An incomplete and totally biased guide to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

I get about five emails per week asking me for St. John’s recommendations. I figure after nearly 10 years of living here, I’m at least a little qualified to write about my city.

This guide is by no means finished, however, and all you locals out there can offer up your own suggestions. But I DO have impeccable taste, so you’ll at least love the shit out of one of these items.

Getting around and doing stuff

I moved downtown years ago to be closer to work. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The heart of St. John’s is most definitely downtown, where it’s possible to get everywhere on foot. Water Street and Duckworth Street are the busiest areas, so situate yourself close to here. The city’s best music venues are within vicinity, as well as a whole lotta restaurants, bars, and pubs. There’s no better place to people watch than Water Street on a hot summer’s day when suits clash with hippie soapstone carvers and fiddling peddlers paired with bear-like Newfoundland dogs.

I’ll be frank: the public bus system doesn’t get you very far — although it’s a cheap an fair system ($2.50 per ride, even from Paradise into town). If you want to get out to Cape Spear (the easternmost point in North America) or around the Irish Loop, you’ll have to rent a car or hire a cab (or do a day trip).

Sightseeing and stuff

I never get sick of walking around St. John’s. The hills are a nightmare but you’ll have buns of steel by the time you’re done exploring.

Have you seen the images of the so-called Jellybean Row, with its rainbow Victorian homes and bright doors? Wind your way through the downtown area and you’ll get your colour fix. There’s even a “watermelon house” of black and bright pink.

The city climbs its way upwards and into the sky, so strolling Water Street and the harbour front will lend you some brilliant views. In the harbour you’ll find everything from cruise ships to rusty fishing boats, although you’ll wonder how they fit through The Narrows. The slate-coloured steeple of the Basilica is an odd contrast next to the ultra-modern The Rooms Art Gallery and Museum, but it’s a damned good contrast and one of my favourite things about the city.

Speaking of The Rooms, it’s a fab place to visit and one of the few art galleries that never fails to hold my attention for longer than 10 minutes. Local and international artists are featured here, and there’s an entire section dedicated to old Newfoundland, as well as a floor devoted to wildlife and nature. The café, though? One of the best views in the city. The last time I was there, two couples started dancing the tango. I don’t know what sparked such spontaneity. C’est St. John’s.

Signal Hill

Then there’s Cabot Tower, that imposing castle-like structure atop Signal Hill overlooking The Narrows and dominating all the land. Signal Hill is the site of the first Trans-Atlantic wireless signal, thanks to Marconi, and no Newfoundlander will let you forget it. You can drive to the top of this hill for a stellar view overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and depending on the time of year, you may see icebergs and humpback whales. My favourite way to see Signal Hill, however, is hiking straight up from The Battery. But more on that later.

I mentioned Cape Spear before, but I didn’t mention its old war bunkers and functioning lighthouse. I love it out there, but Fort Amherst is similarly beautiful and is located on the other side of The Narrows, across from Cabot Tower. You’ll get unique angles of the homes cluttered cliff-side in The Battery, looking like they’ll fall into the ocean with a single gust of wind.

Hiking and getting your fitness on

If you’re unfamiliar with the East Coast Trail system, it’s over 500-kilometres of coastal hiking on Newfoundland’s eastern edge.

The trails are broken up into various sections, so you can pick and choose hikes according to fitness level and time available.

Like I said before, one of my favourite routes to Signal Hill is through The Battery and up the North Head Trail. You’ll wind around the hill and ascend over 900 steps in the process, until you reach the summit. It’s not an easy hike (at least not for me – I have crazy friends who regularly run it), but the route through The Battery is just one of my favourite things about St. John’s. You’ll literally have to cross someone’s front deck to reach the trail head, and you’ll wind up and down tiny cottage-like homes and extravagant gardens with markers like moose skeletons dressed in plaid shirts and flowery leis. Seriously.

On your way to Cape Spear, you can also hike the Black Head Trail, an easier hike that’s extremely coastal and a prime place to pick blueberries. Wash them first, though. Really.

One of my favourite hikes is the Sugarloaf Trail from Quidi Vidi to Logy Bay. It’ll take about 3-4 hours but the variation in landscape along the way is pretty awesome. You’ll climb up a hill until Quidi Vidi village disappears from sight, and then the world drops off on the other side of a cliff and suddenly civilization might as well be a million miles away.

