Isle of Wight UK: Popular for weekend and short breaks, but also a great day out

Isle of Wight Red Funnel Ferry

Isle of Wight Red Funnel Ferry

The Isle of Wight is about an hour car ferry ride from Southampton on the South Coast of England. You can also get there from Portsmouth, which is slightly closer.

Southampton is famous for being the cruise ship capital of the UK. The Titanic set sail from here on her fateful maiden voyage, and ships like Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and P&O’s Aurora are based out of the port.

The Isle of Wight seems to mostly be known for being a hub and focus for sailing and sailors. With events like Cowes and the round-the-island race being the best known.In Victorian times, it had quite a different status. This was where Queen Victoria spent a lot of time, and in fact she died on the island. Prince Albert and her had the very beautiful and impressive Osborne House built and developed on the island.

The grounds and house having stunning views across the sea to the English coast and Portsmouth in particular.The island today is a curious mix, as it still attracts people with money who have second or holiday homes, and are attracted by the scenery, beaches and sailing. Overall, the islands feels more low brow and does not seem to have much wealth. It used to attract low priced holiday seekers with value holiday camps, caravan parks and rentals. Some of the tourist centres have that typical English ability to make things feel they have been done “on the cheap”.

Why is it that we seem to not be able to execute value tourist offerings like say the Americans?

The island, once you get past the surprisingly built up north that is closest to the ferry that run to Southampton and Portsmouth, is very beautiful and open. It is also very hilly. As you roam across it, you are struck by the numbers of people walking or cycling. The island caters well for walkers, with many paths and routes. As a cyclist, you need to like hills.

The island also attracts, especially in summer, many day trippers. And a remarkable number of buses full of white haired pensioners on a day out. They seem to be everywhere. This is probably because as a day out from even as far as London (about 70 miles away) is very do-able and very varied and pleasant.

It had been at least 12 years since I had last been to the Isle of Wight, and we decided to go for the day when staying nearby just outside Southampton. It was a great and varied day, and had a real holiday feeling to it. I am not sure I would be one of those that wanted to spend days or weeks there, but as a short day or few days it is highly recommended (unless you like sailing or walking or strenuous cycling then I guess days and days would no doubt appeal!)

My tips for visiting the Isle of Wight are

GETTING THERE
Assuming you don’t have a boat then you need the ferry. You can get there from Portsmouth (closest) or Southampton. There are fast catamaran crossings for passengers and then the ferry that takes about 200 cars / trucks and takes about an hour. The company is called Red Funnel and they are very organized. The crossing leaves on the hour from Southampton and on the half hour from the island. It is best to book online and print off the pass. You need to arrive between an hour and half an hour before. They board and get off very much on time.

The ferry runs more or less every hour and a bit less after midnight and out of season. The ferry has a self help restaurant and coffee station. Sitting outside gets you great views of the yachts.

Watch a video of the ferry ride: click here


GETTING AROUND
There is a comprehensive bus service all over the island, but best left to locals as you really need a car of there. The roads are only 2 lanes (one each side) and rambling, but easy to find your way around if you pick up the free booklets and map the ferry company produces. Of course if you have SatNav then even easier.

The island is not massive and so you cannot really go wrong. There seems to be masses of speed cameras and signs about speeding, and seems road deaths at 33 in the last 5 years, are high. Too much speed on rambling country style roads. There are a lot of people on tours as mentioned before.


WHAT TO SEE IN A DAY

If you take the 10am ferry and get the 4.30pm back you can cover almost all the island and this is an ideal trip:

OSBORNE HOUSE

First stop after the Ferry should be Osborne House. This is about a mile or so from where the Ferry docks.

You can probably spend most of a day here if you wanted to. Osborne House was the home that Queen Victoria spent a lot of time at, and eventually died at. Situated in massive and very beautiful grounds, the house is both impressive and beautiful.

It costs about ten pounds per adult to visit. On arrival you go through a bright and interesting shop to buy tickets. Then you can walk or catch a horse buggy to the house.

No member of the Royal Family used the house after Queen Victoria died. The house was used as a convalescent home for military and then more recently been renovated and more and more rooms opened. You get to see some fairly private rooms like bedrooms, nursery and sitting rooms. It is full of furniture and ornaments etc. Really fascinating. You can then stroll through the beautifully laid out gardens and to various areas right across the property.

There is a restaurant. There are a lot of stairs to be climbed up and down in the house and we saw many a pensioner struggling, so be warned!

Osborne House Isle of Wight

Watch the video I made of Osborne House

Bembridge Bakery Isle of Wight

Bembridge Bakery Isle of Wight

The Needles Chair Lift Isle of Wight

The Needles Chair Lift Isle of Wight



BEMBRIDGE
I am biased as this town and my surname are the same, but driving from Osborne House to Bembridge takes you through the more built up part of the island it seems. At Bembridge, as well as some charming shops like bakery and deli, you can also visit the famous Bembridge Windmill (oldest surviving) and hear about the sea rescue.

From Bembridge you should then drive either around the coast or through the centre of the island (stopping at one of the pubs for lunch along the way) towards The Needles at Arum Bay in the south west of the island. Both routes get you to see the glorious landscape. If following the coast you can also stop at one of the beaches.


THE NEEDLES
Although this is a bit too tourist trap in look, it is worth a visit.

The best part is taking the chair lift down the cliff to the beach. You get great views across the sea to the white cliff needles that jut into the sea. On the beach you can relax. You used to be able to collect the multi coloured sands from the massive cliffs, but this is forbidden due to erosion. If you are really energetic you can go down the stairs to the beach.

On the top of the cliff are a series of shops like the multi-coloured sand shop where you can fill bottles and shaped glass containers, a sweet factory, a glass shop where you can watch them making vases and glass ornaments, a fun fair and restaurant.

For those into walking there is also a long walk to the Needles.

See a video of the car lift ride that I made



See all my photos of Isle of Wight: click here

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