As a Chick, specializing in digital marketing for tourism, I pride myself on being able to plan a pretty great vacation – when I am actually taking one and not working. I have been across Canada and the US and experienced amazing tourism destinations, but I had never been to Newfoundland.
Like many others, I have been intrigued and drawn into the commercials and YouTube videos for Newfoundland and Labrador. I can now confirm that the magical place depicted in the commercials does in fact exist.
As a first time visitor, referred to as a CFA, or “come from away”, I did have some help in pre-planning my trip. The “townies” from Destination St. John’s were the perfect hosts, and provided recommendations that ensured that I did see the most beautiful places in Newfoundland, had a warm meal at the end of a day of traveling, a cold pint of beer, and somewhere to sleep with the sounds of the ocean floating through my windows.
I share with you some of my experiences in this beautiful Canadian province, and give to you some of my “need to know before you go” insights. This part of Canada is a must do, and you need to plan ahead to make the most of your experience.
From what I had thought, pre-season mid-May, before the long weekend, would provide the best experience as tourists would not be overtaking St. John’s, and the operators in the remote towns on the Island would be happy to see early visitors just as the season was about to kick off.
I started planning my itinerary about a month in advance, and through my experience I have summarized some tips to ensure you get the most out of your visit.
Flying into St John’s from Toronto is easy as St. John’s has direct air access from many Canadian cities including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and as far west as Calgary. Direct air access is also available from some major US cities, and some European destinations such as London.
Explore the city of St. John’s, more specifically; George and Water streets. The streets are alive with tourists and locals, live music, restaurants and bars, and of course a pub or 2, or 20.
A walk up Historic Signal Hill is a must do. You can also drive to the top if the hike uphill is too much. Signal Hill was not an easy climb after walking across downtown to get there, but well worth the hike to the top. The view of St. John’s, the iconic painted houses, Cape Spear, and the ocean is spectacular.
Yellowbelly Pub and Brewery on Water Street was one of my favorite stops. Their beer was also served on tap in many other restaurants and bars in St. John’s and across the Island.
O’Reileys Irish Newfoundland pub also did not disappoint, with live music starting late afternoon and continuing into the evening, and featuring traditional Newfoundland music, and even some tap dancing. Ok, one lone tap dancer, but I digress.
The city also offers some fantastic finer dining venues. After pub fish and chips, or as Newfoundlanders refer to it as “brown food,” a restaurant like Portobello’s provided for a perfect evening. The scallops and trout were outstanding, but it was the appetizer of cod tongue with scrunchions (crispy pieces of salted side pork) and tarter that was the surprise favorite for me.
Although there are many smaller Inns and hotels to stay in around St. John’s, the Delta St. John’s was home base. A great location just at the entrance to George and Water Street, the hub of St. John’s – which according to Wikipedia, offers the most pubs and bars per square foot of any street in North America.
I can confirm that this could possibly be the truth.
After a weekend in St. John’s, it was time to see some of those vistas of the Atlantic Ocean; waves crashing up against rugged rocks, flowing clotheslines, coloured houses, and small inlet towns around the Island.
My friends at Destination St. John’s, the official visitor and convention bureau for the city, were quick to advise me of a few things as I planned my trip prior to my arrival in St. John’s. It was technically pre-season for the island and we “CFA’s” need the help.
I had been dreaming of the cool breezes off of the Atlantic, and eating lobster fresh from the Bay since seeing Newfoundland and Labrador commercials and YouTube video’s. As a digital marketing specialist for Travel, it is my job to ensure that the images, video’s and websites tell the story of what a visitor might expect when traveling. The experiences I had in Newfoundland were everything that I had imagined and more.
As such, I have prepared a list of “Things to know before you go to Newfoundland,” as I did encounter some surprises along the way, ones that can be avoided with the right kind of planning.
Newfoundland Chicks’ Trip Tips Preface: (try saying that 5 times!)
