It's time to visit St. John's.
By Shelley Cameron-McCarron
Ever risked a 20-minute conversation just by making eye contact? Sang sea shanties until tears ran down your CHEEKS? Dined
in the most innovative, exquisite restaurants? And filled your soul with the sight of mighty Atlantic Ocean swells?
Then you need to say hello to St. John’s.
It’s true. Sooner or later, anyone visiting St. John’s—Newfoundland and Labrador’s charming, cheeky capital—is in for an epiphany: this place enchants.
I know. Time and again, I’ve returned to this lively port on the eastern edge of North America, drawn by innovative chefs creating a world-class foodie scene, by pubs and halls ringing with toe-tapping music, and by the pull of the wild: lingering on rugged coastal trails, staring into the infinite Atlantic Ocean.
Most of all though, it’s the people that swell the soul.
So paramount is hospitality that acclaimed Newfoundland author Michael Crummey has joked that to make eye contact with a Newfoundlander is to risk a 20-minute conversation. “And it’s very, very true,” laughs native daughter Jill Curran, owner of Maxxim Vacations, Atlantic Canada vacation specialists, and Lighthouse Picnics, a gourmet picnic business at Ferryland Head lighthouse. “We’re a talkative bunch, we’re interested in people. We’re always waiting for conversations to start, the slightest little opening,” Ms. Curran says.
In St. John’s, one of the continent’s oldest—and definitely personality-packed—cities, people have for centuries entertained themselves with music and stories, an integral part of island life. It’s become a treasured part of the culture. Ms. Curran’s advice? Allow time to relax, to be open to a chat—that’s when some of the best moments can happen.
And while St. John’s rocks a community vibe, make no mistake, it’s fully an urban centre.
A thriving, cultural hotspot, the city is packed with galleries and artisans, a vibrant music scene, live theatre and comedy shows, all interspersed with amazing restaurants that have earned St. John’s an enviable reputation as a foodie paradise. “Any night of the week you can find yourself having a great night out,” says Ms. Curran.
Plus, there’s St. John’s unique geographic situation —a city so close to nature it delivers both an urban and rural experience. “For me, it’s the ability to be out in nature so quickly and be at a pub listening to music within an hour,” says Kelly Mansell, co-owner of Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food, a downtown community hub on Water Street, home to the famous Tuesday night Fish Cakes & Accordions Experience. “I like that I can zodiac with the whales in the morning and be back in time for a lunch meeting. This, to me, is the ultimate in lifestyle. You still need to know where you’re getting your coffee from in the morning, and you have all the amenities of urban life. I just love that you have the ability to do both.”
There’s much to do in St. John’s. In season, boat tour operators provide guests the unique experience of seeing the city by water, enjoying the perspective of coming into St. John’s Harbour, through The Narrows, looking up to see Signal Hill National Historic Site and colourful houses clinging to the cliffs on Battery Hill.
Overlooking the city, Signal Hill offers fantastic hiking trails, while on the harbour’s other side, Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site (North America’s most easterly point) is home to equally magnificent hiking.
Nearby, Quidi Vidi and Petty Harbour offer great fishing opportunities, and 20 minutes away, Bay Bulls is a wealth of whale watching, puffin colony and sea bird tour options.
“Everything is at your fingertips,” says Ms. Curran.