Guernsey: Discover underground bunkers and World War 2 history on this beautiful Channel Island

I visited Guernsey in the English Channel to learn about the island’s occupation during World War 2 and discover its beautiful nature.

If you’re seeking an island adventure but not keen on long haul flights, then look no further than Guernsey.

The second-largest island in the Channel Islands and just off the French coast, Guernsey is rich in culture and heritage boasting beautiful nature and delicious cuisine. Guernsey, along with Jersey, Alderney and Sark, was occupied by the Nazis during World War Two. It was the only British territory to be occupied during this period with the Germans remaining there from 1940 to 1945. 

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The island is steeped in history from this period and has hundreds of bunkers and several unique museums. Last month (May 9) Guernsey celebrated 79 years since being liberated from the Nazis with the island gearing up for a large 80 year anniversary celebration next year.

Here’s our guide on what to do, see and eat on this beautiful island, just over an hour’s flight from London.

German Observation Tower on south coast cliffs, GuernseyGerman Observation Tower on south coast cliffs, Guernsey
German Observation Tower on south coast cliffs, Guernsey | Pictures Chris George - Coast Media

World War 2 history sites

For history lovers there is an abundance of bespoke museums, fortifications and World War 2 sites to visit on the island.

During our visit we were lucky enough to experience a personalised tour with local guide Amanda Johns, who specialises in local history. Ms Johns is part of a historical group called ‘Festung’, which maintains and restores the bunkers and other war history sites on the island.

Here are some of the spots she brought us to.

German Occupation Museum

The German Occupation Museum provides a unique insight into life in Guernsey during the occupation from 1940 to 1945.

The museum, which first opened in 1966 is owned and operated by a local war history enthusiast Richard Heaume. 

Mr Heaume has been collecting war artefacts since he was a schoolboy and over the last 60 years he has gathered a remarkable collection of items from gas masks to large anti-tank guns to naval mines.

The museum uses audio-visual technology, as well as a vast range of display and dioramas to convey the stories and experiences of Islanders during the five years of occupation.

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One of the tunnels in the German Underground HospitalOne of the tunnels in the German Underground Hospital
One of the tunnels in the German Underground Hospital | Lynn Rusk

German Underground Hospital

The German Underground Hospital and Ammunition Store features a maze of tunnels covering an area of around 6,950 metres. It is the largest structural reminder of the German Occupation existing in the Channel Islands.

The tunnels were hewn out of solid rock by Eastern European slave labourers, with many workers dying during their construction.

During our tour we were shown the old hospital wards, the escape shafts and the old operating theatre and listened to a number of tales from this period.

Batterie Mirus

Batteries Mirus is the largest gun emplacement site on the island. Spread over an area of approximately 1 km x 0.75km, most of the structures remain – including all four of the gun emplacements and the adjoining accommodation.

Having recently undergone restoration by Festung, we were able to explore the hidden tunnels and rooms on the site. This is an unmissable experience for World War 2 enthusiasts.

Our visit to Batterie Mirus, Guernsey's largest gun emplacement siteOur visit to Batterie Mirus, Guernsey's largest gun emplacement site
Our visit to Batterie Mirus, Guernsey's largest gun emplacement site | Lynn Rusk

Other notable sites

Little Chapel

One of the prettiest sites to see on the island is the Little Chapel. This gorgeous work of art and labour of love was built by Brother Déodat, who started work in March 1914.

His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France. The version visitors can see today is its third version. Decorated in shells, broken China and pebbles, the site is easily one of the most Instagrammable spots on the island.

The Little Chapel is decorated with pebbles, shells and broken ChinaThe Little Chapel is decorated with pebbles, shells and broken China
The Little Chapel is decorated with pebbles, shells and broken China | Lynn Rusk

Hauteville House

Hauteville House is the former residence of writer Victor Hugo. The Les Misérables author lived in Guernsey for the last 15 years of a long 19-year exile. The house built on the heights of Saint Peter Port was entirely furnished and decorated by the poet.

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Experiences

Rib Boat tour

No trip to Guernsey is complete without taking a rib boat tour. Island Rib Voyages offer a range of experience from puffin spotting to cave exploration.

Keeping with the historical theme of our trip we went on the Towers and Bunkers voyage where we explored the island’s formidable sea-facing defences.

Our guide showed us views of Brehon Tower and Fort George and shared stories of the first commando landing and the tragic bombing of Saint Peter Port harbour.

Enjoying the Island Rib Voyages tourEnjoying the Island Rib Voyages tour
Enjoying the Island Rib Voyages tour | Lynn Rusk

Where to eat and drink in Guernsey

For food and drink Guernsey is a haven for fresh seafood.

We visited La Nautique in Saint Peter Port for harbour facing views and the most delicious shellfish. Occupying vaults used in the 18th Century by shipowners and merchants, it was converted into a restaurant in the mid-1960s and is Guernsey’s oldest established restaurant.

The kitchen is headed up by Günter Botzenhardt, who is renowned for producing classical cuisine with a modern twist.

I couldn’t resist ordering the shellfish platter which consisted of a delectable feast of half a lobster, king prawns, oysters, smoked salmon and crabmeat. Accompanied by a glass of crisp white wine this was the perfect way to start my culinary adventure in Guernsey.

Seafood platter at La NautiqueSeafood platter at La Nautique
Seafood platter at La Nautique | Lynn Rusk

For fine dining a visit to the restaurant at La Fregate hotel is a must. The dining room also boasts one of the finest views in Guernsey.

Here locally renowned Head Chef, Tony Leck has created a selection of menus using seasonal and local produce. I opted for the fisherman’s plate which comprised of Guernsey sea bass and brill fillet with monkfish tail pan fried in Guernsey butter and seared local scallops. The dishes at Le Fregate are light and delicious and the fish was cooked to perfection.

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Other spots we would recommend dining at on the island include Balthazar, a Guernsey steak and seafood restaurant, which offers an excellent al fresco dining experience. The monkfish and chips there are a must!!

JB Parkers is another relaxing spot in Saint Peter Port, which has an atmospheric dining experience and also has a wine cellar underneath.

Copenhagen, which is located on the ground floor of a former Coach House, has a fantastic menu and has beautiful views of St. Peter Port, Castle Cornet, and Havelet Bay.

If you’re looking for a pleasant spot outside of Saint Peter Port, Le Fleur de Jardin is a gorgeous little venue which offers views of the Guernsey countryside. The hotel, restaurant, and bar serves light bites and pub food and is a stone’s throw away from Vazon Bay.

Where to stay

We stayed at The Old Government House Hotel for the first night of our stay and La Fregate Hotel for the remainder.

The Old Government House Hotel is Guernsey’s only five-star luxury hotel. The hotel boasts a beautiful swimming pool, a restaurant garden, a spa and stunning views of Saint Peter Port.

It is the island’s most historic hotel and during World War 2 the property was occupied by the German Occupying Forces and became their General Staff Headquarter. Guests can request a hotel tour with manager Andrew Chantrel.

La Fregate Hotel combines the character and charm of an 18th century house with the amenities of a modern business and leisure hotel. Each bedroom has a seafront view and the restaurant is one of the best fine dining spots on the island.

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Getting to Guernsey

Aurigny operates year-round direct flights to Guernsey from London, East Midlands, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Dublin.

New flight routes to Guernsey from London Stansted, London City and Liverpool launched in March and April 2024, with new routes from Edinburgh and Cornwall Newquay to launch in May and July respectively.

Condor Ferries also operate from Poole and Portsmouth to Guernsey year-round. 

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