Visit Winchester > Things to do > Explore the South Downs

Explore the South Downs

Winchester College
Winchester College

The Hampshire area of the South Downs National Park has a diverse and inspirational landscape with breath-taking views and a rich variety of wildlife. Visit this tranquil and unspoiled countryside and find rare and internationally important species or visit the bustling market towns and explore.

Escape to the countryside which inspired novelist Jane Austen and naturalist Gilbert White and visit the attractions that delve into the world of these famous writers.

The Park is full of great activities and learning experiences and an abundance of exciting attractions, all on the doorstep of Winchester.

Nestled between the Cathedral cities of Winchester and Chichester, the South Downs in Hampshire is rich in opportunities for walking and hiking, making it the perfect place for a weekend fresh-air getaway.
Explore the South Downs National Park along the many and varied trails offered throughout. Enjoy the following trails by bike or on foot:

Why not join the 20,000 other long distance trail users last year and embark on a journey along the South Downs Way. From the ancient city of Winchester to the white cliffs of Eastbourne the trail is 100miles long and has a total ascent of 3,800m/12,600ft (that is three and a half times the height of Mount Snowdon). This route takes you straight through the heart of the South Downs offering inspiring views where ever you stop and hidden gems along the way. Explore the rolling hills, the glorious heathland, the river valleys, ancient woodland, listed buildings, diverse archaeology, thriving villages and market towns. Take your bike, your horse or travel on foot, and why not try it from Eastbourne to Winchester.

Follow the acorn along your journey to find your way and look for signposts to show the public rights of way. The trail has some moderately steep sections that should be suitable for anyone who is reasonably fit. If you have any questions regarding accessibility visit the National Trail site.

The South Downs has something for every kind of cyclist to enjoy and explore with rolling hills, dramatic coastline and pretty market towns.

As well as the famous South Downs Way to explore there are 1,200 km of car-free bridleways across the National Park, miles of leafy country lanes and old railway trails including the Cukoo Trail, Downs Link and Centurions Way.

The 160km long South Downs Way is the only UK’s National Trail which is fully traversable by bike and there are many ways to enjoy it. You could ride along the ridge to reach Ditchling Beacon and enjoy the view or cycle along the Hampshire Hangers and single track mountain bike trails at Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

With so many routes and ways to ride and lots great places to stop for local food and refreshments there’s never been a better time to discover the Downs by bike.

Hire a bike

If you don’t own a bike why not hire one – Bespoke Biking offer bikes for hire and guided tours. There are lots cycle hire companies across the National Park with a range of bikes available to get all ages back in the saddle and exploring the South Downs.

Cycle routes

For a taster of South Downs cycling, take a look at the cycle routes page on the South Downs National  Park website. Cycle routes include the Meon Valley trail, rides around the River Itchen and routes near Petersfield and Rowlands Castle.

Combine walking with a discovery of some literary great names.

The Hampshire area of the South Downs National Park is much loved for its beautiful countryside, rolling hills, ‘sunken lanes’ and breath-taking views, making it the perfect place for a weekend away. Add to this its fascinating literary connections – including Jane Austen, 18th century naturalist and ‘first ecologist’ Gilbert White, Flora Thompson and one of the very best English poets killed in the First World War, Edward Thomas – and there’s even more reason to visit. The interweaving stories – and geography – of these great writers are now offered as six Literary Walks, which are available to download from

If all this fresh air makes you hungry, there’s no shortage of good food and places to eat.

The South Downs boasts a wide variety of food and drink on offer including 24 wineries, 32 microbreweries, 5 distilleries, 4 juice companies, 11 milk and cheese dairies, 5 chocolatiers, 5 ice-cream companies, 7 soft drink makers and many more.

Taste artisan cheeses, preserves or honey at a local delicatessen; try a Hampshire hog roast at a village fete; or buy a bunch of fresh watercress just yards from where it was grown. Whatever your taste there is always something to suit!

The South Downs also plays host to a selection of food festivals:

Graze Festival

Hampshire Food Festival

Cocktail Week

Real Ale and Cider Festival

Wine Festival

Cheese and Chilli Festival

Alton Beer Festival

Christmas Market

More hikers, cyclists, horse-riders and picnickers are using public transport to travel around the South Downs where there’s an adventure for everyone – from discovering new trails on your bike to finding that perfect picnic spot, heading out on horseback or taking to the skies in a paraglider. Or how about an adventure back in time at an historic house or discovering how wine is made at a local vineyard – and if you go by bus or train you can enjoy tasting it too! The South Downs National Park Authority works closely with Community Rail Partnerships to promote train travel in the National Park.