You could easily spend your entire vacation in Newfoundland staying within just a day’s drive of the province’s capital city, St. John’s.
Historic lighthouses, quaint forgotten fishing outports, world class hiking, and the toe tapping sounds of live music on George Street could all fill a week’s itinerary.
But alas, after five and a half days traversing western and central Newfoundland, which you can read about HERE and HERE, I only had two and a half days left to see the highlights of the most interesting part of the island.
Bonavista Peninsula is the Newfoundland of Your Dreams
The Bonavista Peninsula is the Newfoundland of travel brochures, post cards, and Hollywood movies.
If you’ve seen the 2001 movie “The Shipping News” starring Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore, then you’ve seen Bonavista Peninsula. It was filmed right here at Trinity and New Bonaventura.
The town of Bonavista was our first stop and has two tourist attractions: an exact replica of English explorer John Cabot’s ship—the Matthew and Ryan Premises, and a museum in an old family-run cod processing business located in a waterfront complex.
But the real high point for most visitors is the lighthouse a few miles outside of town, perched across from a collection of rocky, wave-battered cliffs covered in colonies of puffins—funky looking ocean birds who mate with their partners for life.
Awwwww… so cute.
For me, the highlight of Bonavista Peninsula was hiking along the three mile Skerwink Trail. The fog had dissipated just in time to reveal beautiful sunny vistas of oceanfront cliffs, crashing waves, and the blue waters of Trinity Bay.
Hiking up and down these oceanfront cliffs in the August sun worked up a mighty thirst. Fortunately, Port Rexton Brewery was just a mile from the trailhead to serve me a thirst-quenching reward.
For our lodging, we spent the night in the tiny touristy town of Trinity, a quaint ancient fishing village with restored homes, manicured lawns, and white picket fences.
In other words, Trinity is nothing like a real Newfoundland outport.
For $120 we stayed in a closet-sized, non-air-conditioned room above the Trinity Eco Tours office.
For $250, we had dinner at Twine Loft, one of those high-end places where you have to make a reservation weeks in advance and only get two choices for your entree.
While Trinity is nice, if I had to do it over again, I might have chosen a more authentic (and cheaper) place to spend the night.
Up to Dildo (Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter)
The next morning we rose early and headed up to Dildo.
Stop giggling like a 7th grader. That’s really what this small outport town on Trinity Bay is called.
And nobody in Dildo seems to know the answer to the most pressing question—just how did this town get such a snicker-worthy name?
You’d have to ask Captain Cook who first sailed into this harbor in the late 1700s. Some say Dildo is a bastardization of an old Indian word. Others say Captain Cook thought the rock in the harbor reminded him of his…
A typical Newfoundland waterfront outport, this Dildo doesn’t produce all that much excitement.
Sorry to disappoint you.
There are only three attractions here for tourists…
…the obligatory selfie in front of the huge Dildo road sign…
…a meal of fresh mussels and cod on the waterfront deck at Dildo Dory…
…and beer at Newfoundland’s best new brewery.
Clearly capitalizing on the town’s only ability to arouse interest from tourists, Dildo Brewing Co. had a line out the door of tourists waiting in full anticipation on that Thursday afternoon.
Dildo Brewing makes by far the most flavorful beer I tried during my whole journey across the province, their Ise Da Bye P.A. being my personal favorite.
There’s even a small museum downstairs—which inexplicably charges an extra $5 per person. After spending $70 on three beers, a t-shirt, a sticker, and a glass emblazed with the Dildo Brewing Co. logo, I decided to pass.
Standing on the Edge of the Continent at Cape Spear
Pulling out of Dildo right on schedule, we headed east across the Isthmus of Avalon to Cape Spear, the most eastern point in North America.
As you stand there literally at the very end of the continent, you are at the closest point to Europe in all of North America, only 2,000 miles to the east.
If you are an early riser, come here at sunrise and be the very first person on the continent to greet the new day.
The Adventure Ends at St. John’s
From Cape Spear, it’s just a short drive to the capital of Newfoundland, and its only “city,” St. John’s.
Three of the best reasons to visit St. John’s is the hiking, exploring the hilly side streets full of colorful row houses, and taking in live Irish music at the pubs along George St.
