By Kingfisher Visitor Guides
Both kids and grown-ups will have a ball in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Whether you want to explore the countryside, meet wild animals or get that adrenalin going at a theme park, there’s fun to be had for all the family.
Feel the mood-enhancing power of nature at the 200-acre Exbury Gardens. Not far from Beaulieu, this glorious space was a labour of love for Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, who bought the estate in 1919. Highlights include vibrant rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, giant rockery gardens and a riverside walk overlooking the River Beaulieu. The steam railway that winds its way around the gardens is the perfect treat for young and old alike and a newly built park will help the kids burn off some energy.
Ever wanted to live like the Victorians? Hampshire’s Milestones Museum brings the era to life. You can explore cobbled streets and vintage shops, stroll around the authentic village green, visit a traditional pub and check out restored 19th-century vehicles. Plus, there’s the chance to meet colourful period characters, thanks to a dedicated cast of actors. If the weather isn’t playing ball, never fear. The museum is fully indoors.
For an outstanding avian attraction get down to the award-winning Hawk Conservancy Trust, which conserves, rehabilitates and researches birds of prey. From pygmy owls to Steller’s sea eagles, the centre is home to over 150 birds of prey and is beautifully set in 22 acres of wildflowers and woodland. The daily flying demonstrations are outstanding and there’s an opportunity to hold one of the birds if you’re game. Little ones will love the ferret racing and tractor rides.
There’s more fun to be had for animal lovers at the ever-popular Marwell Zoo. It’s home to giraffes, tigers, meerkats, pygmy hippos, snow leopards and ring-tailed coatis, to name a few. Many of the furry inhabitants are rescue animals and the zoo helps to keep endangered species thriving. The newest attraction is SUPERSIZED!; an interactive trail featuring up to 40 giant models of curious real-life creatures.
Kids will go mad for the thrills and spills of Paultons Theme Park, which offers 700 exhilarating rides and attractions. The Lost Kingdom is an action-packed dinosaur-themed world with rides including the Velociraptor rollercoaster and Flight of the Pterosaur. It’s guaranteed to keep the adrenaline flowing all day.
Calm things down a little by wandering through the park’s 140 acres of landscaped parkland, where you’ll find an aviary and a penguin colony. Paultons is also home to Peppa Pig World, which boasts fun rides, an indoor playzone and a muddy puddles splash park – great for younger kids.
Learning and fun collide at Winchester’s Science Centre and Planetarium. An extensive 2020 redevelopment programme created new interactive zones exploring sound, hearing and vibration. Visitors can grapple with the 10-metre-long interactive guitar and distinctive sonic rocket alongside smaller exhibits such as tuning forks and pendulums.
If it all gets too much, take a break in the new recombobulation room to help you recover from any sensory overload! Alternatively, sit back in the planetarium and take in a mesmerising live show that puts you right at the heart of the action. Bear in mind that on wet days in the school holidays the centre can get pretty packed.
Isle of Wight
The island is a haven for nature and offers plenty of outdoorsy days out. Visit Butterfly and Fountain World just outside Newport for the chance to see hundreds of butterflies flying freely in a natural environment. Also in Newport, Monkey Haven primate rescue centre is well worth a visit. The shelter is home to rescued monkeys, owls, meerkats and other exotic creatures. There’s also the hugely popular Wildheart Animal Sanctuary, where you’ll find lions, tigers, lynx, lemurs and many more animals.
More into plants? At Ventnor Botanical Gardens you can see subtropical and exotic plants, which would normally be protected in glasshouses, thrive in the microclimate of the Undercliff.
If you want to go way back in time, Dinosaur Isle is Britain’s first purpose-built dinosaur attraction and is home to life-sized models of the Isle of Wight’s famous five dinosaurs – Neovenator, Eotyrannus, Iguanodon, Hypsilophodon and Polacanthus. For the more adventurous, there are guided trips to Compton Bay and Yaverland where you have the chance to find your own fossil.
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