The Isle of Wight is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is just one of seven UK sites to bear this prestigious status (others include the Isle of Man, North Devon and Biosffer Dyfi). There is plenty to do on the Isle of Wight. Choose from family-friendly campgrounds, hike along coastal trails between quaint villages and enjoy sightseeing at a number of attractions. Here is our pick for the best things to do on the Isle of Wight.
The information in this article is inspired by Pocket Rough Guide British Breaks Isle of Wight, your essential guide for visiting the Isle of Wight.
How to get to the Isle of Wight
Situated just off the south coast of England, the Isle of Wight is the largest island in the country.
- Wightlink ferries serve three routes: Lymington to Yarmouth (40mins), Portsmouth to Fishbourne (45mins) and Portsmouth to Ryde (foot passengers only; 22mins). Well-behaved dogs travel free!
- Red Funnel catamarans run between Southampton to West Cowes (foot passengers only; 25mins) and East Cowes (55mins). There’s a free shuttle bus service from Southampton Central train station to the Southampton Ferry Terminal.
- The fastest – and most unique – way to reach the island is by hovercraft, which serves between Southsea (Portsmouth) and Ryde (foot passengers only; 10mins).
Getting around the island
Planning on leaving the car at home? It really couldn’t be easier to get around the Isle of Wight. Buses are modern and efficient, and wind their way through steep narrow roads, past rolling countryside and along the seafront, all making for unexpectedly scenic sightseeing tours in their own right. Hop-on hop-off open-top buses operate during the high season.
There are two rail lines on the island. The Island Line (whose trains are made up of former London Underground carriages) runs between Ryde Pier and Shanklin. The second, and most scenic, line is the Isle of Wight Steam Railway; technically a tourist attraction, it still helps you to get around parts of the island.
Rental cars are another viable option. Go for something electric (and therefore environmentally friendly) if you can. With an absence of motorways on the island, driving around the Isle of Wight takes you via some wonderfully scenic routes, from large stretches of quiet countryside to horizon-lined coastal views.
In fact, getting around by foot or public transport not only contributes to responsible travel but also saves you a few pennies. An increasing number of attractions (such as Goodleaf Tree Climbing in Ryde) offer discounted tickets for those who have travelled by sustainable means.
Best things to do on the Isle of Wight
Newtown Nature Reserve
It’s hard to believe that Newtown once served as the island’s capital. Today, it’s best known for its expansive Nature Reserve. In the 1960s the reserve almost became a nuclear power station, but this was thwarted thanks to local intervention. Visitors to this National Trust site today can appreciate its medieval field patterns, with carpets of meadows, tall wildflowers, and ancient woodland and harbourside walks.
The Isle of Wight is hailed as the “dinosaur capital of Britain” thanks to the impressive range of fossils that have been – and continue to be – discovered, dating back millions of years. It’s not just for history buffs, though. Kids and adults alike can enjoy walking across Compton Bay at low tide, where dinosaur footprints appear. There are various informative guided walks and talks, so you can really suss out your flint from your fossil.
The honey-coloured, Italianate villa-style Osborne House was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s family holiday home and later became the Queen’s permanent residence after Albert’s death in 1861.
Visit this English Heritage site today and gaze across the sprawling landscaped gardens overlooking the Solent, visit the beach where the royals liked to bathe and follow the one-way system inside the house to take in the Grand Corridor, formal State Rooms and Indian-style Durbar Wing.
Shanklin Old Village
Yes, parts of the Isle of Wight still look rather old-fashioned. But this comes into its own in seaside Shanklin’s Old Village, with its centuries-old thatched cottages, traditional sweet shops, twee tearooms and one of the best beaches in the UK.
As you simply stroll along the winding road, stop for afternoon tea at the icing-pink Old Thatch Teashop, tuck into a hearty Sunday roast at The Village Inn and swing by Pencil Cottage for a souvenir. The romantic poets Keats and Longfellow used to buy their writing stationery here, hence the shop’s name.
The Garlic Farm
Some four miles southeast of Newport, the Garlic Farm makes for a fun day out, with farm tours of Arreton Valley available by foot or tractor. If you want to take some of the good stuff back home with you, choose from garlic-infused ice cream, mayonnaise and even vodka.
Their on-site cafe and restaurant serve up garlic-infused dishes (no surprises there) – just remember a packet of chewing gum for wherever you’re going afterwards…
This museum was once the home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whose subjects included the likes of Charles Darwin. Following a circular one-way route, take in the displays of her photography and equipment, as well as iconic photography and memorabilia from the Isle of Wight festivals.
With advance booking, hand sanitiser points and positioned next door to Tennyson Down, this is another way to sightsee from a social distance and embrace the fresh air afterwards. Don’t miss the Jimi Hendrix statue in the front garden, either.
Wildheart Animal Sanctuary
Situated at the northern end of the Esplanade, and built into the walls of a Victorian fort, the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary houses one of Britain’s largest collections of tigers, including some endangered species that are virtually extinct in the wild. It’s also home to panthers and other big cats, as well as some frisky lemurs, monkeys and reptiles.
Just southwest of Newport lies one of the Isle of Wight’s greatest attractions, the hilltop fortress of Carisbrooke Castle. This austere Norman keeps the most famous visitor Charles I, who was detained here prior to his execution in London.
