25 fantastic free days out in Hampshire

Bridge Street bridge over the River Itchen in the oldest part of Winchester

Winchester City Mill is run by the National Trust but is free to enter - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the cost of living continuing to rise, summer fun doesn't have to cost a penny with these free Hampshire attractions for all ages

Winchester City Mill 
This restored mill straddles the River Itchen and is in the heart of Winchester. You’ll learn all about its thousand year milling history during your visit, and see the mill in action. The volunteer millers produce wholemeal flour which can be bought in the shop. The flour also goes into the fantastic cheese scones which are available in the café. New for 2022 is a children’s activity book and there are family events running throughout the year. You might even be fortunate enough to see the otters which make this part of the river their home.  
Bridge Street, Winchester, SO23 9BH. Open 11am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday 

Bishop’s Waltham Palace 
This English Heritage owned site is free to visit and is a picturesque set of ruins dating from the 12th and 14th Century. The great hall was built by William Wykeham, best known for founding Winchester College. The ruins provide a great location for a game of hide and seek. There is also a small museum which is open on weekends and bank holidays (May to September) where you’ll see local artefacts ranging from prehistoric times to the modern day. Just over the road is a small nature reserve and boardwalk where you can usually see ducks and swans. 
Bishop's Waltham, Southampton, SO32 1DH. Open 10am-6pm April-September 

Hogmoor Enclosure is a great place for all the family

Hogmoor Inclosure is a great place for all the family - Credit: Sarah Frost

Hogmoor Inclosure 
Located near Bordon is Hogmoor Inclosure, over 54 hectares of woodland and heathland to discover. There is a large adventure playground and play equipment for children of all ages. The sandy terrain and small paddling area also make this a perfect family day out. You can take three marked routes around the park, some of which are accessible. There are some beautiful sculptures dotted around the woodland too. Café Hogmoor is open seven days a week and there are public toilets and baby changing facilities. The free parking makes this a real hidden gem in East Hampshire.  
Hogmoor Road, Whitehill & Bordon, GU35 9HX. Open daily 

Take time out to enjoy the views from Lepe beach

Take time out to enjoy the views from Lepe beach - Credit: Nick Lucas

Lepe Country Park 
Pack up a picnic and visit Lepe for the day. Here you’ll find a shingle beach where you can paddle whilst looking out to the Isle of Wight. The sea is popular with windsurfers and kitesurfers which are great fun to watch. The Lookout serves food from 9am and there’s a small shop selling beach goods and gifts. A circular footpath takes in the coast and countryside and the park is dog-friendly. Children will enjoy the play area, bird hide and sensory cottage garden. There are two BBQ areas which can be booked. Parking charges apply. 
Lepe Country Park, Exbury, Southampton, SO45 1AD. Open 7am-10pm 

Enjoy a beach break on your doorstep

Enjoy a beach break on your doorstep - Credit: Visit Milford on Sea

Milford on Sea 
Another great coastal location is Milford on Sea. There’s plenty to keep the family entertained here with parks along the seafront, and a shingle beach. You can bring your SUP equipment, or hire it from The New Forest Paddle Sport Company. A 1.4 mile spit extends out to Hurst Castle (entry fee applies) and on a clear day there are excellent views out over the Solent. Just around the coast is Keyhaven which has a large nature reserve to explore full of mudflats, salt marshes and wildlife. In the village itself is a large green and a few local shops and restaurants. 
Milford on Sea, SO41 0PY 

Explore the chapel at Royal Victoria Country Park

Explore the chapel at Royal Victoria Country Park - Credit: Sarah Frost

Royal Victoria Country Park 
If the weather’s fine, there’s enough here to keep the family entertained all day. There’s a large play area which is suitable for a wide age range, and a miniature railway (cash ticket required) which runs around a small section of the park. The iconic chapel is surrounded by huge green spaces which are perfect for games and gatherings. You can view the exhibitions in the Chapel for free and learn about the history of the former military hospital, and for a small fee you can climb the 104 steps up the tower for panoramic views. The park borders Southampton Water and there’s a strip of shingle which is suitable for paddling. Children love climbing the wooden castle structure too. Parking charges apply. 
Royal Victoria Country Park, Southampton, SO31 5GA 

