At just over 15km long and 8km wide, Jersey might be small but it is still the largest of all the Channel Islands. Being so compact, though I’d originally planned to spend my day trip here exploring the island’s capital St. Helier, I found I had time to tour practically the island’s entire coastline too. I could have happily written about Noirmont, Grosnez and La Corbière for this chapter, but decided just to focus on Gorey since it’s close enough to St. Helier for day trippers to visit both in one day. This was my first day trip outside the UK for over 2 years thanks to COVID – so needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get to Jersey!
At a glance:
Bailiwick of Jersey / Bailliage de Jersey / Bailliage dé Jèrri
Capital: St. Helier (Saint-Hélier in French, Saint Hélyi in Jèrriais)
Currency: Jersey Pound (GBP/JEP*) (*unofficial)
Area: 119.49 km2
National Day: May 9th
National Anthem: Island Home
Highest Point: Les Platons – 136 metres (446 ft) (some sources say 143 metres (469 ft))
Famous for: financial services, cows, Bergerac
Famous Channel Islanders from Jersey:
- Henry Cavill (actor)
- Stephanie Parker (travel blogger)
- Michael Le Bourgeois (rugby player)
- Emilie ‘Lily’ Langtry (socialite and actress, known as ‘The Jersey Lily’)
- In 1644, the Duke of York rewarded two friends who had supported the Crown during the English Civil War with a piece of land in America. One of the friends, Sir George Carteret, was from Jersey and as the island remained loyal during the war the territories were renamed the Province of New Jersey.
- Despite being a small island, Jersey has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world. At low tide, sea levels can drop by up to a colossal 12 meters, exposing causeways to smaller islets and vast swathes of beach – effectively doubling the size of the island!
- Legends say that the reason Jersey is the only Channel Island with toads is because Guernsey’s patron saint, St Sampson, found the people of Jersey so unfriendly he decided to banish all the toads here from the other islands! As a result, people from Jersey are sometimes affectionately nicknamed ‘crapauds’ or ‘toads’.
- Many old houses in Jersey have a Witches’ Stone, a small flat ledge sticking out of the side of the chimney. While practically these were to protect the joins in thatch roofs, superstition claimed that witches used them as places to rest while flying – building one onto your home was thought to protect you from witches and their magic!
- As its broadcasters are subsidiaries of regional UK-based broadcasters, Jersey does not enter the Eurovision Song Contest. Sandie Shaw performed at West Park Pavilion in St. Helier in 1968, one year after she gave the UK their first-ever Eurovision win with ‘Puppet On A String’. Currently, there have been no singers from Jersey representing any country at Eurovision.
English, French and Jèrriais all hold some form of official status in Jersey, though the island is predominantly English-speaking. Sometimes referred to as Norman or Jersey French, Jèrriais is a Romance language with Norse influences that was the island’s main language for over a millennium before English started to become more prevalent during the 19th century. Enjoying a brief resurgence during WWII as a way to communicate without being understood by the occupying Nazis, nowadays only around 18% of islanders claim to have some understanding of the language. Efforts are currently being made to preserve Jèrriais, including publishing weekly newspaper articles and teaching it in schools – do your part too and try out these phrases in Jèrriais!
|Goodbye||À bétôt||ah beh-toe|
|Please||S’i’ vos pliaît||see vo pli-ay|
|How much does this cost?||Combein qu’ch’est?||kom-bein k-shey|
|Do you speak English?||Pâl’-ou l’Angliais?||pah-loo lan-gli-ay|
|I don’t understand||Jé n’comprends pon||zhe n-com-prond po|
|The planes are held up by the fog||Les avions sont r’tèrgis par la bliâse||ley av-yon son rr-tehr-jee par la bi-ahs|
The largest airport in the Channel Islands, Jersey Airport is just over 7km northwest of St. Helier. Given its size, most everywhere in Jersey is reachable within 70 minutes by public transport and a bus from the airport to St. Helier takes around 35 minutes. There are also ferry connections to St. Helier from Poole and Portsmouth in England and St. Malo in France.