The museum at the centre of the castle shows off many relics from his incarceration, and there is also the Edwardian-style Princess Beatrice Garden, named after Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. The castle’s other notable curiosity is the sixteenth-century well-house which features resident donkeys. Visitors can also walk around the well-preserved battlements, basking in the spectacular views over the island.
The award-winning Monkey Haven is a primate rescue centre housing various monkeys as well as owls, tortoises, meerkats and reptiles (including Teddy, a retired bearded dragon). There are keeper talks throughout the day and opportunities to get up close with the animals, and there’s also a café on site.
Seagrove Bay is a beautiful beach located on the northeastern coast of the Isle of Wight. The beach is popular for its stunning views of the Solent Strait and the mainland beyond.
Although Seagrove Bay is a relatively small beach, it offers a range of beach amenities, including public toilets, a cafe and a shop selling beach equipment and supplies. During the summer months, the beach is patrolled by lifeguards, making it a safe haven for families.
Ventnor Botanic Gardens
Some 22 landscaped acres of flourishing subtropical vegetation await you at the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. The plants grow naturally due to the mild microclimate of the south-facing Undercliff. Ventnor’s climate is similar to the Mediterranean, so a variety of subtropical plants prosper here that wouldn’t on mainland Britain. You’ll also find a lovely restaurant and café on-site to break the day up with.
Outside of London, England is known for its countryside full of history, picturesque villages, patchwork hills, and winding country roads. Explore the countryside with its castles, parks, and historical cities with our tailor-made Refreshing English Countryside Break.
Best hotels in the Isle of Wight
There’s a wide variety of accommodation options available on the Isle of Wight. Treat yourself to spacious rooms with a sea view at Foresters Hall, or hunker down in one of Farringford’s self-catering cottages set amid a historic estate. With plenty of spacious and self-catering accommodation options, you can really stretch out at a safe distance.
- Jireh House. This 17th-century guesthouse has a popular downstairs tearoom.
- Royal Esplanade Hotel. Situated along Ryde’s seafront esplanade and overlooking the Hovercraft terminal, this hotel is in a superb location.
- The Caledon Guest House. Provides free bus passes for guests – which is pretty handy, as the bus stop is directly outside.
- Channel View Hotel. Set in Shanklin, 300 m from Shanklin Beach, Channel View Hotel offers accommodation with a shared lounge, free private parking, a terrace and a restaurant.
- Weston Manor. This charming manor house is set within a National Trust Heritage Site, dating from 1871 and featuring its own chapel.
Here are some of the best options around the island:
Best camping spots in the Isle of Wight
There are plenty of campgrounds spread across the Isle of Wight, from luxury tree houses to award-winning holiday parks. Most offer a wide range of facilities, views and camping options, so it’s an easy way to embrace all things outdoors.
- St Helens: Nodes Point Holiday Park. Excellent position overlooking Bembridge Bay.
- Newport: Tom’s Eco Lodge. Go glamping by a tent, cabin, pod, dome or unique “modulog”.
- Yarmouth: Orchards Holiday Park. Check out their decent package deals.
- Wroxall: Appuldurcombe Gardens Holiday Park. Set amid 14 acres of secluded grounds, with the countryside beyond.
Best walks on the island
Lace yer boots – the Isle of Wight is prime hiking and walking (and cycling) territory. Here are some of the best walks to take on the Isle of Wight:
Tennyson Down to the Needles headland: This seven-mile, moderate southwest route stretches from Tennyson Down to the Needles. Following cliff-top paths and signposts, highlights of this walk include a Celtic stone cross commemorating the Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the old defensive forts of New Battery and Old Battery.
This is one of the most scenic walks on the island, as you overlook Alum Bay from the headland and across to the white chalk stacks which make up the iconic Needles. Wind your way back following a parallel path and finish at Dimbola Lodge, where you can take a break in their tearoom.
Best of Niton: Enjoy a continuously changing view of the wildlife and coast on this slightly challenging 3.5-mile-long walk, focusing on the south coast of the island. Pass along grassy tracks and, at Knowles Farm, check out the memorial plaque to Marconi, an electrical engineer and inventor. Venture slightly uphill to reach the respite-worthy Buddle Inn pub, before continuing along towards picturesque Niton village.
Sandown to Ryde: This moderate 12-mile route takes in the buckets-and-spade towns of Sandown and Ryde along the east coast. Start off from Sandown Beach, taking in the long stretches of sand, before passing through Bembridge Harbour, with yacht masts clinking in the nearby marina.
There are smart houses to ogle in Seaview before the coastal path continues straight onto Ryde; take in the mainland views of the Spinnaker Tower and more of Portsmouth to your right.
Ryde to East Cowes: If you fancy a historic walk, choose this easy 8-mile route, covering the northern part of the island. Start in Ryde, cross over Wootton Bridge and pass through Whippingham, which houses a small church that Queen Victoria frequented. You’re not far from Osborne House if you want to take a small detour, otherwise, end the route in East Cowes at the Classic Boat Museum Gallery.
Alternatively, catch the minute-long floating bridge to West Cowes and stretch those legs further until you reach the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the oldest and most prestigious sailing clubs in the world.
Ready for a trip to the Isle of Wight? Check out the snapshot of the Pocket Rough Guide British Breaks Isle of Wight or The Rough Guide to England.
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