Ready to be blown away by the stunning scenery, rich history, and colorful culture in St. John’s, Newfoundland? After spending a few weeks touring the rugged and remote western side of the rock, we were shocked by the treasures that awaited in Newfoundland’s capital city as we made our way to the island’s east coast. Add these St John’s, Newfoundland things to do to your travel itinerary to discover all that this unique place has to offer.
About St. John’s Newfoundland & The Avalon Peninsula
Most of our five weeks in Newfoundland were spent in small coastal towns and appreciating the unique natural landscapes that people travel far and wide to experience.
As soon as you step onto the streets of the island’s largest city though, it is easy to see and feel that there are many more stories to be told here.
With its history dating back to the 16th century, this is often dubbed the oldest city in North America.
From historical sites to nature trails, and a thriving food scene, St John’s is a cultural hub on the east coast of Newfoundland. A large city with a sense of small-town charm that we as outdoorsy RVers, who prefer a star-filled sky to a night under the city lights, found refreshing.
Newfoundland has so much to offer and if you don’t have enough time to explore away from the eastern edge, we highly recommend you build in some extra time to explore more of the Avalon Peninsula (more on that later).
Note: This is St. John’s and should not be confused with St. John, which is in New Brunswick. People in both places will correct you (trust us)!
Best time to visit
Some of the best months to visit St John’s are late June, July, August, and September.
After we started our journey across Newfoundland on July 2nd, we arrived in St John’s for the first week of August and enjoyed a mix of sunshine, mild temperatures, rain, and fog … the usual!
Summer is the most popular time to visit which means you are more likely to experience larger crowds, but it also is the perfect time for summer festivals, pleasant weather, whale watching, and maybe even some icebergs if you are lucky!
Iceberg season typically runs from April to June and mayyybe into early July, but it can be very variable.
As the locals told us, Newfoundland gets about 3 weeks of good weather a year… we laughed. They looked at us like the tourists we were.
A quick question to the Google Gods later confirmed the island does get precipitation around 200 days a year. Bring your umbrella and your rain jacket!
While that window might seem small, there is still plenty of fun to be had even if the rain and fog start hanging around here and there during the overall wonderful summer months.
If there is one thing about Newfoundland that we found to be true, it’s that the weather sure will keep you on your toes!
Best Things To Do in St. Johns, Newfoundland
Signal Hill National Historic Site
If you are looking for some of the best views of the city of St. John’s, the harbor, and the area’s rocky coastline, the climb up to Signal Hill is the place to go.
The Signal Hill National Historic Site, also called “The Lookout”, served as a point of defense, observation, and signaling from the 1700’s through World War II.
It is also where the first transatlantic wireless signal was received, sent out from Guglielmo Marconi (father of the radio wave-based wireless telegraph system) in England in 1901.
On the site you can also see the infamous Cabot Tower. Once an active signal station, the Cabot Tower was constructed after the previous signal blockhouse was destroyed by fire in 1894. Built in 1897, the Cabot Tower was built to mark the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s North American Landfall and the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Also take some time to learn more in the Visitor Center, hike the trails along the cliff’s edge, and explore the Queen’s Battery Barracks.
Confused about the actual place of Cabot’s North American Landfall due to the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia that also bears his name? Same!
His exact landfall is up for debate, with both Newfoundland and Cape Breton claiming it. A mystery for the ages and a modern little family feud in Canada.
Signal Hill Experiences
- Fire the noon day gun – set off the thundering cannon ($77.53 / person)
- Defenders of the narrows – fire a historic musket ($22.43 / person)
- Guided History Tour (1-hour tour included in the price of admission, typically offered June to September at 10:30 am)
Signal Hill Hiking Trails
Whether you are looking to brave the many sets of steps clinging for dear life along the cliffside or are looking for a more casual adventure around the site grounds, there is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy the picturesque views and ocean breeze from this hill above the city!
A charming, quintessential fishing village tucked into a peaceful lakeside home called “The Gut.”
Stroll along the edge of Quidi Vidi Lake, grab a bite to eat and a craft bew at Quidi Vidi Brewing or the local food truck park at the wharf, and learn about the area’s history and local culture at the Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Studios and the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation.