I consider myself to be an experienced traveler. I have pretty good knowledge of how to plan travel online, and I had some help that prevented travel misfortunes (which may have included driving to Cape St. Mary’s, home to the popular Ecological Reserve – instead of St. Mary’s Bay, where I had reserved accommodations – 1.5 hours away). To my defence, when one Google’s “Cape St. Mary’s,” the 3rd search result is a Tripadvisor listing and reviews for the “Claddagh Inn St Mary’s.”
OK so that happened. Make sure you know exactly which place you are trying to get to. Google clearly does not know everything.
These are not the typical “things to do and see.” My list instead is “people to meet, and how to get to the right places, with a full stomach and a place to sleep.” This list summarizes some of my experiences and highlights, with points of note for planning a trip to really experience Newfoundland as I did.
Book a car in advance: Especially in pre-season. Newfoundland is an island accessible by boat or plane. Although the ferry access allows for cars, many tourists opt to fly in and rent a car.
There is no other way to get around the Island to experience drives like the “Irish Loop,” or to see remote town’s living on the edge of the Atlantic without a car, or a boat. If you plan on taking in the coves and inlets along the coast, or you are planning a visit to Gros Morne National Park, or any of the many other spectacular sites, then you will need to rent a car.
In addition, be forewarned that some of the roads are still quite rough coming off of the winter season, and there is not a gas station or diner, or even convenience store on every corner once you veer off of the TransCanada 1 Highway. This of course is part of the charm.
Book all accommodations (and some meals) in advance: Innkeepers like Patrick and Carol, who run the Claddagh Inn in St. Mary’s Bay have done such an amazing job in telling the “story” of the experience through Tripadvisor and Facebook, that tourists are making this small fishing village located directly along the Irish Loop a preferred resting point.
St. Mary’s Bay is not a bustling tourist area – at any point in the season. That being said, the experience that Innkeepers Patrick and Carol have created is well worth the stop. The stories allow you to get a sense for the community, and what other small communities around the island are like for those who live there.
I was welcomed with a pint of Yellowbelly Irish Red in the small quaint pub before checking into my guestroom. The Inn has 6 rooms, and Innkeepers Pat and Carol prepare and serve a homemade 3-course dinner for their guests, as well as a full breakfast. Dinner included Crab from the Bay that was brought in that morning, homemade pea soup, and a window table to watch the sunset.
Pat and Carol shared stories about the town, the history of the Inn, and their adventures since taking over the Inn two years ago, in a town of people that had lived and worked there all of their lives. The town mayor even stopped in for a Scotch and a chat.
Past guests of the Inn rave about the Claddagh experience online, so much so that they are booked months in advance for rooms, and with limited (or no other) accommodation available in St. Mary’s Bay. Drop-ins in August, or even just stops for dinner without reservations are almost impossible as the dining room primarily caters to guests of the Inn.
Planning your journey around the Island is a must do for anyone looking to explore the small inlets and coastal towns, and make sure to pre-book not only your accommodations, but also your meals. Those of us who are used to booking hotels on the day of, or waiting for last minute specials will not get the chance to experience the charming Inn’s and B&B’s in the smaller towns without reservations.
Reserving accommodations and even dining where you plan to stop will allow you to truly enjoy the ocean views, the people, the stories, and the peace and quiet of these small coastal towns and villages. The Claddagh Inn provided a relaxing and quiet retreat after two days in St. John’s. It also provided the cool ocean breeze through the window.
I found the Artisan Inn, located on the eastern shore in picturesque Trinity, by searching Google for “must go places” in Newfoundland.
The Inn and the town certainly deserved the accolades. Trinity, a well-preserved and still populated town, surrounded by the Atlantic, and on route to Cape Bonavista, is reminiscent of a European village. The town is a popular tourist destination in the summer, and the Inn and surrounding area have been the site for the filming of many movies.
