hike the tablelands

The broke ass traveller’s guide to Newfoundland

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!

Change islands, home

Home!
So here’s a beginner’s budget guide to Newfoundland. Any other Newfoundlanders + other travellers, please jump in if you have suggestions. I’m not much of a travel hacker, but ya know. I’ve lived here awhile.

Flights

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.

The Tablelands

Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park.
The best option really is to rent a car, or find other travellers to share a car rental with. THAT way you can get into all the tiny little communities along the way, like Bonavista and Trinity and Twillingate. You’ll travel at your own pace. Gros Morne National Park itself is a beast. There’s no real public transportation within the park, so getting from one community to another can take an hour or more sometimes. Rental car is the way to go. Short of that, hitchhiking is very safe. I’d never do it, but plenty of people do.

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.

Accommodations

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.

woody point

Woody Point, Gros Morne National Park.
Some communities have hostels. Not all of them are listed on big sites like Hostelworld, so do a quick search first. For example, even CHANGE ISLANDS has a hostel. Change Islands! Imagine that. St. John’s also has one, and Trinity East has the wonderful Skerwink HI Trinity Hostel.

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.

food in bonavista

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.

Doing Things

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.

The Battery

View of The Battery in St. John’s.
The same goes for elsewhere around the island. The hiking is exceptional, and I mean that. The Northern Rim Hike in Gros Morne is beloved by even Nat Geo. Mountains, coastline, boggy marshlands, you name it. We have it. Things generally are much cheaper the further you move away from St. John’s.

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.

View of Cabot Tower

Hello. I am Signal Hill.
If you want to experience the famous nightlife in St. John’s without paying huge cover prices, stay off George Street (for the most part – bars like Trinity Pub will often have live music without cover). Shamrock City has traditional Newfoundland music throughout the week, often without cover (especially if you show up early). There are plenty of pubs poked into alleyways, my favourites being The Duke, The Republic, and The Grapevine. Oh, and The Black Sheep. On George Street, I love Christian’s. Dance clubs? Screw those. Prices at the bars for a pint of beer average between $7-9. They’re not cheap, which is why most people drink at home before going out, and the nightlife doesn’t really get started until beyond 11 PM.

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.

I’ll be headed out to the west coast this summer to beef up this guide with tips and suggestions for the Northern Pen. Stay tuned!

  • June 24 2015

    Every year we try to knock of a new to me part of Newfoundland since I’m from Alberta. This year I want to try out st. pierre and miquelon ( I know not really a part of NFLD). Since we are getting married in Placentia it would be like a honeymoon to “France” but cheaper ;) I couldn’t even imagine getting around without a car. It would seem impossible! Also thanks for the restaurant tips. I am going to send this to my friends and family who are all coming for the wedding. No one from my side has ever been to Newfoundland and so many people were so exciting to be booking a trip there!I have to say I wasn’t sure how many people would travel all the way out East just for a wedding but everyone made 2 or 3 week trips out of it with plans to explore the whole island!

    • July 04 2015

      Aww, that’s awesome, thank you! AND CONGRATS and your upcoming wedding! I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to celebrate it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to St. Pierre et Miquelon but it is DEFINITELY well worth the journey, and very much like taking a honeymoon in France. ;) Haha.

  • June 26 2015

    “In the winter/early spring you’ll die.” I’m dying – this is so true. Great post! When we lived away, we used to come home 2x every year, and would always rent a car. If you are renting a car in the summer, BOOK EARLY! They book up really quick and it gets super expensive at the last minute.

    • July 04 2015

      Hahaha. That’s an excellent tip, yes! I’ve often wondered why car rentals are so hard to come by here sometimes…

  • June 26 2015

    Yes. Thanks for this. I don’t know when or how (maybe I’ll score a $400 roundtrip flight) but somehow I’m going to Newfoundland. It’s been on my destination dream list for a while.

    One question that I can think of, assuming you have a car, do you think taking the ferry (I’m assuming from Nova Scotia) is worth it, or is it just better to fly in and rent a car?

