The Isle of Wight is an island and county five miles (8 km) off the southern coast of England. The island has long been an excellent place for an upmarket but traditional seaside holiday, with beaches and towns that were very popular in Victorian times. It has become a must-visit destination for young people seeking watersports and outdoor activities generally. Cowes is a famous yachting centre and attracts the 'London set' together with members of the worldwide sailing fraternity during Cowes Week in August.
The island has a similar atmosphere to Guernsey or Jersey yet is much closer to the mainland and is three times the size. Despite being only 6 miles (10 km) across the sea from Portsmouth and 15 miles (25 km) from Southampton it is a world apart in terms of scenery, culture and pace of life. Known as "England In Miniature" it offers an incredible variety with the landscape changing dramatically in the space of a few miles and each town and village offering something different. Beaches are fantastic and the water quality is good.
- 1 Newport – the county town (administrative centre) in the centre of the island on the River Medina. On the outskirts is Carisbrooke Castle
- 2 Bembridge – on the eastern tip
- 3 Cowes & East Cowes – two towns at the northern tip, separated by the River Medina
- 4 Freshwater – in the west
- 5 Ryde – the largest town; on the north-east coast nearest to Portsmouth
- 6 Sandown and Shanklin – on the south-east coast
- 7 Ventnor – at the south end
- 8 Wootton Bridge
- 9 Yarmouth – in the west
Historically the local economy has moved from being dependent on smuggling and farming to tourism with the coming of the railways. There is also considerable light engineering and yacht building.
The local newspaper is the Isle of Wight County Press, which sells 23,000 copies to a population of 140,000 (2017), and is published from Newport every Friday. Any event will be advertised here. There are car boot sales nearly every day in summer advertised here.
Thanks to a southerly latitude and sheltered location, many parts of the Isle of Wight enjoy a mild and sunny climate. The south-east of the island in particular is known for its high sunshine records and warm air. June to September are the warmest months.
|Isle of Wight|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
There is over a century's worth of proposals to create a fixed link between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, but nothing has ever materialised. Most visitors will need to rely on ferry service to and from the island.
By ferry or hovercraft
Access is across the Solent, a narrow stretch of sea between the mainland and the island, by regular ferry, hovercraft or fast-cat. Many of the ferries carry cars, but this can be expensive; the alternative is to leave the car behind and use buses and trains on the island, but this will limit access to more rural locations and beaches. Car tickets are for car plus four passengers and depending on the size of your party bringing a car may actually work out cheaper than the passenger ferry. Hovercraft and fast cat fares are comparable. The cat connects better with trains, while the hovercraft is better for onward journeys by bus or car. Prices for crossing the Solent increase for the fare with the length of the stay, and you may find two single tickets are a better bet than a long-period return. With the hovercraft you can reserve a seat on a specific crossing, which is useful if you are travelling in the summer holidays or at rush hour. If taking a car on a vehicle ferry, it's strongly advised to book in advance, and is essential during the summer holidays.
The major ferry routes and trip durations from the mainland to the island are:
- Wightlink passenger catamaran – Portsmouth Harbour rail station to Ryde Pier Head; 15 min; adult £11.50, day return £16.50, period return £18. Ryde terminal is within Ryde Pier Head train station. Portsmouth terminal lies inside Portsmouth Harbour train station. Outside of Portmsouth Harbour station you can find numerous local and national express buses. There is no bus service to Ryde Pier Head, but there is (expensive, gate controlled) car parking. There's no car parking facilities at Portsmouth Harbour. It's also possible to walk and cycle down the pier.
- Wightlink car ferry – Portsmouth to Fishbourne (near Ryde); 45 min. There is no public transport to either terminal.
- Wightlink car and passenger ferry – Lymington to Yarmouth on the west end of the island; 40 min. Lymington terminal is directly connected to the Lymington Pier train station. Yarmouth terminal is served by the #7 bus route, along with a "Breezer" open top bus in summer running to the Needles.