Sitting on the patio at Quidi Vidi Brewing Company we were treated to an explosive sunset of orange and pink while enjoying a pint, a glass of wine, and creamy seafood chowder surrounded by dramatic cliffs.
Come for the famous Iceberg Beer, stay for the live music, colorful local culture, stunning views, and a fresh bite to eat.
Ahh George Street. We started hearing about you the moment we stepped foot onto the island. From the far corners of the western mountains, people raved about this popular tourist destination.
The place for nightlife, live music, and home of “THE PLACE” to get screeched in.
What the heck does it mean to get screeched in?
It’s this right of passage that has to do with kissing the cod, talking like a Newfoundlander, eating like a Newfoundlander, and drinking like a Newfoundlander. Something tough to explain, better to see, and even more fun to experience for yourself.
As people who feel most at home in the woods, we honestly weren’t overly impressed with George Street (sorry!).
A short stretch of bars and taverns on a cobblestone street closed off to vehicle traffic, it is one of those places you go for the experience, and we did have a blast meeting and chatting with locals.
For more dining and less nightlife, Water Street may be more your speed.
- Highly recommended place for getting screeched in: Christian’s Pub
- Highly recommended place for live music: O’Reilly’s Pub
- A popular annual festival with live outdoor entertainment: George Street Festival (end of July into early August each year)
The more tame and reserved older sibling to George Street, Water Street is another pedestrian-only area lined with restaurants and your choice of outside dining patios.
With a cleaner more upscale and family-friendly feel, this felt like the place to be before the sun went down.
In the cool August evenings, this is a great place to wander about and collect all the free smells wafting from the local businesses and restaurants. Only steps from St. John’s Harbour, don’t forget to look down the hill toward the water before selecting a place to enjoy a top-notch meal!
Some of the most popular places to eat on Water Street include:
- The Merchant Tavern
- YellowBelly Brewery & Pub
- Blue On The Water
Important Note About Dining Al Fresco: If like us you enjoy traveling with your dog, it is important to note that St. John’s (as well as many other areas in Canada) has an ordinance that does not allow dogs to dine with you on an outside patio. You can bring your dog with you to dine outside on Water Street, but you will be asked to tie them off on the outside of the patio.
St. John’s Harbour
In the heart of downtown St. John’s is a busy harbour complete with some of the biggest ships we have ever seen (outside of cruise ships), including several owned by the Canadian Coast Guard.
Lining the water like giants, these are a reminder of the area’s maritime heritage, as well as the role this harbour has played in the defense of St. John’s throughout history.
A naturally sheltered harbour, a set of steep walls and rugged cliffs called “the narrows” are the gate to the one and only passage between the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.
With its unique scenery, the harbour is a great place for a walk along the water where you can admire the boats, and get a great view of the narrows and the battery as well.
The Battery Neighborhood
A historic enclave nestled near the entrance to St. John’s Harbour, the colorful homes located here look as if they are suspended in air, overlooking the city with great pride and dignity.
With its windy, narrow roads, stepping into this area feels like stepping back in time.
A haven for artists and photographers, this neighborhood is a great place to experience epic views where urban life and rugged nature clash in the midst of a place steeped with rich history.
Located on the southern side of The Narrows, this is a popular place for spotting whales and icebergs, as well as discovering the historical significance of this precarious perch.
Another reminder of the tense wartime past and the important role the area’s natural landscape played in the defense of St. John’s, Fort Amherst today is a beautiful place for hiking and soaking in the area’s stunning coastal landscape as well as an opportunity to see the remains of the old World War II Battery Complex built here.
Check out the remnants of gun placements left over from World War II and explore the Fort Amherst Lighthouse, which has been helping to guide ships into St. John’s Harbour since 1951.
Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site
Cue the dramatic music…
Sitting on the rocky point that marks the easternmost point in North America, waves crash to shore in an epic display of white foam and rage.
A trip to St. John’s would not be complete without a jaunt out to the most easterly point at the site of the Cape Spear Lighthouse. The oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland, the lighthouse building was replaced with a newer one in 1955.
