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Pocket Guide: Hampshire

From the bustling historic ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, to delightful market villages and the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty, Hampshire offers an extraordinary wealth of natural and cultural attractions. In fact, this county, one of the largest in England, is home to not one but two National Parks: The New Forest and the South Downs National Park. It's also the home of the ancient settlement of Winchester, once the first King of England, Alfred the Great's powerbase and the capital of Saxon England. As you might expect, Hampshire also has a excellent mix of hotels and guesthouses, form affordable city centre hotels to luxury country retreats.

Winchester - Renowned for its Large Cathedral

One of Europe's longest medieval cathedrals, measuring 170 metres in length, Winchester Cathedral has been the focal point of the city for well over 900 years. The current building was built on the site of an even older former church, the Old Minster, which was established in the 7th century, and was partly remodelled on numerous occasions in the late Middle Ages, most notable in the 14th century when the nave was rebuilt with stone from Normandy.

See the charming 18th century Winchester City Mill, explore the city's beautiful Romantic-style castle, then head to the Royal Green Jackets Museum and learn about the history of the military, the Napoleonic Wars and other historic military conflicts. The city also has a good selection of value-for-money Hampshire hotels, as well as luxury venues such as the majestic Mercure Wessex Winchester Hotel.

Southampton

This vibrant maritime centre, where the Mayflower transported the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620, has the enviable status as one of Britain's sunniest cities, and enjoys relatively mild winters. Today, Southampton is home to the superb City Art Gallery, where you can admire an extensive collection of artworks ranging from Renaissance masterpieces to pioneering contemporary art.

Hampshire's administrative capital is also renowned for its Solent Sky aviation exhibition, the attractive Medieval Merchant's House, and the 12th century Bargate that traditionally served as the city's main gateway. Southampton has a fantastic variety of Hampshire hotels catering to all budgets, and one of the most luxurious places to stay in the city is the spa-themed Grand Harbour Hotel.

Portsmouth

Another busy port with a high concentration of deluxe and budget friendly Hampshire hotels, Portsmouth features the world's oldest dry dock in continuous operation. It's also acclaimed for its Emirates Spinnaker Tower, a 170-metre tower that is one of the tallest structures in Britain. See the city's magnificent HMS Warrior ship and museum and the HMS Victory & Mary Rose Museum, then explore the nearby seaside resort of Southsea and visit its enormous castle.

Basingstoke

Holding a regular market for more than 800 years, Basingstoke is noted for its Milestones Museum, where you can observe numerous recreated Victorian artefacts such as a terraced house and a public house. The town also celebrates the annual Basingstoke Festival, a major live music and dance event, and is close to the exquisite Oakley Hall Hotel, a luxury country venue in the scenic village of Oakley.

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