Family Friendly Attractions on the Isle of Wight

We had a family holiday on the Isle of Wight. We stayed there for a week, these are some of the things we did, which our 8 year old son especially enjoyed.

Carisbrooke Castle

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 18, 2011

Carisbrooke Castle is quite easy to find, on the main road one and a quarter miles south west of Newport. It is open daily between 10am and 5pm, entrance tickets cost £6.50 for adults, £5.20 for seniors and £3.30 for children. It is run by English Heritage, so if you are a member of this organisation, you get in free.

The castle was built in the 11th century and is very well preserved. We were surprised to find how much of it is intact and not just ruins. There is a lot to see and do here, you need almost a full day. As well as the castle, there is an excellent museum, featuring historic aspects of life on the island.

Carisbrook Castle stands proudly on its own hilltop. The original castle was built during the reign of William the Conqueror on the site of an 8th century Saxon fort. In 1647, King Charles I was imprisoned here by Cromwell's Round Heads. He was executed in January 1649. You can still play bowls on the green here that he used and see the window from which he tried to escape. The castle chapel and museum has very interesting Charles I memorabilia.

We started off our day by watching the film about the castle just by the entrance. It tells you all about the history and is narrated by a cartoon donkey called Jupiter (the voice is local comedian Phil Jupitus). It is very informative and interesting for children and adults - our son watched it twice and is a good place to get the flavour of Carisbrooke.

One of the biggest attractions here is the 16th century Wheelhouse. During sieges, donkeys took turns treading a large wooden wheel connected to a rope that hauled buckets of water up from a well. The Carisbrook donkeys still operate the tread whell and raise water 161 feet from the castle well. They give daily demonstrations - a board outside gives the times. This is a big attraction in the summer months. We had to queue - the wheelhouse is small and only a limited number of people can get in.

The donkey we saw was called Jenny - all the donkeys' names start with J. This started when Charles I was a prisoner here. When he wrote letters or was planning his escape from Carisbrooke, he always signed his letters with a J. So, for 150 years all the donkeys have had a name that starts with J. This is a tradition that continues. The donkeys all look very well cared for and are never forced to work on the wheel. We were amazed when the guide threw a coin into the well, it took a good 5 seconds before you heard it hit the bottom!

Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice made the castle her home after 1914. She commissioned the altar painting in the chapel in memory of her son, killed in action in 1914. The chapel is lovely - small, peaceful and with a serene atmosphere. The new Princess Beatrice garden is in tribute to her.

The Great Hall, Great Chamber and smaller rooms are open. There are lots of ruined domestic buildings and displays of chain mail, cross bows and arrows. In one place, children can dress as either a Norman soldier or a Civil War trooper- this is fun and they can stand guard in the doorway.

Be sure to take the wall walk all around the castle - you see it from all different angles and it is a fun thing to do. Also climb up the 71 steep and heavily worn steps to the top of the keep. It is not really that difficult a climb, but you are rewarded with a wonderful view. Look out for the window from which Charles I tried to escape - it is the one with bars on!

There are cannons everywhere - our son loved climbing on these and playing make-believe battles.

The museum was set up by Princess Beatrice - it is quite interesting, especially the replica of Charles I's bedroom.

They have a very nice cafe and tearoom - we enjoyed the cakes on offer here.

We spent about 5 hours at Carisbrooke Castle. It is a fun but also educational day out for children and adults alike.

If you drive south from the castle via Shorwell to Chale on the coast road, you can easily get to St Catherine's Point near Niton. This is the most southerly point of the Isle of Wight. On a nearby hill is St Catherine's Oratory - a lighthouse built in 1323 which has the most wonderful views.
Carisbrooke Castle
Isle of Wight, England
Newport, Isle of Wight, England, P030 1XY
+44 (1983) 523112

Shanklin and Sandown

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 19, 2011

Shanklin and Sandown are close to each other, so we decided to spend a day discovering the 2 seaside towns. It took about an hour to get there from our base in Totland Bay.

We went first of all to Shanklin. We parked in the car park in the old town - it is pay and display. We walked into the centre of Shanklin and were a bit disappointed. There are a few old fashioned shops but not a lot else. The old village area though is very pretty. It has lots of places to eat and drink and most of the buildings are thatched, so very picturesque. The only problem is the traffic whizzes past you here, the pavements are quite narrow and especially if you have children with you, you have to be extremely careful all the time.

