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A Guide to Colourful St. John’s Newfoundland

Welcome to the colourful capital of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, my very first foray into Atlantic Canada. And, as it turns out, there are tonnes of great things to do in St. John’s NL, including a lot of great hiking, which makes it very surprising that it took us this long to visit. In fact, the most surprising thing is probably that I made it to 76 different countries other before finally making it over to the right coast of my very own country.

Colorful houses in a row in St. John's Newfoundland
Colourful houses in St. John’s

Although maybe it makes a little more sense when you consider that even though Tofino on Vancouver Island, one of the places we visited last winter, and St John’s Nfl are both in Canada, the drive between the two is roughly 7,400 kilometres (5,200 km as the crow flies – assuming the crow doesn’t get distracted by all the great stuff in Manitoba). Which is insane when you think about it.

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Even more insane when you realize that that is approximately the same distance as driving from Paris, France to Delhi, India. Yeah, try to wrap your head around that one for a moment. These are the things I use to console myself whenever I start feeling guilty for not making it to Eastern Canada sooner.

Anyway, the second-most surprising thing about coming to St. John’s is that it was only after we arrived that I learned Newfoundland and Labrador aren’t actually part of the Maritime Provinces but are considered an Atlantic province. Sure, whatever you prefer, it’s all exotic to me. The rugged coastline, the brightly painted houses, the busy harbour full of fishing boats – all endlessly fascinating to prairie folk like us.

Person on top of Berry Head Arch Newfoundland
Beautiful coastline around St. John’s

The third-most surprising thing – we had been in St. John’s for over 2 weeks, driving helter-skelter nearly every day, before seeing our first police car. And then there were two of them with the same car pulled over. Must have been quite the special occasion.

With a population of just 185,000, the city of St. John’s is one of the smallest provincial capitals in Canada. But it is also the oldest European city in North America and, despite the size, there are still plenty of things to do in St. John’s, plus a lot more within a short drive.

Brewery at St. John's newfoundland

I have to say, we were a little bit surprised at how uninteresting the main part of the St. John’s harbour along Water Street is, but I guess that is the difference between a working fishing port / naval base and all the charming little European harbours that have been prettied up just for tourists like us. And the maritime atmosphere seeps into every aspect of life in St. John’s city, making it a very fascinating place to spend time.

Fishing boat in St. John's harbour
Fishing boats in the St. John’s harbour

It was the natural area around St. John’s, though, that far exceeded our expectations. With one of the best natural harbours in North America, the city is surrounded by hills in all directions, featuring panoramic viewpoints, steep cliffs and terrific hiking trails. And, if you time it right, icebergs and whales are accessible just offshore.

Check out: The 10 Best St. John’s Photo Spots

What is St. John’s Newfoundland known for?

It probably depends on your personal interests, but it would for most people St. John’s is known for some combination of colourful buildings, fishing boats, coastal hiking, icebergs and “getting screeched in”. That last one is a slightly absurd alcoholic ritual involving a weird ceremony, some ritual nonsense, a shot of screech (i.e. cheap, awful rum) and kissing a cod (or the arse-end of a puffin, depending on the pub). So, a little something for everyone, I suppose.

St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador Map

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Things to do in St. John’s Newfoundland

St. John’s Canada is a provincial capital with plenty of options, while still being small enough to make seeing everything quite easy. There are lots of fun things to do in St. John’s city, whether you are looking for active outdoor adventures or more relaxed pursuits (most of which involve a lot of eating and/or drinking).

Find Your Favourite Jellybean Row Houses

Before visiting St. John’s, Newfoundland many people are enticed by the iconic images of the colourful “Jellybean Row” houses and end up thinking those photos are from just one particular street. However, there is not actually an official Jellybean Row, but the coloured houses are a theme throughout the city of St. John’s and the downtown area, in particular, has wonderfully picturesque streets scattered throughout.

Colourful houses in a row in St. John's Newfoundland
Our favourite section of Jellybean houses

There are varying stories about the origins of the coloured buildings. One theory claims that sailors painted their homes bright colours so they could be more easily spotted through the fog when they were returning from sea. Another says the practice started back in the 1970’s as a way to spruce up the city, eventually became trendy and simply grew from there.

