There’s something about going to an Island that is exciting and exotic. The Isle of Wight is just two hours from where we live in the Thames Valley and once you get to the crossing at Lymington in the New Forest (by far the nicer place to catch the ferry) that carefree-leave-everything-behind holiday feeling sets in. A short 40-minute journey across the Solent lets you off in the harbour town of Yarmouth, where we stayed in a holiday cottage as guests of Sykes Cottages.
We spent a week in West Wight, but it wasn’t nearly enough time to check out the many activities. I guess that is an excellent excuse to visit again! Check out what we did below, and if you have any suggestions of things you like to do on the Isle of Wight please let me know.
Yarmouth & West Wight: What to do
On the quieter side of the Island and popular with the more down-to-earth yachting crowd than Cowes, Yarmouth is a great base. The ancient narrow streets contrast with the trendy nautical-themed boutiques (every other person is wearing a Breton shirt and boaters) and there are enough cafes, pubs and restaurants to keep you entertained.
Yarmouth Pier, the last remaining all-wooden pier in the British Isles, is a must for crabbing. You can pick up everything you need in the Square on your walk there. Beachwise, there’s a rocky one in front of the private yacht club or cross over the bridge on the main road, turn right and there’s Norton Split which has coastal walks and a small sandy beach. For some history, wander through Yarmouth Castle, a small but distinctive castle commissioned by King Henry VIII. For some exercise and great views (glade place for a picnic), rent a bike at Wight Cycle Hire and whiz through the salt marshes of Yarmouth Harbour’s Estuary – then have lunch or an ice cream or crepe at Off the Rails.
If you are self-catering you can get supplies at local supermarket Harveys or the well-stocked Deli. Otherwise there are a host of options, including three pubs in Yarmouth and if you want something upscale my husband had a business meeting (yes, really) at The George Hotel. Salty’s is bustling and always busy. Go a little further afield to Shalfleet and eat at the award-winning New Inn for fresh fish, crab and lobster. In Freshwater, The Red Lion has traditional pub food, a nice garden and a variety of beers or the Piano Cafe Mezze Bar in Freshwater Bay serves homemade cakes, mezze boards and fine wines.
You must check out the iconic Needles Rocks. Drive to the car park (PO39 0JD) and then you have two choices – The Needles Landmark Attraction, a mini amusement park where you can take a spectacular chairlift ride down to see the colourful sands of Alum Bay and then fill your own sand souvenir and The National Trust’s Needles Battery, which involves a scenic walk along the white cliffs where you can get an up-close view of the chalk rocks and lighthouse.
West Wight is a perfect playground for waterspouts. Try family kayaking or a host of other adrenaline sports with Isle of Wight Adventure Activities. If you’re lucky you may venture out to see the caves (famous for smuggling). Go to Colwell Bay for crabbing and rock-pooling or to see the surfers.
We never made it to Mottistone Gardens, a National Trust maintained Elizabethan manor house and 20th-century garden (highly recommended by our friends) or the Blackgang Chine amusement park for the kids. Something to look forward to for our next trip!
My 11-year-old on sea kayaking with Action Adventure
We went on the sea with Adventure Activities and it was great! There were caves that we went in to. The best one was one that curved at the right into a gravel beach you could stand in. We paddled in and swam to another cave (!) and it was really fun, but cold (even in a wet suit).
My 10-year-old on The Needles
We went to see the Needles. They had lots of different colours of sand – from red to white to yellow. You can make your own souvenirs with the different colours of sand. It was really nice and fun and you have something really cool that you made yourself. First you choose the shape, there were loads from elephants to ships to key rings to the shape of the island to mini jars. I chose a hexagonal jar. Then you got to put in the sand. There was white, yellowish, orange, pinkish, brown, normal and many more. It was actually way easier than I though, and I’m not very good at art but mine turned out really nice. Then you gave it to the lady who asked whether you wanted lines in yours and did stuff so that if you shake it – it won’t mess up. I really enjoyed it!
The centre of the Island & East Wight
The IOW is not huge, it takes about 45 minutes to get from one side of the Island to another – so visiting other areas is very do-able. If you want to venture out of West Wight, an obvious place to visit is the centre of the Island and East Wight.