- Red Funnel Red Jet passenger catamaran – Southampton Town Quay to west Cowes; 25 min; adult £14.40. The West Cowes terminal is served by the #1 bus to Newport, while Town Quay has a dedicated shuttle bus to the city centre and Southampton Central train station. Be aware there is no easy access to the National Express bus station (it involves a walk through the Asda supermarket and a lift down the multistorey carpark - if you have luggage definitely consider a taxi)
- Red Funnel car and passenger ferry – Southampton Town Quay to east Cowes; 55 min. The East Cowes terminal is in the town centre. From the Waitrose supermarket just across the mini roundabout, bus #5 runs to newport, and #4 to Ryde. The Southampton terminal is served by the same shuttle service as the Red Jet (see above)
- Hovertravel passenger hovercraft. Southsea (Portsmouth) to Ryde 10 min. Using the service of Hovertravel will give you the unique chance to ride or fly in a hovercraft, as the route across the Solent is the world's only commercial passenger hovercraft. Adult £19, day return £24.50, period return (for 90 days) £32. . At Southsea, National Express and local buses stop directly across the road from the hoverport, and there is a council run large long stay car park also directly opposite. At Ryde, there is a large council run long-stay car park directly outside the terminal, and a footbridge over the railway line connecting directly to both Ryde bus station (numerous services) and Ryde Esplanade train station. Note the footbridge has no lift. If you have luggage, turn left (toward the ice rink) and walk ~100m and you can cross the line without stairs, as the railway drops into a tunnel.
Whilst on the ferry pick up a free guide of things to do and if possible another of places to eat. These are updated twice a year and give useful information and phone numbers.
At Portsmouth/Southsea for an extra fee of £1.50 Hoverbus will take you between the Hovercraft terminus at Southsea and Portsmouth & Southsea station via Portsmouth Harbour station. On the Isle of Wight Hovertravel's terminal is in Ryde next to the bus station at the seafront (use overpass across the railway tracks), while the Wightlink catamaran calls at the far end of Ryde Pier, requiring a 700-yard (630-m) walk ashore (unless you get picked up by private car, or ride the train).
The island is covered by a wide but expensive bus network (by the standards of a rural area) run by Southern Vectis, including spectacular open-top services in West Wight and near Ryde. Tickets can be bought from drivers and options include singles (minimum price of £2.50), "rover" passes(adult price of £10 for one day, £15 for two), evening "NightRider" passes (£7 after 7PM), and various discounts to cater to students and the island's retired population. Most buses start from either Ryde Bus Station (on the beach by the hoverport, and integrated into Ryde Esplanade rail station) or Newport Bus Station (in Newport town centre). If you need to transfer between buses, ask for a ticket to your final destination, and you can get a ticket right through.
Island buses also operates Breezer and Steamer buses during the summer season to take tourists to various destinations and attractions. Concession passes are not valid on these services, but "Rover" or "Freedom" unlimited ride tickets can be used.
- Needles Breezer
- Downs Breezer
- Island Coaster
- Shanklin Steamer
The Island Line is operated as part of the larger South-Western Railway franchise, and is part of the regular ticketing system. All trains from the catamaran ferry terminal at Ryde Pier Head depart to Shanklin twice hourly (though on an unusual 20 minute/40 minute pattern, due to the track layout) calling at:
- Ryde Esplanade - integrated with the bus station that serves most destinations on the eastern half of the island, and over the footbridge to the hovercraft terminal for service to Southsea.
- Ryde St. Johns Road - for Ryde High Street
- Smallbrook Junction - directly connecting to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Trains only stop here when the steam railway is operating, and there is no entrance or exit.
- Brading - for the historic town and Brading Roman Villa
- Sandown - for the town, and local bus service to Dinosaur Isle
- Lake - the walk from here along the cliff top footpath to Shanklin is popular with locals
- Shanklin - the southern terminus. Serves the town. Connecting buses to Ventnor (bus #3), which also serves Shanklin Old VIllage and Shanklin Chine which can also be reached on foot (~20 min).
