Top things to do on the Isle of Wight

Things to do

Top things to do on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight continues to captivate visitors – whether you are sailing across the Solent for the first time or the twenty-first time.

This compact Island can confidently claim to offer ‘all of England in miniature’ thanks to its varied coastline, rolling hills and dramatic royal history. Villages and bays only a short distance apart hold completely different atmospheres - from the isolated coastline of the South Wight to the bustling sandy resorts of Sandown and Shanklin.

From embarking on scenic coastal stomps and visiting sandy beaches to trying the best places to eat and family-friendly attractions, read on to discover the best things to do on the Isle of Wight.


Someone walking along the cliffs at St Catherine's on the Isle of Wight

Enthusiastic walkers will adore the Isle of Wight’s 70-mile coastal path, covering the steep hills of the South Wight and flatter sections around the North Coast. If the whole thing sounds a little too ambitious for a holiday (we don’t blame you!), then you can pick from stunning walks that will give you a good taste of the Island’s scenery.


Between Three Bays

The iconic white cliffs and red and white lighthouse at The Needles on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight’s west coast is arguably its most stunning, with a dramatic coastline including Compton Bay, Freshwater Bay and Alum Bay. One of the finest walks incorporates all three, as well as taking in landmarks such as the Tennyson Monument and The Needles.

Start from Hanover Point and follow the tall white cliffs that rise over Compton Down, and then descend into Freshwater Bay. After a refuel at Dimbola Lodge or The Piano Café, the walk climbs again to Tennyson Down and continues to the Needles’ famous red and white lighthouse.

The full route is just over 10 miles and will take around 5-6 hours. For a shorter walk, start from Freshwater Bay and stop for refreshments at Alum Bay.


Bonchurch to Steephill Cove

The sandy beach at Steephill Cove on the Isle of Wight

Another stunning stretch of coastal path can be enjoyed in the South Wight with this 4 mile walk. Start in Bonchurch, where local residents are said to have inspired some of Charles Dickens’s characters. The author also wrote part of David Copperfield while holidaying in the village.

Continue west along the coastal path, which offers dramatic crashing waves at high tide and a more peaceful journey at low tide. After a mile or so, you will reach Ventnor with its lively seafront and choice of eateries. Children will love the Isle-of-Wight-shaped paddling pool while many stop for a meal at the Spyglass Inn.

The walk continues along the undulating coastal path towards Steephill Cove, which is famed for its thatched cottages and crab pasties. You might even be tempted to take a dip in the sea! You can either return along the road and past Ventnor Park or return along the same route and enjoy the coastline from a different angle.

Historic sites

The honey stone buildings at Princess Beatrice Gardens at Carisbrooke Castle

For an Island of only 147 square miles, the Isle of Wight crams in an impressive amount of history, with many ancient castles and houses ready to be explored. Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle are popular, but there are other lesser-known gems, such as Appuldurcombe House – which played host to a Victorian scandal, or Farringford where Alfred, Lord Tennyson spent much of his life.


Osborne House, East Cowes

The impressive yellow-hued house and terraced gardens at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight

Queen Victoria’s holiday home at Osborne House is the headliner on a history lover’s visit to the Isle of Wight. The monarch spent much of her time at the stately home in East Cowes, with its majestic views down to the coast and across to Portsmouth.

The main house’s points of interest include the room in which the Queen died in 1901 and the Durbar Wing, which recalls the Queen’s role as Empress of India. There is also the Council Room where Alexander Graham Bell visited to show off his new invention. Victoria’s muted response was that his telephone was ‘rather faint’.

The 350 acre grounds offer plenty to see, including the Swiss Cottage that was built as a playhouse for the royal children and two playgrounds for visitors.

Osborne Bay is glorious on a sunny day. For many years, the private beach was out of bounds, but it was restored by English Heritage and re-opened in 2012 – complete with the Queen’s bathing machine.