Colourful houses in a row in St. John's Newfoundland

Regardless of how it started, today the multi-coloured buildings provide great photo ops, especially the several blocks just above Duckworth Street. The homes tend to have cars in front most of the time but the businesses are often the most colourful so if you get there early enough you might get a look at them without any vehicles.

See the View from the Signal Hill National Historic Site

Signal Hill is one of the iconic sights in Newfoundland and one of the top things to do in St. John’s. From the top of the hill you enjoy some of the best panoramic views of St. John’s city and St. John’s harbour, plus amazing views out over the ocean and rugged coastline in both directions.

View from Signal Hill at St. Johns nl

The cannons are proof that it was originally a defensive fortification, while much later, in 1901, Signal Hill was where Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal (hence the name).

You can drive right up to Signal Hill National Historic Site, or you can enjoy the area on foot instead. Trails connect St. John’s to Signal Hill, Cabot Tower, The Battery, Ladies Lookout, North Head, Cuckold Cove and Quidi Vidi. You can combine them in any way you choose for a longer or shorter walk. Bring a jacket to be prepared for the near constant wind at the top.

St Johns Newfoundland from above

It is worth stopping off at the Visitor Centre just below Signal Hill to find out more info on the history and attractions in the area, or maybe just to browse through the gift shop or enjoy a gelato at Newfoundland Chocolate Company.

Explore The Battery Neighborhood

The Battery neighbourhood is located at the harbour entrance, halfway down Signal Hill, and is one of the most photogenic spots in St. John’s, featuring a crowded cluster of coloured houses. There are also some art galleries, souvenir shops and Anderson House, which claims to be the oldest standing building in St. John’s.

Colorful houses in Battery in St. John's Newfoundland

Chain Rock is located on a stone outcropping by the Narrows, where a massive chain and anti-submarine boom were placed across the harbour to defend against German ships in World War II. You can drive to the Battery, although the streets are very narrow and there is no parking allowed, so you are better off walking in from Duckworth Street or down from Signal Hill.

Also, one of our favourite viewpoints in St. John’s was of the Battery from across the harbour at the Fort Amherst Harbour Authority.

Head Over to Fort Amherst

Built to protect “The Narrows”, the entrance to St. John’s harbour, none of the original fortifications remain. However, there is still a harbour, a few of the old cannon spots and a traditional white and red lighthouse.

Lighthouse at Fort Amhert is St. John's newfoundland

While the current lighthouse has only been around since 1951, the original one was built in 1810 and was the first lighthouse in Newfoundland. There are good views of the Battery on the drive out and of the harbour from the fort itself. There is also a good hike to Freshwater Bay that starts here.

St. John's photo spots with Ocean cliffs and a lighthouse on top

Party on George Street

The historic party zone of George Street is packed with bars, pubs and restaurants, covering a wide range of styles and genres from casual decks to rowdy night clubs to raging dance parties. It is probably the most famous street in Newfoundland and Labrador and is usually pedestrian-only on busy evenings so if you are looking for things to do in St John’s at night this is where you start.

Colourful bars on George Street in St. John's nl

It gets wild here in summer, especially during the George Street Festival in July when several diverse live acts battle it out for attention and one cover charge lets you wander the entire area and continue drinking along the way.

Chalk outline on street
Outline on George Street

Seek Out the Historic Churches

St. John’s has several impressive churches from many different eras all located within a few blocks of each other (on aptly named Church Hill).

Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Built in 1855, the Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist owns a commanding location overlooking the city of St. John’s and the harbour. It is a beautiful building that was designed to face the rising sun of the Winter Solstice, constructed with sandstone from Kelly’s Island in Conception Bay and features limestone and granite imported from Ireland and 400,000 bricks from Germany.

Old church through arch

When it was built, it was the largest building in Newfoundland and the largest church in North America. It was one of the only buildings in St. John’s left standing after the Great Fire of 1892 and is still the second-largest church in Canada.

