Sandown and Shanklin are two of the Isle of Wight's most popular holiday towns - but which is best?
The short answer is that Shanklin is my personal favourite as it has a thriving seafront (in summer), a thatched old village and nice parks. However, Sandown has its own advantages including an old-fashioned pier, a couple of large seafront hotels and good attractions at the Yaverland end of the town.
Shanklin is home to two large holiday parks run by big-name Parkdean Resorts (Landguard Holiday Park and Lower Hyde) as well as a posh hotel called Haven Hall Hotel. Meanwhile, Sandown has two Premier Inn hotels (well, one of them is actually in Lake but it's close enough) alongside lots of independent guest houses and B&Bs.
Read on for my more-detailed comparison or see our guide to the 10 best places to stay in Shanklin and the 10 best places to stay in Sandown.
As an aside, it's worth saying that Sandown and Shanklin are good choices if you like traditional English seaside resorts where you can build sandcastles and lose 2p coins into a machine which slides back and forth.
Sandown and Shanklin are not good choices if you like undeveloped landscapes and silence. For such things, I would go for:
See our full guide on choosing the right Isle of Wight town for you.
Anyway, back to Sandown and Shanklin.
Shanklin: The Good, The Bad and the Minigolf
Overall, I'm a bigger fan of Shanklin.
The town has three main sections.
The old village is the thatched part of Shanklin. There are some nice old buildings with twee tearooms and places to buy a stick of rock as well as Shanklin Theatre, which (I think) is the Isle of Wight's largest theatre. This area leads to Rylstone Gardens and Shanklin Chine which are both leafy and attractive places for a wander. Rylstone Gardens is free, whilst you have to pay for Shanklin Chine.
There's also Shanklin esplanade, which is a long sandy section backed by amusements, minigolf, restaurants and cafes. There is some accommodation on the esplanade such as Shoreside Inn but most of Shanklin's hotels and guest houses are on the cliffs overlooking the beach or further back. The beach has deck chairs for hire, alongside paddleboards and other things you can fall off gracefully.
The third part of Shanklin is an area with shopping streets with the usual small-town stuff.
Shanklin's seafront has plenty of life to it on a sunny day. The owners of the amusements and funfair keep investing money in it, so there are usually a few new machines to throw money at each time we visit. The funfair is good for under-10s but don't turn up expecting big rollercoasters which sell you an expensive keyring with your screaming face on it. We like the ('count em!') three minigolf courses including one indoor course called Caddyshack.
Nice places to eat on Shanklin's esplanade, include The Steamer, The Waterfront and The Fisherman's Cottage which is a thatched pub. If you want cream teas served on delicate crockery you'll want to head for Shanklin's Old Village instead.
Parking on Shanklin seafront can be difficult at peak times, and I've occasionally found myself saying "I'll drop you off and find somewhere to park". By the time I've returned, everyone has played three rounds of minigolf, eaten an ice cream and built a sand statue of The Needles. If you find somewhere to stay on the seafront, I would check if they have parking or you will spend the week moving the car around like a parking valet. Free or cheap parking is difficult to come by in Shanklin, but we have compiled some suggestions here.
On a wet day in winter, Shanklin's seafront can be a little bleak. The amusement arcade is usually open and you'll have no trouble finding a parking space. You might have trouble finding other human beings, but that's less of a concern to me.
The Ups and Downs of Sandown
Sandown's a bit of a mixed bag, with some very good points and some less good.
The long sandy beach is fantastic and it has won awards for water cleanliness (check the Surfers Against Sewage website for the latest poos news). There's a surf school based at the beach called iSurf.
Countryfile Magazine went so far as to call Sandown Bay the UK's best beach in 2019.
Sandown's Esplanade has a couple of large hotels with good reputations, including The Trouville and Premier Inn Sandown Seafront. There is more than one Premier Inn in the local area, so make sure you choose the right one.
On this front, Sandown beats Shanklin. Most of Shanklin's bigger and better hotels are on the cliffs overlooking the beach rather than actually on the esplanade.
However, it's worth mentioning that Sandown currently has a rather sorry-looking selection of closed hotels on the seafront including the previously popular Ocean Hotel (read more on the reasons for this if you want to procrastinate). This rather lets down seafront, which has plenty of things in its favour.
The largest seafront entertainment in Sandown is Sandown Pier, which is the last of its kind on the Isle of Wight. There are three other piers in Totland, Yarmouth and Ryde but Sandown's is the only one which offers old fashioned attractions. Sandown Pier isn't my favourite place on the Isle of Wight but it has provided shelter and cheap amusement on a couple of occasions. (As an aside, I've never understood why the long walkway at Bembridge isn't described as a pier when it looks very much like one - feel free to comment below if you know the answer).
We much prefer the attractions at the Yaverland end of Sandown. Here, you'll find Sandham Gardens which has a modern minigolf course, tame go-karts for younger children, large bouncy nets and a great playground. Nearby is a dinosaur museum (Dinosaur Isle) and Wildheart Animal Sanctuary which was previously called Isle of Wight Zoo. These are both good attractions which will fill a bit of time.
This part of the seafront is also home to our favourite restaurant in the area - The Bandstand.
A few other disorganised thoughts about Sandown And SHanklin
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog