Planning to visit St. Johns, Newfoundland? This article will definitely help you plan your itinerary!
The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, Saint John’s, is said to be the oldest English-speaking city in North America. Located at the island’s eastern end, in a sumptuous natural environment, this maritime city stands out for its calm life, architecture with colorful wooden houses, and a view overlooking the Bay of Fundy.
The city is built in an amphitheater on the outskirts of a very well-sheltered harbor that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow channel, The Narrows; on either side of this channel rise high rocky peaks. St. Johns, the Newfoundland, is, and always has been, first and foremost, a port city.
Saint John’s is a small capital, like most of its counterparts, which is home to the majority of the population of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Far from everything, it is not easily accessible and worth a look for its unique maritime and architectural heritage, between the rows of colorful houses that line the city’s steep streets and the industrial port on a human scale with its monumental fishing boats. It has a curiously exotic aspect, a very exotic air from the end of the world.
1. Things To Do In St. Johns, Newfoundland
It is impossible to visit Newfoundland and not stop in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. The majority of the population resides in this city, which is the liveliest in the province. Additionally, it has the largest airport, which makes it considerably simpler to go to than other regions in the province.
Here are 9 things that, if you do come, you shouldn’t miss.
1.1. Stroll Through Quidi Vidi
During your visit to Saint-Jean, we suggest you visit the fishing village of Quidi Vidi, which is very close to the city center. We guarantee you will be charmed by its picturesque houses bordering the cliff and fishing port. A small path allows you to gain height with, as a bonus, a beautiful view of the town after only 5 minutes of walking.
Don’t forget to take a break at the Quidi Vidi microbrewery to enjoy a local beer. Personally, we opted for an iceberg water beer… Unique!
1.2. Discover Fort Amherst, A Historic Site In Canada
The island of Newfoundland is full of breathtaking landscapes. To get a new glimpse of it, head to Fort Amherst, a historic site in Canada located just across the hill from Signal Hill. Overlooking the Atlantic, the site houses the remains of an old fort whose strategic location at the entrance to the port of Saint-Jean ensured the defense of the city.
You can observe some old cannons there and Fort Amherst Lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Newfoundland, erected in 1813. The current red and white lighthouse will celebrate its 70th birthday in 2021.
As you can imagine, a lighthouse perched on a mountain promontory must have a captivating panorama. Depending on the season, you will have the chance to see icebergs or even whales.
From the quays of the small port of Fort Amherst, take out your camera to immortalize the iconic Battery district with its cliffside fishermen’s houses. A photogenic place for an unforgettable shot!
1.3. Stroll Along The Jellybean Row Houses
During your trip to the capital of Newfoundland, you cannot miss the countless colorful facades. A typical St. Johns’s Newfoundland staple!
Nicknamed Jellybean Row, this string of houses was born from a movement of the 70s whose objective was to bring life back to the city. Bet won!
A palette of multiple shades that puts balm in the heart and smiles on the lips of visitors. This a visual phenomenon that you can enjoy while strolling through the heart of St. Johns, Newfoundland. The city center is a veritable constellation of bright colors!
1.4. Get Screeched In
After a day of discovering the treasures of the region, it’s time to experience the nightlife in St. Johns, Newfoundland. To immerse yourself in the atmosphere, head to George Street, the busiest thoroughfare in the city!
Littered with restaurants and pubs, the area becomes pedestrianized from noon. Pleasant to walk around in peace! You will be spoiled for choice for a drink, a bite to eat, and dancing to the sound of jazz, rock, and folk musicians.
This is also where you can become a true Newfoundlander by earning your Screech-In certificate. An initiation ceremony, to say the least!
1.5. Party On George Street, Newfoundland
Newfoundlanders love to party, and St. Johns Newfoundland nightlife is certainly one of the best testaments. And the best place to learn about St. John’s nightlife is undoubtedly George Street. This artery has the largest number of pubs located one after the other in Canada.
So if you want to claim that you’ve partied on Newfoundland’s most renowned street, George Street is the place to go. One of the best things to do in St. Johns, Newfoundland, is to visit the many bars, pubs, nightclubs, and restaurants that line this historic street.
It’s an excellent location for pedestrians because it’s also close to cars at night. Whether you prefer new-age pop or traditional Newfoundland music with fiddles, there is a genre for you.
I would advise heading to O’Reilly’s to check if they have authentic live music on the go if you want to taste Newfoundland. Otherwise, other places probably will. Ask around to find out who is performing. It’s a lot of fun when a decent “Newfy” band takes the stage. Expect huge crowds if you happen to be here during the summer. Bonus: You might even run into famous individuals.
There is music for everyone, whether you prefer new-age pop or traditional Newfoundland music complete with fiddles.
In summer, you can also attend many shows and street concerts (Irish and Celtic music, history requires). In this district, the city’s festivals are organized, particularly the George Street Musical Festival (August) and the Mardi Gras Festival (February). Entertainment guaranteed!
1.6. Visit Signal Hill National Historic Site
From everywhere in St. Johns, Newfoundland, you can see this rocky hill topped by a tower that overlooks the entrance to the town’s harbor. From its summit, the views of the Atlantic, the harbor, and the city are magnificent, day and night. Hiking trails have been laid out there and offer the opportunity for pleasant walks.
Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, this site draws its popularity from its past. It was from the top of this hill bearing the same name that the first transatlantic wireless signal was received in 1901. A key role in the history of telecommunications!
