Visiting Newfoundland and Labrador has long been an aspiration, and various recommendations for St John’s have been received over the years, so accepting an invitation to visit was a no-brainer. The oldest city in North America is famed for the colourful homes which make up the attractive streets of the city, yet just a few hours after arriving, it became clear there are plenty of surprises in store.
Exploring St John’s
There are many attractions within a short drive of the city, and it is ideal for exploring the Avalon peninsula. However, before jumping in the car and heading further afield, it’s worth exploring the city first. Although it’s now spread well beyond the harbour area, it’s still quite easy to walk or cycle around the central area, and making use of the metrobus even offers Wi-Fi.
I was based at the Murray Premises Hotel right on the harbour, a historic building, providing comfortable accommodation, which is well placed for exploring the city. Stepping out of the door on one side it was possible to stroll along the quayside, browsing the many small fishing vessels and a few larger ships, or leave through another door straight onto the high street to grab a coffee.
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Talking of which, of course, you want to know where to get a good coffee and bite to eat, well look no further; take a short stroll across the street and visit the popular Rocket Bakery; there’s a good reason it’s popular.
There’s also plenty of nightlife on offer for those with enough energy, lively George Street is easy to find, just follow the sounds of partying. Becoming an honourary Newfoundlander is surprisingly easy, while not sounding particularly appealing. Several places including the former Masonic Hall, now the “Screech Room” and theatre offer this dubious ceremony. Along with reciting some Newfoundland phrases it involves downing some local rum, and cod smooching, yes you read right! A certificate of citizenship is presented, though I’m still waiting for mine!
Jellybean Row to Iceberg Alley
St John’s harbour is tucked away from the full power of the Atlantic, but is very much on the route of the famous “Iceberg Alley“. A short drive along the coast and floating bergs of all shapes and sizes soon come into view, however an almost guaranteed way to see them is on a boat trip from the harbour. Seeing these beautiful, floating lumps of ice so close to shore is an experience not easily forgotten.
Records of a settlement called St John’s exist dating back as far as 1519, officially becoming a city in 1888, it has a rich history, although unfortunately, much of this relates to several wars. The first transatlantic wireless signal was sent from Cornwall, England and received in St John’s by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, so it’s not all about wars.
Taking a walk through the town, it’s impossible to miss the colourful houses which line many of the streets, known globally as “Jellybean Row“. Traditional theories state the historical, colouring book like houses were painted so vibrantly to allow sailors at sea to distinguish them in fog. However, it seems more likely they were painted in this manner sometime in the 1970s to inject life into the then declining town.
Thankfully, it proved successful.
View from the Hill
The best views of the city can be found from historical Signal Hill. As well as being the site where Marconi received the world changing signal, and National Historic Site of Canada, it overlooks St John’s and its harbour. The Cabot Tower is located here, commemorating the discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot in 1497, and almost every tourist visits this site for views of the Fort Amherst lighthouse, the Atlantic Ocean and distant Spear Point. The Johnson Geo Centre is worth stopping at, a geological interpretation centre which tells the history of the earth through the geology of the province.
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It’s also worth taking the trip to the other side of the harbour, where great views of The Battery, a neighbourhood sitting directly below Signal Hill and at the entrance to the harbour are found. Further along the dock Fort Amherst and its neighbourhood is found, directly opposite The Battery, I never made it that far.
Slightly further from the city centre, but still within walking distance is Quidi Vidi, a picturesque fishing village, which is now a fashionable residential district and home to a craft brewery and the Village Plantation. This shouldn’t be missed, artisans creating and selling their often-unique creations, but arrive at sunset when the light over the village is prettiest.
I’ll be travelling further afield in future posts, but hopefully this has whetted your appetite for more Newfoundland
adventures. Fact Box: Air Transat operates regular flights from several UK airports to various destinations in Canada The Rocket Bakery is a friendly bakery offering sandwiches, salads and a decent coffee. Coffee Matters is all about the coffee and a tempting cake. The Yellowbelly Brewery Company with craft beers and good food. The fish and chips are the best in town. Blue on Water freshly cooked local produce with a relaxed dining experience. Iceberg Quest tours, sailing from Pier 6 will get you up close and personal with icebergs, puffins and whales.
Air Transat operates regular flights from several UK airports to various destinations in Canada
The Rocket Bakery is a friendly bakery offering sandwiches, salads and a decent coffee.
Coffee Matters is all about the coffee and a tempting cake.
The Yellowbelly Brewery Company with craft beers and good food. The fish and chips are the best in town.
Blue on Water freshly cooked local produce with a relaxed dining experience.
Iceberg Quest tours, sailing from Pier 6 will get you up close and personal with icebergs, puffins and whales.
*Grateful to Destination Canada, Air Transat and St John’s Tourism for providing me with the opportunity to visit the city. As always all opinions are my own, developed over several days getting to know St John’s.