The more avid hiker can take the overnight trail to The Spout, a natural geyser near Witless Bay. The route to Doctor’s Cove is also lovely. There are seriously unlimited more trails to explore, but I haven’t seen them all. The East Coast Trail site will give you more info.

Wildlife and big nature

Hiking technically belongs in this category, but shag it. Did you know that Newfoundland is home to the largest puffin breeding ground in North America? The bird islands in Witless Bay are insane. Imagine thousands of screaming birds over your head, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s actually a really cool experience, if you’re not afraid of birds. Puffins hardly look like real animals; their fat little bodies skimming the water with wings flapping maniacally is laughable. But they’re cute as HECK. Kittiwakes and gulls also make this place their home. It’s a cacophony of caws.

Icebergs in st John's

Then, of course, there’s whale-watching season, typically occurring between June to late August. Humpbacks come here to feed, but in recent years it hasn’t been unusual to see orcas, minke whales, and even belugas. Fortunately for you, this often coincides with iceberg season. Icebergs aren’t always guaranteed; there were plentiful bergs when I first moved downtown, but the season has been slow in recent years. Until 2014, that is. This year’s iceberg season has me wondering how Greenland has any glaciers left. These giants are over 10,000 years old.

My favourite way to see icebergs and whales is with Iceberg Quest. They leave from the St. John’s harbour and the staff is delightful. To see the bird islands (and potentially more whales), I recommend Gatherall’s out of Bay Bulls. They have a small boat so you’ll have a more personalized experience as compared to some of the bigger players in that area.

Eating things

For a city of less than 200,000 people, the food scene in St. John’s is pretty incredible. The restaurant world is thriving here, and all the chefs work together to keep things interesting. There’s an unbelievable amount of talent.

A lot of the newer restaurants in town work with traditional Newfoundland dishes, but with creative twists. Have you ever had a gourmet-style Jigg’s Dinner (boiled veggies and salt meat)? Bacalao does it well, among other things.

To treat yourself, opt for a full-course meal at Raymond’s. The Merchant Tavern and Adelaide are two other of my favourite restaurants (Adelaide in particular, because it’s not overly expensive – the music is always too loud though).

For more casual dining, Chinched Bistro is a great spot. The Sprout has vegetarian and vegan food. For some international flavour, Mohamed Ali’s has a Middle Eastern restaurant on Duckworth Street (and another location on Water Street), and his falafels are to die for.

Coffee lovers: I’m a massive Jumping Bean fan. They have a spot on Duckworth Street and a few other areas around town. Rocket Bakery’s coffee is also delicious, as is their food, and they have a really laid-back social scene. The kind of place with a window-seat and cushions. At Mochanopoly, you can play board games while drink your cappuccino (just over $2 an hour!).

Fixed Coffee is another fave. Ultra hipster.

But you haven’t truly lived until a Newfoundlander refers to you as “my love” while ordering a medium double-double at Tim Horton’s.

Some traditional Newfoundland foods to keep an eye out for: cod au gratin, fish and brewis, toutons, cod cheeks and tongues, moose meat, bakeapples (or cloudberries), Jigg’s Dinner, fries with gravy and dressing, peas pudding, and more.

Entertainment and nightlife

I’m always in awe of the St. John’s social scene, especially music. You’ll find everything here from Newfoundland trad to indie to folk, and the musicians are damned talented.

The Rockhouse is a great spot for live music, and it doesn’t feature just rock. The Ship is a cozier atmosphere (albeit an ultra-artsy one), as well as CBTGs. Keep an eye out for bands like Repartee, Sherman Downey, etc.

For traditional tunes, Erin’s Pub, Shamrock City, and O’Reilly’s are my favourite spots.

Shamrock City gets ultra lively, while Erin’s Pub is the oldest Irish pub in Newfoundland and often caters to a more laid-back scene. The Navigators, various members of the Irish Descendants and The Punters, and Fergus O’Byrne are some folks to look out for.

To get your partay on, perhaps you’ve heard of George Street. It has more pubs and clubs per square foot than anywhere else in North America, and it’s a glorious mess. The entire street is filled only with pubs and clubs, although sometimes I feel the biggest party takes place outdoors as everyone mingles on their way to the bars. My favourite spot is Christian’s, where the famous Screech-In occurs, but to be honest I’ve outgrown the street over the past few years. Dance a jig at O’Reilly’s, grab a White Russian at Lottie’s, or slip into the quieter scene elsewhere. You’ll be more likely to find me at The Republic, just above the street, or the Duke of Duckworth.

