If you are taking a cruise that stops at Guernsey in the Channel islands and are wondering how to spend your time ashore, this article is for you. Here are eight suggestions for what you may enjoy, whether you choose to take an organised cruise excursion or explore on your own.
The island of Guernsey was the final port of call on the four night European Sampler Cruise on Crown Princess that we took in September with Princess Cruises. As the harbour at St Peter Port is not large enough to accommodate cruise ships, we took the tender (the lifeboats are used) in order to get off the ship and onto Guernsey. If you’re new to cruising like me, you may not be aware that it is something of an organisational feat to get up to 3000 passengers off the ship in small boats, so if you are keen to spend as much time on shore as possible, you need to make sure you go to the tender station as early as possible. The Crown Princess arrived at Guernsey at 7am, so we made sure to have an early breakfast and by 9am were standing on the quayside.
To Excursion or not to Excursion?
We had visited Guernsey before in the spring of 2012, when we hired a car and so we had seen many of the main attractions on the island. For this reason, we decided not to book any shore excursions, but to use our time to meander at our own pace and explore a bit more of St Peter Port. The bookable cruise excursions would typically take you on a scenic drive of this beautiful island, stopping at The Little Chapel, Sausmarez Manor and sometimes the Gold and Silver Workshops, and I think that it is worth considering these if you prefer everything to be organised or are not very mobile. I probably wouldn’t take the excursion covering Castle Cornet as this is easy to see on your own and a short walk from where the tender drops you. If you are keen to see the smaller islands of Herm and Sark, excursions could be good options, due to the logistics involved in arriving onshore and then taking another ferry to these islands, and getting back in time for the 4pm cruise departure.
If you prefer to make your own arrangements, there is a reliable network of buses to get around Guernsey which is quite a small island, and most places are a 20-30 minute ride from St Peter Port. The bus station is just along the quayside, opposite Castle Cornet, and you can find information about buses and timetables on the HCT Guernsey Bus website. There is a flat fare of £2 per single journey or £4.50 for a 1 day bus pass, which is excellent value. The No 91 “Guernsey Vaeux” bus service runs 4 times a day on a continuous loop around the island, which makes an inexpensive sightseeing tour, although if you get off you’ll probably have to use one of the other buses to get back to St Peter Port. If you’re an active traveller you could consider hiring a bike from just behind the Tourism Office, or just walk around St Peter Port and along the coastal path as we did.
Also read my aricle on – 10 delicious foods to try on Guernsey – with video
1. A wander around St Peter Port and the Candie Gardens
One thing we hadn’t appreciated was that on Sundays most of the shops in St Peter Port are closed, so the atmosphere was very quiet. After having a look around the Tourist Office on the harbor front, we decided to walk up the hill to the Candie Gardens, dominated by the statue of Victor Hugo looking out towards France. We had a coffee in the small café in the Candie Gardens and then took a look around the Guernsey Museum, with an exhibition all about the Beatles and life in the 1960s, as well as artworks and archaeological objects telling the history of Guernsey through the ages. The Candie Gardens had some colourful floral displays and in summer this would also be a lovely place to come and sit with a picnic and a great view over the bay.
If you need a place to stay: Duke of Richmond Hotel – well located in St Peter Port with elegant contemporary decor, a terrace and outdoor pool
2. Hauteville House – the Victor Hugo House
Had it not been closed on Sundays, we would have loved to have a look around Hauteville House, the home of the celebrated French poet and writer, Victor Hugo. If you love art and culture this is one thing I would not miss on Guernsey, and although I had seen it on my previous visit, I wanted to show Guy, who had not. If you are not booked to see the Victor Hugo House as part of an excursion, you need to be aware that you will be shown around the house with a guide by timed entry, which can be booked by ringing or e-mailing the museum in advance or by simply arriving and then booking yourself on the next available tour.
Victor Hugo arrived on Guernsey in 1855, as an exile from France because of his political views. He purchased this former corsair’s house set on the hill with views over the harbour and set about transforming it into a richly decorated showcase for his ideas and exotic tastes in antiques and gorgeous textiles. The tour will take you from room to room, with explanations of how Hugo found the old oak chests, Aubusson tapestries and Chinese silks that he collected like a magpie. On the first floor are the magnificent rooms that the family used for entertaining, while on the top floor is a glass conservatory, where the author worked in private, with views across to Castle Cornet. Once the tour is complete, you can wander around the lovely, country style walled garden with roses, fountains and herbaceous borders. Read my article about Victor Hugo – decorateur extrordinaire at Hauteville House on Guernsey
For more information – Guernsey’s Victor Hugo Website. Cost £7, open April-September
If you need a place to stay: Old Government House: a classic and elegant 5 star hotel that was once the Governor’s residence.
