Travelling around the Isle of Wight will take you through some of the prettiest villages you’re ever likely to see, as well as a number of delightful resorts and some vibrant towns that are rich in history and culture. Here’s a brief guide to the Island’s towns and villages, full of tips about what to see, what to expect and what to do…
Bembridge is the most easterly spot on the Isle of Wight and was once separated from the rest of the Island by a stretch of water. Land reclamation and the construction of an embankment in the mid-1800s connected (…)
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the settlement to the Island and enabled it to grow rapidly. Today, it has a good array of shops, pubs, restaurants and galleries, is a popular sailing centre and is home to the Island’s only windmill, which dates from the 1700s.
Shop: The Best Dressed Crab in Town; The Captain Stan; Island Mustards.
Visit: Bembridge Fort; Bembridge Windmill.
Eat: The Crab & Lobster; The Old Village Ale House.
Sleep: The Crab & Lobster; Nodes Point; Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park.
Doctor: 01983 407558
Dentist: 01983 872224
Situated on the western bank of the River Yar, charming Brading became one of the principal settlements on the Island due to its position at the head of a substantial sheltered harbour. (…)
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With its pretty cottages and delightful Norman church, it dates back many centuries – indeed, the village is said to have been founded by King Alfred in the 7th century. It certainly boasts some historical curiosities: namely a set of stocks, a whipping post and a bull ring (onto which the poor animals were tethered before baiting with dogs). Its famous and astonishingly well-preserved Roman villa reveals an even earlier history.
Shop: Situated on the road between Brading and Ryde, you’ll find Oasis, the Island’s largest gift and home shop. Something of an Island institution, this spacious store stocks a remarkable range of products, carefully selected from all around the world, from teak furniture to soft furnishings and hundreds of unusual gift ideas.
Visit: Adgestone Vineyard; Brading Roman Villa; Nunwell House and Gardens; Lilliput Antique Doll and Toy Museum.
Eat: Adgestone Vineyard; The Bugle Family Inn.
Doctor: 01983 407775
Charming Brighstone dates back to the 12th century and is full of old-world charm, epitomised by its thatched cottages and the pretty church of St Mary’s, which was built in the 1180s.(…)
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It is the largest village in the area known as ‘the Back of the Wight’, in the south-west of the Island. Close by is charming Shorwell, a gorgeous village with old thatched cottages, three historic mansions and the 12th century church of St Peter’s.
Shop: Brighstone Village Stores; Mottistone Farm Shop.
Visit: Brighstone Village Museum (limited opening); Mottistone Manor Garden; Isle of Wight Pearl; Dinosaur Farm Museum.
Eat: The Three Bishops; Seven; Wight Mouse Inn (Chale).
Sleep: Grange Farm (Brighstone Bay).
Doctor: 01983 740219
A much-photographed village made famous by the pretty 18th-century stone and thatched cottages in Winkle Street (real name ‘Barrington Row’). The green is central to the village and slopes down(…)
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from a 9th-century church. There’s also a stream here – the Cal Bourne – from which (you guessed it!) the village gets its name.
Shop: Great dairy-based products at Calbourne Classics, with their farm shop the Dairy Deli in Shalfleet, and breads, biscuits and cakes at Calbourne Watermill Also head to Chessell Pottery Barns on the road towards Freshwater. You can decorate your own souvenirs here, or choose from an excellent range of pottery, toys and baby gifts. The barns are also home to one of the finest cream teas on the Island..
Eat: Calbourne Watermill; Chessell Pottery Barns; Horse & Groom (Ningwood); The New Inn (Shalfleet).
The world’s most famous yachting resort dates back to Tudor times. In fact, West Cowes and East Cowes both grew from a clutch of fishermen’s shacks that sprung up around two coastal forts built by Henry VIII on opposite banks (…)
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of the River Medina and which were named after the two off-shore sandbanks or ‘cows’.
Today, West Cowes is a vibrant commercial centre and a lively harbour town, while East Cowes is best known for its industrial heritage and royal connections courtesy of Osborne House. The two are linked by one of the very few old-fashioned chain ferries still in use in the country. The handsome Parade in West Cowes is home to West Cowes Castle, headquarters of the Royal Yacht Squadron, from where cannon-blasts mark the start of races during Cowes Week. This world-famous regatta, approaching its 200th year, transforms the town, with thousands of sailors and countless spectators taking over its every nook and cranny. In East Cowes, a visit to Osborne House is a must, while St Mildred’s Church in
Shop: Shopping in the narrow pedestrianised High Street of West Cowes is a delight; there are some great boutiques here, many catering for the yachting fraternity. The town also has an array of excellent clothing and gift shops, tempting delicatessens, stylish cafés, quality restaurants and lively pubs.
