The New Forest has a beautiful coastline, where sandy bays nestle between jutting rocks and golden beaches stretch for miles. Thousands of visitors flock here every year; clearly they’re not all coming just to see ponies. New Forest beaches have it all – sand, pebbles, clean water,stunning coastal landscape and much more.
One of our principal motivations for moving to the New Forest, almost two years ago, was our desire to live by the ocean. It was a huge risk, leaving behind everyone and everything we knew and heading off for a new life. However the draw of the sea was insurmountable for us and this related to one beach in particular (number one on my list).
If you’re visiting the New Forest this summer, one of your first questions is going to be, ‘where’s the best beach?’
Below are my top five, with focus on family friendliness. But actually they’re great destinations for anyone – families, couples, friends and dog walkers alike.
This is my favourite beach in the New Forest for many reasons. Firstly, it’s a lovely clean, sandy beach with great facilities for families. If you’re laden down with buggies and beach paraphernalia, you can park close to the sand without having to trek up and down a cliff path.
Aside from sandcastle building and paddling, there are plenty of other things to do. From Avon Beach it’s a short walk up to Mudeford Quay, where you will be able to try your hand at crabbing or catch a quick ferry to nearby Mudeford Spit. There’s also a small play park for kids which consists of a slide, swings and a sand pit (I’m still at a loss to understand why there is a sandpit in a playground right next to the beach).
Dogs are welcome on the beach from October to April and for the remaining months they must be kept on a lead on the promenade. The promenade stretches from Mudeford to Highcliffe and, as well as being great for dogs, it’s also perfect for buggies, scooters, skateboards and bikes.
If you so desire, you can even hire a beach hut for the day (this costs £30 and can be booked from the shop). We’ve done this on a few of occasions, mainly for birthdays.
Everything you need is close by – a shop selling the essentials, a restaurant, a cafe, fish and chips and a coffee cabin. And don’t forget to order a delicious New Forest ice-cream (bubblegum is my daughter’s favourite flavour while I always marvel over the many choices before settling for honeycomb). Make sure you take cash with you as there’s no cash machine within walking distance of the car parks and many places only take cash (although the shop will give cash-back if you spend over £5).
We visit Avon Beach almost every day and are never bored. The breathtaking views over the ocean and the sights, sounds and smells of Mudeford Quay continually offer up new experiences . Couple that with friendly locals, great facilities and the mesmerising lull of the waves and you can see why I think this beach is the best in the New Forest.
Close to Avon, Highcliffe is another stunning New Forest beach to explore where beautiful expanses of shingle and sand meet crystal clear waters. You park at the cliff top and wonder down to the beach, meaning that there are no facilities available once you get there. For sand lovers, head left down the cliff from the car park and find a long sandy beach snuggled behind some rocks.
At the top of the cliff, by the car park, is a cafe/restaurant and toilets. If you’re heading to Highcliffe for the day, I’d take a picnic, drinks, buckets and spades etc with you for ease. However, everything you need for a day by the sea is available in Highcliffe high street, a manageable walk away.
The sandy beach is difficult to access with buggies because you will have to carry them over stones and sand – there’s no promenade. That said, it is doable if there are at least two adults who can carry the buggy. You won’t be disappointed when you get there and the kids will love playing in the long stretch of squeaky sand and splashing in the water.
If you like walking, there are numerous (buggy friendly) cliff side paths to explore and of course you can ramble up the cliff side trail to the magnificent Highcliffe Castle.
Milford has a gorgeous pebbly beach, close to a quirky high street which is full of independent shops, restaurants and pubs. We love it there because it’s easy to park right next to the sea. There is also a conveniently located playground and cafe next to the car park.
When my husband visit without the kids, we enjoy a leisurely walk – either to Hurst Castle via the long shingle spit or, in the other direction, along the cliff-top towards Barton. If you have a buggy or small children, walking to Hurst Castle won’t be possible because of the distance (about a 40 minute walk) and the shingle. However, you can drive to Keyhaven and take a ferry across to the castle.
There’s no sand at Milford, but that doesn’t seem to bother my kids who can spend hours throwing fat pebbles into the sea, giggling at the plop each stone makes when it breaks the surface. The lack of sand is also quite handy if you can’t be bothered with cleaning the stuff out of shoes, bags, buggies and cars.
The main car park is just off the high street (however there is another car park further along the cliff-top), where there is also a cafe serving food and of course, the famous New Forest ice cream. If you’ve time, have a bimble along the high street and check out some of the lovely cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Technically just outside of the New Forest, Southbourne has a seemingly endless sandy beach. It’s great for kids and also walkers and those with buggies. There’s a long promenade stretching to Boscombe and then Bournemouth in one direction and Hengistbury Head in the other (dogs are allowed on the promenade but not on the beach).
Southbourne is a suburb of Bournemouth and its beach is popular because it’s generally quieter than the other Bournemouth beaches. There are two car parks, plenty of on-road parking, a couple of cafes and a playground by the beach. Southbourne High Street with its original collection of shops and eccentric cafes and restaurants is not far away. It always reminds me of a London high street due to its layout and the selection of independent shops, delis and other eateries.
Barton has a handsome pebble beach, flanked by a towering cliff. The accessible part of the beach is relatively small, however it is probably the quietest of all the New Forest beaches. In the height of summer, when everywhere is packed, you’ll probably still find parking space at Barton.
You park at the cliff top – either along the road or in one of the two car parks and then meander down the cliff path to the beach. You can take dogs onto the beach and the cliff path is buggy friendly. You can also walk along the paths on the cliff top and marvel at the people para-gliding over the edge of the cliff.
There are no facilities down on the beach, however a cafe with a small shop is positioned by the top of the beach path and there are a couple of shops and restaurants in the village parade.
My kids love playing in the rock pools and collecting large, smooth pebbles to take home and paint, while I enjoy the stunning scenery and refreshing breeze. If you do visit, however, beware of the cliffs because they are constantly eroding – don’t get too close to the edge just in case!
So there you have it – my top five beaches in the New Forest. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
(Disclaimer: This is simply a list of beaches and is not a recommendation or review of any of the beaches listed. I do not accept liability for the outcome of any visit. I have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this post and do not accept liability for any errors or omission.)