3. Castle Cornet
Another major attraction in St Peter Port is Castle Cornet, the military fortress at one end of the harbour, that now houses five different museums under one entry ticket. The earliest parts of the castle date back to the 13th century and it came under siege in the 17th century during the English Civil war with a large garrison being maintained throughout the 18th century. We didn’t have time to pay a visit on this trip but had previously seen the “Story of Castle Cornet” Museum, with different roomsets showing how the soldiers lived in the barracks and the history of the castle. Other parts of the castle house the RAF Museum, the Maritime Museum and gallery, Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Museum and Royal Guernsey Militia Museum. There is also a cafe and a walled garden that’s planted in 18th century style. It’s worth being at Castle Cornet at mid-day to see and hear the firing of the noon-day gun which is very loud!
For More Information: Castle Cornet Museum Website Cost £9.75 Open March-October
If you need a place to stay: St Pierre Park Hotel and Golf course: set in beautiful gardens with indoor pool and gym.
4. La Valette Military Museum
On our last visit to Guernsey, we had visited the German Occupation Museum which is found in the parish of Les Houards, close to the airport and houses a collection of artefacts from the German Occupation during World War Two. This time we stopped at the La Valette Underground Military Museum which you can easily reach on foot if you walk along the seafront to the furthest end. The La Valette museum is housed in underground tunnels built by the German Army using forced labour during the Second World War and contains memorabilia such as uniforms, equipment, medals and posters as well as giving an opportunity to see the tunnels.
Both museums have an old-fashioned and slightly home-made feel compared to the multi-media hands-on experiences that many larger museums in Europe have become. The memorabilia from the period of the occupation is in glass cases although there are some models dressed in uniform from the era. Of the two museums I prefered the German Occupation Museum as it did a better job of telling the story of the occupation for real people on Guernsey through videos and audio recording. If you’d like to visit you can get there on the No 93 or 11 bus from St Peter Port bus station. The German Occupation also had a nice little tea-room downstairs although there was an outdoor refreshment kiosk overlooking the bay just opposite the entrance of La Valette Underground Military Museum.
For More Information: German Occupation Museum Cost £5 Open April-October, La Valette Underground Military Museum Cost £5 Open March-November. Read my article about Guernsey, the German Occupation and Potato Peel Pie
5. A walk to Fermain Bay
If you’d like to stretch your legs and see something of Guernsey’s rugged coastal scenery, you can take a walk to Fermain Bay along the cliff path from St Peter Port. We had visited Fermain Bay on our previous visit, so we knew there was a delightful cafe set above the beach, where we might try some Guernsey Gâche, the local fruit bread. After passing the fortress of Castle Cornet and some outdoor bathing pools, the path took us past the Clarence Battery, an 18th century military garrison where some canons were on display among the fortifications. We continued through woodland, with glimpses of the sea, until an hour later we arrived at Fermain Bay where we stopped for refreshments at the Fermain Bay Café, next to a defensive Martello tower.
On our previous visit to Guernsey we had also visited the gardens and sculpture trail at nearby Sausmarez manor and walked further along the cliff path to the German WW2 fortifications at Jerbourg Point. If we had more time, these would have been additional things to do during our shore excursion, with perhaps a bus ride back to St Peter Port in time for our 4pm cruise departure. In summer, Fermain Bay is a lovely place to swim, so it would be worth bringing your bathers and a towel from the ship.
Also read my aricle on – 10 delicious foods to try on Guernsey – with video
For More information: You can take the bus to Fermain Bay from the St Peter Port bus station on Routes 11 and 91/93 which runs every 30 mins, and takes 10 mins.
If you need a place to stay: Fermain Valley Hotel: With elegant rooms, an indoor swimming pool and view of the sea, the hotel is just a 5 minute walk from the beach.
6. Sausmarez Manor
On our previous visit to Guernsey, we stopped at Sausmarez Manor, a beautiful Queen Anne manor house surrounded by gardens and a woodland sculpture trail around a lake. The house was not open when we visited, although there are guided tours on certain days, and if you wish to book one of the cruise excursions I would certainly look for one that includes a tour of the house and gardens. At the front of the manor is a formal lawned garden, with a smaller garden with herbaceous borders to one side.
