Channel Islands Holiday Planning Guide
Inhabited for over 5,000 years, the Channel Islands have a colorful history and still contain many notable military structures from both the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Home to a free-spirited population, the islands have a separate currency and local government, enjoying a semi-independent status within the UK. With a strong sense of uniqueness and a rare French-English cultural blend, the islanders enjoy a slower pace of life than on the mainland, taking pride in their renowned seafood cuisine, scenic coastal walks, and vaguely tropical feel. Seemingly frozen in time for many decades, the islands are now quickly modernizing, offering Channel Islands tours, and adding fashionable coffee shops and trendy spas to the rustic cafes and simple beachside food stalls.
Places to Visit on the Channel Islands
Regions of the Channel IslandsJersey
: The largest of the islands, Jersey is known for its rugged shoreline with sandy beaches as well as numerous outdoor activities, museums, and historical sights, making it a prime Channel Islands sightseeing destination.Guernsey
: As the second-largest island, Guernsey draws visitors to its capital, Saint Peter Port, for a little urban diversion from the area's sea cliffs and beaches.Alderney
: Alderney, the northernmost island, is the only one actually located in the English Channel; it hosts a large group of yachtsmen in the summer despite rough surrounding waters.Sark
: Gorgeous moors on this small island are surrounded by natural pools, rugged coastline, and sandy beaches, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities.
Cities on the Channel Islands
Saint Helier: Jersey's capital is a hot spot for shopping and dining, with numerous pubs, restaurants, bars, and hotels set among picturesque cobblestone streets and old buildings. Also look for museums and art galleries, where you can learn about the local history and talent of the island.
Saint Peter Port: Set on Guernsey island, Saint Peter Port serves as the main port of the islands, boasting a rich history that stretches back to Roman times. Ranking among the top places to visit on the Channel Islands, it is also considered one of the most beautiful ports in Europe, with colorful old houses and cobblestone streets for tourists to explore.
Things to Do on the Channel Islands
Popular Channel Islands Tourist AttractionsJersey War Tunnels - German Underground Hospital
: Built by the Nazis in the 1940s, this network of tunnels was once used as fortification and an emergency hospital. Today it serves as a permanent exhibit displaying the life of Jersey citizens during German occupation.Durrell Wildlife Park
: During your Channel Islands trip, identify over 130 animal species at this conservation center, whose rare residents include gorillas, lemurs, and orangutans. Visitors even have the opportunity to assist zookeepers for a day.Elizabeth Castle
: Set upon a rocky islet surrounded by seawater at high tide, this castle allows visitors to climb to the top of battlements and learn about the structure's military history.Corbiere Lighthouse (La Corbiere)
: Climb to the top of this lighthouse for amazing panoramic views over the Jersey coast. This was the first lighthouse in the British Isles to be built from concrete.Mont Orgueil Castle
: Explore the structure that defended Jersey against the French for 600 years, where artwork and a witchcraft exhibit provide insight into the area's past.St. Brelade's Bay Beach
: As one of the most popular Channel Islands tourist attractions, this beach buzzes with water sports, sun bathers, and people looking for a quick bite at the kiosks and cafes along the shore.Jersey Museum
: Discover Jersey history dating back 250,000 years at this museum, whose exhibits include artifacts from the Ice Age, a gold torque from the Bronze Age, and the artwork of Claude Cahun.German Occupation Museum
: Witness personal stories from Channel Islands natives once held under Nazi German control at this museum, which also displays newspaper clippings, old artillery, and photos.Jersey Lavender Farm
: Learn about lavender's harvesting process and the flower's many uses--and stock up on some of your favorite lavender products--at this farm in a quiet woodland setting.The Little Chapel
: On your Channel Islands holiday, visit one of the smallest chapels in the world, a miniature version of Lourdes' famous Rosary Basilica in France made in 1914 with seashells, pebbles, and broken china.
Planning a Channel Islands Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on the Channel Islands with Kids
You have lots of choices when planning a kid-friendly Channel Islands itinerary, with a long list of attractions for both mature and young travelers. You will likely end up on Jersey
, the largest island, with the most development and beautiful natural settings. Saint Helier, the island's capital, provides lots to see and explore along its cobblestone streets. Restaurants vary from regional to international cuisine, so even the pickiest eaters are satisfied. Get a little off the beaten path and visit Guernsey
, the second-largest island, with its rugged sea cliffs and capital city Saint Peter Port, considered one of the most beautiful ports in Europe.
Things to Do on the Channel Islands with Kids
When planning things to do on the Channel Islands, ask your kids what they would like to see. Are they interested in climbing the battlements of Elizabeth Castle
and learning about military history, or would they rather explore the more morbid Mont Orgueil Castle
, which was once used as a prison? Learn as a family about the country's history during German occupation at Jersey War Tunnels - German Underground Hospital
, where kids will find the subterranean tunnels fascinating and exciting. Animal lovers will enjoy Durrell Wildlife Park
with its 130-plus species, among them many rare and endangered creatures. Sign up to spend 30 minutes with an animal of your choice, or reserve a spot as "keeper for a day" to assist a zookeeper for an entire working day. These special experiences must be booked in advance, but if the kids want to linger, campgrounds are on site, too.
