MummyTravels guide to the Isle of Wight
Less than 150 square miles in total – about a quarter of the size of London – one of the biggest surprises about the Isle of Wight is how much there is to do. Despite visiting three times in five years, I still haven’t ticked everything off my wishlist.
The second surprise is the island microclimate – I’m sure luck plays a part, but even when dark clouds lurk on the mainland, we’ve had some glorious sunny days to explore. What’s unlikely to be much of a surprise is how great it is as a family holiday destination.
And between discovering beach, dinosaurs, historic castles and palaces, adrenaline thrills, zoos and animal centres, amusement parks and some wonderful scenery, there’s something in the air which makes you slow right down. Life seems to operate at a more relaxed pace, as soon as you cruise off the ferry. And perhaps that’s one of the biggest attractions of all. Here’s my guide to the Isle of Wight with children.
If you’re travelling with a car, it’s likely to take between 40 and 60 minutes to reach the island, while there are faster options for foot passengers. Whatever you choose, you’re almost guaranteed lovely views across the Solent along the way.
Two main ferry companies sail to the island, Wightlink and Red Funnel, along with Red Funnel which zips from Southsea to Ryde. Wightlink’s main car ferry route is from Portsmouth to Fishbourne, as well as a slightly shorter crossing from Lymington in the New Forest to Yarmouth. There’s also a catamaran passenger ferry service from Portsmouth to Ryde.
Red Funnel’s car ferry travels from Southampton to East Cowes as well as a high-speed foot passenger service from Southampton to West Cowes.
Where to stay
What do you fancy? The island has a huge variety of places to stay, from camp sites and glamping right up to more luxurious hotels, with plenty that’s great for kids too.
On our first family visit, we checked in to one of the cottages at Nettlecombe Farm – perfect for having plenty of space with kids, but with toddler-friendly touches like helping to feed the animals.
The Garlic Farm has cottages on site too as well as yurts – do stock up in the shop while you’re there, especially the onion marmalade…
Or for self-catering with style, VIP Cottages has a great collection including family-friendly places to stay on the Isle of Wight – St Catherine’s Lookout was a perfect peaceful location for exploring the south coast and the concierge service is a great touch for short breaks.
If you fancy something a little quirkier, Isle of Wight campers has campervans – check out the Globalmouse family’s experience – or you can curl up in an Airstream trailer courtesy of Vintage Vacations.
And if you’re looking for luxury, my usual recommendation of Priory Bay hotel (with its own beach and family-friendly accommodation including cottages on site and yurts) is currently closed, so for another option close to Ryde, try the Seaview hotel.
What to see
With everything in a short drive, it’s easy to pack your days on the island – luckily, as there’s a huge amount to do – or simply chill out on one of the many beaches.
To start you off, try this list of my top 15 things to do on the Isle of Wight including some of the best beaches and the chance to go tree climbing, travel on the steam railway, walk with alpacas and see Queen Victoria’s island escape at Osborne.
Dinosaur fans will be in fossil heaven here too – book a dino-hunting walk on Yaverland Beach with Dinosaur Isle, with experts on hand to talk you through the island’s geology and point out the finds you’d otherwise overlook.
Dinosaur Isle itself is a great attraction as well – even aged two, there was plenty to entertain a toddler and it’s even better for older kids.
There’s a dinosaur experience at Blackgang Chine too, one of a string of attractions at the family-friendly theme park: the new Underwater Kingdom was a big hit, along with a maze (where we got thoroughly lost), nursery rhyme land for little ones and some more adrenaline thrills for older kids.
If you prefer animals which haven’t been extinct for millennia, you won’t be short of choice either – the island has several zoos and animal centres, all with an emphasis on conservation and many with rescue animals.
Amazon World Zoo Park has some animals which can’t be seen anywhere else in Europe, along with lemurs, penguins and an Amazonian theme. Or the Owl and Monkey Haven is home to gibbons and tamarins, as well as various owls, all of which have found sanctuary here.
Or for big cats, head to the Isle of Wight Zoo with its rescued animals and yet more lemurs.
And along with the island’s donkey sanctuary, you can combine animals and history at Carisbrooke Castle, home to several four-legged inhabitants and the former prison of King Charles I, plus plenty to discover outdoors and in.
There are plenty of natural attractions too, including The Needles, the iconic rocks emerging from the sea at the island’s south-west – take a boat trip out to see them, and the chair-lift back up to the funfair before making your own sand souvenir.
What to eat
No seaside holiday is complete without fish and chips, and ice-cream – Crave Ice-Cream in Ventnor has some fantastic unusual flavours, but look out for Minghella’s ice cream as well.
Ventnor also claims the best fish and chips on the island at the Ventnor Haven Fisherie, but there’s plenty of competition, or make a special trip to Wheeler’s Crab Shed at Steephill Cove, where the menu has come straight from the sea that day.
In summer, the Beach Hut in Bembridge has made a name for its crab dishes – kids also welcome there.
For more child-friendly options, the cafe at West Wight Alpacas has fantastic pizza as well as the chance to walk with the alpacas.
Or the Buddle Inn gastropub has a great kids’ menu and beer garden with sea views, plus delicious seafood and fish (and more) for adults.
If you’re over in the south-west, Off The Rails is set in a former station – best with older kids (or babies in high chairs), there are some huge burgers and great cake.
And whether you’re staying at the Garlic Farm or merely stocking up on chutney, there’s a lovely cafe where you might be lucky enough to spot red squirrels playing through the window.
Plan your visit
For more information, check out the Isle of Wight tourist board website. Or check out the Rough Guide to Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight as well as downloading the chapter covering the island from Lonely Planet’s England guide.
Footprint guides have a specific family option on exploring the Isle of Wight and neighbouring counties with kids, although it’s now several years old.
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