Moon Newfoundland & Labrador


By Andrew Hempstead

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Awe-inspiring icebergs, clifftop lighthouses, and rare fossils: experience the magic of Canada's eastern province with Moon Newfoundland & Labrador. Inside you'll find:
  • Flexible itineraries for weekend getaways or spending two weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador with strategic advice for families, outdoor adventurers, and history buffs
  • Top experiences: Visit an active archaeological dig or learn about the history and local art of the province while touring The Rooms cultural center. Chow down on fresh crab claws, chowder, and pie made with locally grown berries. Drive the Irish Loop for with stunning coastal views, maritime history, and wildlife-watching, and wind down at a cozy neighborhood pub
  • Best outdoor adventures: Trek through hilly evergreen forests alongside moose, foxes, and caribou. Watch for whales on a cruise or search the sky for soaring eagles, ospreys, and puffins. Embark on a multi-day backpacking adventure through the UNESCO-protected Gros Morne National Park. Kayak to the remote wilderness of Torngat Mountains National Park or scuba dive in shipwreck-filled coves, and settle down for a night under the starry sky at a lakeside campsite
  • Expert advice from Canadian Andrew Hempstead on when to go, where to stay, and how to get around
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Background information on the environment, culture, and history
Experience the best of Newfoundland and Labrador with Moon's practical tips and local insight.
Expanding your trip? Try Moon Atlantic Canada or Moon Canadian Rockies.

About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.

For more inspiration, follow @moonguides on social media.


Western Brook Pond

Commissariat Provincial Historic Site in St. John’s

DISCOVER Newfoundland & Labrador

The Best of Newfoundland & Labrador


Majestic icebergs wander into fjords and coves on the northern coastlines of Newfoundland. All along the seacoasts, photogenic lighthouses perch atop precipitous cliffs overlooking the surf. Sightseers line up for boat tours led by knowledgeable skippers and academically trained guides, whose vessels nose among whales, seals, and ice.

Labrador, called “the land of stone and rocks” by explorer Jacques Cartier, offers a different type of adventure. Resembling an irregular wedge pointing toward the North Pole, Labrador is bordered on the east by 8,000 kilometers of coastline on the Labrador Sea, and on the west and south by the remote outskirts of Québec. Anglers come from all over for some of the world’s best sportfishing, while serious explorers venture out into the wilderness of the Torgnat Mountains.

Newfoundland and Labrador are full of history, coastal beauty, and rugged excursions. But some of your most treasured memories will be of the people. The seafaring life has given them what so much of the modern world has let slip through its fingers. Enjoy these refuges, where the friendly residents will make you feel welcome.


Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse

The Best of Newfoundland & Labrador

Day 1

Start in St. John’s, Newfoundland’s provincial capital, then head to The Rooms to learn about local history and Signal Hill National Historic Site for the views. Spend late afternoon exploring the charming village of Quidi Vidi, where you have reservations at Mallard Cottage for dinner. Still feeling energetic? The downtown bars of George Street come alive after dark.

Day 2

Today is spent exploring the Avalon Peninsula. After a whale-watching tour of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, continue south to Ferryland. Here, Lighthouse Picnics serves up one of the province’s most unique dining experiences after which you can explore the archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon. Continuing around the peninsula, the next stop is Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, and from where it’s an easy drive back to St. John’s.

Day 3

Head west, stopping at Trinity, a tiny fishing village where little has changed in over a century, en route to Gros Morne National Park, where during the long days of summer you have time for a walk through the Tablelands and can still be at Lobster Cove Head in time to watch the sunset. Gros Morne Cabins are a centrally located base in Rocky Harbour.

Green Gardens in Gros Morne National Park

Day 4

Join a morning boat tour of Western Brook Pond and drive north along the Northern Peninsula. Make sure to stop at Port au Choix National Historic Site and the thrombolites of Flowers Cove en route to Southwest Pond Cabins in L’Anse aux Meadows. Dinner at the Norseman Restaurant is a must.

