THE AREAS TO KNOW
The gateway to the island, Cowes is home to 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. Look out for the iconic Ratsey & 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. This beautiful building is open to the public, and visitors can walk around the sculptured gardens or dip a toe in the water at the private beach. The house also runs a summer adventure trail for children, complete with an interactive map and puzzles.
Ventnor is a traditional Victorian seaside town where you can hire a beach hut and visit the award-winning park and Botanic Gardens. Here, you’ll find one of the isle’s hidden gems, Steephill Cove – 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, recognisable by 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 its work.
Bembridge & St Helens
Head to the pretty village of Bembridge, on the eastern tip of the island, to enjoy 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 Isle of Wight. 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 water sports, everything from dinghy sailing and paddle boarding to kayaking and canoeing can be organised by the Tackt-isle team.
Seaview & Ryde
Seaview is a pretty Edwardian village towards the northeast 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 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.
Freshwater is where you'll find one of the prettiest beaches on the island: Freshwater Bay. Go 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 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 from 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 Grade II-listed pier.
WHERE TO STAY
The Royal Hotel, Ventnor
One of the oldest hotels on the island, The Royal is steeped in history. If you’re after a slice of luxury, spend the weekend exploring the waters on the hotel’s boat and sampling local produce at the restaurants. Just a short walk from the seafront, as well as the picturesque Steephill Cove, it’s the ideal home away from home. Rooms are traditional and cosy, and there’s a garden to enjoy the sea views and a spot of afternoon tea. The hotel serves some of the best seafood on the island, so be sure to book lunch or dinner at the restaurant and take afternoon tea in the conservatory.
The Barn At Buddle Place, Niton
If you’re after a self-catering property, this barn is a great choice for families. Sleeping up to four, the cottage is set deep in the island’s countryside, just a short walk from St Catherine’s lighthouse. The interiors are bright and airy with a modern kitchen, two bedrooms and a cosy living area with an indoor wood burner. There’s also a private patio for morning coffees and al fresco meals, as well as a south-facing garden with sea views. Kids will love exploring the area on bike, while adults will appreciate the nearby golf club and The Crab Shed restaurant – which is renowned for its seafood.
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. Inside, the interiors are simple yet stylish, with soft decorative accents and nautical touches throughout. Ventnor Beach, only a few minutes away, has excellent water sports facilities, and the harbour is a great place for fish and chips.
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 stay. Standard rooms have balconies with views over the rooftops, but for a special stay book one of the superior rooms which come with robes, luxury toiletries and one-off pieces of furniture. The hotel’s Aquitania restaurant makes British plates using local ingredients, while The Pump Bar & Grill is the place to relax after a day on the water.
Foresters Hall, Cowes
For a luxury staycation, head to Foresters Hall in Cowes. Previously North House, the Cosy rooms here have king-sized beds, indoor wood burners and views over the garden, while the Spacious rooms come with freestanding bathtubs and separate showers. Ideal for a fun girls trip, The Terrace is a lovely spot for an evening drink, The Restaurant serves delicious dishes made with local produce, and The Bar has an extensive wine list. There’s also a heated outdoor pool surrounded by wicker deck chairs should you want to skip the beach.
Grange Farm, Brighstone Bay
For a fun camping holiday, this site is just minutes away from Brighstone Bay beach. Families can spend the day surfing, kayaking and open-water swimming as well as getting to know the friendly farm animals. The site itself offers all the traditional campsite amenities, as well as a well-stocked farm shop that sells eggs from the farm’s hens and freshly baked bread. If you’d rather not navigate the ferry timetable, Grange Farm will book your travel for you – tell them when you’re coming and they’ll do the rest.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Smoking Lobster, Cowes & Ventnor
Smoking Lobster serves local produce reimagined through a pan-Asian lens at its Cowes and Ventnor restaurants, and they’re both popular with both locals and tourists. In 2021, the team launched Drunken Lobster in Ventnor, an izakaya-style bar serving wine, sakes and cocktails alongside a concise Japanese small-plates menu.