Shanklin Chine is close to the old village. It is a gorge with rare plants and a waterfall. It has been a tourist attraction since 1817. The word "chine" is apparently only used in the Isle of Wight and Dorset. It means a narrow alley or ravine.

It cost £3.90 for adults and £2.00 for children to enter the chine. It is open between 10 am and 10pm and is illuminated after dusk.

The ravine is lush and has exotic plants. It is a bit dark and damp though, so make sure you are wearing sturdy shoes.

There is a lovely tearoom, and beyond that an exhibition about PLUTO. During World War II, Shanklin Chine was a route to the sea for PLUTO - the Pipeline Under the Ocean. It carried vital fuel under the English Channel to Cherbourg during the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. The exhibition has lots of interesting information all about this, just a short walk away you can actually see some of the original pipeline.

In the afternoon we carried on to Sandown and went to Dinosaur Isle there. This is a purpose built museum. It opened in 2001 and claims to be the first custom built dinosaur museum in Europe. It is very close to the seafront at Sandown.

Admission is £5 for adults and £3 for children. There is a big car park at the back of the museum - it costs £3.40 to park there, but if you go into the museum you have this refunded.

The shape of the building is interesting - it is a pterosaur. Inside the museum are numerous fossils, some life sized models of dinosaurs and a couple of animatronics models. There was also an expert working here who was very friendly and very happy to answer questions. Our son was fascinated with what he was told. He also allowed the children to handle different fossils and bones.

The dinosaur museum is quite good, but we only stayed in there for about half an hour. It would be somewhere to go if the weather was bad, but if it is sunny, I would find something else to do.

Osbourne House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 19, 2011

Osbourne House is 1 mile south east of Cowes. It is open daily between 10am and 6pm. Entrance cost is £11.50 for adults, £10.40 for seniors and £6.90 for children. It is run by English Heritage, so if you are a member of this you get in free.

Osbourne House is wonderful - the ultimate Victorian experience. It was bought by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in 1845 and became her favourite holiday home. The house was built in the style of an Italian villa to Prince Albert's designs. Apparently the sweeping views of the Solent reminded him of the Bay of Naples.

Osbourne House was much cherished by Queen Victoria. She had it built at her own expense, and although it is very big and grand, it has more the feel of a family home than a palace. Little has changed here since Queen Victoria died in 1901. The rooms remain as Victoria knew them, right down to the French piano she used to play and all the cozy clutter in her sitting room.

Queen Victoria was grief stricken when Prince Albert died in 1861 aged just 42. She asked that Osbourne House not be changed, and so it is today. There are even the turquoise scent bottles he gave her, decorated with cupids and cherubs in the same place. She died in her bedroom here on January 22, 1901.

You are not allowed to take any photographs inside the house. You can take pictures of the exterior and in the grounds. We bought a guide book - I found this very useful, full of interesting information and very informative as I walked around the house. There are also lots of knowledgable guides throughout the house, who are very happy to answer any questions you may have.

Just inside the house there is an exhibition and information all about Albert and Victoria and their children. There are lots of photos, it is really interesting and gives you all the background to the house.

You wander from room to room - each room is full of interesting trinkets and memorabilia and presents Albert and Victoria gave to each other.

As well as the main rooms, you also can go downstairs to the servants rooms and kitchens and then up a very steep flight of stairs to the nursery rooms and Albert and Victoria's private rooms. It feels quite something to be in Queen Victoria's bedroom - the bed where she died.

Much of the film Mrs Brown starring Judi Dench and Billy Conolly was filmed here. Look out for the bench outside in memory of John Brown.

The gardens and grounds are beautiful and the views to the Solent stunning. There are lots of things to see in the grounds including the ice house and Swiss cottage. It is a mile walk to Swiss cottage, but definitely worth seeing. This was where the royal children played and learnt cooking and gardening. It is an attractive timber building in its own garden which was given to the royal children by Prince Albert. He intended them to learn gardening, housekeeping and cookery. You can see the fort where they played and replicas of their wheelbarrows.

Be sure to also have a look at the queen's bathing house and the Albertina.

When you have finished with all that history, there is a big new adventure playground for children to let off steam - our son was very impressed.

We spent about 6 hours at Osbourne House - it is fascinating, the house is beautiful and the grounds are spectacular. It is a great way for children to learn about history and Victorian times.

