Newfoundland and Labrador are famous for their rugged scenery, cool wet maritime climate, and long history separate from Canada.
A small fishing village in Newfoundland
The beauty of Newfoundland can be found on the rocky coasts of the island and the relatively new, and stunningly beautiful East Coast Trail, but this is a truly coast-to-coast kind of place.
Good Morning Newfoundland
There’s much to see in the Tundra of Labrador (often called “the Big Land”), the “mini-Rockies” of the West Coast’s Long Range Mountains, and Lewis Hills, the historic Avalon Peninsula, home to the capital of St. John’s.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of the largely uninhabited Newfoundland interior. There is a raw, untouched quality to the entire place, especially where water meets rocks.
A Brief History
Newfoundland was the home of the now-extinct Beothuk indigenous people, while Labrador is still home to the forest-dwelling Innu and the barren-dwelling Inuit, who are not related.
In 1497 Italian explorer John Cabot may have discovered Newfoundland, and claimed it for England. Both Newfoundland and Labrador soon became popular places for European fishermen and whalers exploiting the Atlantic coast to come ashore for supply and rest.
During the 19th century, Newfoundland received an influx of Irish settlers, adding another layer to the present-day character of the island in terms of its unique regional accents and musical traditions.
In 1949, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians voted in a referendum to join Canada as the tenth province.
Things To Do In Newfoundland and Labrador
There are many extraordinary things about Newfoundland: the rugged natural beauty of the place, the extraordinary friendliness and humor of the local people, the traditional culture, and the unique dialect.
Explore the Cute Towns
Colorful doors of St John’s
- St. John’s — the provincial capital and largest city in Newfoundland. The city is known as one of the oldest in North America. The city is notable for the natural harbor which has provided shelter from the North Atlantic for more than 500 years
- Conception Bay South — C.B.S., the largest town in Newfoundland, on the shore of beautiful Conception Bay
- Corner Brook — the pulp and paper center of Newfoundland and a major transportation hub for the region
- Gander — this town grew up around Gander International Airport which developed into one of the most important airfields in the world during the Second World War
- Grand Falls-Windsor — home of the Salmon Festival, Grand Falls-Windsor is Central Newfoundland’s largest town
- Happy Valley-Goose Bay — one of the few remaining military bases in the province. Established in the World War II era, it had a little-known population of 10,000 U.S. citizens at the height of the Cold War and was home to large numbers of aerial refueling tankers of the United States Air Force
- Labrador City — home to the largest open-pit iron ore mine in Canada. Vast wilderness surrounds this modern, booming town
- Mount Pearl — the second largest city in Newfoundland which has grown up on the western edge of St. John’s
- Twillingate — two islands that make up a scenic fishing town in Notre Dame Bay north of Lewisporte and Gander
Signal Hill Fort
In the St. John’s area, be sure to visit the historic Signal Hill Fort and walking trail, and watch the sun come up over the ocean).
The other main sites in the capital are the Battery, which is the oldest part of St. John’s, the colorful downtown row houses, and the natural harbor of St. John’s.
Go to Sunday brunch at the Battery Hotel in St. John’s, then walk off the calories with a walking hike around the Signal Hill trail, a rugged, terraced path that leads through the old Battery village and around Signal Hill, up to Cabot tower and back to the Battery Hotel, giving a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, St. John’s harbor, and the city.
Nearby Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America, is very scenic, and windy too!
Going “Around the Bay” is a term Newfoundlanders use to talk about traveling around the numerous outport communities. Often this is limited to those on the Avalon Peninsula in the area between Conception Bay and St. John’s.
Points of interest (historical and aesthetic) along the Around the Bay are:
- Bay Bulls
- Roaches Line
- Bay Roberts
- Harbour Grace – the original capital of the island
After you go Around the Bay and end up in Carbonear or Victoria, spend the night at a local inn.
Get up the next day and now go “Around the Belt”, a term Newfoundlanders use to describe traveling down the shore, up north around the tip of the peninsula, down the other side, and across the Heart’s Content Barrens.