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Royal Armouries: Fort Nelson 
The Royal Armouries national collection of historic cannon and artillery is displayed here in Fareham and entry is free to the museum. The Victorian fort has been fully restored and looks quite magnificent with its high ramparts. There’s a warren of underground tunnels to explore, and a collection of large guns to impress the family. They host regular family events here to help bring the history to life and there’s a café on site. During the summer there’s an assault course and low level maze for children too. Parking costs £3 per car. 
Portsdown Hill Road, Fareham, PO17 6AN. Open 10-5pm Wednesday to Sunday 

Can you spot Rudolph on a trip to Bolderwood?

Can you spot Rudolph on a trip to Bolderwood? - Credit: Tim Lloyd

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary 
In the New Forest, along the Ornamental Drive you’ll find a free car park from which you can explore a few of the forest sights. At Bolderwood there’s a purpose built platform which looks over a meadow; perfect for deer spotting. Between April and September the deer are fed daily between 12:30 and 14:30; whenever a Forestry ranger is free. If you are lucky you’ll see several fallow deer waiting for their food. Bring the bikes and take one of the cycling trails or there are three accessible circular footpaths from the car park too. There are toilet facilities here and a large grassy space for picnics and games. Just remember to respect the forest and leave it as you found it.  
Bolderwood Arboretum, Lyndhurst, SO43 7GQ 

Experience the serenity of the River Hamble Country Park

Experience the serenity of the River Hamble Country Park - Credit: Rob Young

River Hamble Country Park 
The river Hamble provides inspiration for a number of water-based activities such as kayaking, wild swimming and paddle boarding. Here at the country park you’ll also find a jetty which is popular for crabbing so bring your nets and lines with you. There’s a play area with a boat theme where the children can play at going up the crows nest. A brand new visitor centre holds information about the local area, toilets and a lovely café serving hot and cold refreshments. There are several footpaths and trails along the river and woodlands, some of which are accessible. Walk the mile along the gravel track to Manor Farm where there’s another café and toilets. The farm has an entry fee but is a great family day out in itself. Parking charges apply. 
River Hamble Country Park, Pylands Lane, Southampton, SO31 1BH 

Willis Museum, Basingstoke 
You’ll find the museum in Basingstoke’s Top of Town area, and the main exhibition changes every few months. Here you can discover the history of Basingstoke from medieval times to the present. Exhibits vary from the world’s oldest wedding cake to a woolly mammoth tusk. For children there’s an activity trail around the museum and regular family events taking place throughout the year. To continue your free day out, walk the short distance to the War Memorial Park where there’s an aviary filled with lovebirds, new play equipment with zip wire and a recently refurbished skate park.  
Market Place, Basingstoke, RG21 7QD. Open 10am - 4pm Wednesday to Sunday 

Southsea has much to offer on a day trip

Southsea has much to offer on a day trip - Credit: Sarah Frost

Southsea is a classic British seaside town with a long shingle beach leading into the sea which is suitable for swimming. Free activities here include play areas, games on the common and watching out for hovercraft and warships. Entry to Southsea Castle is also free and it’s one of the artillery forts built by Henry VIII to protect the Solent. Alongside a replica of the King, there are artefacts from the Mary Rose, and lovely views of the Solent from the Keep. Walk east along the promenade to find the rock garden, canoe lake and rose garden.  
Clarence Parade, Southsea, PO5 3NW. Castle open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday in the summer 

Alice Holt Forest 
There are a variety of walking trails around the forest, depending on how far you’d like to go. Some of them are accessible, and there are also several cycle trails. The two trails which will be most popular with the children are the Gruffalo sculpture trail, and the new Superworm trail. You can go and find these yourself, or purchase a trail activity pack for £3.50. There are plenty of natural play spaces for entertainment and also picnic and BBQ facilities. Parking charges apply. 
Bucks Horn Oak, Farnham, GU10 4LS 

Museum of the Iron Age, Andover 
The museum shows the history of the nearby Danebury hillfort which was found to have been one of the best examples from the Iron Age. There are many artefacts here as well as reconstructions to help bring the history to life. The Fullerton mosaic adorns the floor and is a fine example of a Roman mosaic which was discovered in a nearby village in 1872. Once you’ve finished at the museum, make the 15 minute drive to Danebury hillfort to see the site itself. There is a free car park with visitor toilets here.  
Museum of the Iron Age, 6 Church Close, Andover, SP10 1DP. Open 10am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday 

Staunton Country Park 
Discover the collection of follies which date from the Regency period whilst you wander the gardens here. There’s the Shell House made from Emsworth flint, and the Chinese bridge which spans the ornamental lake. There are three main walking routes of varying distance, and also seasonal walks as suggested by park volunteers. Children will enjoy playing in the outdoor play area, and on the lookout. There is a shop in the Coach House, as well as some interactive puzzles which help tell the story of Staunton. Parking charges apply. 
Middle Park Way, Havant, PO9 5HB 

Southampton City Art Gallery provides an excellent free day out

Southampton City Art Gallery provides an excellent free day out - Credit: Sarah Frost

Southampton City Art Gallery 
The gallery is in Southampton’s cultural quarter and has many excellent upcoming exhibitions. It carries a variety of historic and contemporary artwork, from paintings to sculpture, and the Foyer features artwork from local artists. Some of Southampton’s parks are adjacent to the gallery and offer space for picnics or park games. You can also walk the old walls which is a 3.5km loop to discover many of the historical sights.  
Commercial Road, Southampton, SO14 7LP. Open 10am-3pm Monday to Friday and 10am-5pm on Saturdays 

Discover hidden gems on a walk around Alresford

Discover hidden gems on a walk around Alresford - Credit: Sarah Frost

New Alresford 
This Georgian market town is the ideal base for a day out. Start with the railway station and you might be lucky to spot the steam trains on certain days. Follow the signs for the Millenium Trail which take you down to the river. Here you’ll find swans and ducks to feed, with food available to purchase if you forget your own. The trail is around a mile long, though you can add on the Arle Valley trail to see the Eel House. You’ll also pass Arlebury Recreation ground where you can stop and play in the play areas and skatepark. 
New Alresford Station, SO24 9JL 

Queen Elizabeth Country Park 
Queen Elizabeth Country Park lies within the rolling hills of the South Downs near Petersfield. Pose for a photo on the 30ft wooden Giant’s Chair or build dens in the woods. Take one of the three permissive trails which vary from 3-8km. Children will enjoy the story trail - The Dragon of Butser Hill. Over 30 species of butterfly have been spotted around Butser Hill so see how many you can find. There are children’s play areas, a café and toilets. Parking charges apply. 
Gravel Hill, Horndean, PO8 0QE 

Netley Abbey 
Netley Abbey is an excellent example of a Cistercian abbey and also one of the most preserved; with almost all of its walls still standing. The 13th Century church is situated close to Southampton water, and whilst managed by English Heritage it is free to enter. Netley is a short walk from the previously mentioned Royal Victoria Country Park so you could combine the two. 
Abbey Hill, Netley, SO31 5FB. Open 10am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday 

Curtis Museum, Alton 
Discover more about Alton and its history for free at the Curtis Museum, conveniently located on the High Street. For children there are dressing up costumes and activities, and a gallery of childhood toys and games from the 18th century onwards. The famous Alton buckle is displayed here, one of the most fascinating pieces of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship found locally in the county. It’s worth walking along to Alton public gardens afterwards which features an excellent children’s play area.  
High Street, Alton, GU34 1BA. Open 10am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday 

