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The best things to do on the Isle of Wight – castles, cottages & coastlines

There’s a whole host of things to do on the Isle of Wight with something for every kind of visitor. From kids to grandparents, hikers to history lovers, foodies to festival goers and adventurers to animal lovers, an Isle of Wight short break ticks all the boxes.

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

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Things to do on the Isle of White

Living on the South coast means I’ve been on more than a few trips to the Isle of Wight over the years. We’ve had caravan holidays when the kids were little and we were broke, group trips with friends for birthday celebrations, an Isle of Wight day-trip with the parents and more recently an Isle of Wight short break with the girls for a post-lockdown catch up.

I’ve loved each and every visit and have seen and done something different every time. Let’s discover the best things to do on the Isle of Wight.

Where is the Isle of Wight?

The Isle of Wight sits in the English Channel opposite Portsmouth, separated from the mainland by the Solent. It’s the largest island in England at 147 square miles, around half of which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Is the Isle of Wight worth visiting?

Appley Beach near Ryde – one of my favourite Isle of Wight beaches

A mild climate, 65-miles of coastline and more visitor attractions per square mile than anywhere else in the UK means the Isle of Wight is one of the country’s most popular holiday destinations. The whole island is also a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. If all that isn’t enough reason to visit then read on for the best things to do on the Isle of Wight.

The Needles

The Needles are a chain of chalk stacks that rise up around 30 metres from the sea with a striking red and white striped lighthouse next to the outermost stack. Needless to say, the Needles are one of the top places to visit on the Isle of Wight and one of the most photographed.

The stacks can be viewed from the neighbouring cliffs or you can take a pleasure cruise to see the Needles up close. After you’ve explored the area, the nearby tea rooms are the ideal place to enjoy a cup of tea, an ice cream or a glass of something chilled.

The Needles – probably the most popular landmark on the Isle of Wight

Alum Bay Chair Lift

Another way to see the iconic Needles is to take the chairlift ride down the cliff to Alum Bay Beach. The chairlift looks a little precarious but is quite safe although not a good idea for those afraid of heights.

You’ll get great views of the Needles on the way down and once at the bottom, on Alum Bay beach, you can see the multi-coloured sand cliffs up close. The red, yellow, white and grey striations are made up of quartz, felspar, mica mixed with other minerals.

Return tickets cost £6 per person although you could take the steps if you’d prefer to walk. There’s a large car park at the top of the cliff which costs £5 in high season.

For the very best views of the Needles head to the National Trust’s Headon Warren or the tea rooms at the Old Battery. The Old Battery and New Battery onced formed part of Britain’s military defence line on the Island and also served as a secret rocket testing site.

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Osborne House

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

A visit to Osborne House, a top Isle of Wight attraction, is one of my favourite spots on the island. Built in 1845, Osborne House was Queen Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight. She would relax here on holiday with her family in the ornately furnished house and lavish gardens.

Visiting Osborne House gives you a glimpse into royal life at the end of the 19th century including the elaborate state rooms, the private beach and the room where Queen Victoria died in 1901.

The Durbar Room, Osborne House

After visiting the state rooms step outside into the glorious gardens and you’d almost think you were in Italy. The ornate gardens and terraces reflect the Italianate style of the house and have some beautiful features. The walled garden is also worth a visit.

Head down through the parklands to the lovely little private beach with views over the Solent. It’s a good spot for lunch if you’ve brought a picnic or if not there’s a café and an ice cream parlour selling Isle of Wight Minghella ice-cream. You’ll also be able to visit Queen Victoria’s bathing machine.

From the beach follow the woodland nature trail that’ll lead you to the pretty kitchen gardens and the Swiss Cottage. The Alpine-style chalet is the where the young Princes and Princess would spend time playing, baking and gardening.

Queen Victoria said “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,” than Osborne House and I’d have to agree.

I only spent a morning at Osborne House because I also wanted to squeeze in a visit to Carisbrooke Castle on the same day but you could easily spend all day at this top Isle of Wight attraction.

The Red Funnel foot passenger ferry to Isle of Wight departs from Southampton and docks at Cowes making a visit to Osborne House an ideal day trip to the Isle of Wight.

The house is open to the public from April to September. You can book Osborne House tickets through English Heritage.

If you’re visiting other English Heritage sites on the island you may save money by joining English Heritage. Use this code EH2022 for 15% discount.