Since the 1960s the line has been operated by ex-London Underground trains - the precise type has changed over the years, with the present type having been constructed in the early 1980s.
Cycling on the island is a fantastic way to get around and keep green. Bicycles can be brought to the island by foot passengers on any of the car ferries. Hire cycles are available at this website. The island has over 200 miles of cycle ways much of which can be enjoyed by families off road.
The major bike trails are:
- The Sunshine Trail incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill and Wroxhall in a 12-mile circular route.
- The Troll Trail leads from Cowes to Sandown (90% off road) about 13 miles either way
- Round the Island Cycle Route circumnavigates the island on a reported 62-mile ride (not for the amateur or faint-hearted).
- The Red Squirrel Trail is a 32-mile, mostly traffic free cycle route from coast to coast through the island's stunning countryside. The route is from Cowes to Sandown and Shanklin, with a return route via Godshill and Wroxall. It incorporates some of the Troll and Sunshine Trails.
- Alum Bay.
- The Needles.
- Carisbrooke Castle, Carisbrooke.
- Osborne House, East Cowes.
- Steephill Cove, Ventnor.
- Eagles - the island is the site for a national reintroduction programme of white-tailed eagles; six juveniles were released in summer 2019, and more releases are planned every summer until 2023. Although eagles roam hundreds of miles for days at a time, they will still consider the Isle of Wight as their home territory, and it is hoped they will breed here in years to come, so this is the best place you have a hope of seeing one. These are the first wild eagles to live in England since the 18th century, so a sighting of one of these huge birds (they have a 6 ft (1.8 m) wingspan) would be a truly special addition to your island holiday!
Visit Ventnor Botanic Garden - the South Coast of the island has a warm micro-climate allowing palms, banana trees and cactus to flourish, even in private gardens. It is regularly used by TV and film makers when locations like the South of France are required, in productions like Lady Chatterley's Lover. Much of the road network in the South passes through the lush flora and fauna of an area called the landslip which offers spectacular sea views between Ventnor and Niton.
The Isle of Wight is, according to National Geographic Magazine, the 4th best location for dinosaur fossils in the world. Fossil walks can be booked from Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown or the Fossil Shop at Blackgang Chine.
Walk from Freshwater Bay to the Needles Battery over Tennyson Down. Fantastic views over the west Wight and western Solent.
The Isle of Wight Zoo in Sandown is a privately-run zoo with a focus on tigers and lemurs, built within the ruins of a Victorian fort which once guarded Sandown's coast and beaches. Guided "walking safari" tours for kids, temporary exhibits.
A "National Poo Museum" in Sandown is a spin-off of a 2016 zoo exhibit, established as a free-standing museum.
From May to September, the weather is often bright and warm, making a visit to some of the island's beaches a good idea. Favourites:
- Colwell Bay - NW coast near Yarmouth. good golden sands and often clear waters, shallow shelf nice for family swimming and building sand castles. Can get busy, esp for parking, but there's generally enough space on the beach itself. Note that at high tide the beach disappears.
- Freshwater Bay - SW coast. Pebble beach with facilities and parking. Popular with snorkellers and divers. Can be exposed when the westerly winds get up.
- Compton Bay - SW coast, off the Military Road. Popular for surfing when the wind is right. Parking (very busy in summer), but otherwise limited facilities. Spectacular views
- Shepherd's Chine - SW coast. One of the most remote beaches. No real facilities, though there is a campsite nearby with toilets and water. Spectacular views and even in summer it doesn't get busy. Coming from the west along the Military Road, there's a Layby just before the bridge over the chine, from there a footpath follows the chine to the beach.
