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A weekend guide to the Isle of Wight, England

The Isle of Wight is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in England, it’s even a strong contender for the best places to visit in the UK There are so many fun things to do and places to visit on the Isle of Wight, and in this blog post I’m going to share some of my favourites with you! 

It’s hard not to dream about escaping to a beautiful island full of beaches, surrounded by crystal clear waters… and yes, you can do that in England! So with an iced coffee in hand, basking in the early morning sunshine waiting for our ferry to sail us away to the beautiful Isle of Wight, that longed-for dream finally became a reality – but without the need for those pesky passports, long haul flights, or anything else you might need to prepare for a summer holiday! 

The Isle of Wight is a haven for winding country lanes and coastal paths, so it’s a great place to go walking in England. It’s also really special in that it is home to some of the most beautiful coastline in the whole of the UK. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a long hike whilst being a stone’s throw away from the seashore, the Isle of Wight might just be somewhere you need to tick off your England bucket list

In this Isle of Wight travel guide I am going to share with you the best places to stay on the Isle of Wight, the best things to do on the Isle of Wight, the best places to visit on the Isle of Wight and my favourite adventures so far. I’m going to take you on a journey across West Wight, delving into the best places to visit on this beautiful island.

The best things to do on the Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight: my complete travel guide

Where is the Isle of Wight?

If you came here wondering ‘where is the Isle of Wight’, you’re in the right place. 

An island just a few miles off the south coast of England, the Isle of Wight is known for its incredible scenery, beautiful stretches of coastline (and beaches) and its super mild climate. So mild in fact that it has more sunshine hours than anywhere else in the UK! If that’s not a reason to visit then I don’t know what is. With so much to explore, see and do, and things for all interests and ages, you can see why so many people flock here for holidays all year round. 

How to get to the Isle of Wight…

To get to the Isle of Wight, you obviously have to get on a boat, but you have a few options. 

There are up to 200 Isle of Wight ferry crossings a day operating from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington, including a mixture of foot ferries and car ferries. Hampshire is about about 1.5 hours from London, 2 hours from Bristol, 4 hours from Cornwall or 4.5 hours from Leeds. If you’re using a Sat Nav, pop in the postcode of the port you are leaving from. If you want to take public transport to Hampshire, you can get a train or bus to the port. Book your train tickets online on thetrainline.com. 

We hopped on the ferry as foot passengers from Lymington to Yarmouth, which is situated on the North West of the island, with the journey taking about 35-40 minutes. There’s a self-drive option too, but we opted for the eco-friendlier route. Returns with Wightlink Ferries start from £26 for adults, you can also book a day return for £18.20. This is a great option for a fab day out in Yarmouth, grabbing an early ferry over and a late ferry back means you can have a full day exploring the island, either on a hop-on hop-off bus tour or just wandering on foot around the picturesque harbour town.

Hovertravel, Red Funnel, and Wightlink are the ferry services that offer transport from the South Coast via both Portsmouth and Southampton, as well as Lymington. You can access all by foot but only ferries arriving into Yarmouth, Fishbourne, and East Cowes offer vehicle passage, so do bear this in mind when booking your visit. 

If you are travelling from further afield, or outside the UK, you can reach the Isle of Wight via flights into either of the major London airports at Heathrow and Gatwick and then get the train down to the south, or you can catch a local flight into Southampton or Bournemouth and then get on a train/bus to the port.

Where to stay on the Isle of Wight...

Deciding on where to stay on the Isle of Wight completely depends on the type of stay you are after. Are you looking for a weekend staycation in a coastal bed and breakfast? Or are you hiking your way across the island and spending each night in a new location?

For example, if you want to stay in a hostel on the Isle of Wight, YHA have their YHA Totland and YHA Brighstone hostels. This is the the perfect option for budget accommodation with close access to places to visit on the Isle of Wight. Book your YHA stay here.

We chose to stay in Freshwater Bay, an area on the South West of the island that is perfect for family-friendly beach stays. Situated in between Tennyson Down (named after the famous poet Alfred Tennyson) and Afton Down (the site of the iconic 1970 Isle of Wight music festival), Freshwater Bay provides access to the spectacular coastal path and is perfect for activities such as swimming, paddle-boarding, coasteering, and kayaking.

If arriving by car, it’s a short 10-minute drive from Yarmouth. You can also grab an open-top Needles Breezer bus which takes about 15 minutes, or like we chose to do, take the scenic woodland walk that runs along the River Yar. It’s just over an hour’s walk alongside the river, through a quiet tree-lined path, where you can catch glimpses of chocolate box cottages along the way. If you are travelling light, or are a keen walker, I would definitely recommend this option – sometimes the best way to see things is on foot!

