The Isle of Wight is an island and county five miles off the southern coast of England. It is easily and quickly accessible by multiple sea routes from the mainland cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.
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 is now also becoming 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. It has a population of 138,000. Despite being only 6 miles across the sea from Portsmouth and 15 miles 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.
- Newport – the county town (administrative centre) in the centre of the island on the River Medina
- Bembridge – on the eastern tip
- Cowes & East Cowes – two towns at the northern tip, separated by the River Medina
- Freshwater – in the west
- Ryde – the largest town; on the north-east coast nearest to Portsmouth
- Shanklin – on the south-east coast
- Ventnor – at the south end
- 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 has an incredible 90% readership 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 very mild and sunny climate. The south-east of the island in particular is known for its high sunshine records and warm air. In winter, frost is rather rare. As at May 2008, the warmest month of the year so far was May with an average high of 20°C (68°F) and the coolest was January with an average high of 10°C (50°F) and the warmest day of the year enjoyed a high of 27°C (81°F). However, June to September are the warmest months.
Access is across the Solent, a 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, but the hovercraft does not run very late and does not connect as easily with the trains. Prices for crossing The Solent increase for the fare with the length of the stay.
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
- Wightlink car ferry – Portsmouth to Fishbourne (near Ryde); 45 min
- Wightlink car and passenger ferry – Lymington to Yarmouth on the west end of the island; 40 min
- Red Funnel Red Jet passenger catamaran – Southampton Town Quay to west Cowes; 25 min; adult £14.40,
- Red Funnel car and passenger ferry – Southampton Town Quay to east Cowes; 55 min
- Hovertravel passenger hovercraft – Southsea (Portsmouth) to Ryde; 10 min; adult £14, day return £16.50, period return (for 90 days) £25
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.
Using the service of Hovertravel will give you the unique chance to ride / fly in a Hovercraft, as the route across The Solent is the only one left in the U.K.. 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 yd walk ashore (unless you get picked up by private car, or ride the train).
The island has is covered by a wide but expensive bus service (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), all-day "rover" passes (adult price of £10 for one day, £15 for two), evening "NightRider" passes (£7 after 7 PM), and various discounts to cater to students and the island's retired population. Transfers aren't printed as singles are available to any destination even if a transfer is required.
Island buses also operates Breezer and Steamer buses during the summer season to take tourists to various destinations and attractions.
- Needles Breezer
- Downs Breezer
- Island Coaster
- Shanklin Steamer
Additional buses are run by Wightbus - run by the IoW County Council but do not have actual timetable information on their website as such. Buses run to Ventnor, Havenstreet and Brading. Their timetables can be found at Traveline (official UK timetabling service) or iw-paths.cjb.net. Day & week rover tickets are valid on WightBus routes, and also include travel on the Island Line train service.
There is a single public service railway line on the island, with a limited service running from Ryde Pier Head (connections with Portsmouth ferry) to Sandown, for local bus service to Dinosaur Isle, and Shanklin, for connecting buses to Ventnor. It is run by Island Line, and through tickets can be booked from any manned UK station.
Cycling on the Island is a fantastic way to get around and keep green. The Island has over 200 miles of cycle ways much of which can be enjoyed by families off road. Major Trails to note are 'The Sunshine Trail' which incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill and Wroxhall in a 12 mile circular route. 'The Troll Trail' Which leads from Cowes to Sandown or vice versa (90% off road) approx 13 miles either way and 'Round the Island Cycle Route' which circumnavigates the Island on a reported 62 mile ride (not for the amateur or faint hearted). Cycles can be brought to the Island by foot passengers on any of the car ferries. Hire cycles are available at this website.
- Alum Bay. Famous for the many colours of sand which appear naturally on the beach. A traditional souvenir of the Isle of Wight is a picture or glass paperweight filled with the different colours - there are many stalls where you can get the wherewithal to make your own if you are so inclined. The bay is close to The Needles (see below) and accessible by stairs or by a ski resort-style chairlift.
