From colourful architectural gems and endless coastline landscapes to historic museums and top notch restaurants, there are endless reasons to visit St. John’s. As the oldest city in North America, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador boasts thriving cultural and historic scenes, set against the backdrop of picturesque coastlines and national parks. 

St. John’s is the perfect combination of big-city flare and small-town charm, full of character and charisma with a contemporary edge. In fact, for many travellers, a trip to Newfoundland often completes their Canadian passport.

Only have 48 hours in St. John’s? Here’s a two-day itinerary to help you make the most of your time in the charming east coast city.

Signal Hill St Johns Newfoundland

Signal Hill National Historic Site © Copyright Barrett & Mackay Photo via Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Things to Do in St. Johns: Hike Signal Hill and the East Coast Trail, and Explore the Culture

From the pristine coastline landscapes and mesmerizing national historic sites to the world-class galleries and unique museums, there’s plenty to explore in the small yet buzzing city of St. John’s. Two days doesn’t scratch the surface of what Newfoundland has to offer, so here’s an itinerary with the top tried-and-true experiences that make St. John’s unique.

Start your adventure at the Signal Hill National Historic Site, the city’s most famous landmark that gives you a 360-degree view of the city, harbour and sea. Put on your hiking shoes and work your way up from the Battery, a village filled with vibrant houses, to the Cabot Tower, a historic monument built in 1898 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland. As you make your way down the hill, stop by the Johnson Geo Centre to dive deep underground and learn about the earth’s geology through interactive exhibits and guided tours.

Rooms St Johns Newfoundland

St. John’s is also conveniently located near portions of the East Coast Trail, a 265 kilometre trail that runs along the eastern coast of Newfoundland from Cape St. Francis to Cappahayden. Allocate a morning or early afternoon and hike Sugarloaf Path or Deadmans Bay Path for more turquoise waters, soaring seabirds and colourful coastal fishing villages. Trust us — the picturesque landscape will be embedded in your heart.

Art and history enthusiasts will want to devote a few hours to explore the Rooms Art Gallery and Museum, Newfoundland’s all-in-one historical museum, art gallery and archives. Home to an extensive collection of artifacts, art pieces and archival records, the Rooms brings the province’s stories to life through permanent and rotating interactive exhibits.

George Street Festival St Johns Newfoundland

George Street Festival

Festivals in St. John’s: The Music and Cultural Hub of Newfoundland

Whether you’re visiting for the seafood, coastline views or eclectic architecture, time your getaway to St. John’s with one of the dozens of festivals, and you’ll never forget the charming East Coast city. And if you haven’t been screeched in’ (a tradition involving a shot of screech, a short recitation of an age-old saying and the kissing of a cod) yet, you’re bound to be at one of these Newfoundland events.

Happening from July 30 to August 5, 2020, the historic George Street in downtown St. John’s is gated off for a week-long outdoor celebration — the George Street Festival. Each night, the world-famous festival hosts an outdoor concert with some big names in Canadian music, including Our Lady Peace, Arkells and Barenaked Ladies, as well as other local traditional acts. The best part? Your concert ticket gets you access to all of the bars on George Street. 

Royal St Johns Regatta St Johns Newfoundland and Labrador

Royal St. Johns Regatta © Copyright David Howells via Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

The George Street Festival concludes with the Royal St. John’s Regatta, a rowing race on the beautiful and historic Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s. Held on the first Wednesday of August each year, the entire city comes together to watch the full day of rowing races, indulge in appetizing dishes from the concession stands and try their own luck at the game booths during the civic holiday.

Influenced by its strong connections with Irish and Scottish cultures, Newfoundland boasts an intangible heritage. As the leading annual cultural event in the province, the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival celebrates this unique heritage with traditional music, interactive workshops, local artwork, and a bounty of food and drinks to satisfy the entire family. Being held from July 10 to 12, 2020, the Folk Festival is a summertime tradition for locals and travellers. 

Restaurants in St. John’s: Eat like a Local

As one of the culinary capitals in Canada, St. John’s reveals an array of modern and traditional restaurants mastered by a bounty of award-winning chefs.

Start your day with a Montreal-style bagel or croissant from Georgestown Bakery. Grab one (or a dozen) freshly made bagels to go, but get there early to make sure you get a good selection. There are also tons of sit-down establishments serving brunch in downtown St. John’s, but the Merchant Tavern never disappoints. Delight your taste buds with the Eggs Benedict or Newfoundland Breakfast and a side of bottomless coffee or the classic Merchant Caesar.

Clancys Restaurant Comfort Inn Airport St Johns

Clancy’s Kitchen & Bar

Lunch awaits you at Bernard Stanley Gastropub, where you can devour traditional cod tongues, seafood linguini, and a variety of particularly satisfying and juicy burgers. You can’t go wrong with the Bernard or the Stanley paired with a pint of Quidi Vidi beer. For dinner, treat yourself to a three, five or seven course tasting menu and a deadly glass of red at Raymonds Restaurant, a fine dining establishment housed in a historic bank building.

Clancy’s Kitchen & Bar is known for its casual dining atmosphere and dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients, making it the perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. From the cod au gratin to Clancy’s homemade burger, each plate is made fresh on site in the full production kitchen — just like it would be at home.

Water Street During Sunset St Johns Newfoundland

Water Street © Copyright Barrett & Mackay Photo via Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Shopping in St. John’s: Window Shop on Water Street

There’s nothing quite like wandering along the St. John’s Harbour in downtown St. John’s before circling back to Water Street, one of the oldest streets in North America. Aside from first class restaurants and authentic pubs, Water Street is home to a wide variety of specialty shops and boutiques for when you want to spend a morning window-shopping or really indulge in some serious retail therapy.

From labradorite jewelry and fine artwork to colourful postcards and unique t‑shirts, Heritage Shop offers a large selection of Newfoundland and Labrador gifts, meaning you’re bound to find something that grabs your interest.

Say goodbye to the guilt with this sustainable boutique in St. John’s. The Bee’s Knees is a local gem filled with a curated selection of environmentally-friendly products. Everything you’ll encounter in the boutique is either upcycled or recycled, local or handmade, and - of course - ethically produced.

For those with a sweet tooth, Freak Lunchbox will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The candy store has some of the weirdest, newest and hippest candy around. Grab a couple of your favourites or opt for one of their classic milkshakes, and get back to strolling through the picturesque downtown.

Downtown St Johns Newfoundland

Nightlife in St. John’s: Bar Crawl on George Street

Boasting a downtown core clustered with bars, nightclubs and live music venues, St. John’s comes to life at night. And unlike many places in Canada, the bars in St. John’s stay open until 3 AM.

If sampling a piece of Newfoundland culture is what you’re after, head to the Shamrock City Pub on Water Street or O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub on George Street, where traditional live music will fill your ears as you sip on the finest Irish whiskey or a pint of beer and indulge in something from the diverse food menus.

Looking for the nightlife staple of downtown St. John’s? Look no further than the Duke of Duckworth on Duckworth Street. With a vibrant atmosphere, one of the largest selections of draught beers and the best fish and chips around, the authentic pub will make you want to stay out until morning.

Special thanks to the staff at the Comfort Inn Airport in St. John’s, NL for their suggestions.

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