Having arrived in Kingston, Ontario in the midst of spring blossoming and blooming season, I took to the streets to seek out the character of this historic city. Home to 19th century limestone buildings, waterfront access to Lake Ontario, and university life at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College, the small-ish city is constantly bustling with market stalls, open windows to cafes and restaurants, and independent shops.
Many tourists book their tickets to St. John’s or Deer Lake or Gander, and then announce that they’ve set aside a week to “see Newfoundland.” Newfoundland, for the record, is huge. Not huge like Paris is a huge city, huge like it will take all day (if you start early) to get from one side to the other and there are actually things to see in the middle so you can’t just ‘do it’ in seven days.
That being said, there are plenty of things to do and see in seven days, and if you divide up the province, they can even be done well. This itinerary will cover the easternmost side of Newfoundland to get a taste for the cosmopolitan city life, as well as the small-town, quaint bits.
Fly into St. John’s International Airport, located about 20 minutes from downtown. If you’re lucky, the pilot will take you the scenic route, coming in over the ocean and the cliffs. Spend at least three nights in the city, if you can, to have enough time to see the sights, particularly if hiking is part of your plans. Take in various outdoor activities, including Signal Hill (from the Battery walk, and via the road) and Quidi Vidi Lake. Watch the sunrise from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in Canada, or coming in the fall to see the leaves at Rennie’s River Trail and Bowering Park.
Have brunch at Yellow Belly Brewery or the Fifth Ticket on Water Street, pick up souvenirs and local goods in the independent shops on Duckworth Street, and take in a show at LSPU Hall or at the Arts and Culture Centre. Dinner at Get Stuffed, Blue on Water, The Fish Exchange, or any of the other many restaurants downtown will leave you satisfied with local flavours and products, many of which are sourced directly from the producers, farmers, and fishermen.
Visit The Rooms museum for Newfoundland history, and the Craft Council on Duckworth for locally, and lovingly, made arts and crafts. Visit one of the many historical churches in downtown St. John’s, and get your picture taken in front of the jellybean-coloured row houses (just head up from Duckworth, away from the harbour, toward Gower Street, King’s Road, or others). And if boats agree with you (they don’t with me) by all means head down to the harbour and take one of the highly thought of tours to see icebergs, whales, and various other oceanic sights. Let me know how it is – I’ll be on land with a coffee (at Coffee Matters, Fixed, or The Rocket!).
Spend a day touring the Avalon Peninsula. From St. John’s, you are minutes from Middle Cove, Outer Cove, and Topsail Beach. Various East Coast Trail starting points dot the peninsula – visit their website for these details.
You’ll want at least two nights in Trinity, to accommodate both day trips and the various activities in town. The main highlight of Trinity is Rising Tide Theatre Festival, a summer festival of Newfoundland classics and historical pieces, featuring a majority of Newfoundland actors. Spend a day at the Festival to take in the Pageant – a roving theatrical production outlining the history of Trinity and the surrounding area – the dinner theatre, and a main stage production in the evening. If you wish to meet the actors, or locals, they can most likely be found at the pub – you’ll find it. Trinity Coffee Company is roasting small batch coffee in a very small town, and you’ll want to pick one up before heading off on the Skerwink Trail, near Port Rexton, an award-winning hike with spectacular views of the ocean, cliffs, wildlife and sea stacks.
Accommodations in and around Trinity are lovely, and limited – so book early, particularly if you’re traveling in August and September. Stay right in Trinity at the Artisan Inn, or at Fisher’s Loft in Port Rexton, just a few minutes down the road from town.
This historical town plays an interesting and important role in Newfoundland’s past, and the Fisherman’s Protective Union. The entire town appears locked in the early 1900’s. Tour the factory building and see the printing press, as well as archived pieces and historical tools and household items in the museum. The surrounding area is picturesque and worth visiting once you have explored the town itself.
One of the highlights of Newfoundland is wildlife. If you didn’t get a chance to see any puffins on your boat tour in St. John’s or Trinity, don’t miss a stop at Elliston. Bring your own binoculars, or, once you’ve parked your car on the side of the road, borrow a pair once you get there. You will be able to see the puffins – birds smaller than you might imagine – on the adjacent rock. Bring a blanket, or sit in the grass and enjoy the view. Stay all day if you wish – it’s not remotely corporate, and no one will ask you to leave.
