The vibrant seaport town of Cowes is situated in the north of the Isle of Wight, on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina. The home of international yacht racing, it is perhaps most famous for Cowes Week when hoards of visitors descend on the town for the famous regatta, though it also hosts a calendar of maritime events throughout the rest of the year. While the town is highly focused on sailing, it is also a great place to visit for its great selection of boutique shops, cafes and restaurants to keep those without sea legs happy.
For beach lovers, there is a long seafront promenade which leads to the pretty village of Gunard where you can just sit back and watch the boats bobbing about on the ocean. For those who prefer a little history, just across the river is the town of East Cowes, home to Osborne House, the summer residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is linked from Cowes by the Cowes Floating Bridge, although both towns are easily accessible by road from the rest of the island. Under an hour’s drive from all of the popular seaside resorts as well as the famous Needles Landmark Attraction and Tennyson Down, you are never far away from a fun day out on this lovely island.
Things to do in Cowes
In the words of Queen Victoria, ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’. This certainly seems to be the case at Osborne House, on the outskirts of East Cowes, former summer residence of the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. Said to remind the royal couple of the sweeping Bay of Naples, it offers a fascinating insight into their private life. Now open to the public, a visit also includes entry to the Swiss Cottages and the marvellous gardens and beach.
The East Cowes Heritage Centre
The fascinating East Cowes Heritage Centre is the ideal place to discover all about the history of Cowes, including great tales of smugglers to stories about the ship and hovercraft building that the area is famous for. As the first hovercraft ever built was developed and tested in the town, it certainly knows its stuff, and the experienced tour guides will invite you to share this knowledge on one of their historical guided walks throughout the town.
Not far from the town centre is the Victorian Northwood House. Surrounded by glorious parkland, it offers a brilliant green space which is the perfect place to relax with a picnic, while admiring this beautiful building. It is often used for events, especially during Cowes Week, so make sure that you are on the guest list!
Undoubtedly the most famous event on the island, this long-held August tradition bring competitors and spectators from all over the world to participate in or watch the fantastic regatta. Whether you want to spend your days on the seafront or prefer to socialise during the evening with the great variety of events put on in and around the harbour, you will be sure to have a wonderful time as the town knows exactly how to show its visitors a good time! With up to a thousand boats, eight hundred competitors and over one hundred thousand spectators at Cowes Week, the town really comes alive, culminating with a huge firework display on the final Friday of the event.
The Classic Boat Museum
A partner to the museum of the same name across the water in East Cowes which offers a fantastic collection of nautical memorabilia, the Classic Boats Museum has an amazing collection of fifty boats, including those that have broken world records! There are various other museums in the area, including the Sir Max Aitken Museum and the Cowes Maritime Museum, both wonderful examples of maritime history.
On the Beach
While Cowes is not the place perhaps for a typical day at the beach, it is nice to have a stroll around the harbour as the views are lovely and the atmosphere contagious. If you really want a nice local beach however, there is a long seafront promenade which leads to the village of Gunard where you can just sit back and watch the boats sailing by. There is also a less popular beach there which is accessible from the footpath behind Gurnard Sailing Club. You can also visit the Osborne Bay beach in East Cowes, but you have to pay the entrance fee to Osborne House to be able to use it.
The Wight Military and Heritage Museum
Run by ex-military volunteers, the Wight Military and Heritage Museum offers interesting talks and tours as well as having lots of military equipment such as armoured vehicles and tanks. You can ride on some of the vehicles but it does depend on the day so do check beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Cowes to Newport Cycle Track
One for the fitter amongst us, this track is located on the old railway line which used to link the two towns. Winding its way alongside the River Medina, it is an easy enough ride for adults and older children and if you don’t have your bikes with you, there are a couple of bike hire outlets in Cowes. It takes approximately fifteen minutes at a steady speed, longer if you have little ones with you!
Cowes is situated to the north of the Isle of Wight, with its neighbour of East Cowes across the river easily accessible by chain ferry. Just 5 miles south to Newport, the capital, it is also easy to get to the main seaside resorts of the island, including Shanklin, Ventnor and Freshwater in under an hour.
Stay in Cowes
If you are tempted to visit this charming maritime town, why not have a look at our selection of cottages in Cowes? Not only will you be within walking distance of the town, you will be ideally placed to visit all that the rest of this lovely island has to offer.