Points of interest along the Around the Belt are:
- Spout Cove
- Bradley’s Cove
- Western Bay
- Northern Bay
- Flambro Head
- Lower Island Cove
- Caplin Cove
- Bay de Verde
- Grate’s Cove
- Daniel’s Cove
- Heart’s Content
The provincial tourism agency markets this route around the bay and belt as the Baccalieu Trail, and provides maps and driving instructions on its website.
Around the province, there are fishing stages, wharves, and other remnants of the province’s long history of fishing.
Wooden Boat Museum
The Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton north of Dildo, focuses on local wooden boat history and its contribution to the province’s economy and way of life.
Shipwrecks in St. Lawrence
Visit St. Lawrence to see the site of the shipwrecked USS Truxtun and USS Pollux.
Gander’s International Airport
In the center of the island, Gander’s international airport, once the refueling stop for nearly all international flights from Europe to North America, is worth a visit for fans of architecture and design for its well-preserved 1950s look.
Gros Morne National Park
Stairs to mountain top (Gros Morne)
Gros Morne National Park, in the west of the island, is one of the highlights for many visitors because of its varied landscapes and stark beauty. Be sure to visit Western Brook Pond, a land locked fjord in the park.
L’anse aux Meadows
The L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula on the island, is the site of the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America and believed to be the landfall site of Leif Eriksson as related in the Vinland sagas.
It is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador; the others are Gros Morne and the Basque Whaling Station in Red Bay.
Visitors who make the effort to visit the remote Labrador region will be rewarded with the historic Basque Whaling Site in Red Bay, and many small communities along the Labrador coast.
Battle Harbor, a National Historic Site on an island near Mary’s Harbor, is a restored ghost town that was the historical hub of the Labrador salt fish industry.
You’ll find wildlife such as puffins, whales, caribou, moose, eagles, and otters all over the province.
Boat Tours and Ferries
Icebergs by Newfoundland coast
Being so focused on the sea, it is appropriate that boat tours are a popular way of experiencing Newfoundland and Labrador.
Look for whale watching tours in many coastal towns, and iceberg boat tours at Twillingate, northwest of Gander, where there is much better viewing than from Avalon Peninsula.
You can take a ferry to visit the Southern Communities of the province not accessible by road.
A Blue Jay
Hikers will find lots of great trails in Gros Morne National Park and Terra Nova National Park.
The East Coast Trail is a stunningly beautiful rugged hiking trail, on which you can hike and camp for days along cliffs and through forests.
You can also hike the Trans Canada Trail in Newfoundland, following the former CN “Newfie Bullet” narrow-gauge line across the island.
Biking or driving the 490-km Viking Trail will take you to a place of austere, unspoiled beauty up the west coast of the island.
There is downhill skiing at Marble Mountain or cross-country skiing at Blow-Me-Down.
In winter, snowmobiling is popular: Stephenville is Newfoundland’s main hub for this activity.
Take a driving tour of the other colorfully outports like Joe Batt’s Arm, Leading Tickles, and Little Burnt Bay.
July 1, Canada Day, is the nation’s birthday for Canadians marking the day in 1867 that three British colonies formed a federation; in Newfoundland it’s not quite so simple.
Newfoundland suffered crippling military losses at the Battle of Mount Hamel (part of the Battle of the Somme in the Great War) on July 1, 1916 so this day remains a war memorial. Paradoxically, solemn war remembrance and national birthday celebration take place simultaneously.
If visiting in mid-July, don’t forget to party in Grand Falls – Windsor at the Exploits Valley Salmon Festival, an annual festival including a salmon dinner, a Newfie Night dance, and the Splash Concert.
Quidi Vidi Lake
If visiting in August, go to the Royal St. John’s Regatta at Quidi Vidi Lake in the city, the oldest sporting event in North America (160 years and counting). It is traditionally held on the first Wednesday in August or the first good weather day after.
