Guide to visiting Cowes & the surrounding area
Our guide to a great day out in Cowes
Popular with visitors since Victorian times, the vibrant towns of Cowes and East Cowes make for an interesting and enjoyable day out from the mainland.
What's more, Osborne House, Queen Victoria's much loved summer retreat, the historic St Mildred's church at Whippingham and the pretty sailing village of Gurnard are all within easy walking or cycling distance.
Cowes, situated on the west bank of the Medina river is the larger of the two towns, offering speciality shops, some great eateriers and plenty of watering holes. Although it can rightly claim to be the home of the world's first yacht club and the spiritual home of international yacht racing, there's much more to Cowes than speed and adrenalin.
Shopping, eating and drinking
Cowes has some very upmarket shops along with a host of quirky and individual emporiums that make Cowes one of the best shopping centres on the Island.
Art galleries abound such as 'Kendalls Fine Art', opened by the late former newsreader Kenneth Kendall, 'Pelham House Gallery' that also has a cute tea shop with tables on the pavement outside, the new 'Green Buoy Arts gallery' that promotes Island artists’ work and 'Jolliffe’s' former chandlery with its beautiful stained glass windows and iconic art nouveau shopfront, which is now a stylish coffee shop and gallery.
'Live Like This' has a fantastic range of quirky and individual items you’ll have to have, 'Angels Attic' has lots of lovely clothing and 'That Shop' has a weird and wonderful selection of stuff you never knew you needed. 'Buff' has gifts for the man in your life and 'Zabre' has bags of bags and quite a lot of shoes too.
There’s also a good selection of the better chain stores that tend to have sailing lines such as 'White Stuff', 'Crew Clothing', 'Fat Face', 'Musto', 'Timberland', 'Henri-Lloyd' and 'Joules'.
New wine shop 'Wine Therapy' is just opposite the Red Jet terminal for picking up your holiday provisions and you can sample their wines in the shop, or sit on the terrace outside. You can get fresh wet fish from 'The Cowes Fish Company', meat from 'Hamilton’s' across the road and there’s a new popular bakery 'The Well Bread Bakery and Café'.
'Humbug' is a traditional sweet shop with sweeties in jars, sherbet and sugar mice and 'Corries Cabin' is a traditional fish and chip shop that even does gluten free batter.
Nightlife is good with a selection of pubs, wine bars and restaurants that cater to every taste. New on the scene are 'Coast wine bar' on Shooters Hill and 'Brawns' in the former butcher’s shop in the High Street. The royal princes, William and Harry, went to 'Lugley’s' on the seafront for a stag night meal with their mates a couple of years ago.
Did you know?
Cowes has strong ties with royalty, having paid host to the Royal Yacht Britannia for many Cowes Weeks and various members of the royal family came with her for the sailing and festivities. Nowadays Princess Anne’s daughter Zara comes to race in the Artemis Challenge and William & Harry have both been to Cowes Week.
Places of interest in West Cowes
The Royal Yacht Squadron - The Castle was built in 1539 as part of Henry VIII's defensive plan against the French. 22 guns from William IV's yacht 'The Adelaide' are used to start many of today's yacht races in the Solent.
St Mary's Church - There has been a place of worship on the site since 1657. The present church was designed by Arthur Cates and built in 1866-68. However, it retained the Ward tower and vault designed by John Nash in 1816. The chancel was extended between 1900-01.
Cowes Yacht Haven - Formerly Groves & Guttridge and now owned by a charity, the large marina is the focal point for visiting yachtsmen and many world class yachting and boating events.
Northwood House - The present house, based on a design by John Nash, was built in 1837-42. It was gifted to the Council in 1929 and is now run by a charitable trust as an venue for events.
Westbourne House - Built in 1752, the house bears a plaque commemorating the birthplace of Thomas Arnold, the famous Headmaster of Rugby School 1828-42.
Sir Max Aitken Museum - Next door the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), the museum displays unique items from Queen Victoria's life on the Island, reminders of Sir Max's former home and some fine maritime paintings. Sir Max Aitken Museum
Benzie of Cowes - founded in 1862, the firm is reknowned throughout the world for its fine and unique pieces of yachting jewellery. It has had no less than 7 royal warrants including Queen Victoria, George V and the Duke of Edinburgh. Unable to get RYS membership, Earl Mountbatten would watch the racing from Benzie's observation tower. Benzie of Cowes
Ratsey and Lapthorn - arguably the greatest name in yacht sails, occupies a former Victorian barracks. Established as Ratseys in 1790 supplying sails for work boats, the company merged with Lapthorns in 1882 and has lofts in Cowes, on the mainland and in New York. Ratsey & Lapthorn
Claire Lallow - founded in 1867 on the existing premises, the firm was run by members of the family until 1996 when it was taken over by an employee. Lallow's made its name building handcrafted wooden yachts and to this day continues to build, restore and maintain boats using traditional skills. Clare Lallow
Cowes Maritime Museum - a small exhibition of maritime memorabilia depicting the yachting and shipping industry in Cowes. The museum is situated within Cowes Libray. Entrance is free of charge.