St. John’s Basilica is famous for its carved white marble statue of the Veiled Virgin, by Italian Giovanni Strazza, which can be found in the Presentation Convent Museum next to the church.

Anglican Cathedral

A beautiful Gothic Revival church with superb pillars, lovely stained glass and a very impressive organ, it is worth shelling out for a guided tour to learn about the fascinating history and many special features.

Old church

Twice a week you can also enjoy tea in the crypt, featuring homemade pastries served by friendly locals.

Gower Street United Church and the Cathedral Parish Hall are also nearby.

Get Screeched In

A traditional drinking ceremony for visitors to Newfoundland, there seems to be quite a bit of variation when it comes to the specifics of “getting screeched in”, one of the most famous things to do in St. John’s (as well as the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador).

One thing they all agree on, however, is that the ceremony ends with drinking a shot of some nasty liquor (screech). Other than that, you may have to recite some traditional phrases, maybe wear a stupid hat, possibly eat something weird, almost certainly have to kiss a fish (except in the one place where you kiss a puffin’s arse instead), and it can take place in any of the local pubs or even on a boat tour. And at the end you are proclaimed “an honorary Newfie”, so there you go.

Check Out “The Rooms”

The rather obscenely gigantic structure of The Rooms is where you’ll find the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Provincial Archives and Art Gallery. It is built to resemble the basic fishing sheds common in Newfoundland fishing villages, albeit an enormous version of them.

Visible from everywhere in St. John’s NFL, it is one of the most famous sights in the city (for better or worse). Regardless of your thoughts on the architecture, however, The Rooms are a fascinating place to learn about local history, culture, traditions and art.

Display with polar bear at the Rooms

The best part, though, is the stunning view of the harbour from observation deck, cafe and even from the gigantic windows of the 2nd floor. There is free admission the first Wednesday of every month (and every Friday for university students).

View of city and harbour through large windows at The Rooms
Cafe at The Rooms
Cafe with a view at The Rooms

Another good St. John’s museum that is worth the visit is the Railway Coastal Museum located in the historic Newfoundland Railway terminal. This is the place to go for exhibits describing the history of the Newfoundland Railway and coastal boat service.

The museums are great rainy day activities St. John’s Newfoundland.

Visit the Johnson Geo Centre

Across from the Signal Hill Visitor Centre you’ll find the Johnson Geo Centre – a fascinating look at the geological features of Signal Hill. Mostly located underground, visitors can enjoy interactive displays and exhibits sharing info on the history of the 550-million-year-old glacial rock, along with plenty of Newfoundland culture and history.

Johnson geo centre from above

Along with the compelling geography, you can learn about everything from offshore drilling to the sinking of the Titanic. This is one of the kid friendly things to do in St. John’s NL.

Hang Out at One of the City of St. John’s Parks

There are several good places to get a little nature fix without leaving the city of St. John’s.

Harbourside Park

Maybe not the best example of a green space, as Harbourside Park is pretty small and doesn’t have much grass and just a handful of trees. But it does have some benches that enjoy fabulous views of the harbour and the big ships in dock.

Boat and dog statues in St. John's harbour

There are also statues of the famous Labrador and Newfoundland dogs, where I expect real dogs love marking their territory.

Bannerman Park

A picnic in Bannerman Park is one of the most popular things to do in St. John’s on a nice summer day. The busiest outdoor space in the city in summer, this well-equipped public park is named in honour of Sir Alexander Bannerman and opened way back in 1891. There are walking paths, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, and a public pool. There is even a ice skating loop which is one of the best things to do in St John’s Newfoundland in winter.

park benches
Somewhat less inspiring in the early spring

Bannerman Park really comes into its own during the Labrador Folk Festival which takes place in Bannerman Park in early July and features workshops, panel talks, and, you guessed it, lots of folk music.

Bowring Park

Bowring Park is a large green space with ponds, streams, forest and even a real rushing river.

Frothing river in forest

There are great walking paths and hiking trails scattered throughout the park and kids love coming here to feed the ducks (pick up specific duck feed at Marie’s Mini Mart nearby – no bread!). It is also worth checking out the old horse fountain and the somewhat odd Peter Pan statue.

