If there is one thing that I learned during this summer of criss-crossing Europe was that travelling with a toddler requires a whole new mindset. It is nothing like travelling with only adults for company and even travelling with a baby doesn’t quite come close.
Toddlers, it seems, require both stimulation and an opportunity to relax when they are on the road with you. Lots of age-appropriate activities with an ample scope to run around, explore the world and engage with other children need to be swiftly followed by some quiet time and blissful sleep. All the while you are exploring a new city yourself or progressing from A to B following your travel plan.
In all honesty not many places have it all for the intrepid parent and their active toddler travelling around Europe. And by ‘all’ I mean a well-balanced mix of different attractions which would interest both a grown-up and a little child, good food appealing to an experienced and a yet developing palates, stunning countryside with views which uplift the soul and, at the same time, with large open spaces for walks and runs, and to seal the deal – it is ‘all’ super easy to get to and explore in depth within a short amount of time.
You know, I am not one of those mums with a super long list of requirements and a fussy approach. When travelling, I am just happy to soldier on and make it as comfortable for my family as possible, even though often the circumstances are far from being perfect. Usually, I need to compromise at least half a dozen times during the day.
Either the hotel would be too far from any sort of playground (just imagine having the option to pick a hotel based on that! parents would get their credit cards out faster than you can say ‘play’), the child-orientated attractions in town are boring to tears for anyone over the age of 12 or you are so shattered from all that sightseeing with a toddler that you don’t have the strength to go looking for a restaurant serving proper food and resign yourself to something quickly bought from the shop.
So, when I came across the real thing – the place which managed to cater both for the child and the parents and made me want to cry when it is time for us to leave – it was like all my Christmases had come together at once.
Step forward, Isle of Wight!
Surrounded by blue sparkling waters and with its lush hilly landscape the Isle of Wight is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful places in the UK. It is very easy to get to too with only a short ferry ride from either Portsmouth or Southampton transporting you within half an hour or so onto an island which you can circumnavigate by car in a couple of hours, but where there is so much to see and do that you can easily spend a whole week exploring the many attractions, natural beauty spots and picturesque towns.
I have been to the Isle of Wight many times before, but our visit this summer made me see it in a whole new light – as the perfect place for a family with a toddler to spend some happy days combining exploration with relaxation in any proportion you want.
From fossil hunting on the beach to visiting animal sanctuaries, from discovering whimsical attractions to sitting down for a lovely meal, there is so much to enjoy there, that I felt that the three days we had at our disposal were simply not enough. Based on our experiences, here is my list of tried and tested places to take your toddler to on the Isle of Wight for some fabulous family time.
The Model Village Godshill
The Model Village was my absolute favourite! It is a magical place where we all – toddler and grown-ups – loved spending time exploring the whimsical and yet perfectly reproduced cottages, buildings, transport structures and several everyday and festive activities of British life. The attraction is located in Godshill and it is a perfect representation in miniature of this picturesque village and the nearby town of Shanklin. There was something so quaint about it and we couldn’t get enough of it all. Following the carefully set out path we marveled at the cottages, the grand houses, the tiny beach huts, the colourful balloons and the groups of teensy-weensy people engaged in a local council meeting, a wedding, a game of cricket, a concert and so on. At one point we were figuratively tugging at each other’s sleeves in order to point out little details like fabulous miniature shop window displays, a vintage bus speeding down the hill or a tiny plane just about to take off, lest the other one missed them whilst too busy taking it all in.
What I liked the most were the fabulous trees and bushes perfectly trimmed and individually shaped following a Japanese gardening technique in order to be in proportion to the buildings and scenes of real life they were serving as a backdrop to. It was this attention to detail – to make sure that the garden was commensurate with the rest – that made the village the enchanting place it is. From a toddler’s point of view the Model Village was super exciting, too. I think having it all scaled down was a wonderful way for my little daughter to make sense of the world around her and served as a welcome respite from constantly being surrounded by tall adults and huge buildings towering over her.
Adults pay only £4.50 to visit the Model Village and the kids’ tickets are even cheaper plus all tickets are valid for a week after you have used them for the first time. Set some time aside too to explore the actual village of Godshill, so that you can appreciate the scaled down models of its building in the Model Village even more. Plus, all over Godshill you will find wonderful quaint shops and some great cafes serving large slices of traditional British cakes to wash down with a cup of proper English tea.
The Model Village
Isle of Wight
Tel: +44 (0) 1983 840270
Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary
I have never met anyone who doesn’t have a bit of a soft spot for donkeys. With their big sad eyes, long ears and small fluffy bodies, they seem like they can do with a cuddle. Unfortunately, it seems, the world is often much crueler to these animals than my heart can take. They are subjected to beatings, back breaking work and often not given enough food and water or not groomed. By coincidence, just before our visit to the Isle of Wight, I had come across some information online about the heartless treatment of donkeys by the tourist trade on the island of Santorini in Greece. I can be quite emotional and reading about the donkeys there and how they are forced to carry tourists who often weigh more than them up a steep slope for close to half an hour at a time really made me rather teary. So, I was rather excited when on the ferry to the Isle of Wight I glimpsed an article about the local Donkey Sanctuary, which provides care and a permanent home for any donkey in distress or otherwise in need. The Sanctuary was firmly added to our list of things to do and see during our three days on the island.
It was a warm and sunny day when our little red car wheeled in the gravely parking lot of the Donkey Sanctuary. The sky was blue, offsetting beautifully the surrounding green rolling hills. A volunteer armed with leaflets and a smile was welcoming the steady flow of visitors giving them information about the donkeys and the charitable work which is done there. Close to one hundred donkeys plus a few horses and ponies were roaming the 60 acres of fields fenced off for them. Large informational posters told the story of the Sanctuary and provided fun and engaging facts about donkeys. For example, did you know that every kilo of hay eaten by a donkey has to be chewed over 2000 times to allow it to be digested?!
It was a really soothing experience to be close to these animals, some of which have had a rather difficult past, but now had a chance to enjoy a peaceful life with as much love, care and hay as they needed. From a toddler’s point a view, this was an amazing place for us to spend a sunny morning at and it felt good seeing our little daughter slowly gaining the courage to pet a donkey on his mane. I think it is so important for children to spend time with animals and for the parents to encourage their little ones’ innate love for them. Kids who care for animals grow into adults who care for animals and this is the only way to eradicate animal cruelty in the long term.
Entrance to the Donkey Sanctuary is free of charge. Every pound you spend in the on-site shop and cafe and every donation you can make, no matter how small, helps the Sanctuary continue its noble work.
Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary
Lower Winston Farm
St. Johns Road
Tel: +44 (0) 1983 852693
Have you been to any of these two attractions on the Isle of Wight? Let me know what you thought of them.
In the next day or two I will post the second part of this article with lots of pictures and first-hand impressions and information about two more fabulous places to take your toddler to on the Isle of Wight. I will also add a bonus entry which will have you covered on a rainy day. Keep checking the blog and my social media accounts for updates. Thank you!