Mention the Isle of Wight, and almost immediately, The Needles will come to mind for most people. The Needles are a visual emblem of the island and a famous landmark throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.
Planning a visit to The Needles landmark attraction
The Needles rocks are only accessible by boat, but there is a lot to see and do on the area of the island, which overlooks the rocks, Alum Bay.
You can keep your feet on the ground to enjoy the spectacular view of The Needles, take to the water to get up close, or even experience the rocks from the air. Planning your visit is essential to make the most of all there is to see and do and enjoy fabulous views in the best weather. There are permanent visitor attractions, special shows, and events, so you may find that one day at The Needles isn’t enough.
Take a boat trip
The best way to get close to the rocks is to take a scheduled boat trip. Regular excursions leave from the jetty in Yarmouth so you can get up close and personal with these magnificent structures. Then, look back towards the shore and see spectacular views of the Alum Bay sand cliffs.
There are longer, slower boat rides or shorter, faster trips on a high-speed RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) if you want the thrill of the waves and some added excitement.
The boat trips are run by Needles Pleasure Cruises, with a lazy cruise on the Yarmouth Rose offering excellent views of the rocks and The Needles lighthouse. Informative commentary will enhance your experience, and there is no need to pre-book if your party does not exceed 20 people. The trips are pretty short – around 20 minutes – so even in high summer, you don't usually need to wait too long for a boat ride. Just don't expect to step straight aboard when it is busy! Boat trips are weather permitting and don't run in stormy conditions.
Private charters are available for families who want to experience more of the coastline and island. You can even celebrate a special occasion or enjoy a private party on board, but you will need to book well in advance.
On dry land
Alum Bay has many varied attractions with something to suit all ages, whatever the weather.
Alum Bay Glass is a mixture of museum heritage, artisan craftsmen at work and a stunning gift shop. You can even watch glass being blown by glassmakers using the unique coloured sands for which Alum Bay is famous. You'll also get to enjoy a fascinating running commentary about the process. The gift shop sells the items you have just seen being made, and you can even ask for a bespoke piece to suit your tastes. In addition, there is a small museum which details the history of glassblowing. The shop is free to enter, and there is just a small charge if you want to visit the workshops and watch the glass blowing.
No visit to Alum Bay is complete without making a sand ornament. Since Victorian times, the multi-coloured sands have been collected from Alum Bay and made into souvenirs. The tradition began with gifts made from the sands and presented to Queen Victoria in 1860, starting a custom that continues to this day. The sand shop has pre-filled handcrafted designs created by an in-house sand expert. Sand is only collected from natural cliff falls, so there may not always be every one of the 21 colours available.
The Isle of Wight Sweet Manufactory is a destination anyone with children or grandchildren will love, although the many traditional favourites from yesteryear will appeal to all age groups. Watch the sweets being made, and then best of all, sample the results!
From the air
Another way to experience the spectacular Alum Bay scenery and the famous Needles rocks is with the island chairlift. Travel from the top of Alum Bay cliffs to Alum Bay beach below and enjoy fantastic views of the headland, the Needles rocks and the lighthouse, plus the unique multi-coloured sands of the bay.
The Isle of Wight is famous for its dinosaur heritage and is well known as one of the best areas for fossil discovery along the south coast, if not in Europe. Not for nothing is the Isle of Wight known as Dinosaur Island.
The Jurassic Adventure Golf Course will appeal to younger family members. It's a beautifully designed course with imaginative water features and storyboards to teach children about the 11 different dinosaur species.
The golf course is part of a selection of fairground rides which are a great way to keep younger family members entertained and allow them to let off steam.
Concerts and special events
During the height of the tourist season, there are regular concerts and events, including family entertainment, live music, magic displays and the iconic pyrotechnic displays, “Music and Magic in the Skies”, the perfect way to round off a day spent on the beach and visiting all the attractions.
Something for history buffs
The Needles also has its own former military battery. In 1863, a military battery - Old Battery - was built to guard the West end of the Solent from enemy ships. In 1885, a tunnel was dug from the cliff face towards the parade grounds. Then, in 1887, an elevator down to the beach was installed. The site was used to experiment with searchlights in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and a searchlight was installed in 1899. The site of Old Battery is now owned and managed by the National Trust and showcases the Victorian battery used during the Second World War.
A new battery was built higher up the cliff in 1895 due to concerns about crumbling and subsidence from the continued activity. Both batteries are Grade II listed and were used in both world wars, with the guns at the batteries firing on German torpedo boats attempting night-time landings during the Second World War.
Marconi, the famous broadcaster, established wireless communication between England and France in 1899. Although the wireless stations have now gone, a permanent memorial remains to remember the pioneering work of the Italian engineer.
Facilities and hospitality
The clifftop area is described as Needles Park, and there are a wide variety of hospitality options, whether you want a snack on the go or something more substantial.
There is an emphasis on local produce and fresh island ingredients with a café and licensed tearooms plus a variety of food and drink kiosks dotted about.
The Marconi Licensed Tearooms offer a range of snacks and light meals, with dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. There is also Café Marconi, which is larger and with plenty of outdoor seating for al fresco dining. Café Marconi offers excellent value family meal deals, which are available daily throughout the holiday season. A family of four can usually eat for under £20.
The Needles history and geology
The Needles rocks consist of three distinctive stacks of chalk and are one of the most photographed groups of rocks in the world, as well as the hallmark of the Isle of Wight.
There used to be four rocks, not three, and if you are wondering how the Needles rocks got their name, it is from the fourth missing rock, which was shaped like a needle. This rock was known as 'Lot's Wife'.
Rather infamously, Lot's Wife was turned into a pillar of salt in the Bible, which looked rather like the missing white stack that collapsed in a massive storm in 1794. However, the name remained.
The Needles might look at odds with the rest of the Isle of Wight, but they are the tip of a band of chalk that crosses the centre of the island. The chalk ridge continues under the sea to the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.
The National Trust bought the Needles in 1975, so they could be protected for posterity and for everyone to enjoy.
Planning your trip to The Needles
The Needles are a unique attraction in the UK and Europe, and a visit can be as simple as marvelling at the views, enjoying the history and geology of the area or one of the many visitor attractions. For beachgoers, Alum Bay has a lovely sandy beach for family days in the sun with a bucket and spade, with clifftop attractions a stone's throw away if the weather turns nasty.
Planning ahead will allow you to take advantage of supersaver discount tickets for lower prices on various attractions. There is enough variety at Alum Bay to keep all ages engaged and occupied, and most families find it is a location they visit several times rather than just once.
Out-of-season is invariably quieter than the height of summer, so always double-check the opening times of the attractions as they may change. However, expect lots of people during high season as The Needles is one of the Isle of Wight’s most popular visitor locations.