National Trust & English Heritage sites to visit on the Isle of Wight

Beaches, Days out, Walking, Educational, Nature

Posted by Kate A on 5th August 2020

Osborne HouseEnglish Heritage Osborne House

From wildlife-rich nature reserves, ancient woodland, and dramatic coastlines to crumbling castles, historic houses and medieval lighthouses, the Isle of Wight is simply bursting with National Trust and English Heritage sites to visit.

'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,' said Queen Victoria of the island and she subsequently built a holiday retreat here, now one of the top English Heritage Isle of Wight properties to see. There’s also a 300-year-old windmill to climb, a secret rocket testing site to explore, and one of the best beaches in Europe for fossil hunting to add to the list too.

We have chosen some of our favourite properties, walks and attractions in the care of National Trust and English Heritage to discover during a holiday on the Isle of Wight. If you have an interest in history or want to find some of the best views of the island, click the button below to browse our collection of holiday cottages on the Isle of Wight and start ticking off some of these great places.

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National Trust sites on the Isle of Wight

The Needles

The Needles

One of the most iconic National Trust Isle of Wight places is the natural landmark known as The Needles. This dramatic line of chalk outcrops rises to the heavens from the swirling sea just off the westernmost tip of the island. The best way to admire this famous spectacle is by donning your hiking boots and enjoying one of our favourite National Trust Isle of Wight walks known as the Needles Headland trail which meanders for 7 miles across the wild and beautiful Tennyson Down.

The Needles Old Battery

Not only does this invigorating stroll take in the Needles rocks, but it also rewards those who take on the challenge with another of the National Trust’s sites, The Needles Old Battery and New Battery. This imposing Victorian fort was built in 1862 following the threat of French invasion and became known as one of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’. The Old Battery was used throughout both World Wars, and the New Battery further up the headland became a secret rocket testing site during the Cold War. You can discover their fascinating history through a series of atmospheric rooms and exhibitions.

Don’t miss: Climbing down the spiral staircase and creeping through the 65-metre underground tunnel which eventually leads to a searchlight emplacement with mesmerising views over the Needles rocks.

Best conditions: For the best views, visit on a clear day.

Facilities: 1940s National Trust tearoom, shop, toilets and baby-changing facilities at the Needles Old Battery. Dogs on leads are welcome. The nearest car park is at Alum Bay (not National Trust).

Stay nearby: Chine Cottage, Totland Bay | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Mottistone Gardens

Mottistone Gardens

One of the top Isle of Wight National Trust gardens, Mottistone is an enchanting place to explore during your island holiday. Bursting with colourful delights and surprises, there are hidden pathways to discover, fragrant herbaceous borders to admire, and cheeky little flowerpot people to find! Enveloping a grand Elizabethan manor house in a valley which overlooks the sea, these heavenly scented gardens always offer something new to see, whether you drift through blankets of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells in spring or wander beneath golden boughs in autumn when the trees offer a firework display of colour.

Mottistone GardensMottistone Gardens credit: Instagram @ntisleofwight

Created from an abandoned farmyard, Mottistone Gardens takes advantage of its southerly setting, experimenting with a Mediterranean-style planting scheme. Tall leaves of exotic plants fill the borders, a young olive grove is establishing itself on the high banks, and a small organic kitchen garden is stocked with seasonal fruit and veg.

Don’t miss: The tea garden which offers a range of tempting treats, homemade cakes, cream teas and light lunches when you need a well-earned break from wandering the gardens.

Best conditions: Pick a dry, sunny day to make the most of this outdoor attraction.

Facilities: Tea garden, shop, toilets, baby-changing facilities, picnic benches, children’s trails, free car park. Dogs on leads are welcome. 

Stay nearby: Greystone Cottage, Brook | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Newtown National Nature Reserve and Old Town Hall

Newtown National Nature Reserve

If you’re looking for Isle of Wight National Trust places where you can appreciate the island’s rich variety of wildlife, then you’re sure to love a visit to Newtown National Nature Reserve. Here, rare butterflies and red squirrels can be glimpsed amongst the flower-filled hay meadows and ancient woodland, and all manner of birds can be spotted around the clear waters of the harbour. Due to the reserve being once part of a thriving salt industry, you'll also find rare and unusual invertebrates among the mudflats, saltmarsh and shingle spits, such as sand-lagoon shrimps, sea slugs and brittle stars, which are specially adapted to the highly saline conditions.

Newtown Old Town HallNewtown Old Town Hall credit: Instagram @visitisleofwight

After exploring the reserve, head to Newtown’s Old Town Hall, also owned by the National Trust IOW and uncover the area’s fascinating history and political past. This distinctive 17th-century town hall, that bizarrely isn’t actually in a town, is the only remaining evidence of Newtown's former importance. Turbulent elections were once held here before sending two of its members to Parliament, one of which was George Canning who later became Prime Minister.

Don’t miss: The bird hides in the nature reserve, particularly in the cooler months when wildfowl and waders migrate here - around 200 different types of bird can be seen throughout the year.

Best conditions: The nature reserve can be visited any time of year and if it starts to drizzle you can take cover in one of the bird hides. 

