No matter the season, the Newfoundland and Labrador capital of St. John’s plays host to a wealth of outdoor exploration, festivals, shopping, and restaurants. The city is the oldest existing city in North America, with a rich history and distinct Irish and British heritage. Exploring its landmarks and rugged Canadian landscape, it won’t take you long to realize why National Geographic named it one of the ‘Top 10 Oceanside Cities in the World.’
The big attractions
If you want to get a real feel for St. John’s, soak in the history and the beauty at Signal Hill. Topped with a wind-whipped stone tower and standing over the wild Atlantic coastline, this National Historic Site of Canada was once home to fierce battles and world-changing events. Learn of the conflicts waged here during the Seven Years’ War, when British and French troops vied for control of the continent. View wartime artifacts and, in the summer months, watch history come alive with a military re-enactment. You’ll also be discovering the birthplace of modern communication, as Signal Hill received the world’s first transatlantic radio transmission. As St John’s number one destination, Signal Hill is a must-do for any visitors.
Like many of the country’s earliest settlements, St. John’s has a rich religious history, and it’s put on impressive display at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Consecrated in 1855, the Basilica-Cathedral is an iconic National Historic Site of Canada that can inspire awe in the religious and secular alike. Built from Newfoundland and Irish bluestone and granite, the Basilica-Cathedral houses nine bells, including the two-tonne St. John’s Bell, and John Hogan’s revered Dead Christ statue.
While technically not in St. John’s, the Cape Spear Lighthouse is only about 15 minutes away and is still essential viewing for those visiting the city. Stand on the most easterly point in North America with this stark white lighthouse set against rocky cliffs and the seemingly endless Atlantic. Watch icebergs float by and whales breach. Get a glimpse into the life of a 19th century lighthouse keeper in the oldest lighthouse in the province.
Finally, there’s The Rooms. Built on the site of an 18th century military fort, this facility houses the province’s art gallery, archives, and provincial museum. Art and artifacts, historical records, cultural treasures—all of the influences that made Newfoundland what it is—can be explored under one roof. Whether you want to learn about traditional boat building, animal life on the tundra, or the military history of the province, The Rooms is really the information nexus of an entire province. Don’t miss it.
A day exploring and a night on the town
You don’t need to jump from attraction to attraction to enjoy your visit to St. John’s. Spend a day mingling with the locals and basking in the charm and personality of the city.
Start in the walkable Quidi Vidi Village, a historic former fishing village 15 minutes walk from the heart of town. Explore the antique shop and quench your thirst at the Quidi Vidi Brewery, home to the craft beers that Newfoundlanders love. Take a brewery tour and let the employees share their love of beer as you sample the goods—especially their Iceberg beer made with pure 25,000-year-old iceberg water. Then, if you’re still thirsty, stop in at the Quidi Vidi Inn of Olde, a small pub decorated with knick-knacks from different countries and eras.
From there, head to George Street, a small street that packs a lot of fun, nightlife, and entertainment into its two-block stretch. It’s here that you’ll find the city’s award-winning bars, pubs, restaurants, and live music. It’s also home to a number of big events and festivals, including the annual George Street Festival every August. This annual six-day festival attracts more than 40,000 people with the help of renowned musical acts like Blue Rodeo, Our Lady Peace, and the Dropkick Murphys.
Before heading out to enjoy the city’s nightlife, you’ll want to fuel up on some great local food. Thankfully, you have plenty of options. Acclaimed Chef Jeremy Charles has put St. John’s on the map with his restaurant Raymonds. Topping many “best restaurants in Canada” lists, Raymonds is the place to enjoy fine dining made from local seafood and east coast ingredients. From the haute cuisine of Bacalao, to the unbeatable brunch at Mallard Cottage, and the comfort foods of Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food, you’re spoilt for choice.
Enjoy the outdoors
A day in the city doesn’t have to mean a day devoid of greenery either.
Pay a visit to the scenic Bowring Park, home to 81 hectares of outdoor fun. Feed the ducks at the pond, take a dip in the outdoor pool or grab your racket for a game of tennis.
Then head out to explore the award-winning Grand Concourse, an impressive network of walking trails that crisscross the city and surrounding region. Or, to walk with a purpose, enjoy any of the three golf courses located around the city.
Finally, if you really love to explore the outdoors, St. John’s is a great place to pick up the famous East Coast Trail — 540 kilometres of developed and undeveloped trail along the coast of Newfoundland.
Originally published by Destination Canada