Pippy Park

Pippy Park is where you’ll find the Fluvarium, a very unique environmental museum full of interesting displays where you can also witness underwater life through a huge glass viewing area. Expect fish, bugs and amphibians, but you’ll probably have to head out to sea for whales…

There are also a number of walking paths in the park, including a nice loop around Long Pond.

Man hiking on boardwalk in the trees

Hit the Weekly St. John’s Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday year-round you can visit the St. John’s Farmers’ Market between 9 and 4 to browse an endless selection of produce, unique foods, local dishes and baked goods. There are also regular musical acts, yoga, tai chi, theatre plays and dances (mostly in summer, though).

Visit a Brewery and Pick Your Favourite Craft Beer

There are already around 20 microbreweries in St. John’s, with more cropping up all the time. These local pubs offer a wonderful selection of craft beers, from standard ales and lagers to fruity IPAs and hearty stouts.

Quidi Vidi Brewing Company is one of the best, famous for their Iceberg beer, a delicious lager brewed from real iceberg water. After extensive testing, I can personally vouch for it. Quidi Vidi has a huge selection of other choices as well, many of which have won awards.

Beer at a St. John's newfoundland brewery

Other excellent choices are Bannerman Brewing, Yellow Belly Brewery or Jack Axes, the best place to get drunk and throw axes. As one does.

Beer at a St. John's newfoundland brewery
Sampling at the Yellow Belly Brewery

Head Out on a Tour

While pretty much every tour involves a knowledgeable guide, structured schedule and some interesting stuff to see, the specific type of tour can vary considerably.

Whale Watching and Iceberg Hunting

Late April through June is considered iceberg season, when these highly picturesque floating ice chunks make their way down from the frozen north. And all summer Newfoundland and Labrador are known for the large numbers of humpback whales passing through, occasionally pausing to vault into the air in hopes of gracing a future St. John’s postcard.

There are several companies that run tours to see both of these highlights. Iceberg Quest Tours offers a narrated 2-hour tour out of the harbour passing Cabot Tower, Fort Amherst and Cape Spear along the way to all the best spots.

Iceberg in the distance
A somewhat blurry photo of our first Canadian iceberg floating along

Many trips also offer a stop at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where you can see the largest colony of adorable Atlantic puffins in North America (also only in summer). O’Brien Boat Tours runs directly to the ecological reserve out of Bay Bulls (although they can also pick you up in St. John’s if necessary) and will also venture out to see whales and icebergs.

Historical Walking Tour

As the oldest European city in North America, St. John’s has a lot of fascinating historical sites, monuments and buildings. Boyle Tours comes highly recommended for their entertaining and knowledgeable stories about all the best landmarks, folklore and literary history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

St. John’s Haunted Hike

St. John’s has a surprising taste for the supernatural, with a lot of ghost stories tied to notable locations and buildings around the city. The St. John’s Haunted Hike will lead you through all the spookiest alleys and ominous spots where crazy stuff is said to have happened.

Go For a Hike

Thanks to its prime location on the rocky Atlantic coast, St. John’s boasts a long list of outstanding hikes both in the city and along the coast of the Avalon Peninsula. As we tend to do, we spent much of our time in St. John’s out hiking the trails around the city and have already written up a complete guide to hiking around St. John’s.

17 Beautiful Hikes in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Any basic overview of the hiking in St. John’s, though, obviously has to start with the East Coast Trail. Running for 335 kilometres from Topsail Beach around to St. John’s, then all the way down the coast to Cappahayden, every stage ends at another village, making it possible to do as a thru-hike or one day hike at a time.

Woman hiking on grassy point on coast

Some of the top highlights include Sugarloaf Path, Berry Head Arch, La Manche Suspension Bridge, Cape Spear Lighthouse and “The Spout”.

Couple in front of Berry Head Arch natural rock arch
Taking a break at Berry Head Arch

However, there several excellent trails within St. John’s as well. Signal Hill (including North Head Trail and Ladies Lookout) is a must, as is the Quidi Vidi Harbour Viewpoint.

Person standing at viewpoint over harbour, ocean and cliffs
Viewpoint over Quidi Vidi

And Bowring Park is a surprising bastion of nature in the centre of the city, offering a variety of trails running through forest and past ponds and rivers.

Where to Stay: Best St. John’s Hotels

Gower Manor Historic Bed & Breakfast

Stay at the Gower Manor Historic Bed & Breakfast if you want a unique St. John’s option. You can expect a warm welcome and a lovingly restored Victorian row house in the historic area of St. John’s. You will be right in the middle of town, just steps to many of the top tourist sights. The entertaining owner is known for discussing his collections, telling stories, and dispensing good advice to ensure you make the best of your time.

Click here for Gower Manor Historic B&B prices

Alt Hotel St. John’s

Stay at the Alt Hotel if you want a room with a view of the harbour. Enjoy the huge windows, the trendy modern rooms, excellent amenities and convenient location. It is also pet friendly and the restaurant is worth a visit.

Click here for Alt Hotel prices

Holiday Inn Express & Suites St. John’s Airport

If you have a shorter stay and want to be near the airport, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites is the perfect choice. The free shuttle to and from the airport is easy to use and you are only a couple minutes drive away. You might also make use of the pool and other amenities. The breakfast is included and if you have an early flight like we did you can grab a snack breakfast on your way out.

Click here for Holiday Inn Express & Suites St. John’s Airport prices

Where to Eat/Drink in St. John’s

The Duke of Duckworth

The Duke of Duckworth is a St. John’s institution and was filled with locals when we visited. The Duke is well known as the best place for fish and chips so we had to try them out. The verdict – you know the fish is good when it’s hard to eat because it keeps falling apart.

Fish and chips

We also tried a rather basic poutine – we’d recommend sticking to the fish and chips and a couple beers. They have famous Iceberg beer in case you can’t make it to the Quidi Vidi Brewery. Or even if you can.

Mallard Cottage

This is the place to go for brunch. Their changing menu of locally sourced meals in a cozy setting is always a crowd pleaser and definitely lives up to the hype. And it gives you another good excuse to visit Quidi Vidi, one of our favourite places in St. John’s.

For Dessert

Once you’ve had your meal and are looking for something to appease your sweet tooth you have a couple of great options. Check out Craig’s Cookies for a variety of classic options as well as the intriguing oreo cookie with another whole oreo inside (is that even legal?).

Or, if you like ice cream you have two good choices only a couple blocks from each other. Moo Moo’s Ice Cream and The Parlour (which also serves great coffee and baked goods) are both near Bannerman Park so you can grab your treat and wander the park.

Mad Catter Café

Here’s your chance to combine coffee and cats, in case that is something you’ve always wanted to do. They have great coffee, of course, but you can also browse a whole host of cute felines while you enjoy it. Or even sign a waiver and head in for a closer look, since all the cats are up for adoption. Prepare to be tempted…

Things to do Around St. John’s NFL

There are several good outings to be enjoyed just outside the city limits, an easy drive or bus trip away.

Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site

Roughly 20 minutes by car outside of St. John’s, there are actually 2 Cape Spear Lighthouses – the old one (actually the oldest lighthouse in the province) that was in use until 1955, and the new one that is still in use today. This is the easternmost point in North America, and some people enjoy being here at sunrise, knowing they are the first people on the continent to see the sun that day.

Person walking up to lighthouse at Cape Spear

There is also a museum, visitor centre and nice hiking trails heading in both directions along the coast. In spring, icebergs can sometimes be spotted from the cliffs and in summer it is often possible to see whales migrating past.

Light house at Cape Spear near St. John's city

Quidi Vidi

Just a 5-minute drive from downtown St. John’s, or it is even possible to walk to charming little Quidi Vidi village via Signal Hill. Despite being referred to as “The Gut” by some locals, it features a cute harbour, picturesque hills and colourful buildings, making it a favourite destination of professional photographers.

Quidi Vidi harbour near St. John's Newfoundland

It is a small place with some nice viewpoints, an extremely popular pub (Quidi Vidi Brewing Company) and the small Quidi Vidi lake has an easy walking path circling it.

