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Outside of Canada, Newfoundland, the country’s easternmost province, is not a place that you hear talked about often as a vacation destination, but it certainly should be. It offers incredible scenery, including dramatic mountains and fjords, a rugged coastline with picturesque beaches, majestic icebergs and an abundance of wildlife, not to mention some of the friendliest people on Earth. If you’d like to explore some of Newfoundland’s top attractions, consider putting at least a few of these amazing places on your itinerary.
While spending time in the city probably isn’t the reason you came to Newfoundland, St. John’s is one of Canada’s most charming small towns. Unlike many major cities, it’s relatively small with a huge personality – and it’s also considered the oldest in North America offering an especially rich history. Strolling the streets, the colorful jellybean row houses add a cheery feel even on a dreary day, wedged together in every space lining the sides of steep hills and hidden alleyways. One of the best spots to take in the entire scene, including the waterfront, is from Holloway Street, which also happens to be home to the Rowe House Gallery representing artist Cynthia I. Noel, featuring reproductions of the artists’ oil paintings and watercolor paintings making for one of the best, and often affordable, souvenirs. Plan to stay up late at least one night to enjoy the city’s famously outstanding local live music along George Street too – it’s known for having the most bars and pubs per square foot of any street on the entire continent.
St. Anthony is located near the tip of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula and is one of the best locations in the province for spotting icebergs in late spring and early summer. The drive north up the peninsula is spectacular in itself and has been rated as one of the most beautiful in the entire country. Much of the way you’ll follow the rugged coastline enjoying breathtaking water views, and there’s a good chance you’ll catch a glimpse of a moose, as the region is home to the highest concentration of the animal you’ll find anywhere. Be sure to visit Fishing Point Park, where you can hike 476 steps to the top of Fishing Point head where your reward will be a jaw-dropping view of an endless expanse of sea, and depending on the time of year, whales and icebergs too.
As you round the bend and the little town of Trinity comes into view, you’ll think it must be been created just for a film set, but it is very real, though it was the location for 2001’s “The Shipping News,” and 2013’s “The Grand Seduction.” This is a place steeped in history that’s hard to leave, with its picture-perfect saltbox homes, museums, art galleries and numerous other historic buildings impeccably preserved from the 18th century. Reserve a room at the Artisan Inn, which offers a variety of accommodation options like the 1840 Campbell House that overlooks the water and oozes a ton of character and charm. In the summer months, you can enjoy dinner theater at the Rising Tide Theatre featuring outstanding local musicians, singers, and actors in our company that focus on traditional Newfoundland songs. Of course, the area is also known for its scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities, including watching for whales, birds and icebergs.
Among Newfoundland’s long list of outdoor adventure opportunities, the months of December through April bring the best skiing on Canada’s east coast at Marble Mountain resort, located just five minutes from Corner Brook, known as the snowiest city in the nation. It receives an average of 16 feet of snowfall each year and features the highest vertical drop of any ski area in Atlantic Canada, with the chance to glide down 250 acres of powder. There are nearly 40 trails that offer something for everyone from the beginning skier to the most advanced, as well as for snowboarders in its terrain park.
When the snow is gone, visitors can enjoy heart-pounding activities like zip-lining through Marble Zip Tours, with the nine zip lines traversing the Steady Brook Gorge and Falls providing a variety of choices. An aerial obstacle course offers three levels of obstacles suspended up to 50 feet above the ground as well. It’s also a fantastic place for hiking during the warmer months, and the mountain also hosts all sorts of indoor and outdoor concerts and the Corner Brook Winter Carnival, held annually in February.
Twillingate is located on Newfoundland’s northeastern shores and is billed as the “Iceberg Capital of the World.” In addition to viewing icebergs, you’ll find lots of hiking trails as well as a picturesque lighthouse. Long Point Lighthouse is one of the most photographed landmarks on the northern coast, sitting at over 300 feet above sea level, providing a lookout point for taking in panoramic views of the Atlantic as well as the chance to view whales, seals, sea birds and icebergs. It also happens to be home to Auk Island Winery, producing unique wines made from Newfoundland berries as well as specialty wines using iceberg water. Be sure to stop by for a tasting and a tour, and save room for the homemade wine ice cream made at the onsite ice cream shop.
Gros Morne may be the most spectacular park you’ve never heard of. Located on Newfoundland’s west coast, it sits within the dramatic Long Range Mountains and is dotted with charming seaside villages, rocky and sandy beaches, lighthouses and freshwater fjords. It’s a true hiker’s paradise as well as a dream for wildlife enthusiasts, as the home geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. The Tablelands, which is a mountain of flat-topped rock, typically found only deep within the earth’s mantle, is truly a sight to see. Enjoy unforgettable boat trips, fishing and fabulous cuisine too. Rocky Harbour offers an ideal base for exploring the park.
