St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador is a beautiful, photogenic city located as far east as you can get in North America. With its colourful Jellybean Row houses, the classic harbour and rugged coastal scenery, it is one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Canada. If you have the time for an extended visit, you should also try to check out some of the outstanding day trips from St. John’s scattered around the beautiful Avalon Peninsula.
From historic lighthouses to captivating islands to authentic fishing villages, there are many different day trips from St. John’s to fit all interests and itineraries.
With good roads, relatively light traffic and loads of attractions within easy driving distance of the city, St. John’s makes an obvious and ideal base for your time in Newfoundland. On our last visit we stayed in the city for 3 weeks, venturing out everyday on different day trips from St. John’s.
Then as the weather improved we went to explore up north for a couple weeks in places such as the Bonavista Peninsula, Twillingate and Fogo Island. The possibilities really are endless in the impressive wonderland that is Newfoundland.
The 10 Best Day Trips from St. John’s Newfoundland
1. Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site
Stand on the Easternmost Point in North America
15 km / 15 min by car
One of the most popular St. John’s day trips, Cape Spear is actually very close to the city. Still a bit too far to walk for most people, though, it involves a short drive out to this dramatic spot – the easternmost point in North America. Early risers often come here for sunrise to experience the thrill of being the first people on the continent to see the sun that day.
There are actually two lighthouses here. The oldest lighthouse in the province, that was still in use up to 1955. And the “new” lighthouse, which has been around for nearly 70 years itself, is taller and fits the classic pillar profile of a maritime lighthouse.
The old one is wooden and more squat, like an old house that just happened to find itself in a great location.
As a National Historic Site, Cape Spear also has a visitor centre, museum and washrooms, making it a good place to bring the whole family. The ocean and coastal views are phenomenal, with icebergs routinely passing by in spring and migrating whales most of the summer.
Cape Spear is located on the East Coast Trail long distance trek and from the lighthouse some of the nicest trails in St. John’s lead off in both directions along the coast. You can walk as far as you like, taking in the exceptional scenery, before returning to your car.
2. Petty Harbour
One of the Best Fishing Villages in Newfoundland
15 km / 15 min
The next stop along the coast south of St. John’s, Petty Harbour is the classic vision of an adorable fishing village and an easiest and most enjoyable day trips from St. John’s. There is a cute little harbour surrounded by lush hills. Hills which happen to be lined with colourful homes in a seemingly random pattern.
Then the harbour is filled with stereotypical maritime fishing boats – fully functional working boats that also just happen to be extremely photogenic. Combine them all and you can see why Petty Harbour earned a place on our list of top photo spots in St. John’s.
You can visit the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium with its fascinating displays, exhibits and live fish tanks. There is plenty of info for the adults and even “touch tanks” for the kids. This also happens to be one of the best vantage points for a classic “coloured houses on a hill overlooking the bay” photo.
The village itself is actually called Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove and is located in lovely Motion Bay.There are less than a thousand permanent residents in this historic village that dates back to the 17th century. It is the site of the very first hydroelectric generating station in Newfoundland and Labrador, boasts busy cod and snow crab fisheries and is considered the most photographed village in Newfoundland. It also has a great viewpoint on the edge of town with benches to sit and enjoy the view.
3. Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
35 km / 30 min
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and the nice towns of Bay Bulls and Witless Bay are essential stops along the Irish Loop scenic drive around the Avalon Peninsula. With gorgeous scenery and a surprising amount of seabird and marine life, this is a great place for nature lovers.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is made up of 4 separate islands that are extremely scenic any time of year and are simply swarming with different seabird species from May to August. The big highlight for most, though, is the largest colony of Atlantic puffins in North America. Witless Bay is the summer home for as many as 250,000 nesting pairs each year.
Most iceberg and whale watching trips will also make a stop in Witless Bay or you can go more local and book a trip with O’Brien Boat Tours out of Bay Bulls (although they can also pick you up in St. John’s if necessary).
4. La Manche Suspension Bridge
Cross the Quarry in Style
60 km / 50 min driving + 2.5 km / 1 hr on foot
Located in La Manche Provincial Park and considered one of the top highlights along the 335-km-long East Coast Trail, La Manche Suspension Bridge is one of the only ECT highlights that can be reached with less than a full day hike. In fact, you can drive to just over a kilometre away, then walk in on an easy, scenic path.
First you will reach the visually underwhelming but historically significant remains of abandoned La Manche Village. But the best part is the charming suspension bridge, hovering impressively over a rushing river with waterfalls in the background, which is the main reason this is one of the most popular day trips from St. John’s.
La Manche Bay is also beautiful, widening as it reaches out to sea, while the Quarry – the narrow part of the cove where the river empties into the bay – offers dozens of terrific photo spots.
If you like hiking and want to enjoy more of the great coastal scenery you can also take on longer hikes from either side. From the north you can do a 4.5 km return trip to the bridge. Most of this easy trail is in the trees but there is a very scenic 5-minute detour out to Doctor’s Cove.
From the south, the Flamber Head Path is a much more strenuous endeavour (10 km each way / 6-8 hrs return) but features some of the best scenery of the entire East Coast Trail.
5. Ferryland Lighthouse
Hike Along the Peninsula
One of the most famous and historic lighthouses on the east coast, the Ferryland Lighthouse occupies a prominent spot at the very tip of a narrow, rocky peninsula. Dating back to 1870, the lighthouse offers up tremendous scenery and is often a great place to see migrating whales in summer.
At the base of the peninsula is the Colony of Avalon, a set of historic ruins and archaeological museum that is worth a stop. From there, you have to walk roughly 1 km each way to the lighthouse. We ran out of time the day we were hoping to go there but did see the lighthouse pretty clearly from our hike to Berry Head Arch.