- Binnel Bay (aka Old Park) - South coast. Not a swimming beach but a bizarre place dominated by the gigantic remains of an artificial harbour built by an eccentric 19th-century German millionaire, William Spindler, who wanted to build a resort. The extremely rough seas here in winter breached the massive stone seawalls into giant pieces twisted and turned on themselves, which still dominate the bay, combined with the broken, tortured terrain of the landslip, dominated by streams, pulled down trees pointing at all angles, and broken pathways, and giving it a surreal atmosphere, a mix of Atlantean sunken grandeur and Mad Max-esque post-apocalypse. The footpath (unsurprisingly) down the bay is closed, but still accessible (though the steps are a neglected), and quite popular with locals and curious tourists walking the coastal path, which passes close by. Park up by the Old Park Hotel, which is a product of Spindler's grandiose plans that has faded somewhat into wrack and ruin (the hotel still operates, despite the derelict feel).
- Steephill Cove - South coast. Small rocky bay near the botanic gardens. Extremely popular with tourists due to the seafood joint, and a whole lot of hype.
- Ventnor - South coast. Typical Victorian resort beach. Esplanade with many cafes, including The Sands (cards accepted, free WiFi), which does excellent seaside food, and the Spyglass Inn pub with spectacular outdoor terrace. Beach has extremely fine, smooth shingle with the texture of rice grains - effectively sand but without the mess. There's an offshore rocky reef exposed at low tide that makes good snorkelling at other times, though visibility is poor. On the esplanade is the Brisbane Gnomon, a sun clock presented to the town by Sir Thomas Brisbane, the governor of New South Wales from 1821-1825, and from whom Brisbane takes its name. Plenty of parking.
- Bonchurch - Sheltered, shallow coves with pebble and shingle beach get nice and warm if the sun's been out for a week or so (August). Parking available up the hill.
- Shanklin - SE coast. Typical Victorian resort beach. Massive sandy beach at low tide. At high tide, the southern half is inaccessible. Plenty of parking. The Lazy Wave cafe at the slipway is excellent (cards accepted). Esplanade with a string of hotels, cafes and pubs, as well as a delightfully weird little arcade of retro and antique arcade games. Separated from the rest of the town by towering sandstone cliffs, a problem solved rather ingeniously by a giant lift (£1 single, £1.50 return - operates May to November).
- Lake - SE coast - also on the south coast near Ventnor. Windsurfing and sailing hire available. Park and walk from the wonderfully named Small Hope Beach carpark at the north end of Shanklin beach.
- Sandown - SE coast. Has an extensive sandy beach at all states of the tide, with plenty of facilities and a pleasure pier. Unlikle most beaches on the island, Sandown is right in the town centre, as there's no cliff here.
- Appley Beach / Ryde Beaches (NE coast). Essentially one massive beach running east from Ryde town centre all the way to Appley. Sandy and plenty of beach even at high tide. Plenty of facilities and parking, including a swimming pool with retractable roof in summer.
- The Isle of Wight has over 60 miles (100 km)) of beach to explore throughout the year. The coast by Osborne House and King's Quay is private and around Newtown Ranges is Ministry of Defence land. In 2007, Blue Flag status was given to the beaches at Ryde East, Sandown and Shanklin for achieving the highest quality in water, facilities, safety, environmental education and management. Some 13 other Isle of Wight beaches were given Seaside Awards for above average water quality.
- Walking is promoted by an annual Walking Festival. There is an extensive network of footpaths and bridle ways. The Ordnance Survey 50,000 scale Landranger map is half IOW and half in Hampshire, but the 25,000 explorer map is the same price and only covers the Island. There are a number of "long distance trails" of which the coastal path is the longest at approximately 73 miles (116 km).
- Isle of Wight Festival is held in Newport. It's normally in June, though the 2021 event was postponed to Sept.
- Cowes Week is a yachting regatta held at Cowes in August.
- The New Inn, Shalfleet, is an excellent place to go for fresh, locally caught fish. It has a relaxed, traditional pub ambience and friendly service. Local ales and a wide range of wines are available to accompany your meal.