Be sure to include some outdoorsy activities on your family's Channel Islands itinerary. When you're ready to get into nature, explore any of the walking trails around the islands or rent bikes and hit the road. Don't miss St. Brelade's Bay Beach
, an exciting seaside spot popular for water sports like kayaking and banana boat rides. The soft sand and clear water will make you feel like you've entered a tropical zone.
Tips for a Family Vacation on the Channel Islands
When island-hopping around Channel Islands, look for ferry services that allow children to travel for free and save a lot on transportation fees. Many other popular tourist spots also allow free or discounted entrance tickets, so ask before paying.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on the Channel Islands
Cuisine of the Channel Islands
A vacation to Channel Islands is not complete without a taste of the native seafood dishes. Many of the islands' best restaurants and pubs overlook the ocean, and fresh catches are always available. For a real treat, head to Sark
for La Sabonnerie's lobster dishes paired with fine wine. If seafood is not to your taste, plenty of other options for international foods like French and Asian cuisine are also available.
Shopping on the Channel Islands
Visitors looking to do a little shopping during their Channel Islands holiday will end up in Saint Helier, where brand names are exempt from the 20-percent UK sales tax. If you're looking for something a little more unique, head to any of the smaller towns around the islands, where shops sell hand-crafted bags, jewelry, shoes, artwork, ceramics, and much more.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the Channel Islands
History of the Channel Islands
In 933 the islands were first annexed to the Duchy of Normandy, but eventually passed into the possession of the British crown as part of the United Kingdom. They remained under British control until France occupied the islands during the War of the Roses between 1461 and 1468, but the country was declared a neutral zone in 1483. This decree allowed islanders to trade freely with both English and French merchants until 1689, when the decree was ended. In the mid-17th century the islands again became involved in conflict during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, when they were divided in their loyalty. Jersey supported the Royalists and even provided refuge for Charles, Prince of Wales, while Presbyterian Guernsey championed the parliamentary cause. The following centuries remained largely peaceful, but in 1940 that pattern changed during World War II, when the British government demilitarized the islands and left them to fend for themselves.
Consequently, the islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth to be occupied by the German Army during the war. Evacuation efforts before enemy troops landed helped thousands leave; still, only a fraction of the population escaped: 6,600 of Jersey's 50,000 inhabitants and 17,000 of Guernsey's 42,000. Children were moved to England and Scotland with their schoolmates.
During the German occupation between 1940 and 1945, life was cruel for the remaining islanders. Jewish citizens were sent to concentration camps and some 2,000 others were deported. Four concentration camps were built on Alderney
, where more than 5,000 people died, and many others were forced to work on other islands. Artifacts and personal stories from this terrible period are on display at popular Channel Islands attractions like Jersey War Tunnels - German Underground Hospital
and the German Occupation Museum
The end of the occupation arrived on Victory Day on May 8, 1945, and the islands were liberated the following day. The German garrison in Alderney was one of the last Nazi Germany remnants to surrender, resisting until just over two weeks later. Channel Islands citizens returned the following month to rebuild their country and lifestyles. Today the islands' economy focuses on tourism and agriculture, and they have chosen to remain outside the European Economic Community.
Customs of the Channel Islands
Customs of the Channel Islands do not differ much from the rest of the United Kingdom. Politeness is still treasured, and it is appropriate to say "please" and "thank you." Handshakes are acceptable greetings when meeting people on your Channel Islands trip, but respect people's personal space and avoid hugging unless you're meeting a close friend. Keep in mind that it is extremely rude to cut in line at any venue, even while getting on and off a bus. Wait your turn like everyone else, or you may incur some anger.
Holidays & Festivals on the Channel IslandsJersey
is the most exciting island in terms of holidays and festivals. If your Channel Islands vacation coincides with the second Thursday in August, look for the Battle of Flowers celebrations with an amazing illuminated parade and fireworks finale. Keep in mind this event draws thousands of people to the small island, so book accommodations well ahead of time. Another popular holiday in the area takes place in September on the island's southern coast: the Jersey International Air Display features a variety of modern and vintage military and international aircrafts filling the sky in an impressive air show.
Channel Islands Travel Tips
Climate of the Channel Islands
Tourists flock to the Channel Islands between May and September, when the sun is at its warmest and the beach weather is perfect. Even traveling during the hottest period in July and August is still very comfortable with temperatures rarely exceeding 27 C (80 F). If planning your trip to the Channel Islands during the winter, however, be prepared with warm clothing and maybe even sunglasses, as the area boasts the most annual sunshine in the British Isles.
Transportation on the Channel Islands
If you do not plan on island-hopping, the taxi and bus systems are very convenient for getting around. For more extended Channel Islands sightseeing, the passenger ferry system links up the islands. Alternatively, travel quickly by plane between Guernsey
, and Jersey
--although this is obviously a significantly more expensive option.
Language of the Channel Islands
English is the dominant language on the Channel Islands, so it is extremely easy for tourists to communicate. However, do not be surprised to hear native Norman French dialects on each of the islands: Jèrriais on Jersey, Guernesiais on Guernsey, and Sercquiais on Sark.
Tipping on the Channel Islands
Service charges are included in most bills and customers are not expected to pay an additional tip. However, leave 15 percent if a service charge is not included, and 10 percent when paying metered taxis.