Places of interest in East Cowes
Cowes Floating Bridge - For non-boat owners this is the only way to get across the river between East Cowes and West Cowes (without going to Newport). Established in 1859, the current chain-ferry carries passengers and up to 20 cars for a small fee.
Cowes Classic Boat Museum - A fascinating collection of over 50 sailing and power boats of local and national interest to both family visitors and maritime enthusiasts alike.
East Cowes Church - In 1798, the architect John Nash, began building his home, East Cowes Castle, where he later entertained the Prince Consort. East Cowes Castle was notable for its Gothic towers, turrets, and elaborate castellation. Nash died in 1835 and is buried in the tower of East Cowes Church which he also designed. East Cowes Castle was demolished in the 1960s, although the ice house remains and is visible in Sylvan Avenue.
Venture Quays - To celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Queen's coronation in 1977, the main hangar doors of what was then the British Hovercraft Corporation (a successor to Saunders Roe) were painted with the world's largest image of the Union Flag.
East Cowes Heritage Centre - staffed by volunteers, the shop is well worth visiting for anyone who is interested in the towns shipbuilding, aeronautical, royal and wartime past. East Cowes Heritage Centre
Slightly further afield...
Osborne House, beach & gardens - The magnificent country retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After the Queen's death in 1901 Edward VII gave the estate to the nation - open daily from Easter to late October & selected dates in winter. Osborne House
St Mildred's Church - dedicated to an Anglo Saxon princess, a church has existed on the site at Whippingham since the Norman Conquest. The extraordinary design of the present building was influenced by the Prince Consort - Queen Victoria worshipped here for many years.
Gurnard - A pretty village with amazing views across the Solent just to the west of Cowes just beyond Egypt Point. The Woodvale and The Little Gloster offer great food and hospitality.
Boat Trail - A 4 mile heritage trail connecting the towns of East and West Cowes that can be joined at any point. Allowing for the floating bridge crossing and stops at the 40 odd points of interest, it will take the average walker about 3 hours to complete. Download and print the Boat Trail map & guide and look out for the unique signs at the points of interest and at strategic points in between.
Egypt Point/Gurnard - From The Royal Yacht Squadron you can follow the flat beach path (with superb views across the Solent) to Egypt Point and on to the pretty sailing village of Gurnard (2 miles from Cowes). The Little Gloster and The Woodvale are both recommended for lunch in Gurnard.
East Cowes Esplanade - A nice flat walk (part of Boat Trail) from where you can watch the ferries and boats manouvre for position as they enter and leave the mouth of the River Medina. There is also a popular paddling pool for children. HMS Cavalier, for 20 years the fastest ship in the Royal Navy, was built in East Cowes in 1944 and one of her propellors forms a memorial on the Esplanade.
Medina Circular Walk - a popular 7 mile flat walk to Newport, flanking both sides of the river Medina. The cafe at Quay Arts or The Boatman are both recommended for lunch. Approximate walk time: 6 hours. Download & Print Map
Ryde - An 8 mile coastal walk to Ryde, meandering past abbey ruins, a former royal residence and a modern day vineyard. It will take about 4 hours - there is a regular bus service from Ryde to East Cowes if you don't wish to walk back. Download & Print Map
Yarmouth - A longer 16 mile, 6 hour coastal walk affording great views across the Solent before heading inland around the Newtown Estuary, passing along cliff tops, through villages and woodlands. Download & Print map
Suggested cycle routes
Sandown - a popular flat cycle route from West Cowes to Newport along the route of the old railway line which hugs the west bank of the river and then on to the beach resort of Sandown following the National Cycle Route 21. For a shorter option, how about exploring Carisbrooke Castle near Newport.
Medina Circular Ride - A 9 mile fairly level ride after the hill out of East Cowes. Osborne House and St Mildred's Church are near the route. Nice views of the Medina River and surrounding countryside as you leave East Cowes. Returning from Newport, follow the well surfaced Medina cycleway on the western side of the river which has some good picnic spots, and red squirrels are often to be seen. Download & print map
Cowes - Parkhurst - Cowes - A 16 mile off-road circular ride from Cowes to Newport along the west bank of the river Medina to Newport and then back through Parkhurst Forest to Gurnard and onto Cowes. The cafe at Quay Arts or The Boatman in Newport are both recommended for lunch. Download & print map
Cowes - Western Loop - A 33 mile ride from Cowes along the banks of the river towards Newport and on to Carisbrooke, Brighstone Forest, Freshwater, Yarmouth, Shalfleet, Porchfield, Gurnard and Cowes. Max elevation 212m, total ascent 321m. Map detailsMore Cycle Trails from Cowes