Skip to Content

48 Hours in St John’s, Newfoundland: Best Things to Do

St John’s, Newfoundland, is perched at the very edge of North America. This friendly city offers a unique blend of maritime heritage and breathtaking yet accessible coastal landscapes.

Best known for colourful downtown houses and one of the most naturally sheltered harbours in the world, St John’s has a lot to offer visitors, including some of the best urban hiking we’ve ever found!

Elevated view from the Rooms Museum towards St John's harbour, with colourful houses visible beliow, calm harbour water and several tall buildings
St John’s, Newfoundland

JR and I recently spent almost 10 days in St John’s and another week exploring the nearby East Coast Trail. We realise, however, that most people have much less time to spend in St John’s – likely two or three days at the most.

This post is for you! I’m going to share a complete two day St John’s itinerary, with all of the best things to do. At the end, I’ll also tell you about alternative options as well as some other great activities for a third (or fourth!) day.

Published July 2024. The island of Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland) is the traditional territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq.

This post includes some affiliate links – if you make a purchase via one of these, we may receive a percentage of the sale.

Screenshot of St John's Google Map with things to do marked
Things to do in St John’s on Google Maps

48 hours in St John’s, Newfoundland: Day 1

This two day St John’s itinerary has been designed for visitors without a vehicle.

Before visiting St John’s, I read so many guides that involved driving all over the Avalon Peninsula.

Side view of brick buildings in downtown St John's on pedestrianised street
Water Street, St John’s

We flew to Newfoundland from BC and decided not to hire a car after being quoted $600+ for just three days (!) Have no fear, it is easy to explore the best of St John’s without a vehicle.

If you do manage to get a good car hire deal or have your own vehicle with you, read the dedicated driving section as well.

Gemma stands in a yellow dress in front of three story blue painted townhouse in St John's
One of the many colourful townhouses in downtown St John’s

This itinerary was also made with hiking in mind. If you don’t enjoy hiking so much, no problem! All of the mentioned places can be accessed by the St John’s Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus.

Top tip: When planning your time in St John’s, I would look to the weather forecast first. Yes, the conditions can change a lot (and quickly!) in this area of the world but let the weather dictate some of your plans. Fog is common in the morning, so if thick fog is forecast, don’t head out on a hike until later in the day. I’ve suggested some rainy day ideas in the ‘more great things to do’ section.

Side view of St John's Battery neighbourhood, which sits below steep cliffs. Colourful houses are scattered across different levels
St John’s Battery neighbourhood


Start your St John’s experience with a trip to North America’s most easterly point – Cape Spear! If you are an early bird, watching sunrise here would be an unforgettable experience.

Fog forecast this morning? Save Cape Spear for later in the day. You won’t get to see much otherwise!

To get to Cape Spear, call an Uber (around $30 one way) or use the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus ($55/adult for 48 hours). The journey takes around 30 minutes.

Cape Spear lighthouse and associated buildings on rock/grass landscape with ocean visible in the background
Cape Spear

Cape Spear is host to the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador (1836). Take in the views, keep an eye out for whales (we saw humpbacks!) and enjoy being at the most extreme edge of Canada.

Into history? Go inside the historic lighthouse (admission fee) or explore the underground remains of a Second World War coastal defense battery. An on-site cafe serves up sandwiches and classic Newfoundland dishes.

Extend your visit with a hike towards North Head. Part of the much longer East Coast Trail, this mostly flat path stays parallel to the ocean and leads to a hill with great views of the Cape Spear Lighthouse and the coastline to the south.

The distance is 10km return to the end of the trail at North Head (allow 3 hours for that) but I’d suggest starting the walk and turning around at your leisure.

Hiking path leading across barren but grassy peninsula towards headland
North Head Trail, with Cape Spear in background (to the right)

Afternoon and evening

Back in St John’s, spend your afternoon exploring downtown. Start with a visit to Jellybean Row. The name refers to the colourful Victorian-era row houses that can be found on many of St John’s hilly streets.

We found some of our favourite houses on Gower Street, not far from the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (another building to admire). My best advice, however, would be to just wander and get a little lost.

Street scene in St John's with colourful row of townhouses - red, purple, orange, blue, pink and green
Colourful row houses in downtown St John’s

Head down to Water Street afterwards, with a stop at Harbourside Park. As you may guess, the park offers some lovely views of the harbour as well as various intrepretive displays about Newfoundland’s ‘founding’ and Newfoundland dogs.

From late June to early September, Water Street from Adelaide Street to Prescott Street is pedestrianised from noon to midnight (no vehicles). This makes for a wonderful walking experience.

Colourful downtown businesses in St John's, one with large covered patio
Downtown St John’s

Take your time browsing the independent boutiques for gifts and local art, check out the grand architecture of the Supreme Court building or consider stopping for a drink at one of the street patios.

