on the floor above the viewing deck. Or if you’re feeling brave, you could abseil down the tower. This is the perfect activity for adventurous types who love to live life to the full!
Enjoy the charm and character of Old Portsmouth
I’ve been to Portsmouth a few times before, and one of my favourite spots is The Point in Old Portsmouth. Walking the cobbled streets, looking at the pretty houses and quaint old pubs feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle around Gunwharf Quays. As well as stopping to take some photos looking back towards the Spinnaker Tower, I’d recommend stopping by The Still and West or The Spice Island Inn for a drink with a view.
After that, wander around the corner to the Hotwalls Studios, a row of art galleries and creative studios built into the arches. The largely disused buildings were transformed into a vibrant new creative quarter for the city back in 2014. Most of them are open at weekends, but even on the weekday we visited there were a few stores open. I thought it was lovely to see the artists at work, and catch a glimpse of the creative process first hand.
One of my favourite discoveries was artist Louise Braithwaite who paints fun and colourful scenes from familiar spots such as Brighton and London. I was so taken with her work I picked up a big stack of greetings cards to take home as a memento.
Relax on Southsea Beach
If you continue on around the coast from Old Portsmouth, you’ll eventually reach Southsea. When the weather is fine you’ll see Southsea’s wide beach dotted with families, swimmers and paddle boarders.
Definitely wander along South Parade Pier while you’re there. It’s a traditional pier with amusements, an ice cream store, a restaurant and some rides towards the end. The original was built back in 1875, but with an interesting history (involving 3 fires, use in the D-Day landings and a few old-fashioned beauty pageants!) the one you see today is a newer incarnation.
We bought ice creams from the store at the front, took ‘holiday snaps’ in the cut-out boards and wandered to the end looking at the water beneath the wooden slats!
If you get hungry, I’d recommend stopping for brunch or lunch at Southsea Beach Café. This adorable spot right on the beach has a varied menu featuring everything from fish and chips to buddha bowls and cakes. There’s a real buzz to this beach spot too! When we visited on a weekday lunchtime it was almost completely full, with a mix of young couples and families all enjoying great food by the seaside.
Shop for treasures in Southsea
Southsea is a town with a fiercely independent spirit… in the best way possible! For chain stores, go to Portsmouth, for one-offs, visit Southsea! I’d recommend heading to Albert Road and Elm Grove to mooch around the local stores and foodie spots.
Pigeon Books is one of the newest additions – an independent book store that seemed to be thriving when we popped in. Plus, there’s comic book store Room 237, skate shop Bored of Southsea and Head of Curios – a store filled with weird and wonderful treasures.
For food and drink, check out Gin & Olive. This independent restaurant has a menu featuring over 100 gins, sharing boards, small plates and steaks. Alternatively, stop by The Southsea Deli to pick up a range of items from small producers across Hampshire, Sussex, Dorset and Somerset.
Relax in tranquil countryside at The Farley Hangar
One of the things I love about travelling in England is staying in unique and quirky accommodation. From safari tents to shepherd’s huts, there are so many cool places to stay. Set in the Hampshire countryside not far from Winchester, is The Farley Hangar. Resembling a Nissen hut on the outside, this quirky property is located right next to a private airfield, hence the name hangar!
Wow is this a spectacular place to stay! I loved walking through the doors and seeing the beautiful curvature of the ceiling, cosy interiors and cleverly fitted amenities. There’s a full bathroom with hot water, kitchenette, TV and even WiFi. One of the best parts? The countryside views from the outside deck. Looking out at the expanse of fields brought a wonderful feeling of escapism, as though any troubles could simply float away.
While it’d be easy to self-cater your stay at The Farley Hangar, you could also book in a treat while you’re there. Local gourmet dining company McCrimmon and Reid deliver ‘cook at home’ packages to the door. We enjoyed an incredible 3-course feast featuring king prawn kebabs with lemongrass and sweet chilli jam, followed by herb crusted cod with a mussel and saffron chowder, finished with a coconut panna cotta.
I thought it was an exceptional meal and could easily have been served in one of England’s top restaurants. How nice it was to sit out on the deck at our little home for the night too, enjoying the views with a tasty meal. This experience at The Farley Hangar was a highlight of my time in the county, and I’d say it’s one of the best things to do in Hampshire!
Learn about Hampshire’s wine scene at Black Chalk
I’m a huge fan of English sparkling wine and while we didn’t have time this trip, I’d love to return to this part of Hampshire and book onto a wine tour at Black Chalk. This family business has only been running a few years, but the wines have already started picking up numerous awards. The winery is located on the banks of the River Test in the rolling Hampshire chalk lands, so it looks like a lovely place to visit whether you’re a wino or not.
Explore the New Forest
I’ve visited the New Forest a few times before and I’d honestly say it’s one of my favourite places in England. It’s just stunning! Horses, donkeys and long-horned cows roam freely, there are miles and miles of gorgeous trails, plus it’s a great place for walking and cycling.
On this trip I headed to Brockenhurst, then took a drive along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. This is one of those roads where you feel like you’re in your very own car commercial. It’s a flat road with grazing land on either side of the road, with lots of animals dotted around (and often in the road too!)
After a leisurely drive, I set out on foot on the Ober Water Trail. This trail has two options – a red trail (1.5 mile) and yellow trail (1 mile). It passes through pretty areas of forest, follows the Ober Water stream, crosses over bridges and takes you out onto areas of grassland. You should also see plenty of wildlife too. It’s a lovely route and doesn’t take too long, so you can visit some other spots in the New Forest too.
Enjoy lunch in the garden at Rosie Lea House
If you’re craving a bite to eat, whether that’s a cuppa and a sweet treat, or a heartier lunch or dinner to refuel pre or post hike, stop by Rosie Lea House. The speciality here is food cooked in the restaurant’s outdoor firepit. Expect smoky brisket, spiced cauliflower, flame fired mussels and more!
There are lighter options at lunchtime too. We enjoyed tasty ciabattas followed by an enormous slab of moist coffee cake. My favourite part about this restaurant is the huge garden area. Not only is it really pretty, with a terrace, patio and lawn, there’s also plenty of space so you can enjoy your meal in a peaceful setting.
Go paddle boarding with New Forest Paddle Sport Co
If you enjoy getting out on the water, I’d recommend booking a session with The New Forest Paddle Sport Co who are based down in Keyhaven Quay, close to Lymington. We went on an afternoon paddle boarding adventure to Hurst Castle, which is definitely one of the things to do in Hampshire. Rather than venturing out on The Solent (which can be treacherous with wind and tides to worry about) this area in Keyhaven is more sheltered and easier to SUP on.
There’s a spit leading out from Keyhaven to Hurst Castle. At one point we hopped onto the beach and over the other side to see the Needles! The Isle of Wight is so close, it’s amazing to see different views of it as you explore Hampshire.
The paddle boarding trip was very relaxing, with calm water and a procession of small little dinghies and yachts passing by, practising their navigation.
I hope this guide to some of the best things to do in Hampshire has given you inspiration for your next UK staycation.
A big thanks to Visit Hampshire for inviting us to explore this beautiful part of England. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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