Happy birthday, Canada! 2017 marks Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years). To help celebrate, Vogue named Newfoundland in their ‘The Ultimate Canadian Bucket List’. Now is a good time to start planning a trip to St. John’s! May and June are prime for iceberg spotting. Late June overlaps the start of whale watching season.
Getting There and Accommodations
St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland, with flights from Toronto, Montreal, New York, Orlando, London and Dublin. With Dublin and London only a 5 - 6-hour direct flight, you could even stop in for a few days on your way to/from Europe, US or Canada mainland.
I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott right on the harbor. I favor Marriott/Starwood properties whenever possible to earn points or redeem them for a free stay. The Sheraton is popular located just up the hill from the Courtyard. The Delta Hotel/Conference Center is also convenient, located on the opposite end of St. John’s downtown.
Book your hotel early. St. John’s is a popular conference town in the summer. Hotels in prime locations can sell-out quickly. A rental car is a must so you can get out to explore. It would be essential if your hotel was not directly downtown, there’s not much in the way of public transport. There are taxis though.
You wouldn’t think it would be hard to spot a house-sized chunk of ice, but the weather can make it difficult. St. John’s is known as Fog Town. It can also be misty rainy and cold in June and very windy. Umbrellas are useless; pack a jacket with a hood.
A recommended option is to book a boat tour. They know where the ‘bergs are and many offer combination whale/puffin/iceberg excursions depending on the season. We booked the ‘Tasting and Tails’ tour with O’Brien’s Boat Tours out of Bay Bulls just south of St. John’s. The boat has a heated indoor option with a covered upper deck and van shuttles roundtrip from St. John’s. The tasting was after the tour at Quidi Vidi Brewery known for their Iceberg beer made from actual iceberg water. Unfortunately, we didn’t see icebergs or humpbacks, but we saw a few minke whales and lots of birds; a few bald eagles, sea gulls and thousands of puffins. The fun crew even sang us some songs!
The ultimate iceberg quest would be to road trip the Iceberg Alley along the eastern coast of Newfoundland. Before you head off, ask a local where they are seeing them – they are almost as excited as tourists to spot the big ones. Also, check IcebergFinder.com for maps where people are reporting sightings.
We heard there was one in Carbonear Bay, a little over an hour’s drive from St. John’s. Icebergs can get stuck in the many bays along Newfoundland’s coast. We saw several in the distance from the highway, but not any impressive enough to divert us from our destination. We arrived to find the small town on a bay with colorful wooden buildings peeking out of the fog and our first official iceberg sighting! They were tiny (more like floating chunks of ice), but we were super excited and absolutely had to get closer. The only way was a small gravel path, 1-car wide along a densely wooded cliff. We hiked down as close as possible (we did not come prepared for hiking), got our selfies and somehow got the car turned around to go find lunch. Food options were slim – we ended up at a fast food chicken place.
After lunch, the fog cleared. We were rewarded with sunshine revealing our first substantial iceberg and lots of photos around the bay.
This was the farthest we got on our mission along the coast; we had to head back to St. John’s. However, locals recommend Bonavista for sightings, a 3.5-hour drive from St. John’s.
Our last afternoon in St. John’s was gorgeous, not a hint of fog anywhere. Not to be denied our ultimate iceberg goal, we drove out to Cape Spear, North America’s most easterly point. We’d tried it before, but visibility was nil because of the fog – you could barely see the lighthouse and the rocky beach. Coming around the last wooded curve to the cape’s clearing was the biggest, most impressive iceberg with an arch! We were so excited; I have hundreds of pictures of that thing, including goofy selfies! We even found a video of a drone flying around it when we came home.
What to do when not iceberg hunting
Cape Spear: North America’s most easterly point with a light house and a huge cannon left over from WWII days. Impressive icebergs not guaranteed!
Signal Hill: forming the northern part of St. John’s harbor, Signal Hill received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. The area offers beautiful views over St. John’s and the coastline with plenty of trails and a visitor’s center. Warning, it can be very windy, do not wear a dress!
Downtown St. John’s: There are 2 main streets for eating, drinking, shopping and art galleries, Duckworth and Water Street. Spend an afternoon or two wandering around the colorful town.
On Duckworth Street, you’ll find the Newfoundland Chocolate Company creating wonderful treats that make great gifts. The Heritage Shop has lots of souvenirs, crafts, and art with proceeds going to the Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (there is another location on Water Street, too). If you are needing a Starbucks fix, there’s only one and it’s not downtown. The Tim Horton’s on Duckworth can satisfy a quick fix. For breakfast, The Bagel Café just across the street serves it all day. At Fixed Coffee & Baking, coffee and fresh food is their passion. To satisfy seafood cravings, try Saltwater Restaurant + Bar. Wonderful Neapolitan style pizza is found at Piatto with a great wine list. Portobello’s was recommended, but get a reservation. We were never able to get a table as walk-ins.
Water Street claims to be the oldest street in North America. Shop at Twisted Sisters Boutik, Newfoundland Weavery, and Johnny Ruth & Living Planet to name a few all clustered together. Grab a pint and pub grub at YellowBelly Brewery or cross the street to The Merchant Tavern offering seafood.
As the weather warms, the icebergs disappear, but the pubs along George Street come to life with nightlife and music festivals.
What do you think? Planning a trip to Newfoundland, yet?