Things to do on the Isle of Wight
This diamond-shaped isle at the bottom of the UK is a land of dramatic cliffs, dinosaurs, and fascinating history. Famed as Queen Victoria’s favoured holiday retreat, the island is still visited by flocks of tourists every summer who come to experience the unique culture, slower pace of life, sandy beaches and tearooms.
The island is easily accessible by ferry from the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, so if you’re looking for a day trip that feels like you’re in another country, then perhaps the Isle of Wight is the place for you. There are plenty of attractions on offer, from theme parks to heritage sites, so the whole family will find something to keep them entertained. Below, we’ve listed 10 of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight to help you make the most of your trip.
However, it doesn’t stop there, because this is an island overflowing with natural beauty — around half of the Isle of Wight is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the whole island is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We wouldn’t want you to miss out on all this nature, that’s why we’ve also listed the best Isle of Wight walks so that you can see the unique scenery of the island first-hand. If you’re lucky, you may bump into one of the island’s native red squirrels while out walking!
How to get there
Situated four miles off the coast in the English Channel, The Isle of Wight is easily reached by car ferry or catamaran, with two award-winning operators to choose from. Wightlink runs services to the Isle of Wight via three sea routes: Portsmouth to Fishbourne, Lymington to Yarmouth and Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde. While Red Funnel Ferries operates a service between Southampton and Cowes.
The quickest connection is Wightlink's Lymington to Yarmouth crossing that passes through a lovely stretch of water. It is the quietest and least busy crossing but doesn't run as regularly or as late as others. The good news is that even the longest crossing, Southampton to East Cowes, takes under an hour, so the choice is yours as to which boast is most convenient for you.
Even better, Haven Church Farm Park is just 37 miles from Portsmouth, while Haven Rockley Park Holiday Park is just 25 miles from Lymington, meaning that a day trip is on the cards from either.
What to do
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Address: The Railway Station, Main Road, Havenstreet, Ryde PO33 4DS
The Isle of Wight loves all things retro and what could be more retro than a steam railway? The restored locomotives, some of which are over a century old, will take you on an amazing journey through the countryside in the middle of the island on real Victorian and Edwardian carriages.
The steam train ride departs from the main station at Havenstreet, itself a relic from times past. There’s a charming Woodland Walk and Woodland Stage. Here you’ll find a play area and a falconry show which is well worth a watch. There is also a cafe and vintage shop with old train models. If you are a train enthusiast then this is your place!
Address: Castle Hill, Newport PO30 1XY
Sitting high and proud at the centre of the island on a hillside, Carisbrooke is a castle with a storied history; it’s been a Saxon fortress, a royal summer home and famously held King Charles I when he was imprisoned during the English Civil War.
There’s plenty to see and do at Carisbrooke, you can look out at the panoramic views from the battlements, wander the moat, enjoy the tranquil Princess Beatrice Garden and visit the Carisbrooke donkeys, whose ancestors worked drawing up water from the castle well. Make sure to book your timed slot ahead of your visit.
Address: 3 Chine Avenue, Shanklin PO37 6BW
A chine is southern English dialect for a deep coastal gorge with a water course descending steeply to the sea. The Isle of Wight is one of the few places you’ll hear the word used and boasts several chines due to coastal erosion. Shanklin Chine is a ridiculously picturesque example of the feature, snaking its way from picturesque Shanklin Old Village down to sandy Shanklin Beach.
Once used by smugglers, the scenic gorge became a tourist attraction in 1817, making it the oldest attraction on the Isle of Wight. By day, you can enjoy ponds full of koi carp surrounded by magnificent Jurassic ferns, a Victorian tearoom and even a collection of tropical birds. But by night, hundreds of lights illuminate the pathways and waterfalls, making for a spectacular display.
Regardless of whether you make it to the chine or not, Shanklin is well worth a visit with its beautiful, thatched houses, traditional sweetshops, Pirate’s Cove adventure golf course, fun park with a rollercoaster, and fantastic selection of pubs.
Address: York Avenue, East Cowes PO32 6JX
Another fantastic heritage property, Osborne House was the summer residence of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. The splendid palace was built in 1845 and remains in fantastic condition, nestled on the seashore with its own private beach.
The design was based on Italian Renaissance palazzos and the inside is decorated in flamboyant styles from various countries such as Italy and India, reflecting Prince Albert’s fascination with foreign cultures. You don’t have to book your ticket in advance, but it’s advisable to book online ahead of your visit in order to guarantee the best price.
Godshill Model Village
Address: High St, Godshill, Ventnor PO38 3HH
With some of the oldest architecture on the Isle of Wight and a delightful mediaeval church as its crowning glory atop a majestic hill, Godshill is the quintessential English village. In many ways, it seems like it was destined to have a model village. The expertly crafted models are truly astounding and so many tiny details are taken in consideration during their construction.
The kids will love recognising real houses that they saw in the model village, or vice versa. From the model houses to the model railway and the bonsai in the garden, every aspect of the attraction is a whimsical delight. There are a couple of little seating areas that are in the shade and quiet if you need to take a rest, as well as a small ice cream hut for days when the sun’s shining.
Address: Blackgang Chine Near Chale, PO38 2HN
Well, what do you know? Another chine developed into an attraction! Blackgang Chine boasts the record of being the oldest amusement park in the UK, having opened in 1843. Located on top of the cliffs near Ventnor, this is one of the best things to do with kids on the Isle of Wight. Immerse yourself in the wild and magical charm of Blackgang Chine.
There are all sorts of attractions for different ages, including The Water Force ride, Cliff Hanger roller coaster, Dodo Valley, Giant Bug Walk and Hall of Mirrors. There is also a sister Isle of Wight theme park, Robin Hill, built more recently, with treetop canopy walkways, water gardens and an exciting downhill toboggan.
