Sandwiched between Britain and France in the English Channel, Jersey is unique. Whether your interest is in history or country walks, beaches or watersports, the island has something for everyone. Here are a few of the best things to do in Jersey.
Why Visit Jersey?
But first, why visit Jersey? If you’re coming from the UK, the answer is simple: it is easy to get to, and the weather is good. And, as one of the English Channel Islands (the group of islands that also includes Guernsey), it has its own distinctive culture. With its own laws and government, and even its own language (Jèrriais, a version of French), Jersey has that feeling of being almost-but-not-quite British.
However, there is much more to Jersey than that. The island has a rich history, from Neolithic times to the present day. The countryside and coastal scenery are stunning. And the island is small enough to get just about anywhere by bus and on foot.
Despite its size, there is plenty to do in Jersey. I was there for a week but could have spent much more time there, exploring the towns and different parts of the island. Perhaps I’ll go for a return visit…
Explore Jersey’s History
A good place to start is at the Jersey Museum in St Helier. Set in a Victorian merchant’s house, the museum tells the story of the island from the earliest times. Beginning with the geological formation of the island, it moves through prehistory, the Middle Ages and on to the Second World War. It comes right up to date with the arrival of the financial services industry in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Tip: Buy a Jersey Heritage Pass to get 4-for-3 entrance to the Museum and other properties managed by Jersey Heritage.
Jersey is full of prehistoric monuments, from passage graves and dolmens to menhirs and stone circles. The remarkable Hougue Bie, to the east of the island, is regarded as the finest Neolithic passage grave in Europe, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the world.
Read more: Passage Graves And Dolmens Of Jersey.
The 12 parishes of Jersey were established in Norman times, and still exist today. One reminder of the Middle Ages is the parish churches, many of which are worth a visit for their art and architecture. The must-see church is St Brelade’s, overlooking St Brelade’s Bay, and built entirely from local stone. The most remarkable feature of this church is the adjoining Fishermen’s Chapel, whose walls are covered with some of the best preserved medieval wall paintings I have ever seen.
The parish church of St Clements also has some notable wall paintings, and there are some remains of paintings on the walls of the 16th century Jerusalem Chapel above the prehistoric tomb of La Hougue Bie.
Another remnant from the Middle Ages is the perquages. These were historic “sanctuary paths” that led from the parish churches to the sea, a custom that was unique to Jersey.
Read more: The Perquages Of Jersey.
Castles And Defences
Due to its position in the English Channel, Jersey has been involved in numerous conflicts. As a consequence, the coast is heavily fortified, with castles, towers and seawalls from different periods.
Elizabeth Castle (in St Helier) and Mont Orgueil Castle (in Gorey) are the most prominent fortifications, but you will spot many more as you travel around the island. Read more: Jersey’s Coastal Defences.
World War II
For many visitors, the German Occupation during World War II is the best known episode in Jersey’s history. The main place to explore this history is at the Jersey War Tunnels. These were dug by forced labour to act as air raid shelters and later used as a hospital; today they tell the story of island life during the Occupation.
Elsewhere you can visit the Channel Islands Military Museum (in a bunker at St Ouen) or take a tour of the bunkers with Jersey War Tours. There is a small exhibition of wartime slave labour at La Hougue Bie, and the Maritime Museum in St Helier houses the Occupation Tapestry, created in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Liberation.
Hiking And Countryside
One of the pleasures of a visit to Jersey is the unspoilt countryside and beautiful coastline. This gives lots of opportunities for hiking, cycling and nature spotting.
Wherever you go, the roads on Jersey seem to be edged by high banks filled with a profusion of wild flowers. Many of the country roads are designated as “green lanes”, with priority for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and speed limits for cars. Elsewhere, the roads can be busy, but drivers seem to be happy to give way to pedestrians.
In many places you will find peaceful footpaths through woods and across grassland. And I enjoyed the Corbière Railway Walk, following the old railway line from Corbière to St Aubin. There are several suggested walking routes on the Jersey visitor site.
Exploring The Coast
There are a number of notable features to Jersey’s coastline. Firstly, the island slopes, so that the north side has tall cliffs while the south has long shallow beaches. Secondly, the tide goes out a long way in the south, leaving behind an otherworldly landscape of strange rock formations, seaweed, and small pools full of limpets and other sea creatures.
One consequence of the coastal landscape is the existence of offshore islands linked to the mainland by causeways. Elizabeth Castle in St Helier and the Corbière Lighthouse are two popular destinations connected to the land in this way. (Don’t forget to check the tide times before crossing a causeway.)
A particular feature on the north coast is the Devil’s Hole, a natural crater where the waves crash against the rocks to create a noisy blowhole. Again, you are at the mercy of the tides here: I visited at low tide and, although I could hear the water trying to get in, there was nothing to see.
The privately owned Botanic Gardens at Samarès Manor consist of landscaped grounds belonging to an old manor house. Although they are not extensive, you can enjoy a tranquil stroll through several different sections that demonstrate the lush fertility of the island.
Explore the water gardens, arboretum and walled gardens with herbs and roses. For families there are semi-wild areas and a children’s playground.
Food And Drink On Jersey
As you might expect, fish and seafood and prominent in the Jersey diet, and you’ll find the local catch, including crab and oysters, on most restaurant menus. Jersey potatoes and the creamy milk are well known, but look out too for black butter, a local speciality. Despite the name, this is actually a sticky, spicy, apple jam (very good on toast).
Historically, the island was covered with apple trees, and cider was a major local product. Although less important today, you can still enjoy the local cider. There are vineyards, too: take a tour of the La Mare Wine Estate and sample their wines (as well as their gin and local food products).
Practical Information For Your Visit To Jersey
- Buses cover the whole island: all services start and end at St Helier. Bike hire is also available. If you decide to hire a car, be aware that some of the roads are very narrow.
- When walking on the beach or along causeways make sure you check the tide times. The water can come in very quickly!
- If you’re coming from the UK or Ireland, Jersey 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.