Day 5

Visit L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, then drive to St. Barbe and put your feet up for a couple of hours on the ferry crossing to Labrador. Red Bay National Historic Site should definitely be on your afternoon itinerary, as should the lighthouse at L’Anse Amour.

Day 6

Continue north along the Labrador Straits to Mary’s Harbour. Park your vehicle and pack an overnight bag for the short boat trip to Battle Harbour, an “outport” (remote fishing village) that was abandoned in the 1960s, but where restoration efforts include a restaurant and an inn.

Battle Harbour

Point Amour Lighthouse

Day 7

Return to the mainland and catch the ferry back to St. Barbe. Stretch your legs at Marble Mountain, and continue south to Port-aux-Basques and then home (or catch an evening ferry to Nova Scotia).

St. John’s Harbour

St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula















Entertainment and Events













Accommodations and Camping




Information and Services

Getting There and Around



Avalon Peninsula






Gower Street is lined with colorful homes.

St. John’s, the provincial capital, is a colorful and comfortable city. Situated on the steep inland side of St. John’s Harbour, the city’s rooftops form a tapestry: Some are gracefully drawn with swooping mansard curves, some are pancake-flat or starkly pitched, and others are pyramidal with clay pots placed atop the central chimneys. Against this otherwise picture-perfect tapestry, the tangle of electrical wires strung up and down the hillside is a visual offense.

Contrasts of color are everywhere. House windows are framed in deep turquoise, red, bright yellow, or pale pink and are covered with starched white lace curtains. Window boxes are stuffed to overflowing with red geraniums and purple and pink petunias. Along the streets, cement walls brace the hillside, and any blank surface serves as an excuse for a pastel-painted mural. The storefronts on Water Street, as individual as their owners, stand out in Wedgwood blue, lime green, purple, and rose. At street-side, public telephone booths are painted the bright red of old-time fire hydrants.

As the Newfoundlanders say, St. John’s offers the best for visitors—another way of saying that Newfoundland is “for someshort on cities and long on coastal outports. But without question, St. John’s thrives with places for dining, nightlife, sightseeing, and lodging—more than anywhere else across the island and Labrador. Simply put, the Newfoundlanders have carved a contemporary, livable, and intriguing niche in one of North America’s most ancient ports. Come to St. John’s for some of Atlantic Canada’s most abundant high-quality shopping, unusual dining in lush surroundings, interesting maritime history displayed in fine museums, rousing nightlife and music, and an emerging and eclectic fine-arts scene.

When you’re done with the city, there’s the rest of the Avalon Peninsula to discover. Within day-tripping distance of downtown, you can go whale-watching at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, watch archaeologists at work at Ferryland, walk in to North America’s most accessible bird sanctuary at Cape St. Mary’s, and drive through delightfully named villages like Heart’s Desire.


Whether you arrive by air, by ferry, or overland from the west, St. John’s is a definite destination in itself. It has all the amenities of a major city, including top-notch accommodations, a good range of restaurants, and lively nightlife. Sightseeing will easily fill two days, with at least a few hours spent at The Rooms, a museum and art gallery complex as good as any in Canada. Don’t miss the drive up to Signal Hill National Historic Site, and stop at Johnson Geo Centre along the way. The Fluvarium is a good rainy-day diversion. While the village of Quidi Vidi provides a taste of the rest of the province without leaving city limits, the rest of the Avalon Peninsula is well worth exploring.

The options are relatively straightforward—either use St. John’s as a base for day trips or plan on an overnight excursion. Two highlights—a whale-watching trip to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and a visit to the historic Colony of Avalon—can easily be combined into a day trip. Bird-rich Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve is also within a couple of hours’ drive of St. John’s, although if you’re arriving by ferry from Nova Scotia, it’s only a short detour from the main route into town. If you’re arriving by air, five days is the minimum amount of time to allow for exploring the city and the Avalon Peninsula. If you’re arriving by ferry with your own vehicle, plan on spending three days on the Avalon Peninsula (including St. John’s) and seven days traveling through the central and western portion of the province to the ferry terminal at Port-aux-Basques. Add two days’ travel from Halifax (including the two ferry trips from and to Sydney) and you can create a 12-day itinerary with no backtracking.


