The Isle of Wight is an island off the south coast of England, often described as ‘mini England’ as it’s fairly small but has picturesque villages, amazing castles, grand stately homes and of course rolling English countryside.
The island was extremely popular in Victorian times, with Queen Victoria herself setting up her summer home there. Since the Victorian times it’s been a popular holiday destination in England – it’s accessible by ferry from Portsmouth or Southampton.
Because exploring the island is easier with a car, and because of the ferry crossing, the island is more popular with the English than overseas visitors. But for those willing to make a little bit of effort (and put up with driving on narrow, windy, steep, country lanes) visiting the Isle of Wight is well worth it.
To give you a taste of what you can enjoy on the island, here are my top 15 highlights from a week long visit in September 2020.
1. The Needles
The Needles are arguably the island’s most famous attraction. Considered one of the seven wonders of southern England, the three distinctive columns of chalk which rise out of the sea are well worth seeing with your own eyes.
You can drive straight there, and take a short walk up to the viewing point, or you can make more of a walk of it and walk part of the Coastal path (see my Isle of Wight walking guide coming soon for more info), to end up with the stunning views of The Needles.
2. Freshwater Bay
Freshwater Bay is one of the nicest beaches on the Isle of Wight and also offers gorgeous coastal views. Grab an ice-cream on the beach and explore the rock caves, or even go paddle boarding or swimming. It’s also worth climbing up to the top of the bay to overlook it from the South on the Coastal Path, getting the beautiful views in the photo below.
3. Osborne House & Osborne Beach
Osborne House was the summer home of Queen Victoria. She even died here in 1901 – and after her death her son didn’t want to keep the home so granted it to the state. Now open to the public and offering gorgeous themed gardens, a tour of the house, a walled garden and a private beach – this house has to be at the top of the list for any visit to The Isle of Wight.
I loved the views to the house from the gardens, and found Osborne beach to be absolutely beautiful. There is also a little cafe with plenty of outdoor seating at the beach where you can have a drink, cake and relax looking out to the sea.
4. Carisbrooke Castle
An ancient Norman castle, Carisbrooke lets you step back over 800 years in time. This castle is steeped in history – from the Norman conquest to Charles I’s imprisonment (and attempted escapes) – so if you want to learn about English history this is the place for you (don’t miss the informative little museum on site).
There is also a pretty Edwardian garden on site, you can walk the walls of the castles for views out over the island, and there are even on-site donkeys which are a must if you have children.
5. St Catherine’s Oratory
St Catherine’s Oratory was one of my favourite places on the Isle of Wight. Affectionately known as The Pepperpot, this structure used to serve as a lighthouse. It stands on the highest part of the Isle of Wight and was built in 1327 by someone as penance for stealing wine from a shipwreck…Imagine if years of hard labour was the punishment now for stealing wine – there would be no crime!
6. Steephill Cove
One of the prettiest secret spots on the island, Steephill cove is is an unspoilt fishing cove which is only accessible by foot. There aren’t too many tourists, but there are great ice creams. It’s a beautiful little spot and the perfect place to relax for a while or sit on the beach (when it’s not too windy)!
7. Appuldurcombe House
Appuldurcombe was once the grandest house on the Isle of Wight, home to the Worsleys. Sir Richard Worsley who lived there gained notoriety for a 1782 court case in which his wife admitted to having had 27 lovers…although it is also reported that he enjoyed watching so it was quite the Georgian scandal!
It’s now a shell of a house, left to fall in to disrepair and makes for a quirky visit. It’s free entrance and as you wonder round you can’t help but think what stories the walls could tell!
8. Quarr Abbey
Quarr Abbey is a Catholic Benedictine monastery, home to practising Benedictine monks. The original Abbey was dissolved during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, but later in the early 1900s a group of monks purchased Quarr Abbey House (next to the site of the ancient monastery) and started building the current Quarr Abbey.
The inside of the Abbey is fairly simple, and the site itself is great for a walk, with lots of woodland to stroll around. You can also see the ruins of the original Abbey within the grounds.
9. Alum Bay
Alum Bay can be combined with a visit to The Needles and is the western most point of the island. It’s known for its multicoloured sand cliffs which look beautiful in the sunshine.
10. Shanklin Chine & Beach
What is a chine I hear you ask? Well this is an Isle of Wight/Dorset word which effectively means a deep, narrow ravine. Shanklin Chine is a ravine home to waterfalls and walk ways, plus a heritage centre for visitors to learn about the chine’s history.
Once used for agriculture and smuggling, the chine was used during WW2 for Royal Marine Commandos to practice for the Dieppe raid in 1942. In addition, Operation Pluto (Pipe Line Under The Ocean – to deliver petrol under the English Channel once troops had landed the other side of the channel) ran through the chine.
At the bottom of the chine is Shanklin beach and Fisherman’s Cottage, which makes for a lovely dinner spot. Their chips were sublime.
11. Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens on the Isle of Wight are special for their history. Once the site of a hospital for patients suffering with respiratory and chest problems (like TB), the site was situated overlooking the sea to ensure patients had fresh air and sunshine.
Now Botanic Gardens, themed by country, the area is lovely to walk around and explore. There is also a little cafe on site, as well as a gift shop and indoor greenhouse with a waterfall.
Godshill is one of the most popular tourist spots on the island (which is why it isn’t higher up on my list as there were a LOT of people there). Home to traditional thatched cottages, a model village exhibit and lots of great pubs – it’s easy to see why people come here. Of particular interest is the church (take the route ‘via thatched cottages’ to get some quintessentially English views like the one below), which looks out over the village and has actually been struck by lightning in the same place twice!
Cowes is the maritime centre of the Isle of Wight. The town is right on the sea front and is home to a beach, harbour and lots of nice shops to stroll around and visit. Cowes is also home to the Classic Boat Museum, Isle of Wight Military Museum and Cowes Maritime Museum which make for interesting visits.
Ventnor used to be a stunning Victorian sea side town. It has seen better days, but there are still some nice areas to explore. The beach itself is pretty, as is Ventnor Park which is beautifully maintained and also leads to cliff top walks where you can discover a dinosaur chalk maze on the hillside, the Ventnor sign and some nice open green areas.
15. Tennyson Downs & The Tennyson Monument
The Tennyson Down lies between Freshwater Bay and The Needles, and make for a good walking route between the two. Home to some of the most beautiful sea and cliff views on the island, you can see across the island and over to mainland England across rolling hills. The Tennyson Monument lies on the Down and is a tribute to the Victorian poet who lived on the island.
Coronavirus has meant that many of my travel plans have been cancelled this year and I haven’t met my target of 10 new countries in 2020. But it has meant I’ve explored much more of the UK and for that I am grateful. The Isle of Wight was beautiful and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to visit it with my parents and have that time together.
I hope you’ve also found positives in these challenging times. Stay safe and happy travelling.