Signal Hill is accessible by car and on foot for more athletic travelers. Once you reach the top where the Cabot Tower sits, enjoy a breathtaking view of the city of St. Johns, Newfoundland, and its port.
1.7. Hike the East Coast Trail
Are you a fan of wide-open spaces? We recommend the East Coast Trail! This network of hiking trails along the Avalon Peninsula has more than 300 km of pure happiness in store for you!
In the heart of wild and dazzling nature, the paths lead you through woods, meadows, cliffs, beaches, and many others. St. Johns hosts the start of part of the 25 East Coast Trail hikes. It’s up to you to choose the difficulty and the duration that suits you; there is something for all tastes and levels. Be sure of one thing: you will come away amazed!
1.8. Getting to Cape Spear, the Far East of the Great White North
What if we told you that there is a place in Canada where you are closer to Paris than to Vancouver? This is the case at Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America. An ideal place to admire the sunrise over the ocean to the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks!
Cape Spear is the easternmost point of the North American continent. Given this geographical situation, a lighthouse was erected in 1836, which became, after that of the port of St. Johns, Newfoundland, the second in the province.
Originally, the lighthouse was presented as a square building surrounding a tower, at the top of which are seven parabolic mirrors which reflect the light rays emitted by seven lamps. This lighthouse was modernized and moved in 1955 to a new nearby building. You can still visit the old lighthouse furnished as the house of its keeper in 1839. Cape Spear is also a pleasant place to stroll along the ocean.
After a visit to the oldest lighthouse still standing in Newfoundland, fill it with fresh air while contemplating the beauty of Newfoundland. Stroll as you wish on the cliffs: the spot is simply spectacular!
1.9. Visit the Terry Fox Monument in St. John’s
Five minutes from downtown stands an imposing bronze statue erected in honor of legendary one-legged runner Terry Fox. The monument celebrates the starting point of his crossing of Canada, the Marathon of Hope, in 1980, when he bathed his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, he was forced to stop his marathon because of his illness.
In our opinion, an unmissable stop in Saint-Jean de Terre-Neuve in homage to this hero of Canada.
2. Saint John’s Other Curiosities
2.1. Government House
The Government House was built in 1831 to serve as the official residence of the Governor of Newfoundland. Since the entry of the province into the Canadian Confederation, the Government House has housed the Lieutenant-Governor.
2.2. Newfoundland Museum
This museum presents, through its permanent collections, an excellent panorama of the human history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
2.3. Saint John’s: Nature and Wild Landscapes
What makes Saint John’s unique, in addition to its original architectural heritage, is, therefore, not its cultural offer but its extraordinary wild natural environment.
Go on an adventure along the coast. The landscape is spectacular: a coast cut with a line, moors with short grass, swept by the winds, and buildings with dark stones, here and there. In short, a landscape of extremes. Given the climatic conditions, this end of the world will seem more than hostile to you, especially if you do not benefit from good weather (something that often happens).
On the road, you can see icebergs, cross fjords, and small typical fishing villages nestled in the heart of a wild circus, cross some military remains, and fall on waterfalls with crystal clear water (and icy ). In short, do not miss this opportunity to discover this fabulous Canadian territory for anything in the world.
If you can, push on to Conception Bay, a site home to whaling shipwrecks (thus huge hulks), waterfalls, and gorgeous beaches. In summer, you can even go on a scuba diving tour.
2.4. Commissariat House
Commissariat House, completed in 1821, was first used as the quarters of the military post at St. John’s before serving as the parsonage of St. Thom as Anglican Church (Military Rd.), this church, which is also called “Old Garnison Church” (1836). Commissariat House, now a provincial historic site, has been renovated and furnished as it was in the 1830s.
2.5. St. Johns Newfoundland’s Eastern Canadian Culture
You will find in Saint John’s galleries, and theaters, as in any Canadian city, except that everything is more modest.
As for the main museums, the Rooms, which hosts the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, the archives, and the pretty Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, are worth a visit. The other museums are of little interest, but it’s up to you.
Otherwise, you will not be disappointed by the welcome you receive from Newfoundlanders, reputed to be among the most welcoming and warm people in Canada.
3. A Little History
It a turbulent history for Saint John’s, which, due to its position in the far east, was at the forefront of British, French, and Dutch colonization.
Indeed, it is at the current location of the city that the first English colony on the territory was established in 1497, and officially recognized by the Crown in 1583. John Cabot, the first European to have touched the Canadian coasts since the Vikings, would have laid the first stone. Very quickly baptized Saint John’s, the “settlement” passed in turn into the hands of the Dutch, then the French, before returning to the bosom of the British, in 1762.
The city, because of its geographical position, had a role in history. It served as a naval base during the American Revolutionary War and the Anglo-American War of 1812. Although remote, Saint John’s also hosted, during the Second World War, the ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy, whose objective was to protect the convoys, as well as ships of the American army at the place nicknamed Fort Pepperrell.
Saint John’s grew very slowly without experiencing any significant growth, except during the 18th century. Indeed, it was at this time that it experienced its main phase of development, a period also marked by the installation of a government, the establishment of a real organized religious and political life, and an activity based on trade and the fishing industry.
The first settlers came mainly from the southeast of Ireland but also England. Listen to the local accent, and you’ll think you’re in Ireland.
You will certainly hear the story of the Great Fire, which broke out in 1892 and destroyed much of the town. It is an integral part of local history.
Today, the city has just over 106,100 inhabitants and 21 historic sites. Economic growth is significant, in particular, due to the production of oil and gas, the riches found in the region.
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