It is also where you’ll find the (alleged) oldest house in British Canada, built all the way back in 1740.

Person on hiking trail

Middle Cove Beach

This lovely, rocky beach is a popular summer hangout – with beachgoers by day and bonfire enthusiasts by night.

Person walking on beach

It is a very scenic spot at any time of day and the fantastic Silver Mine Head Path starts here.

Petty Harbour

A cute fishing village just a short drive outside St. John’s, Petty Harbour is the place to go for classic “colourful fishing boats in the harbour backed by colourful buildings on the hills around the harbour” photos. You know the ones.

Colorful fishing boats and buildings in Petty Harbour near St Johns newfoundland
Fishing nets and ropes in Petty Harbour

Best Day Trips from St. John’s

For the full list and more details, check out: 10 Outstanding Day Trips from St. John’s

Bell Island

20 km / 50 min (20 min drive / 30 min ferry)

On the far side of the peninsula from St. John’s just across from Portugal Cove, Bell Island packs some pretty impressive spots into a small package. The excellent Bell Island sea stacks, including the island’s namesake “The Bell”, plus the bizarre tunnel beach at Grebe’s Nest and the Bell Island Lighthouse with its short hiking trails, picnic areas and fantastic views.

Person walking along cliff with beaches below on Bell Island

Ferries go back and forth between Portugal Cove and the island every hour or so ($10/vehicle and driver + $4 for each additional passenger) but the schedule changes a lot so it is best to call (709) 895-6931 for a recording of the latest info.

Ferry boat coming into dock

La Manche Suspension Bridge

60 km / 50 min by car

One of the main highlights of the East Coast Trail, La Manche Suspension Bridge is one of the only ones that is easily reached. And by easily, I mean you can drive to within 1 km of the bridge itself.

La Manche Suspension Bridge, Newfoundland

Around the bridge you will also find the remains of the abandoned La Manche Village, although the scenery of the cove, bridge and waterfall are far superior to any of those old concrete foundations.


85 km / 1 hr

One of the cutest towns on the Avalon Peninsula, Brigus is a great place to wander around just soaking in that small fishing town vibe. There is an old church, a nice harbour, a museum in an old barn and a famous but rather underwhelming tunnel.

Brigus from across the water

You can check out the Bartlett Memorial, Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site and then do a short walking loop around an inlet to simply enjoy the view.

Fishing Boats in Brigus

Port de Grave

95 km / 1 hr

The village itself is nice enough, although it really has just one main street and no obvious places to stop (let alone park). You can probably pause briefly at some of the best spots to take photos of the fishing boats and pleasant harbour.

Fishing Boats

But the main highlight is a few kilometres past the village at the point of the peninsula. Green Point Lighthouse is a classic white and red beauty, and the location is wide open with gorgeous panoramic views.

Striped lighthouse


100 km / 1 hr

The tiny village of Dildo (pop. 800 or so) is a lovely, wholesome little fishing village with colourful buildings, a good brew pub and a nice walking area along the harbour.

Sign for Dildo Brewery

Of course, none of that matters to most visitors who just want to get photos of themselves with things that say “Dildo”, you know, because of the whole sex toy thing. I bet the village really regrets inventing those things now.


120 km / 1.25 hrs

Another – somehow even smaller – fishing village just up the coast from Dildo. It has all the usual maritime charm, plus a superstar Instagram spot. Three brightly coloured fishing sheds on a small sandy spit that are often reflected in the lagoon.

Three colorful fishing shacks in Cavendish

Sounds crazy as an attraction, right? But on the right day the photos are amazing. Although clearly not on cloudy days with gale-force winds, like the one we chose.

Conception Harbour Shipwreck

70 km / 45 min

Okay, just to be clear, we’re not saying you should actually drive for nearly an hour to see this. I mean, it is definitely a shipwreck. A big one, too. With the back half submerged and the front displayed for all to see, fairly rusted out and full of holes (could that have been its downfall?).

Rusted ship wreck

Yes, it is definitely worth a photo or two. But a special trip? Probably not. But if you’re out this direction anyway – and it’s kind of on the way to many of these other towns – it IS worth a stop. Also, supposedly people actually scuba dive here but based on the part that we could see, well, I’d need to know it looked much different down below before I’d brave that frigid water.