Bonavista is day-tripping distance from Trinity, or another spot worth spending a night, depending on your schedule. First on the agenda is a tour of the Matthew, a replica of John Cabot’s ship, appropriately located at his first landing place. From Cape Bonavista Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site, you may be able to spot an iceberg, and you’ll get a taste of Newfoundland history in the quaint downtown.
Take in the cliffs, the fishing boats, and the rugged coastline, before heading twenty minutes down the coast in the direction of Newman’s Cove to Bonavista Social Club at Amherst’s Cove for lunch (open during the summer, only). The self-sufficient restaurant produces and grows their own products for breads, soups, salads, and pizzas.
If you manage to cover this segment of Newfoundland in a week, you’ll have been very successful (and potentially overwhelmed). But, if you still want more, carry on west to Gander, Fogo Island, Twilingate, and Terra Nova National Park. I would recommend taking as much time as you possibly can free up to see as much of the province as possible. Nothing you see will be remotely close to mediocre, and may even make you question your eyesight. Seeing that many cool things in a week can have that effect.
Vieux-Montréal, or Old Montreal, is one of the major highlights of a visit to Montreal, Quebec. Home to Notre-Dame Basilica, the old port, cobblestone streets, and a genuine European flair, travellers can spend an entire weekend in this urban district, one of the oldest in North America.
In summer, the port comes alive with a variety of festivals, Cirque du Soleil performances, zip line rigging, and buskers. But for those who want to forgo the crowds and hype, the cobbled, restaurant-lined alleys are entertaining in themselves, with shopping and eating and coffee-drinking galore.
Olive et Gourmando – This hipster cafe and eatery serves up fresh sandwiches, breads and pastries, and a delicious brunch. Thanks to some good publicity in the blogosphere, it is often very busy, and brunch-goers can expect to wait in the entry, or spill out onto Rue Saint Paul, before getting a cozy table beside other Francophone and Anglophone diners.
Marché de la Villette – Across the road from Olive et Gourmando, Marche de la Villette offers modern French cuisine, deli meats, and fresh cheese selections in an traditional, cabin-like setting. Stepping in is like entering the perfect Quebecois cabin, with hard wood tables, low beams, and large, wholesome dishes. I highly recommend anything that comes in a skillet, hot from the oven, with a fried egg still cooking on top.
Cantinho de Lisboa Épicerie– For a quick bite of breakfast or a light lunch, try this Portugese-inspired market and cafe. Soup, salad, and full breakfasts are available in house, along with coffee, breads, and pastries. To go, pick up condiments and treats from Portugal, as well as those made in-house.
Lunch à Porter – Brown bag lunches will never be the same. Everything is Lunch a Porter is screaming to come home with me every time I stop in. From Bento boxes to water bottles and thermoses, lunching at your desk has never looked so cute.
Espace Pepin Home – The most chic and Quebecois-feeling shop I’ve ever been in for homewares, dishes, furnishings, and sweet things for the kitchen that I certainly don’t need but end up dreaming about for months following a visit. Stop in for elevensies to have a cup of vegetarian soup so you can imagine the cafe space at the back of the shop really is your kitchen.
Nüspace – I found this gem on my last trip to Montreal, and happened to be in while a group of very young children were entranced by a collection of vintage toys, a highlight of this spot. Also to be found: mix and match chairs, a room of rugs, housewarming gifts for the goof in your group, and the funkiest collection of accessories to brighten up your blank slate. Find them on Instagram (@nuspacemobilier) for inspiration, and to begin your wish-list.
Librairie Bertrand – One of my favourite independent bookstores in Montreal, the staff here say very little without prompting, allowing for solitary browsing through the huge stacks of both French and English selections. In March, Irish literary options were prominently displayed, as were recent award-winning French novels and poetry collections. Pick up a combined French-English translation of a classic to improve your language skills – one page, two languages, and no need for a dictionary!
Délices Érable & Cie – The Canadian maple syrup chain is expanding rapidly, and now has four stores in the province of Quebec (including this one in Old Montreal) and one in Vancouver. Stop in for gift sets of pure Canadian maple syrup (I brought one home with syrup, maple sugar, and maple butter – YUM) or have a coffee and maple dessert in the fresh and modern cafe. We ran in to escape a brief rainstorm, and were thrilled to find ourselves surrounded by maple everything. Try whatever is being sampled at the front of the store- it’s all delicious.
