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Hampshire is perhaps best known for being home to Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle. It’s also famous for its beautiful countryside. But there’s so much more to this county than meets the eye.

After booking your stay at a gorgeous Hampshire cottage, you may wonder what there is to do around you. Whatever your reason is for visiting, you’ll want to ensure that you make the most of your time. That’s why we have created this list of the best summer activities in Hampshire, ensuring no there is no dull moment during your stay.

National Motor Museum, Beaulieu

This is the must-visit destination for any petrol head. One of the UK’s leading visitor attractions, Beaulieu is situated in the heart of the New Forest and boasts multiple awards for family days out.

Starting life as the Montagu Motor Museum, named after Lord Montagu who opened Palace House and Gardens for the first time in 1952, the National Motor Museum developed through the National Motor Museum Trust in 1972.

Its collection of vehicles and motoring archives are world famous. More than 250 vehicles at the museum tell you the story from the humble beginnings of motoring in Britain to the cutting edge technology of the modern day.

Included in the exhibition are some of the finest examples of classic cars, Formula 1 racers, rally cars, historic motors and much, much more.

For anyone hoping to spend the day in a lower gear, you can explore the stunning Palace House, the family home of Lord Montagu since 1538 as well as Beaulieu Abbey. Get the best view of the park with a ride along the Monorail, which includes informative commentary.

Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Walk aboard a museum unlike one you’ve ever been on before. The HMS Alliance is the only remaining World War Two era submarine and explore each decade of her service. Built in 1945 the HMS Alliance spent 28 years in service and is a memorial to the 5,300 British submariners who have lost their lives over the years.

You will get to experience what it was like to work and live in these conditions, as well as peering through the working telescopes and periscope across Portsmouth Harbour, all while listening to ex-submariners who tell their stories of life on-board and what it was like protecting the nation.

Basingstoke Festival

Why not immerse yourself in some of the three weeks of art and culture at the sixth Basingstoke Festival during your stay at one of our holiday cottages in Hampshire? Showcasing some brilliant home-grown talent and international acts, the festival runs through June and July and highlights some of the best historical and cultural facilities in Basingstoke and Deane Borough.

This year there will be a special focus on 19th century author Jane Austen, as July marks the 200th anniversary of her death with events and performances dedicated to celebrating her work and how her literature is still significant today.

Helen Morton, Communications Officer at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council spoke to us about the festival in depth and revealed the exciting things you can get involved in:

“The ‘home-grown’ festival, which runs from Friday 16 June to Sunday 9 July, will pay a special tribute to the 19th century author who was born in Steventon and drafted some of her well-known works while living there.

“July marks the 200th anniversary of her death and 25 special events will be held throughout the festival to celebrate her life. These include an exclusive Sitting with Jane art trail across the borough, a Pride and Picnic open air cinema evening, a Mansfield Park and Ride show and many other theatrical and historical tributes.

Organised by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, this year’s festival has a great line-up of big name acts including Jimmy Carr and Elkie Brooks, alongside international artists and ‘Festival in the Community’ events aimed at bringing local arts and performances to underused places around the borough.

An impressive packed programme of 212 events over the 24-day festival includes the Basingstoke World Party, celebrating the cultural heritage of people living in the borough through musical performances and food, on Saturday 17 June.

The following Saturday, 24 June, A Day in the Park will host three events providing something for everybody to enjoy. War Memorial Park will host a Cheese and Chilli food festival, the All in the Mind festival and Picnic in the Park family festival.”

We have an inspiring programme that will showcase the wealth of talent we have, from local bands in Basingstoke Live to our young people being given the chance to perform on the Haymarket stage.

Basingstoke Festival shines a spotlight on the arts, culture and live performances, and attracts a diverse range of world-renowned acts to our borough alongside the brilliant Festival in the Community events.”

Marwell Zoo

On a warm summer's day, there are few days out quite like the zoo. At Marwell Zoo you can get up close to the natural world with everything from Amur leopard cubs and lemurs to giraffes and pygmy hippos residing in the 140 acre park.

Marwell’s latest attraction is its biggest ever, as they welcome white rhino, Grevy’s zebra and scimitar-horned onyx at the African Wilderness exhibit. Or why not take a stroll down Lemur Walkthrough and see the zoo’s most playful primates.

You can kick back and relax at the numerous food and drink outlets, including Café Graze which looks out over the valley field while the kids tire themselves out on the several play areas.

Jess, Marwell’s PR assistant, was kind enough to tell us what you can expect from a summer visit to the zoo:

“This summer, visit Marwell Zoo and discover the wonders of the natural world. From ring-tailed lemurs to majestic giraffes, and curious meerkats to stunning snow leopards, the 140-acre park is home to an incredible range of exotic and endangered species.

Spend time with their playful primates at ‘Lemur Loop’, a NEW walkthrough exhibit for 2017. Explore the environment of four different species of lemur who will be joined in their home by a new species for Marwell – green peafowl. With a beautiful landscaped setting, both indoors and out, the new lemur exhibit promises a truly immersive experience. What’s more, the zoo’s knowledgeable staff will be on hand to help guests learn all about these wonderful animals.”

Plus, from 1 August to 1 October, enjoy The Great Brick Safari: An Interactive Experience with LEGO® Bricks EXCLUSIVE to Marwell Zoo! Over 2 million LEGO bricks will be used to make over 80 stunning sculptures representing 25 different species, which are being created by LEGO building company Bright Bricks. Among them will be a 1.5 tonne elephant, a life size Bengal tiger and a trio of Giant panda cubs. Other sculptures will be inspired by their own diverse collection of animals, including a red ruffed lemur, a warthog and a mob of meerkats. Follow the trail with a free spotters guide and take part in hands on building activities in the Great Brick Building Zone. Create your own LEGO penguin to leave in the ‘March of the penguins’ display, plus, contribute to a giant LEGO snake by building segments of its body to join on to in the ‘Python Marathon’!”