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Isle of Wight Beaches

Appley Beach, Iong sandy beach on the Isle of Wight

You can’t visit Isle of Wight and not spend time on at least one of the island’s beaches. They’re perfect for all kinds of activities from relaxing strolls to beach days or for more energetic pursuits like SUP, swimming or kayaking. A visit to the beach is one of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight has a beautiful and varied coastline made up of unspoilt sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, hidden coves and rocky pools. Many Isle of Wight beaches are easy to reach on foot or bike as well as by car, bus or train.

Eleven of the fourteen Isle of Wight beaches have received an ‘excellent’ rating from the Environment Agency and the remaining three are rated ‘Good’. So whether you go rock pooling at Shanklin Chine beach, paddle and build sand castles at Appley beach or surf on West Wight beach, you’ll know that you’re swimming in clean, safe waters.

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The Isle of Wight Coastal Path

Isle of Wight Coastal Path

The Isle of Wight Coastal Path stretches 65-miles around the island and offers scenic views in every direction. The path can be broken down into six sections so whether you are arriving at Yarmouth, Ryde or Cowes, it’s easy to pick up the coastal path nearby.

Get your Ordnance Survey map or download here

You could take the 14-mile walk from Yarmouth to Brightstone to see the Needles Rocks and hunt for fossils, or explore the island’s links to Queen Victoria on the 8-mile walk from Ryde to East Cowes.

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Ventnor Botanic Gardens

Botanical Gardens, Isle of Wight

The island’s famous ‘Undercliff’ is home to Ventnor Botanical Gardens, where sub-tropical plants thrive in the Mediterranean microclimate.

The Gardens’ Tropical House echoes the design trends of Victorian glass houses and contains an impressive collection of succulents, tree ferns, palm trees and other species.

Explore the various temperate zones within the gardens like the South African Terrace, the Olive Grove or the Japanese Garden with its striking red torii arch and bridges.

Once you’ve finished exploring the Gardens, edulis (Latin for edible) restaurant serves up delicious meals featuring ingredients grown on-site, or you could enjoy the view across the Gardens from the Plantation Room Café.

For more information visit https://www.botanic.co.uk

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Steephill Cove

Steephill Cove, Isle of Wight

Just fifteen minutes’ away from Ventnor Botanic Garden lies Steephill Cove, which is one of the best kept secrets on the Isle of Wight and one of the prettiest.

This unspoilt cove is the perfect place to take a dip from the small sandy beach or relax over a locally-caught crab and lobster lunch at the Boathouse Seafood restaurant.

The Crab Shed is where you can buy freshly baked crab pastries to fuel your walk or if something sweet is more to your taste, treat yourself to an indulgent Isle of Wight ice cream or slice of homemade cake at the nearby Cove Coffee Shop.

The Crab Shed, Steephill Cove, Isle of Wight

The walk from Ventnor to Steephill Cove has some lovely views and takes around half an hour. You’ll pass the Spyglass Inn on the western end of Ventor Esplanade. The Spyglass, which overlooks the water, has been voted ‘Best Pub’ on the Isle of Wight for many years in a row and has a fascinating smuggling history.

If you carry on walking past Steephill you’ll get some stunning views on the coastal path as you head towards St Lawrence.

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Red Squirrel Trail

2 children cycling the Strawberry Line trail in Cheddar
Cycling in the Isle of Wight

The Red Squirrel Trail features 32 miles of fairly easy and mainly car-free cycling through the beautiful woodlands, downland and coastline on the Isle of Wight. Much of the trail runs along disused rail tracks.

It’s an ideal route for a 2-3 day cycling tour of the island, spotting red squirrels and other local wildlife and taking in the Isle of Wight attractions, cafes and restaurants along the way.

Alternatively, you could choose a shorter section of the trail to follow on a day or half-day out and if you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty of places to hire one.

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Godshill Village

Godshill, Isle of Wight

The quintessentially English village of Godshill is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful architecture on the Isle of Wight. Its chocolate box thatched cottages, pretty medieval church and winding streets make it a fabulous place to spend an afternoon.

When you’ve finished exploring the village treat yourself to some delicious wares and local produce from the independent shops, cosy pubs and traditional tearooms. There are a lot of tearooms…

Don’t forget to visit Godshill model village, the intricately detailed model village is a popular attraction for visitors to the Isle of Wight. My kids loved feeling like giants when we visited back in the nineties. I understand it’s not changed much since then although my kids definitely have!

