IT HAS long been famous for its scenic views and picture perfect villages, plus the free-roaming animals that mingle with residents and visitors alike.

Now the New Forest National Park has been named the fifth best in Europe in a move that will lift the spirits of the area’s pandemic-hit tourist industry.

It has achieved the accolade in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best Awards for Destinations.

They reflect the places where travellers ventured in 2020 - and where they dreamed of going when coronavirus restrictions kept them at home.

The awards are given annually but national parks have been included for the first time.

The new category recognises the scenic and historically significant areas that are the most popular among Tripadvisor reviewers.

The New Forest has finished fifth among Europe’s finest national parks. The Yorkshire Dales is Europe’s best and 11th in the world, while the Peak District is fourth in Europe and 24th globally.

Tripadvisor describes the Forest as “truly unique”.

It adds: “It’s a ‘world capital’ for wildlife with a huge diversity of rare plants and animals– one of the reasons why it was made a national park in 2005.

“ A place of outstanding natural beauty, the unique landscape is shaped by the grazing of ponies, cattle and pigs that roam freely.”

Tripadvisor says the Forest is one of the last places in southern England that still offers a sense of wildness and tranquillity.

It adds: “It’s a wonderful area to explore on foot, horseback, or by bike.”

Commenting on the awards Tripadvisor spokesperson Hayley Coleman said: “With indoor activities mostly off the table in 2020, travellers headed for the great outdoors.

“According to a recent survey of Tripadvisor travellers, more than half (52%) say they are more likely to take an outdoor or nature trip than they were before the pandemic.

“With this in mind, it seemed timely to introduce the national park’s category.”