Visiting Newfoundland is an adventure, not a vacation.
This rugged, remote, wind-swept rock out in the North Atlantic is as far as you can go on the North American continent.
It was the end of the earth for the Native Americans whose ancestors migrated across the Bering Strait and populated North and South America. And the edge of a New World for the Viking explorers who met them there at L’Anse aux Meadows, thus “completing the circle” of human migration.
1,000 years later, Newfoundland hasn’t changed all that much. Most Americans never make it this far out to the edge of North America.
Does that intrigue you?
Well, it intrigued me.
My wife and I just returned from an 8 day trip across Newfoundland. I learned a few things along the way that I hope will both inspire you to visit this incredible island and navigate it like a pro.
As your editor here at Proud American Traveler, I exercised my editorial privileges and broke this adventure into four separate articles. So this is just an overview on how to see Newfoundland in one action-packed, 8-day, cross-island journey.
If you want all the details on where to stay, what to see, and how to survive on a steady diet of fried cod and french fries, then click HERE for my highlights of Western Newfoundland, including Gros Morne National Park and the Great Northern Peninsula…
…and click HERE for the end of my adventure in Eastern Newfoundland, which includes the very most eastern point in North America, the province’s only real city, the beautiful Bonavista Peninsula, and a small fishing village with a “big” attraction for tourists.
But first, why visit Newfoundland?
Venture Into A Land That Is Wild, Remote, And Unique
For one thing, you are almost guaranteed to be the only one with tales about Newfoundland when the conversation turns to favorite vacation spots.
And its remoteness makes Newfoundland one-of-a-kind.
Newfoundland isn’t diverse. Apologies to progressive culture warriors, but this is a good thing.
I mean, this is why we travel — to discover unique cultures, languages, and cuisine unlike anywhere else on earth.
The people who have populated this barren rock over the past five centuries can almost exclusively trace their ancestry back to a few fishing villages along the coasts of Ireland and England.
This is an undiscovered, unspoiled place like nowhere else you’ve ever been.
You’ll marvel at the unique accent of native Newfoundlanders –a mash up of Irish brogue, Old English, and Tidewater maritime drawl – with lots of their quirky expressions thrown in for good measure.
Their food is unique too. Not always exciting. Definitely not gourmet. But 100% Newfoundland.
But it’s the breathtaking scenery that attracts most travelers to journey to this end of the continent.
So pack an extra memory card for your camera. You’ll be busy snapping pictures of glacier-carved fjords, misty mountains, and stoic lighthouses perched on rocky cliffs, battered by the North Atlantic waves.
Depending upon the season, Newfoundland’s most popular scenic attractions are icebergs and whales.
You’ll almost surely bump into (hopefully not literally) various wildlife such as moose, deer, and funky-looking cliff-dwelling birds called puffins.
And in Newfoundland’s only real city, you’ll be in awe of the “jellybean rows”—
colorful century-old row houses that line the side streets up the hill from St. John’s picturesque harbor.
You Can’t See It All…But I Tried
I must warn you — Newfoundland is deceptively big.
I rented a one-way car and covered the entire island…
…from the Western fjords…
…all the way up to the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula and back again…
…to the north central coast…
…all the way out to the eastern-most tip of North America at Cape Spear…
…to my final destination of St. John’s.
All in eight days.
I put over 1700 miles on the rental car.
So yes, it is possible to see the highlights of Newfoundland in just eight days.
But I’m crazy.
If you aren’t crazy like I am — and don’t want to skip the hotel breakfast every morning to hit the road by 8am, 7am or – ouch, 6am — then I recommend breaking Newfoundland into two separate week-long trips. Or extend it out to 10-12 full days.
Unfortunately, I have a job (in addition to this one).
With a 24-hour layover in Toronto and an all-day flight home, eight full days was all I had on the ground in Newfoundland.
And I had no intentions of breaking it up into two separate vacations. So I had to plan my trip like I was never coming back. So here’s how you do it.
Fly Into Deer Lake
We started our journey on the west side of the island with a late night flight from Toronto into tiny Deer Lake Airport.
That is where I picked up my rental car.
Two very important tips about renting your car in Deer Lake…
…The late flight lands at 1:45am. The rental car websites say they close at 1am.
The lone rental car counter lady will stay until 2am to meet the late flight (assuming it is on time), so book your car for pickup at 1am, the latest option available online.
…Second, check the fine print of your agreement.
I didn’t notice until the lady at the counter pointed out that my contract did NOT include unlimited miles/kilometers, like they routinely do back home in the U.S.
Um, that’s a big problem. Especially for this trip.
Fortunately, I was able to talk the rental car lady into charging me a $150 “drop charge” instead of paying per kilometer—saving me at least $500.
We spent the night at the simple, but clean, Deer Lake Motel, just two miles from the airport. There was no problem checking in at 2:30 in the morning. They were expecting us — and half of all the other passengers on our flight, so it seemed.
DAY 1 & DAY 2: Gros Morne National Park, The Highlight Of Newfoundland
This is the most scenic landscape in Newfoundland, so I budgeted our first two days to explore the fjords, cliffs, and rocky coastline along the breathtaking Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Explore all the beauty Gros Morne has to offer and read about the Western Pond Boat Tour, Gros Morne Theatre Festival, and more by clicking HERE.