When to Visit: St. John’s Canada Weather

St. John’s has typical coastal weather. Meaning, anything could happen at any given time, so no point in even making plans. Okay, maybe it isn’t quite that bad. In fact, we found the forecast to be impressively accurate within, say, 24 hours. Anything outside that was a crapshoot but you know, it was April in Canada.

Couple hiking in St. John's Newfoundland on a rocky coast
Bundled up to hike in April on a cloudy day

Most of the month it varied from around freezing to about 5C, with the wind being the main factor in how cold it actually felt. We also got a lot of rain, some snow, some freezing rain and, hey, even some blue skies and calm days. Variety, baby.

Anyway, the waterfront location keeps the overall temperature fairly mild. Even in January the average low is just -7C, although St. John’s does tend to see stronger winds in winter. Of course, the flipside is that in July the average high is only 22C. Not bad, certainly, and generally calm, but still barely beach weather for most humans.

Woman walking on rocky beach with cliffs in the background
Blue sky days

There is more rain/snow/sleet in winter but the total precipitation actually doesn’t change that much throughout the year (just the form it takes).

How to Get to St. John’s, Newfoundland

By Plane

The easiest way to get to St. John’s is by plane, as the international airport gets flights from all over Canada and many European cities.

By Car

The highway system around St. John’s is extensive and well-maintained, although we did find their speed limits a bit conservative. And the locals seemed to agree, as I’d say the average driver was going 20-30 km/hr over the posted speed at any given time.

Even though St. John’s may seem, theoretically, close to Quebec and the Maritime provinces, the driving distances can still be shockingly long. Yes, I understand the Newfoundland section of Newfoundland and Labrador is an island, but even allowing for the ferry from Sydney, Nova Scotia (the main gateway to Newfoundland) we were still surprised at how far away from everything it is.

Halifax, NS to St. John’s, NL: 1,500 km / 22 hrs

Charlottetown, PEI to St. John’s, NL: 1,600 km / 23 hrs

Saint John, NB to St. John’s, NL: 1,700 km / 24 hrs

Quebec City, QC to St. John’s, NL: 2,300 km / 30 hrs

Tofino, BC to St. John’s, NL: 7,400 km / 82 hrs

How to Get Around St. John’s, Newfoundland

Downtown St. John’s is fairly compact so it is easy to walk everywhere. Even Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi can be reached on foot from the harbour. There are several taxi companies with reasonable rates (we paid $25 to go 7 km from Quidi Vidi to the start of the Sugarloaf Path). No Uber, though. I guess they’re still waiting to make sure ride shares aren’t just a fad like cryptocurrency or dandruff shampoo.

Metrobus charges very reasonable rates, runs bus routes all over the city and even to Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi.

However, to get to most of the good hikes or see more distant attractions such as Cape Spear, Bell Island or Petty Harbour you’ll need a car. St. John’s is notorious for running out of rental cars in summer so if you’re planning a visit you should reserve a car as soon as you know your dates.

Car at lookout
Our rental car for our one month visit to Newfoundland

Is St John’s Newfoundland Worth Visiting?

Yes, with a beautiful, colourful downtown core, excellent hiking trails and the opportunity to see whales, icebergs and even puffins (whatever those are, exactly), St. John’s is a great place to add to your Canadian summer bucket list. Plus, as the oldest European city in North America, it even boasts a lot of interesting historic sites.

Beer at a St. John's newfoundland brewery
Worth visiting just to try out beer made from iceberg water

City of St. John’s Summary

Considering we visited out of season, got even worse than seasonal weather, yet still immensely enjoyed our time in St. John’s, I guess it is safe to say it is a pretty fun place. We are definitely hoping to return in mid-summer someday, when we can check off outdoor deck drinking, beaches and whale watching from our list of things to do in St. John’s.

For now, though, we were happy to settle for enjoying the tourist sites without any tourists, hiking much of the fantastic coastal scenery and eating some truly kickass fish and chips.

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