On this day, most of St. John’s shuts down, and an average crowd of 50,000 people go to see the races and partake of the many concession stands.
Language and Culture
As for the people, everyone talks to everyone; indeed, everyone helps everyone, and everyone knows everyone (people often can tell what part of the island someone is from by their last name).
Newfoundlanders pronounce Newfoundland to rhyme with ‘understand,’ placing emphasis on -LAND, not New or found-. It sounds something like “newfin-LAND.” Canadians outside of the Atlantic provinces and tourists are noted for their pronunciation of Newfoundland as “new-FOUND-lind”, “NEW-fin-lind” or “NEW-found-lind.”
Newfoundlanders are known for their distinctive manner of speech. Believe it or not, they speak dialects (that’s right, not accents) that are sometimes unintelligible to “mainland” Canadians — especially in outports such as Burgeo.
Its roots (while still North American English) are mainly Irish, English and French, and the language has evolved and developed in semi-isolation for about 500 years. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English is about the size of a standard English dictionary.
It is immediately noticeable to most visitors, or “Come-From-Aways” as they are occasionally called, that the syntax and grammar varies slightly. As for the accent, it varies from district to district in the province.
As Canadian author Douglas Coupland puts it in Souvenir of Canada, Newfoundlanders “speak in a dialect that can rival Navajo for indecipherability – that is, when they really ham it up….”
Two “traditions” persist with a visit to Newfoundland—kissing the cod and the “screech-in.” (Both were enacted by Ben Mulroney in the Canadian Idol television show while he visited Newfoundland, demonstrating how widespread these activities are thought to be.)
These “traditions” are little more than tourist activities invented by locals for a laugh. The tourists found them enjoyable, and now they are becoming extremely common. Commercial tours will often include these activities, concluding them with a certificate proclaiming the participant an honorary Newfoundlander.
The “Screech-in”: The most famous of newcomer traditions, mainlanders and visitors to the isle must drink a shot or glass of Screech (a variety of Jamaican Rum famous to Newfoundland). Take this all in good humor, but don’t be surprised if you don’t like the taste; the name has good meaning.
Kissing the Cod: As well as being “Screeched in”, occasionally visitors will be coaxed into “Kissing the Cod”. The visitor must kiss a codfish, an emblem of the historic fishing industry, after arrival. While this does happen occasionally, it is usually a humorous part of a guided tour or a similar event.
The use of an actual fish is rare, though, especially since the introduction of the cod moratorium. Kissing a real codfish is discouraged by many, not to mention possibly unhygienic, so an imitation cod, made of wood, plastic, or rubber is used.
Genuine traditions practised in Newfoundland include celebrations of: “Bonfire Night”, with roots in the English “Guy Fawkes Night”; and “Old Christmas Day” which is the twelfth night of the Christmas season. The latter of these is also associated with the tradition of “Mummering” or “Janneying” which is still practiced in several other parts of the world as well.
The “Newfie” (also “Newf”) stereotype: in Canada, this figure is similar to the hillbilly stereotype or the rural hick stereotype. As with both of those cases, it is rooted in discrimination. While some Newfoundlanders may call themselves “Newfies”, it may be wise to refrain from calling the province’s residents as such yourself, as many see this as a slur or putdown when it comes from a non-native.
Like “Canuck”, which began as a slur against Canadians, the word “Newfie” is acceptable to some, but err on the side of caution and use “Newfoundlander” instead.
While Newfoundlanders are generally easy-going people who do not take themselves too seriously, criticism or jokes about the province’s culture will not be welcomed. Newfoundlanders are proud of their history and distinct culture.
How to Get Here
Flights from major centers in Ontario, Quebec, and the other Atlantic Provinces arrive at St. John’s airport several times per day.
Flights to Stephenville from Toronto are available during the summer months and allow easy travel to the nearby city of Corner Brook. Stephenville also has daily service within the province.
