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Exploring the Isle of Wight

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published May 2019; updated Jun 2023.

The Isle of Wight has a lot of different activities for the family to do. We visited the island to give some of them a try.

The Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, is somewhere we always wanted to visit. It's not exactly on our doorstep, and so it has been one of these places we've just not got around to yet.

However, when Visit the Isle of Wight organisation got in touch about seeing what the island had to offer active families, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Watch our video below!

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Getting to the Isle of Wight

There are car ferries that run from Southampton, Portsmouth, and Lymington. If you aren't taking the car, then there quicker ways to get to the island, such as high-speed catamaran or even a hovercraft.

We took the Red Funnel ferry from Southampton to Cowes.

Our ferry approaching the Isle of Wight

Approaching Cowes on the Isle of Wight

First Stop: Cycling the Red Squirrel Trail

An advantage of being separated from the mainland is that native species, such as the Red Squirrel, have survived.

There's a cycling route that you can take with your family called the Red Squirrel Trail, that will guide you through the countrysides, through villages, along former railway lines, and down to the seaside.

The Red Squirrel Trail is mainly a traffic-free route, though parts are on the road.

The full route could take you a few days, travelling from the south to the north of the island and back. However, there is a shorter family-friendly loop, which is the one we took.

The Red Squirrel Trail Map

The full route goes all the ways to Cowes and back.

If you aren't bringing your bikes with you, you can hire bikes on the island. We picked up some bikes from Route Fifty 7 cycles, based out of the Lower Hyde Holiday Park, which is right on the trail.

Unfortunately, the only red squirrel we saw during our stay, was road kill 🙁

Staying on the Island

When it comes to staying on the island, there are lots of choices, from holiday parks, campsites, BandBs, self-catering cottages, and hotels.

We were lucky to be put up in an excellent cottage by Classic Cottages, in the small seaside town of Seaview.

Our cottage at Seaview

The main bedroom also has a sea view.

The place certainly lived up to its name, with views of the sea from our cottage.

The roads on the island remind me of Cornwall, with lots of small narrow lanes. Just when you think the Satnav is guiding you down a back lane, you soon find it is the main route from a to b!

Because of that, I'm glad we didn't bring our caravan. We didn't see anyone towing a caravan while we were there, though we did see a few motorhomes come over on the ferry.

There are campsites and holiday parks for caravan and motorhome pitches. The ones we saw you could get to on the larger roads, so if you are bringing one of those to the island, please plan your route carefully.

The Needles

You might have heard of The Needles, even if you didn't know they were on the Isle of Wight. Even if you haven't heard of them, you will probably recognise a picture of them.

The Needles

The Needles from the Viewpoint on the Headland walk.

The Needles is an outcrop of rock with a lighthouse guiding ships away from them. In the past, there was a tall needle-shaped tower of rock, which gave them the name, but unfortunately, it collapsed hundreds of years ago.

The famous landmark is located in Alum Bay on the western side of the Isle of Wight.

You park at the Needles landmark attraction, and during most of the year, there is a parking fee. Please note that during peak season, you might queue to get in. We visited on a sunny bank holiday and had to queue a long time. The carpark was full, only letting in a car when one left.

At the Needles, there are plenty of activities to entertain the kids. One of the main attractions though is the chair lift down to the beach. These take you over the edge of the cliff!

Chairlift at the Needles

Riding the chairlift down to the beach

If you don't like the sound of that, there are steps you can walk 🙂

To get up close to The Needles, take a boat trip with the Needles Pleasure Cruises. These run a slower boat with commentary or a faster speed boat. We went on the speed boat 😀

The needles lighthouse

Zipping past the lighthouse and the needles.

When back on dry land, you can take the path up to the headland and view the Needles from above. There is also a National Trust 'Old Battery' to visit, which looks out over the Needles, plus an old rocket testing site! Our very own Cape Canaveral right on the Isle of Wight.


As keen walkers, we noticed just how many well-signposted footpaths the island has. It is crisscrossed with places to walk, much more than on the mainland.

A route sign post

Part of the off-road section of the Red Squirrel Trail

The Isle of Wight holds a walking festival each year. We can understand why.


We don't have the surf that some countries do, but there are a few places to surf in the UK. I didn't realise the Isle of Wight was a surfing spot, but sure enough, there was plenty of surf and plenty of surfers when we took a surfing lesson with iSurf on the south side of the island.

We had done bodyboarding many times before, as well as stand-up paddleboards. However, we've never got around to proper surfing.

This activity was so much fun, even if we did spend more time in the water than on the boards!

Tom standing on his board

The kids did much better than their parents!

iSurf fitted us out with good wetsuits, and so the cold English Channel wasn't a problem. They also gave us instruction and were on hand to help in the water, and gave special attention to helping the kids.

Our kids did much better than us adults, and by the end of the two-hour session, they had managed to stand on the board and surf some of the waves. The closest I got was kneeling on the board, which I learnt was cheating!

The minimum age for doing this activity is eight years old. It's well worth doing if you get a chance.


We visited the Natural History Museum in London earlier this year and saw several fossils from the Isle of Wight. The island is famous for its dinosaur fossils, with numerous discoveries that led to the way in developing the science of palaeontology.

Of course, the island has a dedicated museum to its fossil heritage, called Dinosaur Isle, which is at Sandown.

We visited the museum and went on one of their guided field-walks to spot fossils on the local beach.

A dinosaur footprint we saw on the Isle of Wight

Another dinosaur footprint. You can see where the claws would have been!

This was amazing. Right on the beach we found footprints of dinosaurs, as well as fossilised crocodile poo, fishes, trees, worms, and shells that lived alongside them.

The guided walk doesn't cost much and is worth doing, as you need the expert to point things out. Somethings that look like fossiles are just plain old rock, and things you think aren't anything, turn out to be something special.

Monkeying Around

Another place we visited while on the island was Monkey Haven. This is a primate rescue centre that takes on monkeys rescued from the illegal pet trade or other zoos, and can't be rehabilitated in the wild.


A monkey chillin' at Monkey Haven

Monkey Haven is not a big place, but the dedication the keepers have is evident. We really liked the signs that talked about each individual primiate, their likes and dislikes, and the keeper talks were extremely good. They were very good at encouraging the kids to ask questions.


The Isle of Wight gets the thumbs up from us. We had a great long weekend on the island, and can't wait to go back. The island has beautiful scenary, is clean, and very relaxed. The hustle-and-bustle of the mainland is left far behind.

It's one of the few places we'd even consider moving to, and not many places would pull us away from our beautiful Shropshire hills!

Find more places on the Isle of Wight

Disclaimer: We would like to thank Visit Isle of Wight for covering and arranging the ferry crossing, accommodation, cycling, surfing, Dinosaur Isle, and the Needles. Note: all other travel costs are our own; all opinions are our own.