Erm, well. Where do I begin? Newfoundland can be quite an expensive place to travel around — it’s certainly not cheap to live here. Newfoundland isn’t really built for budget travellers, unfortunately, and most businesses seem to target the retiree traveller. There’s little development put into making Newfoundland accessible to young folks looking to travel on the cheap – which angers me to no end, believe me. I once pitched a budget travel group to a local business development organization and they basically just laughed in my face.
BUT with that being said, there ARE ways to do it. There really are. And if you’re the kind of person who loves historical cities, unbelievably EPIC hiking trails and natural scenery, and really cool people who know how to handle their beer…well, I mean, you’re home. Forever. Don’t leave.
**NOTE! IF YOU’VE SIGNED UP FOR MY BUDGET GUIDE TO NEWFOUNDLAND, IT’LL BE RELEASED THIS YEAR (2018). The goal was to have it published in the spring, but Mom’s illness has brought all that to a halt. I’ll be back on it as soon as life is back to normal!
Flying into Newfoundland can be expensive, but really, really excellent sales do pop up every now and then. I’ve flown return to Calgary, for example, for about $400CAD. Same for Toronto. Halifax? $150CAD. WestJet and Air Canada tend to have the best seat sales, but at Porter has free dranks. Your best bet is to look for flights in spring or early fall. The weather tends to be best in the fall.
Hilariously, flying between St. John’s to Dublin (direct) with WestJet is often cheaper than flying elsewhere in Canada. Last year I got a round-trip flight for something ridiculous like $300CAD. Now that WestJet has started offering direct routes, every so often you can get super cheap sales. Same with Air Canada direct to London. The COOL thing about all that is that now Europeans are coming here too! Woo! Last year I played host to a Spanish dude who came to Newfoundland literally just because he found a seat sale. That makes me happy.
I also follow YYT Deals for alerts on cheap flights. I mean, technically it’s for getting me off the island, but you never know when you might find a cheap St. John’s flight near you.
Getting Around the Province
It is actually easier for me to get around developing countries in South America than it is for me to get around Newfoundland. It’s a sad reality. Try to think of it as a positive, maybe – you’re pioneering some territory here, folks. Impress your friends.
There is ONE public bus system that takes you across the province. It’s the DRL, and it fucking blows. You pay too much for a slow ride and it doesn’t even go to Gros Morne National Park – you’d have to get dropped off in Deer Lake. The route from St. John’s to Deer Lake, for example, costs $97 and it is a painfully slow ride. Also, they only take cash.
There are several smaller taxi companies operating between communities (with buses) but they’re generally overpriced as well. My friends at the HI Trinity Skerwink hostel has put together an impressive list of private taxi bus services.
Within St. John’s, the public MetroBus has improved in recent years, but most tourist attractions are within walking distance anyway. You’re better off situating yourself downtown for the duration of your stay so you can get everywhere on foot. (However, getting to Cape Spear requires a drive, and no public buses go there.) Taxis within the city (not including Airport Heights) are reasonable compared to big cities. For example, a taxi from the St. John’s International Airport to downtown St. John’s is about $25.
The cheapest option, of course, is Couchsurfing. I love hosting Couchsurfers. And when you find that right Couchsurfing host, you’ll have the best experience in St. John’s EVER. It’s a close community, so having that insider perspective is a huge advantage. You may find several opportunities for Couchsurfing in the more touristy areas, like Corner Brook and Gros Morne, but the smaller towns will be more difficult.
In THAT case, you can always camp. In the summer, at least. In the winter/early spring you’ll die. But there are absolutely tons of camping options if you’re into that, with some very well facilitated sites. Some are right on the highway, like Terra Nova National Park. Always check about park fees first, or else you’ll be faced with a fine.
Lately, I rely on Airbnb for longer stays, and you’ll find the prices around Newfoundland extremely fair. If you use my code to book a room, you’ll get a discount. My general rule of thumb before booking with an Airbnb host is to check their reviews and make sure there are at least five positive reviews (especially from women reviewers).
What else? You can find some no-frills bed and breakfasts owned by wonderful locals. One of my favourites is Hillside B&B in Twillingate, and Seven Oakes Island Inn in Change Islands. Keep in mind that a lot of the people who run these bed and breakfasts do not often have their accommodations listed on sites like Booking.com or whatever. Best to search for listings online, and then call them.
I realize having to call people is a nuisance, but it’s just how things are done here for now. One of my friends who runs a popular inn told me that people should always call to inquire about prices rather than booking directly through Booking.com — often they’ll cut you a deal, or offer something like free breakfast.
As for St. John’s, me and my roommate have our own Airbnb listing. You’re welcome to it.
Eating and Drinking
Eating out in Newfoundland can be EXPENSIVE but honestly it’s one of my favourite things about living here, especially in St. John’s. The food scene is great. If you’re gonna splurge on one thing, make it the food. Especially in St. John’s (but I’ve had excellent meals all over the place). Try the newly opened Adelaide Oyster House, or The Merchant Tavern. If you wanna drop big bucks, make it Raymond’s. It’s continuously voted the best restaurant in Canada. It’s not hard to see why.
Eating affordably? There are many smaller restaurants scattered around St. John’s that do the job. Pubs like The Duke of Duckworth and The Ship offer great lunches, although beer tends to be on the pricier side. Mallard Cottage offers a little high-end dining with really, really good prices (think brunch for under $20). Same goes with brunch at The Merchant Tavern and Blue On Water.
In the smaller communities, even the higher end restaurants are affordable, like the Bonavista Social Club and The Boreal Dinner. At least in terms of Canadian prices. Java Jack’s café in Rocky Harbour (Gros Morne National Park) is one of my favourite cafes ever. Otherwise, do your grocery shopping. I urge you.
Drinking in Newfoundland is INSAAAANELY expensive — especially in St. John’s. There are quite a few Happy Hours floating around though with excellent prices. I actually wrote a whole blog post with cheap places to eat and drink for every night of the week.
Here’s the best news yet – there’s plenty to do for free! Especially if you’re an outdoorsy nature lover. The major sites around St. John’s, for example, like Signal Hill and Cape Spear do not charge entrance fees unless you wanna access Cabot Tower or the lighthouse. On the East Coast we have the famous East Coast Trail, with hundreds of kilometres of hiking. Some of it is easily accessible from St. John’s, including the hike to Signal Hill and the Sugar Loaf Trail from Quidi Vidi.
And speaking of Quidi Vidi, this tiny fishing village is a quick trot from downtown St. John’s and is like a little taste of rural living in Newfoundland. Every Friday evenings there are traditional music sessions at the Quidi Vidi Brewery, and the price of pints is surprisingly affordable.
The Rooms Art Gallery & Museum is an exceptional spot with free admissions on Wednesday evenings. If you’ve come for icebergs and whales, while I highly recommend a tour, you can often see both from the coast during peak season. Twillingate especially is an ideal spot. The icebergs here come very close to shore, and you can usually find chunks of bergy bits floating within touching distance.