We booked to stay in a unique Airbnb called ‘Smugglers’ about five minutes walk from the bay. It’s an old stable that has been renovated into cosy self-contained accommodation, complete with a full kitchen and bathroom. With lots of fun, quirky features such as a moving staircase to get to the mezzanine level, tons of smuggler-themed decor, and its own private courtyard beautifully filled with lush plants and flowers, it really was a stunning little find. With prices from £65 a night for a maximum of two people (cosy is the word here!) it’s perfect for couples – great if you’re looking for romantic things to do on the Isle of Wight!

The best things to do on the Isle of Wight

If you fancy going back to basics with camping, but aren’t quite prepared for the mountain of equipment you need, how about ‘Glamping’ at Tom’s Eco Lodges? Safari tents, Eco Pods, Wood Cabins, Geodomes are just some of the unique places to stay in, situated on the beautiful Tapnell Farm. All coming with various facilities including hot tubs and outdoor fire pits, these are perfect little retreats for couples and families. 

There’s tons of accommodation available in this area, from self-catering cottages to bed and breakfast and camping. Airbnb is your best friend on the island, and you can find unique and beautiful places depending on the type of stay you are enjoying!

Check out booking.com or Airbnb for more hotels or apartments in the area.

Where to eat and drink in West Wight...

This side of the island is so much quieter than the rest, the main focus here is on the outstanding natural beauty, so food shops/restaurants are few and far between, do bear this in mind when booking. There are some fabulous places to be found though, but make sure you book in advance if you want to eat somewhere specific!

Freshwater:

  • We had lunch in the Dimbola Tea room (inside the Dimbola Museum and Galleries), the lemon cake was delicious!
  • The Piano cafe was also highly rated, although we didn’t get to visit for ourselves.
  • The Red Lion pub, a little further from the bay up into the village, was also highly recommended by the Airbnb owners.

Totland Bay:

  • The Waterfront, a British and Mediterranean restaurant with outdoor seating and a fantastic view of the horizon, is great for sunset! The outdoor seats are first-come, first-served, so get there early if you want to bag a good sunset spot!
  • Bay Cafe on Totland Bay Pier is another spot to watch the sun go down, which serves food up until 8 pm. 
Colwell Bay:
  • The Hut, a fantastic seafood restaurant with a growing reputation. Situated right on the water’s edge, it’s without a doubt one of the best spots to enjoy delicious fresh, local food and watch the sunset with a cocktail! It’s pricey, but oh so worth it both in terms of food and service. They also have a rooftop bar with nibbles if you’re not hungry enough for a meal! 

Yarmouth:

  • The George Hotel, a 17th-century townhouse sitting right on the water’s edge, boasting picturesque views out onto the Solent
  • The Terrace, a harbour-side restaurant with a roof terrace next door to the ferry terminal. Perfect for enjoying those last few hours of island life before heading home.  

The best things to do on the Isle of Wight...

1. Freshwater Bay

Freshwater bay is a must-visit when staying on West Wight – a stunning bay with crystal clear waters and two mostly shingle beaches. Don’t forget to pack water shoes if you fancy a dip, as there can be a lot of seaweed and rocks to manoeuvre, but so worth it once you sink into that water. They don’t call it Freshwater for nothing. Head to the beach on the right of the promenade for a quieter experience, and when the tide goes out there are plenty of rock pools to explore, those water shoes will definitely come in handy!

If you’re an adventurer, it’s the perfect place to bring paddle-boards and kayaks, one of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight. At low tide there are caves that you can access, but just paddling around the bay looks just as fun! With a small shop, toilets and a cafe, it’s got everything you need for a relaxing beach day. 

2. The Needles

For one of the best free things to do on the Isle of Wight, a walk along Tennyson Down to the world-famous needles is a must. A steady but slightly uphill four-mile walk along the stunning clifftops of the island takes you down to this iconic landmark, the three chalk stacks and the Needles lighthouse that jut out from the island are one of the most photographed places in the UK, and along the coastline you get magnificent views of the Dorset coast and Alum bay. 

Follow the cliff path down to The Needles Landmark Attraction, and from here you can access Alum Bay which features the world-famous coloured sands. There are stairs down to the bay for the less adventurous souls, but take the chairlift for the best views of the bay, headland, and the Needles, on a slightly hair-raising ride down to the bottom. A single ride costs £3.00 or £6.00 for a return. We chose to walk back up the steps, stopping to take pictures along the way, those views are just too good!

