The Isle of Wight’s county town is also the cultural capital, with museums, a dynamic performing arts centre and some big-hitting sights.
Carlsbrooke Castle was where Charles I languished for 14 months awaiting his execution, while a local resident struck upon a Roman villa here in 1926 while building a garage.
Newport’s streets have pretty brick Georgian and Victorian houses and a fine guildhall designed by John Nash who helped build Buckingham Palace.
The town is thronged with music fans in June for the fabled Isle of Wight Festival, while the central location puts you in range of beaches and highly-rated days out like Godshill Model Village, an RHS partner garden.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Newport:
1. Carisbrooke Castle
The island’s mightiest castle surveys the landscape from a ridge to the southwest of Newport.
The motte-and-bailey design is from the 12th century during the reign of Henry I, while outer fortifications were redesigned for artillery to prepare for the Spanish Armada in the 16th century.
These were later reinforced by the Italian military engineer Federigo Giambelli at the turn of the 17th century.
Charles I spent 14 months imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle before his trial and execution in 1649. Today, you’ll want to spend as long as possible investigating this English Heritage site, climbing the 76 steps to the Norman keep for a spellbinding view and pottering around the Great Hall, Great Chamber and Edwardian chapel.
The castle has had a herd of donkeys for centuries, as they were needed to draw up water in the well-house.
You can come and meet them, and watch them working the 16th-century tread wheel.
2. Newport Roman Villa
This Roman farmhouse was revealed in 1926 when owners of a house in the south of the town were laying the foundations for a garage.
They uncovered the ground floor of a large residence dating to the end of the 3rd century, and this has since been protected by a modern building, with interpretation boards detailing each room.
The building was part of a wealthy estate and had a hypocaust, bath suite and mosaic floors.
Using archaeological evidence from the dig, portions of the villa have been reconstructed alongside the remains in situ.
You can see walls adorned with frescoes, a Roman kitchen and a Roman herb garden.
3. Compton Beach
One of the most scenic places on the whole island, Compton Beach is a two-mile sandy bay in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with almost no signs of civilisation.
The beach is walled by grass-topped sandstone cliffs of different colours and textures, while in the distance to the west are gleaming chalk cliffs and the famous Needles stacks.
As the beach faces west it is exposed to some vigorous waves, and Compton Beach is the best place on the island to try surfing.
On the shore you can build sandcastles, and on a beachcombing trip you may find yourself a fossil.
When the tide goes out guided tours are provided to the sandstone ledge at Hanover Point, which has preserved dinosaur footprints.
4. Quay Arts
Housed in a set of converted 19th-century brewery warehouses Quay Arts is the Isle of Wight’s premier performing arts venue and gallery.
The complex is right at the head of the River Medina and has three galleries, a 134-seater theatre and a much-loved cafe/bar.
The auditorium is named for Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, an Isle of Wight native, and stages live music, comedy, drama and film screenings.
There’s also a crafts shop, which is a regional platform for the island’s top craftsmen and women, many of whom are based close by at the Jubilee Stores and specialise in jewellery, textiles, printmaking, pottery and metalwork.
5. Monkey Haven
Five minutes from the centre of town, Monkey Haven is a rescue centre devoted to monkeys, but also has a variety of other animals like snakes, meerkats, owls and tortoises.
Most of these have been saved from the illegal pet trade or been deemed unsuitable for zoo breeding programmes.
The primates are of course the stars, and include marmosets, Rhesus macaques, white-throated capuchins, Lar gibbons, Siamang gibbons and Muller’s gibbons.
There are Keeper Talks and feeding sessions all day long, so you can get to know each species’ diet and habits.
6. Museum of Island History
On the High Street your eye will be drawn to the fine Guildhall building (1816) and its arcade and Ionic portico.
This was designed by John Nash, famed for The Mall, Buckingham Palace and Brighton’s Royal Pavilion.
Inside is a museum recording the Isle of Wight’s history, from the Jurassic period to the 21st century.
In 2018 the Hidden Heroes of the Isle of Wight exhibition shed light on some underappreciated figures from the island, like John Ackroyd, who helped design the first electric car and built Thrust 2, which broke the land speed record in 1983. Among the art there’s a portrait of the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, who visited the island in 1864, as well as a collection of watercolour sketches by the Georgian artist Thomas Rowlandson.
Little ones are kept on board with hands-on exhibits, touch-screen displays, microscope stations and head-scratching quizzes and puzzles.
7. Robin Hill Country Park
In 88 acres of green countryside on the eastern outskirts of Newport there’s a family adventure park with rides, activities and restful gardens.
There are four main rides, including a galleon, miniature train, quarter-mile toboggan and a 4D motion cinema.
There are extensive landscaped and natural spaces for walks, while Robin Hill is on the site of a Roman villa, and there’s an exhibition about the Isle of Wight in Roman times.
A new addition in 2018 was Jungle Heights, an adventure playground above the floor of the ancient woodland, with raised net mazes, an enormous net trampoline and tunnels for youngsters to scramble through.
“Electric Woods” is a regular event, when the forest is illuminated according to a theme, be it Chinese New Year or Diwali in Autumn.
8. Godshill Model Village
Hardly 15 minutes to the south is an heady dose of nostalgia dating back to 1952. The Godshill Model Village is a masterpiece, in two acres of ornamental gardens at the village of Godshill’s Old Vicarage and threaded with a model railway.
Among the carpet-like lawns and more than 3,0000 fastidiously clipped topiaries, bonsai trees and shrubs are lovingly rendered models depicting Godshill and nearby Shanklin as they were in the 1920s.
On a 1:10 scale there are thatched cottages, pubs and churches, some of which were produced in the 1960s by technicians from Pinewood Studios (where the Bond movies are still made).
9. Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Under ten minutes east of Newport is a heritage railway passing through 5.5 miles of the Isle of Wight’s countryside between Smallbrook Junction and Wootton Station.
The main station, just after Wootton, is at Haverstreet, effortlessly close to Newport.
There you can find a delightful preserved station from 1926, as well as a water tower and the Gas Retort House (1886), now housing a souvenir shop for the line and a small museum displaying historic signage and number plates.
All through spring and summer, as well as in December, you can soak up the sights, sounds and forgotten smells of steam travel, watching the countryside rolling by from authentic Victorian or Edwardian carriages.
The oldest carriages date to 1864, while the railway’s most venerable engine was built in 1876.
10. Isle of Wight Festival
For four days in June, Seaclose Park on the River Medina welcomes one of the first and best-loved music festivals in the summer season.
The Isle of Wight Festival has countercultural origins in the late-1960s, and those early years have passed into pop culture legend.
The 1970 festival, the last before a 32-year hiatus, was attended by 600,000 people and among more than 50 artists on the bill were Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis and the Doors.
Today’s headliners are classic rock acts, like Fleetwood Mac in 2015 or Van Morrison in 2018, along with alternative groups such as Blur and the Arcade Fire, and pop performers like Pharrell Williams and Calvin Harris.
11. Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum
Ten minutes in the car at the Arreton Barns Craft Village is an enthralling museum full of finds salvaged from the many ships that have gone down off the Isle of Wight’s coasts.
These span hundreds of years, from Spanish galleons to steamships and submarines.
There are cannonballs, ship’s bells, pipes, weights, various containers, weapons, Dutch 17th-century Lion Daalders (coins) and Spanish pieces of eight.
The museum also has RNLI artefacts, antique diving equipment, and child-friendly exhibitions about smugglers and pirates.
Kids can also take part in treasure hunts, brass rubbing and can complete a free pirate trail worksheet.
12. Newport Minster
The principal Anglican church for the Isle of Wight, Newport Minster was reconstructed in the 1850s but has occupied this patch since the end of the 1100s.
There are a couple of interesting burials at the minster, like Sir Edward Horsey, who conspired against Queen Mary and became a courtier under Elizabeth I in the 16th century.
He is remembered with a beautiful alabaster recumbent monument.
There’s also a Victorian memorial from 1856 to Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, who died 200 years earlier at Carlsbrooke Castle aged 15 and is buried here.
Also see the marvellous pulpit from 1637, carved with 14 allegorical panels, and the 16th-century parish chest.
Boxes like this appeared at churches across the land after a decree by Thomas Cromwell that they had to keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials.
13. Parkhurst Forest
Between Newport and the Hamstead Heritage Coast is the second largest patch of woodland on the Isle of Wight.
The Parkhurst Forest has remnant ancient woodland going back centuries, as well as plantation woodland and relict heathland.
James I is known to have hunted in this forest in the early 17th century.
The wooded areas provide habitat for the red squirrel, which is rarely spotted in the UK, along with birds like woodcocks, great spotted woodpeckers, long eared owls and garden warblers.
14. The Garlic Farm
The warm climate and extended growing season produced some crops that aren’t cultivated on England’s mainland.
One of these is garlic, which has grown in abundance in Newchurch for centuries.
At the Garlic Farm you can find out all there is to know about this bulb, and how to grow your own at home and cook with it.
You’re free to look around the farm to see the different types of garlic crop in the fields, and little ones will adore the pigs, horses, peacocks and highland cattle.
There are tractor rides on weekends and school holidays, while at the you can sample of some strange inventions, like garlic beer and garlic ice cream.
The farm also has a restaurant and cafe, with menus full of tasty garlic-based recipes.
15. Wight Military and Heritage Museum
On the main road between Newport and Cowes is a worthwhile stop for anybody interested in military equipment.
Run by knowledgeable ex-armed forces volunteers, The Wight Military and Heritage Museum has a small battalion of tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, buggies and other vehicles from the post-war years to the present.
There’s also a display of small arms, equipment and uniforms going back to the 19th century, as well as an array of tableaux portraying battle scenes.
Book in advance and you can take a ride in a genuine armoured car on a special track.