Flyjin Café – This hole in the wall espresso bar on Rue Saint-Pierre could be missed easily, but should be a destination stop for an afternoon caffeine hit. Serving high-test espresso (with beans from Anchored Coffee of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia!) and freshly juiced oranges,
Someone commented to me on social media this week that they had been told there was absolutely nothing to see in Ottawa, and it was best on a trip to Canada to skip over our nation’s capital because it’s a big bore. I was, naturally, appalled (though simultaneously amused at the gross generalizations people can make about cities they’ve never seen). Ottawa is chock-full of wholesome, patriotic activities for even the most over-educated Canadian history student to enjoy. And for the common folk like me, there are still things to do! A major shock, I’m sure. So, for all you international budget travellers who have read your Lonely Planet guide and learned that CANADA, of all places, is the top tourist destination of 2017, I am here to offer the surprising information that a visit to Ottawa is not a waste of time, can in fact be a cheap addition to your travels, and both fun and interesting! (Don’t fall off your chair).
One of the major attractions in Ottawa is, of course, Canada’s Parliament, home to the House of Commons, the Senate, and Canada’s government, where laws are made and gargoyles roam free. Centre Block, the most noticeable and symmetrical building on Parliament Hill, houses the Peace Tower, the tall, flag-bearing, clock-wearing structure marking time for the entire country. The Peace Tower is open to the public, and is a great place to start a tour of Ottawa, as you can orient yourself in the city with the picturesque view.
Admission to the Peace Tower is FREE (as is access to all Parliament Buildings), however, you must obtain a ticket before accessing the Peace Tower.
In order to acquire your ticket, head directly across the street from Parliament to 90 Wellington Street, where a smiling Canada Parks student will equip you with a same day ticket, allowing you self-guided access to the Peace Tower, as well as the Memorial Chamber. Tickets are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
In some cases, a time stamp will appear on your ticket. While it is not necessary to leave the Peace Tower by the time listed, you must be starting your visit before the latest time listed on the ticket.
* If you are taking the full tour of Parliament, both the Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber are included, so you would not need to tour them separately, nor obtain separate tickets for each.
The elevator to the top of the Peace Tower accommodates approximately 7 people, and is an 18 second ride each way. Prior to accessing the elevator, you will be required to pass through security screening. A coat check is available at 90 Wellington if you wish to expedite this process. Otherwise, an RCMP officer will gently handle all of your belongings (and laugh at anything odd you might have hiding in your bag…) and you will pass through a metal detector just like at the airport, though with no risk of being confronted by a disgruntled flight attendant at the other side.
The elevator ride includes a narrated history of the tower – if you have a funny guide like ours – and a description of the view. The student accompanying our elevator reminded us not to get too dizzy trying to catch sight of the bells, somewhat visible through the elevator window.
While there is no hurry to move quickly at the top of the tower, it is a small space. The entire visit would generally take no more than an hour.
Learn about the original clock mechanism, and play I Spy a Gargoyle from the windows at the top of the tower.
Be sure to take time to peer across the Ottawa River to view Quebec on one side and Ontario on the other, and take in views of the Ottawa skyline, and the funky roof of the National Gallery of Canada.
Sorry everyone. This whole full-time student meets blogger life is getting away from me, and so the schedule has gone out the window! But with an influx of American readers this morning – hi guys! – I thought it was time to share some of the gems of Newfoundland- an underpopulated, natural wonder. Plus, I don’t leave the house any more, so I have to dig back in the archives for some adventures to share with you (36 days to end of term!).
This past Thanksgiving weekend (that’s in October here in Canada – a decent amount of time from Christmas) we finally got the chance to visit Bowring Park, right here in St. John’s. I know, you’d think having lived here for almost three years now I would’ve been able to get there, but without a car in this lovely city there are some things that are almost impossible.
Autumn is of course one of the most beautiful times to visit Newfoundland. September whether is almost always somewhat kind of predictably occasionally sunny, the leaves are turning (before they get snowed on) and everything smells like the ocean. Approximately 5 km from downtown St. John’s, Bowring Park is accessible by bus, but of course easier by car! The 200 acre park is connected with the Grand Concourse, a network of 125km of walking trails all across the city. This is not to be confused with Bannerman Park, in the heart of St. John’s, which is also excellent but very much not the same thing (I make this mistake every. single. day).
During your visit, don’t forget to feed the ducks at the pond, and visit the Peter Pan statue, the Caribou Monument and Beaumont Hamel Memorial, see the swans, and peek over all of the bridges.
