Planning a south England road trip? Looking for best places to visit in Hampshire and Dorset? Here are some of the best, including itinerary suggestions for a weekend break or longer, plus more tips to help you.
Looking for some of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Hampshire and Dorset, South Coast England? Having lived here for years, we've narrowed down some of our favourite destinations for visitors, whether you're enjoying an England road trip or just visiting from London for a few days.
Hampshire Road Trip itinerary
Hampshire is one of the largest counties in England and there's plenty to explore. Below, we've shared some of our favourite places to visit in Hampshire, but first let's discuss how to plan a Hampshire road trip itinerary.
Weekend in Hampshire Itinerary
Planning any UK road trip is tough– there's so much to see no matter where you go.
If I only had a weekend in Hampshire, I would DEFINITELY take my own transport, rather than relying on public services. Here's how I would spend my time:
Day One- New Forest, Lymington and Lyndhurst
Day Two- Winchester and Hinton Ampner OR a day trip to the Isle of Wight
Of course, you can change the days around to suit the weather- spend the better day in the New Forest if you can.
5-7 Day Hampshire Road Trip Itinerary
If you have longer to explore Hampshire and/or Dorset, I would definitely add in a couple of days in Portsmouth, especially if you enjoy history and museums. The submarine museum in Gosport is also worth a visit.
If you enjoy shopping, spending a day at West Quay in Southampton or at the boutiques in Winchester will solve all your problems.
And if you enjoy hiking and walks, I would spend longer in the New Forest or on the Isle of Wight- there are plenty of beautiful walks to enjoy there.
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Beautiful places to visit in Hampshire Road Trip
There are some beautiful places to visit all over Hampshire. Below, we've listed a few of our favourites to help you narrow down your road trip itinerary.
Winchester is one of the oldest and prettiest cities in the UK. It's FULL of picturesque old streets, historic buildings and one of the most striking cathedrals in the country.
You can get to Winchester easily by either car – although the roads can be congested. There's plenty of park and ride options all around the city- those are your best bet for an easy day out.
Some of our favourite things to do in Winchester include:
- Visit Winchester Cathedral. This is where Jane Austen is buried and is also home to one of the oldest bibles in the world
- Shop. Winchester has some amazing shops and unique boutiques, all close together on or near the high street. It's not a big city and is easy to wander around and explore
- Winchester Planetarium– a wonderful place to lie back and enjoy learning about the stars and planets. (Perfect for kids!)
- Mizmaze. On the outskirts of Winchester is a very old turf maze- well worth a visit to see if you can crack it!
- Visit the Christmas market. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in November or December, you NEED to head to the Winchester Christmas Market– one of the best in the country.
You will be spoiled for places to eat and drink. One of our favourite restaurants in Winchester is ‘The Porterhouse’- mouthwateringly good steak. There are also several pubs to enjoy- the Willow Tree has never let us down for good food yet.
Oh, and if you get time, there's an escape room in Winchester which is really fun!
Hinton Ampner is an elegant country house just 8 miles from Winchester and is one of our favourite places to visit in Hampshire.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, this Tudor manor has stood since the 1540s, although it had major remodelling after a devastating fire in the 1960s.
Inside, you can enjoy a dazzling display of art, antique furniture and history, but it’s outside where the estate really shines.
The grounds and woodlands are beautifully kept and it’s a wonderful place to explore on a winter’s day, or take a picnic for a sunny lunch in summer. There’s a walled garden and a pretty church nearby.
Kids will enjoy the space and nature trails, and there are often trees marked as safe to climb.
Hinton is owned and managed by the National Trust, so members can visit for free. Non- members pay a small entrance fee or can join the National Trust at the entrance.
As well as the house and gardens, there is also a shop and tea room for visitors to enjoy. Toilets and changing facilities are provided.
You can get to Hinton Ampner easily on your Hampshire Road Trip from the A272- it's well signposted.
Isle of Wight
If you’re looking for more adventure on your Hampshire road trip, head to the Isle of Wight. This beautiful island has plenty to discover, including some of the best views and beaches in England.
Getting to the island is relatively easy as there are several ferry routes and even a hovercraft, which runs from Southsea on the mainland. Try to avoid Bank Holidays or the Round the Island sailing race- the prices can almost double then and it can be very congested.
