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What to do on a family trip to the Isle of Wight

With vintage theme parks, beaches galore and gentle countryside, there’s no better place to head for a slice of holiday nostalgia.

Published 19 Jan 2021, 08:00 GMT
The clifftops over Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight provide impressive views of the landscape.

The clifftops over Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight provide impressive views of the landscape.

Photograph by Adam Burton

Why go

England’s largest island has been a ‘staycation’ destination since the 1800s, with Queen Victoria herself owning a holiday home here, in the shape of palatial Osborne House. She was onto something: the 45-minute ferry journey across the Solent whisks visitors seemingly back in time to a place of steam trains, Punch and Judy shows by the beach, fossil hunting, wildlife and woodland walks. It’s all gloriously wholesome, which makes it an ideal place to visit with young children, who’ll love the vintage theme parks, beaches and countryside. There’s also plenty for those who want to enjoy more strenuous outdoor activities, with well-marked hiking trails, including a 68-mile coastal path, and a host of spots to surf, paddleboard or windsurf. As home to the world’s largest sailing regatta at Cowes, it’s no surprise that taking to the water is very popular here — learn to sail or hire a powerboat or kayak and navigate the coastline.

What to do

Families will love the UK’s oldest theme park, Blackgang Chine, near Ventnor. Opened in the 1840s, it’s moved on a bit since its first attraction (the skeleton of a huge fin whale, still on display today), but it’s still rather quirky. The Cliffhanger roller coaster and Water Force water slides are good for thrill-seeking older kids, but the real fun lies in the themed worlds, where you can shriek at animatronic dinosaurs, play in fairytale land or be the sheriff of a Wild West town.

For a gentler day out, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway is just the ticket. Take 10-mile round trip aboard a beautifully restored vintage steam train from Wootton or Havenstreet stations. At the latter, visit Train Story, an interactive museum where you can board old carriages, dress up as a driver and find out about railway history, before finishing off with a lovely woodland walk.

A good way to explore the island is the Needles Breezer. The open-top bus meanders through pretty countryside on a circular route linking many of the island’s top attractions, then climbs the cliffs from Alum Bay right up to the Needles Battery, almost 400ft above sea level. The views are fantastic, and the cliff-hugging journey makes it far more exciting than the average trundle on the bus.    

Where to eat

The Llama Tree is a cafe that serves excellent Peruvian coffee as well as fresh oven-fired pizza, sandwiches, local cheese and snacks. There’s also the added attraction of its setting, at the 23-acre farm West Wight Alpacas and Llamas. You can pay to visit if you want to see even more of the adorable alpacas (and other cute animals) roaming around, and there’s even the chance to take an alpaca for a walk.

Osborne House has served as a holiday House for Queen Victoria.

Photograph by Robert Smith

Don’t miss

It’s easy to see why Victoria and Albert loved the Isle of Wight when you visit Osborne House, their holiday home. The house itself is huge and ornate, but much more charming is Swiss Cottage, a little alpine cottage built by Prince Albert himself for his nine children, where they played at being adults, learning housekeeping, cookery and gardening — there’s even a three-quarter size kitchen and a miniature dairy. Osborne Beach is a beauty too, with Queen Victoria’s bathing machine still installed by the shore. 

We love

If it’s been a while since you climbed a tree, Goodleaf Tree Climbing can help you get back to your roots. It offers recreational tree climbing courses in a 70ft oak tree at Appley Park, near Ryde. After getting to grips with the equipment, you’ll be safely shimmying up to the top of the tree to enjoy the view. Take in the views from a tree-top hammock before you head back down.

Where to stay

Set in a meadow near Newport, Tiny Homes Holidays’ four luxurious hideaways are solar-powered, with composting toilets, wood-burning stoves and water recycling. There’s even an on-site studio offering arts and crafts workshops.

The lakehouses at The Lakes Rookley, meanwhile, offer a stylish base for a family holiday just outside Godshill. Family activities and watersports can be booked on site.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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