Facilities: Toilets, pay and display car park. Dogs are welcome on leads in the reserve but not in the Old Town Hall.

Stay nearby: Yew Tree House, Parkhurst Forest | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Bembridge Windmill

Bembridge Windmill

The only surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight, and one of the island's icons, Bembridge Windmill should certainly be added to your list of must-visit National Trust Isle of Wight attractions. Built in around 1700 and out of commission since 1913, this Grade I-listed building still has most of its original machinery intact which you can marvel at during your visit. In fact, it’s so beautiful that it was even transformed into watercolour by the famous artist JMW Turner when he visited in 1795.

Bembridge WindmillBembridge Windmill credit: Instagram @mjnewham

Join one of the tours and climb the steep stairs to the top of the windmill – the views from the little window at the top are simply breathtaking. As you descend back through its four floors you can follow the milling process from start to finish. Be astounded by the enormous Great Brake Wheel which would have been turned by the sails outside, look out for the millstones which ground the grain into flour (each stone weighs a whopping half-ton!), and little explorers can keep their eyes peeled for the secret millers, including Mill.i.am, hiding in all the windmill’s nooks and crannies.

Don’t miss: The lovely walks surrounding the windmill, including the scenic Culver Trail.

Best conditions: If you visit when the wind’s up, you’ll be able to admire the windmill in all its glory and listen to the deafening creaks of the sails as it slowly turns in the breeze.

Facilities: Kiosk selling ice creams and snacks, toilets, tours available, children’s miller trail, children’s nature trails during the school holidays, free parking (not National Trust). Dogs on leads are welcome in the grounds only, not inside the windmill. 

Stay nearby: Driftwood Cottage At Forelands, Bembridge | Sleeps 4

Compton Bay

Compton Bay

Widely considered one of the best beaches on the Isle of Wight, National Trust’s Compton Bay is the perfect spot to kick off your shoes and let the sand sink between your toes. Lying on the southern shore of the island, this 2-mile-long shallow bay with its sparkling waters is a prime location for swimming, surfing and water sports, backed by tumbling multi-coloured sandstone cliffs. Lay out a picnic blanket and drink in the far-reaching views over to Tennyson Down and the Needles and challenge the family to a sandcastle building competition.

Dinosaur footprints at Compton Bay

Compton Bay is also one of the best places on ‘Dinosaur Island’ to go fossil hunting - so far over 20 different species of dinosaur have been found here, and some of these have been found nowhere else in the world. Book a fossil hunting tour or enjoy your own adventure searching for footprints, teeth and fossilised bones when the tide is low. Or perhaps you’d like to explore the wildlife-rich countryside that surrounds the shore? There is a myriad of walking trails which criss-cross Compton Downs above, with the chance to admire a profusion of beautiful downland wildflowers.

Don’t miss: The large three-toed footprints of Iguanodon buried in the sand at the base of the cliffs just to the east of Compton Bay car park at Hanover Point. These are between 1 and 2 feet across.

Best conditions: Perfect at any time of year when the weather is dry.

Facilities: Toilets at Hanover Point, three pay and display car parks for access to the coast at Brook, Hanover and Compton Chine. Seasonal dog ban on the beach west of Compton Bay car park (15th May – 15th September).

Stay nearby: Tennysons View Cottage, Freshwater | Sleeps 2

English Heritage sites on the Isle of Wight

Osborne House

Osborne House

One of the most popular English Heritage sites on the Isle of Wight is Osborne House, the former palatial holiday home of Queen Victoria. A sanctuary away from public scrutiny, Victoria and Albert built this grand Italianate residence by the sea in 1845, and today you can get a real glimpse into what royal family life was like 200 years ago. Tour the nursery, marvel at the Royal Apartments including the lavishly decorated Indian-inspired Durbar Room, admire the captivating view from the terraces across the Solent, and wander the extensive grounds. Ornate furniture, artefacts and fine art fill the rooms and corridors, reflecting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's passions, tastes and style.

Osborne HouseOsborne House credit: Instagram @duncan.irvine

After taking in the riotous colours of the walled garden, you can follow in Victoria's royal footsteps to her private beach where the family played in the summer. You can still see the bathing machine where Victoria would undress before heading into the water. Due to the beauty of the house and its location, Osborne remained one of Victoria’s favourite royal residences throughout her life and it was here that she ultimately died, in 1901.

Don’t miss: Swiss Cottage in the grounds, a giant playhouse with child-sized furniture and kitchen built to teach the royal children the art of household management!

Best conditions: Perfect in all weathers.

Facilities: Cafés, picnic area, toilets, shop, play areas, free parking available. Dogs on leads are welcome in the grounds including the formal gardens but not in the house or beach.

Stay nearby: The Indian Summer House, Osborne | Sleeps 2 + 2 dogs

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

Another fascinating historic attraction cared for by English Heritage Isle of Wight is Carisbrooke Castle. This mighty ruin spans over 800 years of history from its beginnings as a Saxon fortress to its transformation into an imposing Norman castle with the arrival of William the Conqueror, before it became the home of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter.

