Awash with seaside towns, no motorways, and beautiful rolling hills, the Isle of Wight is a wonderful haven from the hustle and bustle of mainland UK. If you’re after an easy, slow-paced break with lots of walks and outdoorsy activities, the Isle of Wight should definitely be considered. Outside of summer, it is also not too busy and you are spoilt by the sunsets.
We stayed for 4 days and 4 nights. Unfortunately 2 of those days were working days for us, but I think if you took that time off, 4 days would give you just about enough time to do the island justice.
Not to be confused with East Cowes, Cowes is where we set up our base. Cowes and East Cowes are separated by the Medina River and are both very easy to get to. As a foot passenger you want the RedJet from Southampton, which takes you to Cowes. For car passengers, you want the Red Funnel that takes you to East Cowes, also from Southampton. Cowes is then about a 20 minute drive around the Medina.
Cowes (both East and west) was historically a Viking settlement, who used the Medina River for strategic raids on the mainland coasts. During Henry VIII’s reign, castles were built in both East and west Cowes, as the cities were frequently attacked by the French. In 1815, Cowes became the world’s first yachting centre, after the Royal Yacht Squadron was founded, and it is since then that Cowes’ nautical identity flourished.
DINNER RECOMMENDATIONS – The Coast and Gastronomy both blew us away. Both were nearly booked up when we made our reservations over a week beforehand, so a top tip is definitely to book early! The Coast serves a great selection of meats and seafood, pasta and vegetarian dishes. You’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like. Gastronomy serves a smaller fusion menu, all of it absolutely mouth-watering and beautifully served. The other place we had wanted to try, but didn’t get the chance, was Call It What You Want, which serves cajun-inspired food, beers and wines in a super relaxed setting.
COFFEE – By far the best coffee we had in Cowes was from Richmonds Bakery on Bath Street. They also make it incredibly hard to resist their cakes and treats, which are dangerously displayed in their bay windows as you walk past…
DRINKS – If you’re looking for a nice bar to grab a pre-dinner drink, or a sundowner, then check out The Winter Garden (which transforms into the Summer Garden in the summer), Harbour Kitchen, or Compass Bar. Another place that we had wanted to try but was closed is Mojacs, a wine bar tucked away and around the corner from The Coast.
THINGS TO DO – English Heritage’s Osbourne House is by far one of the most popular things to do on the island. It’s in East Cowes and there is lots to explore, plenty of green space for picnics, and it really is an interesting piece of the island’s history. Carisbrooke Castle is another English Heritage site that’s quite popular, just outside of East Cowes.
If you’re after some fresh air, then there are a lot of walking options on the island. All very well sign-posted, you can’t turn a corner without seeing navigation route and cycle route markers. The National Trust owns a lot of the island’s green space, so it is definitely worth checking out their guides in advance.
Another iconic landmark to the island (and to GB, I’d argue) are The Needles. This area is also owned by The National Trust, and there is a visitors centre with a chairlift, mini golf, a viewing platform, and a coastal walk. We timed our trip for sunset, driving along Military Road from Ventnor to the Needles for epic cliff and sea views. Be warned, you are well and truly exposed to the elements, so wrap up warm, but the sunset is spectacular and it is totally worth the wind burn!
Other popular activities we found through our research were Blackgang Chime (a theme park), the Garlic Farm, Colebrook Bay, and Robin Hill Country Park.
Yarmouth – Day Trip
The pretty little town of Yarmouth is a great day trip from Cowes, and also from Lymington in the New Forest. The George, a pub that sits on the seafront and against Yarmouth Castle’s old walls is a great spot for food and drinks (or to stay the night). Lunch from Gossips Cafe is also a great option, or otherwise PO41 does excellent coffee and toasties.
Wander the cute little streets and pop your head into the delis, boutiques and bookshops before walking Yarmouth Pier, the last operational wooden pier in the British Isles, with lovely views over both Lymington and Yarmouth.
Ventnor – Day Trip
If, like me, antiques, coffee and seafront strolls are your cup of tea/(coffee?), then don’t miss Ventnor. It’s directly south of Cowes, and make sure you drive via Godshill, a very sweet and picturesque village en-route.
Ventnor has a lovely long seafront you can walk along, and definitely aim to finish your strolls at the Spyglass, an old pub that sits right on the edge of the cliffs with views out to sea. A very easy menu serving the likes of seafood, jacket potatoes, salads, sandwiches, etc, there’s something for everyone. The Spyglass also has local musicians come and perform on the weekends.