St. Peter Port (Guernsey) (Photo:Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of St. Peter Port (Guernsey)

St. Peter Port, the principal town on the island of Guernsey, charms travelers arriving by sea with its waterfront of grey and white stone buildings interrupted by colorfully painted row houses. The ridge above is fringed with trees and punctuated with church and monument spires. It's a town that beckons visitors down winding streets and leafy alleys, yet its signature landmark -- a fortified castle that sits atop a promontory jutting out into the harbor -- is notable for its more imposing mien.

Guernsey is second-largest of the several Channel Islands located 30 miles west of France's coast of Normandy and 75 miles south of Weymouth on the south coast of England. At 15 miles by six (at its widest point), it is tiny and easily circumnavigated as part of a day trip. It has a population of some 62,000, 16,000 of which live in St. Peter Port. Guernsey is the principal island of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which includes the tiny neighboring islands of Herm, Sark and Alderney.

At the beginning of steam navigation, the island developed into a hugely popular British holiday destination, due to its comparably sunnier climate than the U.K. and warmer waters, lovely beaches, rugged coastline and pastoral scenery that includes the handsome and much-prized Guernsey dairy cows. More recently, the delightful setting and the island's tax benefits have attracted large numbers of off-island Brits to settle there. While its status is of a British Crown Dependency, the islanders have a good deal of independence, and most visibly to tourists, Guernsey has its own coins, banknotes and stamps.

The Channel Islands became a part of the Duchy of Normandy (France) in 933 A.D., but after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Dukes of Normandy became the kings of England, the island became English property. When the English monarchy was restored, the islanders were given the choice in 1204 to revert to the French or stay with the English and remain self-governing, which they remain so to this day, with their own legal system, taxes and the aforementioned currency and stamps.

During modern times, Guernsey's most difficult period came during World War II, when the British government stated that it would not protect the Channel Islands from invasion and then gave the population a few days to decide to stay or leave. Half left, mainly women and children, and the number of Germans who came to occupy the island matched the population. They stayed almost five years; and by the occupation's end, the local population and the German soldiers were virtually starving due to a food embargo by the U.K. in an attempt to starve out the occupying force. The Channel Islands were finally liberated some 11 months after the Normandy landings, which ironically were within sight and sound along the nearby French Coast, on the 9th May 1945 -- one day after the rest of Europe as the German commander refused to surrender until the following morning. The German occupation left a large number of sites that can be visited today, including fortifications all along the coast, trenches, bunkers, disused anti-aircraft guns, an underground military hospital and an occupation museum. (And for some pre-trip reading, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society," a delightful book, brings alive the German occupation period and its aftermath in a series of fictitious letters.)

Today, visitors come to enjoy St. Peter Port's bustling harbor scene, museums and historic attractions, as well as to head out into the countryside and along the coastline for short walks and scenic views. The island also has a number of festivals throughout the year, starting with the May 9th Liberation Day celebrations, and including literary, nautical and culinary events, as well as local shows and carnivals.

Guernsey has become increasingly popular as a cruise ship port of call in recent years, with more than 100 calls scheduled in 2015. The season starts in May and runs through until October as part of round-Britain or Atlantic Island cruises, during repositioning voyages between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean and on short-break trips that leave from Southampton.

About St. Peter Port (Guernsey)


Pro

A compact, pretty capital; stunning beaches minutes away and a fascinating military history

Con

St Peter Port is a tender port, and high tides and poor weather can often prevent landings

Bottom Line

Guernsey is tiny, and after spending the morning discovering its capital, it's worth heading off to see the countryside and beaches


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Where You're Docked

Small cruise ships may dock along one of St. Peter Port's stone piers-cum-breakwaters, but most anchor off with a short 10- to 15-minute tendering transfer to the landing at Albert Pier, at a purpose built pontoon which can take three tenders at once new for the 2015 cruise season (tenders previously docked at St Julian's Pier).

Good to Know

Keep your wits about you when crossing the streets, as the traffic drives on the left as in the British Isles. Many St. Peter Port streets are narrow, they tend to be one way, and it is always advisable to use the zebra-striped pedestrian crossing points on the busier thoroughfares. Once you step off the curb onto one, you have the right-of-way over vehicular traffic.

Also, be advised that the English Channel sea temperature hovers in the mid-50's, so beaches provide quiet places to relax, enjoy picnics or take short walks, as opposed to places for swimming (although that doesn't stop the locals who will swim in any weather).

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Guernsey's currency is the Guernsey pound, and its value is tied to the British pound sterling. For the current exchange rate check www.xe.com. Both currencies are readily accepted, but bear in mind that Guernsey pounds are not generally accepted in Britain. You will have to exchange the leftovers at a bank, or keep them for a souvenir. Several banks offer ATMs along the Esplanade, parallel to High Street and Le Pollet and one short block inland; these dispense Guernsey currency only. The local currency includes a paper one-pound note (unlike in Britain) and the island's own set of coins (pence). Credit cards are widely accepted, though small purchases and bus tickets will require cash.

Language

English is the ruling language there and throughout the Channel Islands. While many local residents are originally from Britain, some island-born residents also speak Guernesiaise or Dgernesiais, a Franco-Norman language that dates back to the Middle Ages. For example, a phrase that appears on the island's bus receipts will say "Bianvnu a bord," rather than modern French "Bienvenu a bord" or its English translation "Welcome onboard." The language may also appear in some captions in local museums. Visitors are not expected to understand Guernesiaise.

Shopping

Good buys are Guernsey knitwear, such as jumpers (sweaters) and colorful tea towels with island scenes, which can be found at The Guernsey Shop on North Esplanade (the main harbor front road). Locally made handbags and jewelry can be found at Gwyneth and Grey, 51 Le Pollet, which is just behind the Guernsey Information Centre. Try too the Vistorian Shop, owned and run by the National Trust of Guernsey, where you'll find traditional sweets (candy), local crafts and National Trust goods.