There aren’t many tourist attractions that provide us with enough fun that we will happily return and over again, but the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu definitely qualifies on that front.
This is the third year running I’ve been with Isaac and Toby – here’s what we did last year – with the main draw for our car-mad boys being the World of Top Gear exhibit, including a whole host of cars from the show and a video feature by the erstwhile presenting trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May. (I guess they will have to change it next year once Chris Evans takes over.)
Of course, we did it twice – and if we hadn’t had to leave I suspect we would have done it (at least) once more.
This year the boys appreciated it even more than on their first two visits, partly because they’re older but largely because they’re now bona fide Top Gear experts – guess what their Mastermind specialist subject would be? – who have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the show and the various capers that have been undertaken over the years, thanks to wall-to-wall repeats on BBC Three and Dave.
By contrast, while the main museum itself did interest them, it didn’t hold their attention as much (although I love its comprehensive collection that ranges from the very earliest cars to modern-day F1 machines). But we had a good wander round, enjoyed lunch and ice creams, rode the monorail and the old bus (the one in the header pic above) and even took a short stroll through the gardens. Only a short stroll, mind you – they’re boys and flowers are only going to hold their interest for so long. I timed it at 17 nanoseconds before Toby declared, “I’m bored” and stomped backed to the monorail.
It’s a full day out – we arrived shortly after 10am and didn’t leave until 5:30pm – even if you don’t make it round the Palace House, Secret Army exhibition and abbey ruins. (Three visits and the gardens is as far as I’ve made it with the boys.)
Anyhow, if you’re considering a day out at Beaulieu in the near future, here are ten top tips to consider.
1. Book in advance. At the time of writing, booking online right up until 11:59pm the day before your visit entitles you to a 25% discount, That means adults get in for £18 as opposed to £24, while for a child (aged 5-17), the cost drops from £12 to £9.
2. Covering the entire estate on foot isn’t too taxing but you can also travel from one side to the other via vintage bus or monorail.
3. The Brabazon restaurant and coffee shop offers a limited selection of hot meals and snacks, from fish and chips and curry to jacket potatoes and baguettes. It’s not cheap but the quality is better than most and there’s a decent pick-and-mix children’s bag option (five items for £4.25 or seven for £5.50). It’s very busy at peak times, so to avoid long queues and ensure a table get there by midday or wait until after the main rush. If you want to bring your own lunch, there are plenty of picnic tables, benches and wide expanses of grass dotted around.
4. Other than the restaurant, food options are limited. There’s a coffee stall near the Top Gear exhibit that is only open for limited hours during the day but your best option is the Ice Cream Cottage at the far end of the estate, which is perfect for a hot afternoon – the bus stops right outside it and the monorail is barely a minute away. Expect a long wait mid-afternoon, though.
5. The main museum is deceptively large. It’s worth breaking your visit there into two or three chunks to keep kids’ attention.
6. Don’t forget the Abbey, Palace House, Secret Army exhibit and gardens at the far end of the estate. They’re usually quieter than the main attractions.
7. If you have kids, bring pound coins. The remote-controlled cars outside World of Top Gear are always popular and provide an ideal distraction while you’re waiting for entry or for the monorail.
8. The children’s play area in the middle of the estate has plenty for kids of various ages. There’s also a driving circuit with ride-on electric cars next to it. It’s a good place to stop for lunch or a quick break – snaffle one of the handful of picnic tables while you have a chance.
9. Bring warm clothes. The estate is open and the wind can be quite chilly.
10. At the end of your day, hold on to your tickets as these entitle you to a free return visit within 12 months.
Beaulieu is situated in the New Forest, a few miles from Southampton. Further details can be found on the Beaulieu website.
Please note that I was not commissioned to write this post, nor have I received any payment or other incentive.