Perched on the island of Newfoundland, St. John’s is one of the best Atlantic coast cities to visit. It’s got that perfect mix of history, access to the great outdoors and that warm Canadian charm. Not only that, there are heaps of the very best things to do in St. John’s dotted all across (and near) the city.
Yes, it’s much smaller than cities like Toronto and Vancouver, but that’s what makes it so special. It’s totally charming and a perfect place for a holiday or city break without any of the stress, hustle or bustle of bigger cities.
We had the most incredible time in St. John’s and driving around Newfoundland. This part of Canada is so beautiful.
So, to help you along your way (and so you’re not bogged down with planning), I wanted to share some of the best things to do in St. John’s when you next visit Newfoundland. Have the best time visiting Canada.
1.) Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site
With a history that goes back almost 200 years, Cape Spear Lighthouse is well worth visiting when exploring the wider St. John’s area.
Easy to get to by car (with easy parking), Cape Spear Lighthouse is the perfect spot to explore on a sunny day. Not only that, you can also visit the easternmost point of North America whilst you’re here. It’s right next to the lighthouse.
Though make sure to take some layers with you, as the trails can be windy at certain times of the year. Oh, and as always, stick to designated paths and avoid going too close to the cliffs. No one likes a reckless rambler.
2.) Quidi Vidi
On the western side of the city, visiting Quidi Vidi is one of the best things to do in St. John’s if you want to visit for a totally easy stroll around the lake or visit the harbour. It’s totally quaint.
Now, although small, it’s the perfect place to stop around lunch (yeah, I’m always thinking of food). Once here, book a table at Mallard Cottage which is totally charming. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it was our favourite eating spot in all of the city.
Once inside, make sure to try some of their seasonal dishes that are so yummy. Oh, and make sure you leave room for dessert, too. They’re so good.
Have some energy left in you? Ramble the Sugarloaf Path for views and stop by the Artisan Studios for some local gifts. We spent a full afternoon in this area of St. John’s… and loved it!
3.) Hike the East Coast Trail
First off, don’t forget to pack hiking shoes when visiting St. John’s. Honestly, if you love the great outdoors, then the wider island of Newfoundland is just beautiful to explore. Though, don’t be thinking it’s small – the island is colossal and you’ll need months to truly see it all.
This all means it’s best to prioritise what and where you’d like to visit when exploring St. John’s. One such place is the East Coast Trail. It’s one of the best things to do in St. John’s, especially if you want to get away from the streets and see the natural beauty of the wider area.
Now, there are several sections to walk, which can make it pretty daunting to choose the ‘right one’. The good thing is, the sections are all totally beautiful and have some spectacular views of the wider region.
Best of all, the East Coast Trail has sections and trails that are perfect for all different fitness levels.
4.) Puffin and Whale Watching
We had the best time doing this!
After a day in St. John’s, head over and book tickets onboard Gatherall’s puffins and whale-watching tours. After heading out to sea, you’ll get to explore with experts (that are totally friendly, too) and spot some of the local species that call this area home.
We had the most amazing tour and spotted so many puffins. Plus, you might spot some of the incredible whales that frequent the shores, too.
Oh, and if you’re feeling up to it, you’ll even get to try your hand at ‘screeching’. Well, at least Gatherall’s version of it. The whole tour was so much fun and easily one of the best things to do in St.John’s that’s outside the city.
On that point, if you fancy a longer tour of the wider St. John’s area, book a photography tour with Maurice from Far East Photography.
He’s a local pro that knows all the best spots and beautiful vistas. We loved it.
5.) Basilica of St. John the Baptist
This ornate and gorgeous Basilica is one of the best things to do in St. John’s if you want to see some stunning architecture i the city.
Not only that, it’s the oldest national historic site in St. John’s and well worth taking a gander whilst you’re here; especially for the 60 (or so) stained glass windows.
Designed in 1847, the architecture is beautiful. Unfortunately, the cathedral has been through damage, but it is still a place you need to put on your spots to see.
You can easily pop in for 15-20 minutes and head on a self-guided tour of the site. Well worth it if you’re in the area.
Afterwards, book a table at Chinched for dinner. We loved it, especially for all the charcuterie and Merasheen Bay
Oysters. They also sell crispy pig ears, which are surprisingly good.
6.) Visit the Harbor (and Water Street)
On your first day in St. John’s, it is almost necessary to take a ramble through the historic city streets and find your way around.
For us, Harbor and Water Street is a spectacular place to explore, especially around lunchtime with all the local restaurants.
Just be sure to take some time to stroll the South Side and book a tour with NL Boat Tours. You can explore so much of the east coast of Newfoundland with them.
Afterwards, make some time to visit Cape St. Francis, Pouch Cove and Flatrock which are totally lovely spots to visit whilst exploring.
7.) Signal Hill National Historic Site
Visiting Signal Hill is easily one of the best things to do in St. john’s whilst you visit the city. You see, it’s the perfect place to learn all about the Signal Hill National Historic Site’s history and hike up to the Cabot Tower.
Plus, you can follow the North Head Trail all around St. John’s Harbour. You might even spot some icebergs floating by (at certain times of the year).
Oh, and be prepared, some of the steps can be steep.
8.) Fort Amherst
On the other side of the harbour (from Signal Hill), Fort Amherst is well worth visiting when you’re visiting the harbourfront itself.
Not only are the views gorgeous, but you can easily spot those colossal icebergs (usually in the last few days of May and early June).
Plus, you’ll be able to take the East Coast Trail directly from here. Totally worth it.
9.) Salmoners Nature Park
Again, not directly in St. john’s but a site outside the city that you can easily visit for the afternoon. Salmoners Nature Park has a beautiful boardwalk that’s well worth strolling in the summer months.
The loop is around 3.5 Km and takes around 2 hours to complete. Along the way, you might even spot some of the resident species that call this area home.