- Lake Fish Bar sells excellent fish and chips.
- You will need to book for the Baywatch at St.Helen's and probably the Crab and Lobster in Bembridge. The other restaurants in St. Helens are good but pricey. The Pilot Boat is fine and you will not usually need to book.
- The Black Cat in Shanklin Old Village does good Thai cuisine.
- Vernon Cottage in Shanklin Old Village is good for lunches.
- Visit The Garlic Farm in Newchurch. There is a brilliant restaurant there, plus a large shop for anything garlic related!
The Isle of Wight has many country pubs selling food and local real ale. Adgestone Vineyard produces white wine which is used in state banquets when English wine is required to show off to foreign diplomats etc.
Historically the local breweries were Mews, Langton at Newport and Burts at Ventnor, now both closed. Most of the ex-Mews pubs were taken over by Whitbread, but local breweries have re-opened as Goddards and Yates. There are a few Gales pubs such as the Castle in Ryde.
Isle of Wight tap water is generally very good for making tea. Bottled mineral water is produced under the name "Wight Spring" from Whitwell, where it had been a holy well.
Country pubs with food: the Hare & Hounds near Newport is a Greene King chain pub that serves a standard menu all year round -reliable, cheap for families but pretty uninspiring. Also any rustic character has been diluted by unsightly back extensions. The White Lion at Arreton provides a good alternative. Nearby is the Dairyman's Daughter in the Craft Centre.
The Fighting Cocks on the Newport Road holds a boot sale in the car park in summer
The Crown Inn in Shorwell has fishponds and doves in its garden.
If you want a pub with sea views and freshly cooked seafood in the middle of an estate of bungalows, try the Crab and Lobster Inn in Bembridge.
There are Premier Inn hotels in Newport, by the harbour, and just outside Lake, as well as Travel Lodge hotels in Newport and Ryde. There are also independent hotels at most budget levels. The Isle of Wight Tourist Board maintains a vacancy list. There are a number of farms that provide accommodation and holiday cottages. Holiday cottages are often quite difficult to book late and relatively expensive compared with the rest of England. There are numerous campsites and holiday parks scattered around the island, with the usual park chains operating at least one. Prices rise dramatically in the summer school holiday season (mid-July to early September).
Many pubs also provide accommodation. Saturday night in Newport Town Centre is apt to be quite rowdy and not a good place to sleep near. Sandown has a reputation for being rough at the weekends, whereas Shanklin and Ventnor tend to be fairly quiet. The west coast towns are very tranquil.
"Xoron" is a houseboat converted from a wartime gunboat. It is moored at Bembridge Harbour.
Bembridge Coast Hotel, Priory Bay Hotel (St. Helens), Farringford [Totland].
Newnham Farm, near Ryde.
The Crab and Lobster Inn has 5 B&B rooms, some with wonderful sea views and has a 4 star AA rating
The Meadows is a family-run B&B, it is virtually a home from home and is conveniently close to Newport Town centre. The Meadows offers plentiful extras including a complimentary mini bottle of wine on arrival.
Fort Victoria Cottage is a Grade II former officer's cottage next to the sea in the Fort Victoria Country Park, near Yarmouth.
- St Maur Hotel (Isle of Wight Hotels), Castle Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1LG, ☏ . St Maur Hotel can cater for a variety of visits. Available for short breaks or week-long stays, and any other occasion or event. Can organise your travel to and from the island.
- Castlehaven Caravan Site, Castlehaven Lane, Niton, Isle of Wight, ☏ . Caravan park right on the waters edge giving incredible sea views.
- Portsmouth is a good place for a day visit (Victory, Warrior, Mary Rose, Gosport Submarine Museum). Off-shore sightseeing cruises can be booked from Sandown Pier or East Cowes (Wight Line Cruises aka. Blue Funnel).
- Southampton, Hampshire's largest city, offers plenty of museums, restaurants and shopping.