Dinosaur hunters, monkey fans and beach lovers should all flock to the idyllic Isle of Wight, a peaceful retreat from the mainland. The island is chock full of quaint traditional harbour towns, sandy beaches and the occasional major rock festival. In 1970 the Isle of Wight Festival drew Jimi Hendrix and The Who to Britain’s very own Woodstock, and every June its 60,000 revellers rock to the biggest names in music. It’s not all guitars on the island, mind. Visitors can also explore the animal sanctuaries, tea shops, market villages and geological wonders – the famous Needles are a must-see.
Isle of Wight Travel Link
You’ve lots of choices for travelling to the Isle of Wight – and all of them involve water.
Wightlink’s high speed passenger catamaran goes from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier Head, with a journey time of just 22 minutes. From here you can find connecting trains for Brading, Sandown, Lake and Shanklin.
Wightlink also operate a 45 minute crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne using a larger car and passenger ferry.
Hover Travel offer a speedy connection between Southsea and the beach at Ryde by passenger hovercraft with a journey time of just 10 minutes. You’re just a few steps from Ryde Esplanade train station. There’s also handy shuttle bus to Southsea Hoverport from Portsmouth and Southsea train station.
Seat reservations are available and can be made through Hovertravel’s reservation form. Please allow up to 48 hours (excluding weekends) for your request to be processed.
Red Funnel operate both high speed passenger catamarans and car ferries between Southampton and Cowes.
The catamaran service operates from Terminal 2, Town Quay, Southampton with a journey time of just 28 minutes to West Cowes. Red Funnel’s passenger vehicle ferry service departs from Terminal 1, Dock Gate 7 and reaches East Cowes in approximately 1 hour.
Both Southampton terminals are connected with Southampton Central train station by a fast and frequent shuttle bus.
You can also reach the Isle of Wight in 40 minutes from Lymington Ferry terminal using Wightlink’s regular car and passenger ferry. The terminal is immediately adjacent to Lymington Pier train station.
Plan ahead and save money by buying Isle of Wight’s combined train and ferry tickets for your chosen crossing – check the options online or at your local ticket office. See the Wightlink or Hovertravel site for combined Hoverbus, hovercraft and Island Line tickets, and other money saving options.
Attractions in the Isle of Wight
Your first sightseeing stop should always be The Needles, the spectacular rank of jagged chalk rocks rising like shark’s teeth from the west side of the island, best viewed by chairlift. With your souvenir vial of coloured sand secured, why not take the kids on a real-life adventure at Blackgang Chine on the south coast, the world’s oldest theme park and a ride-strewn fantasy world of Wild West towns, fairytale castles, underwater kingdoms, pirate coves and enclosures of animatronic dinosaurs. Indeed, the Isle of Wight is also known as ‘Dinosaur Isle’, thanks to its many fossils.
You can take one of the island’s many guided fossil tours, or visit the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown for a trip back to the days when the IOW was basically ‘Jurassic Park’ with more jammy scones. Explore the tranquillity and beauty of the island’s oldest tourist attraction - Shanklin Chine. Rail ticket holders get a 10% discount on admission by showing their ticket.
Prefer friendlier wildlife? Try horse riding across the island, or hit Monkey Haven near the central town of Newport, visit the family-run Isle of Wight Zoo in Sandown or the ecologically-minded Amazon World Zoo Park near Arreton. Or take your own little monkeys to see Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s ornate summer palace on the island, now managed by English Heritage. We guarantee you’ll be amused.
If you want more ideas on things to do, we have put together a 48 hours guide on the Isle of Wight.
Shopping in the Isle of Wight
Keen to take a chunk of dinosaur home with you? Then stop in at Jurassic Jim in Shanklin, where fossil hunter Jim sells dinosaur artefacts he digs up by hand, each with a story attached. It’s one of the many quirky independent boutique and artisan shops you’ll find nestled amongst the high-street brands on any IoW high street. Check out Isle of Wight Pearl in Brighstone for designer jewellery shopping with a stunning cliffside view, or to create a bespoke piece made to your individual requirements.
Eating out in the Isle of Wight
From the humblest fish and chip shop to the grandest lobster palace, seafood is the IoW’s speciality. If you’re feeling flush head to The Little Gloster in Gurnard, near Cowes, to fine-dine on fillets of plaice and monkfish or whole Ventnor lobster – the specials menu changes daily depending on the local catch, and along with your meal you can enjoy a panoramic view of sailing boats on the Solent. Less wallet battering is Ventnor’s Seapot café serving unpretentious cakes, platters and crab sandwiches on oceanside decking. For the IoW’s best eats, though, scour the Newport backstreets, where Burr’s and Thompson’s vie for the title of the most acclaimed plates on the Island.
Hotels in the Isle of Wight
There’s not just great food and views but great accommodation too at The Little Gloster, although the spectacular contemporary chic balconies of The Hambrough in Ventnor give it a run for its (surprisingly reasonable) money. Over in the harbour at Yarmouth, the George Hotel has upped the stakes with a classy new brasserie overlooking its own pebble beach for the utmost in wonky-floored Georgian elegance. For tighter budgets, The Union Inn in Cowes won TV’s ‘Four In A Bed’ thanks to its seafaring style and yachting clientele. Rooms above pubs rarely come classier.