How to make the most of a weekend in St. John's, Newfoundland
St. John’s is a beautiful harbour city of just over 100,000 people on the east coast of Newfoundland. It boasts colourful streets, an entertaining night life, breathtaking coastal views, and some of the nicest people you will ever meet. I visited for a weekend at the end of their tourism season (June to August) and had a wonderful time exploring everything the city had to offer.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
The first thing you should do upon arriving in St. John’s is purchase a hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Actually, you may as well do it before you arrive, as tickets are cheaper online. I thought I could go without, but these busses will take you anywhere you need to go in the city and make renting a car or hailing a cab unnecessary. They don’t run after 5pm but there are countless restaurants and bars downtown that are easy to walk to. The other bonus includes the stories and history that your driver/tour guide will share along the way.
In 1901 this location received the world’s first trans-Atlantic wireless signal while also serving as the harbour’s defence for nearly 3 centuries. With a spectacular vantage point of the city, harbour, and coast, this National Historic Site is now a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. While the tour bus will take you right to the top of the hill, plan for a bit of a hike once you’re here. Paths take you from Cabot Tower along the top of the land to the visitor’s centre, passing a row of cannons on the way. Alternatively, you can follow the hiking trails East towards the water which wind along the rocks back to town. The scenery is gorgeous every step of the way and keep and eye on the ground as well for some pretty flowers and wild blueberries!
This historic fishing town which has now merged to become part of St. John’s is built around an adorable bay. Stop here for iceberg beer from the brewery, fish and chips from the food truck, and cute pics from the dock. If you get to town early enough on Friday night come straight here for a kitchen party at the brewery with live music and great local beer. You can also take fishing tours from Quidi Vidi Charters to learn a bit more about the region’s history. Another gem in town is the Mallard Cottage - a trendy restaurant in a homey cabin with a decadent rotating menu. It’s well worth spending a little extra on this meal, just be sure to make a reservation before arriving.
It took me a while to realize that The Rooms is a museum opened in St. John’s in 2005 which is named after the cabin-like rooms on the shores where fishermen and their families prepared their catch. It houses the provincial art gallery, archives, and general museum and is bursting at the seams with local history and art. The beautiful building has more stunning views of the city and is well worth a few hours of your time. Plus admission is only $10!
Many tourists believe there is a specific street of brightly coloured houses that you need to visit, but I quickly realized that these homes are everywhere you look. I loved walking up and down the colourful streets, snapping photos of any that caught my eye. To make this walk even more enjoyable, stop by Moo Moo’s first and pick up a cone of Turtles cheesecake ice cream. It may have been the fact that we stumbled in here after a self directed pub crawl, but I quickly declared this the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Travel to the ends of the earth on the hop-on hop-off bus to visit the easternmost point in North America. The National Historic Site offers more beautiful vistas, a functioning lighthouse, and the original lighthouse and home (which you can enter to see what the life of a lighthouse keeper may have looked like in the early 1900’s). If you’re lucky you may even spot some whales off shore. This is also a popular spot on the well maintained East Coast Trail, so wear your hiking shoes and pack a lunch to make the most of this beautiful point.
Water Street and George Street
One of my favourite things about Downtown St. John’s is how lively it is. Walk down Water Street during the day and pop your head into shops, enjoy a warm drink at a cafe, or get a head start for the evening and visit a local brewery. The area is full of phenomenal restaurants and when the sun sets make your way to George Street for a night on the town. Christian’s is the most popular place in town to get Screeched In (a fun ceremony to become an honorary Newfie) and O’Reilly's Pub offers live music and a great dance floor for jigging (or attempting to at least). Other restaurants I enjoyed were Bannerman’s Brewing Co. and the Battery Cafe - both are a little north of downtown but well worth the walk.
East Coast Sunrise
Another thing you’ve got to do at least once while you’re on the rock is wake up for sunrise. Mark the start of a new day by catching the first rays of sunshine on the continent. If you’re lucky, you will have made some new friends on your travels and have some great company to share the moment with.