The capital of Newfoundland is a vibrant city with colourful neighbourhoods and dynamic, friendly people. The city has a rich history that begins on its edge, on Signal Hill, and permeates throughout many parts of its core. You’ll need a few days to explore all that St. John’s has to offer, but once you have, this city will stay in your heart for a long time.
Jelly Bean Row
Established by the British in 1497, St. John’s is the oldest community in Canada. The best place to begin your exploration of this charming city is in its historic downtown. The homes here are collectively called Jelly Bean Row. That makes you think it’s just one street, but it’s not. Victorian era row houses, painted in a multitude of colours, take over many of St. John’s hilly downtown streets. It feels as if you could spend an entire day wandering the neighbourhoods and never see the same colour twice. It’s a very fun place to explore.
Near the bottom of the hill are the popular George and Water Streets where heritage buildings have been repurposed as restaurants, pubs and shops. The streets have been converted into pedestrian walkways making the area feel very welcome. Although it was quiet on a rainy afternoon when we visited, the area came alive at night.
Undoubtedly the cutest, most photographed neighbourhood in all of St. John’s is Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy). What used to be a small fishing community has become a busy tourist attraction. A collection of fishing shacks, huddled around the small protected harbour, creates one of the most picture-perfect spots.
The harbour, known as The Gut, is still used by local fishermen. A few fishing boats were entering the harbour as we arrived. We imagined them yelling “Arn?” “Narn” to each other as they passed. Click here for that story.
Even though we had to search and search for parking and walk amongst throngs of other tourists, we were still thrilled to see this unbelievably cute spot. A wedding was taking place in one of the restaurants. Their wedding pictures would be unique and gorgeous.
Newfoundlanders refer to all non-Newfoundlanders as people who ‘come from away’. To become an honorary Newfoundlander, we took part in a very fun Newfoundland tradition; a Screech-In Ceremony.
Generations ago, Newfoundlanders traded salt fish with the West Indies for barrels of rum. That is how this rum, called Screech, became the traditional drink of Newfoundland. In those days it wasn’t the finest rum. In fact, it is often said that it came from the bottom of the barrel. There are a few different stories to explain how the rum received this name. Most are different versions of the same story where someone lets out a loud screech after their first swig of the cheap rum.
A few pubs in downtown St. John’s offer the traditional Screech-In ceremony. Christian’s Pub on George St. offers one of the most entertaining options. We entered Christian’s to hear Newfie folk music blaring from the stereo as we grabbed a stool by the bar. The place was full with ‘come from awayers’ waiting for the show to begin.
Once the music is turned down, the fun begins. The charismatic bartender, who calls himself Skipper Lukie, dons a sou’wester and carries a paddle as he recounts Newfie folklore to the mainlanders.
After learning a few Newfie sayings such as ‘Aye b’y’ (I agree), we had a ‘Newfie steak’ (fried baloney), kissed a (frozen) cod and a had shot of Screech.
“Is yee a Screecher?” Skipper Lukie asked us all. We responded “Deed I is me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!”
Note, due to the coronavirus, the cod wore a mask.
Here’s a short 50 second video that will give you a sense of how much fun you’ll have at a Screech-In Ceremony.
We are now proud to be honorary Newfoundlanders!
Well, after driving 12,550 km from British Columbia to Newfoundland on Our Great Canadian Roadtrip, we’ve reached kilometer 0 of the TransCanada Highway. It must be time to turn around and go home.
Tips for Visiting Newfoundland
- The TransCanada Highway in Newfoundland is shaped like a horseshoe as it travels along the west, north and eastern edge of the island province. There are smaller highways leading to the various capes, but in order to get from east to west, you have to drive all around the northern edge. There are no shortcuts across the island. It will take a full day to drive from one side to the other. There are quite a few potholes across the province so drive with caution.
- Watch for moose while driving, especially between dusk and dawn. With 125,000 moose on the island there are, on average 700 moose-car collisions per year.
- If you’re planning to rent a car or RV, the best advice is to book early. Even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic, there are not many available.
- Newfoundland Standard Time is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Standard Time so do don’t forget to change your watch.
- Don’t confuse St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital city with St. John in New Brunswick.
Where to stay and eat on Avalon Peninsula
There are many hotel and B&B options are in St. John’s and surrounding communities. Staying in or near downtown St. John’s allows you to experience the energy of this vibrant city. George Street is a popular pedestrian street in downtown with many restaurants, pubs and shops.
Getting to Newfoundland
Marine Atlantic ferries travel between Sydney, NS and western Newfoundland’s Port aux Basques (7 hrs) twice a day and to the eastern province’s Argentia a few times a week. If traveling to or from Argentia it is a long 16 hour trip, usually overnight. Another ferry travels from Blanc-Sablon, Quebec to St. Barbe on the Great Northern Peninsula. This ferry is much closer to L’Anse aux Meadow, however it is a long and difficult drive to reach the Quebec Port.
Most flights travel to St. John’s, but there are also international airports in Stephenville and Gander. Gander is famous for accepting planes from the US during 9/11.
Coming Next – Our Top Ten Pictures from Atlantic Canada
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