On our doorstep, the Isle of Wight has always been a favourite destination for family holidays and breaks but these days it's a chic choice too, with music festivals helping to bring its image up to date. But don't let the cool vibe put you off! – this is also a destination where time has stood still in many respects, with Victorian promenades and simple pleasures such as crabbing to be had, and amusement parks, museums, animal parks and farms galore. Most importantly, the Isle of Wight is an island so there’s plenty of beaches to keep the kids happy, while the fact that half of it has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty means that adventures inland will be rewarded with cutesy villages and outdoor fun such as riding, hiking and cycling on minor roads and lanes, grassy tracks and bridleways.
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Hit the beaches: there are 13 awardwinning ones, 3 of them Blue Flag. Sandown beach is popular, with a wide expanse of shallow water. Check out the Good Beach Guide for water quality on the different beaches as it can very wildly.
Take a peek around Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday home, with horse-drawn carriage rides and a new adventure playground to keep youngsters happy. Carisbrooke Castle is a good place to let off steam, with loads of space to run around, and Yarmouth Castle has a great gun platform to admire.
Go further back in time by taking a look at the Roman Villa at Newport or check out one of the many museums: see how smuggling methods have developed over the years at The Smuggling Museum in Ventnor or wander around The Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum at Bembridge. The Lilliput Antique Doll and Toy Museum at Brading has toys going back as far as 2000BC, while at the Frontline and Aviation Museum you can take a look at the the Red Baron’s tri-plane.
Head for the Dinosaur Farm at Brightstone to see some of the UK’s most important dinosaur skeletons. Bones (of the dinosaur variety) regularly turn up in the cliff landslips here, so encourage your kids to head out afterwards with a bucket and spade. See our section on the Isle of Wight in our feature Where to Find Fossils and Dinosaur Remains.
Make for Fort Victoria Country Park with its planetarium, model railway with tokens to get everything going, and marine aquarium with local and tropical sealife.
Go totally animal crazy at the Isle of Wight Rare Breeds and Waterfowl Park in St Lawrence, with more over 40 breeds of cattle, deer, sheep, pigs and goats, or the Flamingo Park at Seaview, where you can feed the penguins by hand. The Isle of Wight Zoo at Sandown is great if you like big cats, or head for Butterfly World or Brickfields Pony Rides, the latter with blacksmiths, working displays, a play fort and daily parades of cowboys and Indians. To see rare red squirrels, make for Parkhurst Forest, with lovely walks and picnic sites along the trails. Wroxhall has both a Donkey Sanctuary and Owl and Falconry Centre.
Try out the themeparks, especially Blackgang Chine, a fantasy park aimed at under-7s, in a great setting on a clifftop, above green areas linked by woodland walks with fairytale-themed areas. Robin Hill Countryside Adventure Park has a huge park plus adventure rides including the Time Machine. The Needles Park at Alum Bay has lots of different rides and other attractions, including coloured sand models, glass-blowing, a sweet factory and a hair-raising cliff-side cable-car to the beach.
Most pubs and cafés on the Isle of Wight offer local crab and lobster sandwiches and salads, or try the two very good restaurants attached to hotels, the Seaview Hotel (see above) and The George in Yarmouth. Fish and chips on the seafront is also a must-do on family holidays and breaks.
In fine weather the best places to eat with children (apart from picnics on the beach) are those right by the sea. The Spyglass pub at Ventnor has good local bitter, and parents can sit outside and keep an eye on older children playing on the beach below, while the Baywatch at St Helens has tables practically on the beach (booking is advised in the evenings in August).By Rachelle Keyes
While the Isle of Wight's quiet, gentle atmosphere is one of its main draws, you'll find that many attractions for children are closed from mid-autumn to Easter. Summer is the best time for family holidays and breaks, but obviously the sighs and beaches are more crowded.
The Isle of Wight is easy-as-pie as a destination for family holidays and breaks, with access by either car or train, plus passenger or car ferry (10–55mins; some crossings by hovercraft or catamaran). Hourly fast trains run from London Waterloo to Portsmouth or Southampton in Hampshire. Also, the local bus services around the island are good in summer.
The Isle Wight offers good-value family holidays and breaks by virtue of being easy to reach and offering a wide choice of self-catering accommodation.
The Isle of Wight has a massive choice of accommodation suited to family holidays and breaks, from B&Bs and hotels for various budgets to campsites, holiday parks and caravans on the beach. See the list below or search for family-friendly hotels with partners Booking.com. For great self-catering cottages, see partners Cottages4you (offering exclusive discounts to TaketheFamily members).
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