Flights to Deer Lake from mainland Canada allow easy access to Corner Brook. From Deer Lake, you will need to rent a car or catch the bus or taxi to reach Corner Brook.
Daily flights to Wabush and Goose Bay (Labrador) and to Gander are also available.
In the summer season, there are daily flights between St. John’s and London Heathrow on Air Canada, and to Dublin on WestJet, probably the shortest Trans-Atlantic regular flights available.
Air St-Pierre connects St John’s to the nearby French islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon. Canadian citizens may enter with a photo ID and proof of citizenship. US and EU citizens will require passports. Americans require their passports to enter France and Europeans require theirs to pass through Canada.
The only outside road to reach the province overland runs from Quebec into Labrador; north of Baie-Comeau and Manicougan’s “Manic 5” hydroelectric development a long, isolated gravel road (Quebec Route 389) leads northeast to Labrador City and the Trans-Labrador Highway. The road from Labrador City through Churchill Falls to Goose Bay was completely paved by 2015.
Gravel highway onward to Cartwright and Port Hope Simpson opened in 2009; there are no services (or fuel) for more than 400 km on this road. One may continue to drive all the way to Blanc Sablon, Quebec and take the 2-hour ferry crossing to the island.
If the island is your destination, you must take a ferry. From Port aux Basques to Corner Brook, it’s just over 200 km of driving, while the drive to St. John’s is a trek of over 900 km. In the summer, a drive from Argentia to St. John’s will take you through about 130 km of the province.
It is not possible to reach Blanc Sablon, Quebec (the border town near Forteau, Labrador) on any direct overland path from Sept-Îles as the roads simply do not exist in that section of the province. There is a coastal boat from Rimouski-Sept-Îles-Anticosti but its route stops in every outport and takes half a week.
Caution Note: As the province is home to over 100,000 moose, do drive slowly and cautiously, especially when driving at night. Moose are attracted to the roads due to the fresh young tree growth along the sides and the open stretches allow them to take a “fog bath”.
During calf season, moose can be especially aggressive, standing their ground and even challenging people and vehicles, but the most common risk is collision: your car will hit its legs, knocking the brunt of its weight (often half a ton) through the windshield. This is the last thing you want to have happen, and it may well be the last thing that will happen to you! This is why moose are considered one of the most dangerous animals in North America.
Moose of any size are often aggressive on the roads and frequently attack the headlights of passing cars. Drivers who survive collisions have been killed by the legs of an injured moose wedged in the windshield opening of the wreckage. Animals who have moved out of a vehicle’s path may suddenly reappear on the road and exhibit suicidal behavior.
Interprovincial bus passengers must transfer from bus to ferry at North Sydney, Nova Scotia. On arrival to the island, one may board DRL Coachlines Ltd, which runs daily scheduled passenger coach services from Port Aux Basques to St. John’s. DRL’s head office is in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; there’s also an office in St. John’s.
Another bus service from Port Aux Basques to St. John’s is Newhook’s Transportation.
A train on the Quebec, North Shore, and Labrador line (Sept-Îles-Schefferville, Quebec) makes one stop in Emeril, Labrador. This isolated line is not connected to the main North American rail network.
Elsewhere, train is no longer an option.
Marine Atlantic ferry service runs from North Sydney to Port aux Basques (on the west coast of the island) throughout the year, and to Argentia (about 90 km from St. John’s) during the summer. The duration of the ride depends on the weather and water conditions, so patience is of the essence. It is advisable to call Marine Atlantic ahead of time to make a reservation.
If you are bringing a U-haul or something other than a passenger vehicle, you will likely be considered a commercial vehicle. Commercial vehicles can only make reservations by doubling the usual fare. It is cheaper to simply take your number, wait in line and hope for the best.
In general, Marine Atlantic Ferries cater to your every whim, carrying food, alcohol, gift shops, cinemas and sleeping accommodations. There will be lots for you to do.
A ferry links St. Barbe (on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula) and Blanc Sablon (on Quebec’s border with Labrador). In winter, the southern terminus of this ferry is Corner Brook.
