Miles of unspoilt coastline, peaceful country lanes, and a history stretching back to the Stone Age. This is Guernsey, one of the English Channel Islands, easy to get to but a world apart. Here’s our guide to what to do in Guernsey.
Why Visit Guernsey?
But first, why visit Guernsey? Like the nearby island of Jersey, it is easy to get to – by air or sea – from the south of England. And it boasts an enviable climate. It also has that feeling of being “almost abroad”: closer to France than to England, and with its own government and culture.
However Guernsey is more than just a warm and quirky island. It is a walker’s paradise, there are historic sites to explore, and you can enjoy fresh local food. And, if you feel like a day out, there is the possibility of day trips to other islands.
Explore Guernsey’s History
For many people, Guernsey’s history is synonymous with the German Occupation in World War II. However the island’s past goes right back to the neolithic era. A good place to start your exploration is at the Guernsey Museum in St Peter Port, with its exhibits covering the earliest times to the 20th century.
Guernsey has a wealth of neolithic earthworks, passage graves and standing stones. These are easy to explore, and include the remarkable Dehus Dolmen, a multi-chambered tomb covered by a massive grassy mound. Read more about The Megalithic Sites Of Guernsey.
Castles And Coastal Defences
Situated between England and France, the Channel Islands have always been vulnerable to attack and invasion. As a result the coastline is dotted with castles and towers, built both as lookout points and to provide a safe haven for the local population. Several of these defences were built in the Middle Ages, and further towers and batteries were constructed during the Napoleonic era, when the threat to the islands increased.
Medieval structures include Vale Castle at St Sampson. You can see the remains of 18th and 19th century offshore castles on the north coast, and several towers from this period on L’Ancresse Common. And on the east coast is Fort Grey, built in 1804 and now housing a Shipwreck Museum.
However, the best preserved defensive structure in Guernsey is Castle Cornet, a large castle with gardens and museums on an island off St Peter Port. Read more about The Museums And Gardens Of Castle Cornet.
World War II
The German Occupation during the Second World War is the best known episode in Guernsey’s history. It has been the subject of several recent novels, most notably The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
As you travel around the island you will spot German bunkers and other defences from this period. But to learn about life during the Occupation go to the Occupation Museum (close to the airport). As well as wartime artefacts the museum includes a recreation of a street in occupied Guernsey. Or take a tour by a local guide.
St Peter Port
You will want to spend some time in St Peter Port. This is the main town, where a maze of old streets and passageways runs down the hillside to reach the sea and a large natural harbour.
The main attraction is Castle Cornet, built on an island now connected to the town by a road. But don’t miss the Candie Gardens, a Victorian garden high on the hill. Here you will find the Guernsey Museum, and enjoy spectacular harbour views. A short distance from the town centre is Hauteville House, once home to Victor Hugo, and now a museum devoted to the writer and his work.
Hiking And Countryside
One of the pleasures of a trip to Guernsey is the peaceful countryside and places to walk. Some of the inland roads are designated as “ruettes tranquilles” (tranquil lanes), with priority for pedestrians and speed limits for cars. However, the best hiking is probably around the coast – read more about Walking The Guernsey Coastal Path.
The Gardens Of Sausmarez Manor
Around 3 km from St Peter Port is Sausmarez Manor, the only stately home on the island. The gardens are open to visitors, with amenities including woodland walks and a tropical garden. The Gardens host an annual sculpture festival, as well as other events including evening ghost tours and a farmers’ market.
The Little Chapel
One of the most famous sights on Guernsey is the Little Chapel, situated in Les Vauxbelets Valley. This is a miniature replica of the basilica of Lourdes in France – just big enough for four people. The outside of the chapel is covered in mosaic-work of pebbles, shells and fragments of china.
Visit The Other Islands
Guernsey is just one of the islands of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which also includes Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands.
Sark is particularly popular for day trips. A 55-minute boat trip takes you to this tiny, car-free, island where you can hike, swim or hire a bike. Or you can ride on the only transport allowed on Sark – a horse-drawn carriage. Read more – How To Spend A Day In Sark.
Just 20 minutes from Guernsey, Herm is even smaller than Sark. This is very much a place to get away from it all – perhaps a bit of bird-watching, strolling around the island or enjoying some water sports.
It is easy to get to Alderney by plane or boat, either for a day for a slightly longer trip. Here you will find lots of history (including a Roman fort), the only working railway in the Channel Islands, and plenty of opportunities for hiking and birdwatching.
Practical Information For Your Visit To Guernsey
- Guernsey is small and many places can be reached on foot. Buses cover the whole island, but be aware that on some routes they may be infrequent.
- St Peter Port makes a good base for your visit, as bus and ferry services depart from here. There is a wide range of accommodation in the town.
- If you’re coming from the UK or Ireland, Guernsey is in the Common Travel Area. You don’t need a passport, but you will be required to provide photo ID. For everyone else entry requirements are the same as for the UK.
- Finally, why not have a look at these suggestions for Books To Read Before You Visit The Channel Islands.