Lighthouse Picnics is a very small, very popular restaurant that runs right out of the lighthouse kitchen in summer. They provide delicious picnic lunches to enjoy in the serene area around the peninsula. They produce very limited numbers each day so you it is necessary to book in advance.
6. Bell Island
Come For the Rock Formations
15 km / 20 min by car + 20 min on the Bell Island Ferry
On the far side of the peninsula from St. John’s, just across from Portugal Cove, Bell Island doesn’t look like much from a distance. Kind of flat, barely sticking up above the water. But as you get closer you will be pleasantly surprised to see the dramatic sheer cliffs that surround the island, along with the casual little cluster of buildings at the harbour.
Then, assuming you bring your car across on the ferry, you can drive to the west end and tackle the short hike to the Bell Island sea stacks (including “The Bell”, the island’s namesake), a truly inspiring viewpoint.
From there you head to the north end of the island (still just 10 minutes away) where you can scramble down to the awesome Grebe’s Nest beach, tunnel and sea stack.
Finally, continue over to the east side to the Bell Island Lighthouse, where you’ll find some picnic areas, grassy walking paths and several more outstanding viewpoints.
Ferries go back and forth between Portugal Cove and the island every hour or so ($10/vehicle and driver + $4 for each additional passenger). The schedule changes regularly so it is best to call (709) 895-6931 for a recording of the latest info.
Fascinating History and a Rock Tunnel
85 km / 1 hr
Probably our pick for nicest town on the Avalon Peninsula (adorable Trinity on the Bonavista Peninsula grabs the honour for Newfoundland as a whole), wonderful little Brigus offers a surprising number of attractions considering its size.
While simply wandering, taking in the relaxed fishing village vibe, old St. George Church and the usual superb harbour views were our favourite parts, there are actually quite a few historic sites as well.
Brigus was the birthplace of famous explorer, Captain Robert Bartlett. After taking charge of his first ship in 1892 at the age of just 17, he spent the next half-century blazing nautical trails throughout the northern seas. He fell just short of making it to the North Pole but was still honoured with the National Geographic Hubbard Medal for being the first to lead an expedition beyond the 87O latitude.
In Brigus, you can visit Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site, Bartlett’s childhood home that has now been turned into a museum. There is also Bartlett Memorial, Bartlett Monument and Brigus Tunnel, a 25-metre-long rock tunnel that Bartlett had built to provide better docking access for when the harbour was filled with other ships.
If you are at Brigus at meal time head to The Riseover to try their seafood chowder and enjoy the view from their deck.
8. Green Point Lighthouse
See the Candy Cane Stripes
100 km / 1 hr
There isn’t a whole lot out here but the lighthouse itself, but that is often the point. This classic red and white striped 1883 lighthouse features fabulous scenery in basically all directions, with particularly nice views across Bay Roberts Peninsula to Spaniard Bay. You can also see Bell Island to the east.
The village of Port de Grave is pretty cute as well, although it doesn’t have any real attractions (or parking areas, for that matter). But you can probably just find a spot where your car isn’t in anybody’s way and spend 15 minutes strolling along the shore enjoying more great harbour views and getting close looks at real Newfoundland fishing boats.
Just a Great Name
100 km / 1 hr
Okay, yes, most people just come to Dildo because of the name. Clearly, as a society, we are not yet mature enough to overlook a town with the same name as one of the most famous (and highly recommended) sex toys of our time. Of course, the word originally was only an innocent reference to the part of a dinghy that holds the oars, a much more wholesome (if rather uninteresting) and understandable connection in a fishing village.
However, although Dildo’s name has long amused visitors to the area, in August 2019 it reached a new level of fame when talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel latched onto the town. He spent two weeks featuring it in jokes and stories on his show, even buying the town a Hollywood-style Dildo sign, and eventually won the race to be named Honorary Mayor of Dildo, despite late competition from Matt Damon. Although, apparently, the position is still conditional until he finally comes to visit in person.
For us, no celebrity sightings, but it is a very cute little town with a wide harbour and inviting cluster of fishing boats. Dildo Brewing Company, Kimmel’s former campaign headquarters, is the place to go for beer, food and a wide variety of merchandise with the word Dildo on it.
Just a bit farther south is the even smaller village of South Dildo, a place which seemingly has missed out (or passed) on Dildo’s hectic 15 minutes of fame. Maybe they just need to be a little more flexible with their own name, perhaps transitioning to something catchier, such as Little Dildo, Lower Dildo or Backup Dildo.
10. Conception Harbour Shipwreck
So Much Rust
70 km / 45 min
There are actually several sunken fishing vessels in Conception Harbour, including the old whaling ships, SS Sukha and SS Southern Foam. But for those of us staying solely above the surface, it is the SS Charcot that is of most interest. It ran aground in 1968 and the entire front half of this beaten old ship is sticking up out of the water within metres of the beach.
It is rusty, full of holes and not particularly pretty to look at, but it is probably the closest most people will ever be to an authentic shipwreck. There is a bench set up right in front of it in case you find the historical significance exhausting, and in summer more adventurous types can consider bringing a snorkel and fins to explore the underwater parts a bit more closely. The area is also a popular scuba diving site.
Map of Day Trips from St. John’s Newfoundland
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Trip Planning Resources
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St. John’s Day Trip Summary
The possibilities for day trips in St. John’s are practically endless on a peninsula full of exceptional coastline, picturesque lighthouses and historic sites. Whether you are looking for nature, culture or just some great photos, these St. John’s day trips should give you plenty to choose from.
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