I will say, however, that George Street Fest is completely worth experiencing at least once. At this festival (and other events), the entire area shuts down. You pay one cover charge to enter the street, and you’re free to drink beers between bars and while watching an outdoor concert. It typically occurs at the end of July and is one of my favourite things about summer.

George Street Fest

One of my ALL-TIME favourite places to visit is the Inn of Olde in Quidi Vidi. It’s basically inside someone’s house, and it smells like Newfoundland past. You know the smell, when you walk into an old house and there’s a slight musty odour but also a lingering ghost scent of baked banana bread and fresh raisin buns? That smell. There are shiny Christmas decorations on the ceiling, and the walls are covered in photographs and knick-knacks. Quidi Vidi itself is a small fishing village worth exploring, and the Quidi Vidi Brewery is at the water’s edge. Opt for a beer tour. They pour generous servings.

For non-booze and non-musical fun, check out what’s on at the LSPU Hall. Here’s where all the theatrical productions are, and many of them have a Newfoundland theme. For awesomeness, opt for a Haunted Hike.

EDIT: And the St. John’s Farmer’s Market. My gawd, I should go to jail for not mentioning that one.

Culturally speaking

There are two types of Newfoundlanders: townies, and baymen. Townies are people from St. John’s; baymen refers to anyone living outside the city, or “out past the overpass.” I like to argue this, though. I grew up in isolation six hours from St. John’s, and we didn’t have many facilities. If you have a McDonald’s, you’re probably more of a townie than a bayman.

Anyway. I tell you this because the lifestyle in St. John’s is a completely different world from the rest of the island. You’ll have to experience both sides of it.

You may find yourself struggling to understand what some folks are saying. Newfoundlanders have thick accents, and with more dialects than anywhere else in the world, the amount of language difference can be overwhelming. Words and expressions take on new meaning here, and we even have our own dictionary. It’s a beautiful thing.

A lot of our cultural identity can be attributed to the Irish Catholics, which made up a massive part of our population by the time the English started backing out of the province. In my opinion, Newfoundland isn’t Canada. There is nothing Canadian about Newfoundland (but we’re all proud Canadians). The people on this Rock are a hardy crew, and they live here because they love it. They love the saltwater in their veins and the bitter snap of fresh air and the sun sinking behind the pine-clad hills. There are few moments I appreciate more than being in Bay d’Espoir enjoying a cold beer with my father around a fire in the backyard, with the night sky lit up by the Milky Way. Similarly, the love for St. John’s runs deeper than The Narrows, and I adore the fiddle music I hear drifting up from my open bedroom window in the evenings.

Where to stay

I can hardly answer this. I live in St. John’s, so it’s not like I’ve experienced the hotels. There aren’t a great deal of budget options other than the HI Hostel (and some great Airbnb listings — sign up through me to get $30+ off your first stay) . Like I said, pick a place close to downtown. My futon is also free, if you don’t mind three cats sleeping on your head.

Visiting Newfoundland? Sign up to be the first to know when Not Your Grandmother’s Guide to Newfoundland is published! Coming 2019.

  • July 22 2014

    Love it. Dying to go one day. Would love to have 3 cats sleep in my head :)

    • July 25 2014

      Hahaha, you’ll LOVE them. They’re the sweetest little monsters.

  • July 22 2014

    This sounds magical! Plus a good music scene and good food?! I’m sold. You have me literally looking up flights right now (my closest airport is Montreal so it’s not a bad flight)!

    Might have to make a trip later this summer :)

    • July 25 2014

      YEAH! Do it! I think flights from Montreal can be fairly decent?! Sometimes. Haha.

  • July 22 2014

    Uhhhh WHATTTTTTTT why did I not know any of this about St. John’s!?! It sounds like Victoria but way more badass. Also, I thought you might appreciate that I was called in today to one of the dive boats as the token Canadian to translate…off I went thinking it was a French diver…turns out it was for someone from Newfoundland who no one could understand :)

    • July 25 2014

      OMG! Hahahaha. I’m laughing so hard over this. Amazing.

  • July 23 2014
    Pamela Winsor-Preza

    once a Newfie, always a Newfie!!! I always go to Quidi Vidi when I’m home. A boat road out on the bay is a treat as is a drive around the bay, Conception Bay that is, so many picturesque spots!!!

