St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador, is a fascinating city. At over 500-years-old, it’s the oldest and most easterly city in North America, and it embodies a European flair unlike any other place on the continent. Downtown you’ll find a youthful pub scene, a variety of restaurants, and a number of things to do and explore. St. John’s was the first stop on my Newfoundland road trip in August, and I was lucky enough to spend a few days there, trying and experiencing as much as I could.
From those days in August, here are my 10 favorite things to eat, see and do in St. John’s:
1. Eat fish & chips at The Duke of Duckworth
The Duke of Duckworth is an historic pub with an old European vibe. It serves the best fish & chips in town as well as a fantastic pint of Guinness. Go before 8:30pm and you’ll find a family-friendly atmosphere, while late night brings a vibrant pub scene. Fun fact: If you’ve ever seen Republic of Doyle on Netflix, you should know that many scenes were filmed here at this pub.
2. Drink beer at Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.
Quidi Vidi village feels like a world away from everywhere. A short five-minute drive from downtown St. John’s (or a ~20-minute walk), Quidi Vidi is home to some spectacular views, hiking trails and a cute village that begs to be explored. When you’re done checking out the sights, stop by Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. for a pint and live music. When you go, try the Iceberg lager, brewed with water from 20,000-year-old icebergs.
3. Explore The Rooms
One part museum, one part art exhibit, The Rooms provides a great opportunity to learn about the rich history and culture of St. John’s and greater Newfoundland & Labrador. With a variety of collections and rotating art exhibits, The Rooms always has something new and interesting to see. The architecture alone is worth a visit, with a striking exterior design paying tribute to the old fishing rooms that used to line the region’s waterfronts. The Rooms also has a great café on the top floor with expansive views of the town below.
4. Throw hatchets at Jack Axes
Looking for something different and non-touristy? Visit Jack Axes on Water Street for a good time. I never thought throwing axes at a wood target would be so damn fun, but it is. No experience is necessary and it’s fairly easy to get the hang of it. Local craft beers from Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. and rock music played over the in-house stereo complete the scene.
5. Visit Signal Hill
Signal Hill, the most popular landmark in St. John’s, housed the city’s harbor defenses from the 17th century through WWII. To commemorate the site’s historical significance, a cannon is shot every day at noon from the top of the hill. You can even pay ($49) to shoot the cannon yourself. In addition to historical significance, Signal Hill offers sweeping views of the Atlantic to the east and St. John’s to the west plus coastal hiking trails and a visitor center.
6. Spot wildlife on the water with Gatherall’s Puffin and Whale Watch
One of my favorite activities in St. John’s was a two-hour cruise with Gatherall’s Puffin and Whale Watch. Out on the water we saw an abundance of wildlife including bald eagles, fin whales, puffins, and a variety of other birds. If you visit in the spring, you’ll likely get to see icebergs up close as well as orcas and humpback whales.
7. Stroll Jellybean Row
Another of the city’s most famous attractions—featured in travel ads, magazines and TV commercials—is Jellybean Row, which is essentially a bunch of brightly painted Victorian houses throughout town. Walk up the hill from downtown and you can’t miss these beauties. They’re just about everywhere.
8. Eat at The Merchant Tavern
The best meal I had in St. John’s was at The Merchant Tavern. The atmosphere, the service, and oh yes, the food were all incredible without being pretentious or intimidating. The fish tacos, made with locally caught cod, were out of this world, and the mussels, tuna tartare, and oysters were all fresh and delicious. The owners also run another restaurant in town called Raymond’s, which was recently named one of the best restaurants in all of Canada.
9. Eat and drink at The Adelaide Oyster House
The Adelaide Oyster House is a trendy hotspot serving up sustainable food and a lively party vibe. Starting with the food: The oysters are a no-brainer here but I also loved the Korean lettuce wraps. The best time to go is after 9pm, when the music is turned up to 11 and a crowd of 20-somethings take over the place. Depending on what you’re into that may sound like an amazing or a terrible time, but there’s no place in town quite like it.
10. See live music on George Street
Checking out the live music scene is an absolute must in St. John’s. On any given weekend, there are easily a dozen pubs playing live tunes from traditional Irish folk to American rock covers. Shamrock City has something going on seven nights a week but my favorite spots were O’Reilly’s and Christian’s. You can’t really go wrong; stick to George Street or Water Street downtown and you’re guaranteed to find a good time.
Have your own St. John’s favorites?
What did I miss? Share your favorite parts of St. John’s in the comments below.