We’ve been to Isle of Wight a couple of times as a family and have always loved it. Both times we stayed with Vintage Vacations in one of the Airstream trailers and spent the days playing cricket in the field, barbecuing and generally lazing in the sun or taking shelter from the rain in cosy pubs and restaurants. Here’s a picture from one of our previous holidays:
So whenever I think of Isle of Wight, I think of a long weekend or even weeklong stay, giving plenty of time to explore the island.
What I recently found out is that going to Isle of Wight from London or the southeast is so easy and affordable, you can actually go for the day. I went over on a press trip with Discover Ferries, a body that promotes ferry travel. And of course to get to the island, you have to travel this way.
Ferry trips across can range from about an hour on car ferries to quickie half-hour zips if you are on foot. I’ve decided this is among my new favourite South Coast day trips.
And just see what you can do in one day.
How I got to Isle of Wight for the day
I took an 8:15am train from Clapham Junction to Southampton Central, hopped over on the Red Funnel ferry to Cowes, then headed on the island. If you come via car ferry, you drive straight off and be exploring in minutes.
The Red Funnel car ferry is very comfortable but there’s one bit I really loved, the new Signature Lounge. This is a premium lounge on the top deck with a wraparound window for fantastic views even in the rain, complementary hot drinks and pastries, places to plug in and a restful environment. It’s for over-12s only and is the kind of space I can imagine us enjoying with our 2 teens. The cost is £30 per person (for a while there’s an introductory offer at 1/3 the price). It’s a beautiful way to get to the island.
The IoW was recently voted one of the best places to cycle by Lonely Planet, so if you’re feeling sporty, rent a bike and get pedaling. There are regular buses and train service by Southwestern. (Find a map and times here.)
What to do for a day? There are loads of options, but here’s what we packed in. Of course, you don’t have to reserve this itinerary for a day trip — it will slot neatly into your next Isle of Wight plan and is organised so it takes in a lot but doesn’t leave you or the kids feeling overtaxed and exhausted.
Itinerary for IoW
Start by exploring Osborne House and the new Swiss Cottage
This option works particularly well if you’ve come to the island from Southampton, as the ferry lands at Cowes, about 10 minutes away by car, but it’s also easy to to get to from Portsmouth or Ryde, if just a little longer drive.
Of course the former residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is a highlight of any trip to IoW. The house is striking and since the royals used it more as a family getaway than an official residence, it reveals fascinating clues to the way the couple, their children and servants lived.
Do spend time touring the house. I especially love Victoria’s Sitting Room, the rich gold-draped Billiard Room and the Durbar Wing with the grand Durbar Room, where is set as if for a formal dinner.
While you’re here, you can also plan your wedding…
The house had its marriage license granted in 2016 and hosted its first wedding in this room just a few weeks before our visit. You can choose between the Duchess of Kent Suite, the Belvedere Terrace or the Durbar Room. They are unique and interesting spaces and how wonderful would it be to get married in a house that was home to one of the most romantic royal unions the world has ever known?
But most of all, don’t miss: Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage is not merely a tube stop in North London, I was surprised to find out. (The Tube stop is apparently not named after this structure at Osborne house but after a pub, as part of a fad in the mid-1800s for all things Swiss, according to this site). It is a delightful separate structure at Osborne House that was created for the Queen’s children, where they would learn skills their father thought would be helpful in life. These days, young visitors can find historical insights and activities geared toward them. Inside the house itself are cute rooms with displays about the children of the crown, dressing up boxes, a zoetrope, a puppet theatre to play with and more. But what I really loved was the “museum” the family created, in a separate building beside Swiss Cottage.
From a young age the children were encouraged to bring back collectibles from their travels just like mum and dad. Or is that, Her Royal Mumness? The museum is stuffed full of oddities, from the marvelous to the macabre. (“Here, children, take back this human skull for your collection.”) You could easily spend an hour here with children — I’d love to create a competition for our kids to peruse the collectibles and each come up with their most bizarre objects. The winner gets an ice cream at the gift shop.
