Stretching from the New Forest's coastal beaches in the south west, to London's suburban fringe in the north east, Hampshire is the largest county in South East England. Known as Jane Austen's County after its most famous daughter, Hampshire has a wealth of attractions to offer the traveller. Visitors may see one of England's greatest cathedrals in Winchester, ascend to the top of the South's tallest landmark in Portsmouth or fish for trout in crystal clear chalk rivers.
Hampshire has excellent museums, with a particular focus on military, maritime and aviation history. It is equally possible to visit the former homes of some the county's more celebrated residents, among them Charles Dickens, the Duke of Wellington and Ms Austen herself. If urban Hampshire's port cities and historic market towns don't grab you, then how do you feel about two national parks (the heath and woodland of the New Forest and the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs), hundreds of miles of coastal inlets, islands and estuaries and a rich agricultural heartland dotted with many fine homes and gardens?
Come to Hampshire and discover where the Titanic weighed anchor on its fateful maiden voyage, where Britain first took to the skies - with an American cowboy at the controls - and where, over 1100 years ago, King Alfred the Great founded the nation of England.
Cities, towns and villages
- Winchester - Hampshire's county town and England's first capital city is best known for its ancient cathedral and medieval centre
- Southampton - The largest city in Hampshire is also the county's commercial, education and media hub. Good shopping, two universities and the UK's main cruise ship port attract visitors
- Portsmouth - An active naval city since the 1500s, Portsmouth mixes priceless maritime heritage with impressive modern architecture
- Aldershot - The "Home of the British Army" has two good military museums
- Andover - This pretty coaching town is an excellent base for exploring the Wessex countryside, both in Hampshire and over the border in Wiltshire
- Alresford - Colourful old town at one end of the Mid Hants Steam Railway that is still the hub of England's watercress industry
- Alton - Historic market town at the other end of the Mid Hants Railway
- Basingstoke - 'Soulless' new town it may be, Basingstoke nonetheless offers some of the best shopping and entertainment in Hampshire as well as an unusual "living history" museum
- Eastleigh - Benny Hill once did his milk round here and the Spitfire first flew here, but modern Eastleigh has little to offer the traveller beyond good cheap accommodation and excellent transport connections
- Fareham - Coastal town home to the Roman and Medieval Portchester Castle and several imposing fortresses from the Napoleonic Wars
- Farnborough - The "Birthplace of British Aviation" is still home to the biennial International Air Show and a super little aerospace museum
- Gosport - Facing Portsmouth across their shared harbour, Gosport has two naval museums of repute
- Lymington - Beautiful Georgian seaside town in the New Forest
- Odiham - Small rural town with regular markets and pretty countryside ideal for walking
- Romsey - Market town on the edge of the New Forest, home to an abbey and many historic houses.
There are hundreds of picturesque villages in Hampshire, of which the following nine are highlighted:
- Bishopstoke - Village with Anglo Saxon roots in the pretty Itchen Valley
- Emsworth - Foodie village with views over Chichester Harbour
- Hamble-le-Rice - Scenic estuary village perfect for bird- and ship-watching
- Hythe - On the western shore of Southampton Water next to the New Forest
- Greywell - Very small village in the Odiham countryside, popular with ramblers
- Lyndhurst - Picturesque village in the middle of the New Forest, which has the reputation for being somewhat of a tourist trap
- Selborne - Settled around a typically English village green, best known for its associations with naturalist Gilbert White
- Stockbridge - Another pretty village base for seeing some of the loveliest countryside in Hampshire
- Wickham - Great country shopping and dining in the Meon Valley
- The New Forest – large hunting forest created in 1079 by William the Conqueror, that is now a national park. Known for its pristine woodland and large open heaths, the deer and wild boar that the Normans hunted are still on the loose in the park, as are the iconic New Forest ponies.