Queen Victoria and Albert loved their Isle of Wight residence, Osborne House and spent as much time as possible there. It’s easy to see why as the extensive grounds lead to a charming Swiss Cottage (where the royal children played) and then down to the private beach where you can see Queen Victoria’s bathing machine. Carisbrook is what I think a castle should be – Ramparts to climb, lots of hands-on activities and cute donkeys. The perfect place to be a knight or princess for the day.
If you love wildlife and want a hands-on experience, spend an afternoon at Seaview Wildlife Encounter (ranked a top attraction by Trip Advisor). Make sure you get the duck and bird seed – so you can feed the thousands of birds on the open parklands. You can pet a wallaby, help feed penguins, hang out with meerkats and more.
We wanted to visit Quarr Abbey, the Benedictine monk monastery, after it was listed in The Sunday Times as one of the best places for afternoon tea, but we’ll have to save that for next time.
My favourite beach and secret hideaway is Steephill Cove. We took the picturesque coastal Military Road (A3055) from Freshwater to Ventnor, parked in the Botanic Garden car park and walked down to Steephill Cove. What a find! The cove oozes character; there are stripy beach chairs for hire, a crab shack where you can eat shellfish caught that day by the resident fisherman, and a coffee shop and cafe.
My 11-year-old on Seaview Wildlife Encounter
We went to Seaview Wildlife Encounter and it was so much fun. We got some duck food (it as only £1 and there was soooo much in the bag) and fed the ducks and birds. That took a long time because there were so many! Then we saw the wallabies, which was great because they get to roam free (but are mainly in their pens). I would definitely go again.
Where we stayed: Modwena from Sykes Cottages
I was amazed at the quality of our accommodation from Skyes Cottages, which prides itself on providing hand-picked holiday rentals. Based in the heart of Yarmouth, Modwena had recently been completely renovated. It’s ranked 5 stars by Sykes and very highly on Trip Advisor too.
The ground floor has two cosy sitting rooms with wood burners and a contemporary, well-equipped fitted kitchen that leads on to a large dining room with bi-fold doors that open onto a pretty, compact patio. Throughout are hardwood and slate floors, and a Laura Ashley vintage beach themed interior. There three beautifully decorated bedrooms are up a very staircase (as they often are in older seaside cottages) along with a family bathroom.
There’s a utility room with a washing machine that easily works! I can’t tell you how many times I have given up using a holiday cottage washing machine because I couldn’t figure out how to operate it. This one was just like the one I had at home, which was in fact a theme throuhgout the cottage. It was like we were at home. The cottage had the same Rangemaster and Le Creuset pans. And each time we thought of something we might need (ground coffee and milk), they had thought of it before and left it for us! They even had a Soda Stream!
Parking is a bit of the faff as there’s a pelican crossing in front. Options include a public car park 2 mins walk away (£6.60 per day) or limited permits for local parking (need to move by 8 am).
There are 3 TVs with Freeview (we never turned on!), DVD player, a radio (we used this to listen to music while cooking dinner and sipping a glass of wine), WiFi that works, and a selection of books and games.
In additions to high quality of the cottage, what I loved best was having Yarmouth only a 2-minute walk away. There was so much to do there. While we were there in May, I can see it would make a nice short break even in winter months. We are definitely going back!
IF YOU GO
Visit Isle of Wight visitisleofwight.co.uk This web site should be your first port of call before visiting.
Sykes Cottages sykescottages.co.uk A huge choice of over 5,000 personally-inspected holiday cottages to rent in the UK and Ireland. We were really pleased the with high quality of our rental.
Yarmouth Deli The Square, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0NS +44 01983 761196 Fresh croissants daily and some of the best olives I have ever had.
Yarmouth Castle Quay Street, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0PB +44 0370 333 1181 Commissioned by Henry VIII, this small but perfectly formed castle is a great place to explore and have a picnic overlooking the Solent.
Isle of Wight Adventure Activities Afton Park, Newport Road, Freshwater, Isle of Wight PO40 9XR +44 01983 755838 isleofwight.adventureactivitiesuk.com Get your adrenaline pumping with an action packed activity tailored for families. The friendly staff is trained to accommodate children of all ages and there are even wee wet suits! With three locations on the Island, choose from a long list, including sorbing to stand up paddle boarding, Children as young as 5 can participate. We went sea kayaking and they took lots of photos and put them on their Facebook page, which I thought was a nice touch.
