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Six reasons to see St. John’s, Newfoundland – first in a series on Canada this summer

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Summer’s (almost) here, and the time is right for getting your butt out of your chair and setting off to see some of this magical land we call Canada.

With that in mind, I’ll be writing regular posts over the next month or two, looking at some of the marvellous places in Canada I’ve had the privilege of visiting in the seven years since I became a full-time travel writer. Hope you enjoy them. I know I sure did.

First up: St. John’s, Newfoundland.

A walk through The Battery is a must on any visit to St. John's.

A walk through The Battery is a must on any visit to St. John’s.


1. The people: I remember my first trip here for the Toronto Star’s Golf magazine. I got to play fantastic golf courses. But one of the things that struck me most was how wonderful the people were. My God, I was crossing the street one night after being up late listening to wonderful music at a pub in St. John’s when a car stopped in the middle of the road. So I could jaywalk! I’ve since learned they do this in Halifax, too, but at the time I was gobsmacked at the politeness of the people. I also remembered the kindness of people as they guided me along the paths that run through the colourful homes in The Battery and on out to Signal Hill.

The village of Quidi Vidi in St. John's.

The village of Quidi Vidi in St. John’s.


2. The scenery: This is a ruggedly spectacular city; with breathtaking vistas from the high hills (folks here in Ontario might call them mountains) that surround the deep, amazing harbour. The views from Signal Hill are almost unbelievably beautiful, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch a soldier firing off his gun as the first cruise ship of the season departs the harbour. Even without that kind of luck, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear as you check out the walk along The Battery or take in the views from Fort Amherst, on the other side of the harbour from Signal Hill. Take a drive out to Quidi Vidi, a picture perfect village with its own brewery, and soak up the views of the craggy hills and colourful fishing boats.

The Rooms is a great museum in St. John's.

The Rooms is a great museum in St. John’s.


3. The culture: St. John’s boasts a great and architecturally striking museum called The Rooms. It sits on a hill overlooking the city (more of those great views) and features cutting edge exhibits (there’s one on artist Christopher Pratt on display until Sept. 6 of this year) and quirky history bits about a very quirky and interesting part of Canada. The music scene here is fantastic, too. The bars on George Street and elsewhere have some of the best sing-along’s you’ll find anywhere, along with wonderfully traditional Irish music at great pubs such as O’Reilly’s, The Celtic Hearth and many others. Don’t worry about who’s playing, just nip in for a pint and enjoy, then move along to the next spot.

An iceberg near St. John's.

An iceberg near St. John’s.


4. The icebergs: This time of year is perfect for spotting icebergs of all shapes. You’ll often find them quite close to shore in and around St. John’s. Iceberg Quest does great tours out of St. John’s, where you’ll also learn about wildlife and perhaps even spot a whale. There are icebergs all up and down the northeast part of Newfoundland, especially around Twillingate.

You'll find very good Italian food at Piatto in St. John's.

You’ll find very good Italian food at Piatto in St. John’s.


5. The food: This city has come a long, long way in terms of its cuisine. You’ll still find great fish and chips at the Duke of Duckworth, a famous pub that’s been known to attract the likes of Jim Cuddy from the band Blue Rodeo. But you’ll also find high-end cuisine at Bacalao, where they take Newfoundland-Portuguese favourites to a new height. I haven’t had the pleasure but I hear Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi is remarkably good. Closer to downtown, Raymond isn’t for folks light on cash, but it gets sensational reviews. Piatto is a small Italian chain that makes a very good pizza. For breakfast or a sandwich I love Rocket Bakery and Café on Water Street; a wonderful shopping spot.

Cape Spear is the most easterly point of land in North America.

Cape Spear is the most easterly point of land in North America.


6. The day trips: There are utterly sensational spots very close to St. John’s. Cape Spear is the best known, the most easterly point in North America. There’s a picture perfect white lighthouse perched on a craggy cliff, with seabirds whirling in the North Atlantic air and fabulous views up and down the coast. It’s even more atmospheric when the fog rolls in, so don’t be worried if you can’t see all the way to Europe when you go. Lesser known to most visitors is a trip to Bell Island, a short ferry ride from the suburban St. John’s village of Portugal Cove. It’s a beautiful island with a fascinating mining history and a glorious lighthouse. It’s also the only place in North America that was directly damaged by the Germans during World War II. The waters near Bell Island contain the wrecks of four ships sunk by German U-boats, where 69 soldiers met their fate. There wasn’t much of a marker when I visited, which is crazy when you think about how rare and unusual this place is.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • JF Goyette, Montreal. 12 June 2015, 10:29 pm

    I have visited Newfoubdland twice in the last year. First trip in november and second in early June. Both times we were amazed at what NEwfoundland has to offer for outdoors lover and with its scenery and people. Drove up to Bonnavista, stopped in Brigus and saw the most impressive landscape and sea shores. Our week stay in Whitless bay was relaxing and stress free. St.John’s is by far the most amazing city in the country followed by Victoria, BC.

  • JEAN 18 June 2015, 6:34 pm

    I HAVE LIVED HERE FOR ALL MY LIFE (80 YEARS) AND I HAVE YET TO SEE ALL OF NEWFOUNLDAND, I HAVE READ THIS ARTICAL OF YOURS AND I LOVE IT, I AM POSTING IT ON MY FACEBOOK IF I A NEWF, LOVES IT I WOULD THINK ALL THE PEOPLE I KNOW FROM AWAY WILL LOVE IT TOO WHEN THEY READ IT, AND COME AND SEE WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE IT IS YOU TALK ABOUT, THANK YOU, I CANT EXPRESS MYSELF WITH THE WORDS I WANT, BUT BE VERY SURE I LOVED READING THIS , I LOOK FORWORDS TO ALL THE REST OF YOUR WRITINGS, THINK YOU..
    JEAN

  • Rachel Duma 19 June 2015, 4:58 am

    The highlight of my family trip every year, to visit my boyfriend’s family and friends! Love it only 15 days left… Cannot wait to share this journey with my 11 month old daughter… Where her daddy came from! Lol

  • Diane Marie Richmond 19 June 2015, 11:36 am

    I am from Ontario and I married a Newfoundlander from Green Cove NFLD & have been there many times, we have relatives in St. Johns & Pikes Arm, my hubby was from Green Cove. I love visiting there to visit family but one day I loved to take a trip on a ship, I will have to find out where we would have to board. We are married for 44 year’s and I always considered Newfoundland as my second home, I have many picture of the beautiful icebergs and of Newfoundland.

  • Gill 20 June 2015, 3:37 am

    Next time you come to Newfoundland, you should check out Brigus, such a beautiful little town only about an hour outside of St. John’s. If you have any extra time, I’d suggest checking out the west coast, the weather is fantastic and Gros Morne National Park is absolutely breathtaking. Labrador is a whole other adventure, and one definitely worth checking out!

  • James R LeMoine 20 June 2015, 5:59 am

    Fantastic place to visit and feel how real people can be . I lived there for 27 years and from Icebergs to Whales and hikes around the province absolutely gorgeous. The most famous street George Street for it’s many bars and pubs to St. Mary’s bay when the Caplin roll in for the whales to feed on and the cliffs full of Puffin birds . Great Fish and Chips at Chess’s and wedge fries at B&B’s. All the colorful houses to the great historical buildings. The people are the most amazing people in the world . I now live in Vancouver which is also a beautiful place but St. John’s will always be in my heart. Jim LeMoine

  • Deron 20 June 2015, 12:35 pm

    Back in 2012 we drove a motor home out to Newfoundland and had the privilege of taking in the incredible sights of the the most beautiful rock formations called Western Brook Pond. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site and it had to be the highlight of our vacation. Being that my family is from NL it was like I was coming home. What an awesome time. I smile when I think back to the memories we made.

  • Nancy Gozdz 24 December 2016, 6:07 pm

    A longtime friend and I are planning a monthlong road trip. In Newfoundland-Labrador next summer. We are already overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of attractions we are finding on line, and wish we had time and money enough to see them all! How does one choose? ( Keep in mind that we are in our mid-seventies, and will not be attempting long hikes.)

    • jimbyers 9 January 2017, 4:02 pm

      No easy answer for that one. There are great walks everywhere. I’m not a huge hiking person and found some lovely, beautiful and fairly easy ones near Twillingate. Also near Bonne Bay/Rocky Harbour over on the Gros Morne side of Western Newfoundland. Enjoy!

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