Renowned for its yachting, this town lends its name to the international regatta ‘Cowes Week’ which runs every year, doubling the local population. It’s home to one of the few remaining ‘floating bridges’ - a chain car ferry linking Cowes to East Cowes across the estuary of the River Medina. Red Funnel’s vehicle ferry and passenger ferry routes link Cowes to Southampton.
All about Cowes
One of the most popular towns on the Isle of Wight, Cowes is the perfect holiday destination for families and couples. While it’s famous for its sailing and Victorian architecture, the town has so much more to offer, boasting plenty of great places to eat, fun attractions and a variety of boutique shops.
East Cowes, where you’ll find Queen Victoria’s much-loved holiday home, Osborne House, can easily be accessed via a chain ferry, too.
Let’s take a look at why this town is a must-visit during your next trip to the Isle of Wight.
Things to do in Cowes
The local area is bursting with history – you could really learn a thing or two by visiting some of the following attractions! No matter your age, you’re bound to find something that appeals to you.
The Isle of Wight Military and Heritage Museum
This interactive museum is fairly small in size, which the admission price reflects, but kids and adults alike are bound to learn a lot. You’ll be able to see (and touch) various uniforms, tanks, small arms and artefacts here. There’s even an opportunity to ride a tank around a track and fire a rifle at the shooting range!
If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a guided tour from an ex-service volunteer – their personal stories and anecdotes really add to the experience. When you’ve finished looking around, you may want to stop by the café next door, Poppies, which serves a selection of hot and cold snacks.
All profits made by the museum go to armed services charities, so not only will be you be learning a lot and having fun, you’ll be making a difference too!
While this attraction may be over in East Cowes, it’s well worth making the journey to it. You’ll have the opportunity to see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s apartments, the private beach where their children learnt to swim and the play cottage. It’s best to visit on a sunny day, as that way you’ll be able to make the most out of the beautiful grounds and beach.
If you’re holidaying with your pooch, you’ll be pleased to know that well-behaved dogs on leads are allowed. There are also several places to eat at Osborne House, including the lavish Terrace Restaurant and Orangery, set within Queen Victoria’s private chapel, and the less formal Petty Officers’ Quarters café. In the latter, your kids will love the Prince and Princess-themed menus.
On a warm summers’ day, Northwood Park is the ideal place to have a picnic, take the dog for a walk and let the kids run around. Not only is there plenty of green space and interesting flora, the park has a children’s play area and free-to-use tennis courts.
The biggest draw of the park is arguably Northwood House, a Grade II-listed Georgian Manor that was once renowned for its extravagant parties, back during the Victorian era. In fact, Queen Victoria’s children used to attend some of the events.
Unfortunately, the house isn’t open to the public, as it now used as a wedding and events venue, but it looks magnificent from the outside too.
Where to eat in Cowes
The Isle of Wight is famed for its fantastic local produce, so it’s no wonder it boasts so many fantastic restaurants. Here are three of the most popular eateries in Cowes.
This award-winning restaurant is a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike. If you’re heading to the Island for a special occasion, Mojac’s is certainly the place to celebrate. Its varied menu is sure to please everyone in your party, plus many of the dishes are gluten and dairy-free, though the owners are more than happy to cater to all dietary requirements.
Not only is the food great here, the service is too, so you’ll no doubt be tempted to visit more than just once. In the summer, be sure to book a table in advance, as the restaurant gets very busy.
The Mess-Canteen + Bar
If you’re looking for a restaurant/bar with a laid-back atmosphere, The Mess-Canteen comes highly recommended. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and boasts a broad menu. Enjoy everything from a monster-sized burger to a homely chicken pot pie – all made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Again, all special diets are catered for, and children-sized portions are available.
In the evening, The Mess-Canteen becomes a wonderful cocktail bar, so it’s a great place to go for a quick drink or two. The only downside of this eatery is that it doesn’t do puddings!
The Coast Bar & Dining Room
Also open for every meal of the day, The Coast prides itself on serving locally-sourced, seasonal food and providing a friendly and attentive dining service. Its contemporary look and feel makes it perfect for an extra-special meal out and the menu caters for absolutely everyone – even the fussiest of eaters. The pizza, made in a proper pizza oven, is a popular choice.
If you want to try The Coast, don’t forget to book ahead, as you might not be able to secure a table on the night! The welcoming and helpful staff will always try and accommodate you where possible, though.
Unmissable events in Cowes
Not all the events that take place in Cowes are to do with sailing, even Cowes Week is about far more than boats. Here are two of the biggest events in Cowes and why you shouldn’t miss them during your next visit.
Famous for being the world’s largest and oldest annual sailing regatta, Cowes Week spans eight days and is centred around a competitive race. You can either watch shore-side, or on-board a spectator boat. Even if you’re not interested in the sailing aspect, there’s lots to keep you entertained both during the day and night.
The entertainment on offer changes each year, but musical acts are always commonplace. Don’t miss Ladies Day (if you’re a lady, of course) and the famous fireworks that occur on the last Friday of the event.
Classic Isle Festival
This boutique music festival is dedicated to the celebration of classical music. Artists from all over the globe come to Northwood House every year to the event, which takes place over a weekend. As you might expect, you won’t find anyone in onesies or muddy wellies here – it’s a much classier affair. Instead, expect posh marquees, high-quality food and staff that will cater to your every need.
How to get to Cowes
You shouldn’t have much difficulty finding Cowes from your holiday home, but the below instructions may come in handy if you ever have problems with your sat nav.
From Rookley Park
Rookley is the closest of our three holiday parks to Cowes, as it should only take you 20 minutes to drive there. Start by driving on Main Road/A3020, following the A road until you see a turn-off for Nodes Road/B3325. Stay on the B road until you reach Cowes – it’s as simple as that!
From Colwell Bay
It should only take you just over half an hour to reach Cowes from Colwell. Firstly, you need to take Monks Lane to Colwell Road/A3054, staying on the A road until you see a turning on your left for Whitehouse Road. Then, at the following roundabout, take the second exit onto Pallance Road. Lastly, you’ll need to turn left onto Place Road/B3325 and continue on the B road until you arrive in Cowes.
Parking in Cowes
Unfortunately, parking spaces are limited in East Cowes, but below is a list of carparks in West Cowes:
The Esplanade – Queen’s Road
Northwood Park – Ward Avenue
We hope you find the above information useful, but please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about the island or our holiday parks. You can also check out our other area guides, covering the other major town on the Isle of Wight here. Wherever you go and whatever you do during your trip, we’re sure you’ll have a fantastic time.