The beach itself is mainly shingle, with incredibly clear waters perfect for a dip to cool down in the heat. There are no facilities on the beach itself so not an all-day beach spot, but lovely to visit all the same. From the bay, you can take a 20-minute boat trip around the Needles if you fancy getting up close and personal with them; be sure to take a jacket as it can get pretty chilly in that wind!

The Needles Landmark Attraction park is free to enter and has paid fairground rides, shops, and places to eat, but can get very busy at peak times, so arrive early and bring food/snacks to avoid the tourist-heavy charges. There’s plenty of parking available, (fees apply during the summer season), you can also get the open-top Needles Breezer bus which operates every 30 minutes from Yarmouth and winds its way to the Needles Battery after Alum bay. 

See the best walks in England here. 

3. Watch the sunset at Colwell Bay or Totland Bay.

One of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight is to admire the sky as the colours change from blue to orange and everything in between. This is the area of the island where the sun sets, so you absolutely must try these places to visit on the Island of Wight. Whether you visit one of the eateries I mentioned above, or make it more budget-friendly by taking a picnic to the beach, sunsets on the Isle of Wight are not something to be missed! 

Colwell Bay has a family-friendly sand and shingle beach and super calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkelling in, if you’re looking for free things to do on the Isle of Wight before sunset. There is parking here, as well as toilets, a beach shop and a beach cafe. You can also hire deck chairs and paddleboards with SupDog.

Improve your travel photography with these top tips. 

The best things to do on the Isle of Wight

4. Visit the UK's oldest theme park.

For family fun things to do on the Isle of Wight, check out the UK’s oldest theme park at Blackgang Chine, which opened in the 1840s! Dinosaurs, dodos and more await you as you enter the land of imagination…! 

5. Osbourne House.

For history buffs, one of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight is to visit Osborne House in East Cowes. Once Queen Victoria’s palatial summer home and rural retreat, the Italian Renaissance palazzo-style house has beautiful grounds to walk through and its own private beach. You can swim right where Queen Victoria herself swam! 

6. Ventnor Botanical Gardens.

Ventnor Botanical Gardens is a lush Mediterranean oasis due to the warm micro-climate the south of the island experiences. One of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight is to soak up that fresh, natural area, appreciate being around the plants and nature, and soak up a bit more of the sun while you’re there!

7. Go walking or cycling.

There are lots for adventure lovers too, with a stunning 68-mile long coastal path, and many more inland paths, there’s plenty of walks to choose from. With no motorways and relatively low traffic on the island, exploring it on foot or by bike is a fantastic way to really see the beauty this place has to offer and one of the best free things to do on the Isle of Wight.  

Check out some of the best walks in the UK here. 

8. Head to a festival.

The Isle of Wight is also home to some of the oldest and best festivals in the world, which are definitely some of the most fun things to do on the Isle of Wight! 

Cowes Week, which takes place in August, is the oldest and largest sailing regatta in the world, taking place over a full 8 days, it attracts thousands of spectators to watch either from the shore or from a boat.

Also held in August, the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival is the island’s biggest summer show and has entertainment for all the family; including live music, children’s entertainment, and of course plenty of mouth-watering food stalls to sample garlicky-goods from.

See more unique things to do in England here. 

The award-winning historic Isle of Wight Music Festival is held annually on the outskirts of Newport, featuring legendary acts and bringing the sounds of new artists to thousands of music lovers. Established in 1968 the festival was banned after the 1970 show when an estimated 700,000 people turned up to watch Jimi Hendrix play what was to be one of his last performances before he died. The festival was revived back in 2002 and is now a popular event in the summer festival calendar. 

With so much to explore, see and do, and just a stone’s throw away from the mainland, but feeling worlds away from the hustle and bustle of our southern seaside towns, the Isle of Wight is a fantastic place to visit in the UK. I myself can’t wait to come back and explore more, what are you waiting for? 

Where are your favourite things to do on the Isle of Wight?

What are your places to visit on the Isle of Wight? Anything you’d add?

Love as always and happy adventuring…

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A weekend guide to the Isle of Wight, EnglandA weekend guide to the Isle of Wight, EnglandA weekend guide to the Isle of Wight, England
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IT’S LOVELY TO MEET YOU

I’M MOLLIE AND I STARTED THIS BLOG BACK IN 2013 WHEN I HEADED OUT ON MY FIRST BACKPACKING ADVENTURE. 

I’D LOVE TO SHARE THE JOURNEY WITH YOU, WE’VE GROWN A LOT SINCE THEN!

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