Travel Team | May 11, 2022
St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, is a fun, colorful city, with a lot of exciting nightlife and a panoply of color. The houses were painted in the last century using leftover boat paint, so the colors are random and beautiful, like an old New England patchwork quilt.
The city is built on hills, so when we set out to visit several art galleries, we climbed, huffing and puffing, with the ocean in view most of the time. Ocean views up here are cheap, taken for granted, unlike on Cape Cod in my state of Massachusetts where even a glimpse promises a big price tag.
Most visitors here pronounce the name wrong — it’s “Newfound-LAND,” not “lund,” and it’s actually Newfoundland and Labrador. The government added the huge chunk of territory across the Strait of Belle Isle to the province, and the size of Labrador is gigantic compared with the Newfoundland side.
While Newfoundland’s size is staggering — it takes nine hours to just cross this part — Labrador is at least three times as big!
St. John’s has a lively downtown with a lot of outdoor cafes and a very active waterfront, with a cargo port, cranes and much nautical activity. Water Street, the main drag, teems with galleries, interesting shops and live music. Despite this being the center of the population in one of Canada’s four Atlantic provinces, it doesn’t feel crowded here, or anywhere you go; there is room to spread out and enjoy a solitary hike and an ocean vista and almost never wait in a line or a traffic jam.
Interestingly, Newfoundland was once its own country, and it wasn’t until 1949 that it became a part of Canada! There is an airport at one of the inland towns, Gander, that gained fame in the early days of aviation when it was the place airplanes en route to Europe stopped to refuel. In 2001 after the 9/11 airliner groundings, 6,700 stranded travelers were forced to land in the town and were splendidly taken care of, so much so that the story became a hit play on Broadway, and you can still see Come from Away on stage in New York City to this day.
Our Saturday evening in St. John’s began with a delicious dinner of local mussels, cod cheeks and scallops at the bustling St. John’s Fish House, one of those multi-story waterfront restaurants where you can really feel the crackle and buzz of the place. Waitresses carrying platters of steaming lobster and the cracking of oyster shells made for a perfect Saturday night feeling.
Then we walked the town, which felt very safe, and found a fun little bar called The Boca Tapas Bar. In no time we were chatting up the friendly bartender, who shared that she and many of her friends have come back to live in Newfoundland and Labrador after going away for college. Many joints here offer live music, and we didn’t have to wait until fashionably late to hear it. We enjoyed the tunes at The Rock House on George Street, where there are several other clubs as well.
For accommodations in downtown, we picked the Murray Premises Hotel, which has a harbor view and a welcoming courtyard for morning coffee, with comfortable rooms right on Water Street. The next morning, we were ready to get out on the ocean, so we joined Iceberg Ocean Tours in a small boat for a very intimate whale watching tour. In a very short time, our open-top boat was surrounded by 50’ fin whales puffing and cavorting like tired horses. Dolphins merrily sliced through the wake of the small boat as we passed by Cape Spear.
Along with the city’s many art galleries we found a spectacular city museum up on a hill called “The Rooms,” which the province built in 2005 to showcase the art and history of Newfoundland and Labrador. From the fourth floor, the view through the picture windows is magnificent, as are the carved bone sculptures and the interesting history of the Irish who came here in the 1600s to fish for cod.
Find out more about Newfoundland and Labrador here.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel since 2002. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and is proud to be able to truly do exactly what he wanted to do all his life.