The Channel Islands: Island hopping made easy

    channel islands
    La Coupée connects the islands of Sark and ‘Little’ Sark. Credit: Robert Birkby/AWL Images Ltd

    Channel Islands expert Antonia Windsor takes us on a summer sea adventure around the islands of Guernsey, Sark, Herm, Alderney, and Jersey

    You’re speeding along with Condor Ferries towards the island of Guernsey, having departed Poole Harbour a few hours before. 

    The cliffs of Alderney, the most northerly of the Channel Islands, are just coming into view, when you spot something dark plunging into the water. At first you think it might be a northern gannet, the large seabird that nests in its thousands off Alderney’s coast, but then it jumps out of the water in a perfect arc. This is no gannet. “Dolphin!” you shout, as other passengers flock to the window to spot not just one but a pod of about 20 picture-book perfect bottlenose dolphins leaping in the Channel. It’s an ideal start to a Channel Island tour and one that’s more common than you might think.

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    Jersey cows are famous for their delicious butterfat milk. Credit: Nick Despres

    What are the Channel Islands?

    The Channel Islands are the most southerly of the British Isles, scattered in the sea just off the coast of France’s Cherbourg Peninsula – technically, they are not part of the UK but Crown Dependencies and their French influence is felt in the islands in their road names and the unique languages of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark, which are among the fastest dying languages in the world. 

    Jersey is the largest of the islands and boasts a five-mile sandy beach, a medieval castle, a world-class conservation zoo and a capital jam-packed with independent shops, lively bars and top-notch restaurants. 

    Guernsey, the next largest, offers a sleepier ‘step-back-in-time’ experience with its floral cliff paths and connections to the writer Victor Hugo and artist Renoir.

    Alderney is home to historic fortifications and a unique blonde hedgehog. Car-free Sark delights with its tractor-drawn fire engine, while the smallest island of Herm – also car-free – has beaches to rival the Caribbean. 

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    Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey. Credit: Olimpio Fantuz/4Corners Images

    How do you get to the Channel Islands?

    Take the ferry to Guernsey, from where you can pick up local transport to the islands of Sark, Herm, and Alderney, before boarding the Condor Ferries again to end your tour in Jersey. 


    Majestic St Peter Port, Guernsey’s main town, is home to a large number of smart Victorian and Georgian buildings that rise uphill from the harbour. 

    It’s the most attractive harbour in the Channel Islands, and the only port that allows cruise ships to dock, and it has two luxury hotels to choose from.

    There’s the five-star Old Government House Hotel & Spa, which was home to the governors of the island for 46 years from 1796 before opening as a hotel in 1858, and the four-star St Pierre Park, a resort-style hotel with an Elemis spa, pool, hot tub, golf course and tennis courts. 

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    The Little Chapel in Guernsey was built by a French monk, Brother Déodat, in 1914. Credit: Rod Edwards / Visit Guernsey / Britain On View 2010

    Among the must-see sites in Guernsey are the Little Chapel, a tiny replica of the basilica in Lourdes in which every wall is adorned with mosaic; the German Underground Hospital, a network of German tunnels used as a hospital for injured soldiers; and Victor Hugo’s house when he lived in exile on the island for 15 years. 

    If you only visit one beach, aim for Moulin Huet, where Impressionist painter Renoir created several of the 15 paintings he produced on a visit to the island in 1883. Stop at the Renoir Tea Garden for a Guernsey ‘bean jar’ or crab baguette. 

    You can visit the islands of Sark, Herm and Alderney as day trips from Guernsey, so for dining spots on the island try the Puffin & Oyster pub, which has views across Grand Havre Bay, or the restaurant at Les Douvres, an 18th-century manor house with a large, sheltered garden.


    From the Sark Shipping Company booth on Albert Pier in St Peter Port you can pick up a ticket for the 45-minute crossing to Sark, which at 3.5-miles long and 1.5-miles wide is one of the smallest autonomous territories in the world. 

    Take the tractor trailer uphill from the harbour, which costs £1.50 for adults and 50p for children – don’t be surprised to get pound notes in your change as they’re legal tender throughout the Channel Islands. 

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    La Seigneurie House and Gardens, Sark. Credit: Angus McComiskey / Alamy

    From the main ‘Avenue’, which is little more than a dirt road lined with a few independent stores, you can hire bicycles or book a horse and cart to explore the island. If you struggle to walk, you can book a mobility scooter in advance by sending your details to the local doctor, otherwise there are no motorised vehicles on the island besides tractors. 