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Isle of Wight Steam Railway

Steam Railway on the Isle of Wight

Let the beautifully preserved Isle of Wight Steam Railway take you back to an era of vintage steam engines, elegant period carriages and pretty rural stations.

Friendly staff, dressed in period costume, will guide you on your visit to this bygone time. A blast of the whistle, a puff of steam and you’ll soon be chugging along the tracks.

Most journeys on the railway take around an hour but allow extra time to explore the 1940s restored station at Havenstreet. It’s the main station on the line and you’ll find a museum, locomotive and carriage plus wagon workshops, discovery centre and refreshment rooms.

If you’re looking for a an extra special day out for a steam enthusiast, you could treat them to an exciting ‘footplate experience’. One of the more unusual Isle of Wight things to do.

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Jurassic coast walk and dinosaur fossils

Compton Bay is good for fossil hunting

125 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed what is now the Isle of Wight and their fossilised remains lay hidden below the seafloor for millions of years. But as the soft Wealden clay coastline between Compton and Sandown on the south west coast gradually erodes, it unveils a wealth of dinosaur treasure.

The casts of footprints from over 25 different dinosaur species can be found at low tide, at Hanover Point, Compton and Brook beach.

You can go dinosaur hunting on the Isle of Wight on your own but your best chance of spotting a fossil is to go on one of the regular Jurassic Coast walks organised by local dinosaur experts.

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Try Mermaid Gin

After a long day exploring the island, why not relax with a gin and tonic made with locally distilled Mermaid Gin?

Inspired by ‘mermaid’s kiss’, the local name for rock samphire, Mermaid Gin is hand-crafted on the island. Ten ethically sourced botanicals including organic lemon zest and grains of paradise combine with a fragrant hint of sea air from the rock samphire to create a refreshing serve.

You can sample Mermaid Gin in the Mermaid Bar at the Isle of Wight distillery. I defy you not to pick up a bottle to take home – the gin is fabulous and the bottles are absolutely gorgeous!

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Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight

Carisbrooke Castle is an Isle of Wight top attraction with over 800-years of history behind it. The medieval castle, which is an English Heritage property, stands on a wooded knoll overlooking the pretty village of Carisbrooke.

This well-preserved Saxon fortress has held off attacks from both the French and the Spanish Armada, been a royal summer home and a prison.

King Charles I was incarcerated at Carisbrooke from 1647-1648 as were his youngest son and daughter after his execution.

Today you can visit the bowling green where the King played, walk the castle walls and discover over 30,000 historical exhibits in the castle’s museum.

Pay a visit to Princess Beatrice’s beautiful garden, created as a memorial to her husband Prince Henry of Battenburg.

Book tickets for Carisbrooke Castle. If you plan on joining English Heritage use code EH2022 for a 15% discount.

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Events on the Isle of Wight

There’s always something going on in the Isle of Wight be it a festival, carnival or regatta. You may want to book your trip to coincide with one of them or plan your trip to avoid busy events.

Cowes Week

The Isle of Wight has been host to the yacht races of Cowes Sailing Week since 1826, making it one of the UK’s longest running sporting events. It’s also the oldest sailing regatta in the world.

Cowes Week is traditionally held in early August and the dates vary according to the tides to ensure the best possible racing conditions. Each year around 100,000 visitors watch 1000 boats compete in races for both classic and modern vessels.

Cowes Week 2022 takes place from 30th July to 5th August 2022

The Isle of Wight Festival

With a rich and colourful history that stretches back to the late 1960s, the Isle of Wight Festival is the first major Isle of Wight festival each summer. It has attracted some of the best names in music from the Rolling Stones and David Bowie to The Strokes and Amy Winehouse.

The festival also offers a range of accommodation options including VIP services for those who prefer a more luxurious festival experience!

The Isle of Wight Festival 2022 runs from 16th to 19th June 2022.

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Mardi Gras

The Isle of Wight Mardi Gras celebration is held in Ryde at the end of the summer term each year and takes inspiration from the famous New Orleans festival.

The festival organisers work closely with local schools and colleges to showcase young peoples’ creative flair on a wonderful day out for local residents and visitors alike.

This year’s Isle of Wight Mardi Gras takes place on 9th July 2022 and the theme is “Our World, Our Future”.

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Seagrove, Isle of Wight

How to get to the Isle of Wight

Getting to the Isle of Wight is simple, whether you’re travelling by ferry, hovercraft, coach, car, bike or on foot.