Led by Alex Kimber, the team at Heron holds two AA Rosettes. It is one of the most sought-after places to eat on the island, with a menu that reflects the changing seasons and offerings from local producers. Current menu highlights include Wight oil and thyme-marinated celeriac with buttered leeks, morels and wild garlic; and john dory with asparagus and hazelnuts.
The Hut, Colwell
This relaxed beach restaurant is a beautiful spot for an al fresco lunch. The Hut has grown from a small, rustic beach bar known only to the locals into arguably the most popular restaurant on the island. Expect a menu focused on seafood – we love the sound of lemon sole with beurre noisette and new potatoes; and lobster rice with ñora sofrito and green aioli. Guests can get a boat over to the restaurant or, if you’re in Yarmouth, the team will pick you up.
Headed up by chef Robert Thompson, this restaurant uses the best Isle of Wight produce to create tasty yet simple dishes. Menu highlights include steamed prawn wontons with cucumber kimchi, smoked-eel terrine, samphire and asparagus.
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 Pimm’s and rosé to your table.
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, a lovely deli and café. On Fridays, they offer two types of dishes, the standard fish and chips, or a ‘posh’ version, which comes with truffle oil and parmesan French fries. All the fish is locally caught.
Shoreside Café, Cowes
For a quick bite to eat and delicious homemade ice-cream, you can’t go wrong with this lovely café in Cowes. Right on the beach, diners can choose from beer-battered fish and chips or seafood-filled sandwiches.
The Old Fort, Seaview
This traditional pub sits bang on the seawall with a fantastic view of the boats. The beers and sandwiches are fantastic, as are the fish and chips and Sunday roasts. It's particularly beautiful at sunset.
The Coast Bar, Cowes
If you’re after a 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 wood-fired pizza, there’s something for everyone. It’s also a lovely spot for a coffee and a slice of cake.
THINGS TO DO
Isle of Wight Festival
This popular festival is a great excuse to head to the Isle of Wight with friends. Taking place from Friday 15th to Sunday 18th June, this year’s event will see performances from Pulp, Chemical Brothers, George Ezra, Robbie Williams and Blondie. Bring your own tent or stay in one of the yurts on site.
Whether you’ve never surfed before or want to improve your skills on the water, this school is a great option for both adults and children. The school operates all over the island to ensure they can find the best waves during the summer months, so you’re guaranteed a great afternoon regardless. If you don’t want to surf, they also teach paddle boarding.
The Wight Proms
The Isle of Wight is holding its annual Proms concert this summer. From 13th to 20th August, the festival will take place in the grounds of Northwood House in Cowes, where visitors can enjoy classic music, musical theatre numbers and stand-up comedy.
St Helens Duver
This beautiful nature reserve is a sand-and-shingle spit at the mouth of the River Yar. If you’ve got kids in tow, little ones can spot badgers and seabirds nesting along the shore.
Carisbrooke Castle, Cowes
In the past, this historic castle has been an artillery fortress, king's prison and a royal summer residence. Today, it’s a romantic castle with panoramic views of Cowes and a scenic garden dedicated to Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria.
Ventnor Botanic Gardens
Ventnor is home to the warmest botanical garden in the UK. Visitors will find over 33,000 beautiful and unusual tropical plants. The gardens regularly put on activities for kids, so be sure to check what’s on ahead of your visit.
A trip to Mottistone Estate is a great way to get outdoors. There are long trails to walk that will take you from cliffs by the sea to high on the downs, countryside to explore on horseback and even orienteering. Throughout the summer, the gardens at Mottistone come into their own. From the scent of roses in the garden in June, to the eye-catching colours of the various plants and flowers that fill the borders by August, a visit in any month reveals something new. We like the look of the secluded tea gardens, where guests can indulge in something sweet or a light lunch.
The Garlic Farm
For a fun day out, visit the Garlic Farm, which is just a short drive from St Helens. Take the tour, book a tasting and pick up some homemade products at the on-site shop to enjoy at home. There are also seven self-catering holiday cottages and five luxury yurts sleeping between two and ten people – a tennis court, football pitch and games room are available exclusively for guests.
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