My love for St. John’s, Newfoundland happened on my first work trip there in 2010. I was sitting in the back of a cab on my way to the hotel when I mentioned to the driver that it was my first time in town. He insisted in driving me up to the highest point of the city (no extra charge) to see how beautiful it was. As I looked out at the beautiful harbour filled with boats, rolling hills and lighthouses, I knew this was going to be a special place for me.
St. John’s is the capital city of Newfoundland and the holds the main airport for the province. Since the province is on an island, most people arrive by plane instead of opting for a very long ferry ride. This city will be people’s first experience of the Newfoundland hospitality and gorgeous natural attractions the province is famous for.
Over the years, I’ve been back to the city for work and pleasure, with friends and solo. All trips have been fantastic and I’ve visited my favorite places many times over. So, I thought I’d put together some must do’s for a perfect trip to St. John’s from my perspective!
Planning your trip
Before you head to Newfoundland, it’s really important to pre-book your rental car and accommodation. It’s a small place and you can easily be out of luck if it’s a busy time of year. In summer, you’ll need to book your rental car a few months in advance.
Keep in mind it can be really cold in St. John’s well into the summer. I visited in early July once and it was 8 degrees Celsius! Yes, this was not usual but I was glad I had my coat. If you plan on going on any boats, please bring a wind proof jacket and even some gloves. It can be freezing in the middle of the ocean even in June. That being said, Newfoundland can get warm weather (even into the 30’s) so take a look at the forecast before you leave.
The winters tend to get a lot of snow but stay fairly mild by Canadian standards. You won’t get too many days below -15 Celsius. A visit in winter is possible but it will make driving to some of the must see spots difficult and you will miss out on seeing icebergs, puffins etc.
I usually stay at The Sheraton Newfoundland which is located at the start of the main strip in St. John’s. The hotel is walk able to downtown and the views of the water are breathtaking. You definitely need to get a room with a view of the Narrows! It’s worth the extra cost!
Other hotel options in town are the Delta, which is located closer to the center of downtown and ALT Hotel, where I haven’t stayed yet but have heard great things.
Things to do in St. John’s : Restaurants
You are spoiled for choice in St. John’s when it comes to food and there are so many great restaurants, I could fill another blog post. If you are a fan of seafood, you are in for a treat, as St. John’s has some of the best fresh seafood I’ve ever had!
Take a stroll down Water street and you’ll see lot’s of options that will have your mouth watering. Some of my favourites are: The Merchant Tavern, Gypsy Tea Room, Olivers and The Adelaide Oyster House. If you want a special treat, book yourself a dinner at Raymonds, voted one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
If it’s the summer or a weekend, I would highly recommend booking reservations (especially Raymonds) ahead of your arrival.
Things to do in St. John’s
A visit to St. John’s would not be complete without visiting Signal Hill. If you aren’t sure where it is, just look for the hill with a tower on the top. This is the location of the first wireless transmission in 1901 and you can visit the Cabot Tower to view some exhibits related to this. There is great hiking you can do around the hill so make sure you are wearing proper footwear and dress warmly. I’ve frozen there in July! The wind can be very strong and it’s almost always cold. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Also, make sure you bring some water on your hike.
You don’t have to hike of course, it’s perfectly fine to drive all the way up to the hill and just take in the view!
One of the best things to do in St. John’s if you are interested in Newfoundland history is to visit the Rooms. The Rooms is an amazing museum/art gallery that will provide you with a lot of history about Newfoundland through pictures and stories. It’s worth taking an afternoon to wander around in here and maybe have some lunch. The restaurant is fantastic! The view of The Narrows from here is also breathtaking and a great photo op.
About a 5 minute drive (which isn’t well signed so ask for directions), will get to the charming neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. This is the place I saw my first iceberg so it has a special place in my heart. The roads are super narrow so you may want to park the car at the start and take a stroll through the charming streets. I would highly recommend Mallard’s Cottage for a meal as well. The Quidi Vidi brewery is also a great place for a beer…Try the 1892 beer!
Things to do in St. John’s: Shopping
Take sometime to wander down Water street and look at the charming shops, pubs and historical buildings. I always make a point of stopping in Nonia for their amazing hand knit gloves and hats. The knit goods are made by local knitters and are amazing souvenirs to bring back from your trip. I basically buy a pair of gloves every time I go!
I’m also a fan of the Heritage Shops for some Newfoundland crafts. See if you can find the Mummer statues when you are in the shop. They are my fav!
If you are looking for a quick snack or lunch when you are downtown, pop into the Rocket Bakery and have one of their soups or sandwiches. It’s my go-to place when I’m walking around for a shop.
On your way back, take a stroll north of Water street to see some of the famous Jelly Bean houses. Great for pictures!
Things to do in St. John’s: Nightlife
I highly recommend a night out in St. John’s on George street! It’s a well known street, lined with bars ,which is closed off to cars. You should look into getting “screeched in” there, which basically means you have to kiss a cod and do a shot of screech (local alcohol) to become an honorary Newfoundlander. It’s really fun and I highly recommend it! Ask your hotel where they are having “screech-ins” and they’ll direct you to the bar.
If you are looking for a quieter pub atmosphere, I recommend The Ship pub. It’s located in a laneway called Solomon’s Lane, just off of Duckworth and it’s a great place for local music and art events. It’s not the fanciest pub but it’s very friendly and casual and I think it really represents what St. John’s is all about.
Things to do in St. John’s: Day trips
The reason you’ve rented a car is to be able to get out and see some of the amazing surroundings around St. John’s. First stop outside the city should be Cape Spear.
Cape Spear Lighthouse is located on the eastern most part of Canada and is a beautiful place to have a walk around and check out the gorgeous views. It’s about a twenty minute drive from downtown and has plenty of parking. You can visit the inside of a lighthouse and see an exhibit of how the old lighthouse keepers lived. I’ve seen whales off the coast in May/June there so keep a look out! I would say spend about an hour there and then head off to see the Irish Loop.
The Irish Loop is a drive located south of St. John’s and if you are to drive the whole thing (the loop), with stops, it will take you at least 6-7 hours. I usually drive down 2 hours to the Ferryland area, have lunch at the lighthouse there and then head back the way I came. The lighthouse is about a 20 minute walk from the parking lot so keep this in mind if you have mobility issues. You have to preorder if you would like a lighthouse picnic lunch to take with you and enjoy the grounds. I highly recommend this experience! There isn’t too much to see after Ferryland and the road can be really foggy with potholes so keep that in mind.
The East Coast Trail is located on the drive down to Ferryland and you can hop out and do a quick bit of a hike at La Manche Provincial Park. The hike takes you to an abandoned town, La Manche and is quite beautiful.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you may want to just head straight to Bay Bulls and check out some Puffins. Located approximately at hour south of St. John’s, The Witless Bay ecological reserve, home to millions of seabirds, is there and you can take a Boat ride out to see the birds and sometimes whales! If it’s April-June, there is a chance of some iceberg viewing as well. See my other post on iceberg hunting!
Once you have experienced the beauty and friendliness of the people, you will want to keep coming back, year after year. It’s one of my favourite places on earth and I really hope you enjoy your trip. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any tips for a great trip!