Can you really visit the Isle of Wight without a car?

Visiting the Isle of Wight on foot is something that had never occurred to me. I don’t drive, and so had always thought the Isle of Wight was just somewhere we couldn’t visit unless we went with someone who did have a car. I was intrigued then, when S and I were asked to try out the Red Funnel Red Jet service and have a day out on the island. I hadn’t realised there were quite so many places to visit on the Isle of Wight until we began to take a look.

We started out at our local train station, and caught the train to Southampton. There is a bus stop directly outside of the train station which stops at the Red Funnel terminal.

The Red Jet is a passenger only catamaran sailing regularly to and from the Isle of Wight. In the summer during the day it sails every half an hour with a slightly more limited service in the winter months – though still every thirty minutes at peak times (for people who commute to and fro for work). 


We collected our tickets from the office and found that this included all-day bus tickets for the island and entry to attractions. You can get everything in one place, which makes it really easy.

S had never been on a boat before, and I hadn’t been to the Isle of Wight for twenty years so we were both quite excited. The crossing to the island took around twenty five minutes, and we arrived in Cowes very excited to visit the Isle of Wight Zoo and Dinosaur Isle at Sandown. 

Public transport on the Isle of Wight

There is a bus stop right outside of the Red Jet terminal at Cowes, and as we came out a bus was waiting. I told the driver we needed to get to Sandown and he explained to me that to get there, we needed to go into Newport. Newport acts as the “hub of the wheel” on the island, and from the bus station there you can catch a bus to other areas of the island.

As we moved to our seat a lady told us she was headed to Sandown too and would make sure we got on the right bus at Newport. We waited with her at the bus station, and as she got off the bus at her stop in Sandown she asked another passenger to show us where we needed to get off. Everyone was amazingly friendly and helpful.

The Isle of Wight Zoo and Dinosaur Isle


The Isle of Wight Zoo was great fun; S and I both had a great time wandering around. We saw a couple of talks from the keepers and at one point we were making friends with a small monkey when one of the keepers stopped to tell us all about the animal’s history. Again – really friendly people. It’s clear that for the people working there, it’s not just a job. Lots of them have been there for a long time and know the animals and their history really well -which means that when you see the animals being fed you also hear all about why they are in this particular cage, with this particular neighbour – and in one case, why they have a toe missing!

The Zoo has a trail for children to complete as they’re walking around – as most places do these days. This one involves stamps, so you are given a card and you stamp it when you find particular animals. S loved this as you get to use self-inking stamps. 

We had lunch in the zoo cafe and then headed to the Dinosaur Isle. Here S was really in her element. There were so many interactive things for her to do and she learned lots of cool new dinosaur names and facts. 


After the Dinosaur Isle we headed to the beach for a while before heading back to catch the bus. I couldn’t figure out which bus stop to wait at, but S spotted a bus waiting at a stop so we asked the driver. Again, he was super friendly; I suppose people on the Isle of Wight are used to tourists asking questions! We found the bus stop and headed back to Newport. 

In Newport we wandered around a little before catching another bus back to Cowes, where we hopped back onto the Red Jet to Southampton.

The Isle of Wight on Foot – the Verdict

Not driving means that a lot of days out are not possible for us – but the Isle of Wight is not on that list! I was pleasantly surprised to find that public transport links are regular and reliable – not only on the island but from the train station in Southampton.

The island itself is beautiful and everyone we encountered was very friendly. Sandown is exactly as I remember from a family holiday there twenty years ago, and we could easily have filled a few days there.

I think if we went to the island again we would either stay in Cowes or Newport for the day as the additional bus journey to Sandown meant we were travelling for quite a while – but that is because we don’t live close to our local train station, and had a train journey of 30 minutes before we got to Southampton. 

The fact that travelling to Sandown is so easy on public transport has made me think we could perhaps go there for a short holiday. The Zoo has an offer where once you’ve paid to enter for the day you can come back any time over the next seven days for £1

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


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