It wasn’t until I travelled to Ireland that I realize why I loved Newfoundland so much. Amongst the many things to do in St. John’s Newfoundland, the island also has deep Irish roots and shares many customs, linguistics, love of music, etc. but for me, it was the people. It’s that warm, happy, always smiling friendliness. If you ask for directions, and they will walk you halfway to make sure you are on the correct route to your destination
Finding things to do in St. John’s Newfoundland will leave you with some incredible memories and experiences but making friends in St. John’s will last you a lifetime.
From the moment I landed in Dublin, Ireland and heard that Irish accent, a part of me felt like I was coming home. I felt the same feeling when I arrived in St. John’s for the first time.
It’s been a long and winding 334 km drive along the Trans-Canada Highway from Gander International Airport in Gander to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city. My brother and I were coming back from Fogo Island after spending time at the beautiful Fogo Island Inn. Gander International Airport is where we were able to join the Trans-Canada Highway and head South-ish.
I just received a go-ahead from the star of Republic of Doyle, Allan Hawco (A popular TV show filmed in and around St. John’s) regarding our mission to explore St. John’s and becoming an Honorary Newfoundlander by getting Screeched In!
So here’s my 48-hour itinerary with 12 things to do in St John’s Newfoundland, including everything you need to become an honorary Newfoundlander.
Feature Image: © Copyright Barrett & MacKay Photo & Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
About St. John’s
- St. John’s is the largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador and came into existence in 1830.
- Being one of the oldest settlements of North America, St. John’s is culturally and traditionally rich with its roots well-engraved in history as well.
- There are many things about St. Johns which attract visitors and travellers from all around the world.
Getting to St. John’s Newfoundland
You can get to St. John’s Newfoundland from anywhere in Canada, major gateways and cities, in the USA and Northern Europe. Airlines like Air Canada, Air Canada Tango, and Air Canada Jazz operate regular air service to Newfoundland and Labrador, with connections available from all major centres in the United States and Canada.
Air Transat offers charter flights from Toronto to Newfoundland and Labrador during the summer months.
Air Canada Jazz, Provincial Airlines and Air Labrador provide regular service within Newfoundland and Labrador. Air Labrador also offers flights through St. Anthony to many Labrador points, while Provincial Airlines also offers flights to St. Pierre’s French island.
Approximate travel times to St, John’s by air:
Boston – 3 hours
London – 5 hours
Montreal – 2 hours,
Toronto – 3 hours,
Halifax – 1 hour 30 min.
There are a year-round vehicle and passenger ferry service provided by Marine Atlantic between North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. The crossing time is about 6 hours. (This ferry also connects with the trans-island bus service operated by DRL Coach Lines.)
From mid-June to mid-September, an additional ferry operates between North Sydney and Argentia in eastern Newfoundland (45 kilometres from Route 1 and 131 kilometres from St. John’s. The crossing time is 12-14 hours.
During the summer, a daily ferry runs between St. Barbe on Newfoundland’s Viking Trail and Blanc Sablon on the Quebec-Labrador border. This ferry will take you to Route 510, and the crossing time is about 80 minutes.
For reservations or information on schedules and rates, contact: The Woodward Group, St. Barbe Ferry Terminal. 1-800-563-6353
Lastly, there is a coastal boat service from St. Anthony to some 40 isolated villages as far North as Nain, Labrador. The one-way trip takes about 12 days, and the freighter service does not carry cars.
Where to Stay in St. John’s Newfoundland
When I travel with my brother he’s not particularly a fan of Airbnb. He prefers the bells and whistles of a Hotel; concierge, mints on pillows, origami swan towels, pools on decks and room service. As you know, I don’t care much for that sorta thing but I have to admit after staying at the Fogo Island Inn I became a bit spoiled. We decided to meet in the middle and settled at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland
The Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland is located in downtown St. John’s and adjacent to Fort William. It features an indoor pool, free WiFi and on-site parking (with surcharge). The accommodation features a view of the city or harbour which is pretty cool.
Fresh Lobster at the Oppidan Restaurant
The Newfoundland Sheraton features the Oppidan, a restaurant that serves fresh local cuisine and the wall-to-wall windows of the restaurant offer some great panoramic views of the harbour while dining.
In addition, fitness and business facilities are located on-site.
Leaside Suites and Executive Apartments
Leaside Manor is one of the most popular small inn/B&B in St. John’s. Aside from the cute names of the suites which represent St. John’s, the owner-hosted facility offers romantic, double tub suites with fireplaces; fully-furnished executive apartments; unique meeting facilities with catered meals + cooked breakfast served – all within a 5-minute drive of the downtown.
Murray Premises Hotel
Murray Premises Hotel is located in downtown St. John’s on the harbour front. you’ll find the Murray Premises Hotel. It’s close restaurants (2 independent located inside the hotel), shopping, nightlife and tourist attractions. The hotel offers electric fireplaces, oversized whirlpool tubs, and towel warmers in each guest room. All guests can enjoy their complimentary deluxe continental breakfast in their private lounge.
Whether staying in St. John’s for work or for pleasure, The Capital Hotel offers its guests all the comforts of home. Flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, complimentary in-room coffee, individually controlled heat/air conditioning, free WIFI, parking, close to shopping and friendly staff.
It’s a 4-star establishment that offers an onsite restaurant, Jack’s, which has a wide selection of Newfoundland & Labrador favourites.
Things To do In St. John’s Newfoundland
St John’s Newfoundland 48-hour Itinerary
Two things you need to know before we get started.
- If you know me well then you already know that when it comes to food, one of my favourite places to visit is the markets. Well, that and breweries and coffee shops. Right up there with coffee shops are bakeries. I’m not sure what it is but there is something about the smell of freshly baked bread and the waves of steam that slowly floats out when it’s broken open.
- As I mentioned off the top, some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in Canada are from Newfoundland. These people will eventually become your friends for life.
Case and point:
During our Screeched In Ceremony (more on that a bit later in the post) my brother and I befriended a really cool local named Danielle. She has offered to give up some of her favourite spots for this post!
St. John’s Itinerary Day 1
Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food
As I mentioned above when I needed a couple of local recommendations to add to this itinerary I reached out to Danielle and she was more than happy to help me out. This is Danielle’s 1st recommendation and in her words, she explains why she and other locals flock to Rocket Bakery when for their daily morning fix.
“Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food is locally owned and operated with great coffee/tea, lattes, you name they got it. They also make lunch (salads, quiche, pasta salad, sandwiches, soups) and of course the bakery section!! My lord!!! Staff are great, friendly and always give you service with a smile. Inside looks very hipstery. (It’s a new word, I made it up!) The tables and chairs are all miss matched and it’s just a fun vibe, with an at home feel. If all that wasn’t enough they also offer live entertainment. One more thing. If you can’t find an empty table, don’t be shy to join others at theirs.”
As the name suggests, the Narrows is a narrow channel bordered by steep rock walls to the north and south, Signal Hill and Southside, respectively. It is the only entrance to St. John’s Harbour and requires a skilled captain to navigate large ships through The Narrows, known locally as “threading the eye of the needle” It has a depth of 11 metres, with the narrowest point near Chain Rock at about 61 metres wide.
Strategically, The Narrows’ has been used to defend the St. John’s from early pirates and settlers in 1655 to World War II. In the mid 17th century, Signal Hill (which I’ll talk about next) was built on a north-side hill as a fortification. Likewise, in 1763 Fort Amherst (which I’ll talk about on day 2) was built in the same area on the southside.
A few other things I found interesting was that a defensive chain was erected across the narrows from Chain Rock to Pancake Rock in the late 18th century. This chain could be raised whenever an enemy ship was advancing into the harbour. Also, a steel mesh was installed to prevent enemy submarines from entering the harbour during World War II
Signal Hill & Cabot Tower
Our first official stop for day one is Signal Hill. Signal Hill, which looks over the whole city, is an excellent spot for panoramic views of St. John’s colourful jelly bean houses and mighty waves crashing up against the rocky walls of The Narrows. The other exciting thing about Signal Hill is its history. Part of the final battle of The Seven Years War in North America was fought on this hill, which takes us back to 1762.
Also situated on Signal Hill is Cabot Tower., Built-in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless message near the tower – the letter “S” in Morse Code sent from Poldhu, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
I have to admit that the first time I heard of Quidi Vidi Brewery was during my stay in the Fogo Island Inn, I was able to try and enjoy the three beers (pictured) while the gentle sounds of the North Atlantic Ocean sang softly in my ears. The smell of cold sea salt filled my lungs and while large icebergs drifted in the distance. I first learned that those beers were brewed by the local brewery Quidi Vidi right here in St. John’s. The Quidi Vidi Brewing Company Limited (QV) was established in 1996.
QV is a Newfoundland-based independent brewing company focused on producing world-class quality beers for the mainstream, specialty, and now the premium segment of the beer market.”
– Quidi Vidi
Quidi Vidi Premium Iceberg Beer
For Beer Tasting Dates & Times (Click Here)
Quidi Vidi Honey Brown Ale
Quidi Vidi 1892 Traditional Ale
Brewed with the finest two-row malt and a generous helping of hops. This is a full-bodied, reddish amber ale that will be enjoyed by those who prefer European-style beers with substantial
Gypsy Tea Room
When someone mentions drinks and a quick meal the first place that comes to mind is the Gypsy Tea Room. Locally owned and operated the small restaurant, located downtown on Water St, has an appreciable atmosphere. The dark wood featured in the interior, mixed with eccentric lightening adds to the mood as soon as you walk in! Staff are patient and friendly, and willing to describe a selection of the menu if you cannot decide on your own! The best part of this gem, is during the summer, the courtyard is opened up to allow us the opportunity to dine outside. With this comes an outside bar and grill, so you can watch your food being prepared. It’s an absolute delight. They also provide be heaters for when the heat dies down on those cool Newfoundland nights.
“If you stand here, your back to the sea, the entire population of North America stretches out in front of you. And there’s nothing behind you until Ireland“.
Maybe it’s silly, but to me, there is something profound about being at the Easternmost point in not just my country (Canada) but all of North America. Think about it:
- This is where the sun first rises at the start of each morning.
- This is where Canada begins or ends, depending on your direction.
- This is my confirmation that I’m back home when I’m watching the plane I’m flying in via the in-flight entertainment.
The Portuguese named this location Cabo da Esperança which means “cape of hope” When translated to French, it became Cap d’Espoir and eventually “Cape Spear.” Cape Spear is also the trailhead/trail end for two components of the East Coast Trail.
Constructed in 1836, the Cape Spear lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in the province. It not only symbolizes Newfoundland and Labradors marine history; it’s a National Historic Site.
For some strange reason, I love lighthouses – maybe it’s the symbolism (light in a dark time) mixed with its practical use, but this lighthouse is an excellent example of the period’s unique lighthouse architecture. It’s also unique in that the lighthouse rises from the centre of the square lightkeeper’s residence.
The lighthouse’s light was a beacon of safe passage until 1955 when a new lighthouse tower was built nearby. It’s important to note that the new lighthouse uses the original light. For over 150 years, generations of the Cantwell family have resided at Cape Spear and worked tirelessly to maintain the all-important light crucial for keeping sailors safe.
World War 2 Gun Battery
Due to its location, a 10-inch M1888 coastal gun battery was installed at Cape Spear to help defend the entrance to St. John’s harbour and protect convoys between North America and Europe during the Second World War. The Newfoundland Regiment operated the Camp Spear battery from June 1943 until decommissioned on June 30, 1945.
The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built between 1839–1855 and sits on the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s city. St. John the Baptist is the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland and the largest building project in Newfoundland history. It was also the largest church in North America, but today it’s the second-largest church in Canada after the Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. The Basilica-Cathedral is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1892.
The Rooms is a cultural facility that houses the Art Gallery, Provincial Museum and the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland. It was opened in 2005 and sits on a hill overlooking St. John’s on the same location that was occupied by Fort Townshend. Together with the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, the two buildings dominate the skyline.
The name The Rooms and the building’s architecture refer to the simple gable-roofed sheds (called “fishing rooms”) that were commonly found at the waterline in Newfoundland’s fishing villages.
Bacalao Nouvelle Newfoundland
I’ll be honest, St. John’s has some steep hills and Bacalao is on one of them – however, it was worth it. Bacalao was recommended by a friend of mine (born in Newfoundland) who also happens to be related to the head chef. While my brother Andrew went for the catch of the day (a decision that is rarely wrong considering Newfoundland’s proximity to the ocean)
I took my friend’s recommendation – Chef Matt’s
St John’s Itinerary Day 2
Just outside of St. John’s, is a town called Bay Bulls, a small fishing community because of its proximity to the rich fishing grounds on the Grand Banks. Not only is the town at the forefront of strategies, like fish farming, but they’ve also become a popular tourist destination with four whale and bird watching establishments and several bed-and-breakfasts.
O’Brien’s Whales and Birds Tour
Speaking of whale and bird watching establishments, if you get the chance to visit Bay Bulls check out O’Brien’s Whales and Birds Tour. It was the main reason for coming out here and trust me, you will not regret this tour as you will see a wide display of wildlife which will leave you gasping with beauty. At the end of the tour as we head back to shore, the host broke out into song, singing classic Newfoundland folk tunes. This distinctly reminded me of the songs I heard in Dublin, Ireland.
The Fort Amherst heritage lighthouse is a square, tapered, wooden tower located on the Southside of The Narrows’ and St. John’s harbour entrance. The original lighthouse was built in 1810. The current lighthouse was built in 1951. The original fortifications, named after William Amherst, who successfully recaptured St. John’s from French forces in 1762, were built in 1770, but they are no longer visible. In 1951, the site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada
Screeched In – George Street
George Street is a must-visit in St. John’s. It is a small street indeed, but it is famous for all the bars and pubs that it has. It is almost a two-block-long street full of bars, clubs, restaurants, dine-inns, and pubs. It is also the location for the Mardi Gras celebration, which is held every October. Another festival called the six-night George Street Festival is usually held in August. What is even more interesting is the fact that drinking has been made even more fun by turning it into a ceremony called ‘screeched in’. But the rule is, you have to be a visitor in Newfoundland.
The visitor drinks a shot of Screech, makes a small recitation and kisses a cod. It is not an obligatory ceremony, but it will make for a good memory.
The ritual after the shot of screech varies in every pub as well. “Kissing the Cod”. It is either a cod or any other ugly fish held to the participant’s lips and he/she has to kiss them and it marks the success of this ceremony called the Screech-in. If you are a fan of drinking, don’t forget to visit Christian’s Bar which is one of the oldest bars on George Street. It is a place where anyone can find their favorite drink and have a great time and it is also one of the bars that hold the Screech-In Ceremony.
St. John’s and Newfoundland and Labrador, in general, is an amazing place with very friendly and funny people.
Do get Screeched In, do try the local beer and do try the lobster. The place is full of history, stories, myths, and incredible nature and wildlife, I came back to Toronto with new friends from St. John’s!
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