Address: Mersley Lane, Newchurch, Sandown PO36 0NR
This author’s personal favourite spot on the island, and not just because he’s a garlic fanatic. The farm itself is set inland, in the attractive rolling hills at the heart of the island. The fantastic restaurant serves an eclectic menu of homemade food using local ingredients and of course, plenty of garlic (though there are non-garlic options too!)
There's also an expansive farm shop that sells all manner of garlic-based products, from aoli to black garlic. Meanwhile, in the Taste Experience room, you can try hot garlic sauce and chutneys. If you’re feeling brave, why not try the garlic flavoured ice cream? Don’t knock it before you’ve tried it!
Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary
Address: Lower Winstone Farm, Ventnor PO38 3AA
This charity rescues homeless and unwanted donkeys, giving them a loving and forever home in the Wroxall valley, near Ventnor. You can visit the donkeys and see them walk around their lovely paddocks, set in beautiful countryside. Your kids will be given a sheet with all the donkeys’ names on so they can tick them off as they go.
While it's free to see the donkeys, the sanctuary relies entirely on donations, adoptions, and fundraising from the public, so it’s best to either donate or take the plunge and adopt a donkey. There’s a tearoom with homemade cake and a shop full of donkey items, as well as a meadow with a picnic area. A visit to the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is sure to leave you warm and fuzzy inside.
Ventnor Botanic Garden
Address: Undercliff Drive, Ventnor PO38 1UL
You’ll often hear Isle of Wight locals boast of the island’s micro-climate, but the town of Ventnor is known for its micro-climate within a micro-climate. The picturesque Victorian town, perched on cliffs on the southeast coast of the island, has been drawing people to its hot weather for well over a century and has many charms, including one of the most unique cricket pitch that you’ve ever seen.
However, it’s the Botanical Gardens of Ventnor that really steal the show. Arranged in different temperate zones, from Australian Garden to South African Terrace, Olive Grove, and Japanese Garden, each has its own exotic arrangements and species. The Plantation Room Café near the entrance and Edulis Restaurant overlooking the koi carp pond are both excellent options to stop for a bite to eat.
As soon as you think of the Isle of Wight, the iconic image of a row of three stacks of chalk rising about 30m out of the sea likely comes to mind. These are The Needles, and the impressive lighthouse at the end of the stacks marks the furthest east point of the island. Take the spectacular chairlift ride on a journey past the coloured sands cliffs to Alum Bay below, soak up the breath-taking views from the beach and enjoy a paddle in the sea or even a pleasure cruise that will take you up close to The Needles.
But the island’s most famous landmark has much more to enjoy than the stunning views — there is Jurassic Adventure Golf, a traditional family Carousel and Victorian games, as well as glass blowing, sweet making and sand filling demonstrations to enjoy. The Needles truly is a destination not to be missed.
Ryde to Cowes coastal path walk
Distance: 8 miles
Connecting two of the main towns and ferry ports in the north of the island, this walk is a perfect day out for day trippers and passes plenty of attractions en route. Start at Ryde’s impressive 19th-century pier and walk west, passing Ryde Golf Club and Binstead Church, before continuing on towards Quarr Abbey.
There’s woodland scenery and an excellent view of the Solent to enjoy en route. Finally cross the Floating Bridge into Cowes, a scenic yachting town that’s home to Osborne House, surrounded by an array of restaurants and pubs for you to enjoy some well-earned refreshments.
Tennyson Down to The Needles Circular Walk
Distance: 4 miles
There are many trails leading to the famous Needles, but our favourite is across Tennyson Down, a grassy, whale-backed ridge of chalk, named after the Victorian poet who lived nearby.
Starting at High Down Chalk Pit car park, the bracing walk affords you a splendid view of the iconic chalk formation named The Needles, a 19th-century fort, a Cold War rocket test site and a monument to the poet himself. Make sure to bring a jacket if it’s not a warm day as the winds can get quite strong when walking atop the cliffs and don’t forget to refuel with a snack from the Needles Old Battery tea-room on the return leg.
Sandown to Ventnor Walk
Distance: 5.5 miles
Another fine Isle of Wight coastal walk, this route takes you between two popular resort towns on the opposite side of the island, bookmarked by sandy beach. While the two towns are linked by a promenade, there is also the option to walk through the woods on top of the cliffs, enjoying fantastic views along the way.
This trail is moderate in difficulty: it ascends steeply, then descends through the atmospheric Shanklin Chine, before heading up once again along more towering cliffs until you reach the charming Victorian town of Ventnor. We recommend extending your hike with a gentle stroll through the fantastic Ventnor Botanic Gardens to finish.
Mottistone Circular Walk
Distance: 2.8 miles
If you can prize yourself away from the beautiful flowers of Mottistone Gardens, then an exquisite circular route awaits you. Strike out with your pooch on one of the best dog walks on the Isle of Wight, take in fantastic sea views, and spot majestic wildlife by the cliffs at Sudmoor Point. You’ll walk through beautiful woodland on your way to the coastal path, before passing over the mighty chalk cliffs and returning via a farm track and a quaint but ancient church.
Bembridge Down Circular Walk
Distance: 5.7 miles
Another wonderful walk to take your dog on. This walk begins in the east of the island, just outside the small town of Bembridge that is famous for its RNLI lifeboat station. Start out at the iconic Knowle Mill and descend on the path through woodland to arrive at stunning Whitecliff Bay.
From here, it’s a steep climb to Yarborough Monument on Culver Down that marks the highest point on Bembridge Down. Make a quick visit to Bembridge Fort before descending to Brading Marshes. Pass through the atmospheric wetlands before your final climb back to the start point and a pint back in Bembridge.