Later, enjoy dinner (check out our recommended spots) and then catch some live music on George Street. Of course, there’s also the option to get screeched in as well!

Front view of band playing in bar in St John's, with brick walls visible behind
Live music at O’Reilly’s

48 hours in St John’s, Newfoundland: Day 2

Ready for another day of exploring the St John’s? Here we go!

This is the exact plan we had for my birthday in St John’s and it proved to be a really fun day. Again, if you’re not into hiking, plan to take the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus to Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi.

Looking down from shrub covered landscape to Quidi Vidi Village, featuring colourful houses behind wharf area
Quidi Vidi Village from the Sugarloaf Trail


Today begins with a walk to the Battery, a picturesque neighbourhood that sits on the edge of the harbour and just below the slopes of Signal Hill.

From here, there are two hiking routes. The easiest route is to hike uphill to Deadmans Pond via the St John’s Harbour Lookout and then along the paved footpath to Signal Hill National Historic Site.

Looking down to sets of wooden boardwalk stairs traversing rocky cliff landscaper, with St John's harbour in background
North Head Trail looking back to St John’s

For a more interesting but challenging experience, continue to the end of Outer Battery Road and start the North Head Trail. This 1.7km long path follows the edge of the cliffs below Signal Hill to the headland at the end.

The trail is narrow overall and features boardwalk sections with wooden steps. Some sections are rocky.

There is one very narrow area with a chain to hold onto. Although this may sound intimidating, it is short (less than 20m) and over very quickly.

Looking ahead to narrow rock trail with steep drop-off to right and chain on cliff on the left
Narrowest section of the North Head Trail (it’s over very quickly!)

The views of the harbour ‘Narrows’ and Fort Amherst are well worth the effort. The finale involves climbing many sets of stairs, some steep.

Although it may sound easier to go down rather than up, we met quite a few people who felt unsteady after descending so many stairs!

White whiteflowers in foreground with brick 19th century tower to the right (Signal Hill St John's)
Cabot Tower at Signal Hill

At the top of the last set of stairs is the Cabot Tower, an octagonal building constructed in 1898 (free entry). The first trans-Atlantic wireless message was received by Guglielmo Marconi at a position near the tower.

The Queen’s Battery Barracks is a short walk away, with Signal Hill Visitor Centre (admission fee) close by as well.

Looking down into St John's Harbour with calm ocean, visible cranes, large container boats on right and downtown area in background
St John’s Harbour


The hiking is not over yet! Return to the Cabot Tower and follow the signs for the Ladies Lookout Trail.

This easy 1.2km long path first climbs up to a viewpoint before descending to Quidi Vidi Village. Look for nesting bald eagles on the cliffs while admiring the views of Cuckholds Head and the Quidi Vidi Harbour.

Elevated view looking down on rugged coast with grass/rock headland rising high above calm ocean
Views of Cuckholds Head from the Ladies Lookout Trail

Upon reaching the village, head to the Quidi Vidi Brewery for some beers and food on their scenic patio. I love sour craft beers and Quidi Vidi definitely delivered. The extensive beer menu has something for most tastes, however.

The brewery can get very busy. During the summer months, there is an assortment of food trucks at the nearby Quidi Vidi Outdoor Food Market. Head to the Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Studios for a browse afterwards.

The mostly flat paved walk back to downtown St John’s is 2.5km from Quidi Vidi Village. It passes right past Mallard Cottage, one of the oldest residential structures in the city.

View from bridge in Quidi Vidi Village, looking across harbour/wharf area to colourful buildings lining shore
Quidi Vidi Village – the green building is the brewery

More great things to do in St John’s

As mentioned, we spent almost 10 days exploring St John’s. There are only so many places I could squeeze into a two day itinerary without it feeling overwhelmed!

Here are some more of our favourite activities in the St John’s area:

  • The Rooms – incredible art gallery and museum combination showcasing local stories, history and wildlife. We spend three satisfying hours here. A great option for rainy or foggy days. If sunny, the views of the city and harbour are excellent too.
  • Terry Fox Monument – Find the starting point of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope on the northern side of Water Street. It’s not particularly well signed but worth the effort to find.
  • Sugarloaf Path – Looking for a challenging half day hike experience? Head to the Sugarloaf Path, which is part of the East Coast Trail. Take an Uber to the trailhead at the Ocean Sciences Centre and hike 8.8km back to Quidi Vidi Village. Epic views await. More details in our ECT guide.
  • Cape Spear Path – For a full day hike, consider the Cape Spear Path. Also part of the ECT, the 15.4km long trail travels between Maddox Cove (near Petty Harbour) to Blackhead (just west of Cape Spear). Both trailheads are Uber accessible. Again, more details in our ECT guide.
Looking down from rocky viewpoint on the East Coast Trail to Quidi Vidi Village and surrounding forested headlands
Sugarloaf Path views towards Cuckholds Head, Quidi Vidi and St John’s
  • Quidi Vidi Lake – If the trails mentioned sound a little too difficult, head to Quidi Vidi Lake for a flat, easygoing walk. The 4km long circular trail follows the edge of the lake, with wide gravel paths and some short boardwalk sections.
  • Mile 0 of the Trans Canada Highway – Small roadside monument to the start (or end) of the Trans Canada. Worth a quick stop for photos and reflection.
  • Colonial Building and Bannerman Park – Large grassy park surrounding 19th century Colonial Building that once housed the local government. Be sure to get some tasty gelato from The Parlour opposite!
  • Government House grounds – Another beautiful park featuring statues, monuments and planted trees with views of the western side of the city.
  • Escape Quest – A good option for rainy days in St John’s! Locally owned and designed escape rooms.
Third story view in the Rooms museum looking down on mezzaine levels below, with ceiling close to top of frame
The Rooms

Even more St John’s attractions

Other worthwhile destinations we didn’t get to experience include:

  • Fort Amherst – Heritage lighthouse overlooking the Narrows. Great views and access to the East Coast Trail. Parking can be difficult.
  • Johnson Geo Centre – This impressive museum is built into the surrounding rock and showcases the geological history of the area (allow 2 hours).
  • Commissariat House, Provincial Historic Site – 200 year old building formerly used as the British supply officer’s house and offices.
  • Newman Wine Vaults – One of the oldest standing structures in St. John’s, these brick and stone vaults were used to age port
  • Railway Coastal Museum – Railway artifacts and history in the old railway station building (1903).
  • Trans Canada Trail Zero KM marker – Located very close to the Railway Coastal Museum, this monument marks the start (or end) of the incredible Trans Canada Trail
Bronze larger than life sculpture of Terry Fix running towards right of camera. It has been weathered with rain and is green in places
Terry Fox monument

Driving ideas

If you have a vehicle, consider an afternoon puffin/whale watching tour from Bay of Bulls (30 minutes south) before or after a trip to Cape Spear.

The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is located just offshore and is home to the largest Atlantic Puffin colony in North America (260,000 pairs).

Though it was windy that day, I loved our tour with O’Briens, which featured sea shanty sing-alongs and the chance to get Screeched In. We saw humpback whales as well as thousands of puffins.

If boats aren’t your thing, take a trip to Petty Harbour instead. This picturesque  fishing village is well worth a short wander. It hosts a highly rated restaurant (Chafe’s Landing) and a ‘mini’ aquarium.

Two containers of lobsters are balanced on side of dock in Petty Harbour, with boat below. Harbour buildings are visible on the other side of the wharf
Petty Harbour

Signal Hill can be accessed by vehicle. There are two parking lots with the one next to the Cabot Tower being the busiest.

Consider hiking the North Head Trail as a loop (go clockwise to go down the steep stairs, counter-clockwise to go up). Explore the Cabot Tower before or after.

Parking in Quidi Vidi can be tricky, especially on weekends (consult this map first). After exploring the village, drive north to Middle Cove Beach. This scenic roadside spot is surprisingly peaceful.

Time dependent, continue to Flatrock to visit Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and see the Whirly Pool Falls (short rocky trail). Last stop of the day is pretty Pouch Cove.

Huge waterfall with multiple cascades bursts out from canyon, with forest and rocks on both sides
Whirly Pool Falls, Flatrock

Where to eat and drink in St John’s, Newfoundland

Travellers are spoiled for choice for food and drink while in St John’s. After all, the city is known for having the most number of bars per capita in all of Canada!

With that in mind, there are probably more high end options than you may initially think. That is particularly true if you like seafood. There are many eateries that go far beyond the standard fish and chips.

Close up of bowl at Saltwater restaurant, featuring red coloured risotto with half lobster shell
Lobster risotto at Saltwater

Breweries and taprooms

  • Bannerman Brewing Co – Hip brewery with a sunny streetside patio at the northeastern side of downtown. While they sadly don’t offer flights of beer, they won me over with the flavourful Thai food instead!
  • Brewdock – On a hot day, (and yes, it does happen in St John’s!), look no further than the Brewdock taproom. They have a wonderfully shady patio and beer slushies. We didn’t try the food but expect pub staples.
  • YellowBelly Brewery – Prominent, centrally located characterful spot serving local seafood and classic pub dishes. If it’s an evening drink you’re after, ask to sit in the lower level ‘Underbelly’ speakeasy (so atmospheric!)
  • Quidi Vidi Brewery – This harbourside brewery in Quidi Vidi Village used to be a fish plant. Now it hosts a beautiful patio and an excellent craft beer menu. The food is great too, with the rich chowder being a highlight. We also loved the very crispy fish and chips.
Close up of Quidi Vidi Brewery flight with colourful beers in small glasses on wooden board. The background is blurred
Quidi Vidi Brewery flight

