Come to Newfoundland to be charmed with the idyllic Maritime life where even the big city feels like a small one and the fishing villages welcome you like family. This is a place where you come to roam, watch in awe, kick back, and delight the taste-buds.
There’s so much to love about Newfoundland and if you’re thinking about making a dent into this province in Canada, follow along with this 4 day itinerary which is perfect for anyone that’s limited on time, is going to be based in the capital city of St. John’s.
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The Newfoundland & Labrador Travel Basics
- Electricity – 120 volts, 60Hz
- Currency – Canadian Dollars (CAD)
- $1 CAD = $0.76 USD
- ATMs can be found all over and credit cards are accepted in most places
- SIM – The two affordable options are to get a local SIM from someone such as RoamMobility which has free shipping to your hotel or get a wifi hotspot option such as SkyRoam (read my full review)
- Unit of Measure – Meter
- Tipping – Average expectation is 15%
- Language – The official languages are English and French (spoken predominantly in Quebec)
The primary international airport for Newfoundland is the St. John’s International Airport (YYT) and it is serviced daily by Air Canada, WestJet and Porter Airlines.
Direct flights to St. John’s come from Halifax, Toronto, London, and Dublin.
While St. John’s is the main international hub for Newfoundland and Labrador, there are airlines fly from Toronto and Halifax to Deer Lake and Gander on a daily basis.
Getting around Newfoundland
It should be no surprise that a rental car is absolutely mandatory when coming to Newfoundland. You’re coming out here to road trip and so when you land in St. John’s, make sure you grab a car at any one of the major companies. When you do, just make sure you save money by using one of the many coupon codes that I’ve consolidated.
Where to stay
If you’re like me, the easiest place to start your adventures in the province is in St. John’s and when limited on time, you’ll undoubtedly be looking for a place to stay in the city. Personally, I stayed at the JAG Boutique Hotel and is somewhere I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a new, quality, clean, and convenient hotel in the city.
Make sure to watch my video walkthrough of the property to get a feel for this rock-inspired property.
Best time to go
Newfoundland gets pretty cold in the winter and the winters are long. As a result, the window for good weather ends up being small but when you’re able to go, you’ll be kicking yourself for not going earlier.
July – September
This is the best time to go because the temperatures rises up to the mid 20’s (celsius/70F) and this is also the time when wildlife and iceberg sightings are the most active. This means you’ll have a really good chance of seeing puffins, whales, and these small fish called capelin that roll onto the beaches. Summer is when all the locals come out as well and there are a ton of great festivals to go to.
May – June and October – November
These are considered to be the shoulder seasons for Newfoundland and there are still great opportunities to explore the province but the weather starts getting a little iffy before the snow starts hitting. What’s great about coming this time of the year is that it’ll be low seasons so there won’t be crowds anywhere so hotels will be cheaper and you won’t have to worry as much about booking things in advance. On the other hand, many of the summer attractions that are away from St. John’s may or may not be closed for the season.
Newfoundland & Labrador geography
I think the biggest thing I underestimated when planning our trip to Newfoundland was just the sheer size of the province. If you’re coming to Newfoundland for 4 or even 5 days, there’s simply no way you can see everything. There’s too much distance to cover and not enough time.
This should help put things into perspective. The below is a map of the primary regions of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s is on the bottom right corner and belongs to the Avalon region. The world-famous Gros Morne National Park is near Deer Lake and is in between the Western and Northern regions. The drive from St. John’s to Gros Morne is 6.5 hours so basically a full just to get there.
Where trip planning gets complicated is when you start looking at all the spots you can stop along the way and when you add it all up, you’ll realize that you’d never make it all the way to Deer Lake.
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Your 4 Day Itinerary in Newfoundland
I had the opportunity to explore Newfoundland from St. John’s in the month of May and this chronicles our 4 days there. It’s meant to be a guideline but it shows you how you can effectively plan a route in the area around the capital city.
As I mentioned in the section above, what I loved about coming this time of the year was that we didn’t have to face any crowds anywhere we went. In fact, most spots we went to explore were limited to just us and maybe 2-3 other cars. The downside of May was that shops were only starting to open past Victoria Day long weekend and it wasn’t the right season for puffins, whales, and dolphins. We also had colder temperatures to deal with so most of the time we had our jackets on as it was never warmer than 15C/60F. Oh and it was also insanely windy but I’ll get to that later.