Visit: Osborne House. Eat: Bahar Tandoori; Coast; Corries Cabin; The Little Gloster (Gurnard); Lugleys; Mojac’s; Stag Inn.
Theatre: Trinity Theatre.
Sleep: Gurnard Pines, Little Gloster, Sunnycott Caravan Park, Thorness Bay.
Dentist: 01983 293771; 01983 291863.
Doctor: 01983 295251; 01983 284333 (East Cowes).
Vet: 01983 281771.
Officially a village, but its long High Street, offering everything from a thriving butchers and excellent fishmongers to antiques and thrift shops, gives charming Freshwater the feel of a market town. On its fringes, you’ll find the Island’s only thatched church – St Agnes’s,(…)
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built in 1908 on land donated by the Tennyson family. Pioneer Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron lived at Dimbola Lodge at Freshwater
Visit: Alum Bay Glass; Dimbola Lodge; The Needles Batteries; The Needles Park.
Eat: The Needles Park; Warren Farm Farmhouse Cream Teas (Alum Bay).
Do: West Wight Sports Centre.
Sleep: Heathfield Farm Camping Park; Linstone Chine Holiday Village.
Dentist: 01983 754779.
Doctor: 01983 753433.
Vet: 01983 522822.
With its charming thatched cottages, medieval church and more than its fair share of tearooms, delightful Godshill is the quintessential English village and one of the most popular places to visit on the Island. (…)
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Its name derives from the 15th-century church set upon the hill that overlooks the village.
Shop: For chocolate lovers, a visit to Chocolate Island is a must. Godshill Cider sells a number of delicious ciders, as well as local preserves, liqueurs, pickles, oils, wines, hampers, baskets and more, while the House of Chilli has an amazing selection of chilli-based products and some great chilli-themed merchandise.
The Old Smithy stocks some great gift ideas for the home, with ranges from Border Fine Arts, Enesco, Portmeirion and Spode. It also has a range of ladies’ fashions, including Olsen, Prêt à Porter, Gerry Weber, Cocomenthe and Verse, as well as Bianca accessories and bags. Its delightful Herb Cottage sells aromatherapy products, perfumes and body oils, while Style Interiors is full of ideas for modern, traditional and country homes: everything from glass dining tables and quilted bedspreads to floor lamps and mirrors.
Eat: The Griffin; The Old Smithy; Rookley Country Park; The Taverners.
Visit: The Model Village; Rookley Country Park.
Do: Allendale Equestrian Centre.
Doctor: 01983 840625
Built around the River Medina and located slap bang in the middle of the Island, Newport is the county town of the Isle of Wight. It was founded in 1180 (although the presence of a third century Roman villa in the middle of town would suggest it was a (…)
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centre of trade accessible to the sea meant it rapidly became the main settlement in the Island’s interior.
The town is now a mix of bustling streets, narrow lanes and smart Georgian buildings, and is a popular shopping centre and home to many top high street names, some excellent supermarkets, together with some unique and charming boutiques. It also has more than its fair share of good cafés, pubs and restaurants, as well as a cinema complex, theatres, galleries, museums and late night bars.
Make sure you see the colonnaded Town Hall designed by John Nash; opposite this is Watchbell Lane, where the bell used by night watchmen to ring out the hour is still in place. St Thomas’s Church, built around 1840, dominates nearby St Thomas’s Square, which was once home to the town’s corn market and is now the venue for the Farmers’ Market held every Friday. Also here is God’s Providence House, built on the
The town’s other main square is St James’s, now the heart of the shopping district but once the site of the cattle market.