There’s loads more to see: the beach including Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine, the grounds and gardens and more.
Have lunch during your visit, at the Terrace Restaurant, the Petty Officers’ Quarters Cafe, The Gazelle House or the Pavilion Beach Ice Cream Parlour. Then head on to the Steam Railway.
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway
At this registered educational charity you can ride one of the majestic steam trains and take in the fun Train Story interactive discovery centre. The goal of the charity is to preserve the history of railways on the island.
I confess, I’m not a huge steam train fan, but I still found this interesting and fun, especially since you can get up close with some of the restored carriages (great for photos opps) and watch insightful vintage footage about the railway on IoW and the campaign 3 teen boys mounted to save the railway. During Halloween they eerily light the dilapidated carriages waiting for restoration (oooh spooky). There’s even a play engine where you kids can put in “coal” (tennis balls), move the lever to make it sound like it’s moving and pull the cord to sound the horn (I bet the volunteer guides never get tired of that).
The endeavor feels like a real passion project (many of the staff are volunteers), even in the gift shop, where enthusiasts can find N gauge trains and 00 alongside everyone’s favourite engine, Thomas the Tank Engine, and irresistible souvenirs like a Station Master mug.
After this visit, you have time for one more activity before the ferry home.
Naturally the shore is a great draw, especially if the weather is fine. Some of the people we were travelling with drove to the beach for a spell — my BritMums cofounder Susanna took this picture, which looks practically Californian!
We drove right past the Garlic Farm, which is one of the my favourite stops in IoW.
This farm, cafe and shop are all about — you guessed it — garlic. But who knew it could be so interesting, smell so delicious and provide such diversion for adults and kids. There are oak-smoked garlic bulbs you’ll long to cook with, garlic-infused vodka (ahem), a self-guided farm walk, events throughout the year like the Garlic Festival and pop-up opera.
How to get back to London
Instead of going back to Cowes, we departed from Fishbourne via Wightlink, which lands at Portsmouth (the Ryde departure also goes to Portsmouth). It’s nice to be able to arrive in one place, explore, then head off from another so you’re not hampered when exploring.
On the Wightlink ferry this is a children’s play area, a small area — soon to be an actual shop — where you can buy some Isle of Wight delicacies, including smoked garlic and sauces from The Garlic Farm, in case you opted for the beach instead of a farm visit.
The view off the bow as we arrive at Portsmouth is stunning, the Spinnaker glinting in the afternoon soon, the historic Georgian buildings standing uniform and stately close to the water. I’d love to have time to stop at Grade II-listed The Still & West pub, with its sun-drenched beer garden overlooking the water.
But on this day I had a train to catch and evening plans back in London. The journey by car from the ferry landing to the train station took less than 5 minutes. The Still & West will have to wait until next time we’ve doing the ferry trip to Isle of Wight.
If you go
Osborne House | http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/osborne
Isle of Wight Steam Railway | The Railway Station, Havenstreet Main Rd, Havenstreet, Ryde PO33 4DS | http://www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk/ Check website for train timetables
The Garlic Farm | Mersley Ln, Newchurch, Sandown PO36 0NR | https://www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk/ | Open daily 9:00 – 17:00
Red Funnel Ferry | Goes from Southampton to East Cowes and West Cowes | Car and foot ferry crossings available | http://www.redfunnel.co.uk/
Wightlink Ferry | Goes from Lymington to Yarmouth and Portmouth to Fishbourne and Ryde | Car and foot ferry crossings available | http://www.wightlink.co.uk/
All opinions are my own.
The trip was organised by Discover Ferries, the industry body for the UK ferry industry, as part of its National Ferry Fortnight (6 – 20 May 2017). Now in its ninth year, National Ferry Fortnight showcases Britain’s 75 ferry routes and the benefits of travel by sea.
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