- Blackgang Chine. This was formerly a dramatic gorge through which one could walk to the sea. Following a catastrophic collapse, the Chine ceased to exist some decades ago, but the bizarre entertainment park, with its animated figures, is still worth a visit. This is the world's first and oldest theme park. Shanklin Chine, a smaller gorge, can still be visited.
- Osborne House, York Ave, East Cowes, PO32 6JX, ☎ . Although officially a summer home for Queen Victoria, she used it as her main residence for some time after the death of Prince Albert, her husband. Now owned and operated by English Heritage, most of the well-preserved house and grounds are open to visitors year-round. Visitors planning to visit both Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle should consider becoming members of English Heritage; it can work out cheaper than buying individual tickets for family groups and allows free access to all other English Heritage properities for the rest of the year. adults £13.40, children £8.00, concessions £12.10.
- Carisbrooke Castle, Castle Hill, Carisbrooke, PO30 1XY (a mile and a half south west of Newport), ☎ . In the 1640s King Charles I was imprisoned in this castle whose construction began in the 12th century. adults £7.70, children £4.60, concessions £6.90.
- Isle of Wight Steam Railway, ☎ . Open weekends and summer; see website or call telephone number above for precise opening days and times. A former branch line resucitated to accurately recreate the atmosphere of the island's railways in the pre-war era, when the island was the home of already superannuated locomotives and coaches from the mainland. Accessible by car at the steam railway's Havenstreet Station, or by changing from the island's one remaining public service railway (between Ryde and Shanklin) at Smallbrook Junction. £8 (adult); £4 (child); ticket entitles holder to unlimited travel on day of issue.
- The Needles. A very famous headland and offshore rocks at the extreme western end of the island. Here you will find early sea defences such as the Needles Old Battery , now preserved by the National Trust, and Tennyson Down, the national memorial to Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the sight of spectacular sea and land views. Accessible via Southern Vectis's open-top bus route 42 , which runs half-hourly from Yarmouth and connects with the ferries from Lymington on the mainland. You can drive up to the Needles Battery if you are registered disabled, but you need to phone ahead to let them know you are coming in order not to face traffic coming the other way.
- Steephill Cove. A cove only accessible by foot at the southernmost tip of the island near Ventnor. There is an incredible seafood restaurant right on the beach - the owners catch their own lobsters and crabs daily, you would find it hard to get fresher seafood anywhere! And the view from the tables over the cove and out to sea is breathtaking.
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 dinosaurs 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.
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, 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.
- Compton - SW Coast, off the Military Road. Popular for surfing when the wind is right.
- Lake - also on the S coast near ventnor. Windsurfing and sailing hire available.
- Bonchurch - beautiful. Sheltered, shallow coves get nice and warm if the sun's been out for a week or so (August).
- Sandown - a nicer town than Shanklin, as the beach is more extensive and the sand more attractive.
The Isle of Wight has over 60 miles of beach to explore throughout the year. The coast by Osborne House and King's Quay is private and around Newtown Ranges is MoD land
In 2007, Blue Flag status was given to the beac hes 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. ENCAMS environmental charity recommends the best 73 beaches in England, of which 11 are in the Isle of Wight. Some of these are subjective, such as "best for a nice seaside stroll", and if anything this is an underestimate.
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.
- Matt and Cat's Isle of Wight eating Out Guide. Over 350 independent reviews of places to eat on the Island - not written by the proprietors either.
- 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 probably the best fish and chips this side of the Blue Dolphin in Hastings.
- 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.
The Isle of Wight has many country pubs selling food and local real ale. Adgestone Vineyard produces white wine which is used in Government 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 was formerly 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 is a Travel Lodge at Newport. There are hotels at all 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.
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.
Budget - "Xoron" is a houseboat converted from a wartime gun-boat. It is moored at Bembridge Harbour.
Top range - Bembridge Coast Hotel, Priory Bay Hotel (St.Helens), Farringford [Totland].
Farms- Newnham Farm, near Ryde.
Pubs - 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 located 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 etc). 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.