The Most Beautiful City in Canada: St. John’s, Newfoundland
I’ve been lucky enough to get to visit many of Canada’s best and brightest cities, but I am of the opinion that St. John’s, Newfoundland – jutting out boldly into the Atlantic – is in fact the most beautiful city in the country.
I lived in St. John’s for nearly four years to attend Memorial University for my undergrad. You may say – “Ah! That makes you biased!” but that would only tell me that you’ve never spent the months of November to April in St. John’s when the city… does not show it’s best side.
The winter can indeed be brutal – and seems to go on indefinitely. Snow at Halloween was not unusual, and generally I’d be home again after exams in the spring while snow was still on the ground in St. John’s. Nonetheless – I will defend my position. St. John’s has the perfect mix of high test food, cute houses, dramatic geography and scenery, friendly people, and endless outdoor adventures to make it the best city in Canada to visit and the most beautiful at that.
St. John’s sits at the foot of the harbour, and the little space between the rocks where the boats come in is called The Narrows. Small boats familiar with the harbour called Pilot Boats are required to guide big ships in between the dangerous rocks when they come to dock in the city.
There is a neighbourhood at the base of the city, near the water, called The Battery, that is home to tiny colourful houses that cling to the cliff. The East Coast Trail – a series of walking trails on the east coast of Newfoundland – takes you right through the Battery and up Signal Hill, crossing the doorsteps of these little houses on the way.
The view from Signal Hill at sunset or sunrise is worth the climb. In the summer, we would climb the hill, and then pick wild blueberries on the way back down.
There are so many places in St. John’s to get a good view of the city. From Signal Hill, you’ll look back on the city proper. But from The Rooms, the city’s foremost gallery and museum, you’ll be able to look back on the Narrows, the Battery, and Signal Hill, and see the ships maneuvering their way into the harbour.
In the summer, Water Street turns into a pedestrian zone and patios are installed at nearly every restaurant (and there are dozens to choose from!). Grab a seat at Blue on Water for cocktails and fresh fish, or at the Merchant Tavern for any pasta dish.
For a city that used to be known only for deep fried fish and chips, the city’s food scene has rocketed to perfection and now when we visit St. John’s, it’s primarily just to walk and eat!
Just minutes outside of the city are dozens of additional sites to extend a city weekend break into a full on week’s vacation. Head to Cape Spear National Historic Site to get yet another view back into the city, and explore the lighthouse.
Petty Harbour is a fully functional fishing village, complete with colourful boats. From the patio of Chafe’s restaurant, you can watch the fisherman bring their catch right into the kitchen for you to enjoy, along with the sounds of traditional Newfoundland folk music from inside.
Middle Cove and Topsail Beach, both within 30 minutes of St. John’s, are perhaps not great for swimming (unless you’ve brought your wetsuit – this is the North Atlantic) but excellent for people watching and catching sight of the massive waves that wash ashore.
The classic St. John’s row houses will delight any tourist. Check out Gower Street and the surrounding areas to get a real sense of Jellybean Row. In the long winters of my undergrad, the colours of the houses might be the only spot of brightness on a dreary day!
Top notch food, beautiful, dramatic scenery, endless exploring, and cheerful people. Who needs Toronto when you can hang out – literally – right into the North Atlantic?