The Isle of Wight is a popular summer holiday destination. I have many fond memories of going there myself as a child, and this year I took my own family for the first time. There’s so much to do for families on the Isle of Wight – some well-known destinations, some hidden gems, and some that are quite frankly overrated. This post catalogues my experiences and will hopefully provide a helpful guide for other families looking to visit the Isle of Wight for their holiday.
First of all, some context. I went with my wife and daughter, who was two-and-three-quarter years old when we travelled. My sister and her children (7 and 5) also came along. So we were really looking for days out and activities for younger children. There’s an abundance of things for older kids and young adults to do, but I won’t focus on them in this article.
We stayed on the South side of the island. For each of the attractions we visited, I have posted a brief overview below and a rating that takes into account enjoyment factor and value for money. Again, these ratings reflect my experiences of holidaying with younger children.
Blackgang Chine – Chale (Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥)
The closest attraction to us was also hands-down the best of the week. I remember coming here as a young ‘un and it’s certainly changed a lot since then. The focus is heavily on dinosaurs these days but singing dodo’s, warring pirate ships and fairy tale castles offer a supporting cast that kept my two-year-old daughter coming back again and again. Buying a family ticket for Blackgang Chine entitles you to unlimited free returns within 7 days, which we certainly made good use of!
There’s so much to do here and it’s all within easy walking distance – even if bits of the park occasionally fall over the edge of the cliff! A giant animatorinc T-Rex was definitely one of the highlights for me. I cannot recommend this place enough.
The Dinosaur Farm Museum – Brightsone (Rating: ♥♥♥)
I can remember coming here too when I were a wee lad, but unlike Blackgang Chine, this place hasn’t changed a bit. Tucked away in an old barn in the middle of nowhere, this child-friendly visitor centre is a hidden gem. The staff are friendly and gave us an enthusiastic personal tour, and were happy for my daughter to experience the exhibits by looking, touching and playing with them – something that is increasingly rare these days.
The back room of the museum (farm?) features a miniature fossil dig where children – or adults – can sift through sand and shale in search of strategically placed “fossils” and even get to keep their three favourite finds. The walls are adorned with artwork from previous visiting youngsters and clearly marks this out as a family-friendly place.
So why only three hearts? Well, you can certainly spend a happy 60-90 minutes here, but you’d struggle to extend your stay beyond that. So whilst you get good quality time for your money here, you’ll probably want to plan additional activities to fill the rest of the day.
Compton Bay / Brook Chine (Rating: ♥♥♥♥)
Only a stone’s throw away down the road from the Dinosaur Farm Museum is another treat for dino fans. (I promise I’ll feature some other themed attractions in due course!) Brook Chine is famously the best place on the island to find fossils, and also home to the phenomenally impressive fossilised dinosaur footprints as depicted in the photo above.
Five minutes further down the coast is Compton Bay, a wide and sandy beach perfect for summer holidays and a great place to go chasing waves. My daughter absolutely loved it here – the sea is fairly shallow even at high tide and we didn’t even finish our sand castle before she took off like a firecracker to splash in the surf and collect seaweed.
Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best with young children, and you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned day at the seaside, sandy ice-cream and all.
Robin Hill Country Park – Newport (Rating: ♥♥♥♥)
What can I say about Robin Hill? It’s an amazing place to visit and there is a vast range of things to do, from treetop trails to tractor rides to toboggan runs (and LOADS of adventure play sites in between!). We ate our lunch in an African-themed village surrounded by exotic animals, both real and fake, and watched a falconry display in the afternoon. The diversity here is really impressive!
So, why only four hearts? Well, the park is set in a 140-acre woodland setting and this is both a blessing and a curse. All of the attractions are well spread-out, meaning it’s a long trek to get from one to the next, and this is particularly noticeable with a toddler and push-chair. My daughter was also too young or too short for a number of the attractions, so it scores 4 from my perspective but with older children, I imagine this would be a major hit.
It’s worth knowing that you can get a joint ticket for here and Blackgang Chine, as an all-in-one deal that saves money. If you’re planning on visiting both (and I would strongly recommend that you do), make sure you get the joint ticket.
The Needles Park – Alum Bay (Rating: ♥)
At the Westernmost point on the Isle of Wight lies perhaps its most famous attraction, The Needles. These towering white rocks and solitary lighthouse are an iconic part of the island’s geography and the neighbouring beach, Alum Bay, is equally as renowned as a place where you can collect dozens of different colours of sand. An attraction park has sprung up around the landmark, complete with a chairlift from the cliff top to the beach and family attractions such as crazy golf and carousels.
On paper, this should have been great. However, the commercialisation of the site is disappointing at best, and downright outrageous at worst. You need to pay just to park at the site, and that sets the scene for what to expect. Every ride, attraction and activity has a cost, nothing is included in the price. Even going down to the beach incurs a charge. And it’s not like they’re small costs either – you could easily rack up a bill of £50 for a family of four over the course of your visit, and that’s not including food or souvenirs.
So disappointed were we by the expectation that we pay through the nose for things that would be included in the cost at several of the other attractions listed here, that we paid a visit to the site office and got our parking money back, and left after less than an hour.
This blog has so far focused on the attractions on the South and West coast of the island. Part 2 will look at what’s available further inland and on the East side. Please do check back, as there’s at least one more 5-star rated location on my list!