We did all three in the 36 hours we stayed in the capital city.
Once we checked into our room which overlooked the harbor at Courtyard by Marriott (yes, I was able to use my hotel points), we headed down to Water Street, the primary shopping and eating district.
After a few drinks in the candlelit basement of YellowBelly Brewery, we headed across the street for dinner at The Merchant Tavern—a fun, boisterous restaurant run by celebrity chefs Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia that serves creative Newfoundland seafood dishes and offers a huge selection of Canadian wine and craft beer.
Tap Your Toes on George Street
After dinner, over the protestations of my wife, it was time to hit the pubs on George Street!
Lines of college students hung out of bars blasting whatever it is college students listen to these days. But I was more interested in the traditional Newfoundland and Irish folk music St. John’s is famous for.
St. John’s claims to have more Irish pubs per capita than any other city outside of the Emerald Isle.
We settled into a corner booth in the back of O’Reilly’s, packed to the rafters with tourists and locals alike tapping to the upbeat tunes of a local Irish band.
After a couple pints of Murphy’s Stout and some local YellowBelly St. John’s Stout, it was time to get some much needed sleep.
Cab to Quidi Vidi and Hike DOWN Signal Hill
The final day’s itinerary included a hike to Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi, a touristy but quaint enclave sited in a picturesque fjord just three miles over the hill from downtown St. John’s.
Three miles didn’t sound like too strenuous of a hike, but please heed my warning — the hike to Signal Hill from downtown is STRAIGHT UP.
A three mile hike is VERY strenuous when every step is a step up, up, UP—especially if you aren’t one of those super athletic types who thinks running up three miles of steps is somehow fun.
I’m not one of those people.
So I opted to take a cab to Quidi Vidi (Ubers are banned by the socialist government in Newfoundland). I followed it up with brunch at Mallard Cottage and beer at Quidi Vidi Brewery, then a hike up the back side of Signal Hill along the Ladies Lookout Trail, which is steep — but nothing like the hike up from St. John’s.
At the top of Signal Hill sits Cabot Tower, a 100-year-old castle built as a lookout to guard St. John’s Harbour.
Cabot Tower was also the site of the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal received here by Guglielmo Marconi on December 12, 1901, giving the famous hill its name.
But the real reason to hike up here is the spectacular views of St. John’s and the harbor spread out below.
After taking plenty of pictures, we began our hike back down the hill, around the coastal cliffs fronting the harbor, through the colorful Battery neighborhood of St. John’s, and back to our Courtyard hotel room—thankful we chose the downward direction every time we passed an exhausted hiker going up.
Jelly Bean Row and Newfoundland Mussels
After a few minutes to rest our feet, we set out again to hunt for souvenirs in the gift shops and explore the side streets lined with “jellybean” rows of century-old townhouses painted in varying brilliant shades of color.
St. John’s is a photographer’s paradise.
I guess we saved the best for last because one of our favorite meals of the trip was our final dinner at Mussels on the Corner, a casual tavern that steams up pots of local mussels in a variety of tasty broths.
Between the two of us, we downed about 100 of the tasty shellfish, trying one pot “Irish style” with sausage and potatoes; another pot with garlic, cream and mustard; and yet another pot with just simple white wine and butter.
Yum. All of them.
Of course I couldn’t leave St. John’s without at least one more pint of Guinness and one more set of Irish music at Bridie Molloy’s on George Street—despite the fact I had a 4am wakeup call looming.
We made it back to our hotel room a little before midnight. When the alarm on my cell phone buzzed just four hours later, my hazy mind immediately questioned the wisdom in having that last pint.
But now that I’m sitting here well rested and telling you all about our Newfoundland adventures?
The world is full of undiscovered beauty and out of the way places like Newfoundland. There is scenery to behold, pictures to take, culture to absorb — and beer to drink.
There is only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week…. and as that great poet Jimmy Buffet once sang… “maybe 60 good years.”
So don’t skip a minute of it.
You can read about how you too can cram this full Newfoundland adventure — from one end of the island to the other — into eight action-packed days by clicking HERE.