Carisbrooke Castle, Newport

The ancient ruins of Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight

King Charles I is the monarch most strongly connected with the impressive Norman Castle that overlooks Carisbrooke village and the Bowcombe valley. The King was held prisoner at the Castle for about a year and attempted to escape on more than one occasion.

Visitors today are less keen to leave and can enjoy 360 degree views of the Island from the top of The Keep. Make sure you visit the giant wheel that pulls up water from the well with the help of the much-loved donkeys.

Other highlights at the castle include the ornate chapel and the gardens which pay tribute to Princess Beatrice, who was another former resident. Allow a little time to walk around the outside of the castle - the 1 mile route includes a dry moat, which is good fun for energetic children! 


The tall cliffs and turquoise waters at Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight

Variety is the watchword for the Isle of Wight’s beaches. Each stretch of coastline offers something different – from the non-stop entertainment of Shanklin beach to the yacht racing of Cowes and the surfing at Compton Bay.


Shanklin Beach

Golden sands and towels on Shanklin Beach on the Isle of Wight

Family fun is the name of the game at Shanklin Beach. This stretch of golden sands is the perfect place for a quick dip, or an afternoon of sunbathing on a summer’s day. Hire yourself a deckchair and sun shade, and feel the warmth of the sand beneath your toes while you enjoy a good book. Meanwhile, adventurers can hire a standup paddleboard or kayak to explore the coastline.

The esplanade is also home to a range of traditional seaside entertainment, including three minigolf courses, a small funfair, ice cream stalls and an amusement arcade – so there’s something for all interests!

If you fancy something to eat, tuck into a portion of fish and chips or dine out at one of the buzzing seafront pubs and restaurants including The Steamer and The Waterfront. At the far end of the beach you’ll find the Fisherman’s Cottage, a thatched pub that sits on the edge of the sand.


Compton Bay

The reaching golden sands at Compton Bay backed by cliffs on the Isle of Wight

Head for the West Wight if your idea of a beach trip is enjoying nature at its purest. You won’t find amusement arcades, minigolf or funfair rides here – just a long stretch of sand and the sound of lapping waves. The evening is perhaps the best time to visit Compton Bay, as the low sun reflects off shallow pools of water on the beach. You won’t be able to resist a few photos! It’s no surprise that Compton Bay was named as one of the best beaches in the world by the Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

On windier days you’ll find the team from iSurf offering surf lessons in the bay. It picks up some of the best swell on the Island and is also a popular spot for bodyboarding.


One of the lion's at Wildheart Animal Sanctuary on the Isle of Wight

Make memories at one of the Isle of Wight’s many family-friendly days out. Meet the dinosaurs or fairies of Blackgang Chine or race your way around the Tapnell Farm Park go-kart track - you can even visit the lions at Wildheart Animal Sanctuary! Teenagers can brave the Isle of Wight’s version of Total Wipeout or get competitive at football golf.


Blackgang Chine, Ventnor

A presenter at Blackgang Chine with an animatronic T-Rex in the background

The UK’s oldest theme park continues to charm children while offering a nostalgic treat for grown ups. Part of the appeal is its clifftop position with stunning views down the so-called ‘Back of the Wight’.

Start in Restricted Area 5 where you can come face to face with animatronic dinosaurs – similar to those that once roamed this part of the Island. Next, make your way to the Underwater Kingdom to meet the full size blue whale before a shoot-out in Cowboyland and a giant game of snakes and ladders!

Returning visitors will be pleased to know that old favourites including the Crooked House are still ready and waiting for you to step inside.


Tapnell Farm Park, Yarmouth

Two children looking into the rabbit enclosure at the petting zoo at Tapnell Farm Park on the Isle of Wight

This former dairy farm has rapidly become a favourite with Islanders and visitors with its combination of adorable animals, pedal go-karts, bouncy pillows and zip lines. Look out for the programme of live music and entertainments, which are hosted in the events’ barn.