If you follow One Red Phone Box on Instagram, you’ll have seen a whole whack of photos of a magical place that actually resembles fall scenery, and you will not have believed that they are actually pictures of Newfoundland. St. John’s autumns usually go something like summer-summer-summer-snow, with a glimpse of autumn leafery before the ice and sleet and fog and flurries cover them all up. This year we have had real, honest to goodness fall weather, with days warm enough to be outside. The trees aren’t confused, and the city looks good. Novel.
If you aren’t following me on Instagram (@oneredphonebox), firstly whyever not?! and secondly, here are some of the photos you have been missing, plus extras of the beautiful fall scenery and the Rennie’s River Trail in St. John’s.
ENJOY: The quaint town / St FX University / surrounding beaches
Head from mainland NS, whether it be the airport, the Annapolis Valley, or Halifax, to Antigonish. This small town is not on Cape Breton Island, but will serve as your home base to discover St. FX University campus, the cute town, and the surrounding beaches. Read more about that here. There are a number of inns right in town, and more motels and campgrounds within a ten minute drive.
STAY: Lake Ainslie
ENJOY: Inverness / The Red Shoe / Alexander Graham Bell Museum
After a serious Nova Scotian breakfast, cross the causeway onto the Island. Nothing is very far away, so spend the day driving the back roads around Lake Ainslie. Stop for lunch in Inverness and sunbathe on the gorgeous white sand beach. Head to Baddeck and make a call at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and enjoy appetizers at one of the many cafes in town. Have a late dinner at the Red Shoe, the Rankin family’s famous pub in Mabou, and take in some live Celtic music. This sounds like a big driving day, but in reality, the whole trip from Antigonish will take about 3 hours. Don’t miss these epic beaches while you’re at it. Take and leave the bits you want, and cover sections of the slower and scenic Cabot Trail as you go. Spend the night on Lake Ainslie so you can wake up by the water.
ENJOY: Cape Breton Highlands National Park
After yet another breakfast of more food than you can handle, put on your hiking boots and tackle one (or more) of the many trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Skyline Trail is a classic, but there are loads of other options, many suitable for children or people with mobility difficulties.
Adventurous detour: For those looking for the full Cape Breton experience, spend the night in Dingwall. Beautiful beaches, lovely people, awesome food at The Markland. If you’re not so much into winding roads and beautiful vistas, spend the night in the National Park, or skip the tip of the island and head straight to Ingonish.
ENJOY: Meat Cove, Ingonish
The optional detour for those feeling adventurous! After a night in Dingwall, drive up the winding road to Meat Cove, and peer off the side of the cliff – find out how here! Stop for fish and chips at the top or continue to Ingonish on the Cabot Trail. Don’t forget to visit the goats at Groovy Goat Soap. Spend this night in Dingwall, or at one of the many campsites right on the Cabot Trail.
ENJOY: A giant fiddle / Glace Bay Miners Museum
Take the scenic route down the shore toward Sydney, and after taking the very anti-climatic Englishtown ferry, spend the day exploring Sydney, the island’s historic capital. Visit the giant fiddle, the harbourfront, and eat your way through fresh seafood and international cuisine in the may restaurants. If possible, take a detour to Glace Bay to visit the Miners Museum. Opt for the full mine tour, led by miners, and then stop in New Waterford to pay tribute to lost miners at the memorial park. Spend the night here, or in Sydney.
ENJOY: Louisbourg Fortress
A whole day is needed to cover all there is to see and do at this massive historic site. Have an authentic lunch with the site’s actors, watch the cannon be fired, and participate in the many on site activities. This full Louisbourg day is made complete with supper in the sweet little town, and a night at one of the many gorgeous inns.
STAY: Isle Madame
ENJOY: A gorgeous island / beautiful French / kayaking extravaganzas
For your last day and night on the Island, head to Isle Madame, a fully French corner of Nova Scotia that produces funny looks from Islanders when you say you’re actually going there. The Isle takes less than an hour to fully circle, and is home to some of the best surfing and kayaking in the province. This may be both the most adventurous and relaxing portion of your whole vacation. You’re ideally located to make your way back to the mainland- and to reality.
I have no idea what possessed us to look at the map of Nova Scotia, go all the way to the tip of Cape Breton Island, point at a random location and say ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to drive all the way up there?’ but we did point, and we did drive all the way up there, and we (somewhat shockingly) lived to tell about it.
