Visiting the Isle of Wight has become much more popular in recent years. Even without the pandemic making UK holidaymakers book staycations in their droves, the Isle of Wight had started to become a popular destination for those living in the south east of England. Visitors didn't want to bother with the traffic jams that driving to Devon or Cornwall would mean. So instead, they started jumping on the hovercraft or ferry at Portsmouth following a drive or train journey and took a short trip across the water.
What made it stay high on the list of most popular destinations in the UK is that it can hold its own when it comes to offering a vast range of things to do. The small island off the south coast of England has a treasure trove of activities for all ages. So whether you're on the island for a relaxed few days away or have ventured over the Solent for an action-packed adventure holiday, the Isle of Wight will have something for you.
There is no shortage of things to do if you are looking for a family-friendly holiday, a romantic sea view restaurant recommendation or ideas for outdoor activities - there's so much more to the island than just the Isle of Wight Festival! Read on to learn more about the best Isle of Wight beaches, what each town has to offer, and a few suggestions for perfect days out on your visit. It will have you wanting to return time and again.
Fantastic sights and attractions on the Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight's attractions are varied. There's a tremendous amount of history here, but if theme parks and zoos are more your thing, then the island has more than enough for you to do too.
The Needles and Alum Bay
No Isle of Wight recommendations would be complete without talking about the Needles - arguably the Isle of Wight's most recognisable landmark. Visitors can view the Needles by taking a journey on the chairlift, which takes you on a route past the beautiful coloured sand cliffs and then down onto the beach.
If you want to get even closer to the Needles themselves, you can jump on one of the boats down by the pier on the beach, which forms part of Alum Bay. Alternatively, you can enjoy the view from the beautiful bay that awaits you once you step off the lift.
You can also enjoy many other attractions down by the Needles; there's a dino jeep safari, adventure golf, a sweet factory demonstration and a teacup ride - among many other things. It’s a day out all in itself.
Carisbrooke Castle is in the village of Carisbrooke - near the town of Newport. It's a quiet place and a must-see for history buffs. The site dates back to Roman times, and Charles I was imprisoned for 14 months before his execution.
Now, the castle is maintained and controlled by English Heritage. It is possible to stay there in a flat that English Heritage has converted from staff quarters. While there are no bright lights or boutique coffee shops on offer here, the grounds are quintessential England - affording good views of the island while visitors are often enthralled by the historical importance of the building that remains in excellent condition for its age.
Isle of Wight Steam Railways
Even those who aren’t train enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Isle of Wight Steam Railways. Set between Ryde and Newport, the award-winning attraction will appeal to adults and kids alike as you board the trains run by accommodating and attentive staff.
The train ride will give you one of the best views of the stunning countryside, yet many people also choose to stay for a few hours at its start - Havenstreet Station. The station houses an indoor museum telling the story of how the steam train started. There's also a falconry display that nature lovers will adore, a woodland walk, a children's playground and the all-important tea room.
If you want to make your railway trip even more unique, you can book a first-class experience on the train, making you feel like you're an extra on Downton Abbey. You'll travel in luxury with polished woodwork and sparkly clean brass handles. You can sit back and enjoy the view while enjoying your lunch - a hamper full of sandwiches, cakes and prosecco. It's a fantastic idea for celebrating a birthday or anniversary that falls during your trip.
The Garlic Farm
For foodies, a visit to the Garlic Farm is an absolute must. You can see all the different ways to use garlic - not just as a flavouring in pasta dishes, but as a chutney, beer, and even ice cream. The farm also shows you where it comes from and how to grow your own.
There's more to the farm than just growing garlic, though. You can walk around the farm and see the cattle, pigs, horses, peacocks, and, if you're lucky, a red squirrel or two. Of course, as expected, the onsite restaurant cooks up an absolute storm so you can try out some of the delicious produce you can buy in the shop.
Another one for history lovers, Appuldurcombe House is an imposing building - once named the grandest house on the Isle of Wight. It’s a brilliant example of English Baroque architecture, though the inside is now unused. The grounds remain beautiful thanks to being landscaped by Capability Brown at the end of the 18th century.
Its seedy past is always a good conversation topic. The owners of Appuldurcombe House became embroiled in an infamous court case where the mistress of the house, Lady Seymour Worsley, admitted to having had 27 lovers. Quite the scandal back in the late 1700s!
Godshill Model Village
The attention to detail at Godshill Model Village always bowls over visitors. With a working railway track, some model tigers and even miniature dinosaurs, there is something for everyone to see here. It's built on the grounds of the Old Vicarage, with its beautifully landscaped gardens. Having been brought back to life in the 1960s, there is something very retro about a visit here. The gardens are within the RHS Partner Garden programme, so even if the miniature versions of the towns of Shanklin and Godshill do not interest you, it is very easy to relax within the pretty surroundings.