Day 1 – Welcome To Newfoundland
Your first day in St. John’s is packed one and it involves a full taste of everything that the city and the surrounding parts of the Avalon region. This is also the perfect day for anyone that only has one day in St. John’s and want to get a taste of Newfoundland.
For the full details of the day, I already have it broken out in detail so head over to the 1 day itinerary from St. John’s.
What you’ll see:
- Cape Spear
- Irish Loop
- Petty Harbour
- Quidi Vidi Harbour
- St. John’s
- Jelly Bean Row
- Signal Hill
What you’ll do:
Where you’ll eat:
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Day 2 – An Off Rainy Day
With such a packed first day, you’ll want to take it easy for the second day and either re-visit some of the things that you missed or wanted to see again in St. John’s. Another reason for the slow-paced second day for us was due to the weather. Rain was in the forecast so the truth is we had to re-arrange some of our plans.
I started off the second day heading back out to Signal Hill. Our first visit up there was really windy so we decided to head back except this time we got to meet a big furry Newfoundland dog. Another reason to head back up to Signal Hill was to get that iconic shot of St. John’s and all the colourful houses on the hill. Signal Hill isn’t necessarily the only place you can get this shot but is probably the easiest. The trail you’re looking for is around Deadman’s Pond which leads out to a viewing platform of the city.
With the rain starting, we explored what we could of the city, making stops at Jelly Bean Row for a few more photos, Newfoundland Chocolate Company, and a few other souvenir stores we passed by. For lunch we ate at a local brewery called Yellowbelly Brewery and ordered one of their poutines and benedict paired with the Wexford Wheat beer. The food itself was forgettable but we quite enjoyed the classic wheat ale.
Late in the afternoon, we didn’t feel like sitting around and so we took our car and headed up north towards Pouch Cove which is near the most northern tip of the peninsula that St. John’s is on. The rain started to come down hard at this point but managed to sneak a few photos of this fishing village.
For dinner went to the highly rated Piatto Pizzeria in town and instantly became huge fans of their authentic wood-fired thin-crust pizza and even better, their Nutella dessert pizza.
What you’ll see:
- St. John’s
- Signal Hill
- Jelly Bean Row
- Downtown St. John’s
- Pouch Cove
Where you’ll eat:
Day 3 – The Race to Bonavista
I call it a race but really it worked out quite well for us to head up to Bonavista which is all the way over in the Eastern region of Newfoundland.
In my research, Bonavista and that whole peninsula came up time and time again. Friends recommended it as well. The question however was whether we could do it as a day trip and that’s where I stumped most people. Mapping it all out, it seemed possible so we decided to give it a shot. What makes it an ambitious day trip is that 3.5 hour drive so 7 hours there and back but is totally worth it.
We started off working our way all the way from the tip which is where you’ll find the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. We didn’t spend the money to climb up the lighthouse but the the views of the Atlantic and the craggy coastline back towards Bonavista were just brilliant. This part reminded me of Ireland and Iceland the most. The rugged and seemingly untouched terrain made me want to stop every few metres to take a photo of the landscape where water met land. From here you’re only minutes away from The Dungeon which is this big natural bridge has formed as a result of the collapse of a sea cave.
Bonavista itself is a picturesque oceanside village that’s larger than most and as a result you could see in action many fishing boats heading out into the water or unloading their catches. It’s also a village of significant history with the Ryan Premises National Historic Site which we unfortunately had to skip.
Incredibly hungry, we wanted to find food at this point but because it was a Sunday and since it was still considered to be pre-summer season, most places were closed. Cliff Bars came to the rescue and we continued our adventuring. What I didn’t mention is that we actually heard from the Ranger at the lighthouse that a iceberg was spotted and was still in sight from Bonavista. We drove into a local community where we could get a better view of the iceberg and ended up flying the drone and watching it float slowly from a distance. It’s also in this community where I spotted real clothes on a line to help re-enact those beautiful scenes you see in the tourism board’s commercials.
While there weren’t many restaurants open in Bonavista we did find Sweet Rock Ice Cream which is a must-visit spot when you come here. The ice cream here is phenomenal especially with the cookies and cream packed with big chunks of cookie bits and the freshest cream imaginable.
To round out the day, we made our way over to what’s labelled as “Puffin Viewing Site” on Google Maps and when we got there it was literally that. Outstretched into the water is an arm that juts into the water where you can walk out. Eventually you get to the end and there’s this bird island that must’ve been at one point connected to the main arm. We waited patiently to see if any puffins would pop out of their holes but all we got were a lot of seagulls.