DAY 3 & DAY 4: Journey To The End Of The Road On The Great Northern Peninsula
An excursion to the very northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula takes some serious commitment. It is a 4-5 hour drive north of Gros Morne.
There’s only one road up. And that’s the same road back.
But it’s worth it.
In fact, L’Anse aux Meadows, where the road dead-ends, is the main reason I decided to visit Newfoundland.
It’s on this rocky desolate tip—which is at the very end of Newfoundland (which, again, is at the very end of the continent)—where Leif Erikson, the fearless leader of the Viking explorers, first set up camp in the New World over 1,000 years ago, 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
Click HERE to learn about the sites, scenes, and tastes of Western Newfoundland and the Great Northern Peninsula.
At the end of a long day of driving, we found ourselves back where we started 48 hours earlier in Gros Morne National Park.
Sorry, there is no way to avoid backtracking in Newfoundland.
However, it did put us in Rocky Harbour just in time for the legendary Anchors Aweigh show at Anchor Pub in the Ocean View Hotel. Click HERE to find out why this is one show no Newfoundland traveler wants to miss.
DAY 5: Traversing The Middle Of Newfoundland
You don’t realize how sparsely populated Newfoundland is until you pull out a map. There’s only one road from Gros Morne in the west to St. John’s at the far eastern tip of the island—435 miles away.
That road is the famous Trans-Canada Highway, which runs the length of Canada all the way to Victoria on the Pacific coast.
While there may only be one way to traverse the province, at least there are many scenic side trips along the way.
My Day 5 side journey was to Twillingate, a quaint little town on the north central coast and famous for iceberg watching. Yup, that’s a thing.
You can read all about it HERE and see my reviews on the sights and attractions of Twillingate and the middle of Newfoundland.
We ended Day 5 in Gander, a small town with a big airport that once served as a stop for transatlantic flights to refuel decades before the age of jumbo jets and their large fuel tanks.
To be honest with you, the real reason we spent the night in Gander is so I could use my hotel points, as Gander has the only chain hotels outside of St. John’s throughout our entire journey across Newfoundland.
But there are a couple good reasons to visit here besides convenient lodging. Read more by clicking HERE.
DAY 6: Walk In John Cabot’s Footsteps On The Bonavista Peninsula
If you are a planner like me, be prepared to have Mother Nature mess up your plans when you arrive in Newfoundland.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, my itinerary had us up and checked out of the Gander Comfort Inn by 6am to get an early start on Day 6.
Much to my chagrin, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than 50 feet past the hood of our car.
Not good for sightseeing. Or dodging moose for that matter.
There’s not much to Terra Nova National Park—a preserve of hills, forest, and rocky coastline abutting Bonavista Bay.
However, on a nice day, I’m sure a drive up to Blue Hill Lookout would be beautiful.
Oh well. Instead we drove down to Visitor Centre on Newman Sound, snapped a few pictures and then hit the road for Bonavista Peninsula.
Bonavista Peninsula is most likely the landing spot of Giovanni Caboto, the Italian explorer better known by his Anglicized name, John Cabot, who sailed east for the British Crown five years after Christopher Columbus.
As the first European to set foot in Newfoundland since the Vikings 500 years earlier, Cabot named the first landmass he spotted Bonavista, meaning “Oh, Happy Sight!”
The Bonavista Peninsula is chockfull of beautiful scenery, breathtaking hikes, good food, and good beer. Read all about my detailed tour of Eastern Newfoundland HERE.
DAY 7: Standing On The Edge Of The Continent At Cape Spear
On Day 7, we arose early (again) to head up to Dildo.
Stop giggling. That’s really what this small outport town on Trinity Bay is called.
What do you do in a town named Dildo? Click HERE to read all about the excitement!
Pulling out of Dildo right on schedule, we headed east across the Isthmus of Avalon towards Cape Spear, the most eastern point in North America.
As you stand there at literally the very end of the continent, you are the closest you can get to Europe in all of North America, only 2,000 miles to the east!
If you are an early riser, plan to arrive here at sunrise and be the very first person in North America to greet the new day.
DAY 8: Our Adventure Ends At St. John’s
From Cape Spear, it’s just a short drive to the capital of Newfoundland (and the province’s only city), St. John’s.
There are three great reasons to visit St. John’s—exploring the hilly side streets lined with colorful row houses, hiking, and taking in live Irish music at the pubs along George St.
We did all three during our 36 hours in this capital city. For a full run-down of the best attractions in Newfoundland’s largest city, click HERE.
Day 9: Fly Home With Luggage Full of Memories
The next morning we got up early, checked out, and headed to the airport for our 6am flight home. My head weary from eight days of dashing across Newfoundland (and maybe that extra pint of Guinness from last night).
We dragged our luggage ladened with dirty clothes and a few souvenirs onto the Air Canada jet.
But it wasn’t just Christmas ornaments and Dildo t-shirts we were bringing home with us.
Our whirlwind adventure around Newfoundland gave us a lifetime of memories we won’t make anywhere else on earth.