If you are arriving on the island via ferry to Fishbourne, you’ll see Quarr Abbey, which is still home to Benedictine monks. It's possible to visit the Abbey up close, where guests can walk around the pretty grounds and soak up the peace and quiet. There's also an art gallery on site where artists local to the island can display their artwork. You can also enjoy the bookshop which sells books written by monks who have lived at Quarr abbey - though you can also buy more traditional style souvenirs.
If you decide to visit the Abbey, you'll find that the visitor centre is full of information that will help you get the most out of your visit. You'll also find a teashop with locally roasted coffee and tables outside so you can eat an al fresco afternoon tea and enjoy the grounds. The food here is made, in part, by food grown at the Abbey's allotments. It's also delicious, so you'll often find that the teashop is frequented heavily by locals.
Finally, the Abbey’s farm shop means you can purchase local produce to take home with you, whether you're returning to a self-catering holiday let or immediately jumping in the car back to the mainland. Particular favourites are the jams, chutneys and Quarr Abbey honey.
Osborne House, in East Cowes, is a stunning building. Once the summer home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the building's architectural design is very different from many of the UK's other palaces and stately homes. It is thought Albert designed the house himself, though the architect behind the front of Buckingham Palace is also said to have been a big helping hand.
Like Carisbrooke Castle, the site is now run by English Heritage, meaning the Victorian property is well maintained. Even children will like a day out here as the gardens provide the perfect place to run around and have a picnic. Adults will enjoy meandering the halls of the enormous property and viewing some stunning interiors. For instance, the decor of the Durbar room, heavily influenced by traditional Indian interiors, is a must-see. The private apartment, including what would have been Queen Victoria's bedroom, her children's nursery, and the Royal bathrooms, can always pique the interest of even the staunchest republicans.
Blackgang Chine is an adventure park and playground near Rocken End Beach on the island's south side. Touted as the UK's oldest amusement park, this attraction claims to take visitors out of everyday life and into a world of magic. Kids will love it thanks to the massive number of rides that appeal to many ages. From gently undulating water slides to nail-biting roller coasters, Blackgang Chine has the potential to bring out the inner child in almost anyone.
It's a great theme park to visit any time of year. At Easter, the park puts on a dino-themed easter egg hunt, while if you visit in May, you can dance your socks off at the huge summer party that organisers throw. If you're on the island over the October half-term, the park is adorned with spooky Halloween decorations.
The Blackgang Chine company also owns Robin Hill Country Park just downriver at Newport. It's got plenty of rides, too and a vast expanse of space within its 88-acre plot.
Tapnell Farm Park
Tapnell Farm has something for everyone of any age. With a farm, an aqua park, foot golf, target sports and a maize maze, this is a great place to head whatever the weather. The aqua park is an enormous inflatable obstacle course with giant free-fall slides and jumps. The farm park has animals galore, from sheep to wallabies, but also a soft play area, pedal karts, trampolines and jumping pillows.
The foot golf course is a trend waiting to catch on. It's exactly as the name suggests - a golf course where you kick a football around to get it into the holes. If that doesn't appeal, there are plenty of shooting activities like clay pigeon practice or the rifle range. Finally, the maize maze is a lot of fun, where you try to find the middle like a traditional maze. It provides the backdrop for some fantastic photo opportunities!
Monkey Haven offers more than just being able to pet monkeys. The award-winning primate rescue centre is a lovely place to visit where you'll be able to see lots of monkeys and also a handful of other species. So head here if you want to see meerkats, reptiles, birds of prey and even the singing lar gibbons.
Plus, there are other facilities on site too. There are two play areas for children; one suitable for toddlers and under 5s, and another for over 5s. For adults, there is the tea room and the ice cream shack, which is a great place to visit at the end of your trip.
Most families with small children will have at least one palaeontology wannabe, making Dinosaur Isle - a dinosaur museum - an absolute must-see. However, even those who don’t love dinosaurs will find it interesting to visit here. The museum has plenty of fantastic interactive exhibits, but it also manages to educate people of all ages. A very popular section is the robotic dinosaur that visitors can control themselves.
Based in Sandown, the museum is easy to get to and is good value with plenty of dinosaur skeletons on show. The emphasis here is on demonstrating the sorts of giant animals that would have roamed the Isle of Wight over 100 million years ago. The displays themselves are well put together and well thought out - hitting the right balance between being lifelike yet not too scary for little children who may frighten easily.
Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary
The clue to what to expect at this attraction is in the name, but it won't just appeal to donkey fanatics. The charity is trying to achieve a better standard of care for homeless or unwanted donkeys. Even those who don't love donkeys will find it hard not to be won over by these gentle creatures’ big brown eyes and hilarious noises.
