Don't Miss in Guernsey
St. Peter Port
The main attraction in town, Castle Cornet, is highly visible upon approaching the island, as it sits on a promontory jutting out into the harbor. It's a 15-minute walk from the tender pier along a sidewalk that skirts the harborfront. First built in the 13th century, the elaborate fortification was rebuilt and expanded by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in the years after 1600 to reflect the change in warfare from bows and arrows to gunpowder, guns and artillery. It was used as a storage depot for the aforementioned gunpowder and on December 29, 1692 a direct lightning strike blew up a large part of the inner complex -- killing several inhabitants including the mother of the then Governor of the island and his child. You can still see areas of damage today.
The present breakwater and bridge connecting the castle to St. Peter Port was completed in 1860, and it was last used as a military fort during the German occupation in WWII. The Germans went about heavily fortifying the structure throughout the war (Hitler was convinced Guernsey was the perfect launching off point for an invasion into mainland Britain), with bunkers they named after different German girls. In 1947, King George VI presented the castle to the islanders who converted the complex to a series of museums and extensive grounds and ramparts, which you can clamber over for wonderful views of the town or out to sea. The Story of Castle Cornet recounts the various military purposes it served with primitive living quarters, war implements, and soldiers' uniforms to view and ramparts to climb. A 32-pound cast-iron cannon on site signals the noon hour daily. The Maritime Museum examines the development of the fishing industry on the island as well as the history of the island's sea connections to England and France using photographs, ship models and storyboards. Three additional sections are dedicated to the RAF (Royal Air Force) and the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry and Militia. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. £10 for adults; £2.50 for over fives.
Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery is located a short but steep 15-minute walk from the Esplanade's roundabout up to St. Julian's Avenue. Several bus routes stop at the intersection of St. Julian's and Candie Road, and, from there, it's a five-minute walk up a gentler slope. The museum's "Story of Guernsey" relates the history, archeology and natural history of the island in a series of rooms. If one of the older guides is on hand, you might hear the story of German occupation. A section is devoted to the Guernsey dairy cow, imported from France in the 10th century and ultimately developed into one of the world's most prized breeds with its high content of vitamin A, butterfat and protein. Surrounding the main building are the Candie Victorian pleasure gardens, displaying a profusion of flowers and featuring the oldest heated greenhouses in the British Isles. The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gardens are free.
The same bus routes serve the nearby Bailiwick of Guernsey Millennium Tapestry, or it's a 10-minute walk downhill from the Guernsey Museum to College Street. The 10 colorfully stitched panels, completed in 1999 with one patch from each of the island's 10 parishes, presents detailed scenes for a specific century over the 1,000 years of Guernsey history. An audio guide helps pick out the historical markers. It's open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
French writer Victor Hugo's Hauteville House is located up the hill from the bus station along Cornet and Hauteville streets. The French writer was a resident in exile from Paris for 14 years, and the house we see today is as Hugo decorated it and then left it in 1870. It's open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for guided tours only.
La Valette Underground Military Museum. This lies in a complex of tunnels built by German forces as a fuel storage facility for their U-Boats. It is a short walk from the center along the South Esplanade. The museum covers Guernsey's military history, including the First World War and the German Occupation of the island from 1940 to 1945. The museum also sells a wide range of genuine military collectables and books. Admission: Adults £6, over 65s £4.50, and children £3.50. Open daily from March 2nd to mid-November 10am - 5pm.
Out of town
There are a couple of other Don't Misses on a visit to Guernsey, which lie a short distance out of town, but are well worth the journey (nothing takes very long to get to on the island).
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society: The bestseller (which oddly, is not very well known in the U.K.), may be fiction, but it is based on real events and real places and it is possible to do a tour of the island and visit all the places mentioned in the book on a day trip. Your best bet is to hire a knowledgeable local guide: Gill Girard took Kenneth Branagh around the island when he was scouting for spots to film the forthcoming movie. Her number is: 07781 104094.
The Little Chapel. This extraordinary creation -- a labor of love by Brother Déodat -- is apparently the smallest chapel in the world (you have to stoop to get in). He started work on it in March 1914, with the aim of creating a miniature version of the grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France, and was still adding to it at the time of his death. The Little Chapel is decorated entirely with seashells, pebbles and pieces of broken china, and relies entirely on donations for its upkeep. It lies just off the main road towards the airport is about 15 minutes drive from town.
German Occupation Museum. Just a bit further along the road from the Little Chapel, this is a comprehensive look at what life was like for the islanders during the years of occupation, and includes a comprehensive archive of letters, photographs, books and memorabilia including knives and guns, all lovingly presented. There is also a recreated typical street from those years, with military hardware, shop fronts and models of people, which can be slightly eerie. Outside you'll find various bits of weaponry including the propellor from a shot down American B29 bomber. While you are there you may pick up a flyer advertising two astonishingly well preserved fortifications along the west coast -- Pleinmont Tower and Fort Hommet -- both of which can be visited. Adults £4, children £2. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For those who may have been to Guernsey before, the attractive nearby island of Herm, a 20-minute boat ride from St. Peter Port, is a fine alternative. The boat's departure point is on the St Julian's Pier, the next pier along from Albert Pier and tickets are available from Travel Trident at a kiosk on the pier. There are eight departures and returns throughout the day, and it's quite possible to visit just for the morning and be back onboard your ship for lunch. Just 1.5 miles long by 0.5 miles wide and with no cars, the island is a hiker's delight with many coastal and inland pastoral paths. The beaches and kayaking are also first-rate, though the water may be too cold for swimming. On a sunny day on Shell Beach (so named for the shells that are apparently swept up by the Gulf Stream all the way from Florida), you could be forgiven for thinking you were on a beach in the Caribbean. Visit an 11th-century chapel with lovely stained-glass windows, Neolithic tombs and one of the world's smallest prisons. Food is available at Shell Beach and Belvoir Bay, or take a picnic.
During the circular Guernsey island drive by local bus, a number of beach stops are attractive options for coastal walks and local sightseeing. Stop at Vazon Bay to see the Fort Hommet Gun Casement, built by the Nazis during the WWII occupation, or L'Eree to view Fort Grey, a round Martello Tower (1894) located on a rocky islet as part of the island's coastal defense and now a shipwreck museum. Food kiosks and cafes are available at both stops.
Lihou Island: This tiny island, just off Guernsey's west coast, is only accessible at certain times due to tidal flow. Once a monk's retreat (you can visit the ruined priory), it is now owned and operated by a charitable trust. It's a short walk at low tide across a stone pathway and you can take a picnic and wander around the tiny coastline. It's a birders paradise and ideal for rockpooling. Note: Tide times are posted at the start of the causeway and in the local paper -- take note of the times and leave at least 20 minutes for your journey back as people have been known to get stranded.