A passenger ferry links Fortune, Newfoundland & Labrador to Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France).
If you have access to a car, rental or otherwise, this is often the best way to travel the province. Public transportation options are usually limited, especially away from the larger centres, and having a personal vehicle will allow you to reach the nooks and crannies that really make the Newfoundland & Labrador experience an amazing one.
Except for the Trans-Canada Highway (Port Aux Basques–St. John’s), roads in Newfoundland & Labrador are among the worst in Canada, so watch out for potholes and heaved pavement.
If Labrador is your destination, bring an extra can of fuel, a survival kit, food and supplies. The Trans-Labrador Highway is the most challenging stretch of road in the province, and you will need to rely on your own ingenuity if you run into trouble hundreds of kilometres from the nearest settlement, with no mobile telephone coverage anywhere outside Labrador City, Churchill Falls and Goose Bay.
Ensure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape and be prepared to wait several hours in sub-Arctic conditions for assistance in an emergency.
With the exception of the northern territories, fuel in rural Labrador is the most expensive in Canada.
Newfoundland was established as a series of outports – coastal subsistence fishery villages reachable primarily by sea. Many are now accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway or Trans-Labrador Highway. Hundreds more were abandoned in the post-WWII era or became ghost towns, but some remain viable and reachable only by ferry. Many are islands or are in remote locations where the cost of road-building is prohibitive.
Access from Newfoundland to Labrador is primarily by a ferry which runs between Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula and Blanc Sablon, Quebec. There’s also a Labrador coastal ferry which runs seasonally from Lewisporte to a long string of tiny communities as far north as Nunatsiavut:
Nunatsiavut Marine (Northern Ranger): Cargo is no longer carried between Goose Bay – Cartwright – Lewisporte on this run (due to the opening of the Trans-Labrador Highway but this ferry continues to supply some very remote Labrador outports with no road.
DRL Coachlines offers daily scheduled passenger coach services between St. John’s and Port aux Basques on the island.
Another bus service from Port aux Basques to St. John’s is Newhook’s Transportation.
Norpen Bus Service runs a shuttle from Corner Brook and Deer Lake to St. Anthony Airport on Tuesdays & Fridays.
If you wish to move about the province by plane, you can usually do so with a few different companies. Try Air Canada, Provincial Airlines, and Air Labrador.
Rural Newfoundland is known for its seafood and its working-class roots. Rural restaurants offer an over-abundance of “golden foods” (deep-fried) and classically simple fare. And, if you’re a fish and chips lover, you’ll “fill your boots”.
Vegetarians will be hard-pressed to find anything without meat in it, and vegans might want to pack a lunch. That said, in “towns”, you’ll find a few good vegetarian and vegan friendly spots.
Mostly you will see battered cod, “chips dressing and gravy”, dressing being a savory-laced stuffing mixture, fish-and-brewis (pronounced “fish and brews”, salt cod mashed up with a boiled rock-hard sailor’s bread, pork scrunchions, and traditionally drizzled with blackstrap molasses).
Ches’s or the Big R in the greater St. John’s area are good choices here (locals have strong opinions about which is better.)
Jigg’s dinner (also known as corned beef and cabbage) is a traditional one-pot meal consisting of salt beef, root vegetables such as carrot, turnip, parsnip and potato, and cabbage. Also thrown in the pot is a muslin bag of yellow split peas (known as pease pudding), burgers and fries, and seafood chowder.
A big traditional meal is often referred to as “a scoff”, and as Newfoundlanders also love to dance and party, an expression for a dance and a feed is a “scoff and scuff”, which might be accompanied by accordion, guitar, fiddle, a singalong, and a kitchen party.
Kitchen socials are so much a part of Newfoundland culture that even today, many houses are better equipped to receive visitors through the back door (leading to the kitchen) than through the front.