If that still does not make the place appeal to you, there's free entry and free parking, plus a beautiful cafe in a converted barn. Guests are welcome to bring a picnic, and the site is dog friendly. Children will learn a lot here, thanks to the informative signposts around the sanctuary's trail and a donkey spotting sheet they can use to find their favourites!
Isle of Wight beaches
There are plenty of sandy beaches around the island, with the seafront providing a backdrop for a day dedicated to watersports or simply sitting down and reading a book. Here are some of the island’s best beaches that the island has to offer. If you’re a dog owner, not all of them are dog-friendly year-round, with restrictions usually being seasonal. So be sure to check if you plan on visiting the island with your dog between April and September.
Totland bay is a mostly pebble beach on the island's north shore. It has a great view of the Dorset coast and is near the popular town of Totland. Visitors can use the coastal path that runs along the beach to reach the old lifeboat house at Widdick Chine. There are also several cafes along the promenade serving lovely fresh seafood.
Bembridge is on the east side of the island. It's popular because of the large sandbank that goes all the way into the Solent during a low tide. Visitors love the large number of water sports on offer here, while kids will love finding little creatures on the sand and simply the magic of a much larger, sandier beach appearing.
Freshwater Bay is on the island's west side, just south of the town of Freshwater. It's a pebble beach, which may not be everyone's favourite, but the bay remains picturesque and highly recommended for a visit. There is some sand at some points down the eastern side of the bay and at certain times of the tide, but its main attraction is the colossal chalk cliffs that overlook it.
Isle of Wight towns
For such a small island, the island manages to pack in several towns that all seem to have their own character. From the pretty coastal village of Yarmouth to the behemoth ferry port town of Cowes, it's worth visiting many of the island's urban areas.
Ryde is a great town to head to for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it has a vast sandy beach yet all the amenities of a large town. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes here, several independent boutiques, and traditional high street shops. The restaurants naturally have a great deal of seafood on the menu, but even if you don't like traditional fish and chips, you'll be able to find something to eat amongst the wide range of cuisines on offer.
Shanklin is on the island's east side and remains popular thanks to its large beach with a dramatic cliff backdrop. It's possible to hire the quintessential English beach hut here, but there are many water sports on offer too. Perhaps most notably, Shanklin chine is here - home to many different types of rare plants and a pretty waterfall, making it the lovely place to head for a morning or afternoon walk. Its old village is charming thanks to its thatched cottages and tea rooms.
Sandown is just north of Shanklin, yet it has its own character. Home to Dinosaur Isle, Sandown also has many other things to offer, like its stunning bay taking in a vast expanse of yellow golden sand. It also has a pier, which provides fantastic views of the bay. However, being home to Dinosaur Isle is no accident. One of the most popular activities around Sandown is looking for dinosaur fossils.
Cowes is arguably the Isle of Wight's most famous town, thanks to the Cowes Week sailing regatta. Cowes comprises both Cowes and East Cowes on the other side of the estuary. It's a large town with plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry. It also has several independent clothing stores and home decor shops.
If you like sailing but feel overwhelmed by the size of Cowes, head to Yarmouth. The village feel of Yarmouth harbour does not reflect the size of the town - or indeed the harbour, which is home to countless boats and yachts. One of the island's ferry routes stops here, so many visitors stay over in Yarmouth. Still, its real draw is the view from the town back over the Solent, in addition to boasting some of the best restaurants on the island.
Ventnor is on the island's south coast and has an imposing seafront high up on the hills - with the beach access down steep steps or via road. Recently it added the bandstand development, which is a perfect place to look out to see before heading to its fishery to purchase the freshest crab and lobster. It’s also home to Ventnor Botanic Garden, a tranquil place to while away an hour or two. Thanks to the microclimate in this part of the island, you can even see sub-tropical plants there!
Visiting the Isle of Wight
As you can see from this extensive list of things to do, the Isle of Wight is awash with activities for any age or interests. Even if you don't want to partake in any of the watersports or visit the theme parks, animal sanctuaries, or stately homes on the island, you can sit on the beach and marvel at the natural beauty around you. Plus, the food and drink scene on the Isle of Wight is phenomenal - partly thanks to the presence of so much locally grown produce and the easily sourced seafood!
There are also plenty of places to stay on the island, so it's easily adaptable for all budgets. And, as there is so much to do there, it doesn't mean it is only a summer holiday destination. The Isle of Wight is suitable at any time of year. In the summer, you can spend lots of time outdoors, whereas, in the winter, you can hole up in any of its great pubs after a bracing coastal walk.