Shop: As mentioned, there are masses of shops in the town, so the advice is to wander the streets and explore them for yourself. A recent addition to the town is the British Heart Foundation shop. This is the charity’s first furniture and electrical store on the Island. It is usually stocked with a variety of household goods including sofas, chairs, dining sets, beds and wardrobes plus an array of electrical items including TVs, Hi-Fis, washing machines, fridges and dishwashers. Out of town, on the Newport to Sandown road, you’ll find the excellent Arreton Old Village which is home to over a dozen craft shops selling an enormous range of local items and foodstuffs. You’ll find furniture, toys and things for the kitchen in the Corn Exchange, wonderful glassware at Diamond Isle Glass Studio, and at Rural Ways Woodcrafts you can watch modern day artisans working their traditional crafts. While you’re here, pop into Lavender and Lace for unique country-style accessories for home and garden, then refuel at the Dairyman’s Daughter. Foodies, meanwhile, should check out the following: Briddlesford Lodge Farm; Farmer Jack’s (Arreton); Garlic Farm (Newchurch); Market Bakery; The Tomato Stall (Newchurch). Details for all of these can be found in the Food & Drink section on pages 76-78.
Visit: As mentioned, there are masses of shops in the town. Camping enthusiasts and outdoor types should make a point of visiting Goodyear’s Outdoors in the High Street, but there are surprises and retail opportunities around every corner, so the advice is to wander the streets and explore them for yourself. Near to the town, foodies should check out the following: Briddlesford Lodge Farm;
Eat: The Bargeman’s Rest; Lugleys; Quay Arts Café; The Square; Stag Inn; Valentino’s (Carisbrooke).
Do: Quay Arts Centre; Medina Leisure Centre; Westridge Golf Centre.
Sleep: Braunstone House Hotel; Rookley Park.
Cinema: Cineworld; Medina Movie Theatre.
Theatre: Apollo Theatre; Quay Arts Centre; Medina Theatre.
Dentist: 01983 522764; 01983 529837.
Doctor: 01983 522198; 01983 523525.
Hospital: St Mary’s, Parkhurst Road, 01983 524081.
Police: High Street, 0845 045 4545.
Vet: 01983 522822; 01983 522804.
If you fancy renting a house in one of the Island’s beautiful villages or vibrant towns (or pretty much anywhere else in between), there are some excellent agencies serving the self-catering holiday market.(…)
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Blue Chip Holidays provides luxury four- and five-star self-catering accommodation throughout the Island. Their portfolio includes beachside retreats, traditional cottages and stylish apartments. With dozens of properties to choose from, they’re perfect for families, couples or groups of friends – even the dog is welcome. (Tel. 08454 852129, bluechipholidays.co.uk).
Wight Locations (Tel. 01983 811418, wightlocations.co.uk) and Island Cottage Holidays (Tel. 01929 481555, islandcottageholidays.co.uk) also have superb properties on their books – these range from cute cottages with just a single bedroom to grand houses that can sleep up to 10.
The largest town on the Island, Ryde has a population of around 30,000, and is full of everything you’d expect in a seaside resort. It’s also blessed with some beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings(…)
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that give the town a true sense of grandeur. Leading up from the sea is the town’s main thoroughfare, Union Street, which gets its name from the fact that, when constructed in around 1780, it joined the villages of Upper Ryde and Lower Ryde.
Union Street and the long High Street beyond are packed with interesting shops, pubs and restaurants. Collectors will be fascinated by the many antique and bric-à-brac shops in the Upper High Street and the Royal Victoria Arcade in Union Street, with its tiny boutiques, curio shops, café, and now Ryde District Heritage Centre.
Another point of interest is the town’s pier (it’s hard to miss, particularly if you’re arriving by Wightlink catamaran, which docks at its end). When first built, back in 1814, this was the country’s very first passenger pier. It’s over half a mile long, retains some of its original structure and affords great views of the town. Indeed, it was on the construction of the pier and the subsequent establishment of a regular ferry service in 1825 that this once sleepy town was transformed into an elegant Victorian seaside resort.
Along the town’s attractive and vibrant Esplanade you’ll find a putting green, ice rink, tenpin bowling, classic seaside shops, arcades, cafés and, most importantly, access to up to six miles of sandy beach. The town boasts a busy calendar of events throughout the year, including arts festivals, regattas, an annual carnival (dating from 1888 and said to be the oldest in England) and lantern parades. There are also great transport links from Ryde: trains from here follow the east coast down to Shanklin, and buses serve all parts of the Island.
Shop: You’re spoilt for choice – the town is full of tempting stores and boutiques. Why not
Visit: Donald McGill Postcard Museum; Isle of Wight Speedway; Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Havenstreet); Planet Ice (for skating and to watch ice hockey); Quarr Abbey; Rosemary Vineyard; Waltzing Waters.
Eat: Blacksheep Bar; Chocolate Apothecary; Olivo; Quarr Abbey; Vineleaf Coffee Shop (Rosemary Vineyard).
