Whether you have one day or a week in St. John’s, Newfoundland, you will not run out of spots to explore. This article lists the top 13 things to do in St. John’s. Therefore, make sure to check out most of them during your stay. They are a must to complete the St. John’s experience!
Don’t have time to read now? Pin it for later.
*Discloser: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. More information
Where is St. John’s?
This charming city sits on a harbour on the east coast of Newfoundland in Canada. It is the easternmost city in the country.
Why visit St. John’s?
This lovely town offers plenty to do for tourists. In addition, the province’s capital proposes a range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and culture or history buffs. While we were here, we enjoyed a bit of all it has to offer during our stay in the city.
A bit of History
This 500-year-old town is rich in history. Over the centuries, it has been fought over, abandoned, burnt and rebuilt. This Canadian province was the last to be added to the confederation and became the 10th province in 1949.
Top Things to Do in St. John’s
#1 Walk along St. John’s Harbour
The harbour is impressive with its huge ships parked along the piers. Take a walk on Harbour Drive to take in the sights of the docks and the vessels.
The seamen considered the harbour fine; high rock walls shelter it on either side. However, captains must navigate their large ships in the narrow passage between the rock walls. This maneuver is known as “threading the eye of the needle.”
#2 Visit the jellybean row houses
Those colourful houses have become an icon for this charming city. I love how joyful it looks. Streets upon streets, up and down and across, these lovely houses contribute to the charm of St. John’s.
Back in the day, it was common for fishermen to paint their houses the same colour as their boats. Moreover, they often chose bright colours so the house would be visible from the sea and in the fog. This would guide them back to shore.
Even though the jellybean houses in St. John’s are not boathouses and not by the coast, they are unique and memorable.
#3 Visit Quidi Vidi
This small village is quite charming and warrants a visit from tourists. The fishermen’s houses on the water by the cliffs are amazing.
Also, there are snack bars and the Quidi Vidi Brewing Co for those who are hungry and thirsty. Arts and crafts are also on exhibit, with local crafts available to buy. They make excellent souvenirs to bring home.
#4 Hike up Signal Hill
You can make your way to the top of Signal Hill and learn about its history and the lives of those who lived on the rock over the past centuries.
You are thrown back in time with the fort and canons where soldiers fought during wars and the Cabot Tower where the signalman lived and worked. Furthermore, the views of the harbour and the city are stunning from the top of the hill.
The Discovery Center at the bottom of the hill is a great place to start the visit, with a video presentation and an exhibit detailing the history of Signal Hill and its inhabitants over the past three centuries.
#5 Catch the sunrise in Cape Spear
Cape Spear Lighthouse is a Historic Site by Parks Canada. The tall lighthouse overlooks the ocean, warning seamen of the nearby dangers of rocks and cliffs.
There are walking trails along the shores. Also, keep an eye out for whales as you can often see them swimming in those waters.
It is possible to tour the farthest building on the premises to see the living quarters of the lightkeeper and his family and learn about their daily lives on Cape Spear.
This is the easternmost point in North America. So if you are early enough to catch the sunrise, you will be the first one on the continent to see it. And it is beautiful as the sun appears out of the water under a pinkish sky.
As you walk the trail down from the lighthouse towards the sea and the easternmost lookout, you will come across impressive bunkers and hidden canons from WWII. Discover all about it through interpretive signs along the trail.
#6 Visit the Johnson GEO Centre
This museum is a fun way to learn about the formation of Signal Hill, the island we know as Newfoundland, our planet and universe, and past and future space missions.
The tour starts with a short movie as an introduction. After the film, the doors will open, and you follow the grey arrows on the blue carpet to bring you from exhibit to exhibit.
The exhibits range from the evolution of humankind, the appearance of life on the planet, the formation of the continents, the volcanos, the types of rocks and what they tell us about the earth and life on it. We also learn about the different landscapes in Newfoundland and Labrador and how the studies of the land help geologists better understand the history of our planet. All this is done through fun, interactive, and visual aids that are enjoyable to children and adults alike.
