8 things to do in Newfoundland, Canada

Newfoundland in eastern Canada is the perfect getaway for travellers wanting to explore the rugged Atlantic coastline before retreating to a cosy pub for the evening.

By Kieran Meeke

Published 15 May 2024

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) is the most eastern province of Canada, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Labrador is on mainland Canada while Newfoundland is a large island, and it's on this island and the smaller islands surrounding it where most of the NL population live.

Made up of the island of Newfoundland (called The Rock by locals), countless small islands and Labrador on the mainland, the province earns its wealth through the oil and gas industry and mineral exploration. Tourism is also a mainstay, with the rugged Atlantic coastline adding to the area’s natural beauty.

This Norse archaeological site at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The remains of a Viking village were found here in 1960 and dated to almost 1000 years earlier, the first known European settlement in the Americas.

Three halls and five smaller buildings have been preserved, while Viking re-enactors help bring a village of reconstructed sod huts to life. Must-do: Join one of the costumed tour guides to learn more about the Norse history of this unique site.

The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador was settled by the British in the 1600s and in many ways retains the feel of a small English town – apart from the Irish accent of the locals.

Its small size, colourful 'Jellybean' row houses and working harbour make walking around a delight, while its pubs and restaurants are cosy escapes from any Atlantic weather.

The port-within-a-port of Quidi Vidi is even more of a small fishing village, albeit with its own brewery, looking like it could be in Cornwall or Kerry.

Must-do: Enjoy the view of St John’s from the fourth floor cafe at The Rooms, a museum, art gallery and gift shop in a beautiful building.

The world’s first transatlantic wireless signal was heard here by inventor Guglielmo Marconi in 1901.

He chose St John’s as it is almost the closest point to Europe in North America, with the signal being sent from Cornwall. (Marconi later built another wireless station at Cape Race in 1904, the first to receive an SOS message from the Titanic in 1912.)

Cabot Tower on the hill tells the story, and also has a gift shop and amateur radio station for use by qualified visitors.

Signal Hill overlooks the harbour of St John’s and the walk to the top is a scenic one.

Must-see: The Johnson Geo Centre near the foot of the hill is an enjoyable geology museum that also holds artefacts from the Titanic.

Did you know?

Newfoundland was first colonised by Europeans around 1000 AD, when the Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean and discovered the landmass they would name Vinland.

A short drive from St John’s and dominated by its historic lighthouse of 1836, this is the most easterly point of North America.

Blustery Atlantic winds mean many people linger only long enough for the photo opportunity, but it is a scenic cliffside spot where you might see icebergs, whales or porpoises.

An interesting exhibition in the lighthouse, the oldest surviving in Newfoundland and Labrador, details its history and the life of its former keepers.

Must-do: Wrap up warm and get up early (watch for moose on the road) to see the sun rise over North America.

Did you know?

Thanks to an influx of Irish workers in the 18th and early 19th centuries to work in the fisheries there's a slightly Irish feel to Newfoundland, with the Irish settlers having left a permanent mark on Newfoundland’s accent and culture, particularly its music.

Some 20 species of whales – humpbacks, minke, sperm, orca and blue among others – pass along the Newfoundland coast between May and September.

You can see them from viewpoints and hiking trials onshore or in tours by kayak or boat.

Fast boats provide the chance to see them close-up, and also visit some of the puffin and other busy seabird colonies of the coast. Choosing the right time of year is important, with spring and early summer being the right season to potentially add icebergs to the spectacle.

Must-do: Toast your nautical adventure with a glass of iceberg water, vodka or beer.

The glacial fjords, cliffs, waterfalls and rocks of this ancient landscape are another local Unesco World Heritage Site and its geology is a primer in the concept of plate tectonics.

Hiking this western coast of Newfoundland is rewarded by spectacular views of sea and more, with wildlife that includes many bird species and bigger fauna such as moose and caribou.

Exploring by kayak is also popular, with guided tours available. Several small towns have excellent lodging and restaurants as well as a reputation for intimate arts festivals that cover writing, music and theatre.

Must-see: The Tablelands is a unique, desert-like area of ancient rocks from deep within the earth that are too poor in minerals to support much plant life.

This desolate spot on the coast of Labrador was a whaling station for only a short time in the late 16th century before the local whale population collapsed. Happily, you can perhaps now see them again here in season offshore.

The station was set up to produce oil, shipped to Europe for lighting, and a small museum tells the story of its rise and fall. A drive-on/drive-on ferry operates across the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland between May and early January.

Must-do: Hike around Saddle Island and imagine what life must have been like for these early arrivals, 150 of whom are buried here.

The small town of Gander was a major air link to Europe during World War II and is now home to the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, which highlights Gander's role in Trans-Atlantic aviation.

The town's airport became important again on 9/11, when 7,000 passengers were diverted and left stranded following the closure of North American airspace. In a remarkable display of compassion, the townspeople opened their homes and businesses to the stranded passengers and kept them fed, clothed and housed until the airspace reopened five days later. The story went on to be immortalised in the stage musical Come From Away, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2017.

Travel tip

The weather is notoriously changeable, with one verse of the provincial anthem Ode to Newfoundland starting: When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore / And wild waves lash thy strand. In fairness, another verse refers to the glories of summer. However, it is a place where four seasons can be expected in one day, so dress accordingly.

Explore our wide range of holidays to Canada, including an escorted tour of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

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