- The South Downs - Britain's newest national park stretches along the south coast from Hampshire to East Sussex. Hampshire's part is known for Iron Age history and the chalky escarpment around Butser Hill, as well as bucolic countryside and "flint and brick" villages.
Although administratively part of South East England, Hampshire is actually midway along the south coast between east and west. Clockwise from the west, it is bordered by the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex. To the south is the Solent, a narrow channel of sea separating mainland Hampshire from the Isle of Wight, and the English Channel. Hampshire's coast is characterised by many natural harbours and inlets, which boost the coast's 60 miles "as the crow flies" into a true length of around 250 miles.
Hampshire combines scattered population centres with a typical English rural landscape. The bulk of the population lives in the South Hampshire conurbation - Southampton, Portsmouth and their respective suburbs, connected to Winchester by a corridor of urbanisation. Outside this area, the largest centres of population are Basingstoke and, in the north east corner, the Blackwater Valley towns (Farnborough and Aldershot) which signal the start of London's commuter suburbs. A fair chunk of the South Downs National Park lies within the south eastern portion of the county. Almost all of the south western corner is within the New Forest, another national park. The north and north west of the county are largely rural and retain many similarities with neighbouring Westcountry counties.
The Population of Hampshire was ranked in 2011 at 1,763,000, making it the fifth most populous English county. The entire county is within commuting distance of London and the population is on the whole prosperous. People from Hampshire are known as Hampshire Hogs, due to the county's long association with both boar-hunting and pig-farming (indeed the American breed of pig known as the "Hampshire" is thought to have its origins in the county). Famous Hampshire Hogs include English monarchs Alfred the Great, Henry III and Matilda, novelists Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and, more recently, actors Colin Firth and Martin Freeman.
Hampshire has a crucial place in both English and British history. Home to the Belgiae Celts prior to 55 AD, Hampshire later saw Roman civilisation at Rockbourne and Silchester (the city of Calleva Atrebatum). Later, the area formed part of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and it was from here that King Alfred of Wessex successfully repelled the Danes and united all the Saxon states into the first unified Kingdom of England. Alfred, who remains the only English monarch to be posthumously honoured with the title of "the Great", was celebrated for his reform of the English justice system and the improvement of his subjects' quality of life and literacy. He made Winchester the new nation's capital, a status retained until the Normal Conquest when William the Conqueror made the already much larger city of London his seat of power.
Under the Normans, much of Hampshire became royal hunting ground, the most famous domain of which was the New Forest, planted on the orders of William himself. Many of Hampshire's castles date from this period of the Middle Ages, although Henry VIII continued to build new fortresses along the Solent, many of which were reinforced and expanded during the Napoleonic Wars. Both Southampton and Portsmouth became important harbours during this period, the former for commercial traffic and the latter as a naval dockyard. Among the famous vessels to sail from Southampton were the Mayflower and the RMS Titanic (which was largely staffed by more than 500 citizens of Southampton, most of whom perished on board) and from Portsmouth the Mary Rose and HMS Victory. Many of the earliest European settlers of the United States originated from Hampshire.
The military connection continued through the 19th and 20th centuries, when large Army garrisons were established around Aldershot and aviation pioneers moved in to Farnborough, where the first powered flight in British skies took place in 1908, flown by American Wild West showman Samuel Franklin Cody. Among other aeronautic developments to take place in the county, Hampshire hosted the development of the Spitfire fighter plane, the first jet aircraft and much of the engineering work required to bring the supersonic liner Concorde into existence.
The variety of English spoken in Hampshire is similar to the rest of the South East, and is relatively close to the "accentless" standard Received Pronunciation (RP). In the far south and west of the county, many people speak in an accent that has a Westcountry twang to it - the original Hampshire accent before RP's dominance - and some older residents even speak in dialect, though this is becoming increasingly uncommon as that generation dies off.
