Stretching from Solent 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 of 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
- 1 Winchester – Hampshire's county town and England's first capital city is best known for its ancient cathedral and medieval centre.
- 2 Portsmouth – An active naval city since the 1500s, its historic dock has vessels such as Victory and Mary Rose, contrasting with impressive modern architecture.
- 3 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.
- 4 Aldershot – The "Home of the British Army" has two good military museums.
- 5 Alresford – Colourful old town at the west end of the Mid Hants Steam Railway that is still the hub of England's watercress industry.
- 6 Alton – Historic market town at the east end of the Mid Hants Railway, with Jane Austen's and Gilbert White's houses in nearby villages.
- 7 Andover – This pretty coaching town is an excellent base for exploring the Wessex countryside and neighbouring towns and villages such as charming 8 Whitchurch.
- 9 Basingstoke – 'Soulless' new town it may be, Basingstoke nonetheless offers some of the best shopping and entertainment in Hampshire, and an unusual "living history" museum.
- 10 Brockenhurst – a small town in the New Forest.
- 11 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.
- 12 Fareham – Coastal town home to the Roman and medieval Portchester Castle and several imposing fortresses from the Napoleonic Wars.
- 13 Farnborough – The "Birthplace of British Aviation" is still home to the biennial International Air Show and a super little aerospace museum.
- 14 Fleet – Small commuter town known for its high happiness levels surrounded by pleasant countryside.
- 15 Fordingbridge – A town on the northwestern edge of the New Forest at a medieval river crossing.
- 16 Gosport – Facing Portsmouth across their shared harbour, Gosport has two naval museums of repute.
- 17 Havant – A former Celtic settlement close to Langstone Harbour.
- 18 Hythe – On the western shore of Southampton Water next to the New Forest, includes the seaside village of Calshot.
- 19 Lymington – Beautiful Georgian seaside town in the New Forest.
- 20 Lyndhurst – The picturesque main town of the New Forest, which has the reputation for being somewhat of a tourist trap.
- 21 Petersfield – Hampshire's gateway to the South Downs
- 22 Ringwood – Well-known brewery and country parks
- 23 Romsey – Market town on the edge of the New Forest, home to an abbey and many historic houses.
- 24 Tadley – Small town that's good for visits to local landmarks, including a ruined Roman city and a Georgian stately home.
- 25 Beaulieu is best known for the National Motor Museum, but also has the Victorian Gothic Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey, the World of Top Gear and On Screen Cars exhibitions, various gardens and the park's famous monorail.
- 26 Burley – A village in the New Forest.
- 27 Emsworth – Foodie village with views over Chichester Harbour.
- 28 Hamble-le-Rice – Scenic estuary village perfect for bird- and ship-watching.
- 29 Odiham – Small rural town with regular markets and pretty countryside ideal for walking.
- 30 Stockbridge – Another pretty village base for seeing some of the loveliest countryside in Hampshire.
- 31 Wickham – Great country shopping and dining in the Meon Valley.
- 1 Hayling Island – Popular tourist island, with blue flag beaches and typical seaside attractions, between Langstone and Chichester harbours which offer good birdwatching opportunities.
- 2 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.
- 3 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, the chalky escarpment around Butser Hill, bucolic countryside and "flint and brick" villages.
In both speech and writing (for example on postal addresses), Hampshire's name is often abbreviated to Hants.
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 Britain 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 (100 km) "as the crow flies" into a true length of around 250 miles (400 km).
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 agricultural and retain many similarities with neighbouring Westcountry counties.
People and culture
The population of Hampshire was 1,857,900 in 2021, 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, pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, comedian Benny Hill, and actors Colin Firth and Martin Freeman.
The patron saint of Hampshire, Saint Swithun, was bishop of Winchester in the mid 9th century. His feast day, 15 July, is also the county day. Folklore holds that if even a drop of rain falls on his namesake bridge in Winchester on Saint Swithun's Day, it will rain for the next forty days:
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 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 Norman Conquest when William the Conqueror designated 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. The Conqueror's son, King William II, was killed in a 'hunting accident' (probable assassination by his own men) in the New Forest in 1100, and the spot is today marked by a memorial stone. Many of Hampshire's castles such as those at Portchester and Odiham 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. The middle ages also saw the building of Winchester's stunning cathedral.
Both Southampton and Portsmouth became important harbours during the late middle ages, 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. Portsmouth launched the Mary Rose, which lay at the bottom of the Solent for 450 years until it was rediscovered and raised in 1982, and HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar, where the admiral was killed in action. 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 aeronautical developments to take place in the county, Eastleigh hosted the development of the Spitfire fighter plane, while Farnborough launched 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 standard Received Pronunciation (RP). In the south and west of the county, some people speak in an accent that has a Westcountry twang to it - the original 'Ampshire 'Og accent before RP's dominance - and some older residents even use dialect words and phrases, though this is becoming increasingly uncommon as time marches on.
The area around Aldershot and Farnborough is home to around 10,000 Nepali speakers, perhaps the greatest concentration outside the Himalayas. In these areas, you will see Nepalese people greet each other by saying Namaste and bowing their heads slightly while clasping their hands together vertically.
