The Isle of Wight is one of my favourite places in England. Located in the English Channel, just a few miles south of Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight is England’s largest island with approx. 23 miles (37 km) across. And whilst it is just a 20-minute ferry ride away, going down to the island for a weekend feels like a completely different world. Perfect for winding down and recharging one’s batteries. So, whether you plan a weekend trip to the Isle of Wight or want to spend a week camping, here are my 10 things to do on the Isle of Wight.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Visit the Needles
Situated at the Western Edge of the Island, the Needles are 3 chalk stacks in a line with a lighthouse on the furthest stack. It actually used to be four, however one (a sharp ‘needle-shaped’ one, hence the actual name of the formation) has collapsed years ago, leaving a distinct gap within the row.
The Needles are a National Trust heritage site, including not ‘just’ the actual stacks, but also the Old and New Battery, part of the former military defence line on the Isle of Wight.
You can view the Needles either from the top of the cliff, by heading down to the beach with the chairlift (or walking the steps if you prefer) or by boat. For the best Needles experience, I’d recommend you do all of the above. Taking that chairlift might be a little scary at first. If you are anything like me, you will feel your heart sink to your bottom the moment you go over the cliff (not helped by Mr T laughing his socks off in the seat behind me). But you are then rewarded with great views. If you don’t feel comfortable taking the chairlift, there are also stairs leading down to the water.
If you are visiting the Needles with kids, I would recommend you also allocate some extra time for the amusement park.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Drive the Old Military Road
Ok, I grant you that. The Old Military Road might not be an official site on the Isle of Wight. It is a road along the southern edge of the island, leading from Chale to Freshwater. The Old Military Road offers you perfect views of the coast and the sea beyond. The very first time Mr T and I visited the Isle of Wight (long before we actually relocated to UK for good) it was just the day during a South England and Cornwall road trip holiday. And we effectively spent the day circling the entire island, including the Old Military Road. So just trust me on this, it is worth it.
As you are up the cliff, access to the beaches below is fairly limited. Over the years, storms have washed away bits of the coast, making some of the cliffs and beaches too dangerous to access.
Whale Chine Bay used to have wooden steps going down to the beach, but when we visited earlier this year, we noticed they were now closed, as some of the cliff was washed away.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Shanklin
Shanklin is a seaside resort on the Eastern coast of the Isle of Wight. With its esplanade and long sandy beaches, it is the perfect seaside destination (well, minus the pier you’d normally expect for a British seaside town).
Shanklin is split into several parts. The Esplanade down by the beach. The main town up on the cliff (with stairs and a lift leading from the Esplanade to the top of the cliff). And Old Shanklin, a rather picturesque little village set aside from the newer part of town.
If you fancy some walking and hiking, you can also go and explore Shanklin Chine (entrance fee applies).
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Try some garlicky delicacies on the Garlic Farm
You might have seen the Isle of Wight condiments in some of the fancy London garden centres, farm shops and delis. But when on the island, you can actually go to the source and visit the Garlic Farm itself. It is located inland in the Arreton Valley, approximately a 10-minute drive from Brading and Sandown.
There’s loads to do on the Garlic Farm. With both a restaurant and a farm shop, you can try everything garlic (from garlic ketchup to garlic beer) and take it home with you. You can visit the farm and have a stroll through the surrounding area. There’s an education centre, where you can learn about garlic.
You can even stay on the Garlic Farm, if you fancy. They offer holiday cottages as well.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Culver Down
Culver Down is located on the East coast of the Isle of Wight, just north of Sandown. Nowadays Culver Down is a National Trust site and open to the public. However, for quite some time, this was a military zone. Relicts of that are still visible, as you walk around the Down. The chalk cliff of Culver Down is visible, as you approach the Isle of Wight by ferry.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Osborne House
Located in East Cowes, Osborne House was one of Queen Victoria’s residences and the place she died in.
It was designed by Prince Albert and built by the same company that built Buckingham Palace.
Osborne House is open to the public (entrance fees apply) and is managed by English Heritage.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Visit Ryde
Ryde is the biggest town on the island (with around 32.000 inhabitants).
It is a seaside town with lovely sandy beaches. Its pier is the oldest pier in England (dating back to 1814) and one of the longest (number four to be precise, after Southend, Southport and Walton).
When the pier was built, it needed to be so long, to enable Ryde to have a regular ferry service with the main land (as otherwise ferries wouldn’t be able to reach Ryde at low tide).
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: Take a ride on the Island Line
Taking the Island Line is good fun. If you arrive on the Isle of Wight by passenger ferry into Ryde, this is one of the first things you’ll see. Take the Island Line Train Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin (8 stops along the route).
The Island Line currently uses old 1938 Northern Line stock. So, if you ever fancied riding an old London Tube train (but like me frequently miss out on the special rides in London), this is your chance.
And if you can’t get enough of trains, the Island Line connects with the Isle of Wight Steam train at Smallbrook Junction.
Update 2021: Unfortunately, the Island Line is out of service at the moment, thanks to upgrade works. It should re-open sometime in summer (well, it was supposed to be done by Easter, but that didn’t happen), meanwhile there is a rail replacement bus in service.
10 Things to do on the Isle of Wight: the Isle of Wight Steam Train
The IOW Steam Train runs from Smallbrook Junction to Wooton.
It only operates during the summer months from April to October, so I have yet to manage to actually take this train myself (as so often I seem to end up on the Isle of Wight over winter or in early spring).
Round the Isle of Wight by bike
OK you got me. This isn’t necessarily my thing to do (saying that, I have recently done my fair share of cycling in San Francisco). But Mr T is more than up for it. On his bucket list is surrounding the entire island by bike. If you ‘only’ go around the edge of the Isle of Wight, it will be approximately 70 miles to do the round. If you want to also include a bit of the inner areas, it will be longer (and hillier). So, whether you do a one-day bike ride around the Isle of Wight or a two-day tour of the Isle of Wight is up to you.
There you have it. My recommendations of 10 things to do on the Isle of Wight. But this is only scratching the surface. There is loads more to do and I leave it up to you to explore every corner of the island. Whether you are into beach holidays, hiking, cycling or music festivals, the Isle of Wight has you covered.
Tell me, have you been to the Isle of Wight?