Do: Appley Pitch ‘n’ Putt; Leo Leisure Bingo Hall; Puckpool Park; Rosemary Vineyard; Solent & Wightline Cruises; Waterside Boating Lake; Westridge Golf Course.
Car hire: Esplanade.
Cinema: Commodore Cinema.
Nightclub: The Balcony.
Sleep: Fishbourne Inn; Nodes Point Holiday Park.
Dentist: 01983 563700; 01983 611510; 01983 568700.
Doctor: 01983 562955; 01983 565103; 01983 817200.
Police: Station Street, 0845 045 4545.
Vet: 01983 562878.
A resort developed by the Victorians, who were enchanted (as today’s visitors still are) by the sparkling waters and the five miles of golden sands that make up Sandown Bay. They built the town’s wide seafront promenades, large villas, (…)
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formal gardens and magnificent pier, which still grace the town. Today, on the Esplanade you’ll find some fine Victorian and Edwardian hotels overlooking the beach below, as well as a number of shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants.
The town has a lively centre, full of shops, restaurants, bars and amusements, plus plenty of visitor attractions, including the pier, which dates from 1879 and is now home to a number of all-weather amusements. On the town’s southern edge is the village of Lake, which takes its name from the Old English ‘lacu’, meaning stream. This was one of the Island’s first resorts and is now a large village blessed with a great beach.
Shop: There are dozens of shops in the town for gifts, souvenirs and holiday essentials, while Goodyear’s Outdoors has everything for camping and surviving the great outdoors. The Garlic Farm (Newchurch) and Isle of Wight Cheese Company, both of whose produce can be found all over the Island, are also based near here (for details of both, see Eat).
Visit: Amazon World (Arreton); Dinosaur Isle; Isle of Wight Zoo; Sandown Pier.
Eat: Adgestone Vineyard; Brown’s Café; Dairyman’s Daughter (Arreton); Royal China; Stag Inn. Do: Brown’s Family Golf; Heights Leisure Centre; Sandham Grounds; Westridge Golf Centre.
Sleep:Rooftree Hotel; The Trouville Hotel.
Dentist: 01983 405937.
Doctor: 01983 408408; 01983 409292.
A delightful Georgian village, with narrow streets, Seaview is one of the Island’s most popular sailing centres. It is a charming and tranquil spot, with a pretty high street where tiny white cottages jostle for position with large and imposing villas.(…)
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Shop: A delightful Georgian village, with narrow streets, Seaview is one of the Island’s most popular sailing centres. It is a charming and tranquil spot, with a pretty high street where tiny white cottages jostle for position with large and imposing villas.
Visit: Seaview Wildlife Encounter; Waltzing Waters.
Eat: The Boathouse; The Seaview.
Do: Goodleaf Tree Climbing Adventures; Westridge Golf.
Sleep: The Boathouse; The Seaview.
Shanklin is a town of great character and charm with many interesting small shops and a variety of hotels and apartments in former Victorian country houses. It has an Old Village area, elegant Victorian villas, pretty public gardens and shares the(…)
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same superb beach as its more bustling neighbour, Sandown. Sheltering cliffs provide the ideal suntrap position for the seafront Esplanade, where there is safe bathing from a sandy beach, water sports, car parks, hotels, amusements and a host of pubs and restaurants. The old town at the top of the cliffs with its picturesque, thatched cottages, is also a big draw.
To reach the old town from the seafront, either follow the zigzagging steps up the cliff or, if you feel like preserving your energy, take the town’s famous lift. Shanklin is home to the famous chine (ravine) that bears its name. This was the Island’s very first tourist attraction, is home to the Pipeline Under the Ocean (Pluto) exhibition, and is just a short distance from the town centre.
Shop: Don’t let the name fool you – Godshill Cider has a shop in Shanklin Old Village, selling local preserves, liqueurs, pickles, oils, wines, hampers, baskets and more. The beautifully located gift shop at Shanklin Chine is also well worth a visit, while bargain hunters should track down the British Heart Foundation Shop on Regent Street.
Visit: Shanklin Chine; Summer Arcade.
Eat: Morgans; The Pig and Whistle Family Inn; The Plough; The Steamer Inn.
Do: Shanklin Esplanade Crazy Golf.
Theatre: Shanklin Theatre.
Sleep: Aqua Hotel; Landguard Holiday Park; Lower Hyde Holiday Park; The Shanklin Hotel; Sunny Beach Self-Catering Apartments; Upper Chine Holiday Cottages.