    • July 04 2015

      You’d have to take the ferry from Cape Breton, so it depends on how much time you have! If you have a few weeks, a great trip would be flying into Halifax, seeing some of NS and Cape Breton, and then driving on to Newfoundland. There’s a ferry from Sydney to Port aux Basques, or a much longer ferry from Sydney to Argentia (eastern NFLD). From Port aux Basques you have easier access to the west coast, including Gros Morne National Park and the Northern Peninsula, but then it’s a good 12 hour drive to St. John’s. Argentia is fairly close to St. John’s, but on the opposite side of the island from Gros Morne. Hahaha. I’d probably advise doing NFLD as its own separate trip, honestly! It’s easy to misjudge distances and such, and NFLD is BIG!

  • June 30 2015

    It looks absolutely gorgeous, but I found the logistics of trying to travel around without a car (not much of a driver) really off-putting. As I live in Toronto, I’m usually able to get fairly cheap flights to Europe and usually end up going to London or Paris.

    • July 04 2015

      That seems to be the case with most Canadians, honestly! Myself included. If it’s so hard to explore our own Canada, we’ll naturally go across the pond. I’m not much of a driver either, which makes travelling difficult for me. If you ever do get a chance to visit though, maybe with someone who enjoys driving, I promise you won’t regret it!

  • July 05 2015
    Terry Randell

    If you’re travelling and using Corner Brook or St. John’s as your “home base” in the summer, the university is a pretty inexpensive place to stay. You can get a room at Grenfell in Corner Brook for like $27 a night (It is a residence bed though, but it is just a place to lay your head. But there is a kitchen where you can make food). I assume the St. John’s campus has similar prices but less of an ability to make food.

    • July 06 2015

      Yes, that’s a good one! I believe they rent out the chalets as well, which are beautiful. I lived in that residence for two years, haha.

  • July 09 2015
    hikebiketravel

    If you’re visiting St. John’s on a weekend & you have no car but you want to hike a section of the East Coast Trail – no problem. Join one of the guided hikes (check out the ECT website), sign their waiver and carpool with some locals to the trailhead. Throw in a few bucks to help with gas. It’s a great way to get to know a few locals and get to a pretty part of the world you probably wouldn’t normally visit.

  • July 17 2015
    Sarah

    I’m thinking of planning a trip to Newfoundland in September but can only get away for 10 days or so. Other than St. John’s, where should we hit to make the best use of our time? I’m thinking maybe fly into St. John’s and out of Deer Lake unless the car rental kills us doing that.

    • July 20 2015

      That’s a great plan, actually! I’d do 3 nights in St. John’s, a stop in either the Bonavista Bay area (Trinity and Elliston are gorgeous) or Twillingate/Fogo area, and then spend the rest of the time in Gros Morne National Park. It’s about 45 mins from Deer Lake. Don’t try to cram too much in it. NL is BIG!

  • July 20 2015
    Wadanna Westerhof

    I might be relocating to St. John’s for work — do you have any apartment buildings you could recommend? I am really enjoying your blog; you have made me so excited to be there.

    • July 20 2015

      That’s awesome!! There’s not a great deal of good apartment rentals in buildings, TBH, but check out Kijiji.ca for rental listings. That’s basically to go-to source for renters

  • January 26 2016
    Ashley

    So glad I found this post! My friend and I are traveling to Newfoundland this summer. She’s located in Halifax, so I’m going to fly in to there, spend a day or two in the city, and then we were thinking of renting a car from Halifax and taking the ferry to the east side of the island, checking out Gros Morne for a few days and then making out way to St. John’s, ditch the rental car and fly back to Halifax. (assuming we can leave the car at a different airport than we rented from…). Trouble is we’ll only have about a week in Newfoundland itself – does that seem like enough time? We’re both graduate students, poor in both time and money! :(

    • January 28 2016
      Candice

      I hear ya! Haha. With a week, I’d recommend just covering Gros Morne and St. John’s. You can do St. John’s pretty thoroughly in two days, and you’ll want more time in Gros Morne. Better than stretching yourself thin over a larger area!

