As the capital and largest town of Jersey, St. Helier is the beating heart of the island. Renowned for its plethora of culinary establishments, as well as its excellent shopping scene, it’s no surprise that the town is one of the most popular destinations for Jersey’s visitors.
Situated on the central southern coast, it dominates the greater part of Saint Helier parish. Around a third of the island’s population lives in the town, with more than 37,000 people calling St. Helier home.
The name St. Helier can be traced back to Hellerius – a 6th century ascetic hermit. Born to Pagan parents, Hellerius fled his murderous father, wandering through modern day Normandy in search of monastic contentment. At that time, Jersey was plagued by raiders, and Hellerius returned to the island at the request of the locals, who were seeking someone to bring them the Gospel.
Hellerius settled on what is now the Hermitage Rock, a tidal island on the coast of St. Helier, where he would signal to inhabitants on the shore when attackers were approaching. As the story goes, Hellerius was eventually martyred at the hands of marauding pirates, later becoming the patron saint of Jersey.
A Trip Through Time
Just as Hellerius once protected Jersey from the Hermitage Rock, that task later fell to Elizabeth Castle, which was built upon the very same tidal island in the 16th century. Named after Elizabeth I by Sir Walter Raleigh – who was Governor of Jersey at the time – the castle has seen conflicts such as the English Civil War and the Seven Years’ War in the years since its construction. It even came under German occupation during WWII, during which time the Nazis modernised the castle with guns, bunkers and battlements.
Today, Elizabeth Castle is one of Jersey’s premier historic monuments and provides visitors with a glimpse into the island’s rich heritage. During my visit I found out that castle is only accessible by foot when the tide is low, however there is the option to take the charming Castle Ferry across at high tide, which was a wonderful experience in itself.
Once in the castle grounds, you can explore the structure’s network of rooms and passageways, enjoy the spectacle of the midday cannon firing or take in the fantastic views from the top of the battlements. The castle’s highest points are the best vantage points for viewing St. Helier and the surrounding bay, where you can see right across to St. Aubin Harbour in the west.
St. Helier’s cultural offerings don’t end there, as the town is also home to Jersey Museum & Art Gallery. Located near St. Helier’s main harbour and marina, this relatively small attraction provides historical insight as far back as 250,000 years ago. Its exhibits and artefacts are intriguing to view, and the art gallery holds works from world-famous artists such as Claude Cahun. From here, it’s just a short step to Jersey Maritime Museum, detailing the island’s cherished connection to the sea.
A Paradise For Produce
St. Helier is a great town to explore, with its shopping neighbourhoods hosting high-street names, luxury boutiques and quirky independent stores. Consider taking a walk down King Street – the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the town – where there are some excellent department stores, alongside local producers. If you find your way to the centre of St. Helier, you will come across my favourite Central Market. Open from Monday to Saturday, this market is set within a grand Victorian market hall and is a place of bustling activity, full of colours and smells. Central Market has been part of Jersey’s community for more than 200 years, making it a source of pride for many locals.
A wide range of local produce, craft items and other goods can be found within the market, and it can be the perfect place for a souvenir or two. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, the ambience of the market is a good enough reason to go, with the atmosphere being very welcoming to visitors. The activity revolves around a large central fountain – a beautiful centrepiece – complete with a collection of goldfish. Coins are often thrown into the water here, and these are collected each month and donated to local charities.
If you’re after a nice meal, St. Helier is certainly the right place to be. Two Michelin-starred restaurants are located within the town, including the Bohemia Bar & Restaurant. This elegant Swiss establishment offers an excellent range of foods, served up with exquisite detail. There is even a cocktail garden roof terrace – the perfect spot to enjoy a warm summer’s evening.
As Jersey’s main hub, St. Helier is undoubtedly one of the most interesting towns to visit on the island. Its culinary delights and cultural offerings are sure to leave you feeling accomplished, and there is much more to experience besides.
Get ready for your Jersey visit. Learn everything you need to know in the following article: Planning your Jersey, Channel Island Adventure!