Meat Cove is one of those mildly mystical places that sounds a little like somewhere you’d go for a barbecue or a cannibal’s picnic, and also like a place you really shouldn’t be going to see. If you search the location on Instagram, all these gorgeous photos come up of a cliff and a vista that looks like you’re hanging off the edge of the world. And maybe for some people, on the right day, that is what it looks like. And maybe when you’re vomiting over the edge of that cliff cause you’re so car sick from driving all the way up there, you might stop and look up and think, ‘Man, that’s some view.’ Maybe maybe some people do that. Or maybe it’s just me, and the non-car sick people of the world can skip the vomiting and still think that.
Not I though. I’m very sorry, Meat Cove. I really wanted it to work out between us. The road, however, was long and winding and full of potholes and more than a little terrifying. Some motorcyclists we spoke to at breakfast who were riding from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, N.L. said they weren’t even going to attempt it, having been told the road would eat their bikes and result in the end of their journey. The road went on longer than I would stand to do most things. At the top, serious campers wearing hemp and with their wild children in tow have erected their tents and popped their trailers literally on the edge of the cliff.
We arrived in the fog and the cold and the grey, and peered down the side of the rock to the rocky beach where people braver than I were heading out to sea in kayaks. There was a trail to walk down to the shore, but it didn’t seem like the day for it. Signage around the Cove indicated a multitude of other hiking trails that no doubt, on a sunny day, would be memorable adventures for people who like that sort of thing.
I’m sure, on a beautiful sunny day, it would be grand. And please don’t take my experience as reason not to go, because it really is fun to be able to show people a map and say’We drove all the way up to Meat Cove!’ Be like Simone de Beauvoir, and see everything there is to see, because it does something to you whether you like the view or not (I know, I can be deep). Try to pick a sunny day, and know where you’re going for lunch after the vista viewing trip (Keltic Lodge is a doable drive, if you know where you’re going). You’ll need it after all that.
With summer right around the corner, there is no shortage of potential warm-weather activities to get Canadians on the road and seeing this country. Add in the abysmal state of the Canadian dollar, and there really is no reason not to travel domestically. Make this summer a staycation, and be a tourist in your own backyard.
The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world. Over 160 billion tonnes of water move in and out of the Bay twice every day. While these tides are visible from many locations around Nova Scotia, a trip to Burntcoat Head Park is the best way to experience this natural wonder first-hand, by walking on the ocean floor.
A small lighthouse greets you upon entry to the park. 3 acres of parkland, including access to washrooms and picnic areas, is free to guests. Don’t be surprised when the little trail ends abruptly, abandoning visitors at the edge of the ocean – or the mud – facing sheer cliff faces and the floor of the ocean.
Snails and other sea life can be spotted in the tide pools, a great source of amusement for children (or people who like snails, like me…). Before the park closes at dusk, leave your sandals on high ground a take a stroll (or a slurp) around the rock formations.
Watch out for the mud – this is not a walk for those with weak ankles, or poor balance. Mud in the Bay of Fundy is an interesting colour and more slippery than anything else. It suctions your feet and (again to the amusement of children) makes an attractive slurping sound when it releases your limbs. We easily spent two hours enjoying the squelching our toes made, and watching the tide slowly recede.
When you finally escape the mud, wipe your feet in the grass, and use the handy tap to wash off. The water is freezing, but it gets the job done.
Be sure to check the tide clock before take off for the park, as the ocean floor is only accessible when the tide is out. Burntcoat Head Park is less than 90 minutes by car from Halifax, and 1 hour from Wolfville.
Toronto rocks. The Eaton Centre, theatre all the time, Massey Hall, that big neon sign right in the middle of Nathan Phillips Square… I just can’t get enough! Except, of course, when small-town girl hits big city overload. All those things that make Toronto awesome are enough to drive a rural ocean-lover back to her hotel room and hide out.
Or, as I discovered on my last trip to Toronto, just last month, you can skip the hotel food and take off to Toronto Island instead!
A fifteen-minute ferry ride from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal brings visitors to one of the islands.
In the summer, the islands’ beaches and amusement park would be draw enough, but in the middle of April, they were deserted, and the drizzle kept the crowds away.
Ward’s Island has the cutest houses in a complete neighbourhood, with a view of – but isolated from – the city.
On Centre Island, check out the bright red door on the old lighthouse, and watch the planes take off from the Toronto Island airport.