146km (91 miles) SW of London; 6.5km (4 miles) S of Southampton

The Isle of Wight is known for its sandy beaches and its ports, long favored by the yachting set. The island has attracted such literary figures as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens. Tennyson wrote his beloved poem "Crossing the Bar" en route across the Solent from Lymington to Yarmouth. You may want to come just for the day. Some parts are rather tacky, especially Sandown and Shanklin, though other areas out on the island are still tranquil and quite beautiful.

To see Wight at its scenic best, you can walk at least part of a 106km (65-mile) trail called the Coastal Path. This footpath links cross-country trails with panoramic views of sea cliffs, the ocean, and the downs. The most scenic part of the trail for those who don't want to walk all of it is the stretch between Shanklin and Ventnor.

The Isle of Wight is compact, measuring 37km (23 miles) from east to west, 21km (13 miles) north to south. Ryde is the railhead for the island's transportation system. Yarmouth is a busy little harbor providing a mooring for yachts.

Cowes is the premier port for yachting in Britain. Henry VIII ordered the castle built here, but it's now the headquarters of the Royal Yacht Squadron. The seafront and the high cliff road are worth exploring for the scenic views. The port is divided into West Cowes and East Cowes, and separated by the narrow Medina River, which is linked only by a chain ferry called "the floating bridge." Hovercraft are built in the town, which is also the home and birthplace of the well-known maritime photographer Beken of Cowes. In winter, everyone wears oilskins and wellies, leaving a wet trail behind them.

Newport, a bustling market town in the heart of the island, is the capital and has long been a favorite of British royalty. Along the southeast coast are the twin Victorian resorts of Sandown and Shanklin. Both of these family resorts have a very similar atmosphere, with cafes, shops (rather mediocre), pubs, restaurants, safe bathing, and a mild climate. The pier in Sandown dates from 1879 and provides all-weather amusements such as video games. Shanklin at the southern end of Sandown Bay holds the British annual sunshine record. We suggest you skip Sandown and visit at Shanklin for its old village and a glimpse at Shanklin Cline, a fissure in the cliff where you can walk up to see a 12m (40-ft.) waterfall. Farther along the coast, Ventnor is called the "Madeira of England" because it rises from the sea in a series of steep hills.

On the west coast are the many-colored sand cliffs of Alum Bay. The Needles, three giant chalk rocks, and the Needles Lighthouse are the farther features of interest at this end of the island. If you want to stay at the western end of Wight, consider Freshwater Bay.