Well known as the world's premier yachting centre, Cowes is the Isle of Wight's main port with a natural harbour at the mouth of the River Medina. Cowes remains a small town with a friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere. The High Street is pedestrianised, allowing good access to shops, art galleries, maritime museums, restaurants, and pubs.
Above Cowes High Street and overlooking the Solent is Northwood House and Park. This classical style mansion dates from 1837 and was given to the town in 1929, together with its 26 acres of grounds. The grounds now provide public tennis courts, bowling greens, a putting green, and a children's playground. At the edge of the park is found St. Mary's Church, its landmark clock tower, designed by John Nash, was retained when the church was rebuilt in 1867.
Cowes and East Cowes grew from a cluster of fishermen's dwellings around two coastal forts built by Henry VIII on opposite banks of the River Medina, and named after the two off-shore sandbanks or cows. The towns are linked by a chain ferry and have a tradition of fine ship building, dating from the reign of Elizabeth I. Then came the yacht building industry, as sailing became a popular sport, endorsed by the royal family.
East Cowes is separated from its sister town, Cowes, by the River Medina. The chain ferry floating bridge is one of only a few such vessels still operational in the UK. The bridge is the only direct link between East and West Cowes, and saves a drive to Newport. East Cowes has its own lively marina, seafront promenade, and shopping area.
East Cowes is best known for its industrial heritage and for the fact that Queen Victoria lived at Osborne House, not far from the centre of the town. Nearby is St. Mildred's Church at Whippingham, where the royal family worshipped. Both buildings were designed by Prince Albert, the Queen's Consort.
Cowes, and Gurnard to the west, are connected by a long, shingle beach, with a promenade running its entire length. A popular spot for fishing or just relaxing, as there's plenty to see in the busy Solent. The sunset at Gurnard is famous and shouldn't be missed. Cowes beach is very shelved and is only recommended for strong swimmers. Gurnard has a gentler shelf and is generally less crowded, making it perfect for swimming.