10 must-see sites in Newfoundland and Labrador

Change Islands
Change Islands

Newfoundland and Labrador, located on the northeast corner of Canada and looking out on the Atlantic Ocean toward Ireland, can feel like the end of the earth. Though it’s only a three-hour flight from Boston, it defines the word “escape.” Here are 10 spots you won’t soon forget, even if you see them only once.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this vast, 1,121-mile park showcases lush forests, barren cliffs, beaches, alpine highlands, and sheer gorges. Explore the barren red Tablelands, an exposed chunk of the earth’s mantle, which was thrust up by the collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago. Hike the Green Gardens Trail, which descends through boreal forests to a fertile volcanic seacoast, or climb through the Long Range Mountains. Explore Western Brook Pond Fjord, carved by glaciers 485 million years ago. Kayak or canoe through the area, or take a tour boat for close-up views of towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls. Spend the night on the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, or the ocean at one of the park’s campgrounds. Check out the nearby communities of Woody Point, Norris Point, and Cow Head, which have vibrant music, theater, festival, and culinary scenes.

Western Brook Pond Fjord, Gros Morne National Park

Leif Erickson and Norse explorers landed at L’Anse aux Meadows more than 1000 years ago. Today it is North America’s only authenticated Viking Settlement. Let a guide lead you on a tour of Viking ruins and experience what life was like in a Viking encampment in 1000 AD.

The capital city of St. John’s bustles with shops, galleries, music, theater, and award-winning restaurants. Don’t miss the charming fishing village of Quidi Vidi or the colorful jellybean rowhouses lining the steep hillsides. For breathtaking views, ascend Signal Hill, the site of the castle-like Cabot Tower, which was built to commemorate John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland. The first transatlantic wireless message was received there in 1901.  The Rooms is home to the Provincial Museum, Art Gallery, and Archives. Visit the 150-year-old Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site and catch the first sunrise in North America from the continent’s most easterly point. At nearby Fort Cape Spear, see the remnants of the World War II coastal defense battery. Hike part of the East Coast Trail, a 335-mile trail that lines the coast, to glimpse breathtaking ocean views, whales, and majestic icebergs.

St. John’s

Located off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Fogo Island features dramatic sea and stone landscapes. The Fogo Island Inn, a sleek, Nordic-style hotel perched on the ocean’s edge, is home to one of Canada’s best restaurants. Wander amongst tall, lush grasses in Tilting and see the National Historic Site settled by the Irish in the 18th century. Get to Fogo by taking a ferry from Farewell, which is an hour drive from Twillingate. From Fogo, take the ferry through Notre Dame Bay to Change Islands, home to charming towns, historic sites, granite outcroppings, and lush gardens. Walk through the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary, which breeds the endangered Newfoundland Pony. With their thick manes, heavy coats, and close-set legs, this unique breed is an integral part of the local heritage.

If you long to get off the grid, take the one-hour boat ride from Mary’s Harbour to Battle Harbour National Historic District, which has no power lines, cell towers, cars, or paved roads. A restored, 19th-century fishing village on a small island in the Labrador Sea off the southeast coast of Labrador, it was regarded for generations as the salt fish capital of the world. Spend the night in one of the island’s restored houses. Without the barrage of modern distractions, soak up the area’s rugged beauty, dramatic vistas, icebergs, and whales. Hike the island trails to see Arctic vegetation and rock formations. Without street lights, it’s the perfect spot for stargazing and to take in the northern lights.

Battle Harbour National Historic District

When explorer John Cabot landed here in 1497, he said “O buono vista!” which means, “Oh happy sight!”  Historic houses, pebble beaches, and dense forests hug the area’s rocky shores. Go to the Dungeon Provincial Park to see a collapsed sea cave, and where years of erosion have created sheer cliffs. At the harbour, step inside a full-scale replica of the Matthew, Cabot’s ship. Catch a glimpse of 10,000-year-old icebergs from the top of the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site. Head to the Ryan Premises National Historic Site and Bonavista Museum on the waterfront to learn about the local salt fish trade. At the nearby Mockbeggar Plantation Provincial Historic Site hear the story of the battle for Confederation.

Just a 30-minute drive south from St. John’s are Bay Bulls and Witless Bay, the best destinations to spot whales and rare birds migrating to nearby nesting and feeding grounds. Explore the area by kayak, open Zodiac or touring boat. Don’t miss the world-renowned Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to North America’s largest Atlantic Puffin colony, with more than 250,000 nesting pairs. Visit the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland founded in 1621 by Lord Baltimore, before he moved on to Maryland. At Ferryland Head, accessible by a walking and hiking trail, enjoy views from the lighthouse, and a delicious lunch from award-winning Lighthouse Picnics, as you watch passing whales, seabirds, and icebergs.

Breaching Humpback Whale, Witless Bay

Known for being the location for the 2001 film The Shipping News, Trinity is home to museums, galleries, restored 19th century buildings, and top-rated restaurants. Located on the Bonavista Peninsula, it is a three-hour drive from St. John’s, and one hour from Gander.  At the New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant, take a scenic walking tour through historic shops, homes, churches, and cemeteries, led by actors from the local Rising Tide Theatre. Enjoy meals prepared by award-winning chefs in the Fishers Loft, Twine Loft at the Artisan Inn, or the Bonavista Social Club in Upper Amherst Cove. Hike the popular Skerwink Trail, a 3.2 mile loop lined with granite slopes and spectacular beaches that offers views of seabirds, whales, beaches, caves, and arches.

About 60 miles north of Gander, on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland, Twillingate has the rugged coastlines and lush countrysides that have put Newfoundland and Labrador on so many people’s bucket lists. Take a boat tour to see some of the gigantic masses of ice that have made the area the “Iceberg Capital of the World.” The Long Point Lighthouse offers panoramic views of Notre Dame Bay. Explore the area by foot on one of the many scenic walking trails and hiking tours. To get a sense of the history of the area, head to the historic Twillingate, Durrell, Prime Berth, and Northeast Church Heritage museums. If you’re there during the last weekend of July, don’t miss the annual Fish, Fun and Folk Festival, which includes parades, bonfires, fireworks, concerts, and more.

Iceberg Alley, Twillingate

This spectacular 6,027-square-mile wilderness is on the northern tip of Labrador, and stretches from the Atlantic coast to the border of Québec. It’s easy to see why it’s named for the Inuktitut word meaning “place of spirits.” Teeming with mountains, polar bears, glaciers, and caribou, the Inuit still hunt, fish, and travel there, just as their ancestors have for thousands of years. Parks Canada provides interpretive programs, visitor reception, orientation services, and safety briefings at the Torngat Mountains Base Camp. Because the park is so remote—there are no roads, campgrounds, or signs— Parks Canada recommends that visitors hire a trained Inuit polar bear guard to explore the area. Overnight and multiday excursions with various levels of amenities are available, and you can tour the park by air (helicopter) or by sea (boat).

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