The New Forest is a beautiful expanse of woodland, heath, fresh water and stunning coastline. There are so many things to do (check out my last post 101 Things for Families to Do in the New Forest if you’re looking for inspiration). This is all well and good but, considering we live in the UK, your next question can be easily anticipated. What is there to do when it rains?
If you’re on holiday and faced with a week of rain, to say you will be disappointed in an understatement. Even if you live here, it can be tricky to think of things to in the New Forest when it rains. I’ve put together this guide in the hope that it will arm you with solutions when your kids start yelling, ‘What are we doing today?’ and you eagarly look outside only to be met with a blanket of rain.
Soft Play is the universal, rainy day fail-safe of all parents. Love it or hate it, you have to admit it is a great rain-busting activity that all kids love.
There are plenty of soft play centres in and around the new Forest, from the huge, light, airy and clean Gamabados in Eastleigh (about 30 minutes outside of the forest) to the cozy and well-loved Good Play Cafe in Southbourne. Both offer up great food, superior to the nosh served at most soft play centres.
If you’re looking for soft play within the New Forest itself, you could try Ringwood Health and Leisure. Or take a trip to Molly’s Den in New Milton (mums will love browsing the vintage stalls while the kids play and then everyone can have a yummy slice of cake in the cafe afterwards). The soft play area at Molly’s Den is quite small, with one small play frame, some ride-on toys and an actual bus full of balls.
Another place to try is Adventure Wonderland, near Bournemouth airport. Although this is primarily a small theme park with rides and other outdoor activities for the kids, it does have an amazing soft play area. If you’re experiencing the frustrating mix of showers and sunny spells then this could be the solution. It is more expensive than your average soft play though, and this is because there is much more on offer throughout the park.
There are plenty of museums in the New Forest area, suitable for older children. Try Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Although many features of the Beaulieu estate are outside, the museum is worth a visit in its own right. You can see James Bond’s cars or try out the World of Top Gear Experience. There’s also the Sammy Miller Museum in New Milton for motorbike fans.
The Sea City museum in Southampton tells the city’s Titanic story and much, much more. If you want to find out more about the New Forest, try the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst or the St Barbe Museum and Gallery in Lymington. Fordingbridge Museum also gives an insight how people have lived in the forest throughout the ages.
New Forest Health and Leisure have swimming pools dotted throughout the forest. Our favourite, however, are the pools at Two Riversmeet Christchurch. My kids aren’t able to swim unaided yet and the baby pool is light, warm and rarely crowded. For older kids there are also inflatables to tumble around on in the big pool (check times and days for these on their website).
The Littledown Centre in Bournemouth also has a large pool and baby pool, complete with two fun slides for the more adventurous. They have inflatibles available to play on at certain times too.
Something a bit different…
Bournemouth Oceanarium is a fantastic indoor day out with hundreds of different sea creatures to visit.
If you fancy a treat, why not head to Sprinkles Gelato in Bournemouth? They have a huge range of ice-cream, waffles, cakes and other lip-smacking desserts. One scoop is never enough!
Also, check out the programme of events at The Regent Centre in Christchurch. You could catch a show or see a film (and it’s much cheaper than a cinema). The Forest Arts Centre in New Milton also puts on workshops, craft activities, discos and other events at weekends and during school holidays.
If You Don’t Mind Getting A Bit Wet
If You Want to Embrace the Rain
You will likely be well prepared with wellies, macs and waterproof trousers whatever the time of year (this is the UK after all). Most kids love going out and splashing about in the rain. If you’re up for it, a walk anywhere in the forest can be a lot of fun. There are plenty of muddy puddles to jump in and rainy day dens to build.
A trip to the enchanting village of Burley is our first port of call on such a day – you can have a good long walk on the outskirts (park near the cricket club and wander into the woods from there), spotting wild ponies, cows and pigs on your way. Then head back to the village to warm up at the Cider Pantry with a mug of hot chocolate or something stronger. Don’t forget the cake.
And finally the beach is always there. My kids are quite content sloshing about in the sodden sand and finishing off what the rain started by getting drenched in the sea. In all honesty, I quite enjoy the novelty of having the beach to ourselves. A good long walk from Mudeford Quay to Highcliffe Castle and back can be broken up with some tea and cake in the castle tearooms.
A rainy day in the New Forest needn’t be a total washout – it’s what you make of it that counts!
(Disclaimer: This is simply a list of attractions and is not a recommendation or review of any of the places listed. I strongly recommend you visit each attraction’s website before you visit as well as phoning for more information. 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.)