Of all the UK’s off-mainland destinations, the Isle of Wight is one of the most popular for Brits. That’s partly due to sheer convenience: the quickest ferry will get you there in 30 minutes (from Lymington) and the longest in an hour (from Southampton), or you can go from Portsmouth in 45 minutes. But there’s also a wealth of things to do on offer, from walking along glorious beaches to petting alpacas to dining at numerous restaurants serving up the freshest seafood, and absorbing whole lot of history along the way (not to mention spending the night at some seriously unique hotels). Even if you’re based further afield, it’s well worth making a beeline for, so check out our selection of the best things to do on the Isle of Wight and start exploring this charming little island.
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Best things to do on the Isle of Wight
What is it? A lookout that stands on one of the highest points of the island, known locally as the Pepperpot.
Why go? It's the only remaining medieval lighthouse in England and looks a bit like a stone rocket (although those buttresses at the bottom were added much later). The tower was built in 1328 by Walter de Godeton in an attempt to atone for stealing wine from a shipwreck; a priest would operate a light at the top while praying for lost sailors. Take a tour of the newer , still-working St Catherine's Lighthouse too, built in 1838 and just a few miles away at Niton Undercliffe.
What is it? A cute little local gem that looks like a café, but it is in fact only open for dinner.
Why go? It’s an intimate space – seating around 20 diners – and is often packed due to their high standards, so book ahead. Owners Dawn and Catherine make everything on their European-influenced menu from scratch, with produce largely from the village itself. The select wine list comes courtesy of Eurovines in nearby Nettlestone, plus there are a few beers, ciders and soft drinks to choose from, too. All the wines are available by the half-bottle, should you want a little more than a glass, but don’t want to be left hanging the next day.
What is it? A leisurely tour of the island from the water.
Why go? Given its direct connections to Southampton, the northern seaport town of Cowes has acquired a thriving boating community. It’s the perfect spot from which to experience the open water and you don’t need to be a pro sailor to do so. Plenty of companies offer a skipper with your boat hire. If you’re around in August check out Cowes Week, featuring daily boat races, live music, stalls, pop-up bars, and fireworks displays.
What is it? A haven for word nerds and literary collectors.
Why go? Babushka Books care just as much about literature as you do, describing themselves as ’an orphanage of unwanted books waiting for a new home’. They stock newbies, oldies and stunning special editions. They also sell a range of fully serviced and working vintage typewriters. If you can’t make it to the shop, you can order from Babushka online and they’ll send your book out in retro (and protective) packaging, with a personalised, hand-typed thank-you note.
What is it? Yoga. On a paddle board. On the water.
Why go? Bored with pulling the same old yoga poses on land? Try them on water: iSurf Mobile Surf School offers SUP (stand-up paddleboard) yoga lessons in various parts of the island, including Newtown Creek, Yarmouth Estuary and Freshwater Bay. The sea provides a meditative backdrop and thoroughly challenges your sense of balance, therefore suitably strengthening your core. If water’s not your thing, book into the Erling’s Yoga, a yoga-focused B&B in Shanklin on the southeast coast.
What is it? A delightful restaurant and B&B that was featured in an episode of Channel 4's ‘Four in a Bed’.
Why go? Sat on the north coast in Gurnard, this family-run place offers comfort, a Scandi-style vibe and seating that overlooks the Solent. The menu can be best described as seasonal conteporary British, all concocted by owners Ben and Holly Cooke. Wednesdays are fresh pasta day, with homemade offerings from Holly. Her pasta is also available to purchase to take home.
What is it? An indulgent afternoon treat at the historic Royal hotel.
Why go? Founded in 1832, The Royal is one of the oldest hotels on the island and was once a favourite spot of Queen Victoria. The Royal Afternoon Tea, served from 3pm to 5pm daily, includes finger sandwiches, scones, mini pastries and cakes, tea/coffee and Champers (for an extra £7). If you’re on a budget (or diet) opt for the Cream Tea, which costs £7.50 per person and comes with either scones or cake.
What is it? A trio of pointy chalk rocks that have iconic status on the Isle of Wight.
Why go? Being the unique shape that they are, the Needles create a striking silhouette just off the western tip of the island. They’re accompanied by a lone lighthouse that’s stood at the edge of the rocks since the nineteenth century, warning ships in the night. Get a birds-eye view of the Needles via chairlift, which also provides a quick route down to Alum Bay beach. Worth rocking up to.
What is it? An alpaca farm set up by husband and wife duo Neil and Michelle Payne in 2010.
Why go? The Paynes offer treks with rare Suri alpacas, as well as llamas, in the village of Wellow. After getting to know the four-legged furries, you can pick up some themed goods in the shop, with numerous items spun from alpaca hair. The adjacent Llama Tree café makes for a good spot for lunch, serving stone-baked pizzas of both savoury and sweet varieties.
What is it? A restaurant in a renovated old seaside haunt in Sandown.
Why go? Get a food experience with a slice of history at The Bandstand. This modest space has been artfully restored from a neglected old bandstand (hence the name) on Bembridge embankment. Glass surrounds the dining area, providing 360-degree views of Sandown Bay and Culver Parade as you tuck into fresh seafood and seasonal British dishes. The Bandstand is less than a ten-minute walk from the Isle of Wight Zoo, which would make for a great way to work up an appetite.
What is it? Lovingly restored vintage locomotives running along a five-mile route.
Why go? See how people and goods travelled round the island in the old days on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. The trains stop at four old rural stations, which you can enjoy from the comfort of the Edwardian and Victorian carriages or hop off and have a look around. Island Heritage Train Days run once a month, offering visitors a chance to see 'Island pedigree' and goods trains, as well as learning more in the Discovery Centre.
Image © Justin Foulger