The Change Islands, a stop on the way to Fogo, is a tranquil island home to just 300 residents. It is nestled in a narrow tickle and is most famous for being home to the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Refuge, which was established to carry out a breeding program with the goal of raising the numbers of the critically endangered Newfoundland Pony. Just 20 years ago there were at least 12 to 13,000 ponies in Newfoundland, but today there are only 88 registered ponies of breeding age that remain. They are all individually owned by people around Canada and the U.S., but the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Refuge is the only place in Newfoundland with an express purpose to carry out a breeding program. Here you can visit the ponies and even take a ride on one as well as visit the Olde Shoppe Museum – or simply listen to the sounds of the waves as they hit the rocks.
Located just north of Trinity near the community of Port Rexton, the Skerwink Trail was named by Travel and Leisure Magazine as one of the top 35 walks in North America and Europe in its August 2003 World Best Awards issue. This moderate to difficult 3.3-mile rugged coastal trail winds past sea stacks, icebergs, and caves – in June and July, you’ll have a good chance of spotting humpbacks as well. The dense forests, bogs and coastal areas of the trail are a bird watcher’s paradise, with everything from rock ptarmigan and bald eagles to grey jays, merlin, kingfisher and blue jays.
If you’d like to see the adorable seabirds known as puffins up close, head to Elliston. This town that was once known as Bird Island Cove offers one of the closest land views of puffins in North America between May and September. This is the time when the colorful auks occupy a section of land at the end of a rocky outcrop called “Puffin Island.” A less than five-minute walk down a narrow, well-worn path will bring you there, and with thousands of puffins buzzing around, you’ll be entertained for hours.
Brigus, located just 10 minutes from Spaniard’s Bay, is another one of Newfoundland’s prettiest towns. Postcard-perfect, it’s a perfect place for a stroll, where you can walk up the charming streets lined with beautiful homes that slope into green cliffs and watch the boats sail in and out of the harbor. Like taking a step back through time, history thrives here, with an abundance of impeccably-kept old-style architecture, rustic stone walls, picturesque gardens and winding narrow lanes that reflect English, Irish and Welsh heritage. The former home of Captain Bob Bartlett, known as the “greatest ice navigator of the 20th century, is now the Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site and a must-visit as a monument to Bartlett’s northern expeditions and simple way of life.
St. Mary’s is home to the most accessible seabird rookery in North America. Thousands of seabirds like northern gannets, common murres, razorbills, gulls, double-crested and great cormorants nest at this bird watcher’s paradise, while thick-billed murres, kittiwakes, oldsquaw, scoters and dovekies winter here. It’s an ideal place for walks, and at the interpretation center, you can learn more about the lives of the birds here as well as watch them going about their daily business from a huge viewing window. During the summer months, an annual concert series is hosted which features traditional music, dancing, food, drink and plenty of merriment.
Quirpon Island sits off the northeastern tip of the Northern Peninsula, and if you’re looking for a peaceful, remote place to stay – you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better. Relax on what feels like the edge of the Earth, leaving the high tech world behind to watch the waves roll in and the gannets that fly overhead. The only accommodation option on this island is the historic 1922 lighthouse known as Quirpon Lighthouse Inn, where orcas and humpbacks are frequent visitors, often coming so close you can practically touch them. This deserted islands sits in what’s known as “iceberg alley” too, which means from May through early July, you can gaze out at these natural works of art. After dark, the only light comes from the white flashes of the lighthouse, with the exception of the occasional display of the aurora borealis. Your smartphone won’t work here, and there are no televisions, or even radios – just the soothing sounds of the seabirds and the crashing ocean waves.
One of Canada’s most scenic islands, Fogo Island offers the chance to step into what feels like a lost time. Accessible by ferry from Farewell, it’s an ideal place to forget about your cares and get far off the beaten path. With 11 unique communities, there’s lots to explore, including Tilting, a traditional Irish village where you’ll hear the sounds of thick Irish lilts and have the chance to wander across old wooden docks and red-painted fishing rooms. There are a number of hiking trails here, and a gorgeous beach with soft white sands that sit at the edge of turquoise waters. Be sure to visit the Lane House Museum and the Dwyer Premises to learn about the town’s heritage and fishing industry.
Other highlights on the island include the Brimstone Head trail, accessible from the town of Fogo, offering some of the island’s most breathtaking vistas, and the Herring Cove Art Gallery, where you’ll find unique crafts including original paintings and prints by Winston Osmond of the local area.
