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Best Things to do in Guernsey on a Cruise

U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter

Last updated
Feb 5, 2024

Guernsey has long been one of the U.K.'s most popular ports of call on any round-Britain or Europe cruise.

However, COVID closed the Channel Island to ships for more than two-and-a-half years (much longer than the rest of the British Isles) as it opted to remain closed to all cruise traffic for 2021 and only re-opened on April 15 this year.

Apart from the fact that Guernsey along with its neighbors -- Jersey, Sark, Herm and Alderney -- was the only part of the British Isles occupied in the Second World War, it's perhaps most famous for the best-selling (fictional) novel and movie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

You can visit those sites made famous in the film, as well as host of other attractions which have either been restored or opened for the first time including Victor Hugo's old house and Batterie Mirus, the largest German battery in the Channel islands.

Guernsey is scheduled to receive 96 ships in 2022, with a season that lasts until the end of October.

Here's is your guide to the best things to see and do in Guernsey.

1. Novelist and Poet Victor Hugo's Home, Hauteville House, Has Been Restored and Reopened

Hauteville House was home to Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre dame, among many other literary works. He was also a huge advocate for democracy and the working classes and was a vocal campaigner for social justice.

Hugo arrived in Guernsey in 1855 after voluntarily exiling himself from France when Napoleon III seized power, outlawing parliamentary democracy, and lived here, largely alone, and in sight of his beloved country for 15 years.

The building had been closed for a number of years for refurbishment, and has re-opened just in time for the cruise season.

It provides an extraordinary insight into the man: his beliefs, his interests, his passions and his devotion to family.

Each room is like a chapter of a book, covered with intricate carvings and designs, often with symbols and surprises that illustrate some facet of his imagination.

It might be a cause, or his stance against organized religion, his fight for social justice or a design style (such as Japanese) that he revered.

The house is spread over four floors and has breathtaking views of the port and the nearby islands and on to France.

The top floor is where he wrote, in a sun-drenched attic where he could look out to his place of birth, lying just 30 miles away.

You can walk to Hauteville House from the port, it takes about 15 minutes, though note the hill is steep. Pre-booking is recommended and each tour of the house is an hour.

2. Batterie Mirus, the Largest German-Built Battery in the Channel Islands, Open to the Public For the First Time

One of four such structures built on the island by the Germans (who were convinced of an Allied invasion), Batterie Mirus is the largest battery in the Channel Islands (two others are on private land, and the third is the ampitheater at a local primary school).

Fitted with a 15.85m gun (since scrapped) taken from a former Russian battleship, this reinforced concrete structure was completed in 1942 and as well as the gun area included barracks, a hospital and a munitions area.

Throughout the past 10 years, the volunteer group Festung Guernsey has restored the site, adding electricity and better drainage, finally opening it in July 2020 last year to locals.

Inside you'll find a maze of walkways, concrete rooms, escape routes, stalactites and dripping water and stark reminders of the German occupation with swastikas, German writing and the eagle symbol of the German army still on the walls. It's an eerie, echoey and claustrophobic space, but well worth it for the experience.

Mirus was manned with a crew of 72 who worked and slept in the structure. Astonishingly, the gun was only fired a handful of times, mainly as practice (the first time famously, blew the official German photographer off his feet, the blast was so powerful).

It's one of many German-built structures on the island, including the German Hospital and the Military Museum as well as many cliff-top battlements that dot the coastline, but this is the first significant structure to be restored and opened to the public in many years.

It can be taken as part of a ship tour or privately.

More information: Festung Guernsey

3. Take a Tuk Tuk Tour of the Island

Something new for '22, a Tuk Tuk tour of the island (where the max speed is 25 mph throughout), is a lovely way to see what Guernsey has to offer, without being stuck on a coach.

The one-hour tour starts at the pier, where the Tuk Tuk will meet you off the tender. There follows a drive round panoramic St Peter Port, including views of Castle Cornet plus a drive by Hauteville House (above).

The tour also includes a stop in Fermain Bay, which has one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches on the island.

For more details: www.tuktukguernsey.co.uk

4. Visit the Island's Only Cider Farm

Rocquette Cider Farm is the only cider farm on the island, set in the stunning Fauxquets Valley and run by the Mellor family (who live on the land) who established it in 1998.

The farm is like a scene from Laurie Lee's "Cider with Rosie", with rows and rows of old apple trees (5,000 in total), a gorgeous lake and a babbling brook running through the valley floor.

The tour includes a wander through the orchards, with a commentary about the heritage and history (cider making in Guernsey goes back to the 1600s), as well as a peek at the stunning still, which looks like a prop from a steampunk movie. You'll learn all about the techniques, tasting methods and quality control before sampling some.

There are a number of ciders brewed here including Traditional Rocquette (6% ABV) and the punchier Salty Dog (7.2 % ABV), which you are advised to go easy on. You can pair this with local cheese, crackers and apple chutneys (all available for purchase).