More detailed information can be read at South East England#Get in
The main road routes from London are the A3 (which heads to Portsmouth, bypassing the towns of Liss, Liphook and Petersfield) and the M3 Motorway (which runs to Southampton, via Farnborough, Basingstoke, Winchester and Eastleigh). The M27 'South Coast Motorway' runs from the New Forest to Portsmouth, via Southampton. The A33, A34 and A36 offer connections from the north and the A35 and A303 bring traffic from the west. The A31 is a feeder route of the A3, allowing faster journey times to Winchester from Surrey, Sussex and Kent than the M3 can offer.
Hampshire has its very own international airport on the South Coast, at Southampton. The county is also well served by London's international and domestic airports, with both Heathrow and Gatwick close by.
Eurostar run trains from numerous destinations in France and Belgium to London St Pancras. Onward journey times (by Tube, and then rail from Waterloo station) to Hampshire take between one and three hours.
Rail services to and from the rest of the UK are good. Trains from London Waterloo and west along the coast are operated by South West Trains, while services from London Victoria and east along the coast are provided by Southern Railway, with those from the North and Midlands run by Cross Country Trains.
Private vehicle is the best the way to get around Hampshire, especially for those travelling to smaller towns and the countryside. The main roads in the county are the:
- M3 (linking Southampton in the south to Farnborough in the north east, via Winchester and Basingstoke);
- M27 (linking the New Forest in the west to Portsmouth in the east along the coast, via Southampton);
- A3 (linking Portsmouth in the south east to Surrey, via Petersfield);
- A31 (linking Winchester with Surrey and the A3, via Alton);
- A32 (linking Portsmouth with Alton);
- A33 (linking Basingstoke with Reading in Berkshire);
- A34 (linking Winchester and the M3 with Newbury in Berkshire)
- A272 (linking Winchester to Petersfield and West Sussex);
- A303 (linking the M3 near Basingstoke to Andover and Wiltshire);
- A331 (linking Farnborough, Aldershot and the M3 with other local towns in Surrey and Berkshire)
By public transport
If you intend to remain within the major towns and cities, public transport is a very viable option. The most practical mode is by train, though there are also bus services throughout the county.
Hampshire is well-connected by rail, with several radial lines coming from London, as well as an east-west network along the coast. Most towns and even some villages have a railway station with regular services.
Most rail services within Hampshire are operated by South West Trains, though some service patterns are run by other operators. The best website to find timetables and book tickets is National Rail Enquiries.
One line in Hampshire stands out for still being served by steam locomotives and vintage diesel trains, the Mid Hants Railway. This does not form part of the National Rail network and tickets must be bought separately, but this can be a fantastic way to travel through the Hampshire countryside. The Watercress Line, as it is also known, links Alton's National Rail station to Alresford.
Most local bus services are operated by Stagecoach South. Bus travel in Hampshire is expensive and slow when compared with the buses in London and other large cities, but this can be an excellent way to travel short distances in and between towns.
- Beaulieu: eight attractions on one site: the National Motor Museum is the main crowd-drawer, but don't miss the Victorian Gothic Palace House, medieval Beaulieu Abbey, the World of Top Gear and On Screen Cars exhibitions, various gardens and the park's famous monorail.
- Birdworld: over 150 species of bird, of which 11 are endangered. Includes a children's petting zoo and an aquarium.
- Butser Ancient Farm: an ongoing archaeological experiment to recreate an iron age farming settlement and an adjacent Roman villa.
- Highclere Castle: as well as being a magnificent stately home that is still occupied by its aristocratic family, Highclere is known to millions by the name of its fictional alter-ego Downton Abbey.
- Marwell Zoo: cheetahs, giraffes, meerkats, penguins, pygmy hippos, red pandas, rhinoceros, snow leopard, tigers and zebra are among the main stars of the zoo, situated in beautiful Hampshire countryside.
- Mottisfont Abbey: a former monastery and stately home that in the summer months shows off its celebrated rose gardens in a gorgeous rural setting.
- Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: home to the Royal Navy for over 500 years, see Henry VIII's Mary Rose, Lord Nelson's HMS Victory and the Victoria's HMS Warrior as well as some of the Navy's current fleet.
- Sir Harold Hillier Gardens: a garden and arboretum known for hosting over 40,000 trees and shrubs, including oaks, camelliae, magnoliae and rhododendrons.
- Winchester Cathedral: a truly ancient cathedral in England's original capital city.
Hampshire also has a number of famous sons and daughters, whose former homes you can visit. Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Gilbert White's House in Selborne and Charles Dickens' Birthplace in Portsmouth are among the most-visited.
- Fly fishing is a very popular pursuit in Hampshire's three crystal-clear chalk rivers: the Itchen, the Meon and the Test
- Horse riding - Hampshire has many private stables and there are bridleways (horse-riding trails) across the county
- Paulton's Park - a popular family theme park with over 40 rides, as well as a small zoo, gardens and 'park within a park' Peppa Pig World
- Queen Elizabeth Country Park - the 2000 acres of woodland and downland are ideal for walking, mountain biking, off-roading, paragliding and laser games
- Walking is a great way to explore Hampshire's diverse countryside: with beaches, harbours, and inlets on the coast, and heathland, ancient woodland, downland, water meadows and agricultural land elsewhere. Long-distance trails such as the Pilgrims' Way and South Downs Way which demand several days' commitment are at one end of the difficulty scale 2 or 3-mile long parish circuits that can be completed in a morning at the other.
- Watersports, particularly sailing, are popular activities in the waters of the south coast
Hampshire's food is typical among English counties, although there are some local specialities well worth sampling. First of these has to be the county's pork products; bacon, ham, meat patties and sausages, from both farmed pigs and wild boar - the people aren't called Hampshire hogs for nothing!
Also on offer locally is game (particularly venison, pheasant and rabbit), freshwater fish (most commonly trout and salmon) and watercress, an industry which Hampshire dominates. There are also several award-winning cheeses from Hampshire, including buffalo Cheddar, Gouda and Brie as well as local varieties such as New Forest Blue, Hampshire Rose and various oak-smoked cheeses. Much of the countryside is arable land, so farms often sell their fruit and vegetable produce in the relevant season, and there are "pick your own" sites for fruits such as raspberries and strawberries.
In addition to the more traditional Indian and Thai curry houses, there are many Nepalese restaurants in Hampshire, particularly in the north east, where many thousands of Nepalese people have made their home.
Hampshire Fare is the official body which promotes the county's food and drink and also puts on events and markets where you can taste Hampshire:
- Hampshire Food Festival: The annual food festival takes place every July throughout the county
- Hampshire Farmers' Markets: with so much great local produce and a myriad of market towns within its borders, the county has an official farmers' market organising board, that puts on markets around Hampshire almost every weekend.
- Beer: Like much of southern England, Hampshire is traditional hop-producing land and local ales and other beers are usually available in the county's pubs. Conical-roofed oast houses (where hops were once fermented) are a prominent architectural feature of the countryside.
- Wine: Viticulture has been practised in Hampshire since Romano-British times, although the industry has seen a huge revival since the late 20th century, with new vineyards now more common than, and sometimes replacing, the hop fields.
The nightlife is Hampshire is quite poor outside Southampton, which itself boasts some of the best clubs in the south. Other than that, travelling to Bournemouth, Brighton or London could be a better option to guarantee a good night out
- Dorset has much to offer the traveller, from the seaside resorts of the Bournemouth area, west to the UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast and inland to Thomas Hardy country.
- The Isle of Wight is an easy ferry trip from Portsmouth or Southampton
- The cathedral city of Salisbury offers a pleasant contrast to Winchester
- Stonehenge is just one of many neolithic sites in rural Wiltshire
- The South Downs National Park continues into West Sussex and East Sussex, counties which also boast sandy beaches and white cliffs
- And finally, London is always worth the trip and is just a train ride away