Both sit on the grounds at Cape Spear, but it is the original light that still shines on as a constant reminder of safety in the midst of any storm.
Walk around the grounds and well-manicured trails, and observe The Narrows from a new point of view from the outside.
Don’t forget to explore the underground remains of the WWII Battery, secured in part by (2) 10-inch guns that you can still see today on this land that was also once Fort Cape Spear.
And if you are truly a go-getter, you might even be able to have a perfect morning watching the first sunrise in North America!
Take A Guided Tour
Sometimes you just need to leave it to the experts!
Taking a guided tour or excursion can be a great way to see and do things in St. John’s that you just might not be able to experience on your own.
Pesky puffins can be hard to track down at times on your own on land, and seeing an iceberg through a pair of binoculars is just not the same as pulling up next to a towering 10,000-year-old frozen giant in a vessel that suddenly feels wholly inadequate.
Honey, they shrunk the boat!
Two great places for comparing tours, availability, and pricing in and around St. John’s are Viator and Get Your Guide.
We found Viator to have better tour options for Newfoundland than Get Your Guide, but it depends on what strikes your fancy!
Popular Viator Tours
Popular Get Your Guide Tour Offerings
St. John’s is a colorful city full of life and vibrant people and businesses. Beyond just murals and flags, most streets in St. John’s feel like walking by rainbows. You just can’t help but smile!
Jellybean Row refers to not just one place in the city, but rather the color-filled atmosphere of the lively row houses that line the hills all over the city.
Like an assortment of jellybeans stacked side by side, the streets are bright and cheery.
The streets are also extremely hilly.
The kind of hilly where it feels like a light breeze could just send the rows of parked cars toppling down onto each other like dominos.
The good news is that once you work up an appetite while climbing the hills and admiring the jellybeans, a drool-worthy meal is likely only a few steps away.
Nature & Camping at Pippy Park
If you are looking for a natural oasis in the thriving urban setting of St. John’s, all signs point to Pippy Park!
With hiking and walking trails, a campground whose praises were being sung by locals on the western side of the rock over 400 miles away, views of the Atlantic Ocean, and even a 27-hole golf course…Pippy Park has everything you need to escape from the hustle and bustle for a while.
But don’t worry, you won’t be far from the action or a stellar bite to eat should you be ready to re-emerge from the tranquility. Pippy Park is right in the heart of it all, a hidden gem in plain sight!
We chose to stay at a campground a bit south of St. John’s as we had plans to explore both the city and drive the Irish Loop during our stay.
With how many great things we heard about Pippy Park from the locals though, we knew we had to mention it here. If you are looking to stay in the heart of the city while still connecting with nature, camping at Pippy Park may be a great option for you.
The Pippy Park Campground has a variety of sites ranging from tent sites to full hook-up RV sites, with options for extended stays as well!
Did we mention St. John’s is hilly?
Perched atop yet another hill in the city, The Rooms Museum is another great place to experience wonderful views of all that this unique urban stronghold in Newfoundland has to offer.
Considered an icon, this is considered THE place to go to learn about Newfoundland and Labrador’s rich heritage through a captivating blend of art, history, and culture.
Filled with interactive exhibits and displays and housed in amazing architecture with panoramic views where the city meets the sea, this is a powerful stop if you are looking to connect deeper with the roots and storied past of this amazing province and people.
After being left flabbergasted by the hiking we did in Gros Morne National Park and in other areas on the western side of the rock, we honestly weren’t expecting to do much when we made our way over to St. John’s.
Leave the hiking shoes behind and enjoy a bit of city life for a while, or so we thought…
This made it that much more special when we were left speechless by the sheer size and blue beauty of the trails somehow steps from the city, yet feeling as if they could be worlds away.
In fact, the Avalon Peninsula is home to a famous collection of trails that make up the East Coast Trail, a roughly 200-mile traverse through some of the peninsula’s most epic and charming coastal scenery.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a boundless backpacker to experience the East Coast Trail, as many of the sections can be hiked on their own.
