The capital of Canada’s smallest province, Charlottetown is home to around 40,000 people. That’s a stark difference from some of Canada’s largest cities. People are drawn to Prince Edward Island because of its beautiful coastal landscapes steeped in rich Canadian history. And Charlottetown, located on the south shore of PEI, is a mix of history, small-town charm, and modern urban development. Nothing on PEI is more than a 2-hour drive from Charlottetown (most major attractions on the island are about 1 hour away) and it also happens to be considered one of the safest cities in Canada.
It’s time to plan your trip to Charlottetown and here are a few things you should know before you go.
Charlottetown is made for people who love being outside. Not only can you either walk or bike pretty much anywhere in the city, you also get to enjoy gorgeous coastal and natural landscape views. A unique sight to see are the famous red-sand beaches in the region. Minutes from the city, take in some of the best beaches in Canada with waters that are the warmest north of Florida. Spend the day fishing, paddle boarding, digging up clams, finding shells, or building sandcastles. If you prefer to take in the ocean views from your car, you can go for a coastal drive – you’ll see more of the island’s 1,100km of shoreline and you can even pack a picnic or find a local restaurant to stop along the way.
Explore Charlottetown’s surrounding natural beauty on any of the hiking/biking trails. One of the most popular is The Confederation Trail, a 435 kilometre converted railway track that reaches both ends of the island. Highlighting the island’s beauty, PEI is also a Canadian golf destination that is growing in popularity.
To enjoy the outdoors inside the city, head to Victoria Row (AKA “The Row”) for boutique and antique shops, picturesque buildings, charming cobblestone streets, restaurants and cafés, and local art galleries. It’s also a great place to go to enjoy the laid-back Charlottetown nightlife. For more local shopping, check out Peake’s Warf. Explore local shops or just enjoy the boats peacefully coming and going.
Referred to as the “birthplace of Confederation”, Charlottetown is both beautiful and historically important to Canada. The Fathers of Confederation met in Charlottetown to form Canada in 1864. While it is currently closed for conservation work, Province House National Historic Site tells of Canada’s story. During the time it is closed, you can visit the nearby Confederation Centre of the Arts to see a replica of the Confederation Chamber and walk through their special gallery highlighting the province’s history.
PEI also has some significant structures marking the rolling landscape. Within Charlottetown, St. Dunstan’s Basilica towers over the city’s skyline. Over 200 years, there have been four cathedrals built on the same site. The last (and current structure), was completed in 1919 and is the most fire resistant so it doesn’t meet the same fate as the former cathedrals. It is also designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, known for its beautifully designed gothic architecture and elaborate interior.
If you are looking to explore the coasts of the island, be sure to check out PEI’s many lighthouses. Most are not operational in their original capacity, but a few have been converted into historical attractions. If you are willing to take a drive, the lighthouses are definitely worth seeing.
Enjoy the Culture
With a lively, music scene, Festivals, world-class theatre, countless art installations and galleries, and a vibrant city character, Charlottetown was designated as a Cultural Capital of Canada by Canadian Heritage.
No discussion of Charlottetown and PEI’s culture of artistry would be complete without mentioning Anne of Green Gables. While you can visit the setting of the story on the island, Charlottetown is home to Anne of Green Gables the Musical. It has been running annually since 1965, making it the longest-running theatrical performance in the world.
The longest-running theatrical performance also happens to be a part of the Charlottetown Festival. Across four stages, visitors can take in musical theatre productions from June to October as part of the festival. Many of the shows feature local stories and history. In addition to the Charlottetown Festival, there are a number of other festivals that celebrate everything the city has to offer.
Enjoy Local Cuisine
PEI is known as Canada’s Food Island. There is rich soil to grow produce, local dairy and meat industries, and access to fresh seafood. Culinary experiences in PEI are truly directly from the sea or land to the table. You can either discover Charlottetown’s fresh ingredients for yourself at any of the farmers’ and food markets, or you can enjoy a delicious meal at a local restaurant. From fresh lobster to oysters and everything in between, Charlottetown is the perfect place to try a world-class seafood meal.
In September, the PEI Fall Flavours Festival features all of the fantastic culinary experiences the island has to offer. If you can’t get enough shellfish, one of the Festival’s signature events is the PEI International Shellfish Festival, which has been running for 25 years. It is four days of culinary demos, competitions, and the most delicious shellfish meals you will ever taste.
A fun thing you should definitely do (at least once) is stop in at Cow’s Creamery for some ice cream. While you can get it at many places all over the world, the company was originally founded in PEI. It’s kind of part of the history – and it’s just tasty.
Charlottetown, while small, has a lot to offer as your next vacation destination. I guess the question is what will you do first?