Fish has always been at the heart of Newfoundland culture and even with the collapse of the commercial fisheries, you will find seafood dishes almost everywhere. Cod, halibut, flounder, crab, lobster, squid, mussels, and capelin (a small fish similar to smelt or grunion) are all well represented.
A lot of Newfoundlanders habitually drink tea with evaporated or “canned” milk (a popular brand being Nestle Carnation milk). If you prefer “regular” milk, you usually ask for “tea with fresh milk” and this is, in fact, a good way to spot a Newfoundlander (or at least an Atlantic Province native) in other parts of the country.
An easy excuse to have a friendly chat is to invite someone in for a “cuppa tea”.
You will be in for a “time” (a social gathering) with lots of cheer. This is a province that consumes per capita more alcohol than any other in Canada.
You will find nearly all the alcohol you desire in a Newfoundland bar. George Street in St. John’s, Newfoundland has a reputation for having the most bars per capita in North America. Its largest celebration, George Street Festival, starts in early August and finishes on the Tuesday before Regatta Day.
Newfoundland & Labrador has a wonderful set of regional beers that you cannot find outside of the province. While a number of these are now brewed by the large macrobreweries (Labatt and Molson), some of them are not.
Depending on where you are, you will be able to locate brews with names like Kyle, Killick, Rasberry Wheat Ale, Hemp Ale, India, Black Horse, Jockey Club, Dominion Ale, Quidi Vidi 1892, and Blue Star.
While in Newfoundland, you will also encounter Screech. Screech, a Jamaican-style dark rum, is historically a result of trade between Newfoundland and Jamaica.
Jamaica got the salt cod, Newfoundland got the rum. In all honesty, the rum has been tamed to conform with contemporary liquor laws, especially compared to its much more potent ancestor.
Newfoundland has a quiet but strong tradition of berry wines. Blueberry wine, for those in the know, is as closely associated with Newfoundland tastes as Screech, and for many, maybe a far more palatable first experience. Also be sure to look for partridgeberry, blackberry, cloudberry, and rhubarb wines.
WiFi & Internet
Much of Newfoundland and Labrador is still very much off the beaten path; there are still many outports only reachable by sea using coastal ferries.
While Bell offers adequate UMTS (WCDMA) coverage of most of Newfoundland island (Trans-Canada Highway, Great Northern Peninsula and Burin Peninsula), but cellular coverage of any kind does not exist on the Trans-Labrador outside Labrador City, Churchill Falls, and Goose Bay.
There is little GSM coverage on Newfoundland and nothing in Labrador as Rogers (Canada’s only remaining GSM carrier) covers just Corner Brook and a small fragment of Trans-Canada Highway on the Avalon Peninsula in and around St. John’s.
The only dangers of which tourists should be mindful are related to nature and not to crime. Newfoundland is one of the safest parts of Canada and locals are very helpful to lost or confused tourists.
Watch out for moose on any highway in Newfoundland. There is a large moose population and no fencing or barricades to keep them off the road. Moose collisions can lead to death or serious injury and usually result in the car being destroyed.
Be especially alert on rural highways off of the Trans-Canada Highway, which may have thick brush or trees right on the side of the road. Take special care when driving at night on all highways.
May-November is the peak season for collisions. The Newfoundland and Labrador government maintains a page on highway moose safety.
Fog can move in on highways in coastal areas very quickly and produce an almost whiteout effect. Drive according to weather conditions!
Do not pass beyond marked barricades at tourist destinations on the coast. Tourists have fallen to their deaths (particularly at Cape Spear and Twillingate isle) by going too close to the edge of the rocky cliffs.
Newfoundland is known for its severe snowfalls in wintertime. The western coast (facing the wide-open Gulf of St. Lawrence) and sub-Arctic Labrador are particularly vulnerable.
Some sections of Trans-Labrador Highway may be closed for up to a week in adverse weather, with portions which closely skirt the Atlantic coastline being most exposed. Pack for an extended stay if arriving in winter.
- US Virgin Islands Travel Guide(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Islands of Atlantic Ocean(Opens in a new browser tab)
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