Saint Peter Port is one of the most beautiful harbor towns in all of Europe. The capital of Guernsey has been a busy port since the age of the Romans, and today it is beloved for its picturesque seafront marina and cobbled streets.
For nearly eight centuries, Castle Cornet has stood guard over the harbor and town. Five museums within the ancient royal fortress tell the story of Guernsey’s past. Each museum shares a different aspect of the story, and visitors get the whole picture by visiting the Royal Guernsey Militia Museum, the Story of Castle Cornet Museum, the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Museum, the 201 Squadron Museum and the Maritime Museum.
The castle’s grounds are blanketed with four “period” gardens. Guided tours walk visitors through the well-researched gardens, and soldiers decked out in 19th-century costume fire the Noon Day Gun daily. On select days, the museums’ “History in Action” team recreates legends and stories from the island’s past. Many musical events and theater productions are also held at the site with the castle providing a spectacular backdrop.
The centerpiece of the city is the church of St. James, built in 1818 as a place of worship for the island’s British garrison. Today, the church is an important part of life in the city. St. James’ Whittaker Hall hosts a variety of events, including fashion shows, concerts, lectures, dinners and demonstrations, and the on-site Guernsey Tapestry Gallery is home to the Guernsey Millennium Tapestry. Made of ten embroidered canvas panels, the tapestry illustrates over 1,000 years of local history in dazzling detail.
The island’s most famous inhabitant is likely Victor Hugo. The celebrated French writer spent 14 years in exile there, and his house remains well-preserved in its original state. Between 1856 and 1870, Hugo himself furnished and decorated the four-story home, and visitors are welcome to explore the space and the adjoining gardens by guided tour.
The best views over the harbor are at Candie Gardens. The restored, award winning gardens are a rare example of the style that characterized late 19th-century public gardens, and the grounds are home to the British Isles’ oldest heated glass house.
Much of life in Guernsey revolves around the sea, and visitors can see local fish and more up close at the Guernsey Aquarium. Forty-seven displays are filled with European freshwater fish, anemones, tropical marine species and inverts of many kinds. There are also interesting displays of toads, terrapins, frogs and basilisks, the island’s native lizards.
The city boasts a thriving independent retailer scene, giving travelers a unique shopping experience. Charming High Street is lined with small boutiques and family-run gift shops, and there is a good variety of both affordable and luxury jewelry shops. In the Old Quarter, shoppers experience an eclectic mix of craft shops selling lovingly handmade mementos and antique shops.
Cornet Street’s Victorian Shop and Parlor is part gift shop and part museum. Housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings, the shop and parlor brings a bygone age to life. Exploring the crowded aisles is like stepping back to a time where sweets fill glass jars, working gaslights illuminate shelves piled high with antiques and old-fashioned sodas provide cool refreshment.