  • July 23 2014
    HippieInHeels

    I love comprehensive guides like this! I did one for Goa after being here a couple years and faced the same thing as you with hotels, so during monsoon while no tourists are here I’m going to hotels to review them for a night (just the nature/eco ones not big boring ones!) so I can help when people e-mail me. Something to consider!

    • July 25 2014

      For sure! Thought about the same as I was writing this. Now to pick the ones with the best spa action…? Hahaha.

      • November 10 2015
        Raul

        Yes Please. Lol

  • July 23 2014

    For the record, I love the shit out of all of these items.

    • July 24 2014

      As I was reading this post, I was thinking to myself, “Sara should so move here. All of this is totally her jam.” Except NO, you’re not allowed to move farther away from me than you already are. We may have to schedule a visit, however.

      • July 25 2014

        YES! Come visit! Like, next week. George Street Fest is about to happen.

  • July 23 2014
    Melissa

    For where to stay, I found renting an apartment (from craiglist or airbnb) was much more cost-effective than St John’s hotels plus you get to meet some nice Newfoundland folks :)

    • July 25 2014

      I’m glad there’s an Airbnb scene! My preferred way to travel too.

  • July 23 2014
    Natosha

    Excellent article!! Where to stay in St. John’s? Try MUN residence open to the public at affordable rates for summer, or Pippy Park in summer – awesome park in excellent location! Downtown there are nice B and B’s. I stayed at The Rose years ago, a beautiful old home with character and a big breakfast in the morning :) if you like hotels The delta is nice with the indoor swimming pool and the access to Mile One stadium, as well as being right downtown.

    • July 25 2014

      Awesome! Thanks for that. Forgot about the MUN thing. Definitely a bonus.

  • July 23 2014
    Nancy Davolio

    Nice pics!!!!!!!!!!! looking a delicious food and fantastic market. An amazing place with such natural delights. I will surely
    plan my upcoming vacation to this place.Thanks for posting nice blog.

  • July 24 2014
    Ed

    Awesome. I’ll visit if you can guarantee me a sunny warm day. I get separation anxiety if I have to part with my sandals…

    • July 25 2014

      You’ll have to come NOW. This summer has been killing me with the heat. It’s suddenly a tropical island around here.

  • July 28 2014
    Shy

    I’ve never hiked the trails (YET!) as our time in St. John’s is always so brief. As soon as we land we usually having to get going so we an get maximum family visiting squeezed in. One time we had about 4 hours to kill before our ride came to town so we rented a car and went to Cape Spear. I had to do three blog posts on just that because it was so beautiful! You gave me lots of great ideas for the next time we have some time to kill!

    • August 10 2014

      YAY! Haha. And I hear ya. Currently in the same boat while visiting friends in Nova Scotia. The most I’ve seen is my friend’s living room. Lol.

  • July 28 2014

    Note to self – oh my god go to St. John’s. Also get on a treadmill before you leave, because you might die from all that hiking.

  • March 06 2015
    elegantlyeco

    Hubby & I are planning to go to St. John’s this September for our 6th wedding anniversary. Going to check out the tours you recommended! Thanks!

  • March 14 2015
    Laura

    Still…St.John’s is pretty boring and depressing! I’ve been to all of these places and I was not impressed. It is also not a good place to live. If you like isolation and feel more dead then alive, then you probably found the best place to spend the rest of your life. Shopping really sucks! The weather is miserable, because you never know what to expect. This makes it difficult to choose what to wear…if you want to go for a walk. Since people in St.John’s do not walk outside, maybe it does not really matter…

    • March 14 2015

      I’m sorry you feel the way! I’ve travelled quite a bit in my life and I always love returning to St. John’s. But different strokes for different folks.

  • March 20 2015
    Christine

    Any advice for a fellow Canadian who’s never been to NFLD and wants to work/live for the summer!!!?? and save money for future travels :)

    • March 22 2015

      Do you have much experience in the service industry? You could make a killing at waitressing/bartending! The summer gets super busy.

  • April 26 2016
    Aron

    Hey Candice! Great Blog! I am hoping to do a Masters in Business Administration from MUN but know nothing about the University reputation. Also are there companies in St.John’s that hire part time managers? Also what is the cost of living as a University Student? I know I am asking a lot but please help me! Thanks!!!