The New Forest

Covering 566 square kilometres, The New Forest is a vast area of unspoilt woodland, coastline, river valleys and heathland. It is a car-free haven perfect for a tranquil day out which offers some of the best routes for cycling, walking and riding in the county.

Once the royal hunting ground for King William I in the 12th century, the forest is now highly protected and earnt its National Park status in March 2005.

While there are countless opportunities to explore the natural beauty of the area or enjoy the quaint villages and towns along the way, there are a number of attractions that you can visit this summer. The New Forest Wildlife Park is a place where you can see amazing animals and learn all about their lives.

Paultons Family Theme Park

With over 60 theme rides and attractions for the whole family, Paultons Theme Park is one of the biggest and best summer activities in Hampshire. Home of Peppa Pig World, opened in 2011, it covers three acres of Paultons where younger children can enjoy on the seven gentle rides amongst this pastel-coloured world.

The grounds are brilliantly maintained and offer a very laid-back, family friendly feeling and now offers the newly opened £9m Lost Kingdom, a dinosaur themed area with six new rides and 27 animatronic dinosaurs.

Andover Carnival

On the 16th July head to the Vigo Recreation Ground for the Andover Carnival. Settle down to watch a number of local acts and bands at this free event including samba and jazz bands and circus performers.

Across the carnival you will find a beer tent, food vendors, funfair and stalls for children and much more as well as two walking processions through the high street. Adopting two charities each year, the money raised at the event goes directly to them.

The 2017 carnival is sure to be the best yet, with an even larger stage ready to showcase the best local talent. It is a real treat and brilliant summer activity for all and why not even enter a float or as a walking group?

Blissfields Festival

Starting from humble beginnings, Blissfields Festival is one of the best small festivals you’re likely to find anywhere in the country.

It was first held back in 2001 as a one-day event featuring just one hand made stage and a bucket load of fairy light. Now, thousands flock to this part of Hampshire in early July to enjoy some brilliant music, art, comedy and science performances.

Alex Thomson, from Blissfields, spoke to us about the event and what you can look forward to:

“We like to boast Blissfields as the biggest small festival in the country. We put a lot into such a small, 4,000 capacity event with over 120 live acts across 5 stages with comedy, science shows, late night parties, huge art installations and this year a hot air balloon offering free rides. It's perfect for families who are forward thinking music fans with a whole festival-within-the-festival called Angel Gardens, just for little Blissfielders and their grown-ups. With live acts including Metronomy, Lady Leshurr, Sundara Karma, Delta Heavy, Shura and Tom Grennan it's one of our biggest ever summer shindigs, this year themed as “The Bizarre” including a multi-screen Thursday extravaganza with DJ Yoda's Stranger Things mixtape. Oh, and we've even built a beach.”

The evolution of Blissfields as a small, one-day event into a destination hosting some big names in the music scene is anything to go by you can be sure that next year will be the best yet.

Visit Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard is among the most popular things to do in the area, as it offers fantastic days out for the whole family.

It is a fascinating experience which reveals all about how the ships and vessels which were built and harboured in Portsmouth and how they have led the way in technology, design and innovation throughout the years.

If you are interested in anything nautical, then this is the summer activity for you. The dockyard boasts a number of historic ships like the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860, as well as a number of museums.

Bird World

One of the UK’s biggest bird parks, Birdworld features more than 150 species of birds, including critically endangered species, two penguin colonies and one of the largest free flying parrot aviaries in the world.

We spoke to Mark Anderson, Birdworld Manager, who told us what to expect if you visit the park:

“Fun and informative shows, talks and displays take place every day including, animal encounters, penguin feeding, Discovery Theatre Bird Show, Outdoor Flying Display and the Owl Prowl feeding tour.

Birdworld offers three great attractions in one great park. Your ticket price includes entrance to the Bird Park and gardens, Underwater World and Jenny Wren Farm.”

The park is extremely popular among young families looking for a great day out in Hampshire, but the summer months are certainly a highlight as Mark explains:

“This summer is a great time to visit as there are extra activities every weekday of the holidays with ‘entertainment and animal extras’. Visitors will be able to enjoy either entertainer Crazee Hazee, performers from Chubby’s World of Magic or watch fascinating animal extras and talks hosted by the Birdworld Keepers. Plus, between the 7th – 11th August, Mini Beast Safari Week will take place when plethora of unusual creatures will take over the park! Join the park’s keepers as they introduce slithering and crawling critters, make especially themed arts and crafts, take part in face painting and follow a bug-themed activity trail and lots more.”

The park has various catering outlets, including the Puddleducks Restaurant, kiosks and outdoor picnic areas.

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

Three time Heritage Garden of the Year winner in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens are famous across the world.

Enjoy woodland walks, breathtaking views, stunning gardens and guaranteed inspiration as you enjoy the some 42,000 plants within the 180 acre site. Displaying a Gurkha Memorial Garden, one of the largest Winter Gardens in Europe, an education garden for children and 14 National Plant Collections. In the summer you can walk through the Centenary Border which comes alive with colour.

Take a walk through Britain’s nautical history, dance the night away at a festival or unwind with a tranquil walk through decorative gardens when choosing your best summer activities in Hampshire.

Image Credit: Tony Hisgett Lajos Dixi Dioszegi Pete Birkinshaw Mark Kent