St. John’s officially dates to 1497, when Newfoundlanders say the explorer John Cabot sailed into the harbor and claimed the area for England. By the early 1540s, St. John’s Harbour was a major port on old-world maps, and the French explorer Jacques Cartier anchored there for ship repairs. The British—who arrived, conquered, and remained for centuries—have had the greatest impact here. By 1528 the port had its first residence, and the main lanes were the Lower Path (Water Street) and Upper Path (Duckworth Street). Fishing thrived, but settlement was slow. Early on, the defenseless port was easy game for other European imperialists, and in 1665 the Dutch plundered the town. Nevertheless, by 1675, St. John’s had a population of 185, as well as 155 cattle and 48 boats anchored at 23 piers. By 1696, the French emerged as England’s persistent adversary. The French launched destructive attacks on St. John’s in 1696, 1705, and 1709.

St. John’s was a seamy port through most of its early years. In a town bereft of permanent settlement and social constraints, 80 taverns and innumerable brothels flourished on Water Street, with a few stores on Duckworth Street and Buckleys Lane (George Street). The port’s inhabitants were a motley mix of Spaniards, Portuguese, French, and British; as the latter gained dominance, Anglo immigration was encouraged. In 1892, a huge fire destroyed the city from Water Street to the East End, leveling 1,572 houses and 150 stores and leaving 1,900 families homeless. The stores, commercial buildings, and merchant mansions were re-created in Gothic Revival and Second Empire styles.


Most of St. John’s best sightseeing revolves around the city’s long and colorful history. In addition to traditional sights such as The Rooms (the provincial museum) and national historic sites, go beyond the ordinary and plan on sipping a pint of beer at the Crow’s Nest and joining a guided walking tour of downtown—both excellent ways to soak up the seafaring ambience of this historic city.


Although adding to the charm in many ways, the layout of downtown defies modern logic. The streets follow footpaths laid out by European fishermen and sailors centuries ago, when towns were not planned but simply evolved for everyone’s convenience. Water Street (one of North America’s oldest streets) and the other main streets rise parallel to the waterfront and are intersected by roads meandering across the hillside. Historic stone staircases climb grades too steep for paved roads.

S The Rooms

One of Canada’s finest cultural facilities, The Rooms (9 Bonaventure Ave., 709/757-8000, June-mid-Sept. Mon.-Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun. noon-5pm, mid-Sept.-May Wed.-Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun. noon-5pm, adult $10, senior $6.50, child $5) combines a provincial museum, art gallery, and archives under one roof. Styled on the simple oceanfront “fishing rooms” where Newfoundlanders would process their catch, this complex setting on the site of a 1750s fort is anything but basic. From a distance, it is nothing short of spectacular to see the ultramodern “rooms” rising above the rest of the city like a mirage. The interior is no less impressive, with huge windows allowing uninterrupted views across the city and harbor. Displays in the museum component encompass the entire natural and human history of Newfoundland and Labrador, from glaciation to modern-day cultural diversity. The art gallery spreads across two floors. More than 7,000 works of art are displayed, with touring exhibits adding to the artistic mix. If you’re a history buff with time to spare, include a visit to the archives, which contain more than 500,000 historical photos, plus government and shipping records, maps and atlases, family histories, and personal diaries.

The Rooms is St. John’s premier cultural attraction.

Basilica Cathedral Museum

The early Roman Catholics aimed to make an impact on the skyline of St. John’s, and did so in the mid-1800s with the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (200 Military Rd., 709/754-2170,, June-Sept. Mon.-Fri. 8am-5pm, Sat. 8am-5pm, Sun. 8am-12:30pm, free), one block toward downtown from The Rooms. The Romanesque cathedral, built of stone and shaped like a Latin cross with twin 43-meter-high towers, is now a national historic site. In addition to the museum, guided tours point out the ornate ceilings embellished with gold leaf, numerous statues, and other features.

Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (16 Church Hill, 709/726-5677, June Mon.-Fri. 10am-noon and 2pm-4pm, July-Sept. Mon.-Fri. 10am-4pm, Sat. 10am-noon, free) is a national historic site revered by locals (and said to be haunted by a resident ghost). English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the impressive Gothic Revival edifice in Newfoundland bluestone. The cornerstone was laid in 1847, and the Great Fire of 1892 almost gutted the structure. Reconstruction within the walls started the next year. Of special interest are the carved furnishings and sculpted arches, and a gold communion service presented by King William IV.

James J. O’Mara Pharmacy Museum

Inside the splendidly restored and gleaming Art Deco Apothecary Hall, the James J. O’Mara Pharmacy Museum (488 Water St., 709/753-5877, Mon.-Fri. 8am-4:30pm, free) recalls a pharmacy of the early 1900s. Apothecary Hall operated as a drug store from 1922 until 1986, but furnishings and equipment on display goes back further, including the oak furniture, which was imported from England in the 1870s.

Newman Wine Vaults

In the late 1700s, wine that had been stored in St. John’s was transported back to London, where it was deemed to have a much improved flavor. As a result, a number of wine vaults were constructed in the city, and cases of wine were brought across the Atlantic to mature. The last remaining of these is Newman Wine Vaults (436 Water St., 709/739-7870, July-Aug. Tues.-Sat. 10am-4:30pm, adult $6, senior $4, child $3), on the west side of downtown. Ensconced in a more modern shell, the two vaults, held together by mortar from crushed seashells, are the oldest buildings in St. John’s.

Railway Coastal Museum

The Newfoundland Railway was a vital link for islanders between 1898 and the last scheduled passenger service in 1969. It extended the length of the island (roughly following the modern-day TransCanada Highway), terminating in the east at what is now the Railway Coastal Museum (495 Water St. W., 709/753-5877, summer daily 10am-5pm, fall-spring Tues.-Sun. 10am-5pm, adult $7, senior $6, child $5), west of the New Gower Street overpass. Symbolizing the grandeur of its one-time importance, the city’s main railway station forms the backbone of the museum, with historical photographs and memorabilia from days gone by.

Government House

One of few structures that escaped damage in the Great Fire of 1892, Government House (50 Military Rd., grounds open daily dawn-dusk) is the residence of the province’s lieutenant governor. The impressive 1831 building was constructed of red sandstone quarried from Signal Hill and features a moat, ceiling frescoes, and flower gardens. This, the Commissariat House, and St. Thomas’s Anglican Church are on the northern edge of downtown, a steep five-block walk from the waterfront.

Commissariat House

Now protected as a provincial historic site, the three-story Commissariat House (11 King’s Bridge Rd., 709/729-6370, mid-May-June and Sept.-early Oct. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm, July-Aug. daily 10am-5pm, adult $6, senior $4, child $3) began in 1818 as a residence and office for Fort William’s assistant commissary general. Over the years, it was used as the St. Thomas’s Anglican Church rectory, a nursing home, and a hospital. The interior, furnished with antiques, has been restored in the style of the 1830s.

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church (corner of King’s Bridge Rd. and Military Rd., 709/576-6632, free) is known as the Old Garrison Church. Dating to the 1830s, the city’s oldest church houses a cast-iron Hanoverian coat of arms over the door, attesting to the royal lineage. Call for details of summer sanctuary tours.