After Osbourne House, we drove past Calbourne. This is definitely worth a detour. It is a showpiece village noted for low stone cottages in Winkle Street. This is a cul de sac, only accessible on foot but has a row of terraced thatched cottages which are just lovely.
Osborne House
York Avenue, East Cowes
Isle of Wight, PO32 6JX
01983 200022

Ventnor and Godshill

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Joy S on September 20, 2011

Ventnor rose to prominence during the reign of Queen Victoria and quickly became one of Britain's most famous Victorian health resorts. it is built on a series of terraces. They are extremely steep - driving up and down them is a bit of a thrill in itself!

One level up from the esplanade you will find lots of small shops, pubs and restaurants. The town centre is full of antique and bric a brac shops.

There is a lovely walk along the sea wall to the village of Bonchurch. It has a beautiful village pond and tiny church and was one of Charles Dickens' favourite places.

The Botanic Gardens are on the undercliff. They are open 10am to 5pm and entry and car parking is free.

The gardens spread out over a 22 acre site formerly occupied by a Victorian hospital for people with respiratory conditions. Doctors at the time realised the benefits of the mild climate and clean air to be found in Ventnor. The hospital was demolished in 1967 and the gardens were founded. The visitor centre is next to the car park and has lots of information all about the old hospital.

There is a selection of trees and shrubs from all over the world in the gardens. They are organised region by region and can grow here due to the warm micro climate. That said, on the day we visited it was absolutely freezing! We did see some grape vines and grapes growing though, so it must be warm sometimes. Our son loved the huge fish pond near the cafeteria which was full of water lilies, huge koi and all sizes of goldfish. There is also a children's playground in the gardens where they can run off steam.

There is quite a nice beach at Ventnor - sandy and traditional, and we enjoyed spending a couple of hours here after our visit to the gardens. Bring a bucket and spade for the children and they will have a great time.

Just outside Ventnor is the most beautiful little village called Godshill. We found it by chance, but it is definitely worth a visit. There is free parking at the old blacksmiths area, then you can wander around and look at all the beautiful old thatched buildings. There are lots of places to eat and unusual and quaint shops. Walk up the hill to have a look at the old church. It is surrounded by thatched cottages and is picture postcard perfect.
Ventnor Botanic Garden
Undercliff Drive, PO38 1UL
Isle of Wight, England
01983 855397

The Needles Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 20, 2011

The Needles are the Isle of Wight's most well known landmark and are a must see. They are also one of the enduring images of the UK coastline. They lie at the extreme western tip of the island - just 15 minutes drive from where we were staying at Totland Bay. They are 3 chalk stacks which rise like a line of jagged teeth out of the sea. They are though, a continuation of the chalk downs. You can walk out to the headland from either Alum Bay or Freshwater Bay to see these rocks.

The National Trust's Needles Old Battery has natural beauty and impressive history all rolled into one. It is a Victorian gun emplacement on a spectacular cliff top location. There is a tunnel through the cliffs to a magnificent outlook above the Needles. There are views to Hampshire and Dorset.

At the Needles Park at Alum Bay there are lots of activities and attractions. It is very touristy and a bit gimmicky, but children do love it. You have to pay to park your car and then pay for whatever attractions you wish to see. We went to the sweet manufactory - they made boiled sweets while you watched behind a glass screen. Lots of people crowded in, but unless you are one of the first and get right up against the glass, I would say it was a waste of time.

There is a glass blowing factory - again you watch while they blow the glass and make ornaments. This is quite interesting, but you also have to pay to get in. The sound system was also very poor here - I could barely make out what the glass blower was saying.

The best part is the sand shop. The sands of Alum Bay are multi coloured and very famous for this. They harvest sand at the bottom of the cliffs and bring it to the sand shop. You can buy an empty container and make your own coloured sand souvenir. My son and I both did this, enjoyed it a lot and came away with a lovely reminder of Alum Bay!

There is a chair lift down to Alum Bay. This looked like a breath taking and fun ride, and was going to be the highlight of our day. Heavy winds however meant it was closed - much disappointment all round! You can however walk down to the bay - a lot of steps, but definitely worth it as you get to see the coloured sand cliffs up close.

Weather permitting, every Thursday for 5 weeks from the end of July to the end of August, there is a fireworks display in the evening. Again, it was so windy during our visit, that we left well before this, but I think the setting for fireworks would be fantastic.
The Needles Park
Alum Bay, PO39 0JD
Isle of Wight, England, 39 0
44 1983 752401

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