    • April 28 2016
      Candice

      Hey Aron! MUN is a really reputable school! And I’m not just saying that because I went there. ;) You should have no problem getting hired on as a manager somewhere, and cost of living is fairly low. Rent is affordable, but entertaining/dining out, etc can be pricey.

  • June 25 2016
    Ernesto

    Hi Candice! Thanks for listing all of your tips on what to see and what to do in St. John’s. I’ll be in St. John’s this September, and I’m really looking forward to experiencing what St. John’s has to offer (and going out on a boat tour with Iceberg Quest sounds cool too!). I’m also planning on going on a day tour down to Ferryland, because the archaeological site there really interests me.

    Thanks again for your mini-guide to St. John’s Candice!

    • July 03 2016
      Candice

      You’re very welcome — this needs bit of an update, in fact! You’ll love it and September is an awesome time to visit. I’ve never been to Ferryland. It’s on the list. :)

  • July 19 2016
    kerry

    Hey thanks for the great information – entertaining as well. Heading there soon in August and looking forward to it. Will definitely try some of those places you have recommended. Crossing our fingers for good weather. Thanks again.

    • July 27 2016
      Candice

      Crossing my fingers for you as well! The weather’s been surprisingly good since I’ve been home.

  • July 24 2016
    Geon

    Wonderful job Candice, This is really a novice guide to Newfoundland. I will be coming to CNA for a degree in Safety Engineering. What are the prospects for a career in Safety in Newfoundland.

    Thanks.

    • July 27 2016
      Candice

      I’d say they’re pretty good, Geon! Although I’m not overly familiar with engineering, haha. But I do hope you enjoy your time here.

      • July 29 2016
        Geon

        Thank you very much Candice.

  • August 23 2016
    David

    Greetings :) I am wondering if someone is doing his /her MBA at MUN ?

  • August 24 2016

    Hi Candice, thank you for this post, you’re clearly a wonderful host to St. John’s. I have an opportunity for a job in downtown St. John’s at a hotel and I would be moving from Calgary. From some research online I see that cost of renting is lower there but other items like groceries, etc. would be higher. What are your thoughts on cost of living there? I also love the outdoors and biking around (we are kinda spoiled with great trails within the city in Calgary). Is road/paved biking a good option in the area or mostly trail/mountain biking?
    Thank you in advance for your comments and did you publish that guide yet?

    Cheers,
    Jeet

  • December 04 2016
    Francis

    Candice, i am moving in to st. johns January to stay there for a year or more. are there good job opportunities in the city? and also want to know if job searching can be stressful

    • December 04 2016
      Candice

      It depends on what you’re looking for, really! There are plenty of opportunities if you’re not looking into a specific career.

  • January 21 2017
    Stephen Mylett

    Thank you for all this information! I night be going to school there for about a year and the part that interests me the most is the hiking and nature aspect of it there. I am just wondering if it is difficult buying a vehicle there? Im from Texas so everyone is trying to sell a vehicle if you need one. I would like to try and buy a cheap car so Im not tied down to renting one. Would this be easy there?

    Best Regards,
    Stephen

    • January 22 2017
      Candice

      I don’t think you’d have any trouble doing so, Stephen! Seems to be easy enough for my friends!

  • March 04 2017
    FaFa

    Hi Candice! Great pics! I’m going to apply to MUN. Are there good job opportunities for an electrical engineer in st John’s (for my husband)? Thanks for any help you can give :)

    • March 14 2017
      Candice

      Hi FaFa, absolutely! Tons of opportunities out here for that kind of work!

  • April 23 2017
    FRANCIS

    Great job, CANDICE. Am a Nigerian. I am planning to come to CNA to do post graduate diploma in Safety Engineering technology next year. Please what is the possibility of getting a job in safety after graduation. And also is it a good place to settle down a family, because am planning to stay back with my wife and son in Newfoundland.

    • May 10 2017
      Candice

      Francis, St. John’s is a great city to live in! It takes awhile to get used to, I must admit, and making friends can be difficult at times (it’s a small city). But I do love living here. I think you’ll do well with your engineering background.

  • September 17 2017
    chuks

    hi Candice, nice piece dear, you did a great job, I want to know if there are good job opportunities for a pharmacist in Newfoundland, how is the pay like? and what is the cost of the recognition exams

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