Located some 70 miles from the English Coast and a mere 30 miles from France, Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands in the English Channel. A crown dependency, it has its own government, passports, and money, although they’re all very similar to those of the United Kingdom. Just over 65,000 people call Guernsey home, and while until 1948 French was the official language (and it’s still used in administration), both English and French are widely spoken.
Guernsey is a haven of rural landscapes, gloriously deserted beaches, and intriguing history, and it has inspired many writers and artists. According to folklore, the island was once inhabited by fairies, and visitors can explore the lucky Fairy Ring there today.
Guernsey is the perfect place for a leisurely break, with just enough — but not too much — to see and explore. Here’s what to do when you visit.
Discover Saint Peter Port
Saint Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital of some 18,000 people, is nothing if not picturesque. Colorful houses clinging to a hill overlooking a marina, a ferry port, various smaller islands, and a castle; cobbled streets dotted with small boutiques; and plenty of restaurants with views invite you to spend at the very least one whole day exploring this adorable city.
For history, head to the 800-year-old Castle Cornet; for a picnic with a view, head to Candie Gardens; and for some art, enjoy the Rona Cole Art Gallery. But for pure enjoyment, simply meander down the little streets, climb the steps you’ll find everywhere, and soak up the atmosphere.
Pro Tip: See if you can find Guernsey’s only and oldest red post box. It dates to 1853.
Find Literary Inspiration At Hauteville House
Victor Hugo spent 19 years in exile from France for his political views, which clashed with those of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. For 15 of those years, starting in 1855, he lived on Guernsey. He worked on Toilers of the Sea (set on Guernsey) and Les Miserables from his study in Hauteville House. He reportedly spent six years decorating the house and gardens with simply stunning views. I don’t know how he ever got any work done in this setting!
The house is beautifully decorated yet spartan at the same time; the wood-paneled room downstairs is quite oppressive, while the conservatory upstairs is nearly too bright. But all together, it works, and as for the garden, it’s simply lovely.
Pro Tip: Be sure to book a tour online, since visitors who arrive on the doorstep without a booking are often turned away. If you are turned away, you can still visit the garden and peek in through the windows, though.
Visit The German Occupation Museum
For five years during World War II, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans, and while lots has been written about the occupation, the private German Occupation Museum truly brings the era to life. The museum started off as the collection of a schoolboy who picked up small mementos of the war and used his family’s garden shed to display them. Today, the exhibits will send a shiver down your spine with their portrayal of the daily life of the islanders and the Germans, neither of whom fared too well. This is an amazing collection, and you won’t regret a visit.
Pro Tip: If you want to learn more about this time in history, don’t miss the German Underground Hospital.
Follow The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society Trail
This popular book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was later made into a film starring Lily James and has drawn worldwide attention to the island of Guernsey. Pick up a map of the trail in the tourism office or in your hotel, and you can follow it across the island, visiting spots mentioned in the book. You’ll find signs near most historic sites not just telling you the history, but also where in the book the site was mentioned.
Buy a copy of the book on the island, and you’ll have a lovely souvenir.
Admire The Little Chapel
The Little Chapel is indeed little — and entirely covered in shards of broken pottery and porcelain from around the world. It all comes together in a quite mesmerizing building. Brother Deodat, a monk, set about building the tiny replica of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1913. The current version is the third incarnation of the project, and it’s carefully looked after and restored with pieces of broken pottery donated from around the globe.
It is free to visit the chapel, but donations are always appreciated. Currently, the keepers are raising funds to replace the roof.
Explore The Fort Grey Area
Dating to 1804, the small but shapely Fort Grey, locally known as the Cup and Saucer, was built to defend Guernsey from the French. It is located along a lovely beach that invites you to stop and have a look around. Sadly, you cannot go inside, but it is still worth a look, since the surroundings are lovely, too.
Pro Tip: Just opposite the fort you’ll find the Guernsey Pearl, a shop selling cute souvenirs and jewelry made from local pearls. Inside there is a very basic cafe with hearty pies and good sausage and chips.
Eating And Drinking On Guernsey Island
On this island in the English Channel, seafood is plentiful, and it doesn’t get any fresher. That said, there are restaurants offering everything from good pub food to fine dining.
Here are some of my favorite spots.
The Crow’s Nest
The Crow’s Nest is a relaxed seafood restaurant with great views across Saint Peter Port’s bay. Fish and chips, crispy calamari rings, large salads, delicious desserts, and local beers are all on the menu.
The Terrace Garden Cafe
If the weather is nice, there is no better place to sit outside and enjoy lunch, a drink, or a light snack than The Terrace Garden Cafe. The menu offers everything from sandwiches to nachos, and even a good selection of Thai street food. There’s also a superb wine and beer list, plus large jugs of Pimm’s.
Speaking of delicious drinks, Rocquette Cider is a Guernsey-based brewery carrying on the local apple-growing and cider-brewing traditions that have been thriving since the 16th century. You can tour the estate and sample the produce during a visit.
Shopping On Guernsey Island
For a small capital, Saint Peter Port has an impressive number of lovely little cobbled shopping streets. Though you’ll mostly find brands from the UK, there are also quaint local boutiques and souvenirs shops selling everything from puffin mugs to locally cultured pearls. The good news is that there is no VAT on the island, so luxury items like jewelry tend to be a little cheaper than on the mainland.
Look out for Guernsey sweaters, which are famous for their warmth. Made from thick wool, they are all hand knitted (usually with the label telling you exactly who knitted that particular sweater) and designed for sailors. They’re not cheap, but remember that they’re individually hand knitted!
Other great souvenirs to look out for are local cheeses, such as Guernsey goat cheese; fudge, a soft caramel made on the island; and locally brewed cider and gin.
Where To Stay On Guernsey Island
Despite its small size, Guernsey has a surprising range of charming accommodations, both in town and in the country. The problem is choosing just one place to stay.
Les Douvres Hotel
Set on a quiet lane in the parish of Saint Martin, the Les Douvres Hotel is a classic country home with 19 individually decorated rooms, a cozy bar, a great restaurant, and lovely gardens where you can enjoy a drink under the trees. The Renoir Walk is just steps away from here.
La Fregate Hotel
Located high above Saint Peter Port, La Fregate Hotel is not only a nice hotel with spacious rooms and a highly recommended restaurant, but it offers views that will have you struggling to leave. You can look out over the entire city and the coastline as well as the castle and various smaller islands on the horizon.
Bella Luce Hotel
Not far from the Les Douvres Hotel, the Bella Luce Hotel is a postcard-worthy stone building covered in wisteria vines. But aside from cute rooms and a great restaurant, the Bella Luce boasts a day spa and a gin distillery, Wheadon’s Gin.