Several other attractions can be found on other parts of Tapnell Farm. Older children and teenagers will love the antics of the Isle of Wight Aqua Park, which offers a series of inflatable challenges. After you’ve dried off, head to the Isle of Wight Football Golf course to complete nine or 18 holes. Or perhaps archery or axe throwing is more your sort of thing?

Finish off the day with a trip to the Cow Co restaurant, which has won awards for its outstanding burgers and relaxed vibes.

The icing on the cake is the location. Most of Tapnell Farm offers gorgeous views towards Lymington, while the beaches of the West Wight are only five minutes away.


Stalls full of garlic at the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival

If you enjoy a party atmosphere, coincide your holiday with one of several events on the Island – which include music festivals, carnivals and regattas. There’s even a festival celebrating garlic! You will soon realise why the Isle of Wight calls itself the Festival Island.


Isle of Wight Festival

Fireworks at night over the water during the Isle of Wight Festival

The Isle of Wight Festival has become a staple of Island life – but it hasn’t always been that way. The original festivals from 1968 to 1970 became so popular that the local council banned large gatherings for 32 years! Some reports suggest that the 1970 festival in Afton was attended by 600,000 people including Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.

Thankfully, the Isle of Wight Festival returned in 2002 and has since hosted a who’s who of pop and rock music. Over the years, headliners have included David Bowie, Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Jay-Z.

In 2023, Robbie Williams will add his name to the list when he appears onstage at Seaclose Park in Newport. Other names on the bill include The Chemical Brothers, Pulp, George Ezra and Blondie.


Cowes Week

Sailing boats competing during Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight

The pretty town of Cowes in the north of the Isle of Wight hums with activity in the summer with the arrival of the world’s largest yachting regatta of its kind. It’s been going since 1826 and continues to attract tens of thousands of spectators.

On the water, you can witness the Solent filled with colourful sails taking part in about 40 races per day. Olympians can be found competing amongst hobbyists in a total field of 8,500 sailors!

Landlubbers can enjoy live music in the Marina and the atmosphere of overflowing bars in the town’s pedestrianised streets.

Eating Out

A seafood platter from The Hut on the Isle of Wight

Serious foodies and family diners are well catered for on the Isle of Wight with many wonderful places to eat. For a memorable romantic meal, nothing beats a seaside restaurant against the setting sun. Or how about a hearty plateful at one of the Island’s many traditional pubs?


The Hut, Colwell Bay

The incredible waterside restaurant The Hut, right on the water's edge on the Isle of Wight

Colwell Bay in the West Wight is home to The Hut, one of the Isle of Wight’s most in-demand seafront restaurants. You will need to book some time in advance but it’s worth it. 

The restaurant is deservedly featured in the Michelin guide for its menu, which includes grilled lobster and an Indonesian fish curry. Oysters and cocktails are a popular choice with many of the diners who arrive by yacht. Some sail across from the New Forest to take advantage of The Hut’s shuttle service from the bay to the restaurant.

On summer evenings, The Hut’s roof opens up to make the most of the weather. Time your visit with sundown for an unforgettable evening.


The Spyglass Inn, Ventnor

The Spyglass Inn just above the rocky beach with maritime decorations on the front of the building and seating outside

For more casual seaside dining, head for Ventnor in the South Wight. The Spyglass occupies an enviable location at the end of the Victorian town’s esplanade. The sound of the waves hitting the sea walls below competes with the pub’s regular live music evenings.

The menu is full of beloved classics including burgers, pies and steaks – which may explain why it was named best pub at the Red Funnel Isle of Wight Awards in 2022.

Complete the evening with a walk along Ventnor’s seafront. If you visit during Ventnor’s Fringe Festival then you might encounter street performers or a clifftop show in one of the marquees that pop up in the town.


Like the sound of a fun-filled trip to the Island? Discover our collection of cottages on the Isle of Wight.

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