  • January 28 2016
    Bruce Simms

    I am surprised that the Viking site at the northern tip of the Island was not mentioned. It is a world heritage site also. Strange to leave that out but every word written is great. I am a Newfoundlander and live now in St. John’s

    • January 30 2016
      Candice

      Thanks, Bruce! I haven’t actually been to L’Anse aux Meadows, and usually I don’t like writing about places I’m unfamiliar with when it comes to something specific, like budgets. But I have to get there soon.

  • May 21 2016
    Candice Hansen

    Ahoy! I really enjoyed reading this intro to NL- especially as a) you have an awesome name ;) and b) I am coming to visit your buddy Melissa in July! I can’t wait to see all NL has to offer. Thanks for the foodie tips, I prefer to eat and drink than to hike!

    • June 01 2016
      Candice

      That’s awesome! Melissa has talked about you often! Perhaps our paths will cross

  • May 31 2016
    Audrey

    Hi Candice,
    Indeed, some Europeans do travel to NL ! We are flying out from London with WestJet in 3 weeks ! Cheap ! But I can tell you people around me are more like “NL ?? Why ?? There’s nothing there !” and others were like “only you can find these places for a holiday”. It is not the obvious choice for a European (french actually) when thinking about Canada. I came across this when I was looking into Quebec… but there was something missing to make this holiday much more exciting… then I literally found a new land :) it was obvious. Tickets/car were bought in the next minute. Now all I think about is this trip. 2 weeks away from the London craziness. Your tips will be helpful as there is not much info available. Any info on Fogo island ? Spending our last day there.

    • June 01 2016
      Candice

      I’m so happy to hear that, Audrey! That’s awesome! I’m so happy more Europeans are coming over for a visit. :) There are some great hiking trails around Fogo, including one of the Four Corners of the Earth. If you get a chance, a tour of the Fogo Island Inn is supposed to be amazing as well!

  • July 27 2016

    I take it that you haven’t rented a car in NL. It’s nearly impossible……

    • July 27 2016
      Candice

      I have, but way, way in advance. Probably worth mentioning here…

  • August 19 2016

    GREAT post Candace. The idea of hiking Newfoundland would be right up my alley. What struck me is how close rural Newfoundland is to St. John’s. Literally ten minutes out of town and we were in delightful little fishing villages. I want to rent a saltbox cottage at some point and just soak up a local scene for awhile. Wonder if there’s any in Tors Cove… I have a winter watercolour scene from there.

    • August 23 2016
      Candice

      Right?! The fact that you can even hike up Signal Hill from downtown in the city blows my mind. Every time I get out there on the hill and look back at the city, I’m amazed. Never gets old.

  • May 21 2017
    Katherine

    Going to NFL for the first time next month with my partner (I am west coast Canadian, living in South Africa) and it was decided kind of on a whim, and I am SO excited now. Spending a week hitchhiking from Port Aux Basques and then three weeks WWOOFing in Bonavista. Honestly it doesn’t seem like nearly enough time! Seems like Gros Morne is something we should try and fit in.

    • May 22 2017
      Candice

      Oh you’re going to love it SO MUCH! Bonavista is my new favourite part of the island! Haha. I want to live out there!

  • June 05 2017
    Molly

    I wish I had read this post sooner – I may have taken you up on your offer to couch surf. You’re too generous. St. John’s is not a cheap place to stay… I am coming to St. John’s on Wednesday (June 7th) for a conference. I am staying until the 11th. I’m hoping to tour around on the 7th/11th as I have those days free from the conference. I’ve booked a whale watching/ iceberg tour for the one day, but I’m thinking about booking a walking tour of St. Johns for the other. Do you think this is necessary, or would I be able to tour around without a guide? Looking to save money wherever I can! I won’t have a car, and I do want to make the most of my trip since I don’t anticipate being able to come back for a while!

  • January 23 2018
    Sonia

    I, I’m thinking about going to Newfoundland in June, do you think it can be possible to camp or it’s still too much freezing ?

    • January 23 2018
      Candice

      It’s definitely possible to camp! But the temperatures can plummet in the evenings, so I’d make sure you have some solid gear, including thermals.

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