St. John’s, the capitol and largest city within Newfoundland and Labrador, is a city full of charm from years past. With architecture unlike anything found anywhere else in Canada, and historic roots that make the city one of the top ocean-side travel destinations, St. John’s should be on everyone’s travel list. Thanks to North & Leisure, the sponsor of this article, you can see St. John’s in all of its grace.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
St. John’s is located on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland, covering an area of slightly over 172 miles. Officially established as a city in 1888, St. John’s is steep with history; not only has its name been attributed to a handful of events and people, but St. John’s also played a role in four different wars including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. St. John’s even contains 21 National Historic Sites of Canada, and some of these sites date back to the early-mid nineteenth century. The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is one of these sites not to be missed on your visit to St. John’s. The largest building project in Newfoundland to its date, the Basilica can be found overlooking the city on the highest ridge in St. John’s, built out of exquisite limestone and white granite quarried in Dublin and Galway. It even has a museum that contains religious and historic art and artifacts of the Basilica. The Cathedral is built in the Lombard Romanesque style of architecture which is what makes the building so important, as it is regarded as one of the earliest North American revivals of this style. It is also the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.
Signal Hill, also listed as a National Historic Site of Canada, offers a view that cannot be missed during a visit to St. John’s. The final battle of the Seven Years’ War was fought in 1762 on this hill (The Battle of Signal Hill). At the top of the hill you can explore Capitol Tower. From learning about the wireless station responsible for operating the tower, to a radio station and gift shop, Capitol Tower has a little something for all visitors. The Railway Coastal Museum is another National Historic Site of Canada to spend an afternoon exploring in St. John. Located on Waterstreet in the historic Newfoundland Railway terminal, the museum illustrates the story of how the Newfoundland Railway came to be through exhibits, models and figures, and even a 1940’s passenger train diorama! Continue with the culture of St. John’s by visiting The Rooms. An all-in-one museum, The Rooms is located where Fort Townshend once stood, which is also on the list of National Historic Sites list. The Rooms houses multiple divisions, including the Provincial Art Gallery and Provincial Museum. The gallery does have rotating exhibitions, but the “Permanent Collections” include over 7,000 works of mainly post 1960 Canadian Art; there is an emphasis on art and artists hailing from Newfoundland.
The historical presence in St. John’s is one of the things that makes it such a desirable and unique place to visit, and can be found in more than just buildings and architecture. Water Street, one of the oldest streets in North America at over 400 years, is both historical and a present-day cultural hub for the St. John’s area. A mix of restaurants, bars and pubs, and shops line Water Street, which was recognized in 1987 as a National Historic Site of Canada due to its significance as a meeting place for sailors and the buildings along the street that were a part of Atlantic trade. George Street is another cultural and entertainment hub to traverse through on your St. John’s vacation. Only two blocks in length, George’s Street is closed off in the evenings to only foot traffic and remains lively until the very early morning. If you plan accordingly you can take part in the George Street Festival. Spanning six days in August, this festival sees over 100,000 people and ends the day before the beginning of The Royal St. John’s Regatta, a crew race that happens to be the oldest annual sporting event in North American history. It is held on St. Johns’ own Quidi Vidi Lake.
After all of your sightseeing and exploring the next best way to see St. John’s is by getting a taste of the local cuisine. For something very unique to St. John’s, Mallard Cottage is a great option. Located in the historic Quidi Vidi Village, Mallard Cottage is actually not only a restaurant, but a National Historic Site of Canada due to the age of the wooden structure of the cottage; it dates all the way back to the 18th century. Mallard Cottage serves a vast array of game, seafood, and produce that helps to showcase the Newfoundland area. The head chef of Mallard Cottage was even on Top Chef Canada! The menu changes every day, so be sure to check their website for the most updated fare before your dinner. Chinched Bistro is another Newfoundland local food option, and with the word “chinched” meaning stuffed full of food, it leave you nothing but. With a focus on handcrafted contemporary bistro cuisine, and using locally sourced ingredients and produce, Chinched Bistro provides a “gourmet casual” dining experience perfect after a day of sightseeing in St. Johns. The area’s first vegetarian restaurant, Sprout, won’t disappoint even if you are not a vegetarian. The place to go if you need a break from moose burgers, Sprout offers soups, salads, and even vegan poutine. Wash it down with a delicious cold beer from their selection, and get back out to see the sights of St. John’s satisfied.
With St. John’s having cool-to-warm temperatures over the summer, be sure on your vacation to take a stroll through some of their beautiful parks. Bowring Park, located in the Waterford Valley neighborhood of St. John’s, has been a staple in the community since 1914 when it was originally opened and reigns as one of the most scenic parks in the entire city. With recreational facilities like tennis courts and playgrounds, Bowring Park also boasts a number of statues through out the park with the most notable one being the Peter Pan statue found at the entrance to the park, erected in memory of the granddaughter of Sir Edgar Bowring, who donated the land the park is found on. Bannerman Park stands even older than Bowring Park, officially opening in 1891. Surrounded by historic buildings as well as Victorian bed and breakfasts, Bannerman Park was recently revitalized in 2010. From a swimming pool to beautiful greenery, this park is a great way to spend a breezy afternoon in St. John’s. Harbourside Park is worth a stop on your vacation as well, but during the summer months be sure to make it on a Friday because they host a free Music at Harboursidelunchtime concert series. The park, built opposite the National War Memorial, offers a wonderful view of the harbour that anyone staying in St. John’s should not miss. Though not a park, but a great place to check out on a spectacular day, is Cape Spear Lighthouse. Representing the architecture of the 1830’s era, this lighthouse is also registered as a National Historic Site of Canada due to its status as an iconic symbol of Newfoundland and Labrador’s history. With views of the waves crashing on the shore, and years of history about the Cantwell Family who worked tirelessly for years to maintain the vital mariners light, Cape Spear Lighthouse is worth the trek. It also serves as an entry point to the East Coast Trail: a trail that spans over 300km and consists of 26 wilderness paths. With attractions ranging from archeological digs to a 50 metre suspension bridge, a walk along the East Coast Trail should be in the cards for the nature-loving St. John’s visitor.
St. John’s, Newfoundland is a place of historical significance, and that significance can be seen all over the city, while not being overwhelming or unenjoyable. Fun for all walks of life, St. John’s is quite the Canadian gem. A St. John’s vacation would be nothing short of magnificent, so book your trip with North & Leisure today.
Come to the place where the New World begins. You will eat food you’ve never heard of before, drink the traditional “Screech”, sing a ballad or two and experience the unique history, environment, culture and life-style of the friendly and warmhearted people who love to live here. Some of the very best Newfoundland has to offer is featured in this comprehensive vacation: picturesque out ports, national parks, dramatic mountain-to-fjord scenery, and trips off-the-beaten-path.
Starting in the vibrant city of Halifax, we sail to the beautiful region of Newfoundland to visit St. Johns and St. Pierre before encountering the stunning historic site of Louisbourg. New England is next, and we call on fascinating Portland, Maine, before sailing down the seaboard to complete our journey in the great metropolis of New York.
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