I’m thrilled to share with you my favourite things to do in Shippagan, New Brunswick.
Although we are now based in British Columbia, Shippagan is my hometown and I lived there for many years. I still have family in the area and visit when I can.
While I may be a little biased, I think Shippagan is an underrated destination for a relaxing coastal escape.
The ocean is never too far away (and is warm enough to swim in), the beaches are beautiful and the seafood is the tastiest anywhere in the Maritimes. The cycling opportunities are impressive too.
On the cultural side, Shippagan is an interesting place to become immersed in Acadian culture and French language. As a proud Acadian, I would love more Canadians (and international visitors) to learn about our story.
Shippagan can also be a convenient base for exploring the rest of the Acadian Peninsula. Most attractions are within 45 minutes drive.
No matter your reason for visiting, I hope this guide to the best things to do in Shippagan proves helpful in your travel planning.
Published November 2023
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Shippagan, New Brunswick
Shippagan is a small town (pop 2,600) situated on the Acadian Peninsula, northeast New Brunswick, Canada. Part of Mi’kma’ki, the region is located on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq.
A Jesuit mission and trading post was established in this area in the mid-17th century.
The community of Shippagan was established in 1790. The founders were Jean Mallet, Marie Josephte Duguay and the Robichaux family of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, all Acadians.
Acadians are the descendants of French settlers who started arriving in Eastern Canada in the 17th century. ‘Acadia’ (place of plenty) was the given name for the new colony.
Despite being well established in the Maritimes by the mid-18th century, the Acadians were targeted and later deported by the British for refusing to join their cause against the French.
Some Acadians managed to escape to other areas of the Maritimes, such as the Robichaux family.
Shippagan’s name comes from the Mi’kmaq word Sepaguncheech, meaning ‘duck way.’ This referred to the passage between Lamèque Island (which sits just north of Shippagan) and the mainland.
Today, Shippagan remains a proud Acadian community. Bordered by the ocean to the north and peatland to the south, natural resources provide the main local industries (fishing and peat harvesting). Shippagan is home to New Brunswick’s largest commercial fishing fleet.
French is the primary spoken language in Shippagan. Most people learn some English at school, but since French is the day-to-day language, they may not speak or hear it very often. I was not fluent in English before I left home and travelled outside the Peninsula.
I would recommend learning a few basic words of French before you go. Combined with the locals’ knowledge of English (the majority of people will make an effort), you should be able to get around fine.
Best things to do in Shippagan, New Brunswick
Now that I’ve explained a little about the town’s history, it’s time to share the best things to do in Shippagan, New Brunswick.
The following suggestions are based on my own experience living in Shippagan and recently visiting. The map below shows all of the places mentioned.
Visit the Shippagan Lighthouse (Portage Island Range Rear Lighthouse)
A trip to Shippagan just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the lighthouse near the marina.
Officially titled the Portage Island Range Rear Lighthouse, this 100+ year old white and red building is an iconic symbol of Shippagan and the wider Acadian Peninsula.
The door of the lighthouse is painted blue and adorned with a yellow star, with the overall look recreating the Acadian flag. The adjacent side building and lobster pot display also proudly showcase the tricolour.
Surrounded by a large wooden deck, the Shippagan Lighthouse is a great place to take in the ocean views or have a picnic lunch. It’s also an ideal departure point for a stroll on the passerelle (see below).
The Big Shippagan Lighthouse is located on nearby Lamèque Island and protects the southern entrance to Shippagan Harbour. It is only accessible on foot via a long sandy beach.
Stroll the Sentier Rivage de Shippagan boardwalk (passerelle)
The Sentier Rivage is a 2km boardwalk (or passerelle in French) along the waterfront of Shippagan. The route offers beautiful views of the bay as it curves along the coastline.
Shelters and benches are located along the pathway to enable walkers to sit and enjoy the views. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife; there are always a lot of birds in the area, especially herons, ducks and gulls.
The passerelle is completely flat, so it’s perfect for all ages and abilities. Sunset is a great time to go as the golden light reflects off the ocean and the sun disappears behind a nearby forest.
If you don’t have much time to spend in Shippagan, I would recommend combining a trip to the Shippagan Lighthouse and a walk on the passerelle. This combination offers a good, but short, introduction into this small Acadian town.
Cycle the Véloroute de la Péninsule
The Véloroute de la Péninsule is an impressive network of more than 600km of cycling paths across the Acadian Peninsula. This combined with the relatively flat terrain makes the region a very appealing destination for cyclists of all levels.
