The Isle of Wight is an idyllic island off the south coast of England, boasting plenty of sandy and shingled beaches and awe-inspiring cliffs. There are even hidden coves, should you have an urge to go back in time and turn into one of the Five from Enid Blyton's many books and look for hidden treasures.
That’s not all the Isle of Wight has to offer, however. You’ll find plenty of quaint old villages (hey, the Victorians used to holiday here!) alongside modern attractions.
We spoke to Alix Robinson, who told us: “Often referred to as 'Britain in Miniature,' the Island (as we locals, and even Jane Austen, call the Isle of Wight) boasts 60 miles of heritage coastline, over 500 miles of public footpaths and cycleways, more pubs per square mile than any other English county and over half the Island is classed as An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty."
So what else can you do on the Isle of Wight? What kind of holiday should you plan? Let's explore some of the main attractions on the Isle of Wight so you can book the sort of holiday that suits your taste.
One of the main reasons for holidaying on the Isle of Wight is the beaches.
The beaches are generally divided into those in West Wight and those in East Wight.
West Wight is known for being a surfer's paradise. It’s also home to Compton Bay, which offers fossils galore. You can even see dinosaur footprints at low tide.
In East Wight, you have Ryde, home to some incredibly spacious beaches. These same beaches also offer some of the warmest waters around the island. What's more, the water only slowly gets deeper, so it's perfect for families with children.
There’s also Sandown Beach, which sits on the edge of Sandown and gives you easy access to Shanklin via the flat sea wall or cliff-top path.
There are many smaller beaches, too. You'll find hidden coves here, there, and everywhere and stunning sea views all over the island. You can find some of the more well-known smaller beaches at Ventnor and Steephill Cove in the east and Colwell Bay in the west. They come complete with beach huts and lovely cafes.
The Isle of Wight even has a Beach Check App. That way, you can check if a beach is getting too crowded for your tastes and get other vital information to help you decide what to do.
If you’re more into yachts than beaches, visit Cowes.
Cowes is a small town with about 19,000 residents. It is known for Cowes Week—an annual sporting event with hundreds of boat races. It also hosts Cowes Classic Week, when classic yachts compete in races.
Cowes is where you’ll find Northwood House (if you venture away from the yachts, that is!). Many rich and famous people have hung out at the house, and it makes for a nice visit.
East Cowes is also home to Osborne House, which we'll explore further below. You reach East Cowes via the chain ferry.
If you love boats, Cowes is potentially the best place to holiday on the Isle of Wight.
Most of the Isle of Wight's towns offer traditional hotels and self-catering accommodation. They also have oodles of charm!
Shanklin is a traditional seaside town that tends to top the list when it comes to sunshine hours, so perfect if you're trying to escape the rain!
Shanklin has a theatre, The Rylstone Gardens, with its bandstand offering entertainment in the summer months, and the Big Mead, a big parkland expanse to stroll in.
Last but not least, you have Shanklin Old Village, a picturesque area filled with old thatched houses, cafes and tea rooms, and quirky shops.
If you're looking for old-time charm, Shanklin may be the place to stay for your holiday.
Ventnor is a seaside town, so you won't have to go far to reach the beach. That said, if you're prepared to walk a little, you can visit Steephill Cove, a charming little beach. However, you'll be in for a climb - the town is mostly on the side of a steep hill.
The harbour, the main promenade with its arcade, the Cascade Gardens, and Ventnor Park are also worth a visit.
The Ventnor Botanic Garden offers a lovely place to go for a stroll, as well as some of the biggest specimens of Giant Amazonian Water Lilies in the world, among other things. Due to the Isle of Wight's climate, plants that would normally grow in warmer countries than Britain thrive in the Botanic Garden.
Ventnor Botanic Garden also offers dog-friendly accommodation.
The Blackgang Chine amusement park is a mere six miles away from Ventnor, so if you're bringing children or grandchildren along on holiday, that's mighty handy!
Ventnor is an excellent place to holiday in if you don't mind a bit of a climb, want to be near the seaside and have plenty of gardens to stroll through.
Ryde offers a beach (walk along to Appley Beach for a golden sandy beach), fantastic independent stores, cafes, eateries, and that town vibe that will suit those who prefer a pleasant evening at a restaurant or pub instead of a stroll in the countryside.
If you like history and traditional markets and don't mind being away from the seaside, Ryde is a fantastic option for your holiday.
Ryde may be the biggest town, but nestled in the middle of the island is Newport, the county town of the Isle of Wight. Newport is where the Isle of Wight Festival takes place in June every year.
Independent shops feature here, just as in Ryde. There are also regular markets on St. Thomas Square, including a weekly Farmers Market.