Hungry for food, we passed by Sandy Cove Beach on the way south and lined up with all the other locals that were hungry for burgers and fries.
There was a long drive ahead and it had gotten pretty late at that point so we made a quick stop to the town of Trinity just to get a feel for what this charming small village was like before racing back to St. John’s.
For dinner we grabbed takeout at a local fish & chips joint called Ches’s. Walking in was literally like going into any fast food restaurant and since the restaurant was closing, we ate it at our hotel. Overall, we weren’t that impressed with the fish and chips as we found the fish quite dry and the fries a tad oily.
It wasn’t as rushed as I thought it’d be because we really didn’t pack it in but I was able to prove that Bonavista is certainly do-able as a day trip. We definitely missed a bunch of things like the Skerwink Trail but I was still very happy with how it all worked out.
I now understand why Bonavista is high on everyone’s list. The peninsula is packed with gorgeous outdoor scenery and there’s equally a good amount of historical and cultural gems embedded into the fabric of towns like Bonavista itself, Trinity, and others that I missed along the way.
What you’ll see:
- Cape Bonavista Lighthouse
- Dungeon Provincial Park – The Dungeon
- Iceberg spotting
- Puffin viewing site in Elliston
Where you’ll eat:
Day 4 – The Irish Loop
For the grand finale, we had to put together a day that would satisfy a little bit of everything but had to be short enough for us to be able to head back to the airport by 6PM. So we ended up deciding to see if we could do the full Irish Loop (instead of the quarter loop we did on the first day) and try to see a few spots we missed the first time around.
The Irish Loop is a popular route that takes you around the main part of the Avalon region where for half of it follows the coastline and the other half goes inland and near the Avalon Wilderness Reserve. What I learned about the route is that you kind of need to know where to stop as it’s not always obvious. The reason is that there could be a really great view of a cove but unless you know about it, you’re not necessarily going to detour off the main loop to go see it. There aren’t really any tourist signs for good viewpoints so you have to know about them beforehand or be willing to explore.
We started off the day a little late and so by the time we got on the loop, it was close to lunch which made it the perfect time to go to Chafe’s Landing in Petty Harbour. I’m glad we came back because this restaurant featured in Anthony Bourdain’s (RIP) Parts Unknown was simply astounding. Comparing the fish & chips we had here versus Ches’s, it wasn’t even close. The quality of the fish was 10x better and the batter was 10x better. It was simply a heavenly experience.
Continuing to drive south on the loop, we passed by a lot of familiar sights. We then ended up in Ferryland which houses the town’s famous lighthouse. There were quite a number of scenic points here and so we stopped in a few areas which included going off-road to get closer towards the lighthouse.
The roadtrip continued but as we continued we realized that we were going to be short on time and that we’d have to double back at some point. Instead of gambling on making it back to the airport right on time, we decided to turn around and head back into St. John’s.
Having a bit of extra time to work with, we treated ourself to another ice creamery except this time called Moo Moo’s which is cutely decorated in cow patterned paint all over the exterior of the store and parking lot. It’s a bit of an odd space inside as it’s way larger than it needs to be since I’m pretty sure it was a convenient store before but I’m not complaining because the cookie dough definitely hit the spot.
What you’ll see:
- Petty Harbour
Where you’ll eat:
The whole experience
Coming out of this 4 day trip, I now have a way better appreciation for the beauty of the land and people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Seeing commercials of it is one thing but to see it first-hand is completely different.
What I’ve been telling people since the trip is that it really does feel familiar like my roadtrips through Ireland and Iceland where rugged landscapes and untapped beauty dominate the land as you pass one small village after another.
This is the kind of trip where yes, you can do some research ahead of time and map out key spots you want to see but the rest you kind of leave to chance and whatever the road brings you. You might spot an iceberg like we did and spend an extra hour in Bonavista or you might accidentally turn into a cove that you want to see more of. You never know!
The parting feeling I got once I landed back home was that I wanted to go back to see more. 4 days is a good teaser for what the province has to offer but you really need 2 weeks at least to see and do all the other best things that we didn’t even get close to.
Get the Custom Newfoundland Google Map
As part of the trip planning process, I found that the easiest way to keep track of it all was on a custom Google Map. What I did was I created a custom map that pins every single spot I visited or was recommended to me and couldn’t make.