Just off England’s sun-kissed south coast lies the idyllic green island we call the Isle of Wight. A brief ferry ride across the waves will bring you to this charming place, whose striped cliff sands and rolling hills make it one of the country’s favourite holiday destinations. Here’s our guide to the 10 best things to see and do in England’s Isle of Wight.
These three impressive spikes of chalk are around 30 metres high and pierce the Isle of Wight’s seascape just next to Alum Bay. Perched shyly behind the third of these jagged mounds is the red- and white-striped Needles Lighthouse, too. There was once a fourth shard, known as Lot’s Wife, which fell into the sea in 1764 and had the sharp, column-like appearance of a needle, which is where the remaining three shapes got their charming name. Take a boat trip for a closer look at these unique, natural works of art.
The craggy cliffs at the Isle of Wight’s dreamy Alum Bay are streaked with pretty shades of pink, yellow and gold. Ride the chair lift to gaze at these unique colours or check them out as you wander the beach below. The stripes were caused by the shifting sea bed which was eroded almost 70 million years ago. Around 10 million years later, the bedrock moved, pushing the sedimentary layers upward, creating the unique pattern we see today.
This peculiar hexagonal tower, otherwise known as St Catherine’s Oratory, could be straight out of a fairy tale. It is the remains of England’s only surviving medieval lighthouse, dating back to 1314. The story goes that wealthy landowner Walter de Godeton came into possession of some stolen wine (174 casks, to be exact) which had been on its way to France in a ship that ran aground. The Catholic Church was unimpressed, so as penance, Walter built a lighthouse where a priest would pray for sailors wrecked on the treacherous rocks below.
A leisurely wander up Ryde Pier allows you to gaze back across the sea to mainland Portsmouth. There are terrific sandy beaches all along the town’s coast, and a boutique shop or two in which to while away some hours browsing for the perfect souvenir. There is also the Appley Tower, built as a garden folly in 1875, whose crenelations make for a perfectly photogenic snapshot of the English coast.
There’s plenty of action to enjoy on the Isle of Wight, from cycling to horseback riding. But if speed is your thing, then Wight Karting makes a brilliant day out. With racing for groups and families, there’s a full range of packages to choose from. The all-weather track is 500 metres long and is open all year long.
According to legend, St Catherine once competed with the Devil to see who should be in charge of the Isle of Wight. The Longstone at Mottistone is said to be a sandstone pillar, which St Catherine threw down in the contest. It’s four metres tall and two metres wide, suggesting Catherine was not only a saint, but had some serious upper body strength, too. The stone is, in truth, an ancient burial mound and can be incorporated into a scenic country walk.
The Shanklin Theatre
Aside from its fabulous festivals, the Isle of Wight also boasts a cracking live music scene the rest of the year round. There is the much-loved Shanklin Theatre, which hosts orchestra recitals and toe-tapping musicals in equal measure. If theatre’s not your thing, head into any pub on this lovely island and you’ll not wait long to hear of an open mic event or mini-gig from local musicians.
From surfing to kayaking, swimming to windsurfing, there is something for every mermaid (and merman) over on the Isle of Wight. Try Wight Waters for paddle boarding and sailing, too. There really is nothing like a bracing splash in the chilly channel to blow away those pesky cobwebs.
Whether it’s smooth jazz, club classics, live poetry or yoga workshops that float your ferry, you can catch one across from the mainland to one of this island’s renowned music and arts festivals. There’s the legendary Bestival or the sparkling Isle of Wight Festival, as well as the quirky Eklectika which showcases electronic, dance and pop acts big and small.
Perfect for long, windswept dog walks or even a horseback ride, the beaches on the Isle of Wight are many and beautiful. From the sweeping curve of Whitecliff Bay to the pleasant Englishness of Sundown Pier and the tumbledown charm of Steephill Cove, there is fresh air and crashing waves galore on this pretty island. But the long sweep of Sandown Beach has a particular charm. With craggy cliffs looming in the distance and the waves lapping gently at the shore, this is one of the island’s most pleasant spots for an afternoon stroll or seaside picnic, when the sun is high.