More Info: Rocquette Cider Farm.

5. Attend the Annual Pride Festival in September, Liberate

On September 3 every year, the Guernsey annual pride festival takes place in St Peter Port. Taking place every other year and attracting more than 7,000 people, it's the island's largest community festival, said organiser Ellie Jones of Liberate.

Though billed as a LGBTQ+ event, it's not exclusively so and is very much a family-friendly day with an open air concert in the main market square, T-shirt making, face-painting and food stalls.

And for the first time, there will be events taking place across the island.

No ships are scheduled to call in at St Peter Port that day (Queen Victoria is due in two days before), but it's worth a trip in itself.

6. Visit Castle Cornet

The imposing castle can be seen from almost anywhere in St Peter Port. Dating from medieval times, this is an easily accessible and must-do site when in St Peter Port, giving stunning views of your ship, St Peter Port and the nearby islands.

Packed with history and stories, there are four museums which recount the military history of the island throughout the centuries using a variety of reconstructions, replicas, models and original artifacts, which are great fun for kids. There is also a lot of outside space to explore and walls and ramparts to clamber on.

One object worth seeking out is the Guernsey Falcon, an artillery piece cast in 1550 which in 1921 was given by the British War Office to Plymouth, Massachusetts to mark 400 years of the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower*. *In 1985 its returned to Guernsey and is now on a replica carriage.

There is a free guided tour of the castle at 10.30 a.m. every day and be sure to stick around for when the noonday gun is fired.

Castle Cornet was famously where the governor once lived until a lightning strike in 1671 hit the munitions stored here and blew him out of bed (true story), but sadly killed his wife and six other people.

7. Take a RIB Safari

Island Rib Voyages operate various trips to the neighbouring islands and you'll find their kiosk just a few hundred yards from the pier on the Inter Island Quay.

Trips include a wildlife explorer tour to the nearby island of Herm (pop. 65), which has more seals and puffins than people!

The Sark Coast and Caves Experience will take you along Sark's west coast, and includes going into some spectacular caves.

The Hanois Lighthouse Adventure will take in the spectacular lighthouse and fill you in on the shipwrecks, pirates and smugglers who once lived here.

The safaris also gives you a good chance of spotting dolphins, which live in the stretch of sea between Guernsey and the islands.

Tip: Wrap up warm as even in high summer, winds and sea spray means you'll likely be chilly after an hour.

More info: Island Rib Voyages

8. Take a Tour of the Sites in Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society

Full disclosure -- not one scene from the movie was filmed here (much to the chagrin of locals), but you can still take a tour of all the sites mentioned in the book and recreated in the movie.

For a full comprehensive guide check out our article "Where Can I Find Locations From "The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Society"?

9. German Occupation Museum

You may not find this on a ship-organised shore excursion as it's privately run, but it's well worth seeking out (note it's only open in the mornings).

Packed full of war memorabilia inside including maps, pocket books, old photos, letters, guns, uniforms and all sorts of other occupation ephemera inside, as well as various weaponry outside, this is absolutely worth a visit to gain a better understanding of what life was like for the islanders during occupation.

It's fascinating to wander round the warren of rooms reading old letters and maps (both German and Guernsey), but the highlight is the lovingly-reconstructed street dating from the early 1940s, where you can take a peek in at shops from the era and marvel at some of the period vehicles.

10. German Underground Hospital

For anyone with even a passing interest in WWII, this is an essential stop -- it is the largest structure built by the Germans in the Channel Islands.

The maze of tunnels, rooms and escape shafts cover an area of around 75,000 square feet, with one and a quarter miles of corridors and rooms -- all of which were excavated out of solid rock by hundreds of workers over a period of three and a half years.

The Germans were absolutely convinced that Britain (which remember pledges to defend the Channel Islands as part of a centuries-old treaty), would launch an attack. However, Churchill, after careful consideration, chose not to so the islands would not become a theatre of war and islanders casualties.

Designed to accommodate 500 patients, it was only used for about nine months and became more of a munitions store than a hospital.

What is astonishing is that if you didn't know it was here, you could quite easily drive by without realising this vast structure even exists.

11. Climb Up Pleinmont For Great Coastal Views

The brutality of German architecture is no more stark than at Pleinmont, where two huge concrete buildings, almost like a modern-day Easter Island statue, were constructed.

The main five-storey observation tower stares straight out to sea, and the men inside had a direct connection to the Batteries atop the island, to warn them of an imminent air or sea strike.

Pleinmont Tower can be accessed for stunning views along the west coast, but be warned although the structure is sound, the lower levels can be prone to flooding and inside it's full of trash, and worse.

But even if you don't access them, it's worth visiting (and they are included on many shore excursions), if only to marvel at the thinking behind such incongruity.

Between them is a small battery complete with trenches, which are also fun to walk around, particularly for kids who can pretend to be soldiers.

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