Pubs and restaurants

  • The Duke Of Duckworth – The casual pub has the reputation amongst locals as being the best place in town for fish and chips. And yes, it’s absolutely true! Expect crispy, light batter and beautifully flaky cod. Local beers are available too.
  • Saltwater – St John’s has plenty of upscale seafood focused restaurants, with Saltwater being a great example. We enjoyed the double lobster roll dish as well as lobster risotto. The patio is a winner too.
  • The Gypsy Tea Room – For a more level mix of seafood and land dishes, check out this high end yet approachable restaurant. Consider the Crusted Cod for a break from fish and chips. The service is top notch.
Side view of downtown businesses in St John's - heritage buildings with patios in front
Many restaurants in downtown St John’s have streetside patios
  • O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub – Live music is on offer at O’Reilly’s every night of the week ($7 cover). While we didn’t eat there, I’ve heard that this is a good place to go for traditional dishes such as Jiggs Dinner (corned beef, potatoes, vegetables and dumplings).
  • LIV – This trendy bar is not only perfect for cocktail night but the Asian inspired menu is impressive too. I had the best non-fried cod of our trip here! The ambience is on the loud side so keep that in mind.
  • Ethiopian Cuisine Plus – For something a little different, try this popular restaurant and take out. We loved the generous combination platters with slightly sour, fluffy Injera flatbreads.
Overhead view of two dishes at Bagel Cafe in St John's - a bowl of chowder on the left and a plate with toutons (fried dough) and fish cake with fried egg on right
Chowder and toutons at the Bagel Cafe

Cafes and shops

  • Bagel Cafe – This fun spot is something of a St John’s institution. We were recommended to come for lobster (dinner only) but its better known for hearty breakfasts and traditional dishes like toutons (fried dough served with molasses).
  • Halliday’s Meat Market – Not a restaurant, but if you have a kitchen available to you while staying in St John’s, head to Halliday Meat Market. This 110 year old family business makes the best white and black pudding around.
Side view of made bed at Alt Hotel in St John's with huge floor to ceiling windows showing harbour view
Alt hotel room with a view! Photo credit: The World As I See It (used with permission)

Where to stay in St John’s, Newfoundland

The Alt is my frontrunner for St John’s best hotel. Modern yet welcoming, the thoughtfully designed rooms have everything you need and features you didn’t know you wanted.

The location is ideal – just on the edge of the pedestrianised section of Water Street and a short walk from everywhere else. Some rooms have beautiful harbour views.

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel for four nights, primarily for a conference. Located in the northeastern end of downtown, it is a good halfway point between the busiest part of downtown and Quidi Vidi Village. For that reason, the hotel is also very quiet.

Sheraton Hotel view looking down on heritage downtown buildings with harbour behind
St John’s Harbour view from the Sheraton Hotel

If you need more space, I’d highly recommend this Quidi Vidi Cottage Airbnb. We stayed here as a group of three and suited our needs perfectly – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living spaces and a spacious kitchen.

Situated in a similar area as the Sheraton, the Cottage offers good access to downtown as well as the Signal Hill trails and Quidi Vidi Village.

Back view of JR standing in front of view of St John's from Signal Hill with lake on right and harbour on left
Signal Hill views of St John’s

On a budget and not staying in St John’s over a weekend? I’d recommend checking out the centrally located Duckworth Inn.

While we really liked our spacious and well equipped en-suite room, we didn’t get much sleep since the surrounding area is pretty noisy on weekend nights. I’d still recommend it for weekdays.

Two Newfoundland dog statues in park with Canadian flag behind, situated in downtown St John's park
Newfoundland dog statues in downtown St John’s

Other East Coast Canada posts you may find helpful

East Coast Trail Hiking and Camping Guide, Newfoundland

8 Must Do Nova Scotia Road Trips: Itineraries, Tips + Maps

Whale Watching in Nova Scotia: Why, How, Where And More

12+ of the Best Nova Scotia Campgrounds

Brier Island: Nova Scotia’s Hidden Gem

East Coast Canada Road Trip | 2 and 4 Week Itineraries

Adventure in your inbox

Subscribe to our monthly email newsletter and receive a round-up of our latest outdoor adventures plus other exciting beyond the beaten path destinations 

We never share your information with third parties and will protect it in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Check out these recently published articles next