The island of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, lies 12 miles west of France and 85 miles from the English coast. It has been occupied since the Paleolithic age, was called Caesarea by the Romans, and spent time under the rule of Brittany and the Normans. Since 1259, it has been a self-governing dependency of the British Crown.
Its capital, Saint Helier, is home to some 34,000 people, more than a third of the entire island’s population, but the island is most famous for its countryside. Its brown Jersey cows, Jersey potatoes, beautiful beaches, and quaint towns draw around 725,000 visitors to the island every year. About 60 percent of visitors fly into the small Jersey Airport from either Britain or France, but the regular ferries from either country also make for a spectacular journey.
Many of those visitors only stay for a day, but the island has much to offer those staying a little longer and taking the time to explore. Hire a car and allow at least two full days, preferably more, if you want to enjoy the coastal cliff walks, the small villages, and the fascinating history.
Here’s what to see and do on a visit to Jersey.
La Corbiere Lighthouse
There are few more spectacular settings than the La Corbiere Lighthouse. On the southeastern edge of the island, the white lighthouse is set on a tiny island buffeted by waves. On days when the tide is out, there is a causeway you can take to see the lighthouse close up. But even when you cannot, the views from the cliffs, overgrown with wildflowers and populated by lots of seabirds, are good enough to warrant a visit.
If you are a keen cyclist, follow the old railway tracks that have been turned into a cycling trail from Saint Aubin.
Pro Tip: The sun sets just behind the lighthouse, making it ideal for a romantic picnic.
Saint Catherine’s Breakwater
Dating to the mid-1800s, Saint Catherine’s Breakwater is a great place to go for a walk. Sticking 2,300 feet into the sea, the breakwater was part of an initial design for a harbor from which the Royal Navy could protect the island from the French, but that harbor was never completed.
Today, Saint Catherine’s Breakwater is a great place to walk, kayak, fish, and enjoy the views across the Channel all the way to France.
Pro Tip: Pop into the SandWizard Dome, which houses some amazing sand sculptures.
Mont Orgueil Castle
Picture the perfect sturdy fort, one that would have been frequented by knights and which would have protected the island: You’re thinking of Mont Orgueil Castle. Standing above a small fishing village, with an enormous castellated tower and an impressive entrance, this castle is 800 years old and was Jersey’s main point of defense until the development of gunpowder.
There are some entertaining ways of exploring the castle, such as trying to locate the Dance of Death statue hidden within, descending the staircase to find the Witches in Hell, learning about the medieval Wheel of Urine, and locating the Prayer Nuts hidden in one of the castle's many rooms.
Pro Tip: After exploring the castle, walk down to Gorey, a picturesque village where the UK television series Bergerac was filmed in the 1980s.
One of the world’s greatest zoos, the Jersey Zoo will delight even those who aren’t animal lovers. Founded in 1959 by author and wildlife enthusiast Gerald Durrell, this zoo, located in the rolling hills of the Jersey countryside, is dedicated to breeding endangered species, only keeping animals that are small enough to have enough space to live happily. The monkeys practically run free with no fences around the enclosures, and superb explanations tell you about the enclosures, the residents, and the successes the zoo has had.
There is also a small museum detailing the history of the amazing Durrell family, which has been the subject of many books and TV series.
Pro Tip: Read My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell before you go, or buy yourself a souvenir copy in the zoo’s shop. It’s a great read.
Another tidal site off the coast of Saint Helier, the ancient fortification of Elizabeth Castle dates to 1595. This castle became the seat of the Jersey governors after they left Mont Orgueil Castle back in the 16th century; it was named by Sir Walter Raleigh for Queen Elizabeth I.
Much modified over the centuries, it is today open to the public and accessible at low tide by a causeway walk or at high tide by wading vehicle ferries, whose design makes it possible to ‘drive’ through the water.
Pro Tip: Make sure you are on the islet at noon, since at midday every day a parade of costumed soldiers is followed by the lighting of the Noon Cannon.
Eating And Drinking On Jersey Island
Many are already familiar with Jersey cows and Jersey potatoes, so it will not come as a surprise that in addition to the seafood, the steak and potatoes (in fried, boiled, or sauteed form) are some of the best dishes to be had on the island. Jersey has embraced both French and British cuisine, so you will be spoiled for choice.
Here are some of my favorite spots.
Salty Dog Bar & Bistro
The Salty Dog Bar & Bistro offers a lovely location, especially if you can manage to grab a seat on the terrace. Overlooking the Saint Aubin marina, this great little spot serves up a variety of shared plates as well as superb seafood and meat dishes. Plus, it’s a pub. Enough said.
The Breakwater Cafe
The Breakwater Cafe is a basic seaside snack bar, but the sandwiches are superb, as is the ice cream. The staff are friendly, and it’s a cheap and easy option for lunch, either before or after you head out on your walk to the end of Saint Catherine’s Breakwater.
When in a British Crown dependency, you’ve got to embrace British culture, and where better to start than with afternoon tea? The tiny Cafe Louise in the little village of Gorey below Mont Orgueil Castle is the perfect spot for a scone and a cup of tea. Try and get a spot outside so that you can watch the world go by while you eat.
And, speaking of British cuisine, how about a traditional Sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings? At Corbiere Phare, you can choose from roast beef, chicken, or even fish with all the trimmings (vegetables, potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings with gravy) for a great Sunday lunch. And you can walk it all off afterward on the cliff walks nearby.
I recommend Quayside for its rooftop bar and views across Saint Helier Port. Go just before sunset and enjoy one or two of the great cocktails or other drinks. This relaxed place can become a little busy early on Friday evenings, but it’s worth checking out.
Shopping On Jersey Island
The capital, Saint Helier, is the perfect size for stress-free shopping and meandering through the pedestrianized center. On King Street and the lanes branching off of it, you will find plenty of individual shops nestled next to British department and high street stores. In addition, visiting the 200-year-old Victorian covered Central Market is a delight.
If you are staying in a self-catered accommodation, take part in a Jersey tradition: As you drive along the Jersey countryside lanes, you will see a lot of stalls, or just boxes near entrances to farms. These are honesty stalls where you can buy the freshest local Jersey potatoes, leaving the required money in a provided bowl. The potatoes are best eaten boiled with fresh, local, lightly salted butter.
Pro Tip: Shopping on Jersey is tax-free, so it is well worth checking out some of the more luxury items.
Where To Stay On Jersey Island
Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa
Dating to 1890, the Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa is one of the oldest hotels on the island -- and the one that is very fashionable for VIPs. Even Queen Elizabeth II has stayed here. So, if you want history, glamour, and incredible views of Elizabeth Castle, ask for an ocean-view room and then sit back and enjoy.
Overlooking Saint Aubin’s marina and the sea beyond, the lovely country house-style Somerville Hotel boasts a superb restaurant set within a glass-encased conservatory. It’s got great views and a great location from which you can easily walk or take a bicycle ride.
Durrell Wildlife Camp
For something truly unusual, go glamping in the zoo at the Durrell Wildlife Camp. The luxury pods come complete with kitchenettes and their own bathrooms and are surrounded -- but totally safe from -- the animals of the zoo. This is especially recommended if you are bringing the grandkids.