For entertainment, head to one of two theatres, or why not check out Monkey Haven? An animal sanctuary filled with monkeys!
Yarmouth is one of the Isle of Wight's several port towns. It's also where you find the mouth of the River Yar and some of the island's oldest architecture, including Yarmouth Castle.
It's a popular town to stay in, and you'll find plenty of accommodation, cafes, restaurants, and pubs.
Apart from its golden sandy beach, Sandown is home to a zoo inside a fort, Sandham Gardens, and Sandown Pier (with all the traditional amusements). It's also the perfect place to head to the coast to hunt for dinosaur fossils. If fossils are your motivation for visiting the Isle of Wight, this little town could be the perfect place to stay.
We've covered the towns and beaches that lure tourists to the Isle of Wight. But what about other activities and places of interest? Let's look at those!
A literary walk
Poets and Oscar winners alike have lived and breathed the air of the Isle of Wight! That's why the island has a literary walk taking you past landmarks such as Lord Tennyson's estate Farringford and allowing you to figure out what made John Keats come for visits.
Bring your writing pad and go for a stroll!
Apart from awe-inspiring hikes where you search for hidden coves and dinosaur fossils, you can try activities such as clay pigeon shooting, archery, and axe throwing at Tapnell Farm.
Should that sound too exhausting, try The Cow Restaurant and Bar at the farm instead.
Tapnell Farm also offers a range of activities for children, should you have your kids or grandchildren in tow.
For another adventure, you can explore the awe-inspiring Shanklin Chine, whether you enjoy it in full daylight or on a summer night illuminated by thousands of lights.
This gorge is where 40 Marina Commando trained for D-Day, so another excellent stop for lovers of military history.
Want something to entertain the youngsters? Send them off for recreational tree climbing.
You can't visit the Isle of Wight without seeing the Needles. This is a rock formation along the coast where there used to be a military battery. Well, there were two—the old battery and the new battery.
The Needles is where Marconi did his first radio transmission, eventually leading to wireless communication between England and France.
You will find the Marconi Monument at the Needles when you visit.
After World War II, the battery was deactivated and instead, a top-secret missile and rocket centre was built.
Today when you visit the Needles, you can access the Isle of Wight Sweet Manufactory, see glass blowing, go on a boat ride, try the iconic chairlift, and children can go on a Dino Jeep Safari.
During summer, various shows are offered at the Needles.
Things to do on the Isle of Wight for history buffs (and lovers of old monuments)
There are plenty of monuments, forts, castles, and other spots of interest to visit if you like a bit of history! Below are the most famous ones, but you'll find more if you do your research.
Why not visit Carisbrooke Castle and marvel at what life in Britain used to be like back in the day? They also happen to have donkeys roaming about the castle grounds, so if you’re bringing children on your trip, this may be the thing that makes them perk up!
You can also visit a Tudor castle commissioned by Henry VIII—Yarmouth Castle. While the castle is small, it's nice to pop by for a picnic on the lawns, and you'll have excellent views over the Solent.
Not into castles? How about a lighthouse dating back to 1314? The Pepperpot was a lighthouse built as a penance for stealing wine from a grounded ship. It also contains an oratory—St. Catherine's Oratory—so that a priest could attend to its fire.
Fun fact: The Pepperpot is the only surviving lighthouse in England from Medieval times.
Let’s go even further back in time, shall we?! Longstone is a monument marking a tomb from the Stone Age. And you'll find plenty of Bronze Age burial mounds (tumulus) around the island, mainly in Brook Down and Headon Warren.
Victorian places of interest
Then we have Queen Victoria. You can visit her old family home at Osborne Park and her church, St. Mildred’s. There’s even an island trail that takes you around to some of Queen Victoria's favourite spots. And that's another reason to visit the island–there are a ton of trails for walking and biking enthusiasts.
Ventnor Botanic Garden has a Victorian tunnel leading to the sea, which you can explore. Unfortunately, it has little to do with smugglers and more to do with drainage. However, the grounds were home to The National Cottage Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest (later The Royal Hospital for Diseases of the Chest) and boasts plenty of interesting historical facts.
Smugglers were once in force on the Isle of Wight. A new trail has been devised that you can follow to see their most famed hangouts. You can download the map and accompanying history here.
As expressed on the Isle of Wight website: "Poet Sydney Dobell visited the area in 1860 and observed: 'The whole population here are smugglers. Everyone has an ostensible occupation, but no one gets his money by it, or cares to work in it. Here are fishermen who never fish, but always have pockets full of money, and farmers whose farming consists of ploughing deep by night, and whose daily time is spent standing like herons on lookout posts.'"
The Isle of Wight hovercraft
While it may not be a historical monument, the Isle of Wight hovercraft is the last remaining commercial hovercraft service in the world, so why not enjoy a ride? It's just a ten-minute journey from Southsea, in Portsmouth, to Ryde.
A mill, a villa, and a museum
Bembridge Mill is another place to explore if you enjoy the wingbeats of history. Built around 1700, this mill can tell you a lot about the history of windmills.
The Brading Roman Villa highlights other parts of the Isle of Wight's history.
Last but not least, there's the Wight Military and Artifact Museum. Together with the Needles, it's a must for lovers of military history.
Dinosaurs are, of course, of interest to history buffs, but deserve their own section.
The Isle of Wight is a hotspot for finding dinosaur fossils along with the neighbouring Jurassic Coast. Two beaches, Compton Bay - great for seeing dinosaur footprints at low tide - and Yaverland, are particular favourites.
And why not go on a guided walk with a professional palaeontologist?
You can, of course, visit a dinosaur museum, too.
You also have the Dinosaur Expeditions Conservation and Paleoart Centre—housed near Brook.
Speaking of dinosaurs, let’s not forget Blackgang Chine—it’s a lovely theme park for children (and the United Kingdom's oldest theme park at that). The Restricted Area 5 allows children to be dinosaur keepers! So if you're bringing children or grandchildren to the Isle of Wight, a visit to Blackgang Chine is highly recommended. The old amusement park (opened in 1843) is about six miles from Ventnor.
Where to stay?
Want to live in an airstream or cosy little lodge? Perhaps some glamping? Then Whitecliff Bay might be the option for you. Otherwise, try Tapnell Farm or Appuldurcombe Gardens Holiday Park.
Prefer to cosy up by a fire in a holiday cottage? Want to rent a lovely self-catering cottage where you can cook delicacies from the sea? You've come to the right place, especially if you've always wanted to live in a cottage like the one featured in The Holiday.
Don’t fret if you want something a bit more modern, though. There are plenty of modern cottages available, too.
If that’s not for you, how about an 18th-century Coaching Inn? It's probably somewhat more glamorous today than it was back then. That said, The Royal was another coaching inn that housed Queen Victoria. You can stay there, too!
You can also stay in a tree house or wooden cabin.
Want something a bit more traditional—like an en suite room in a hotel? The Clifton offers stunning sea views and an all-around gorgeous locale.
Try The Swiss Cottage in Shanklin for that welcoming guest house/BnB experience.
Of course, you can also rent a holiday home through Airbnb or another provider if you prefer. You can check out a myriad of accommodation options here.
Note that today most accommodation comes with free wifi. Still, you should always check before you book if you need access to the internet, as there are some remote locations on the island.
Pets and nature walks
The Isle of Wight is the perfect holiday for pet lovers. It's easier to bring a pet when using a ferry than a plane, and the many seaside towns are ideal for long walks along the beach with your dog.
And let's not forget there are many sweeping fields and ancient forests to explore! You can find a range of walks to explore here (remember the aforementioned literary walk). Perfect for dog lovers looking for new walks.
When out and about walking, don't forget to have a look at the beautiful, well-maintained public gardens, too.
Don't miss out on hikes like the literary one mentioned above. You also have the Coastal Path from Shanklin to Sandown.
There’s also the Red Squirrel Trail and the Sunshine Trail (this is mainly a cycle trail).
The Botanic Garden in Ventnor welcomes dogs.
You’ll find that many B&Bs and self-catering homes will accept pets. Overall, the Isle of Wight is very pet- and dog-friendly.
Isle of Wight holidays
If you’re tired of country stays in Cornwall and Devon, the Isle of Wight makes for a nice change of scenery. Likewise, renting a self-catering Isle of Wight cottage is ideal if you love a good staycation but would like a change of scenery.
The Isle of Wight is also excellent if you want a short break in the United Kingdom—a fantastic getaway for a long weekend. You can find accommodation that won't break the bank but still enjoy a fulfilling trip.
The Isle of Wight is pet and child friendly but just as lovely for couples, friends, and solo travellers.
Of course, while it is in a micro-climate zone that makes it warmer than much of the rest of England, there is always rain. You can't avoid it in the United Kingdom. However, compared to some places, it'll feel like the riviera!
Overall, the Isle of Wight is a destination filled with natural beauty and country walks. It offers plenty for people interested in history, small-town living, and boating. It's also a fantastic destination if you're bringing children or grandchildren, as there are many child-friendly activities all over the island. In many ways, it's the perfect place to holiday!