A few great hikes you should consider in and around St. John’s are:
- Cobbler’s Path: 6 miles along an impressive cliffside with astounding ocean views (we recommend starting at Doran’s Lane)
- Sugarloaf Path: 5.1 stunning coastal miles
- Quidi Vidi Lake Loop: 2.4 miles around the Quidi Vidi Lake and fish houses
- North Head Trail: 2.1 miles along the cliffs at the Signal Hill Historic Site
All of these great places in one place, to help you plan your sightseeing and exploration!
Take A Day Trip From St John’s
Once you have explored all that colorful St. John’s has to offer, we recommend setting your sights on some of the other wonderful places to discover around the rest of the Avalon Peninsula.
Some of our favorite spots that could be done as day trips from St. John’s include:
- La Manche Provincial Park
- Suspension Bridge Trail
- Doctors Cove Beach
- Tinkers Point (East Coast Trail)
- The Irish Loop Scenic Drive
- Chance Cove Provincial Park
- Mistaken Point Ecological Site (UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its impressive fossil record)
- Cape Race Lighthouse
- Colony of Avalon
- Ferryland Lighthouse
- Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
- A great place for a whale-watching boat tour, humpback whales, and puffins during the summer months
- Cape St. Mary Ecological Reserve
- Have you ever wondered what 50,000 nesting sea birds sound like? You won’t want to miss the opportunity to check out Bird Rock
- Castle Hill National Historic Site
- Remnants of fortifications that played a role in the European colonization of North America
- Cataracts Provincial Park
- A short trail to a hidden cascading waterfall just off the roadside
- Salmonier Nature Park
- A chance to learn about and see Newfoundland’s wildlife up close in this rehabilitation center
Want to learn more about what we did while RVing across Newfoundland for 5 weeks and how we planned our trip? Stay tuned and don’t miss a thing:
Whether you are a foodie looking for the best eats, itching for a taste of the nightlife, or eager to learn more about Newfoundland’s history, St. John’s has more than enough to fill your days.
It is colorful and friendly and gets two thumbs up from a couple of RVers whose dually truck sticks out like a sore thumb in the narrow streets of an urban area.
At a minimum, you will want 3 days to explore St. John’s, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the history, culture, and natural landscape we recommend a week. More time would also give you an opportunity to discover the treasures waiting beyond the city throughout the rest of the Avalon Peninsula.
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO ST. JOHN’S NEWFOUNDLAND
Nearest airport: St. John’s International Airport
- Rentalcars.com is a great place to compare rental car availability and prices. You can pick rental cars up at the airport and explore far and wide during your visit!
If you plan to take your car or RV to Newfoundland, you will need to take the ferry!
READ MORE: RVing to Canada – Best Border Crossing Tips
Ferry from North Syndey Nova Scotia to Argentia Newfoundland: 16-hour ferry ride, followed by a roughly 1.5-hour drive to St. John’s
You can also take the 7-hour ferry from Nova Scotia to Port Aux Basques and then a road trip across Newfoundland. That’s where we started our 5-week journey!
Where To Stay
Campgrounds & RV Parks
- Pippy Park (right in St. John’s)
- Celtic Rendezvous By The Sea (We stayed here with beautiful ocean views 35 minutes south of the city; it is now called Cliff’s Edge Retreat)
- Butter Pot Provincial Park Campground (30 minutes southwest of St. John’s)
READ MORE: The Perfect Newfoundland RV Trip
Hotels & Rentals
Two great ways to easily and quickly find, compare, and book fun tours and excursions in St. John’s and Newfoundland:
What To Pack
- Mosquito head net
- Waterproof hiking shoes (trails can be muddy and wet and my Columbia Peakfreak hiking shoes held up amazingly well through 3 months of a rather wet Atlantic Canada summer)
- Sun shirt (these are great to hike in to protect you from the sun (with built-in UPF), bugs, and help with moderating body temperature)
- Rain jacket
- Sunscreen, bug spray
- Hiking backpack, hiking poles
- If you plan to visit multiple historic sites and/or National Parks, consider purchasing a Parks Canada Discovery pass to save money on entrance fees