The distinct geological feature of the Signal Hill National Historic Site rises high above the Narrows, at the mouth of St. John’s Harbour. On a clear day, it’s plainly visible from throughout town, but more importantly, it offers stunning views back across the city, down the coast, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Although Signal Hill is only a little more than two kilometers from the city center, it’s a steep walk, so plan on driving.

the view from Signal Hill

S Johnson Geo Centre

What better place for a geology museum than underground? Access to the Johnson Geo Centre (175 Signal Hill Rd., 709/724-7625, daily 9:30am-5pm, adult $12, senior $9, child $6), almost at the top of Signal Hill, is a glass-sided elevator that descends below the rocky landscape to a cavernous room where one entire wall exposes the 550-million-year-old bedrock. Displays describe the entire geological history of the province, from the oldest rocks on earth to modern oil and gas exploration. Highlights include a Titanic room, where you can watch footage from exploration of the famous wreck.

Signal Hill National Historic Site

In the 1700s, this hill, once known as the Lookout, served as part of a British signaling system; news of friendly or hostile ships was flagged from Cape Spear to Signal Hill, where the message was conveyed to Fort William in town. In 1762 the Battle of Signal Hill marked the Seven Years’ War’s final North American land battle, with England victorious and France the loser.

On the road up to the hilltop is the Visitor Interpretation Centre (709/772-5367, mid-May-mid-June and Sept.-mid-Oct. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm, mid-June-Aug. daily 10am-5pm, adult $4, senior $3.50, child $2), which tells the long and colorful story of Signal Hill through modern and interactive exhibits.

Continuing upward by road or on foot, Cabot Tower (mid-Apr.-mid-Nov. daily 9am-5pm, Interpretation Centre admission includes Cabot Tower) is at the very top of Signal Hill. This is where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message. The hilltop is pocked with historical remnants. England’s Imperial Powder Magazine stored gunpowder during the Napoleonic Wars, and the Queen’s Battery—an authentic outport tucked beneath the cliff—guarded the harbor Narrows from 1833.

For hiking, the North Head Trail peels off the top of the hill and follows the cliffs to Fort Chain Rock. The Cuckold’s Cove Trail wends across Signal Hill’s leeward side to Quidi Vidi Village.


The Atlantic’s watery inroads permeate the St. John’s area. Aside from the city’s famed harbor, another sizable pocket of the sea—Quidi Vidi Lake—lies nearby. Its azure-blue waters meet a boulder-bound coastline, all within the bustling city limits. Quidi Vidi Lake (“kiddie viddie” is the local pronunciation) is best known as the site of the Royal St. John’s Regatta, held on the first Wednesday in August. The lake’s choppy water also lures windsurfers. Locals enjoy strolls along the grassy banks. To get there, follow Water Street west under Pitts Memorial Drive and turn left onto Route 11 (Blackhead Road).

Quidi Vidi

Beyond the lake is picturesque Quidi Vidi Village. Wander the narrow, winding streets of this fishing village and you’ll never believe a provincial capital lies just over the hill.

Quidi Vidi Battery

Quidi Vidi Battery


On Sale
Nov 16, 2021
Page Count
152 pages
Moon Travel

Andrew Hempstead

About the Author

Kayaking around Bowen Island, enjoying a powder day at Whistler Blackcomb, chowing down on pancakes at the Elbow Room, joining the mid-day crowd at Butchart Gardens, and surfing on the west coast – Andrew Hempstead has done all of this and more. He’s out there not because it’s part of compiling a guidebook, but because he loves Vancouver and Victoria. These diverse experiences, coupled with a deep respect for nature and an interest in local history, have been essential in his creation of Moon Victoria & Vancouver Island.

Andrew spends as much time as possible out on the road, and rather than having an itinerary laid out for him by local tourism offices, he travels incognito so he can experience the many and varied delights of Vancouver and Victoria the same way his readers do.

Since the early 1990s, Andrew has authored and updated over 60 guidebooks, contributed to dozens of major magazines, supplied content for online clients like Expedia and KLM, and been employed as a corporate writer for Parks Canada. His photography has appeared in a wide variety of media ranging from international golf magazines to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum. Andrew has spoken on guidebook writing to national audiences, and he has contributed to a university-level travel writing textbook.

Andrew and his wife Dianne own Summerthought Publishing, a regional publisher of nonfiction books. He and his family live in Banff, Alberta.

Learn more about this author