Car Ferries to the Isle of Wight

Up to 200 Isle of Wight ferry crossings run each day from the mainland with Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel making your visit to the island plain sailing.

Red Funnell Isle of Wight ferries depart from Southampton and dock at East Cowes. Crossing time 55 minutes.

Whitelink ferry to the Isle of Wight departs from Portsmouth and docks at Fishbourne. Crossing time 45 minutes and from Lymington to Yarmouth. Crossing time 40 minutes.

Foot Passenger ferries to the Isle of Wight

Whitelink ferries to Isle of Wight depart from Portsmouth Harbour and dock at Ryde Pier Head. Crossing time 22 minutes.

Red Funnell ferries to the Isle of Wight depart from Southampton and dock at Cowes, Isle of wight. Crossing time 25 minutes.

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Travel to the Isle of Wight by Hovercraft

Isle of Wight Hovercraft

Foot passengers can also travel by hovercraft to the Isle of Wight from Southsea (Portsmouth) – it’s the only remaining commercial hovercraft route in the world. Hovercraft is the fastest way to cross the Solent to the Isle of Wight, taking just 10 minutes.

Hovertravel hovercraft to the Isle of Wight departs from Southsea and docks at Ryde Esplanade. Crossing time is a fun 10 minutes.

I went by Hovercraft when I visited last year – it’s a fun way to cross the Solent and fascinating to watch the arrivals and departures.

Book your hovercraft tickets here

Trains

All of the major ferry ports have excellent rail connections which makes it easy to reach the Isle of Wight from all across the UK.

The Portsmouth Harbour to Isle of Wight crossing has train stations next to the ferry terminal on both on the Isle of Wight and the mainland. The Southampton to Cowes crossing offers a free bus to Southampton Central. Southsea, for the hovercraft, is a short bus or taxi ride from the train station or a 20-minute walk.

Inclusive tickets can be purchased to cover both rail and ferry travel and if you’re travelling from London, the journey to most of the ferry ports takes just 2 hours.

It may be worth buying a Network Railcard. The card which costs around £30 gives you a 1/3 discount on rail travel for a whole year and includes the ferry if you book as one journey. Remember to use your final destination when booking to ensure the discount.

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Coaches

Coach travel to the Isle of Wight is easy from both Portsmouth and Southampton, with bus stations located just a short distance from the Isle of Wight ferry terminals. “All in One” tickets are available which cover coach travel to the port, the ferry crossing and a connecting bus service on the Isle of Wight.

National Express coaches travel from cities across the UK to Portsmouth and Southampton. From London Victoria, there are direct services to Portsmouth Harbour during the summer.

You could take a full day trip to the Isle of Wight from London with a guide taking in Shanklin, Godshill plus time free to explore at your leisure.

Getting around the Isle of Wight

If you take a foot passenger ferry or travel by Hovercraft to the Isle of Wight then you’ll need to know how to get around once you arrive…

Isle of Wight Buses

Southern Vectis run the bus service on the Isle of Wight. Newport is the main bus station and has connections across the Island. You’ll often have to take a bus to Newport and change there for your final destination which I did when I visited Osborne House from Ryde and then on to Carisbrooke Castle. It was easy to plan and the buses are fairly frequent so there wasn’t too much hanging around. In the summer months there are open top buses.

There are a range of fare options and saver tickets which help with budgeting and there are good discounts for group travel tickets. If you’re travelling via Newport it’s worth asking for a ‘through ticket’ which can sometimes be cheaper than buying two singles.

Taxi and Hire Car

Taxis are another option or you could hire a car which would save a lot of time and give you more freedom to see as much of the island as possible during your stay. Bear in mind that you’ll also have to fork out for parking and fuel.

Isle of Wight Train Service

There’s a limited train service on the Isle of Wight which is part of the South Western Railway. The service runs from Ryde Pier to Shanklin and stops at Brading, Sandown and Lake.

By Bike

A good way to get around the island is by by bike. If you want to lighten the load then an electric bike is a good option. South Island Cycle Hire will deliver across the whole island.

Where to stay on the Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight Cottage

The Isle of Wight is easy to get around if you have your own car so pick a spot you like the look of and stay there. If you want to see a lot of the island then it’s a good idea to stay in a more central part where you can reach most parts of the island within half an hour.

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So, that’s my guide on the best things to do in Isle of Wight, I hope you’ve found it helpful. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a message. I hope that next time you plan a trip to England’s South Coast you’ll add a day or two on the Isle of Wight to your itinerary.

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