North, South, East or West. Where’s best?

This guide will give you a flavour of the Isle of Wight’s resorts and towns; we hope it will help make deciding where to stay easy and hassle-free.

There’s a big difference between the landscapes and character of the different areas of the Island, so it’s a decision you want to get right: from the classic seaside resorts of Sandown and Shanklin to upmarket towns such as Ventnor and Cowes.

We’ve also got suggestions for the best bike-friendly hotels for each of these places in this article.

Tip: For Isle of Wight cycling routes and planning a cycling trip to the Isle of Wight, read this. And if beaches are important to you, take a look at our detailed guide to the Isle of Wight’s beaches.

So what do you want from your holiday?

Looking for…

You could try…


North, South, East and Central Wight; the main paths run between Cowes in the North, Newport in the centre and then south to Shanklin and Sandown and east to Ryde.


There is only a short cycleway in West Wight, between Freshwater and Yarmouth.

Hills to climb by bike South and West Wight, around Wroxall, Ventnor and Blackgang.

Toddler-friendly /


Sandown or Shanklin.

Classic British seaside holiday

Sandown or Shanklin.

Peace and tranquillity

South Wight (west of Ventnor)

West Wight

Shops and nightlife





East Wight


Ferry ports: Yarmouth (from Lymington), Cowes (foot only from Southampton), East Cowes (from Southampton), Ryde (foot only from Portsmouth), Fishbourne (from Portsmouth)

Best beaches Check out our beach guide!
Foodie heaven and Victorian charm

Get our pick of hotels in each of these places, here.

What are the Isle of Wight’s resorts/towns like?

Cowes (North Wight)

  • Cowes is the town on the west side of the river. The other half is East Cowes. It’s important to know this since you’ll need to take the chain ferry (cars, bicycles and pedestrians) or go a long way round if you find yourself on the wrong side!
  • The foot passenger catamarans from Southampton dock in Cowes. The car ferry from Southampton docks in East Cowes.
  • Many people prefer Cowes to East Cowes, and it has lovely little boutiquey shops and great cafes. It’s fun to watch the yachts on the seafront, but there isn’t a beach. Views are across the busy Solent.
  • Probably the best-known town on the Island due to world-famous Cowes Week when the town plays host to the yachting community.
  • Near the Red Funnel terminal. Beach is mostly shingle/pebbles (more on that, here).
  • On the Round the Island route.
  • Easy to get onto the Island’s cycleways: it is on an arm that connects to Newport (from there you can use the cycleways to get east to Ryde and south to Sandown/Shanklin).
  • Osborne House is around the corner.

See our favourite places to stay in Cowes here

Cowes harbour: one of the most well-known towns on the island

Cowes harbour (photo credit: Pixel Memoirs/


Ryde (East Wight)

  • The Island’s largest town with a good range of supermarkets and restaurants. A busy, bustling place with Victorian heritage and views across the Solent to Portsmouth’s skyline.
  • Fun-filled seafront with lots of things for children to do. You’re also close to Quarr Abbey.
  • Sandy, wide beach though it’s not as attractive as the one at Sandown or Shanklin.
  • Convenient if you don’t have transport as ferries arrive here from Portsmouth (foot passenger only to Ryde, car ferry to Fishbourne to the north).
  • Easy to get onto the Island’s cycleways: it is on an arm that connects to Newport (from there you can use the cycleways to get north to Cowes and south to Sandown/Shanklin).

See our favourite places to stay in Ryde here

Ryde pier, one of the most popular Isle of Wight resorts

Ryde (photo credit: boo_w/


Bembridge (East Wight)

  • Claims to be a village – but it must be the largest one in England!
  • A quiet, attractive place with some nice little shops and interesting places to visit nearby: for example the Bembridge Lifeboat Station, Bembridge Windmill, Quarr Abbey, Goodleaf Tree Climbing and Isle of Wight Steam Railway.
  • If you’re after self-catering, there are some beautiful seafront properties available to rent.
  • On the Round the Island route.

See our favourite place to stay in Bembridge here

A long bridge leads to Bembridge lifeboat station, with a stony beach in the foreground

Bembridge lifeboat station


Sandown and Shanklin (East/South Wight)

  • Officially they’re separate towns, but they’re so close to each other they’re almost one.
  • A traditional seaside destination which you’ll like if you like sandcastles, ice cream and arcades rather than quiet walks and solitude.
  • Neither town is very upmarket, but Sandown feels more shabby than Shanklin. The old town in Shanklin has some quaint tea rooms and a couple of well-regarded restaurants.
  • Lots of accommodation options.
  • Sandy beaches, particularly at Sandown. Shanklin beach is more shingly with patches of gritty sand. We think Sandown bay is prettier than Shanklin.
  • Accessible by train from Ryde (where one of the ferries arrives).
  • Easy to get onto the Island’s cycleways: it is on the Red Squirrel loop, and you can also connect to Newport (and from there you can use the cycleways to get north to Cowes and east to Ryde).
  • Lots to do nearby: for example Brading Roman Villa and Dinosaur Isle.

See our favourite places to stay in Sandown and Shanklin here

Sandown beach which is wide and sandy with the coast heading into the distanceSandown beach
Shanklin is a classic seaside Isle of Wight resort with arcades and classic British seaside amusementsShanklin beach and arcades

Ventnor (South Wight)

  • One of the smartest towns on the Island with some upmarket hotels, beautiful Victorian villas and an attractive esplanade.
  • The town at the top of the hill is an arty place and has also become the unofficial food capital of the Island.
  • Go down the hill, and you get to the beachy side of the town, with ice cream parlours and amusement arcades. The beach is red shingle and golden sand (more on that, here).
  • The Botanic Gardens reflect the area’s microclimate.
  • The roads close to town are windy and steep, and you’re some way from the ferry ports (around 45 minutes drive).
  • It is close to the Round the Island route.

See our favourite places to stay in Ventnor here

Art Deco grandeur of the white pained Winter Gardens buildings in Ventnor against a blue skyArt Deco Winter Gardens overlooking the sea in Ventnor
Sunset over sandy Ventnor beachVentnor beach at sunset

Yarmouth (West Wight)

  • A pretty town with a sleepy waterfront and gorgeous old buildings. Some lovely coffee shops and one-off shops.
  • West Wight is the quietest, least developed area of the Island, despite the fact that it is home to the Island’s iconic symbol: the Needles at Alum Bay.
  • It is the preserve of B&Bs and self-catering houses rather than large hotels.
  • This is where the ferry to/from Lymington runs from.
  • It is on the Round the Island route.
  • The fascinating Needles Battery is close by, as is Mottistone Manor and Newtown Town Hall. The beaches along the Military Road are quiet and fabulous (more on beaches, here).

See our favourite places to stay in Yarmouth here

Yarmouth harbour filled with boats and sunset

Yarmouth marina (photo credit: Sterling images/


Newport (Central)

  • Sadly, it’s not an attractive town. But it is very convenient: it’s the hub of the Island’s bus network, and it has the best range of shops. And the countryside is right on the doorstep.
  • At the centre of the cycleways: north to Cowes, east to Ryde or south to Sandown and Shanklin.
  • Nearby you’ll find chocolate-box Godshill and attractions such as Monkey Haven, Amazon World, Calbourne Water Mill, Arreton Barns and Robin Hill Country Park.


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Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

Last Reviewed: 12 April 2023

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