Once across the Solent (the water between the Mainland and the Isle of Wight), there’s plenty to do. You must visit the Needles- the iconic rocks at the western tip, but don’t forget to visit the multi-coloured sands in Alum Bay which is just down the coast.
In addition, there are several lovely beaches on the Isle of Wight. One of the best is Sandown, but Shanklin and Compton also have great sandy beaches to play and are often safe for swimming (beware of rip tides and very strong currents.)
Another beautiful destination is Osborne House, one of the favourite residences of Queen Victoria. You can visit both the house and the grounds and even sit on the beach where she used to go sea-bathing with all her children. This is an English Heritage site- you can either pay for entrance on arrival or join their membership and help preserve English history for years to come.
If you have young children, they will love the Robin Hill Adventure Park or the model village at Godshill. There are also plenty of zoos and animal sanctuary, as well as stories of pirates and smugglers!
There are plenty of great motorhome campsites on the Isle of Wight, but there are also some great hotels and BnBs to enjoy.
Portsmouth is one of the largest towns in Hampshire and is FULL of attractions and things to do. It's easy to spend several days there, just exploring the sights, but some of our favourite things to do in Portsmouth include:
- Visiting the Historic Dockyard, with the Mary Rose Museum & HMS Victory
- Going to the top of Spinnaker Tower and enjoying the views
- Shopping in Gunwharf Quays
- Doing a boat tour of the harbour (and stopping at the Submarine Museum on the Gosport side)
- Eating fish and chips at the top of Portsdown Hill
You can visit Portsmouth at any time of the year- there's plenty of parking and park and ride options for the city. If you're getting a ferry from the UK to France, it's one of the best places to stay for a night or two beforehand or on the return trip.
The New Forest covers parts of both Hampshire and Dorset and is one of the best places to visit. There are hundreds of walks and car parks, as well as multiple campsites if you're enjoying a motorhome or camper holiday or travelling with a tent.
Some of our favourite places to visit in the New Forest include:
- Lyndhurst – gorgeous market town with unique shops and a lovely atmosphere
- Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum
- Hurst Castle (you can walk out at low tide, but pay attention to the timings)
- Just walking through the woods. Especially in Autumn when the leaves change. It's one of the best places to enjoy Autumn in Europe.
Lymington holds a special place in our hearts- it's where we found my engagement ring. We also had our boat moored here for a while- it's a wonderful town to be a part of.
The town is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Lentune’ and was famous for its salt making and later for its thriving ship building industry.
Nowadays, it's full of cute cobbled streets with wonderful shops, art galleries, cafes and ice cream stalls! We highly recommend getting fish and chips and sitting on the quay- but do NOT, under any circumstances, feed the seagulls. Those things are VICIOUS. (Be careful if you have young children with you- the gulls will happily take ice cream, chips or other food out of their hands and it can be a bit scary if you're not aware.)
Dorset Road Trip
Planning a road trip in Dorset is very similar to planning one in Hampshire- so many options, so little time. Heck, we've lived in the area for over 15 years and we still haven't seen it all!
Many of our favourite places in Dorset are on the south coast- there are some incredible beaches and places to visit along this stretch of coastline.
Weekend road trip itinerary for Dorset
If you only have a couple of days in Dorset, here's our suggested itinerary:
- DAY ONE: If you like being outdoors, head to Swanage and do Corfe Castle and Old Harry's Rocks. Even better, if the weather is fine, you can take a boat trip from Poole around to Swanage, taking you near the rocks. If you have time, pop into Blue Pool and marvel at the colours.
- DAY TWO: Ooooooh, tough one. I'm torn between Poole, Bournemouth and Durdle Door. For me, Durdle Door wins because it's awesome, but I also love Poole for the atmosphere and Bournemouth for the beaches and shopping. So I'll let you decide.
A week road trip in Dorset
Of course, if you have a week or more to explore, there are plenty of other places to add into your itinerary, like Weymouth and seeing more of the Jurassic Coast. You could even combine it with a road trip into South Devon and some of the beautiful beaches there.
Beautiful places to visit in Dorset
Below, we've shared some of the best places to visit in Dorset and how to make the most of your time at each one.
Poole & Poole Harbour
Shared by Joanna | The World in my Pocket
Poole is a coastal town often overlooked because of its bigger neighbour, Bournemouth. It has a lovely old town and a beautiful quay where people often stroll along. Here is where you will also find some of the best places to eat in Poole, with a view of the harbour – the largest natural harbour in Europe.
Among the best things to do in Poole is taking a short boat ride across the harbour to Brownsea Island, a National Trust property where you will find over 200 rare red squirrels. Poole is also a getaway to the Jurassic Coast, with regular small cruising boats making daily excursions towards the famous cliffs, to observe the local birds.
Poole is also known for its beautiful sandy beach, in Sandbanks. This is also where you might bump into a famous people, as many VIPs have holiday homes here. From Sandbanks, crossing on the chain ferry, you will reach the nature reserve of Studland, with its beautiful bay in which protected sea horses leave. There's also a naturist beach there- don't say I didn't warn you! From Studland you can enjoy magnificent views towards Old Harry Rocks, a stack of chalk cliffs standing into the sea.
Poole is a great destination to visit year-round, with plenty of things to do each season. To visit only the town, one day would suffice. However, if you want to enjoy all the natural beauty of Poole Harbour and its surrounding areas, you must stay for at least few days.
Bournemouth & Christchurch
As an air traffic controller, I did most of my training in Bournemouth, and my brother lives in Christchurch. I have literally spent way too many hours lazing on the beach (and one memorable time trying to surf. I want to be good… but my co-ordination levels just don't seem to be up to it!!)
There are plenty of things to do in Bournemouth and Christchurch besides the beach. There's a city bus tour, Bournemouth Aquarium, Monkey world rescue centre and nearby is Paultons Park and Peppa Pig World for the little ones.
If you're around at the end of August/ beginning of September, you can catch one of the best airshows in the world on Bournemouth beach- but be sure to get there EARLY; it gets crazy crowded.
In nearby Christchurch, there are also plenty of things to do, including:
- Highcliffe Castle
- Adventure Wonderland (for adults and kids)
- Boat/ rib rides
- Fishing trips
- Plenty of walks, hikes and golf courses to keep you active!
Corfe Castle & Swanage Railway
Out in Swanage, you'll find a fantastic ruined castle on a hill- Corfe Castle. And in the village nearby is a wonderful steam railway- Swanage railway. You can get the steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle station, which is a trip we highly recommend. You don't need to buy tickets in advance, but in busy times there may be a wait.
Corfe Castle is both the name of the village, which is worth a wander around, and the name of the Castle. The Castle is managed by the National Trust (join their membership here for free access) and it's a brilliant place to explore. Kids love being able to scramble around the ruins- our daughter climbed up onto one of the walls and fell asleep!
The castle is one of the few survivors from the English Civil War and has been around since Saxon times.
This is also a great area to start a walk up into the Purbecks and enjoy some of the best views of Hampshire and Dorset, and the Solent.
Old Harry Rocks
Recommended by Hanna | Solar Powered Blonde
Old Harry Rocks is an incredible rock formation from where you can see right over to Bournemouth. It is located on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Once you arrive there is a large parking area with a pub nearby and lots of seating areas for once you finish your walk!
The walk to the rocks takes around 15-20 minutes and then you can take a nice long walk along the coast. The path is very clear and through a bit of wood and then with amazing views over the bay.
You will need a few hours here to wander around and take in all the views. One of the best times to come is at sunset. The sun sets just behind Old Harry Rocks so you won't see it drop into the sea, but it is still a beautiful place to be at sunset.
Make sure to arrive well before sunset, maybe even bring a little picnic and sit on the rocks for a while. The other way to see Old Harry Rocks is from the water in a kayak! This is a great way to see all the chalk rocks in their unusual formation. Old Harry Rocks is great to visit any time of year. Spend a few hours kayaking around in summer, or go for a crisp walk as part of your countryside winter getaway. For an unforgettable sunrise in Dorset head to Durdle Door.
Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove
Durdle Door is one of my favourite places to visit in Dorset. There's something about the arch and the bays (one on either side) and the whole area which just speaks to my soul. So much in fact, that my friends took me coasteering here for my hen do. Yep, I actually jumped off the cliffs from near the top of the arch. (NOTE: Do NOT do this without a trained guide. The rocks and currents around here are treacherous. But it was a wonderful mix of sheer terror and hilarity!)