Shippagan is host to some of the most scenic sections of the Véloroute de la Péninsule. Circuit 2, a 32km route utilises Shippagan’s waterfront passerelle and passes several beautiful beaches.
I’ve also enjoyed using the Véloroute de la Péninsule to cycle to nearby Lamèque Island. For a longer trip, consider going all the way to Miscou Lighthouse. One day, I’d love to follow the route to Caraquet.
The only catch? You’ll need to bring a bike or rent one elsewhere on the Acadian Peninsula to ride the Véloroute de la Péninsule. There are no bike rentals available in Shippagan (yet!)
Go ‘under the sea’ at the New Brunswick Aquarium
Shippagan is home to New Brunswick’s largest public aquarium. The New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre is perched on the edge of Shippagan Harbour, right next to the colourful lighthouse.
The aquarium offers a chance to see into the depths of the Gulf of St Lawrence, with a focus on local fish and marine creatures (more than 100 species!)
The most popular exhibit is the collection of lobsters, including the incredibly rare blue lobster. The touch tanks and educational Hydrosphere Room are big hits with families.
Not just for kids, the aquarium also offers insight into Shippagan’s fishing industry. And I’d dare any adult not to fall in love with the resident harbour seals! It is particularly fun to watch them at feeding time, which happens twice daily.
Enjoy a beach day
A short drive from Shippagan will reveal some truly beautiful beaches. In the summer months, the water is usually warm enough for a cooling swim.
Plage de Le Goulet is my favourite local beach, with more than 5km of golden sand. The best access is from Rue de l’Église, where there is plenty of parking as well as washrooms, changing rooms, canteen and picnic tables.
I grew up in Haut-Shippagan, which has its own beach. It’s quite shallow and a bit rocky but great for a walk or kayak/SUP paddle.
Nearby Lamèque Island has a great choice of beaches. I would recommend the stretch of sand at Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphaël on the eastern side of the island.
Miscou Island is also a worthy beach destination, I particularly love the sand dunes on the northwest coastline.
Eat seafood and donairs from Le Shack à Joe
Shippagan is a pretty casual place for dining. Le Shack à Joe is a good example of the quick-service canteens that locals love.
Opened in 1963 by Joseph Duguay (also known as Joe Patate), this small place has fed generations of Shippagan residents!
Le Shack à Joe is best known for burgers, poutine (made from potato wedges), donairs, fried clams (coques frites) and fried fish. Lobster rolls are also served, but are not always in stock.
There is only outside seating available at Le Shack à Joe. If you want a restaurant experience with a similar style of food, head to Au P’tit Mousse in Lamèque. Be sure to try the doigts à l’ail (garlic finger pizza).
Learn about Acadian culture and history
It’s hard not to notice the tricolour of the Acadian flag while travelling around Shippagan. Many proud families display their Acadian last names outside their houses too.
To understand the Acadian culture a little more, look out for interpretive signs and exhibits while exploring the Shippagan area. There is a monument paying tribute to the three Acadian founding families of Shippagan in Parc Duguay Mallet.
Over on Lamèque Island is the Nicolas Denys National Historic Site, commemorating one of the earliest French colonists. He later wrote a book about his experiences in the region (published in 1672), one of the few from the Acadian point of view.
Shippagan’s history is intrinsically connected with fishing. There is an interesting exhibit and mural close to the wharf, near the administration building.
A line of colourful fishing boats can be seen opposite Parc Duguay Mallet, with a big ‘Shippagan’ sign. Of course, most of these boats will not be there during the main fishing season (April to end of June).
Attend the Festival des pêches
Following on from the last suggestion, one of the best things to do in Shippagan is to attend the Festival des pêches (fisheries’ festival).
Held in mid-July each year, this 8-day festival celebrates Shippagan’s fishing culture and Acadian heritage.
The festival’s comprehensive program includes a range of events, from fishing tournaments, a bicycle parade and children’s activities to outdoor movies, traditional meals and trivia nights. Many activities are free while some (like the 10km run) have a small fee.
Campbell Amusements (le cirque) is in town during the same week as the festival, which makes Shippagan a particularly fun place to be for families at this time.
The finale of the Festival des pêches is Le Coqueron. Musicians perform on an outdoor stage by the wharf from 7pm to 1.30am ($30 entry). There are fireworks at Parc Duguay-Mallet as well.
Enjoy coffee and lunch at Aloha Café Boutique in Lamèque
Lamèque Island sits just across Shippagan Harbour, with a bridge providing quick access (unless of course, a large boat is passing through…!)