These gardens around the house are free and for an extra charge I enjoyed the sculpture trail which is like an outdoor art gallery, with sculptures in a woodland setting beside the lake. There is also a charming small tea room in a conservatory beside the house. Although we didn’t visit Sausmarez Manor on this occasion, it would be easy to visit independently by bus from St Peter Port, or in a combined visit walking or cycling to Fermain Bay.
For more information: Sausmarez Manor , admissions to gardens and sculpture park £6 Guided House Tours £7. You can take the bus to Sausmarez Manor from the St Peter Port bus station on Routes 11 and 91/93 which runs every 30 mins and takes 15 mins
7. The Little Chapel
One stop on almost every cruise excursion is the Little Chapel, a tiny chapel just a few paces long covered with broken crockery, shells and mosaic. The chapel was built by a local religious brother modelled on the grotto at Lourdes and the first couple of versions didn’t make the grade so this one was built in the 1940s. This labour of love was decorated over some years but it’s quite small and so you’ll probably only be there half an hour. If you want to visit the Little Chapel independently you can take the bus which runs hourly from St Peter Port.
For more information: The Little Chapel, the bus from St Peter Port Bus station to The Little Chapel on Route 71 runs every hour and takes 15-20 mins. The Little Chapel is free but relies on donations.
8. Visiting Sark and Herm
The smaller islands of Sark and Herm can be reached by ferry from Guernsey and visited as a day trip, although you’d need to plan your timings carefully to be sure to get back in time for the cruise departure. As the Sark crossing is longer, and can be cancelled in case of rough seas, this is one that I would probably do as an organised cruise excursion to take any pressure off you in case things go wrong. The island of Herm is smaller and the crossing only takes 20 minutes so this is more feasible to visit independently, when you can enjoy the unspoilt beaches and walking paths as there are no cars on the islands.
On our previous visit to Guernsey, we visited Sark and would highly recommend it, especially if you have already visited St Peter Port before and want to experience a place where time seems to have stood still since the 1950s. As no cars are allowed on Sark, the main ways to get around are on foot, by bike or by horse-drawn carriage and on arrival you will have the opportunity sit in a cart with bench seats known as the toast rack and be dragged up the hill by tractor.
At the top of the hill is the main village with a few shops, bank, pub and places where you can hire bikes or a horse-drawn carriage to take you around the island. We hired bikes at Avenue Cycle Hire and headed in the direction of Little Sark which is joined to the main island by a narrow, fenced causeway with a sheer drop on either side, known as La Coupee. We took a detour to the beautiful beach at Dixart Bay which is reached down a narrow, wooded lane, before continuing to have lunch at La Sablonnerie Hotel hotel on Little Sark where we dined on fresh lobster with a butter sauce at a table set in the rose garden.
Also read my aricle on – 10 delicious foods to try on Guernsey – with video
After lunch we cycled back to the other end of the island to visit La Seigneurie Gardens, the residence of the Seigneur or Lord of the island. The house is not open but the gardens are open on most days through the summer and there’s also a nice cafe for lunch with a cost of about £3.50 to look around the gardens. A stroll in the sunshine around the walled garden with lovely herbaceous borders, fountains and a maze to get lost in was most enjoyable.
For more information: Isle of Sark website: the ferry crossing is run by the Isle of Sark Shipping Company, costs £27.80 return (at time of writing), running 4 times daily in peak season and the journey is 55 minutes. Herm website: the ferry crossing is run by Trident Ferry Company which has a kiosk on the harbour front close to where the tender drops you and the ferry runs several times daily and the journey takes 20 minutes. Please consult the ferry timetable when booking and be sure to book your return crossing in good time, as if you are late, the ship won’t wait!
If you need a place to stay: Stocks Hotel: A luxury 16th century hotel with an outdoor pool that’s a short walk from the beach.
There are plenty of things to enjoy in your cruise stop on Guernsey and my tip is to have an early breakfast and disembark your cruise ship as early as possible, so you have time to enjoy it all. If you decide to take one of the cruise excursions, you will be able to visit a number of the places I’ve mentioned in this article and have the convenience of easy transport and a guide. However, don’t be afraid to take the reliable bus service to explore on your own or just visit the many interesting things in and around St Peter Port on foot.
Read more about Guernsey
My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
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