Driving times from the Channel Tunnel to Hampshire, via the M20, M26, M25 and M3 motorways, are 2–3 hours in good traffic, though you should allow for longer when travelling during peak hours (M-F 7:30–9:30AM, 4:30–6:30PM; and all day on holiday weekends).
The main roads from London are the A3 (which heads to Portsmouth, via 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; it connects at its western end with the A31 from Bournemouth, and at its eastern end with the A27 from Brighton and Chichester. The A34 offers connections from Oxford and the Midlands, while the A303 brings traffic from the West Country. In north Hampshire, the "other" road called A31 branches off the A3, allowing faster journey times to Alton and Winchester from Surrey and Kent than the M3 can offer.
Hampshire has its very own international airport, 1 Southampton Airport (SOU IATA). This has good connections from northern England, Scotland, Ireland and the Channel Islands, as well as from near parts of the continent such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. See the main article for details.
Eurostar run trains from France, Belgium and the Netherlands to London St Pancras. Onward journey times (by Tube, and then rail from Waterloo station) to Hampshire take between one and three hours, depending on where in the county you're headed.
Rail services from the rest of the UK are good. Trains from London Waterloo, Surrey, Wiltshire and Dorset are operated by South Western Railway, while services from London Victoria and Sussex are run by Southern Railway. Cross Country run trains from Berkshire, the Midlands and North, and Great Western Railway run from South Wales and Somerset.
Portsmouth is a major international ferry port, and receives ferries from Jersey and Guernsey (in the Channel Islands), Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre and St. Malo (in France), and Bilbao and Santander (in Spain).
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 Western Railway, 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 is still 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 is 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.
Portsmouth is linked to Gosport by a frequent passenger ferry. There are also hovercraft, passenger and car ferry crossings to various towns on the Isle of Wight from Lymington, Southampton, and Portsmouth.
- See also: Jane Austen tourism
- Birdworld, south of Farnham, has over 150 species of birds, of which 11 are endangered, plus a children's petting zoo and an aquarium.
- Butser Ancient Farm, south of Petersfield, is an experiment to recreate an Iron Age farming settlement and Roman villa.
- Highclere Castle, south of Newbury, is a magnificent stately home, better known as the fictional Downton Abbey.
- Marwell Zoo, east of Eastleigh, is home to cheetahs, giraffes, meerkats, penguins, pygmy hippos, red pandas, rhinoceros, snow leopard, tigers and zebra.
- Mottisfont, north of Romsey, is a former monastery and stately home with fine rose gardens in a gorgeous rural setting.
- The excavated remains of Rockbourne Roman Villa, north of Fordingbridge, clearly indicate a luxury dwelling in its day.
- Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, near Romsey, is a large garden and arboretum with over 40,000 trees and shrubs.
- Famous figures from Hampshire whose former homes you can visit: south of Alton are Jane Austen's house and Gilbert White's house and garden; Portsmouth has Charles Dickens' birthplace; and northeast of Basingstoke is Stratfield Saye, country pad of Arthur Wellesley and his descendant Dukes of Wellington.
- Fly fishing and riverbank angling are very popular pursuits in Hampshire's three crystal-clear chalk rivers: the Itchen, the Meon and the Test. Winchester and Andover make good bases. You need a licence from the Environment Agency to fish in English rivers. It's quite affordable - £6 for one day, £12 for eight days, or £30 for a whole year (Jan 2022) - and the process is easily completed online, while the penalties for fishing without a licence can be severe. Alternatively, you can fish without a licence at any number of private fisheries across the county, where the chance of a catch is much higher, but so are the tariffs.
- Horse riding - Hampshire has many private stables and there are public bridleways (horse-riding trails) across the county, but particularly in the New Forest.
- Paulton's Park, south of Romsey, is a family theme park with a small zoo, gardens and 'park within a park' Peppa Pig World
- Queen Elizabeth Country Park has 2000 acres of woodland and downland south of Petersfield. Great for walking, mountain biking, off-roading, paragliding and laser games
- Walking is a great way to explore Hampshire's diverse countryside. On the coast, search out beaches, harbours, and inlets, while inland you may find heathland, ancient woodland, downland, and water meadows, as well as agricultural land. Long-distance trails such as the Pilgrims' Way and South Downs Way demand several days' commitment. Meon Valley Trail is intermediate, an 11 mile cycle and walking trail between Wickham and West Meon. There are plenty more shorter walks for an afternoon.
- Watersports, particularly sailing, are popular activities in the waters of the south coast
- Cricket: Hampshire CCC matches and occasional Test matches are played at Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
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 has dominated since the 19th century. There are also several award-winning cheeses from Hampshire, including local buffalo mozzarella, New Forest blue, Hampshire rose, the camembert-like tunworth, the gouda-like Old Winchester, 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, now mostly converted to homes. Ringwood brewery in the New Forest is one significant local brewery, though there are many smaller businesses throughout the county, many of which are open to visits from the public. Check the local CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) page for all the county's breweries, as well as the best real ale pubs.
- Wine: there have been vineyards in Hampshire since Roman times. Modern examples are Black Chalk near Andover and Hambledon at Waterlooville.
- Tea: Based in Andover, Twinings have been international tea merchants for over 300 years. Enjoy a cup and a slice of homemade cake in any number of tearooms in Hampshire's market towns and country villages.
Aside from the ubiquitous pub, nightlife in 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 world heritage-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.