What to do:
An attractive open space next to what was once the railway station, Liberation Square opened in 1995 to mark 50 years since the end of the Nazi occupation. At its centre, the Liberation Sculpture was unveiled at the same time, though the original monument featuring doves received fierce criticism and was hastily changed to the group of life-sized islanders waving a large flag seen today. Take a seat on a bench and admire the fountains around the statue, enjoy the sea air or look up towards the hilltop Fort Regent. Finished in 1814, it was once the largest barracks on Jersey, before being transformed into a leisure centre during the 1970s. A short stroll from the square, just past the stone arch of the First World War memorial, the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery offers an in-depth look at all things connected to the island, including its native flora and fauna, history and culture. The museum also features an atmospheric gas-lit Victorian Mansion filled with fine period furniture and personal possessions. The house tells the story of the Ginestet family, who fled to France in 1869 to escape their debts.
Just around the corner from the museum, Royal Square is lined with trees and cafés and is considered the spiritual heart of St. Helier. Presided over by the golden statue of King George II, a surprising amount of Jersey’s history has played out here – including some of its most dramatic and violent episodes. The grand Victorian building with the lilac façade overlooking the square was originally built in 1866 for Jersey’s Royal Court – but almost as soon as it was finished, it was decided the island’s parliament needed its own home too, so the structure was extended and became the States Building in 1887. A little further on through the narrow streets of central St. Helier, the sandy coloured house at 16 New Street dates from the 1730s, but sat derelict for decades. Painstakingly restored, it opened in 2011 as the Georgian House Museum, where costumed staff explain what life was like in Jersey during the Regency period. Back outside, there are several animal statues scattered through the streets of St. Helier, including La Vaque dé Jèrri, a herd of life-sized cows gathered around a water trough and Lé Crapaud, a large toad perched atop a 3-metre-tall column who has kept an eye on goings on at Charing Cross since 2004.
Heading across town, you’ll come to Les Jardins de la Mer, a waterside park looking out across St. Aubin’s Bay. Enjoy the park’s lawns and views across the sandy beach on the English Channel, or take a wander down to the bronze Freedom Tree. Unveiled on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Jersey, each of the 12 acorns on the tree represents one of island’s parishes. Just beyond the tree, sitting on a rocky island out in the bay, you’ll spot the battlements of Elizabeth Castle. Known locally as Lé Châté Lîzabé, construction on the fortress began in the 16th century to help protect the island from increasingly modern warfare. Although it’s possible to walk over to explore the castle at low tide, bear in mind that the small island is said to be surrounded by water 7 hours out of any 12 – this was initially seen as a strategic advantage, until the garrison stationed here became stranded and could only watch helplessly when the French invaded in 1781!
About a 15-minute drive away from St. Helier, nowadays Gorey is sleepy village on Jersey’s east coast. But given that France is just 22km across the sea, there have been fortifications along here since the Iron Age. Indeed, the imposing Gorey Castle is revered as a symbol of Jersey’s tenacious and independent spirit after having repelled numerous French invasions since the 13th century. Also known as Mont Orgueil, the hilltop fortress is regarded as one of the world’s finest examples of medieval architecture and opened as a museum in 1929. During the Second World War, the castle was again used for military purposes by the Nazis and wasn’t restored and reopened to the public until 2006. Down by the harbour, you can relax on the sea front or take a look around the souvenir shops and restaurants housed in the pastel coloured houses. During the summer months, you can also take the weekly ferry over to Carteret in Normandy
A delightful, seaside town, St. Helier makes a fantastic introduction to Jersey, while Gorey offers the postcard perfect image of the old-world charm that the island is famous for. As many of Jersey’s attractions are seasonal, you may wish to check your dates before you travel but whenever you visit this beautiful island, one thing is clear – a visit to Jersey will certainly leave you wanting more! What a fantastic first day trip after years of waiting to travel again!
A huge thank you to Kenny for driving me around Jersey and being an incredible and knowledgeable guide – you really went above and beyond, so thank you so much!
Also, a big thank you to Colin Ireson, Clare Cornick and Geraint Jennings at the Société Jersiaise for answering all my questions about Jèrriais and for all their enthusiasm and hard work in keeping the island’s native language alive. Check out their resources to Learn Jèrriais and their YouTube Channel for more!
For a more in-depth guide to planning day trips, as well as sightseeing tips and trivia for 30 European countries, Europe in a Day – Day Trips to the Continent is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle and also smartphones, tablets and computers with the free Kindle Reading App.
Want to discover more of Europe? Check out more day trips below!