The island is surprisingly big, with a dozen communities situated along the coastline. The largest is Lamèque, which is found on the southern side of the island, not far from the bridge.
A must-stop on Lamèque Island is Aloha Café Boutique, a family-owned and operated business. This playfully decorated bistro has a great choice of coffees and teas, plus freshly made lunch, breakfast and snack options (with vegetarian choices too).
The garden and deck area at the back is the best place to be on a sunny afternoon, especially when there is live music (cover charge applicable). On rainy days, choose a board game to play or browse the locally-made artisan items for sale.
Birdwatch at the Ecological Park of the Acadian Peninsula
The top of the Acadian Peninsula is located on an important bird migratory route. Consequently, more than 270 species of birds stop on Lamèque Island each year.
The Acadian Peninsula Ecological Park is an ideal place to go birdwatching. Located on the Bay of Lamèque, this park features an observation tower and a 2km long walking path.
A highlight of the latter is the boardwalk bridge stretching across the estuary. Keep an eye out for herons, specifically the Black-crowned Night Heron that the park is so well known for.
There is a forested loop trail on the other side of the water, with several lookouts. One offers the chance to see an osprey nest.
If you like birdwatching, the Observatoire du lac Frye on Miscou Island is also worth a visit.
Discover the one-of-a-kind Sainte-Cécile Catholic Church
With a traditional white, wooden exterior, Sainte-Cécile Catholic Church looks like most other Acadian Peninsula churches. The inside, however, is like no church you’ve ever seen!
Walking into Église Sainte-Cécile reveals a brightly coloured interior, with pink, green and blue patterns all over the walls, ceiling, arches and altar.
This candy-coloured church was created in 1968 and is a one-of-a-kind piece of folk art. It truly has to be seen to be believed!
Saint Cecile is the patron saint of musicians and a baroque festival is held in the church every July. Sainte-Cécile Catholic Church is located on Lamèque Island, about 20 minutes drive from Shippagan.
Dine on local seafood at La Terrasse à Steve
Without a doubt, the most unique eatery in the Shippagan area is La Terrasse à Steve. This casual seafood eatery is situated at the end of the bridge between Lamèque Island and Miscou Island.
The patio is the place to be with a real sand floor, rustic wooden shelters and a view towards the fishing wharf. There is indoor dining too, with thousands of handwritten names covering every wooden surface.
Unsurprisingly (considering the location), the menu is seafood-focused. La Terrasse à Steve is one of the best places to get cooked-to-order lobster in the region. There is no fryer, so everything is very fresh tasting.
Being so popular with tourists, keep in mind that the prices at La Terrasse à Steve are on the higher side. In my mind, the location and quality make it still worth it, however.
For the freshest seafood in the Shippagan area, consider fishing or clam digging.
In New Brunswick, no licence is required. It is important, however, to know restrictions and closures before you go.
Take a drive to the Miscou Island Lighthouse
If you go one place beyond Shippagan, let it be Miscou Island. This small island occupies the very tip of the Acadian Peninsula, with the imposing Miscou Lighthouse located at the end of the road.
It is possible to climb to the top of the light for a small fee. The adjacent Guardian Cafe has a wonderful patio. The Voir Miscou et mourir festival takes place at the Miscou Lighthouse grounds every summer.
Make a day of the drive to the lighthouse, with a stop at one of the beaches along the route. The golden sandy shores of the main public beach stretch for miles.
Peat bog covers almost half of Miscou Island. The name of the island comes from the Mi’kmaq word “m’susqu,” meaning marshy and wet landscape.
Be sure to stroll the short Peat Bog Boardwalk for a look at this uncommon ecosystem. In autumn, the peat bog turns a bright shade of red.
Where to stay in Shippagan, New Brunswick
Motel & Restaurant Brise Marine is the go-to place to stay in Shippagan. This newly renovated roadside hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms close to the Véloroute de la Péninsule. The attached restaurant serves breakfast and lunch.
Cielo – Glamping Maritime is situated in Haut-Shippagan, where I grew up. This coastal property features five geodesic domes next to the ocean, each with beautiful views and a hot tub.
Auberge Janine du Havre in Savoie Landing (also referred to as Savoy) is so close to Shippagan that you can see the bridge! The rooms are a little dated but the waterfront location is superb. Guests have access to a pool and patio. The owner also runs an RV park.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Canada. Jean Robert (JR) is up for anything, but you’re most likely to find him either snowboarding, fishing or building something. Gemma and JR are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada.