For a bucket and spade holiday on the Isle of Wight, Shanklin is a pretty resort that ticks every box.
There’s a long, golden sandy beach skirted by an esplanade atop the seawall with a line of crazy golf courses, arcades, ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops.
But Shanklin is more than just its seaside, as you’ll discover at Shanklin Chine a coastal ravine, coated with ferns and rare mosses, and capturing the hearts of Georgian tourists like Jane Austen and John Keats.
Old Shanklin village is a chocolate box scene, with thatched cottages and little arts and crafts shops, while Rylstone Gardens is a blissful place to take afternoon tea or watch an outdoor concert in summer.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Shanklin:
1. Shanklin Chine
A visitor favourite for more than 200 years, Shanklin Chine is a coastal ravine slicing through the soft sandstone cliffs.
There’s a heritage centre detailing the ravine’s natural and human history, as well as paths and walkways cut from the ravine’s walls for better views of the lush vegetation and waterfalls.
The chine is 400 metres long, with a drop of 32 metres, and has changed little since it was described in glowing terms by the great Romantic poet John Keats during his stay in Shanklin in 1819. Other distinguished early tourists were Jane Austen and J. M. W. Turner.
On summer evenings you can visit at night for Chine Lumierè, when the paths, waterfalls and green gorge walls are set off by ethereal illuminations.
2. Shanklin Beach
A mile of soft golden sand, Shanklin Beach is one of the best on the island.
The beach pitches gently into the sea, so there’s plenty of shallow water for younger beach goers to splash in.
Behind is a tall sea wall topped with an esplanade, with every amenity a family could need for an action-packed or relaxing afternoon.
Shanklin’s Victorian pier was wiped out during the infamous hurricane of October 1987, and this has left behind a semi-circular lookout on the promenade with benches.
Things get a bit quieter further south, towards Shanklin Chine, where there’s a charming row of painted beach huts.
3. Shanklin Esplanade
Shanklin’s reputation as a family holiday escape is enhanced by all the things to do at the foot of the cliff behind the beach.
Tracing the sand is a long paved promenade with a clear line of sight to the sandstone cliffs, tufted with vegetation where the coastline bulges out to the south of Shanklin Chine.
There’s a bowling alley and three miniature golf courses on the Esplanade, two of which we’ll cover below.
The Summer Arcade is crammed with ticket redemption machines, and above this, Jungle Jim’s is an indoor play area where smaller children can run wild on the occasional rainy day.
For kids there are tried and tested seaside treats like fish and chips, ice creams and waffles.
4. Shanklin Old Village
Heading to Shanklin Chine you’ll get a taste of Shanklin before tourism, in the twee Old Village, which has some of the Isle of Wight’s oldest houses.
On the High Street and Church Road, the old village is all thatched cottages, cosy pubs, tearooms and restaurants.
Up the alley beside the Village Inn pub is a charming little mews with six arts and crafts studios and a shop selling lots of giftable trinkets.
In the middle of the Old Village is Vernon Cottage Gift Shop, which doubles as Shanklin’s Tourist Information Point.
If you need a moment to study a map or leaflet there’s a sweet patio and garden area with seating outside.
5. Rylstone Gardens
This beautiful park atop the cliff at the south end of Shanklin Beach is in the grounds of Rylstone Manor and charges no admission.
By road, Rylstone Gardens can be quite difficult to track down, but is found on the fringe of the Old Village.
At Rylstone Gardens you can play a round of pitch & putt or crazy golf, and sit down to cream tea or a crab sandwich at the tearoom in a sheltered sun trap overlooking the crazy golf course.
In a glade in the park is an outdoor stage, scheduling afternoon and evening concerts all summer long.
6. Shanklin Theatre
The stately Shanklin Theatre opened as The Institute, with an amusement room and reading room in 1879, before becoming Shanklin’s Town Hall in 1913. After a fire in 1925 this Neoclassical building was repurposed as a theatre, sharing the space with the town council (based in the basement, now a bar) from 1934 until 1995. The auditorium’s capacity has recently been upgraded to 615, and the venue is a pillar of the Isle of Wight’s cultural scene.
Many of the country’s top stand-up comedians play a night or two at the Shanklin Theatre on tour, and in 2019 that was Henning Wehn, Al Murray and Mark Steel.
The programme is stacked with tribute acts all year, as well as well-known recording artists, musicals and productions by touring companies like Blackeyed Theatre, and the Isle of Wight’s own Spotlight.
This company is responsible for the popular “Beyond the West End” stage show every summer.
7. Pirates Cove & Jurassic Bay Adventure Golf
A go-to for families on the esplanade in Shanklin is the pair of crazy golf courses, both designed with a lot of imagination and attention to detail.
The pirate-themed course is landscaped with a waterfall, fountains, a cave, palm trees and a replica, fully-rigged pirate ship.
The Jurassic Bay course, which has 18 holes like its neighbour, is in tropical vegetation with convincing models of dinosaurs like a triceratops, velociraptors and a tyrannosaurus rex.
The Pirates Cove Fun Park is packed with latest trends in outdoor fun, like zorb balls and mini go-karts, as well as bumper boats, bouncy castles and trampolines.
8. Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary
In 60 acres of pastoral Isle of Wight countryside is an animal refuge providing a happy home for more than 90 donkeys and around 25 horses and ponies.
The sanctuary takes in animals that have been abandoned, given up by farms and families because of changes in circumstances, or confiscated because of poor living conditions and care.
The main role of the sanctuary is to take care of its residents, but it does open for free, seven days a week, throughout the year.
The sanctuary encourages donations and purchases from its shop and tearoom, while you can fawn over the donkeys, ponies and horses in their spacious paddocks, learning about each one’s history, personality and habits.
9. Steephill Cove Beach
South of Shanklin Chine the coast changes dramatically as you approach the Undercliff, an unusual landslide complex created in two phases, after the last Ice Age between 8,000 and 4,500 years ago, and then through slips in the last 2,000 years.
There’s a low sea cliff, below a bench of slipped clays, walled by powerful sandstone and chalk bluffs up to 100 metres high.
In this wild environment you’ll come to Steephill Cove Beach, only accessible on foot, with rockpools and crystalline waters, all framed by beach huts, lobster pots and weatherboard fishermen’s cottages.
If you don’t fancy a dip you can rent a canopied deckchair on the little promenade and treat yourself to ultra-fresh lobster or crab, brought ashore daily for the Boathouse Restaurant and Crab Shed.
10. Devil’s Chimney
Closer to Shanklin, about three miles south of the town, there’s a strange natural monument in the Undercliff.
Here you can navigate a deep and very narrow fissure in the upper cliff, descending to a Site of Special Scientific Interest known as the Bonchurch Landslips, created following a landslide in the 1810s and planted with trees in Victorian times.
The walk is not long, but is on a hair-raising slope and is muddy in places so you may need a good pair of shoes.
Rumour has it that this route down to the sea was once used by smugglers hauling contraband up from the water.
At the top of the path is Smugglers Haven Tea Gardens where you can take a break after the gruelling climb back up the cliff.
11. Isle of Wight Zoo
The oldest of the animal attractions in Shanklin’s hinterland, the Isle of Wight Zoo opened in the 1950s and moved with the times, taking part in the European Endangered Species Programme and becoming a charitable trust in 2017. Top of the bill are the pair of African lions and the seven tigers, the latter kept in a humane enclosure with ponds, natural planting and glass viewing panels.
Among the many other residents at the Isle of Wight Zoo are wallabies, lemurs, spider monkeys, vervet monkeys, common marmosets, royal pythons, stick insects, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a tawny owl and many more.
For an extra fee you can take part in a range of animal experiences, becoming a keeper for a day or finding out what it takes to look after lemurs or big cats.
12. Amazon World Zoo Park
Keeping animals mostly from South America, Amazon World Zoo is a conservation-oriented attraction with marmosets, parrots, ocelots, tamarins, giant anteaters and toucans.
You’ll come close several exotic creatures that you may never have seen before, like the tamandua, a tree-dwelling anteater.
Where possible the zoo is set in sub-tropical vegetation, like in Secrets of Zenathra where sloths hang upside down in the trees a couple of metres away.
At Madagascar you can walk amongst lemurs, while at the Lost Temple you can negotiate raised walkways over habitats for fennec foxes, armadillos, meerkats and giant tortoises.
13. Brading Roman Villa
Perched behind Sandown Bay is a fascinating Roman site, the ruins of a once lavish Roman courtyard villa.
The villa was unearthed in 1880 after a farmer had struck a mosaic while building a sheep pen.
Since that time the villa has been a source of fascination, and was upgraded with a new cover and visitor centre in 2004. The site, renowned for its array of mosaics, was developed from the middle of the 1st century AD.
Even though the villa suffered a fire in the 200s it was occupied until as late as 395. From walkways you can mull over the remnants of 12 rooms, five of which have mosaics depicting gladiators, farm scenes, Medusa, Orpheus, Bacchus and a strange cockerel-headed man.
On the shelter’s walls are interpretation panels and display cases with finds like coins, jewellery, Samian pottery and games.
14. PLUTO – Pipeline Under the Ocean
Walking Shanklin Chine you’ll see some piping by the path, labelled PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean). This is a holdover from a secret Second World War operation to supply fuel for Allied forces in mainland Europe following the Normandy Invasion in 1944. Petrol was pumped from Shanklin Chine more than 130 kilometres across the Channel to Cherbourg.
Unfortunately this ambitious scheme failed when the pipe was caught by an escorting destroyer’s anchor.
There’s a small heritage museum about the project in Shanklin Chine screening a film put together in 1994 using rare archive footage of the pipeline’s construction
15. Shanklin to Ventnor Walk
The 70-mile Isle of Wight Coastal Path is a special way to experience the island’s varied seafront scenery, using mostly paved footpaths, and minor roads.
In Shanklin you’ll be able to walk one of the most exciting legs as you journey into the Undercliff on the way to Ventnor.
The route climbs the Appley Steps up the cliff face in Shanklin before leading you to Luccombe village which is positioned on a headland with knockout views of Sandown Bay to the north.
You’ll trek through the oak, ash and beech woodland in the Bonchurch Landslips, and can take a detour to the Devil’s Chimney.
The path then returns to the seafront along the Horseshoe Bay’s seawall, built from 6,000 cubic metres of concrete to protect the chalky cliffs behind in 1988. Journey’s end, Ventnor is another endearing seaside resort, home to Steephill Cove Beach, a chine of its own, Blackgang, and a peacedul cliff-top park.