Wight Cycle Hire Yarmouth Station, Station Rd, Yarmouth, Isle Of Wight PO41 0QT +44 01983 761800 wightcyclehire.co.uk Experience for yourself why Lonely Planet named the IOW as a top 10 cycling destinations in the WORLD. Located on the former Yarmouth to Freshwater railway, now a multi use cycle path, follow the River Yar and spot the wildlife – including the famous Red Squirrels. Perfect for families.
Off the Rails 0qx, 5 Station Rd, Yarmouth PO41 0QX +44 01983 761600 offtherailsyarmouth.co.uk Originally the train station, this cafe now serves high quality food all day long. Attached to Wight Cycle Hire and near cycle pathways.
Osborne House York Ave, East Cowes, Isle of Wight PO32 6JX +44 01983 200022 english-heritage.org.uk Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday home. Gorgeous gardens, a historical stately home to explore and a good rainy day option if the heavens open.
Carisbrooke Castle Castle Hill, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 1XY +44 01983 522107 english-heritage.org.uk Ramparts to climb, lots of hands-on activities and cute donkeys. The perfect place to be a knight or princess for the day.
The Needles Landmark Attraction Alum Bay New Road, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight PO39 0JD theneedles.co.uk A mini amusement park where you can take the chairlift down to Alum Bay to see the 21 shades of sand and then fill your own sand souvenir.
The Needles Battery W High Down, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight PO39 0JH +44 01983 754772 nationaltrust.org.uk A military Battery built above the Needles stacks in 1861–63 to guard the West end of the Solent. Walk on the cliffs where you can get an up-close view of the Needles Rocks.
Seaview Wildlife Encounter Oakhill Road, Seaview, Isle of Wight PO34 5AP +44 01983 612153 seaviewwildlife.com @seaviewwildlife The place for a hands-on wildlife experience. Feed the ducks/birds, pet wallabies and don’t miss the Penguins!
Mottistone Manor Mottistone, Newport, Isle of Wight PO30 4EA +44 01983 741302 nationaltrust.org.uk Enchanting garden set in a sheltered valley Set in a sheltered valley this magical garden is full of surprises, with shrub-filled banks, hidden pathways and colourful herbaceous borders. Surrounding an attractive Elizabethan manor house this 20th-century garden is experimenting with a Mediterranean-style planting scheme to take advantage of its southerly location.
Steephill Cove www.steephillcove-isleofwight.co.uk One of the most secluded and picturesque coastal areas of the Isle of Wight. Park at the Ventnor Botanic Garden Car Park in Ventnor. Follow the path which runs past Ventnor Cricket Academy and take the steps down into the cove. Try lobster/crab fresh off the boat at The Crab Shed or have a coffee or light lunch at The Beach Shack.
Newton National Nature Reserve. The only National Trust nature reserve on the island. Go crabbing on the bridge at the salt marsh, no one is there except kayakers and crabs. How to get there.
Colwell Bay. Good for crabbing and rocking pooling. Watch the tide schedule and go when it’s out. Bring a net and wear trainers!
Freshwater Bay. www.freshwater.shalfleet.net Small cove on the west of the Island which is overlooked by steep chalk cliffs. There’s a small gift shop, car park and toilets.
The New Inn Mill Rd Newport, Shalfleet, Newport, Isle of Wight PO30 4NS 01983 531314 thenew-inn.co.uk FANTASTIC food. It’s a pub, with loads of fresh fish, crab and lobster. Perfect with a glass of chardonnay.
The Red Lion Church Place, Freshwater, Isle of Wight PO40 9BP +44 01983 754925 redlion-freshwater.co.uk Daily changing menu using local produce at a traditional stone-floored country pub with real ales.
Salty’s Restaurant and Bar. Quay Street, Yarmouth PO41 0PB, Isle of Wight England 01983-761550. saltysrestaurant.co.uk What could beat lobster and chips?
Notes: Our accommodation was provided by Sykes Cottages for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own and my family’s.