Jellybean-colored houses line the streets leading down to the harbor. Mermaids cavort at different places around town, including outside the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. And larger-than-life Newfoundland dogs win the hearts of everyone they meet. St. John’s, Newfoundland, is an otherworldly place – one where fairies exist, where the fog physically rolls in, and where a Rock becomes home because of the friendly people.
St. John’s is a harbor town, and fishing (and seafood!) is part of daily life. You’ll see this in the activities you can do and lighthouses you can explore, as well as in its history, art, and food. One visit won’t be enough – this city has layers, like an archaeological dig, and you and your kids will want to keep discovering them.
While there are many, many things for families to do here in St. John’s, here are my top 4 recommendations, as well as 1 great place to eat and 1 great place to stay while visiting Newfoundland with kids.
Activity 1: Explore Local History at “The Rooms”
I’d head here as soon as you can, when you arrive in St. John’s. Why? This natural history museum provides a good overview of the history, landscape, and people – and will make your experiences here much richer. Once you know the background of a place, you’ll be more interested the whole time you’re there. This is no exception! You can make snow goggles, try on snow shoes, and more – a whole slew of other interactive activities await. You’ll also see a polar bear, wild animals, a giant squid, enormous sea creature skeletons, and trilobites. You can read more about The Rooms in my review, here.
Tip: Try some Traditional Newfoundland Toutons (fried dough balls with molasses) at the Rooms Café, perfect for hungry kids (and their parents).
Activity 2: Eat a Chocolate Meal While Experiencing History
The visitor centre out at Signal Hill has a pretty special café – the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Café! Here, you can have sandwiches with chocolate in them, mole tacos, gelato, chocolate fondue, and chocolates – along with hot chocolate. Time it right to see the Signal Hill Tattoo, hear the boom of the noon day cannon, take a Chocolate Hike, or even come around dusk to take a hike with the ghosts of Signal Hill. Whatever you choose, your tummies will be happy. Follow this link for more details about Signal Hill and the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Cafe.
Activity 3: Head East!
Just a few miles southeast of St. John’s is Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America. Your kids can say, “next stop, Ireland!” as they pose next to the sign, or peer over the rocky cliffs. Cape Spear has trails that lead past WWII bunkers, along narrow paths atop cliffs (don’t worry, you’re further from the edge than you think), and through flowers and bracken. You can also head to not one, but two lighthouses there. You can enter the smaller, square-shaped lighthouse and see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived. It’s also a place to run and play, to listen to the waves crash against the rocky shore, and to picnic outside, weather permitting.
Activity 4: Watch for Whales and Puffins
What else, on an island known as the Rock, would you do? Head out to sea to go whale watching and view hundreds of thousands of sea birds, including puffins. This is on many people’s bucket lists – and how awesome for your kids to experience it while young! Drive 15 minutes down to Bay Bulls and take a whale and puffin cruise with O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours. There are several options for tours – we took the three hour one, and it was perfect.
We saw whales (a mom and two “babies” that were almost as big as the boat!) frolic in the water for almost an hour. Then we headed to Puffin Island, where we saw (and smelled) a variety of sea birds, including puffins (which are really tiny, and burrow (!) into the earth for their nests). Kids of all ages were delighted by the antics of the whales – and the funny and interesting commentary of the guide. Make your reservations ahead of time to ensure your space on the boat. Click here to find out more about Whale Watching Tours in Newfoundland.
1 Great Place to Eat: Ches’s
You know it’s a good place when people from away head here before going to visit their relatives. Ches’s Fish and Chips is the best fish and chips in town, serving freshly caught fish and plenty of it. If you want to go local, get it with dressing and gravy – sort of a thanksgiving fish and chips combo. There are other items on the menu, but why bother when they serve the best? Once you finish, you can ask for a certificate stating you’ve tasted the finest fish & chips to be found in all of Newfoundland and Labrador. For more about Ches’s and other restaurant recommendations, see my “Top 10 Family-Friendly Restaurants in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Tip: Try the pineapple crush – our daughter likened it to crushed pineapple dum dums, and save room for dessert – not only will the waitress bring around tiny cupcakes, but you can also order lemon meringue pie, made daily.
1 Great Place to Stay: JAG
Your kids will feel very cool staying at this rock star hotel, where the elevators are to the right of Ray Charles. The walls are splashed with photos of musicians, the fresh flowers are funky, and the rooms, well, they are definitely family-friendly. You’ll note the Keurig, a small refrigerator for snacks, comfy chairs, even comfier beds, and a shower they won’t want to leave. This boutique hotel charms in so many ways, including daily chocolates from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, and the attentive staff is very kind to all guests, but especially to families. Located right at the east end of downtown, the JAG Hotel makes exploring St. John’s easy. You can follow this link to see more photos and read my full review of JAG Hotel.