St. John’s International Airport is relatively small, but it is growing, expanding, and there are high hopes for a bustling gateway to other provinces and countries. There aren’t too many flights that will leave you with a layover in St. John’s– most divert through nearby and much larger Halifax, NS— but it’s been known for select Europe-bound flights to have lengthy stops in Canada’s easternmost province. If you happen to find yourself stuck in St. John’s for a day, don’t waste it at the airport or in a hotel. Get out and see one of the most charming cities on earth.
If you are exhausted from travelling or a severe anti-morning person like me, skip this first recommendation (seriously- I haven’t even done this yet). But, I know there are so many people who would love this opportunity and I don’t want you to miss it if you are that kind of person. This is pure wanderlust, travel romance bliss: be the first person to see the sun rise over the whole continent.
Take your rental car to Cape Spear, which is the most Easterly Point in North America. It is literally the closest you can be to Europe in all of Canada, the US, and Mexico. It will be cold so dress warmly. Bring a blanket, some coffee, and maybe a breakfast picnic and watch the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean.
Get another coffee at Jumping Bean Mariott. It’s brand new (somewhere else I haven’t been- lucky you beat me to it!) and Jumping Bean coffee is seriously the best. Enjoy the stunning view of the Narrows as the sun continues to climb. Also, say hi to my sister, Rachel– she works there!
Drive to Signal Hill. Take some cool photos from the top with the ocean and Cabot Tower in the background, and take in the absolute best view of the whole city. If you’re lucky, someone might be walking their Newfoundland Dog. Embark on the Signal Hill hiking trail, which goes down a steep set of stairs from the parking lot, winds around the cliffside, and comes back up through the Lower Battery. The houses in the Battery are so quaint and you’ll wonder how many of them are even still standing. Don’t get too nosy– people live here! Walk back up the hill toward your car and drink some water to hydrate. Maybe grab a pre-brunch snack at the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. The hike will take you approximately 45 minutes to an hour and is about 2-3 km.
If it’s open and if you have time, pop into the Johnson Geo Centre. It’s a fascinating, interactive, and visually stimulating museum all about the geological history of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s on the left-hand side as you drive up to Signal Hill.
Grab brunch at Mallard Cottage and stroll around Quidi Vidi. Mallard Cottage is a charming little restaurant in the tiny community of Quidi Vidi and it’s an easy spot to hit on your way down from Signal Hill. Don’t miss the deadly pastry bar. Technically, it also wouldn’t take you long to walk from Signal Hill to Quidi Vidi via the Cuckold Cove Trail if you’re up to it. Follow the path at the back of the Signal Hill parking lot.
Don’t miss your chance to have a mid-day beer at Quidi Vidi Brewing Company before you head out.
Consider taking a boat tour with one of many great local companies. This would, of course, have to be booked in advance, but if your party is small, you may be able to hop on one last minute. Iceberg Quest leaves from downtown St. John’s (experience sailing out the Narrows!), Ocean Quest leaves from CBS, which is a bit of a drive out of the city, and O’Brien’s leaves from Bay Bulls, which is a little farther again. All are still very accessible and each boasts its own unique flair!
Whether you spot any icebergs or whales or puffins totally depends on the time of year, but regardless, you will surely see the tremendous NL coastline and a variety of seabirds.
Stroll downtown. Walk Harbour Drive, Water Street, Duckworth, all the way up Cathedral Street. Visit unique shops including Nonia, Twisted Sister, Johnny Ruth and Living Planet, and Always in Vogue. Explore the Basilica, The Rooms, and Bannerman Park. Grab a local craft beer at Bannerman Brewery or Brewdock. Stop for photos at Jellybean Row. Wherever you find yourself in Downtown St. John’s, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised.
I bet you’re exhausted by now. Early mornings and fresh salt air will do that to ya. So here I present two options:
- Pop back to your hotel for a hot shower and a quick nap. No shame in this game, friends.
- Start the party early and head to a local joint for some appetizers and a drink. I recommend Adelaide Oyster House, Yellowbelly Brewery, Exile, Gypsy Tea Room, or EVOO/The Courtyard.
Get dressed up and head out for a lovely meal at one of St. John’s many fine restaurants. The culinary scene in this old city is evolving, modernizing, and has become quite renowned. Make sure you have a reso for any of the following recommendations: Merchant Tavern, Basho, Raymond’s, India Gate, St. John’s Fish Exchange, or Blue on Water.
Time to hit up George Street. You didn’t think you could get away from The Rock without a scuff on the Biggest Little Street in North America, did ya? George Street has the most bars per square foot and most bars per capita in Canada. It is open only to pedestrians, making it easy to hop from pub to pub. Get yourself screeched in while you’re there.
Before you head to our vibrant little city, you might want to get brushed up on the lingo:
And size up what souvenirs to bring with you when you leave:
I hope you enjoy your time in YYT!