A cultural guide to Jersey
As the largest of the five major channel islands, Jersey has much to offer in the way of culture thanks to its fascinating fusion of French and British influences. Museums, galleries and entertainment are all in abundance to make for a packed weekend retreat.
If you’re flying in, get a Jersey rental car with easyCar and enjoy the freedom to roam as you jump between Jersey’s must-see cultural highlights. We’ll begin with a little historical background before outlining your ideal itinerary.
A bite-sized history of Jersey
Humans are thought to have come to Jersey as far back as 250,000 years ago, when nomadic hunters arrived in search of mammoths – difficult to imagine when looking at today’s quaint countryside and mild mannered mammal population. Traces of early island life are still visible today at sites such as La Houge Bie Museum, home to a finely preserved passage grave and archaeological exhibits painting a picture of local civilisation from around 6,000 BC.
Following initial settlements, Jersey stayed under the international radar for centuries before developing strong ties with France, during Norman rule between the 10th and 13th centuries. This early French influence had a lasting impact on today’s island laws and place names, which can be learned about in more detail at The Jersey Museum & Art Gallery Merchant’s House exhaustive history exhibition.
Jump forward to relatively recent times and English customs began to replace traditional French ones following the British victory during the Napoleonic wars. Settling soldiers and workers brought about this linguistic change as the island prospered as a large centre for shipbuilding.
The next big transition period came during the dark times of the German Occupation between 1940 and 1945. The much-celebrated but hard-hitting Jersey War Tunnels museum is a must for anyone looking to learn about this traumatic time in more detail, whilst bunker and fortification tours are also offered to groups for on-site learning.
Post-war Jersey has established itself as a centre for offshore finance, becoming one of the world’s most successful havens for discreetly storing money with a staggering $5 billion stashed per square mile. Diamond shoppers won’t be disappointed by St Helier’s glimmering shopping options, although luckily for most the island is manageable on a smaller budget too.
Take a gander at some local galleries
Once you’ve had your history fix, you may be in the mood for some vibrant visual art. Locals love the Victoria Art Gallery with its light hearted range of quirky modern pieces, making for a casual yet entertaining visit. A larger-scale option would be the Harbour Gallery situated in St Aubin. Home to the largest collection of local works in the Channel Islands, you’re sure to find something eye-catching whether it’s clever crafts and textiles or oil paintings by reputable international artists.
More accessible exhibitions can also be found at the Jersey Art Centre’s Berni Gallery, whilst any Dalí aficionados can slide into some Channel Island surrealism at the aforementioned Jersey Museum & Art Gallery.
Fall into foodie paradise
Treat yourselves to high class dining by gorging on fresh local produce around the island. Seafood is a natural focus given the maritime setting, with four Michelin-starred restaurants packed into the tiny 45 square mile territory. Luxury lovers should take in the sea view and scrumptious scallops at The Atlantic Hotel’s lavish restaurant, whilst those in search of something a little more intimate should book a romantic dinner at The Candlelight in central St Helier.
Island food culture is gaining real momentum outside the restaurant realm too, with May’s annual Jersey Food Festival now a favourite fixture in the foodie calendar. This celebration of trademark exports like the Jersey Royal potato offers participants a chance to experience the countryside in a new way through food-focused foraging as well as by sampling some mouth-watering produce.
Latch onto some live music and theatre
You’ve eaten like royalty and opened your mind to new artistic and historical horizons. Now all that’s left is some outstanding after dinner entertainment. Late night revelry and live music can be found every weekend at St Ouen’s The Watersplash, hosting international DJs as well as casual open mic events. Smoother characters will love Roberto’s Jazz Bar at the Savoy, where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of Goodfellas to enjoy fine dining and masterful musicianship.
Otherwise, trade songs for soliloquies at the Jersey Opera House which runs National Theatre productions alongside your favourite musicals and tribute acts. Smaller scale shows can also be found at the Jersey Arts Centre.