Jousting at Carisbrooke CastleCarisbrooke Castle credit: Instagram @redfunnelferry

One of the castle’s most famous residents was Charles I who was imprisoned here before his execution in 1649. As well as discovering the room from which he tried to escape, and failed twice, you can march across the battlements, scale the keep for incredible views across the land, and uncover fascinating secrets in the museum. There’s also a wealth of fun-packed family events throughout the year such as jousting on the bowling green.

Don’t miss: The famous and friendly Carisbrooke donkeys who operate the treadwheel in the Elizabethan wheelhouse.

Best conditions: Best explored on a fine day, but there are indoor areas for escaping the rain.

Facilities: Tearoom, shop, picnic area, toilets, baby changing facilities, car parking available. Dogs on leads are welcome, but not in the museum.

Stay nearby: Virginia Cottage, Carisbrooke | Sleeps 6

Appuldurcombe House

Appuldurcombe House

Reputed to be one of the most haunted places on the island, Appuldurcombe House was once a masterpiece of English Baroque architecture, built in the early 18th century as the seat of the Worsley family. Destroyed in part by a mine dropped by a German bomber during the Second World War, the building is now an elegant shell, but you can still admire its many striking architectural details which have been partly restored by Isle of Wight English Heritage.

Appuldurcombe HouseAppuldurcombe House credit: Instagram @north_edinburgh_nightmares

Interesting displays tell the story of the house and you can enjoy a peaceful stroll through the 11 acres of rolling grounds which were designed in the 1780s by celebrated landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic, surrounded by wildlife and gorgeous views.

Don’t miss: The falconry centre within the grounds of the estate. 

Best conditions: A dry day as there isn’t much shelter from the rain.

Facilities: There are no facilities at the house, the nearest public toilets are in Godshill. Car parking is available and dogs on leads are welcome.

Stay nearby: Worsley Cottage, Wroxall | Sleeps 6

Yarmouth Castle

Yarmouth CastleYarmouth Castle credit: Instagram @sonofthevicar

Commanding the mouth of the Solent, English Heritage’s Yarmouth Castle was the last and most sophisticated of Henry VIII's ambitious system of coastal defences. This was also the first arrowhead castle built in Britain, completed after his death in 1547. Step inside the atmospheric ruins and discover how the rooms were used in the 16th century, how the castle defended the coast, and how it has evolved.

Yarmouth CastleYarmouth Castle credit: Instagram @andyck87

On a sunny day, climb the battlements for awe-inspiring views over the crystal-clear Solent, watching the yachts glide across the horizon, before sitting down to a relaxing picnic on the rampart lawns. An intriguing exhibition telling the story of the many shipwrecks that have occurred in the treacherous stretch of sea overlooked by the castle will complete your visit.

Don’t miss: One of the best views of the castle is from Yarmouth Pier which extends into the sea beside it – walk to the end and look back to get a better understanding of how the castle’s defences are arranged. 

Best conditions: There are things to see both inside and out, making this a good all-weather place to visit. 

Facilities: Shop, toilets, picnic area, indoor playroom for children. The castle sits right in the centre of Yarmouth town where you will find places to eat and drink along with pay and display parking. 

Stay nearby: Romany Cottage, Totland Bay | Sleeps 6

St Catherine's Oratory

St Catherine's Oratory

Perched on St Catherine’s Hill overlooking Chale Bay, one of the highest points on the island, St Catherine’s Oratory is a tall medieval octagonal tower full of colourful legend. Affectionately known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’, the ruin is all that remains of a medieval oratory, erected in 1328 by Walter de Godeton. This local landowner had been found guilty of plundering casks of wine from a nearby shipwreck which was originally bound for the monastery of Livers in Picardy. Building the tower and adjoining oratory was his penance for such a crime and it is believed to have been used as a lighthouse to prevent further shipwrecks.

St Catherine's OratorySt Catherine's Oratory credit: Instagram @wilbur_mini_weiner_warre 

In the 16th century, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the oratory fell into disrepair and was abandoned – the tower survived because of its importance as a seamark. It is now one of a series of cliff-top monuments that are part of the Tennyson Heritage Coast. 

Don’t miss: The Bronze Age bowl barrow, or burial mound, around 15 metres away from the tower. This earlier monument was partially excavated in 1925 when human and animal bones and flint tools were discovered.

Best conditions: A clear day so you can make the most of the views from the top of the hill.

Facilities: During the summer season, refreshments can be purchased in the car park (not managed by English Heritage). Dogs on leads are welcome. 

Stay nearby: St Catherines Cottage, Niton Undercliff | Sleeps 6 + 1 dog

 

After exploring some of these exciting English Heritage and National Trust properties on the Isle of Wight, you can sleep like royalty in one of our self-catering holiday cottages. From cosy retreats for romantic escapes to big and beautiful boltholes for the whole family, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay within our collection of cottages on the Isle of Wight. Just click the button below to browse our full portfolio. 


Need more inspiration?

We know the Isle of Wight inside out and we've got the best advice on where to go and what to do, whether you're a family (with or without a canine companion), a group of friends or a couple seeking a romantic escape. Check out these guides for even more Isle of Wight holiday ideas:

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.