We recently paid an April visit to Exbury gardens located in the lovely New Forest, just near Beaulieu and here’s some more on our experience visiting as a family of four.

You can prebook tickets online or buy on the day for both entry to the gardens and their steam train experience. We had a lovely drive through the New Forest roads running past open heathland and horses grazing and on arrival, there was a nice large car park with plenty of space and the car park is free too.

The walk from the car park to the entrance is very short and there is a café by the car park which the general public can use as well as a nursery and gift shop, they have a ticket booth with large map of the site as well as free fold out maps and leaflets you can pick up and take.

What is the best time of year to visit exbury gardens

We have visited Exbury for father Christmas train event in the winter as well as their Halloween event in October, both a lot of fun, but obviously very chilly and everything rather grey, they host a whole range of seasonal events throughout the year. It was clear to us on entering the gardens that springtime an excellent time to visit as we were immediately hit with colours, bird song and more.

The steam train experience at exbury gardens

They have a number of times throughout the day, normally around every 30 minutes. The main station is just a few minutes walk from the entrance to the gardens, so we headed straight there to catch the 11am train. We arrived slightly earlier as there was already a bit of a queue, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on a spot arrive a bit earlier.

It’s a 1.5 mile track and is a wonderful experience, particularly for young kids and train enthusiasts, also a great additional is that it’s dog friendly too so we enjoyed seeing various dog’s popping their head out of the open carriages with the wind in their fur!

It’s all a very traditional affair with an ‘all board’ whistle and chuff chuff, the steam train is off, on route it passes through some marvellous scenery including various gardens full of colour of course, folk enjoying the gardens so make sure to give them a wave, ponds, animal sculptures which the kids enjoyed spotting, bluebells and woodlands amongst other features.

The train stops at Dragonfly Halt and Exbury North stations to allow for passengers to alight if you wish to do so, a handy opportunity to visit the northernmost section of the gardens. We got off so we could enjoy Dragonfly pond which has some great views and info boards on different species, they turn up particularly in the summer.

How long does it take to walk around exbury gardens

Exbury has 200 acres of gardens and woodland to explore so you will certainly need at least half a day to explore at least some of it and make the most of your visit. They have a great map of the grounds and where various features are including their cafes and loo’s. But actually part of the fun we found was just using the map as a bit of a rough direction and then getting lost in the trails and it’s like one big maze with surprises at every corner. The kids loved running ahead of us, and there’s main routes as well as lots of more narrow gravel pathways to discover.

Here’s a handy map of Exbury – https://www.exbury.co.uk/interactive-map

Water features of exbury

From ponds and lakes to waterfalls and down by the riverside, Exbury gardens has some great water features to enjoy on your adventure. We hopped off the train at the dragon fly pond, which is a hot spot in the summer for a variety of species. The water features around the Azalea Bowl area of the gardens was a particular highlight and is a must visit, with stepping stones over streams running from the main lake, and dramatic colours all around in the spring. There’s lots of different streams and water all around and bridges to cross over.

Picnic spots

The gardens of England are a top spot for the English tradition of a picnic and Exbury is no different so we made sure to pack one. There’s so many areas to choose from and plenty of picnic benches, but we recommend the field opposite the sundial garden as soft grass for sitting on, picnic benches and covered by trees. We actually sat with a view of the river, however the wind whipped in a bit which made it a bit chilly. In summer it would be a strong choice. You are surrounded by their field of yellow and all the daffodils with your view of the river.

Beaulieu river at Exbury Gardens

Exbury gardens is located right on the eastern banks of the Beaulieu River, another favourite of ours in Hampshire. It’s one of the few privately owned rivers in the world and has been in the ownership of the Montagu family for over 400 years. They have a boardwalk through a woodland area of the forest right by the river as well as some clearings with sitting spots to enjoy the views of wildlife and passing yachts as well as the tourist boat you can take a ride on from bucklers hard, another new forest attraction.

It’s a haven for birds and also seals enjoy to relax at the mouth of the river which opens out to the solent. If you are very lucky you may even spot a white tailed eagle soaring above as they have been re-introduced to the isle of wight and are sometimes seen over the Beaulieu. They have a huge eight foot wingspan, and are Britain’s largest bird of prey.

Why to visit Exbury Gardens

This is one of the very best family days out you can have in the New Forest and we speak from experience having had many. Of course with all what we’ve mentioned, they also have a glorious playground for the kids, cafes, gift shop, ice cream outlets and more. They host many events including musical concerts and seasonal, so worth keeping an eye out for them.

If you are a group of family or friends visiting the new forest or are local to Exbury we’d recommend a visit!

You can find plenty more info and tickets at their website here – https://www.exbury.co.uk

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