Only in St. John’s
Newfoundland capital is truly one of a kind
ST. JOHN’S — Newfoundland’s capital is one of the best destinations in Canada — a city with a real sense of place.
The setting is magnificent, the people remarkable and the food scene is getting better all the time. Toss in gorgeous houses in colours that would make a rainbow envious and you’ve got a remarkable, one-of-a-kind city.
Here’s a look at how to enjoy St. John’s like a local:
Locals and tourists both enjoy a walk or hike along The Battery, where colourful wooden homes cling to rocky cliffs that rise steeply from one of the world’s great harbours.
You’ll pass homes in shades of Golden Gate Bridge orange and sunnyside-up yellow as you stroll along admiring the water views. The trail to Signal Hill snakes along the cliffs and then follows a series of stairs that go up, up and up some more to Cabot Tower, where the views of the city and out to the Atlantic Ocean are astounding.
Another great walk is from Quidi Vidi to the end of Cuckolds Cove Road, where there is a short trail that reveals amazing coastal views. Be sure to check out Quidi Vidi Harbour, too.
The Rooms is a magnificent museum on a hill: A gorgeous, modern and airy structure that tells the story of Newfoundland and Labrador. You’ll find wonderful displays on natural history and native and European history in the province, as well as thoughtprovoking modern art.
One of the recent pop-up exhibits focussed on Newfoundland slang, with a young girl who holds up cue cards and makes you guess what the words mean. I found out if you have a scoff and a scuff, you’ve had a time. (A scoff is a meal, a scuff is a dance and a time is a fun evening). The museum offers great views of the city as well. See therooms.ca.
George Street is said to have more bars per square centimetre than any street on the planet, and almost all feature live music at night. Kelly’s is a low-key spot where you’ll find a good number of locals. I find the beer selection better and the ambience nicer down the street at Birdie Molloy’s, a more traditional-looking Irish pub. Try them all and pick your own favourite.
Great eats, sips
The Merchant Tavern is a trendy spot in an old banking hall, filled with a smartly dressed, young crowd. The Hawaiian poke comes with perfect spice and crushed Macadamia nuts for a nice crunch. The cod is sweet and tender, and the drinks menu features options like the Bonavista Buffalo, with bourbon, espresso-infused Campari, pineapple and ginger beer. See themerchanttavern.ca.
Mallard Cottage — in the Quidi Vidi area — is a beautiful spot with weathered floors, high ceilings and big windows. Brunch features crazy-good pastries and sweets, but we opted for the flaky pork pie and spicy pork tacos. See mallardcottage.ca.
Ches’s — a fish and chips spot started in 1951 — is a Newfoundland institution. There are several locations, including one on Kenmount Road. The fish was excellent and so were the fries (two pieces and a generous serving of chips for $14). You can order your fish with dressing (like stuffing), gravy and fried onions if you want to flirt with danger. See chessfishandchips.ca.
YellowBelly is a craft brewery on Water Street, across from The Merchant Tavern. The Fighting Irish Red Ale has a nice, mellow malty flavour. They have a nice outdoor patio. See yellowbellybrewery.com.
Chinched Bistro is a small vibrant spot downtown. The pork shoulder is cooked for days and then heated in a skillet with oil, lemon and brown sugar. The miso-chili roasted cauliflower is fabulous. See chinchedbistro.com.
Water Street has a great mix of goods and funky stores. Johnny Ruth and Living Planet is a bright cheery spot with Newfoundland dog shirts, pretty pillows, vanillacassis candles and more. Next door is Relic, with Blue Jays and Expos socks, Herschel backpacks and caps, Burton sweats and more. Twisted Sisters, right after that, has lovely books, locally made jewelry and cool shoes, including rubber boots in shades of pink, canary-yellow and deep-sea blue.
Duckworth Street has several cool shops. Fred’s Records offers outstanding vinyl and CDs from the likes of Muddy Waters, The Beatles and The Tragically Hip. Livyer’s Antiques has old ceramic plates, puppy-dog salt and pepper shakers and books. Rosie Row offers pretty jewelry, cat watches, ceramic yellow pineapples (doesn’t everybody need one?) and more. Newfoundland Chocolate Co. serves up excellent sweets wrapped in paper that features St. John’s row houses.
Murray Premises is a beautiful downtown hotel with stone walls, wood-beam ceilings and more. Our room had a monster spatub and a fireplace. They serve breakfast and have an all day lounge with coffee, fruit and biscuits See murraypremiseshotel.com.
JAG hotel is a fun downtown place with large rooms, a nice bar and rock-androll photos. See steelehotels.com/our-hotels/ jag/#sect-overview.
For a video of St. John’s, see youtu.be/dq-LsExFQ1M.
With sensational views of the city and the harbour, the walk along The Battery area of St. John’s might be the finest urban walk in the world. The Rooms, right, is a lovely museum with thought-provoking art and displays on Newfoundland history. Shirts sporting images of Newfoundland dogs, top, are just some of the fun items at Johnny Ruth and Living Planet on Water Street, said to be the oldest street in North America.