St. Helier is the capital of Jersey, which itself is the largest of the British Channel Islands. The town sits on the wide bay of St Aubin in the south-central coast of the island. Part of this town has been reclaimed – the extension from the edge of the dunes to the offshore islet of Hermitage. While the population of St. Helier is less than 30,000, the traffic and parking is a bit of a log-jammed nightmare. But this is one of only a few flaws that this town has. On the whole, St Helier is charming and elegant, known for its Victorian character and old-style buildings, its lively atmosphere, its boutique shops, and its fine restaurants.
Not much is known about St Helier’s prehistoric history, but historians generally believe that the town was settled before the Romans took control of it. The town is named after the 6th century patron saint, Helier, who fled from Belgium to Normandy and joined a monastic community. He was later sent to St. Helier, at the time a small fishing village, and he brought Christianity to the inhabitants of Jersey. He is believed to have performed at least one healing miracle, curing a lame man. And legend has it that he drove away a raiding party once through his vigilant prayers. In recent history, St. Helier was the scene of the Battle of Jersey in 1781 between the French and the British. The French tried to seize Jersey but were stopped by the British troops.
St Helier offers a few notable sites, including the Hermitage of St Helier. This is an islet that lies in the bay off of St. Helier and is accessible by foot at low tide. The patron saint used to find shelter over the hollow in the rock, now known as “St. Helier’s Bed”. There is a medieval chapel that has been constructed over this “bed”. And the Hermitage is the focus of an annual pilgrimage by many worshippers looking to pay homage to St. Helier.
The Elizabeth Castle is another attraction in St. Helier. It is located on a small rocky island outside of St. Helier that can be reached by ferry or the causeway. The castle was built in the 16th century during the reign of Elizabeth I, after it was determined that the stronghold at Mont Orgueil was vulnerable to attacks by ships. King Charles II of England took residence in the castle in 1646 and 1649 and was even proclaimed king while he was staying in the Governor’s House at the castle.
Liberation Square and Royal Square at the center of St. Helier are worth checking out as well. Liberation Square was the scene of celebrations when the island was liberated from Nazi occupation during WWII, and is the site of a commemorative statue. Many tourists flock to this square today, as it is the location of the Jersey Tourism Office. Royal Square, on the other hand, is the main square of the town and houses a few medieval buildings like the Town Church, which was constructed in the 10th century, the Royal Court House, the States’ Chamber, and a gilded statute of George II.
If you stroll around town, you should also find many Victorian buildings including a tall obelisk and fountain on Broad Street at the town center, dedicated to reformer Constable of St. Helier who helped save the town from cholera outbreaks in the 1830s. At Pier Street, you’ll find the Jersey Museum, which has a fascinating collection of archaeological and historical art. The adjoining art gallery is more contemporary. At the museum, you’ll find a great restaurant, the Museum Brasserie, where you can enjoy an al fresco dining experience and taste some of the best seafood dishes in town.