The New Forest is jam packed full of attractions, sights, theme parks, beaches and many more things to do. The mere choice can leave you a bit dizzy. But what are your best options when you just want to let the kids do what they do best – have a good play?
When my kids want to run around and blow off some steam I find there are two options – playgrounds or soft play. Which we choose is largely guided by the weather, but not always. Sometimes hot and sunny days are the best for soft play because you can be sure to have the place to yourself.
The New Forest and surrounding areas have plenty of playgrounds and soft play centres. Here are some of our favourites:
New Forest Soft Play
Gambados, Eastleigh (near Southampton)
A 30 minute drive down the M27 from Lyndhurst, this is our soft play fail-safe. It is housed in a huge, light and airy building, making it a much more pleasant atmosphere than your average dingy soft play place.
For babies and young toddlers, Gambados has an excellent two-storey baby area where they can play safely. The rest of the soft play is geared up for slightly older children who can spend hours exploring the frame. When it’s time to eat, Gambados serves nutritious and delicious food of much better quality than you would expect from a soft play centre.
It’s clean, the staff are friendly and the children will have hours of fun (there’s even a teacup ride). If you want to wear them out and get some healthy nosh down them, I would highly recommend a visit.
As Gambados is located in the Swan Shopping Centre, you do need to play for car parking.
Monkey Madness, Christchurch
This is another soft play centre we frequent often. While it’s not quite as bright, clean and spacious as Gambados and the food is more of the standard you would expect from a soft play centre (i.e. okayish), it’s still a good place to pass a few hours of uninterrupted fun for the kids. The soft play frame is large enough for the kids to enjoy and there is also a nice baby area with plenty to do for smaller children.
The Good Play Cafe, Southbourne – lovely little place to visit, especially if you fancy a good cuppa and a nice bite in a pleasant environment. The play frame is smaller than in other soft play centres but then it is predominately a cafe. The food is healthy and delicious and you can see where your child is at all times (there is a camera in the ‘hidden’ part linked to a TV). There is no on-site parking, so you will need to park nearby either on a road or in a car park.
Molly’s Den, New Milton (Update November 2017: please note Molly’s Den is closed until further notice)-
while the soft play area is small, my kids always love a trip to Molly’s Den. This may have something to do with the fact they have an actual bus full of play balls. There is a cafe next to the soft play where you can pick up a good brew and delicious cake. And I mustn’t forget to mention the hundreds of stalls (it is a vintage emporium after all) selling knick-knacks, ornaments, toys, wall art and much more. A browse around the stalls while my husband watches the kids is my idea of heaven.
Play On Site Safari, Ringwood – this soft play is located inside the health and leisure centre and is cheaper than a standard soft play centre. There is loads of fun for children to have in the ball pits, spiders web and spooky dens. My kids love running off steam here however there is no cafe on site (just vending machines) and no tables or chairs, so parents will need to be fine with perching on the floor. Also note that you have to pay for car parking.
Best New Forest Playgrounds
Being surrounded my a multitude of great playgrounds makes it difficult to single out just a few. Here are our favourites for various different reasosns:
Dudley Avenue Recreation Ground, Hordle
This is a relatively new playground and has quickly become a firm favourite. Firstly, if you have older children who enjoy cycling, there is a BMX track at the back of the large field. This is perfect for entertaining older kids who easily become bored at average playgrounds.
For younger children, there is an enclosed play area with your usual swings, slide and climbing frame (all crafted out of wood). Next to the play equipment is a small track for little people to scoot and cycle around. My kids adore this track, especially as it has been kitted out like a proper road, complete with pedestrian crossing, petrol filling station, police car, a stop watch (for timing yourself round) and road markings.
To find this hidden gem, head to Stopples Lane in Hordle Village. Once you’ve turned down Stopples Lane, you’ll find Dudley Avenue about halfway along. The playground is right at the end of Dudley Avenue.
Woodside Park, Lymington
Children love exploring Woodside with fairy doors hidden among the trees, plenty of wooded areas to play in and, of course, a well-equipped playground.
You will find enclosures between the trees and rhododendrons which are perfect for exploring and building dens. Take a picnic and lounge on the grass while the kids entertain themselves in the playground or scooting around the park’s perimeter path. There are also tennis courts, sports pitches and a skate park.
The playground itself is split in to two areas – one for older children and one for toddlers. There are slides, a roundabout, swings and climbing frames all in an enclosed area.
The Quomps Splash Area & Park
If the sun is shining and the kids are hot and bothered, a visit to the Quomps is a must!
Located right next to Christchurch’s beautiful quay, you will find a free splash area complete with a paddling pool and large wet play area. My kids easily pass a couple of hours here darting in and out of the jets of water and splashing in the pool.
When you’ve dried off, there is a play area handily located next to the splash park. This has recently been refurbished into a pirate themed playground guaranteed to be adored by children of all ages. If you visit at a weekend, there is normally additional entertainment in the field including a small ride and bouncy castle (you will need to pay for these).
Parents can grab a coffee or snack at the nearby cabin which also serves a good selection of ice-cream for the kids. It was also be rude not to have a walk along the quay and feed the ducks.
Alpine Adventure Park, Snowtrax, Christchurch – discover this fabulous alpine playground, which is set in pleasant woodland right at the bottom of the ski slope. There is a big fort and a mini fort of toddlers, zip wire, trampolines and much more in a secure, enclosed area. We love this playground but be aware that it costs£3.25 for children and £1.75 for adults (you can claim the adult ticket cost back at the bar). Well worth the money I think, especially if you have older kids who also want to try the ringos or ski bobs.
This fun-filled playground is housed in the corner of a large field and is not too far from Highcliffe sea front. The play equipment was designed for children aged 3 and older, however my toddler son enjoys running around the field while his older sisters lets off some steam in the playground.
There is plenty of variety here for kids to enjoy including a pedal roundabout, cable runway, rotating sling shot, wobble discs, activity trail and a large climbing frame.
Becton Lane, Barton-on-Sea – in this dog walker’s paradise there is a small playground for younger kids. It is adjoined to a very pretty meadow, complete with stream to paddle in and is also close to the beach.
New Milton Playground And Skate Park – the skate park is frequented by older kids but there is a smaller playground next door for the littlies. The playground was refurbished this year and now boasts a great selection of swings, slides, tunnels, a roundabout, climbing frames, a small play house and a trampoline all with a Medieval theme.
Mudeford Quay Play Area, Mudeford – this is a small play area with a slide, swings and sandpit. While it’s not worth visiting for the playground alone, I would recommend a trip to Avon Beach and Mudeford Quay. The playground is just a small part of it.
Is there a soft play or playground I haven’t mentioned that you’d like to recommend? Please let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Disclaimer: This is simply a list of playgrounds and soft play and is not a recommendation or review. I strongly recommend you visit each playground and softplay’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.)