    Walk or cycle to La Coupée, a dramatic isthmus that connects Sark to ‘Little’ Sark (it’s worth stopping into Caragh Chocolates for some souvenirs) and then head back to explore La Seigneurie Gardens, the most beautiful gardens in the Channel Islands.

    Hathaways, at the entrance to the garden, is a good place to stop if you want to lunch on local lobster. 

    If you choose to stay the night, then Stocks is the nicest hotel, with an outdoor swimming pool and an oak-panelled dining room. You can then do some star-spotting from the nearby observatory (a hut in a field) as there is no street lighting to pollute the view of the night sky on Sark, the world’s first dark-sky island. 


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    A signpost for footpaths on Herm, which is a car-free island. Credit: Robert Birkby/AWL Images Ltd

    Also available from Albert Pier in St Peter Port are tickets to car-free Herm, the smallest inhabited Channel Island available to visit, and just a 20-minute boat ride away. 

    The tiny island is home to one hotel, one campsite, a couple of pubs, lots of nesting puffins (from April to July) and basking seals. 

    Wander the sandy paths that crisscross the grassy common at the centre of the 200-hectare island, stop to inspect the world’s smallest prison (just a single cell) and admire the butterflies flitting among the wildflowers. 

    Herm’s capital, Manor Village, is just a few granite buildings, a primary school and a tiny chapel. The island’s biggest draw is its beaches which, on a sunny day, look like they’ve been lifted from the Caribbean. 

    Shell Beach, which gets its name from the millions of tiny shells that have been swept ashore by the Gulf Stream, is the perfect place to idle away a summer’s day. Take a picnic or purchase crab sandwiches and ice creams from the beach kiosk (you can even pick up a cold beer). On a clear day you can see across to the coast of France. 


    Jersey; Nunnery Roman Fort overlooks Longis Bay in Alderney. Credit: Chris George

    The Alderney ferry service departs from St Peter Port (and from Alderney in the other direction) twice a day from March to October with a journey time of an hour. 

    Alderney is perhaps the most heavily fortified island in the world owing to its strategic position in the Channel, just eight miles off the coast of France (at its narrowest point) and 80 miles from southern England. 

    The oldest fortification dates from the 4th century when the Romans built the Nunnery above Longis Bay (now considered to be the best preserved small Roman fort in Western Europe). 

    Later, the Victorians, fearing a French invasion, built 18 forts and batteries and a new harbour to house the British fleet. The impressive Fort Tourgis, which was built to house 346 men, is the second largest of the Victorian forts and is open to explore. 

    Fort Houmet Herbé is one of the 18 Victorian forts on Alderney, built to protect the island from French invasion. Credit: Martin Batt

    Alderney was evacuated during the Second World War, when Guernsey and Jersey were occupied by German forces, and in 1942 Hitler ordered the conversion of the island into an impregnable fortress as part of his Atlantic Wall. Thousands of slave workers arrived to build bunkers, anti-tank walls and tunnel complexes. These German wartime defences are visible at every turn and characterise the island’s landscape. 

    Other things to do on the island include nature walks to discover bats and unique blonde hedgehogs, and boat rides to see nesting northern gannets with the Alderney Wildlife Trust. If you want to spend the night, try boutique hotel The Blonde Hedgehog

    Read more about Alderney here.


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    Magnificent Elizabeth Castle has defended Jersey for more than 400 years. Credit: Matt Porteous

    To get to Jersey you need to get back on Condor Ferries from Guernsey (you can then return to England directly from Jersey), with the journey taking an hour on the hi-speed ferry or two hours on the slow boat (which comes from Portsmouth). 

    The largest of the Channel Islands at nine miles by five miles, Jersey is characterised by steep granite cliffs with sheltered harbour bays to the north and great sweeps of sandy beaches to the west and south. 

    The most dramatic beach is five-mile St Ouen’s Bay on the west coast, where surfers congregate on the breakers, families play on the sands, couples eat alfresco lunches at trendy beach cafés and walkers ramble in the adjacent dunes and wetlands. 

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    Colourful St Aubin’s harbour, Jersey. Credit: Alan Copson / AWL Images

    Don’t miss riding the amphibious vehicle to 16th-century Elizabeth Castle, which occupies a tidal island in St Aubin’s Bay, to watch the midday cannon being fired and walk to the tiny hermitage that housed the reclusive Saint Helier in the 6th century. Also worth a visit is Jersey Zoo, founded by conservationist Gerald Durrell. If you choose to stay in Jersey, opt for five-star Longueville Manor.

    Read more about the Channel Islands in our Channel Islands special issue, Aug/Sept 2024, available to buy here from 5 July.

    Read more from Discover Britain, here:


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