WHERE TO VISIT AND WHAT TO DO THERE
Bembridge & St Helens
Head to the pretty village of Bembridge, on the eastern tip of the isle, for golden beaches and a picture-perfect harbour. Popular attractions include the sailing club and the National Trust owned windmill – the last surviving one on the island. Just a short drive away is St Helens, where you can explore the ruins of the 18th century church or spend an afternoon rock pooling at St Helens Duver. For families keen to try their hand at watersports, everything from dinghy sailing to paddleboarding, kayaking to canoeing, can be organised by the Tackt-isle team. For a day out, head to the Garlic Farm, which is just a short drive away. Take the tour, book into a tasting and pick up some homemade products at the on-site shop to enjoy at home.
Seaview & Ryde
Seaview is a pretty Edwardian village towards the north east corner of the island, roughly half an hour's drive from Cowes. Offering panoramic views across the water, it’s home to some scenic beaches, including dog-friendly Seagrove and Priory Bay, which sits against a backdrop of luscious forestland. Journey ten minutes outside of Seaview to reach Ryde, the largest town on the island. Right on the seafront, it's a great spot for picking up souvenirs, with an abundance of independent boutiques on Upper Union Street. The beach stretches for miles, while the historic wooden pier is the second longest in the UK. For those after a rejuvenating treat, book into a class at Wight Wellness, a studio offering oceanside yoga sessions.
Ventnor is a traditional Victorian seaside town where you can hire a beach hut, as well as visit the award-winning Ventnor Park and Botanic Gardens. You’ll find one of the isle’s hidden gems, Steephill Cove, here – an unspoiled beach with plenty of rockpools, as well as crystal clear waters perfect for swimming. It’s only accessible by foot, and requires a short walk from Ventnor beach along the coastal path. Afterwards, step back in time and visit Shanklin, a charming village just a short drive away, recognizable for its thatched roof buildings and winding roads. The beach here is also beautiful, with vast stretches of sand and a traditional seaside promenade complete with classic attractions. If you’re holidaying with young children, the Donkey Sanctuary makes for a lovely afternoon out. Admission is free, but the sanctuary encourages donations to support their work.
The gateway to the island, Cowes regularly hosts the oldest and biggest regatta in the world – Cowes Week – an eight-day event which usually takes place at the end of July and start of August. This year, the event has been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean boat lovers can’t get their fix; look out for the iconic Ratsey and Lapthorn sails as you sit on the shore or head to the harbour to eye up the luxury yachts. Families can spend the afternoon exploring Osborne House, a grand palace that was once home to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A beautiful building now open to the public, visitors can walk around the sculptured gardens or dip a toe in the water at the Queen’s private beach. The house also runs a summer adventure trail for children, complete with an interactive map and puzzles.
Freshwater is where you'll find one of most beautiful beaches on the island: Freshwater Bay. Head there at low tide to walk across the rocky ledge and explore the secret caves on the western side of the sand. It's also a great base for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the Needles, a row of chalk stacks rising up majestically from the sea. There are plenty of walks in the area leading to the National Trust protected attraction, most of which pass by the iconic Tennyson monument. Families with young children should pay a visit to Tapnell Farm, where little ones can meet the farm animals, let loose in the play zone or embark on a bike ride. The farm also offers glamping facilities in luxury safari tents or wooden pods. To get your adrenaline pumping, let the Adventure Activities group organise everything from climbing to kayaking.
Ferries run to Yarmouth from across the solent daily. While it can be busy in the summer, it’s a great spot for families thanks to its child friendly beaches and activities. Cycling is one of the main attractions here, with both adult, kids and eclectic bikes available to rent with Wight Cycle Hire. Book in advance and keep them for the duration of your trip to pedal around the resort town, picking up breakfast at dog-friendly cafe Off The Rails, or getting down to the beach. A mix of sand and shingle, Yarmouth’s small beach is pretty, but families may wish to travel to Compton Beach in Newport or the bays at Freshwater, for a bit more space. Finally, don’t forget to visit one of the most famous sites in Yarmouth – the pier – which is Grade II listed.
