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Oct 5, 2023

9 min. read

St. John’s is a delightful mix of contradictions and complements. It’s large enough to offer vibrant food and cultural scenes, yet small enough to explore by foot in a couple of hours. Between the colour-pop houses of Jellybean Row and the possibility of spotting icebergs, seals and spouting whales near coastal trails, this city had me hooked right from my first visit.

The streets of St. John’s are built at angles fit for ski slopes, and the weather gods cycle through every season most days, but nothing stops the locals from getting out and having fun. Live music festivals, wharf-fresh seafood and friendly banter at every turn keep visitors coming back year after year. For this trip, I’m eager for new experiences at rural spots just outside of the city and an excursion to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon—two pebbles on a rocky archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland.

Row of colorful townhouses with vibrant facades under a clear sky.


One of the best ways to get to know a place is through its food. I start off by venturing down to dine bar-side at Terre, a restaurant that’s located conveniently (for me), in the lobby of the Alt Hotel, where I am staying. Chef Matthew Swift, whose pedigree includes stints at Montreal’s Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillon, helms the kitchen and is committed to the wild, farmed and fished resources of the region. The herbs, garnishes and greens are as local as it gets—Swift grows them on the hotel deck in his greenhouse and garden

Modern lobby with a colorful mosaic wall art and oval-shaped seating.

To delve deeper into Newfoundland’s foodways, I take a 45-minute drive to Lori McCarthy’s woodland home in Mobile, on the Avalon Peninsula.

McCarthy is a forager, outdoors-woman, award-winning author and host of the culinary-adventure TV show The East Coast Forager. Her residencies, called Food Culture Place, get people rolling up their sleeves to try everything from pickling to butchery to campfire-making—with lots of stories and sampling along the way. Shortly after my arrival, McCarthy hands me an antique teacup (her grandmother’s) to fill with an infusion of my own choosing. Her Irish setter, Tessa, looks on as McCarthy and I chat while preparing a lunch spread of hearty beans, golden-topped cod cakes and warm baked goods with tart partridgeberry jam.


Next, I visit Petty Harbour—only 15 minutes away from St. John’s and the birthplace of award-winning musician Alan Doyle. These days, it’s home to Janet Harron, a craft vinegar maker who gives heritage tours.

Harron strides through Petty Harbour in combat pants, her long silver hair flying from beneath a bucket hat, as she shares insider stories of community life. We take in the bridge that once divided Catholic and Protestant residents and the Fishing for Success building, where wooden boat and handline fishing traditions are kept alive. Our tour ends inside the Petty Harbour Fisherman’s Co-Operative Society building, where Janet makes her stout-fed vinegar. I sample the sharp and caramelly condiment, while looking at black-and-white photos of local scenes, including cheeky kids cutting cod tongues at the fish plant for pocket money.

Grilled bok choy topped with chili peppers and a savory garnish, served on a blue plate.

That evening, I have reservations at Portage, a new St. John’s restaurant opened by alumni from Raymonds, the recently shuttered fine-dining spot that put Newfoundland cuisine on the world map. The Portage menu draws on the Asian culinary heritage of chef Celeste Mah, as well as the local sensibilities of Newfoundland-born-and-raised Ross Larkin, season six winner of Top Chef Canada. Here, the kelly green dining room is homey, the servers chatty and the dishes made for sharing.


On my last day in the city, I go shopping. At St. John’s Farmers’ Market, I browse stamped butter knives, cardamom-infused sugar cubes and colourful hand-stitched journals.

Exterior view of st. john's community center on a clear day.

Later, I head downtown to Rosemill Antiques & Collectibles, on the recommendation of friends. “We sell everything here, from a baby’s fart to a clap of thunder,” says owner Rick Clarke. While I didn’t find those, this place is full of treasures—just like the city itself.

Hit up the Rock.

Take a trip to St. John’s and make planning easy by connecting with a CAA Travel Consultant for expert travel advice and helpful tips. Enjoy Member-exclusive savings and earn CAA Dollars on dining, shopping, car rentals and hotel stays along the way. Visit CAA Rewards for a complete list of partners.

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