This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ll focus on one part of their magnificent country and share it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and salmon streams in the Maritimes, our toast to Canada will give you well over 150 reasons to make this the year you take the trip. This month we’re exploring tiny towns and Viking lore in Newfoundland.
Canada 150: Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador are having a moment.
Canada’s easternmost province has long attracted nature lovers, but in recent years its popularity has grown to include a big pop-culture following as well.
From the jet setting, celebrity clientele that have developed a passion for the decadent pleasures of Fogo Island, to the art lovers who fell in love with Tony-Award winning musical Come from Away, the true-to-life depiction of Canadian compassion for those stranded after 9/11, tourists of all stripes are finding what they’re after on The Rock.
Whether you choose to explore Gander, St. John’s, or Bonavista in the east; the French Shore, Corner Brook, or Norris Point in the west; or the rocky coast of its provincial partner Labrador in the north, the only thing you’ll find is missing is enough time to see it all on one visit.
The City: St. John’s
If there is such a thing as a big city vibe in Newfoundland, St. John’s is it. The province’s capital city is also the country’s oldest. Wander its narrow streets, pop into the shops run by locals, and enjoy the city as an easy entry point to all things maritime. Hike Signal Hill for views that have stood the test of time. Succumb to the fishing-town feel of historic Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. Or wander along Jellybean Row—so named for the brightly colored houses that dot the waterfront. Your big-city fixes will come by way of the incredible art at The Rooms (the province’s largest public cultural space, and home to the provincial art gallery), fantastic dining (try Mallard Cottage and Raymonds) and local pubs on George Street that are perfect place to get your official welcome to Newfoundland—a “pucker your lips and kiss the cod” Screech-in.
Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Go
Weather and space: It’s cooler than you might find in other areas of the country this month, but not so cold that you’ll need your mitts and boots. Fall offers smaller crowds and greater access to some of the destinations that are hotbeds for summertime visitors.
Family Favorites: If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of options to keep them engaged. At the Bonne Bay Marine Centre in Norris Point, they can get hands-on with a giant sea snail or spiny urchin. The teaching and research center operated by Memorial University is a great educational opportunity and at the Newfoundland Insectarium, where exotic butterflies and insects from around the world make for a fun-filled afternoon.
Road Trips: Fall weather is perfect for a scenic drive out along the Viking Trail, where you can stop and explore the small towns on the Western Shore, home to incredible stories of individuals who sacrificed, made bold decisions, and affected an entire province. Among the must-sees: The Greenfell Interpretation Center, a museum and home in Saint Anthony that tells the story of the English doctor whose life’s work was to improve the medical care to the area’s impoverished coastal inhabitants. His efforts eventually led to the creation of hospitals, schools, and orphanages across the region. Also worth a peek is The Bennett House, a registered heritage structure in Daniel’s Harbour that was the home of Nurse Myra Bennet, the “Florence Nightingale of the North.” This intrepid woman was the only medical professional for a nearly 200-mile range for more than 50 years.
The Quirky Fun of the French Shore: Continue the history lessons in the tiny town of Conche at the French Shore Interpretation Centre, where the French Shore Tapestry—an over 200-foot long, hand-embroidered panel—tells the history of the region with all the humorous and rambunctious style Newfoundland is known for.
Lighthouse Visits: Each lighthouse that dots the shoreline of the island has their own incredible story and many even allow you to venture inside to learn about the families who originally ran them. Such as Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse on the edge of Gros Morne National Park in beautiful Rocky Harbour (built in 1897) and the Rose Blanche Lighthouse (just east of Port aux Basques), which are sure to be favorites.
Why It’s Great Other Times of Year
The Water: With waves crashing all around the coastal harbors, travelers should make a point to get out on the water. BonTours on Bonne Bay offer fantastic views of the national park, as well as the tiny fishing communities alongside it. In this area, whales feast along the shorelines, which makes a tour in areas like Western Brook Pond or St. Anthony (try Northland Discovery tours) worthwhile.
The Winter: Winter enthusiasts can get their fill in Newfoundland and Labrador, with some areas of the province receiving as much as 16 feet of snow each year. Skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling are all a part of the winter sports season. Try spots like Marble Mountain, with its 1,700-foot vertical drop, and Labrador’s Smokey Mountain Ski Club which has 100 percent natural snow and offers the longest ski season in the Atlantic Canada region.
Crafts: You’ll find small shops with local crafts throughout the province, but the Annual Burin Peninsula Arts Council Craft Fair in Marystown is the largest. This November marks the fair’s 30th anniversary, so expect to find local musicians, great food and plenty of souvenir options.
Head North for Icebergs: Iceberg Alley stretches from the coast of Labrador to the southeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. Keep an eye open for the mammoth pieces of ice either from the shore of from a tour boat in spots like Battle Harbour, Red Bay, St. Anthony, Cape Spear, and more. The icebergs come through Iceberg Alley from spring to early summer and late May and early June offer the best views.
The Festivals: As soon as the snow starts to melt, Newfoundlanders take to the streets to make the most of sunny days and friendly neighbors. Festivals run throughout the year but the ones you won’t want to miss include the George Street Festival, five days of “music and drink” in August, the writer’s festival in Woody Point, Regatta day (August 7), a civic holiday and marked with a regatta complete with a full-fledged celebration in Quidi Vidi, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, also in August, showcases local and international talent for a foot-tapping good time.
If You Go Don’t Miss…
The Vikings: Anthropologists believe Vikings landed here and explored Newfoundland at about 1000 A.D. At L’Anse aux Meadows—a national historic site at the northernmost tip of the Viking Trail—you can even step into the re-created spaces they once roamed. Famous Viking Leif Eriksson was said to have used the area as a base camp, and with costumed interpreters, Parks Canada guides offer a glimpse into how they survived.
The National Park
Gros Morne National Park: It might take weeks to fully explore this 700-square-mile park, but it would be time well spent. Use whatever time you can spare to visit this protected land, which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Explorers should start at the Discovery Centre where films, Parks Canada interpreters, and detailed information boards outline the hiking options and guided experiences. The other must: A visit to the Tablelands. These towering, rust-colored mountains are one of the few places in the world where you can walk on the earth’s mantle core—a result of shifting tectonic plates crashing together millions of years ago. You don’t have to be a geologist to grasp the magnitude of the harsh surroundings and the contrast of the lush green fauna, inland fjords, and colorful villages that wind around them.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Canada 150: Wild Frontiers and Unforgettable Nature in the Yukon
- Canada 150: Quebec Delivers the Ultimate Summer Vacation
- Canada 150 Saskatchewan: The Prairie Province that Defies Expectations
- Canada 150: Visit Alberta for Stars, Stories, and the World’s Wildest Wilderness
- Canada 150: Ocean-Floor Adventures and Maritime History in New Brunswick
- Canada 150: Bliss in British Columbia
- Canada 150: Churchill Polar Bears and Winter Fun in Manitoba
Remember: National Parks and National Marine Conservation Areas are offering free admission all year as part of the celebration of Canada150. Request your free park pass here!
Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com
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