Ferryland is another great stop along the Irish Loop. The Colony of Avalon was founded here in 1621, and today you can watch working archaeologists uncover foundations of houses and a 17th-century cobblestone street, as well as view thousands of artifacts that have been found in the interpretation center. At Ferryland Head, which can be reached by an easy hiking trail, you’ll find the Ferryland Lighthouse, a perfect spot for a picnic. If you didn’t happen to bring one with you, you can order the popular Lighthouse Picnic right here, it not only comes with delicious fare but a blanket to set down in the grass and watch for birds, whales and icebergs.
Just north of Elliston, Bonavista offers lots to see and do, including the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, which is one of the few remaining lighthouses in the world where you can still climb the stone tower and see the same seal oil-fueled light used in the 19th century. Visitors have the chance to experience what it might have been like to be a lightkeeper back in 1870, a 24/7 job that included filling oil lamps, polishing glass, recording weather patterns and watching the waves. It’s also yet another great spot for watching puffins, icebergs and whales. Explore rocky shores, pebbled beaches and gaze at the characteristic fishing boats. In “The Dungeon,” where the cliffs give way into a massive, natural opening with two seaward-side channels, and at the harbor, you can step inside a full-size floating replica of Cabot’s ship, The Matthew, and imagine how Cabot himself might have felt on his voyage to North America.
L’Anse aux Meadows is located at the very northern tip of the Northern Peninsula and is the site of the only authenticated Viking settlement in North America. A visit here not only brings the chance to breathe in some of the freshest air and soak up some of the most awe-inspiring scenery on the planet but to walk in the footsteps of the Vikings while touring ruins and visiting a replicated longhouse to discover what life might have been like here over 1,000 years ago. Just a short drive away is a recreated Viking port of trade known as Norstead where you can watch yarn being spun, throw an ax, sit in a chieftain’s chair holding a drinking horn and sword, or even try your hand at a traditional Norse game.
Sea of Whales Adventures is based in Trinity, but deserves a mention of its own, running one of the best whale watching tours you’ll ever experience. This area is home to many whale species, including fin, humpback, sperm, minke, and pilot whales, and, occasionally orcas too. Sightings are at their peak in July and August, though they can often be seen anytime between June and September. Dolphins and porpoises, eagles and offshore sea birds like puffins and northern gannets are almost always spotted as well. You’ll head out on a zodiac boat, and with groups kept to a maximum of 11, it offers a much more personal, and educational experience. Kris Prince, the owner, along with his wife Shauna, is especially engaging and knowledgeable – and comes complete with unforgettable Newfoundland charm!
The Norseman Restaurant, L'Anse aux Meadows
After a day of exploring, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in an amazing feast of locally harvest seafood, wild game and other specialties at The Norseman Restaurant nearby. Here you can indulge in even more fantastic ocean vistas and unforgettable sunsets in a spot where icebergs and whales can often be seen crossing paths. If you can’t tear yourself away from this breathtaking region of the province, Norseman owner Gina Noordhof also offers vacation rentals and B&B rooms at the Valhalla Lodge – the very place E. Annie Proulx wrote the “The Shipping News.” Be sure to ask her about the connections between her family and Proulx’s story as well as the popular children’s book she authored, A Puffin Playing by the Sea – you can pick up a copy while you’re there.
The Irish Loop Coffee House is located on the Irish Loop, just south of St. John’s. It’s said to be the most Irish place on Earth, outside of Ireland itself, of course. By heading to Judith Devine’s coffee house, you can even enjoy an array of tasty Irish delights, along with outstanding tea and coffee. Like many residents in this area, Devine speaks with a lovely accent that would have you believe that she grew up on the other side of the Atlantic, though her family has been here for generations. It’s a perfect place for a break during a day of exploring, or out on the water, where you can warm up by sipping a hot beverage by the fire and gazing at gorgeous bay views, and occasionally humpback whales swimming by too.
Make it a point to spend at least one night at The Spaniard’s Room, one of the most fabulous B&Bs in the entire province. Located in Spaniard’s Bay, just an hour from St. John’s, this heritage home with an ocean view is a perfect spot for rest and rejuvenation after a vacation spent traveling across Newfoundland, or as a destination of its own. Hosts Greg and Lorraine Miller offer especially comfortable rooms in their magnificent 1901 home that’s filled with gorgeous antique furnishings, along with incredible hospitality and extraordinary meals, including dinner options. If you’ve got sore muscles or are in need of some serious relaxation, massage is offered too.