There are around 267 inhabited islands off the coast of the UK, one of which is also its own county and is the largest in England. It’s so popular, even Queen Victoria had a holiday home there, but what is it that attracts people to the Isle of Wight, located a mere 4 miles (6 km) off the southern coast? Apart from its accessibility to London, it can be reached via a short 30-minute ferry ride and an approximately 2-hour train ride from Waterloo, the Isle of Wight has many other features that endear it to the traveller. With what appears to be a micro climate all of its own, the island is definitely worth a visit.
Visit its beautiful beaches
The Isle of Wight has some pristine sandy beaches that give Cornwall a run for its money.
For the adventurous traveller looking to catch a wave or two, Compton Bay, located in the southwest of the island, is a surfer’s mecca. Sandown, as its name suggests, is a vast stretch of beach that extends from Culver Down to Shanklin with 6 miles (10 km) of sand, surf and palm trees sheltering the rear of the beach, it certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a California tourist brochure. Popular with families, this beach also has a historical pier dating back to 1879, plenty of cafes, restaurants and entertainment options.
Experience the excitement of Cowes Week
More than just an event for the sailing community, Cowes Week has a festival atmosphere of its own. The UK’s longest running sporting event, its first race took place back in 1826 quickly becoming a part of the maritime social calendar. With over 800 boats taking part, the festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and, alongside the actual races themselves, are specialist ladies’ days, air displays, fireworks and an outdoor cinema.
Stunning walks and trails
The Isle of Wight’s coastal path encircles the whole island (all 67 miles, 107 km) with spectacular views across the Solent to the mainland or out across the English Channel. Whilst ensuring the tides are in your favour, parts of the coast also have their own prehistoric fossils to discover. The Isle of Wight’s very own Jurassic coast was a stomping ground for many a dinosaur and if you look carefully enough, it’s not just human footprints that you’ll be walking in; there are plenty of dinosaur footprints to be discovered, too. Some of the best fossil beaches include Brighstone Bay, Yaverland, shingly Brook Bay and Thorness Bay.
Away from the coast, but with views over the island, The Tennyson Trail is a 15 mile (24 km) walk from Carisbrooke Castle to the Needles traversing across downs, through pine forests and into the secluded Alum Bay. The route is also popular with mountain bikers and can be followed from its beginnings at Carisbrooke Castle to the Needles Battery, an old fort owned by The National Trust.
For a more challenging piece of pedal power, follow the Island’s Chalk Ridge Extreme that covers around 55 miles (80 km) of rough terrain and road. If you’d prefer something a little less vertically challenging, the Perowne Way is a cycle path that runs along a former railway, which closed in 1956, from Newport to Sandown.
Similarly, the Red Squirrel Trail that runs from Yarmouth to Freshwater follows a disused railway line to the cliff top lookout for Freshwater Bay. For those wanting to take the two wheeled approach it’s worth noting that bikes can be hired from Yarmouth.
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Famous music festival
Every summer, thousands of mainlanders descend upon the Isle of Wight for its music festival. This most famous festival, which takes place over a weekend in June, began back in 1968 and has been entertaining the masses since then. The festival takes place in Newport and has included bands such as Faithless, Stereophonics, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Prodigy to name a few.
Delicious food and quirky culinary fests
The Isle of Wight has its fair share of cafes, restaurants and quaint little pubs, but if you fancy doing something a little bit different then the Isle of Wight’s own culinary festival might be one to visit. Taking place on August 19th and 20th in 2017, the Garlic Festival plays homage to all things garlic. Located just outside of Newchurch, the festival has a theatre in which you can get hints and tips from the best chefs, but it’s not all about the food. They also have live music from local talent and displays such as falconry. If you thought the humble garlic was simply a staple ingredient in main dishes, you might be surprised to discover that various other products are made from it. The nearby Garlic Farm also produces garlic fudge, Black Garlic Vodka and Black Garlic Beer. But it’s not just food that the island produces. Due to its mild climate, the Isle of Wight also plays host to two vineyards. Rosemary Vineyard in Ryde, and Adgestone in Sandown both offers tours and tasting so you really can taste your way around the island.
Fun family activities
Since the Isle of Wight has been officially deemed the ‘greatest place to see fossils’, it has for the last decade or so been home to Dinosaur Isle, an interactive museum. So, if you are a wannabe palaeontologist or would like to learn a Diplodocus from a Megalosaurus then this could be the rainy day solution for the whole family. From fossils to rocks, the geological Alum Bay is known for its coloured sands but is also a great place for families to visit. Take a boat trip out to the iconic rock formation the Needles, experience the ride down to the bay in a chairlift or simply walk along the cliffs admiring the view.
Explore its royal history
Along with its prehistoric history, the Isle of Wight is steeped in royal history too. Osborne House was Queen Victoria’s private holiday home. Built between 1845 and 1851, it has an unusual style befitting that of an Italian backdrop. Although there have been one or two additions over time, the house and its content have remained untouched and is now looked after and maintained by English Heritage.
Carisbrooke Castle, also owned by English Heritage, sits on top of a grassy mound near the village of Carisbrooke. Charles I was imprisoned here but its history dates back more than a thousand years. Along with its beautiful Chapel and Norman keep, its history can be explored by visiting the castle and digested while taking in some refreshment at its little tearoom.
The Isle of Wight’s military history will lead you to the Needles Old & New Battery, a Victorian fort built to guard the western end of the Solent, protecting Portsmouth’s naval dockyards against French attack.
Easily accessible trip
It’s so easy to get to the Isle of Wight, there’s really no excuse not to visit. Two main ferry companies serve the Island. Wightlink ferries run from Portsmouth to Ryde, Lymington to Yarmouth and Portsmouth to Fishbourne, and Red Funnel serve Southampton to Cowes. You can buy tickets at the harbour, although in summer it is preferable to book in advance. An alternative to the usual catamaran passenger ferry, hovercrafts also run from Southsea to Ryde in less than 10 minutes. Once across the Solent, the island itself has good bus routes, although train travel is limited. Car and bike hire are also available and backpacking is a great way to see the Isle of Wight, although book accommodation early, especially in the summer months.
And there's more...
If you want beautiful old villages, such as Godshill and Shanklin, then the Isle of Wight has its fair share of chocolate box, thatched roofed, stone-built cottages and charming old pubs. Alongside great beaches, a variety of outdoors activities as well as great educational, family friendly places, it certainly has enough to entertain even the most discerning tourist. Before you visit, do check out opening times for some of the attractions. Although some places remain open all year round, some are seasonal and close in the winter.
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