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.
Crossing the Solent is all part of the experience of travelling to the Isle of Wight, and there’s a choice of crossings from different ports on the mainland, all easily reached by South Western Railway – see our map for details.
From Southampton Central station, catch the free shuttle bus to the Red Funnel terminal and catch the ferry to East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, taking about 1 hour, or the fast catamaran to Cowes on the Island, which takes just 25 minutes
From Lymington Pier you can catch the Wightlink ferry to Yarmouth at the western end of the Isle of Wight
At Portsmouth Harbour you can catch the Wightlink catamaran from just outside the station, which takes you to Ryde Pier on the Island in about 20 minutes
At Gunwharf Terminal, about 10 minutes’ walk from Portsmouth Harbour station, you can catch Wightlink’s car and passenger ferry, which gets you to Fishbourne on the Island in about 45 minutes
From Portsmouth & Southsea station you can take the fastest route: follow the signs to the Hoverbus (not free), which takes you direct to the Hovertravel terminal, from where the only scheduled hovercraft service in the world will whisk you to Ryde on the Isle of Wight in just 10 minutes
Plan ahead and save money by buying 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.
Wherever you arrive, you have a range of onward travel into the island. If you get a ticket to Ryde, the ferry or hovercraft will deposit you yards away from a station on the Island Line, the train network that runs between the towns of Ryde, Brading, Sandown, Lake and Shanklin. Ryde Pier Head station is right next to the Wightlink terminal, and Ryde Esplanade station serves the hovercraft. From Smallbrook Junction station, you can catch the Isle of Wight Steam Railway to Wootton. At the foot of Ryde pier is a bus station providing services inland, and regular buses also serve ferries arriving at East Cowes and Yarmouth. See details of Island Line tickets.
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.
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.
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 head to
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.
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.