From cities steeped in history, to cottage box, countryside charm, Hampshire really is the county that offers it all.

As well as boasting two National Parks, the county has some 230 miles of coastline with numerous pretty villages and two major ports – each with their own personality and stories to explore.

Portsmouth is probably best known for being home to Tudor relic, The Mary Rose, with more than 9.4m visitors a year flocking to the city's Historic Dockyard to get a glimpse of this and the other ships on display, including HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. While you're there, shop for designer goods at the Gunwharf Quays outlet and venture to the top of the 170-metre high Spinnaker Tower for spectacular views across the water. For more vintage finds, head to nearby Southsea, which is known for its antique scene.

Not to be outdone, nearby football rival city Southampton has its own fair share of history. Stories past and present are shared at The SeaCity Museum, which includes a large Titanic exhibition, remembering the ship's tragic voyage, which set sail from the city in 1912. The city is also known for its Spitfire factories and the building of Henry V's famous warship, HMS Grace Dieu.

If you're visiting at Christmas, Winchester is arguably the most festive city in the UK. Home to King Arthur's Round Table, the city boasts the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe, the grounds of which are the setting for a magical Christmas market. And with its wealth of independent shops and great restaurants, it's the perfect spot for some present shopping.

From the cobbled streets of Winchester, to the chocolate box scenes of The Test Valley and the Meon Valley, Hampshire is certainly a county of diversity. The latter is home to the famous chalk stream trout, which can be found on the menus of many a local gastro pub, while the villages of Hartley Wintney and Alresford are perfect for a spot of countryside mooching.

Walkers and cyclists should head for The South Downs Way, where you can enjoy the area's highest point, Butser Hill, from Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Meanwhile, some more of the county's finest views can be discovered while wandering through the New Forest, famous for its free-roaming ponies. This unique area is one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in Southern England, with charming towns and villages to explore including Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, both of which boast stunning country house hotels for an indulgent stay or dinner.

For coastal views, or a glimpse of the Isle of Wight, head to Lymington and Milford on Sea.

From its quaint towns and quirky villages, to bustling cities and peaceful countryside charm, you'll want to return to Hampshire again and again.

24 hours in Hampshire


Where to stay
You'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to luxury, five-star hotels in Hampshire. The Four Seasons Hampshire, in Dogmersfield is great for families, while TV chef James Martin can often be spotted at the Chewton Glen on the edge of the New Forest, where he heads up the kitchen and cookery school. Lime Wood, near Lyndhurst, offers a cool, laid back vibe, with a mouthwatering menu, while Carey's Manor in Brockenhurst is home to the wonderful Senspa, for a truly relaxing break.

Where to eat
Winchester, is an obvious choice for a dining destination, with a huge range of famous names like Rick Stein and independent eateries such as the 600-year-old Chesil Rectory but, for coastal views head to Blue Jasmine in Southampton for South East Asian cuisine overlooking the city’s Ocean Village marina. For an emphasis on local produce, you can't go wrong with a trip to Southsea's Restaurant 27 or The Elderflower in Lymington.

Where to visit
Hampshire has three stunning National Trust properties — The Vyne, Mottisfont and Hinton Ampner – to explore, all of which host a range of events throughout the year, and are particularly lovely at Christmas. For summer visitors, head to Exbury or Harold Hillier Gardens for flowers in full bloom, while year-round family fun can be had at Marwell Zoo, near Winchester or Hampshire's own theme park Paultons Park, home to the ever-popular Peppa Pig World.

Where to shop
If you're after designer names, head to Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, which also boasts numerous bars and restaurants, as well as a cinema, Southampton's WestQuay is also host to plenty of big names while Winchester and Romsey are perfect for browsing round the county's quirky, independent boutiques.

For an adventure
Experience the golden age of steam on The Watercress Line. Whether you’re taking a trip down memory lane or making new ones, sit back, relax and travel through the glorious Hampshire countryside by steam train, looking towards stunning views of the South Downs National Park.

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This article appeared in the Great British Staycations magazine.

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