There's plenty of parking near Durdle Door (expect to pay about £10 for the day) and it's about a 10 minute walk to the arch or Man o'war Cove.
Man o'War cove is the beach right next to Durdle door. It's a horseshoe shape, and perfect for a picnic and a local ice cream.
Recommended by Angela | Exploring Dorset
Weymouth is the third largest town in Dorset. A coastal town with award winning beaches, sitting approximately at the halfway point along the Jurassic Coast. The town is probably most recently famous for being a sailing venue in the 2012 Olympics.
There are so many things to do in Weymouth, you could visit for a day at a time, or stay for a week and not run out of ideas. If you’re visiting with family, then there are plenty of attractions to visit such as Weymouth Sealife Centre, Bowleaze Cove for amusements and fairground rides, or perhaps some adventure golf.
For keen walkers there is easy access to the Jurassic Coast paths, with plenty of short and distance hikes to take part in.
Perhaps you are looking for some sea air, then you can visit one of the many beaches in Weymouth. There are coves, shingle beaches and long stretches of sandy beaches. Something for everyone!
The town of Weymouth is often linked with Portland, a short drive away. On the southern most point in Dorset, you can visit the famous Portland Bill lighthouse. Why not take a trip to the top to look out across the ocean.
Recommended by Katja | Globetotting
Famous for its soaring mustard yellow cliffs – and for appearing in the TV crime drama, Broadchurch- is pretty West Bay. This charming fishing village sits on one of the most dramatic stretches of the Jurassic Coast, the UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches for 95 miles from Devon to Dorset.
This is the perfect place for escape to for a weekend away – or even a longer holiday when the sun is shining as the beaches are lovely. West Bay is, in fact, home to two stretches of sand: East Beach and West Beach. East beach is a shingle beach bordered by golden sandstone cliffs. West Beach is smaller and quieter, popular with young families for the protected cove and shallow paddling waters.
Walking along the top of the cliffs, swimming in the sea and fossil hunting are the main activities here but West Bay does have more to offer. Take a stroll around the colourful harbour stopping for traditional fish and chips along the way. You must also try the local Purbeck ice cream while here.
Take a wander along the Jurassic Pier and see the restored 18th century cannon on display or hire a rowboat up the River Brit. Nearby is the lively market town of Bridport, home to a good range of restaurants as well as a fun local market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The next bay down from West Bay, this incredible stretch of golden sand is the perfect place to spend a day in Dorset.
I should warn you, it's incredibly easy to get confused- there is a Freshwater BAY on the Isle of Wight and plenty of others all over the world, so be sure you're selecting Freshwater BEACH in DORSET.
The beach is private for the touring and caravan park, but if you're travelling in a motorhome, campervan or have your own tent, it's a wonderful place to base yourself for your Dorset Road Trip (although it can get VERY busy in the school holidays.)
Visited by Tracy | Tracy's Travels in Times
The coastal town of Lyme Regis is located along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Jurassic Coast. The town is the perfect destination for fossil hunters as along its beaches and secreted in its cliffs are the remains of flora and fauna from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
In fact, it was only in 1820 that a resident of the town, Mary Anning, found and identified the fossils of dinosaurs in the cliffs and the importance of the coastline emerged. Visitors to the town shouldn’t miss a visit to both the Lyme Regis Museum and Dinosaurland Fossil Museum to view many of the fossils discovered in the area and learn more about the geological importance of the Heritage Coast.
Take a walk along the pebble and rock strewn Monmouth Beach and keep an eye out for ammonite fossils. Many have been found along this stretch of beach over the years. At the western end of the beach you will find the ammonite pavement where thousands of the fossils are found embedded in the limestone. This can only be viewed at low tide so check the tides if this is something you want to see.
Fans of The French Lieutenant’s Woman may recognise the harbour (or Cobb as it is known) at Lyme Regis. If weather permits walk to the end of the wall which curves into the bay and enjoy stunning views of the town and surrounding coastline.
I hope you find planning your road trips much easier with these itinerary ideas and best places to visit in Hampshire and Dorset. I'd love to know where you end up- feel free to tag me on Instagram so I can share your adventures.
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