Exploring Hampshire: Places to Visit
The county of Hampshire, on the south coast of England, has a wide variety of things to see and do. Though London may often be the top destination for many tourists, the sights and sounds of Hampshire should not be overlooked. The county has a fascinating history, it was home to the former capital city of England (surprisingly it wasn’t always London!) and Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel were both born in Hampshire. There are many places to visit and things to see in Hampshire. This article aims to provide some ideas of what you can do in the county.
The Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth
Beginning with one of the more modern attractions that Hampshire has to offer, is the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. Originally planned to be a tower and viewing platform that would celebrate the Millennium, the construction of the tower was beset by political and financial problems and did not open until 2005. Instead of the ‘Portsmouth Millennium Tower’, Portsmouth now had the ‘Spinnaker Tower’. The design was chosen by the general public from three options; the Globe, the Triple Tower and the Spinnaker. The tower stands at 170 metres tall – the tallest accessible structure outside of London – and was designed to look like a sail. It offers beautiful panoramic views of the harbour, the coast and the sea and has been visited by over 2 million people.
The SeaCity Museum, Southampton
Moving to Hampshire’s largest city, Southampton, we have the SeaCity museum. This museum only opened in April of 2012 and is the newest attraction on offer in Southampton. The museum opened on the centenary of the Titanic’s departure from the city, 10th April, and the majority of the museum’s focus is on this tragic voyage. Visitors to the museum can experience the ‘Disaster Room’ where oral testimony is used to describe the sequence of events on the night the ship sank. There is also a 1:25 scale model of the Titanic and an audio-visual show covering the British Inquiry of the disaster. The other main exhibit focuses on Southampton’s role as a gateway to the world.
Winchester Cathedral & Great Hall, Winchester
Winchester is another popular destination for visitors to the Hampshire area. The city was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex, and later of England, and has a rich history. One of the main attractions is Winchester Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral that is one of the largest in England with the longest nave. The cathedral at Winchester has origins in the 7th century; a church was built in the area in 645 that was known as Old Minster. Over the years the church grew and became a cathedral, it also grew in importance and became a burial place for the kings of Wessex. The cathedral was replaced, however, in 1079 and much of the structure still remains today. The cathedral is also well known for its association with Jane Austen, who died in Winchester and was buried in the north aisle.
Another of Winchester’s main attractions is the Great Hall that was originally a part of Winchester Castle. The castle was built by William the Conqueror as a means of solidifying his hold on the city after the Norman Conquest. Today only the Great Hall, which was added between 1222 and 1235 by Henry III, is still standing. The Great Hall features an imitation Arthurian Round Table that was likely constructed in the 13th century and is painted with the names of the Knights of the Round Table.
Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson, Fareham
The Royal Armouries is Britain’s first and oldest museum. The original purpose of the Royal Armouries, based in the Tower of London, was to create armour and weaponry for the Kings of England. The Armouries became a museum in the time of Charles II; the exhibit was made up of a public display of instruments of torture and wooden effigies representing the Kings of England amongst other things. As the collection grew over the centuries it was split over three locations: the Tower of London, Fort Nelson in Fareham and the Leeds Royal Armouries Museum. The Fort Nelson section has recently undergone a multi-million pound redevelopment and now has a new visitor centre and galleries. The Fort puts on live gun firings every day and has a large collection of guns and weaponry.
Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton
One of the most well-known residents of Hampshire is Jane Austen, aside from a brief residence in Bath; she spent most of her life living in the county. There are a number of Jane Austen themed attractions in Hampshire, such as the village of Steventon where she was born and the site of the house where she lived in Southampton. Arguably the most important, however, is the cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived for the last 8 years of her life and did most of her adult writing. The house has around 30,000 visitors a year and is kept in keeping with how it would have looked when the Austens were in residence. The Jane Austen’s House Museum has a number of manuscript letters written by Jane, her writing table and other family items. While living in the Chawton house Jane published four of her books, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma.
The New Forest, Hampshire
Finally, for those who prefer landscapes and natural scenery to history and architecture, the New Forest is a must-visit Hampshire Destination. The area was created as a royal forest by William I in around 1079 and today 90% of the forest is still in the possession of the Crown. The New Forest National Park is 219 square miles and the New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest covers 120 square miles, this makes the area the largest area of unsown vegetation in lowland Britain. The New Forest has areas of heathland and forest and is home to a variety of rare wildlife. There are also over two-hundred round barrows and over one hundred scheduled ancient monuments in the area.
Map of the Hampshire Area
Which of these attractions would you most like to visit?
Useful & Related Links
- Things to do in Hampshire – 215 Hampshire Attractions
A full list of attractions and things to do in Hampshire with reviews from visitors.
- Hampshire Tourist Information
Hampshire's official tourist information site. Find things to do in Hampshire.