Relive childhood beach days on Hayling Island

Relive childhood beach days on Hayling Island - Credit: Sarah Frost

Hayling Island 
Relive childhood beach memories at Hayling Island, with its traditional beachfront and Funland amusements. You can walk the World War II Heritage trail to spot a number of historical landmarks. There’s five miles of beach here with plenty of safe spots for swimming and watersports. Hayling Seaside Railway offers a pleasant two mile return journey with views across the seafront. There are also several cycle paths and footpaths to explore. 
Sea Front, Hayling Island, PO11 9HG 

Portsmouth Natural History Museum 
The museum is free to enter and holds a variety of interesting exhibits, particularly in the A-Z of Natural History. There are fascinating specimens such as puffer fish and Kiwi birds. The observational beehive enables you to view the inside of a beehive and see how the honey-making process works. A real highlight is the Butterfly House, a greenhouse with an array of colourful butterflies to see. You can see the metamorphosis process as pupae emerge as butterflies. Note that butterfly season runs May-September. The museum is just by Southsea Canoe Lake so you can combine this with your Southsea visit.  
Eastern Parade, Southsea, PO4 9RF. Open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday 

Odiham Castle 
You can only access the castle from a towpath on the Basingstoke Canal, but it makes for a lovely walk of about a mile and a half from the closest car park. The castle ruin played a key role in the history of the Magna Carta and there are boards up with more information. Walk along the canal to Odiham and there’s space to play or bring your kayaks and SUP to enjoy the canal. 
North Warnborough, RG29 1HG 

Lakeside Country Park 
In the heart of Eastleigh there are 22 hectares of lakes and woodland. It’s a great location for picnics, walks or even fishing. There’s an art trail of nince steel panels featuring different wildlife. Lakeside Steam Railway is a cheap way to see more of the park whilst enjoying a ride on a miniature railway.  
Wide Lane, Eastleigh, SO50 5PE 

"The buildings where Nelson's ships were built in Bucklers Hard in the New Forest, Hampshire, Englan

The buildings where Nelson's ships were built in Buckler's Hard in the New Forest - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beaulieu and Bucklers Hard 
Deep into the New Forest is the pretty village of Beaulieu. You can park at the National Motor Museum for free and there’s a short footpath into the village. Wander around the little shops and cafés, keeping an eye out for the local donkeys roaming free. A scenic two mile footpath will lead you into Bucklers Hard, an old shipbuilding village. You can take a look around the shipwright’s cottage and workshop, as well as the smuggler’s cellar in the chapel. Throughout the summer and school holidays there are daily living history tours where you can learn about life in a shipbuilding community. 
Bucklers Hard, SO42 7XB 

Itchen Valley Country Park 
Set in 440 acres of water meadows is the River Itchen Country Park. Two main trails connect the children’s play areas together. These are the Play trail and the Forest trail, both of which are accessible. The top fields are huge open spaces, perfect for playing sports and games. The indoor play area - The Holt - is a woodland themed play space for children aged six and under to explore. The Fitness with Felix trail encourages a number of physical activities whilst walking through the woods, and you can also pick up an Ollie Owl trail pack from reception.  
Allington Lane, Southampton, SO30 3HQ 

Jane's Austen's House in Chawton is on the Hampshire Register of Historic Parks and Gardens

Jane's Austen's House in Chawton is on the Hampshire Register of Historic Parks and Gardens - Credit: Henry Ascoli

8 more days out ideas

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
Jermyns Ln, Romsey, SO51 0QA

Winchester Cathedral
9 The Close, Winchester, SO23 9LS

Lymington & Pennington Market
High St, Lymington, SO41 9ZP

St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery
New St, Lymington, SO41 9BH

New Forest Wildlife Park
Deerleap Lane, Southampton, SO40 4UH

Red Funnel Ferries
Terminal 1, Dock Gate 7, Town Quay Road, Southampton, SO14 2AL

Jane Austen's House 
Winchester Rd, Chawton, Alton, GU34 1SD

Sky Park Farm
Sky Park Farm, Petersfield, GU31 5PT

The Brickworks Museum
Swanwick Lane, Swanwick, Southampton, SO31 7HB