Dentist: 01983 864411; 01983 863339.
Doctor: 01983 862245.
Police: Landguard Road, 0845 045 4545.
Vet: 01983 718430.
A sweep of the supermarkets
The Island has plenty of excellent supermarkets. You’ll find Lidl on Medina Way in Newport and on Languard Manor Road in Shanklin. Morrisons, meanwhile, has two stores: one on South Street in Newport; the other on Newport Road in Lake. (…)
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There are Sainsbury’s stores in four island locations: the High Street in Cowes, the High Street in Sandown, Foxes Road in Newport and School Green Road in Freshwater. There’s also a Marks & Spencer store in Litten Park in Newport, selling a great range of food, alongside clothing and homeware.
Ryde, meanwhile, is home to Tesco Extra, located on the Brading Road. And on Well Road, East Cowes, there’s a recently opened Waitrose. Iceland also has stores in South Street, Newport and High Street, Ryde.
Finally, you’re never far away from a Co-operative food store. They’re dotted all around the Island – specifically in Bembridge, Carisbrooke, Cowes, Freshwater, Lake, Newport, Rookley, Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor.
One of the steepest and most sheltered towns in Britain, Ventnor was dubbed ‘England’s Madeira’ by the Victorians. They believed its climate was ideal for the treatment of respiratory diseases, and developed it as a health resort – indeed, the town’s excellent botanic gardens(…)
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are built on the site of what was once the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. Ventnor’s crescent-shaped beach is backed by shops, cafés and restaurants.
From here, two roads zigzag steeply past handsome villas up to Upper Ventnor. Next door to Ventnor is the village of Bonchurch, which boasts some large and handsome Victorian houses, as well as a pretty village pond and fabulous sea views.
This is a lovely village that hugs the side of St Boniface Down – the overhanging cliff means that while some parts are flooded in sunshine, others are permanently enveloped in shade.
Shop: A trip to the delightful Ventnor Botanic Gardens is always good for the soul, and the souvenir shop here is full of good things for green-fingered types and a great place for a relaxed lunch or cup of coffee and cake. Fish and seafood lovers should visit Ventnor Haven Fishery.
Visit: Appuldurcombe House (Wroxall); Blackgang Chine (Blackgang); Owl & Falconry Centre (Appuldurcombe); Ventnor Botanic Garden.
Eat: Chale Bay Farm Cream Teas; The Buddle Smugglers’ Inn (Niton); The Hambrough; The Pond Café (Bonchurch); The Royal Hotel; The Spy Glass Inn; Ventnor Botanic Gardens Café; The White Lion (Niton), Wight Mouse Inn.
Do: Nettlecombe Farm Coarse Fishing.
Sleep: Chale Bay Farm (Chale); Hillside; Lake Hotel; Nettlecombe Farm; Niton Barns; The Royal Hotel.
Dentist: 01983 853721; 01983 852189.
Doctor: 01983 852427.
Vet: 01983 522822.
With a royal charter going back to 1135, Yarmouth is the oldest town on the Island. It was sacked by the French in 1377 and 1524, and suffered numerous raids until Henry VIII improved security by building a castle in the town, which was completed in 1547.(…)
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Surrounded by the sea on one side, the River Yar on another and a large expanse of marshland on the rest, this delightful town is pretty much the same size as it was back in the 16th-century – indeed, some of the grid system laid out by the Normans is still in use.
Make sure you visit its historic, colourful harbour where you’ll find a unique 700-foot-long timber pier dating from 1876, as well as the town’s castle. You should also explore the pretty town square, flanked by the 18thcentury town hall and a number of pleasant shops, pubs and restaurants.
Shop: Angela’s Deli stocks a range of excellent Island produce; Blue has a superb collection of clothes, accessories and gifts; Anne Toms’s Yarmouth Gallery for souvenirs to adorn your walls and home.
Visit: Fort Victoria (Planetarium, Marine Aquarium & Maritime Museum, Model Railway and Underwater Archaeology Museum); Yarmouth Castle.
Eat: The Bugle Coaching Inn; Horse & Groom (Ningwood); The New Inn (Shalfleet). Do: Wight Cycle Hire.
Do: Wight Cycle Hire.
Sleep: The Orchards Holiday Park; The Bugle Coaching Inn.
Doctor: 01983 766155.
Vet: 01983 522822.