Every morning, the first North Americans to catch sunrise are those in St. John’s, Newfoundland. A charming city by the sea, St. John’s is welcoming, airy and perfectly compact. Don’t let its size fool you, though. With a wonderfully colourful waterfront and a buzzing downtown core, Newfoundland’s foggy capital is sure to delight. Here are a few ways to spend your time in this Maritime treasure.
Situated upon the far eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula—the easternmost point of North America—St. John’s thrusts out into the Atlantic Ocean like the bow of a grand vessel. As you’d expect, then, the city and the sea are deeply intertwined. Start your day with a quick ferry ride from charming Portugal Cove to Bell Island, which sits just west of the peninsula in picturesque Conception Bay. Once the site of some of the largest iron ore mines on earth, today the Bell Island Community Museum and adjacent No. 2 Mine offer heart-wrenching insight into the lives of the island’s past residents. Want to hear the stories of life as a miner during the war, or the tales of twelve-year-old boys working ten-hour shifts by candlelight underground? These and plenty of other poignant accounts are all here.
Not all of Bell Island is rooted in its history, though. Before you take the ferry back, go for a stroll along some of the isle’s natural walking trails, each of which offers a unique vantage point of the island and the Atlantic beyond. There’s no doubting Bell Island’s storied past, though what’s here today is pretty compelling, too.
Back on the mainland, it’s time to stop into Quidi Vidi Brewery, the largest craft brewery in Newfoundland. Nestled in the historic fishing village of Quidi Vidi, which sits just outside of downtown St. John’s, the brewery is surrounded by spectacular cliffs and chock-full of Newfoundland tradition. Their Friday night “Kitchen Parties”—which feature Irish music, loads of stories and no shortage of Quidi Vidi beer—are somewhat of a rite of passage in St. John’s, and for good reason. Any craft beer lover will appreciate a brewery tour capped off by one of their renowned Iceberg brews.
Afternoon & Evening
Now that you’ve got some wind in your sails, The Rooms Museum is calling your name. As Newfoundland’s largest cultural space, The Rooms plays home to more than 7,000 pieces of historical and contemporary art plus a remarkable one million artifacts. It hosts a rotating series of exhibits, which have recently included the likes of Tanya St-Pierre and Christopher Pratt, not to mention the current exhibit, Newfoundland photographer Ned Pratt’s One Wave. With its soaring ceilings and breathtaking ocean views, The Rooms is certainly worth carving out some time for.
Any local will tell you that no visit to St. John’s is complete without seeing the East Coast Trail. Made up of dozens of individual wilderness paths, the wonderfully expansive East Coast Trail is a hiker’s dream. Though you certainly can’t traverse it all in an afternoon—the trail covers some 300 kilometers—you can still expect to glimpse an impressive variety of terrains, including oceanside headlands, plunging fjords and shimmering white icebergs. It’s no surprise that just a year after the trail opened in 2011, National Geographic named it one of the top adventure destinations in the world. From out here, you can practically taste the salt in the air.
With your newfound appetite in tow, head back to Quidi Vidi village and Mallard Cottage, one of Canada’s top 100 restaurants. Set in a 300-year-old vernacular cottage, Mallard oozes a unique blend of heritage and cheer that has locals and visitors alike coming back for more. The menu changes daily, though you can always expect a heavy dose of gastronomic experimentation. Dishes like shark pancetta, garam masala and moose tartar are not out of the norm for this culinarily curious joint.
St. John’s has managed to stay out of the limelight for far too long, making it a true diamond in the rough. It’s small, warm and brimming with precisely the endearing, homey feel you expect from the Maritimes. With a budding creative scene and an enviable pace of life, some might just call it one of Canada’s rising stars. If you enjoy spending time off the beaten path, St. John’s ought to be high on your list.