WHERE TO STAY
The Royal Hotel, Ventnor
Book into The Royal Hotel for a slice of luxury. Just a short walk from the seafront, as well as the picturesque Steephill Cove, it’s the perfect home away from home. Rooms are traditional and cosy, and there’s even garden to enjoy the sea views and a spot of afternoon tea.
The Barn At Buddle Place, Niton Near Ventnor
For something self-catered, stay at The Barn, a cosy cottage set deep in the island’s countryside and just a short walk from St Catherine’s lighthouse. There’s a wood burning fireplace perfect for chilly evenings, and a private patio for your morning coffee. Sleeps four.
Seasalt Cottage, Ventnor
Seasalt Cottage sleeps four across one double bedroom and a twin room ideal for children. The modern kitchen has everything you need to make picnic lunches ready for the beach, while the pretty courtyard is a great spot for a sunset BBQ.
The Seaview Hotel, Seaview
If you choose to rest up in Seaview, stay at the Seaview Hotel – a pub with charming seaside-style rooms. Perched on a hill just metres from the water, it’s the ideal place to rest your head while staying in the village.
North House, Cowes
For something more luxurious, stay at North House in Cowes. Cosy rooms have chic touches and the large terrace is great for an evening drink. There’s also a heated outdoor pool surrounded by wicker deck chairs should you fancy skipping the beach. Dogs are also welcome.
WHERE TO EAT
The George, Yarmouth
Once a 17th century townhouse, this hotel sits right on the water’s edge. With a brasserie style restaurant, beach bar and vast terrace offering panoramic ocean views, the outdoor kitchen serves tasty lobster rolls, while the bar can deliver Pimms and rosé right to your table.
The Hut, Colwell
This relaxed beach restaurant is a beautiful spot for an al fresco lunch. Expect a menu brimming with delicious, fresh seafood and grilled platters, with a buzzy, yet easy going, atmosphere. You can get a boat over to the restaurant or, if you’re in Yarmouth, the team will pick you up.
33 St Helens, St Helens
If you’re after a traditional fish and chip supper, no one does it quite as well as 33 St Helens. On Fridays, they offer two types of dishes, the standard fish and chips, or a luxe version, which comes with truffle oil and parmesan French fries. All the fish is locally caught.
The Old Fort, Seaview
This traditional pub sits right on the seawall with a fantastic view of the boats. The beers and sandwiches are fantastic, as are the fish and chips. It's particularly magical at sunset.
The Coast Bar, Cowes
If you’re after a tasty, family-friendly dinner, The Coast Bar in Cowes is the place to head. A relaxed, easy going restaurant, complete with comfy booths and a menu of sharing boards, salads and tasty grilled dishes, as well as wood fired pizza, there’s something for everyone.
HOW TO GET THERE
Two main ferry companies make daily crossings from the south coast to the Isle of Wight, with Wightlink operating over 100 crossings a day. The Lymington to Yarmouth route takes approximately 40 minutes, while Portsmouth to Fishbourne takes a quarter of an hour. Prices depend on the time, the day of travel (weekends are more expensive), car size and number of passengers, but a weekend return for four people is roughly £200. Red Funnel operates from Southampton to East Cowes, with a journey time of an hour. You can hop on the ferry as early as 4am until 10pm, but booking is currently limited. Some crossings will ask passengers to stay in their vehicle for the entirety of the journey to help with social distancing, so check before you book, especially if you’re travelling with young children. The Red Funnel costs approximately £150, but prices also depend on the day and time of travel, as well as your car model and number of passengers.
Visit Wightlink.co.uk and RedFunnel.co.uk
*DISCLAIMER: Before travelling to the Isle of Wight, please familiarise yourself with the latest government guidelines, especially around wearing masks on transport.