One of the first attractions on my list of places to visit on our recent holiday to the New Forest was Beaulieu. I’ve been twice before, once as a child on a 2 family holiday and once with the OH a few years before having N. Both times it’s been great, so I knew N would love it as well. Of course going in February did mean some activities weren’t open like the vintage bus ride, but we could still do most of the things we wanted to.
The bonus of going in February half term for us was that it wasn’t half term for many areas. It did get busy as we were leaving, but we didn’t find it hard to go where we wanted or taking photos. I’d definitely suggest going early to avoid the crowds if you’re going further into the holiday season though.
Beaulieu is more than just the motor museum, so it’s a good day out for all the family. When we arrived I was a bit worried to see a school party arrive. That’s the downside of different holiday times. But apart from one instance where we had to wait before moving to an area, we weren’t impacted by lots of school children around.
N spotted the monorail straight away and wanted to go on it, but there was a delay with opening it due to some mechanical issues. So we headed into the World of Top Gear experience tent instead. I was always a fan of Top Gear although N’s never seen it – most of the humour would be lost on him. But he loved seeing all the wacky builds and unusual vehicles that had been made and driven. He just couldn’t understand why they built a car boat, or making double decker cars. But he loved watching them on the videos showing the vehicles in action.
There was an additional place you could go into to see more, but N didn’t like the look of it so he had a quick go racing a radio controlled car around a track before we snuck our heads into the ‘Cars from the movies’ display. From the Weasley’s Ford Anglia to Mr Bean’s mini, N wasn’t impressed with many of the cars. He was more interested in the pay ride on motorcycle.
The main part is of course the motor museum. It’s a huge display, across several floors, covering every type of road passenger vehicle you can imagine. From motorcyles – racers, dirt bikes, emergency vehicles, war motorbikes, scooters through the years, to buses and a myriad of vintage working vehicles set up in street scenes. Through to Formula 1 racing cars, and every other type of car from the start of carriage styles to more modern versions.
N couldn’t believe the number of cars. He sat in an old one, nosied in ‘garages’ and workshops, asked a lot of questions about motorbikes and was amazed to see the racing cars. He’d obviously forgotten about having seen similar at the British Motor Museum near us in Gaydon.
His favourites were the landspeed record cars, in particular the Sunbeam. You can get right up close to the cars and the size of them is always a surprise. The videos of the records is also on loop so there’s lots of educational things for us all to learn.
At the motor museum there’re also interactive displays including a pod ride through the history of cars. N didn’t want to go in to that, which I’ve never been on which was annoying, but we explored a few bits before finishing. Even with a 6 year old who picks and chooses which bits he’s interested in we were there a while because there’s so much to see.
Beaulieu were also doing half term activities for 2 weeks so N got to make a balloon powered car (a big failure – I’ve no idea how we got it so wrong!). And had a look at some old motoring wear as well as his favourite – honking the huge car horns. Typical child.
By the time we finished, the monorail was open. As we were the first ones on it when it opened, there was only 1 other family going on at the same time. It goes on a circular route to the station above the gardens, so you can get off and see the abbey ruins or walk up to the house.
Despite all his moaning I did manage to get N into the Palace House – although he refused to do the children’s trail. I love how so many houses nowadays have trails for children, as it does help maintain their interest (even though N speeds through every room anyway).
The Palace House is really interesting with plenty of staff (dressed up in old costumes) to talk to about what went on with the family (who still live there in one of the wings) and the history of the house. I love just roaming and having a nosy, but N’s favourite place was the room with all the old fashioned toys in. Of course he wasn’t going to dress up but he was happy playing away and chatting to the ‘servant’ in the room about the toys they used to play with.
Around the side of the house are some wartime displays which we’d also missed on our last visit to Beaulieu. We were fairly brief on our visit and there’s certainly more to see if you’re spending the whole day there.
Once out of the house I managed to persuade N we had time to investigate the gardens before catching the monorail back. I’d spotted on the way, some interesting topiary sculptures. A wonderful display of the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland, plus there was a tree of padlocks.
We timed lunch quite well. There’s a large café where we had no problem finding a seat, but I can imagine in summer it would probably be easier taking a picnic or eating early or late. They do hot meals and sandwiches. I found the order and layout not particularly easy – it didn’t flow, and finding the free milkshakes that were available with the children’s trail booklet was impossible without asking 2 different people. But lunch filled a hole and set us up ready to be on our way and head off somewhere else for the rest of the afternoon.
If you’re in the New Forest area, I’d definitely recommend Beaulieu for a day out. There’s something for everyone, and other activities that we didn’t get to.
Takeaway tip –> Always read children’s trail booklets they’re given, because there are sometimes discount offers or freebies inside.
Have you been to Beaulieu before? Are there other motor museums you recommend?
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