I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Newfoundland & Labrador (together one province) for a festival (see “The Gathering” below) and immediately fell in love with its beautiful landscapes, its unique culture, and the hospitality of the amazing people who live there. With over 18,000 miles of coastline, the great outdoors are a big draw for this region with endless hiking trails to explore and wildlife to see. But that’s not all you’ll find in the corner of the world, read on for 10 reasons to add Newfoundland and Labrador to your bucket list.
1. The Gathering
Each summer in the northern tip of central Newfoundland, tucked away between rolling hills, redwood trees and the ocean in the small town of Burlington, comedian Shaun Majumder hosts The Gathering, an epic three-day festival unlike any I’ve ever experienced. With a population of 300 and three hours from the closest airport, Burlington is one of the last places on Earth you’d expect to find world-renowned chefs and some of Canada’s best bands coming together, but that’s what makes this thing so special.
In a single day, I took a morning swim in the brook with salmon jumping nearby, went on a chef hike featuring an epic three-course meal overlooking a secluded bay, attended a comedy show, watched live music, and met new friends over the campfire while drinking beers and playing music until 3am. For someone who likes the outdoors, music and great food, there’s no place else like it.
The Gathering is the signature event for Shaun’s Ome project, which aims to promote sustainable tourism throughout central Newfoundland by creating intimate cultural experiences, unique accommodations and fun activities for travelers of all ages. A massive endeavor to pursue in such a remote place, Ome is a labor of love for Shaun and also a way for him to give back to the community he called home as a kid. It’s also beginning to put the region on the map as a travel destination by creating some truly incredible experiences for visitors.
2. The people
Canadians are world-famous for being nice, and that reputation is taken to an entirely new level in this part of the country. Remote, secluded and miles from major cities, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador found out a long time ago that working together as a community is the only way to survive out here. The result of decades of coming together for the common good is the most welcoming, hospitable people I’ve ever met. The locals in Burlington offered me baked goods, a ride to my campsite on the back of an ATV, and a cold beer when we ran out. Complete strangers became lifelong friends in a matter of hours, and the best part was that each Newfoundlander had a story to tell.
The hospitality of Newfoundland & Labrador is so famous that its real-life application inspired a Broadway musical called Come from Away. After 9/11, 7,000 people flying to the United States were re-routed to Gander in northern Newfoundland, where they spent four days waiting for a flight while being completely in the dark about what was happening in the U.S. The population of the town nearly doubled overnight, and locals responded by offering up their homes and food to these strangers who had no idea when they were going to make it home. It’s an amazing story.
3. Whitewater rafting
One of the best whitewater rafting experiences of my life took place in central Newfoundland. Our guides were from the awesome outfit Rafting NL. Well-trained and incredibly talented, the Rafting NL team made sure my group was safe even when flipping the raft in the middle of a Class 3 rapid…on purpose. Unlike my previous whitewater tours, during which the goal was to stay in the raft at all times, getting wet was encouraged on my trip down Exploits Canyon. Throughout the two-hour endeavor my group surfed rapids, got sucked down whirlpools, and flipped over too many times to count. That’s a successful trip in my book. If this sounds a little too intimidating, Rafting NL also offers less intense runs catered to families and kids.
Newfoundland & Labrador is one of the most spectacular whale-watching locations on Earth. Tens of thousands of whales pass through the province’s waters each year. A spectacle for both travelers and locals, the world’s largest population of humpback whales return each year to feed on capelin, krill and squid along the rugged coastline. Another 21 specials of whales and dolphins—including minke, sperm, pothead, blue, and orca—can also be seen between May and September. Whether you’re on a boat tour, sea kayak or coastal train, these magnificent beasts are a must-see.
5. St. John’s
Famed for its colorful houses and the George Street pub scene, the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador brings an old-world European vibe to North American shores. Founded by the British in the 1600s, St. John’s (not St. John) provides a stark contrast to much of the province with its vibrant nightlife, culinary hot spots and art galleries. With an airport close by, a one- or two-day stop in St. John’s is the perfect beginning or end to a visit. If you go, be sure to take a walk at Signal Hill for the best views of town and take a trip to Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point.
6. Iceberg viewing
When it comes to viewing icebergs, this place is one of the best in the world. On a sunny day in spring, 10,000-year-old glacial giants are visible from a number of points along the northern and eastern coasts and draw thousands of people each year. Icebergs are so common in this area that locals put them to good use. You can drink glacier water straight, as in Berg water, or in spirits like Iceberg vodka, gin and rum, and the popular Iceberg Lager (which is amazing.)
7. Skiing and snowmobiling
With up to 16 feet of snow in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador each winter, there’s an abundance of seasonal activities to pursue in the area, from Marble Mountain—Atlantic Canada’s premier ski resort boasting 39 runs and 1,700 feet in vertical drop—to hundreds of miles of backcountry trails that are ripe for skiing and snowmobiling. I visited in summer so I wasn’t able to partake in these fabulous activities, but based on stories from locals and other visitors, I understand that the snowmobiling throughout central Newfoundland is legendary.
8. Camping and hiking
Camping is a popular draw in Newfoundland & Labrador, with hundreds of campsites overlooking the ocean or deep in the vast wilderness. Wherever you end up, you can expect to see plenty of wildlife and breathtaking views. Visitors can hike the East Coast Trail and cross a suspension bridge leading to an abandoned village in La Manche Provincial Park, take a stroll along the seven-mile beach in Banting Memorial Municipal Park, or watch migratory birds along the water in Grand Codroy RV Park.
Newfoundland & Labrador also features three National Parks: Gros Morne National Park, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rare geology and incredible backcountry camping; Terra Nova National Park, comprised of 400 square kilometers of boreal forest and seacoast; and the even more remote Torngat Mountains National Park, which acts as a playground for the most advanced adventure-seekers.
9. The cuisine
To me, food is an important part of traveling. It’s a great way to connect with a culture and its people, a pathway to a better understanding of the local way of life. I also love to eat, so there’s that, too. On the edge of North America, overlooking the Atlantic, it’s no surprise that seafood is a large staple of the Newfoundlander diet. While at The Gathering, I made a friend in a local guy named Mackinnon who went fishing for squid (also called “squid jigging”) each morning and made us fresh fried calamari rings. Atlantic salmon, mussels and scallops are also local favorites. If you have a chance, try to experience a Jiggs dinner, a traditional Canadian feast usually comprised of boiled corned beef, cabbage, carrots, turnips, and potatoes covered with gravy. Delicious.
10. Living heritage
Newfoundland & Labrador does an amazing job honoring its history with immersive activities and authentic encounters across the province. Their local ancestors from the Old World came from England, Ireland, France, and Northern Europe in addition to a number of indigenous communities, resulting in a wide variety of traditions, tales and experiences for you to explore.
You can sleep in a lighthouse keeper’s residence in Labrador, help build a boat in Winterton, or craft a hand-laid rock wall in English Harbor. Catch a cod from a traditional Newfoundland dory in Cox’s Cove and take part in an archaeological dig near Ferryland. Or, experience Viking life from 1,000 years ago at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at L’Anse aux Meadows. The opportunities and activities are endless and a great way to experience the life, culture and history of the area.
PS: Newfoundland & Labrador also has the best commercials.