Innkeeper Tineke Gow has been managing the Inn for 22 years, and is just as passionate about Trinity and the surrounding area as if it was her first. Tineke’s daughter Marieke, who is a trained sommelier and very involved in the local tourism community, manages the Inn with her. The passion for this place by those who live and manage it is inspiring.
Eastern Newfoundland was recently named a National Geographic Geotourism Destination www.nlgeotourism.com. The Inn’s restaurant, The Twine Loft is also recommended and awarded an additional star in “Where to Eat in Canada” published annually by Oberon Press.
At breakfast, I spotted a seal in Trinity Bay just outside the window. Not something you see over coffee and croissants in Ontario.
Trinity Travel Tip: Don’t miss breakfast or Tineke will remind you throughout the day of what you missed. Freshly baked muffins and fruit are always a nice way to start the day.
Planning your driving route: My advice is simple. Don’t count on Google Maps or GPS. Ask the locals, and refer to the good old fashion printed map. It is kind of fun to pull out the big paper map (preferably without hitting the driver next to you in the head).
A kind of throwback to childhood road trips before Google maps and GPS existed.
One pleasant surprise was the availability of satellite radio in the rental car, and in restaurants and pubs across the island. This allowed for a customized soundtrack for the longer drives from town to town.
Access to cellular networks: To sum it up, if you are with Bell Canada or TELUS you are A OK for most of the populated area’s around Newfoundland. Rogers – not so much. This is where the access to WIFI in the Inns around the Island really came in handy as SKYPE or Facetime work to communicate – if you absolutely have to.
The experience and hospitality of the people of Newfoundland is unique and special. The people of Newfoundland are incredibly welcoming and proud of their Province, and will make it easy once you arrive “from away.”
As a coastal tourism destination, Newfoundland is still fairly raw – which is part of the charm and the authenticity of the experience. A slower pace of life, friendly people with unique accents, live music, fresh seafood, breathtaking scenery, unpredictable weather, and charming tours from fishing boats, with local guides that are passionate about home are what made Newfoundland for me.
There are a few highlights that I won’t soon forget.
The crisp moist Atlantic Ocean air mixed with the smell of lumber and campfire.
The goats. I like goats, especially this one.
Watching the ocean crash against the rocks at Cape Bonavista, surrounded by nothing but the ocean and rocks.
Tales of lost coastal inlet towns from locals like Bruce Miller.
Bruce operates a unique tour of the Eastern shores around Old Bonaventure. With his fishing boat and stories of his life, he speaks passionately about the ocean, fishing communities, and the people of Newfoundland.
He speaks authentically of life in small fishing communities, and about his family who have lived in the area for decades, taking travelers by boat to pockets where small fishing towns no longer exist. He started doing tours of the area 2 years ago so that he would be able to remain in Old Bonaventure, when many locals have been forced to leave for work.
Just don’t ask Bruce how long it would take by boat to get to Ireland, the first land from Newfoundland’s east coast you will hit by water. He told me we didn’t have enough gas.
A few other Chick Travel Tips:
1. Don’t ask the tour operators to “Guarantee” that you will see a Whale, a Puffin, or a Moose. They don’t appear on command.
2. Eat the pea soup and try Cod Tongue
3. Get “Screeched In” on George Street.
4. Enjoy the fresh Lobster and Crab.
5. Stop at the Bonavista Social Club. It is completely off the beaten path, but so worth it. I did not try the Moose burger, but I wish I had.
6. Plan your driving route, and where you will stop along the way.
7. Book in advance.
8. If you are near Trinity or Bonavista, take the boat tour with Bruce, but don’t ask to use the bathroom.
9. Try the local diners. The food is home cooking comfort food.
10. Take the lack of cellular service as a sign to totally disconnect.
11. Be ready to hit the treadmill when you return. So worth it.
These are the real experiences that are reflective of Newfoundland for me. It is the passion of people that really make an experience, and a tourism destination like Newfoundland so special.
The scenery is not so bad either.