Being born and bred in the south of England, I will always have a soft spot for the countryside. Unfortunately, so few visitors to London get to experience everything it has to offer. And so much of it would surprise you!

Whenever I get asked where a visitor should go to experience the countryside, my answer is always the same; go to the New Forest. This unique stretch of land south of London is one of the country’s largest unenclosed wilderness spaces. Famous for its stunning rural landscapes, burgeoning wildlife, and quaint villages, the New Forest is only two hours from the city by train or car. This week, we’re going to spend a little time exploring everything it has to offer and finding the six best reasons to visit.

1. The New Forest Ponies

This is perhaps the thing that really makes this destination stand out from all others. Spread across the untamed heathland of the New Forest are around 3000 wild ponies that roam at their leisure. They’re a staple fixture of the landscape, often wandering across the roads and into villages and towns. Although they sometimes interact with people, the ponies are wild animals, not pets, and visitors should respect them as such. Still, a visit from a friendly wild pony whilst you’re having a picnic in the sunshine is an experience you’re not likely to forget.

2. Brockenhurst

If you’re looking for the idyllic English village experience, you can’t go far wrong with a visit to Brockenhurst. This beautiful spot is full of traditional English pubs and thatched cottages, all set in the backdrop of the New Forest’s sprawling heathland. The rivers, fords, and grassy spots that run through the village make it one of the prettiest places to visit in the country.

3. Cycling

The extensive gravel paths that run through the New Forest wilderness make it the perfect place for long cycling tours. On a quiet cycle ride, you’ll get to see all the treasures of nature that the forest has to offer, including deer, reptiles, and maybe even the rare Dartford Warbler.

4. The Steam Train

Did you ever watch Thomas the Tank Engine when you were a child? If so, then you’ll be blown away by the chance to ride on the New Forest steam train at Exbury Gardens. The little blue engine is the perfect way to explore the forest and perhaps the quaintest experience you could hope for.

5. Paulton’s Park

If you have kids there’s an extra reason to visit the New Forest. Paulton’s Park is the family-friendly theme park sporting rides, attractions, and even educational workshops. Don’t miss out on the rollercoasters, animatronic dinosaurs, and the host of beautiful birds and animals that call the park home.

6. The pubs

After a long day cycling, hiking, canoeing, and steam training around the New Forest, there’s nothing better than settling into a cozy pub to enjoy a home-cooked meal. The New Forest has some of the most beautiful and unique pubs in the south of England and offers a rural atmosphere that’s a world away from London’s busy inns. Make sure to check out The Pig – Brockenhurst’s most spectacular pub and restaurant.

That’s six reasons not to miss out on a trip to the New Forest whilst you’re visiting the UK. For a range of other excursions outside of London, check out Evan Evans’ fantastic range of day trips.