Friday 3 February 2023

How to spend a day on the Isle of Wight this Half Term

(AD with Visit Isle of Wight - see disclaimer)

With just a few weeks to go until Half Term, we headed to the Isle of Wight for a day trip with Visit Isle of Wight to see what we could get up to with the children. Unfortunately, when it came to the day we only had the one-year-old with us because the five-year-old went to a train convention with my parents but we were still able to get a good glimpse into 'half-term on the island'

Being based in Southampton means day trips are a doddle and long weekends away are easily within reach. If you're Hampshire based or further then the Isle of Wight is a gem and the perfect spot to explore with children.

Here is what we got up to during our visit...

When I visited Cowes early last year (you can read the post here - How to Spend 6 hours in Cowes) we took the Red Jet which is so quick but this time we opted for the car ferry as we were visiting Osborne House in East Cowes.

From the city, Red Funnel operates multiple services throughout the day whether you're a foot passenger or taking the car. Booking through Red Funnel is easy with vehicle ferries taking just one hour or less than thirty minutes if you're travelling by the high-speed Red Jet service. 

We travelled on the 9am ferry from Southampton as foot passengers - getting onboard was really easy, our ticket was scanned and then it was straight on the boat. We caught the lift up with the pushchair to one of the lounges (pets allowed), ordered coffee and pastries, listened to the safety announcement and then settled in for our journey. E was in heaven due to multiple dogs wanting to say hello and she had enough space to wander around which was great. It wasn't too windy so we took her out on deck too - the ferry is such a great idea with children, especially when it's a bit warmer as it's so nice sitting outside and sailing to the island. 

For ease, we travelled on the Red Jet home as there was a home game to miss before traffic built up in the city. Red Jet Ferries to Southampton depart from Red Funnel's Terminal West Cowes and as it's a first-come, first-served based service they just advise you're there in plenty of time. We had no issues getting a seat and it was a super smooth crossing home. We just hopped on the floating bridge that cost £1.50 each from East Cowes to get across the river to West Cowes for our trip back. You barely notice the 28 minutes you're on the jet and it was super easy to keep the little one occupied during the crossing home.

Osborne House is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Isle of Wight and in all the years I have travelled back and forth to the island, this was my first visit to the property. We hopped on the bus from East Cowes (Southern Vectis 4 & 5 outside of Waitrose) which took just five or so minutes and dropped us right outside the entrance of Osborne House. 

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites - from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of the empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, they bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year and it is done beautifully at Osborne House. 

They are within their Winter season at the moment so do check ahead of visiting what will and won't be open. We didn't find this impacted us too much and was able to see exactly what we wanted to. Just bear in mind if you're with children still of pushchair age, they cannot be taken within the house but there is a buggy park outside. 

In the words of Queen Victora, 'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot than Osborne House' and while looking down at the water as the sun shone I couldn't agree more. We scored perfect weather on the island with the sun shining during our entire visit at Osborne which made exploring the outside grounds perfect. 

Inside the house is such a joy with helpful tour guides dotted around to give you more information on the rooms you're viewing, the art and what might have happened in the rooms we were standing in over 100 years ago. You get to experience such an intimate and unique glimpse into royal life as you explore private apartments and grand reception rooms lined with furnishings and artworks from the Royal Collection.

It was incredibly opulent in parts with splashes of gold, high ceilings and surprisingly gorgeously pastel colour ceilings etched with fine gold strokes. I always say don't forget to look up in life as you never know what you may find and that couldn't be truer at Osborne House. 

Outside, you can wander among the flower-filler gardens (although maybe wait for the Spring blooms!) and wander down to the private beach where the royal children learnt to swim.

I found the views from the outside had a Mediterranean feel (Google Elche, Spain and you'll see what I mean) and upon delving more into the background of the property discovered the 'royal palace by the sea' drew inspiration from the Mediterranean and Italianate architecture. From each angle, there are breathtaking views out across the ornate terrace gardens that I can imagine experience a burst of colour in the warmer months. 

You can wander the Victorian walled garden with its espaliered fruit trees, and explore the wider parkland with its historic trees, many planted by Prince Albert as you walk down to the beach.

Before leaving, we headed to the Petty Officers' Quarters by the gift shop for a cream tea. They had a great selection of food available on site with vegan and milk alternatives available. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Osborne House and will absolutely head back in the warmer months. 

You can book family tickets from £49.40 for Osborne House here - Osborne | English Heritage (

After our time at Osborne House, we hopped back on the bus and wandered down to The Lifeboat in East Cowes for a late lunch before heading back to Southampton. The Lifeboat overlooks East Cowes Marina and is a firm favourite for visiting yachtsmen and families. They have a large outside decking area as well as plenty of sitting inside with marina-facing views. We were greeted by the friendliest of staff and seated with menus and drinks. The place was quite full when we arrived with people of all ages enjoying lunch which was a great sign - you could genuinely tell how loved the place was as soon as you walked in. 

The menu has a great variety of dishes, we really loved the options on the children's menu and the prices were SO reasonable for the portion sizes. We enjoyed the cheesiest, most delicious garlic bread and duck gyozas before having mains of Scampi, Chips and Peas (a classic!) and Crispy, Shredded Chicken - delicious, full of flavour and really enjoyable. 

The dessert menu looked really great and we saw a few go past but after starters and mains we couldn't manage anything else - we have an excuse to go back though. 

I cannot rate The Lifeboat enough - everything was excellent, from the atmosphere and food to the service and location. It was just a really welcoming family-friendly spot that just rounded off our day perfectly. 

With full bellies, we walked to the Floating Bridge (£1.50 per person for the crossing) and travelled over to West Cowes where we jumped on the Red Jet home. We had such an enjoyable time on the island and it was great experiencing things we haven't done before. The Isle of Wight is the most wonderful place to visit and at times can feel like being abroad. 

We really want to visit the Steam Railway with our budding train enthusiast next time. 

Have a look at Visit Isle of Wight for even more fun ideas to do on the island, it's an excellent website to use to plan your trip. 

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