#7 See Harbourside Park and the National War Memorial
A visit to the park will teach you the town’s history, the wars and the harbour. The Newfoundland National War Memorial is across the street. It is an impressive monument inaugurated on July 1st, 1924, where it still stands today.
The park also features the sculptures of a Newfoundland dog and a Labrador dog by Luben Boykov, a Bulgarian sculptor who moved to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1990. Both dogs are looking out at the harbour, watching the comings and goings by sea.
Although the origin of the Newfoundland dog is unknown, we believe that the first dogs came to the island with fishermen. The gentle giant is bred to swim as he wears two waterproof fur coats and has webbed toes. His tail also acts as a rudder in the water. So it is no wonder that fishermen adopted this breed. Those big dogs have served them well for the last few hundred years.
The Labrador retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dogs in the world due to its gentle temperament and eagerness to please. He is a descendant of the Newfoundland dog mixed with an English setter and pointer. This mix made the Labrador a good retriever. He still has the same features as the Newfoundland that make him a good swimmer: the double-layered waterproof coat, the webbed toes and the large tail. Fishermen on smaller boats preferred the Labrador as he is about half the size of the Newfoundland dog.
#8 Spend an afternoon at Bowring Park
Another thing to do while in St John’s is to go for a swim or a picnic. You can do both at Bowring Park. This is a beautiful park with many activities and services.
You will find picnic areas, many trees for shade to enjoy some time outside, a fountain where ducks and pigeons wait to be fed, a playground and a splash pad, a soccer field and a skatepark. AND… a pool. The pool is free to use, and there are outdoor showers also.
#9 Visit The Rooms
If it relates to history, arts, or culture, you can find it at The Rooms. The Rooms’ mandate is to collect and preserve artifacts, promote Canadian artists and culture through exhibits, and preserve the province’s heritage, making your visit here a learning and fun experience.
#10 Hike a part of the East Coast Trail
The famous East Coast Trail wanders through most of Newfoundland’s east coast for over 300 kilometres. A section of it passes through the city. North of St. John’s, near Quidi Vidi, you can hike the Sugarloaf Path. You will have fantastic views of the city below, the bay and the ocean in the distance.
Another option would be to hike the Deadman’s Bay Path near Fort Amherst, south of St. John’s. Again, this trail has picturesque views of the cliffs and the ocean.
The third option is the Cape Spear Path section of the East Coast Trail. It is a reasonably easy walk behind the Cape Spear lighthouse. The trail follows the coastline on top of the plateau with the waves crashing below.
If hiking the East Coast Trail in sections is something you enjoy, the Spurwink Island Path is part of the trail and features the famous Berry Head Arch.
#11 Spend time downtown at the pubs and shops
The downtown area is alive with shops and pubs. It can get pretty busy during the summer. Because of this, part of Water Street and George Street are closed to traffic so pedestrians can wander freely from one shop to the next. Obviously, after some shopping, you should find a pub with a terrace to enjoy a drink and good food with live music.
#12 Visit Fort Amherst
The historical site is located on South Head near the entrance of St. John’s Harbour. The fort from the 1700s was built strategically to defend the town from invasion during the French and British wars.
Visitors can enjoy a view of the ocean and the Narrows at the harbour entrance from the promontory.
#13 Tour the Basilica or the Cathedral
Both buildings are impressive with architectural details and history that are quite amazing.
Guides do the tours of the Basilica in period costumes for added effect. The staff at the Cathedral are always on hand and will happily share the history of the place.
This completes my list of top things to do in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Of course, I could add more to this list, but the activities I chose were the ones I appreciated the most, and I recommend them during your visit.
The adventure did not stop in St. John’s. Although the province’s capital is full of attractions, you will want to plan a road trip across Newfoundland to enjoy the many adventures of this fantastic Canadian province.
If you have more ideas that I could add to my list of things to do in St. John’s, please leave a comment or contact me. I would be delighted to hear what you enjoyed during your stay in St. John’s.