View of Portsmouth harbour from the air

40 free things to do on the mainland

A day out on the mainland doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here are 40 of our favourite things to do for FREE, starting with the closest activities to Wightlink’s ports.

And don’t forget, in school holidays Kids Go Free as foot passengers with Wightlink, so you can enjoy a day out for less.

A misty New Forest landscape with pony - thanks to Go New Forest

The New Forest

1) You will find New Forest ponies dotted all around the National Park. With around 5,000 of them, it won’t be too long until you spot one, so bring a picnic and find a lovely spot for lunch.

2) With more than 140 miles of off-road tracks and miles of low speed-limit roads, you can enjoy easy and relaxed cycling across the Forest.

3) Go walking! With some routes less than a mile and others which connect to the Solent Way and Avon Valley Walk, you can choose your distance.

4) Spend time in Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve near our Lymington port – a wealth of different bird species come to feed at this stunning spot.

5) Hike 2 miles along the beautiful Hurst Spit towards Hurst Castle and Hurst Point Lighthouse and you’ll see the Island from a completely different angle.

6) Go deer spotting. Bolderwood is one of the best places to see these shy creatures – there’s a special platform which overlooks a large meadow.

7) Visit Furzey Gardens at Minstead, lovingly cared for by people with learning disabilities.

8) Enjoy time at Sopley Farm, where children can have fun in the play area and the whole family can wander the fields – getting photos alongside gorgeous sunflowers or autumnal pumpkins (depending on when you visit).

Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery


9) Take a walk around Henry VIII’s Southsea Castle and stand where he watched the Mary Rose sink. Visit the museum and enjoy the great views across Southsea, The Solent and to the Isle of Wight.

10) Discover the city’s rich history at Portsmouth Museum and Art Gallery (pictured). Uncover the world of Sherlock Holmes, see fascinating works of art and trace the history of Portsmouth FC.

11) Visit the contemporary art gallery, Aspex Portsmouth, at Gunwharf Quays. Enjoy the ever-changing programmes from local, national and international artists.

12) While at Gunwharf Quays, enjoy a walk along the water’s edge and learn about the site’s rich history – with it previously having been a munitions store, military school and training facility.

13) Fort Nelson is home to the Royal Armouries’ national collection of artillery and historic cannon. Based out of an old Palmerston fortification overlooking Portsmouth, the fort contains an impressive array of heavy artillery, some of which even take part in live firings.

14) Walk along the Millennium Promenade. Follow the chain motif in the pavement to traverse Portsmouth’s history, where information boards tell you all about historic battles and momentous occasions that took place right there over the years.

15) Visit the Hotwalls Studios where you can see an old fortification transformed, with the harbour defences now turned into studios for artists, designers and creatives.

People walking down the stairs Sky Garden wth the city in the background (credit City of London Corporation Antoine Buchet)


16) Hide away amongst the lush foliage in London’s highest indoor garden and admire sky-high views across the capital at Sky Garden (pictured), at the top of the iconic Walkie Talkie building.

17) Explore a hidden indoor tropical oasis in east London at the Barbican Conservatory, filled with over 1,500 species of plants.

18) Spend an afternoon wandering around one of London’s many free museums. Go face-to-face with dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, sit inside World War II aircraft at the RAF Museum and try wacky experiments at the Science Museum.

19) See the world’s oldest dinosaur sculptures at Crystal Palace Park in south London.

20) Watch the historic Changing the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace.

21) View iconic artworks at galleries across London including the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, The Wallace Collection and Tate Britain.

View along a long stony wall - Hadrian's Wall - at sunset. Credit VisitBritainThomas Heaton.jpg
View along Hadrian's Wall at sunset, Northumberland, England.

Further afield

22) Unearth over 900 years of history and admire exquisite Romanesque architecture at Norwich Cathedral.

23) Discover not one but two sacred spaces, the bombed remains and contemporary structure, of Coventry Cathedral.

24) Follow in the footsteps of J.R.R Tolkien through the Birmingham spots that inspired Middle Earth on The Tolkien Trail.

25) Visit the UNESCO World Heritage village of Saltaire in Bradford, full of beautiful Italianate architecture and fascinating history.

26) Follow the 73-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall, past Roman forts, towers and turrets, and take in fantastic views of the rugged landscape.

27) Learn about the past, present and future of democracy at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

28) Walk or cycle the 32-mile Viking Coastal Trail through Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate and discover why visitors have been coming here for centuries.

29) Take your binoculars to see the seals (and their fluffy white pups) basking on the shores at Blakeney Pointin Norfolk.

30) Walk along Manchester’s Castlefield Viaduct, the brand-new urban park built on a disused Victorian railway line.

31) Spot the dinosaur lying amongst the grass, sit inside an old bomb crater and meet Pygmy goats, pigs and Shetland ponies at Bath City Farm.

32) Embark on an exciting journey through the historic Kent Coalfield and experience life as a Kent miner at the Kent Mining Museum in Deal

33) Embark on a fossil-hunting expedition beneath the cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex – you may come across pre-historic shark teeth!

34) Admire awe-inspiring architecture and glimpse rare and ancient books at John Rylands Library in Manchester (it was also used as a filming location for BBC’s Peaky Blinders).

35) Appreciate inspiring outdoor art by artists like Henry Moore, Antony Gormley and Cristina Iglesias at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts Sculpture Park at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

36) Stretch your legs with a walk through Samphire Hoe, a nature reserve created from chalk marl excavated from the construction of the Eurotunnel.

37) Traverse the oldest, longest and most complete city walls in Britain – Chester City Walls – and gain a fascinating insight into the city’s long history.

38) Explore a 3rd-century Saxon Shore Fort and enjoy panoramic views over Breydon Water from Burgh Castle – one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Britain.

39) Take a tour of The Williamson Tunnels – a series of mysterious tunnels and chambers built in the 1800s a few hundred metres underneath Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral – and uncover hundreds of artefacts and treasures along the way.

40) Pick up a pair of binoculars and see what nature you can see across the sea at the North Sea Observatory, the only purpose-built Marine Observatory in the UK

ℹ️ For more inspiration on places to visit across England, go to the VisitEngland website.

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