You’ve never seen true summer excitement unless you’ve been to St. John’s, NL. Flip-flops are brought out as soon as the Canada Goose jackets are in storage, barbecues are fired up even before the last icy lump of snow has disappeared, and cafés set out their sidewalk tables according to the sunshine, not the official start of the season.
It’s all with good reason—St. John’s is a vibrant and beautiful place to be in the summer. Thanks to some well-produced tourism ads and great cinematography on CBC TV’s Republic of Doyle, the rest of the country is quickly catching on. There’s plenty of physical beauty, if you like hilltop sunrises or jumping whales, for instance, but the summer months are when the city really bubbles over. St. John’s has managed to retain its small-town, European-style charm, but has grown to retain the best parts of big city living, with high-end shopping, award-winning restaurants popular with celebrities like Russell Crowe, and a renowned nightlife that you’ve surely heard about, even if you haven’t experienced it first-hand (be ready to pucker up: it will likely involve you going through a celebratory “Screech-in,” which includes kissing a cod).
The arts scene in St. John’s is a big part of the culture, especially in the summer, when there’s a short film being made or a music video being filmed downtown practically every weekend. Live entertainment can be found any night of the week, and festivals celebrating everything from jazz music to Shakespeare run into each other all summer long. The atmosphere is relaxed, fun and entirely non-judgmental—unless you’re not a Doyle fan. Then you should be prepared to explain yourself.
Here, insider picks for things to do in St. John’s:
Hand-selected designer and vintage clothing and accessories from around the world, for women and men, at reasonable prices. Score a vintage Coach leather handbag for $50, or a pair of locally-made glass earrings. Staff members are helpful, friendly and non-pushy.
Address: 183B Duckworth Street
2. St. John’s Haunted Hike, June 1 to September 2
Take a group walking tour through downtown St. John’s with a guide, who’ll tell you true tales of ghosts, murder, unrequited love, mysterious fires, wrongful execution and more, with visits to sites known to be haunted.
Address: Starts in front of the Anglican Cathedral, Church Hill, west entrance
Cost: $10/person; $5 for kids under 12
One of the city’s most popular bars, and the pub on Republic of Doyle (although the show is filmed on a replica set and not in the actual pub). A frequent hangout for local celebrities like Allan Hawco and Mark Critch when they’re in town, The Duke also serves great food, including its famous fish ‘n’ chips (gluten-free option available).
Address: 325 Duckworth Street
Owned and operated by filmmaker/chef Tony Butt, this unique restaurant is an understated jewel in St. John’s. Creative set menu, though Tony will work with you to cater to your tastes and dietary needs. Five courses, with options like homemade pasta, seafood, pulled pork and quinoa-based cheesecake.
Address: 281 Duckworth Street
Take a visit to the Ferryland Lighthouse (built in 1870) and take in amazing views, complete with seabirds and jumping whales. Award-winning Lighthouse Picnics will pack you a picnic basket with a blanket and gourmet lunch of a sandwich, salad, dessert and freshly-squeezed lemonade (vegetarian options available), or a snack of fresh bread, cheese, dessert and tea.
Address: Lighthouse Road, Ferryland (about an hour’s drive from St. John’s)
Cost: $25 for adults, $12 for children
6. Reel Downtown, every Monday evening in July
Outdoor film screenings, featuring a mix of local and short films and Hollywood movies. Bring your own foldable chair.
Address: Fortis parking lot on Water Street, at the bottom of Solomon’s Lane.
7. The Rooms
Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest public cultural space, and home to the provincial art gallery, museum and archives. See exhibits featuring carnivorous plants, the Titanic, the Beothuks and more, and take in a gorgeous retrospective exhibition of Mary Pratt’s high-realism paintings. Incredible view!
Address: 9 Bonaventure Avenue
Cost: $7.50 for regular adult admission
8. George Street Festival, August 1-6
One of the most anticipated events of the summer, for both locals and visitors alike. A five-day festival of music and drink on St. John’s most notorious street, lasting well into the wee hours of the morning. Performers this year include Barenaked Ladies, Hey Rosetta!, Great Big Sea, Honeymoon Suite, Glass Tiger, George Thorogood and Shanneyganock.
Address: Inside and outside all 25 bars on George Street
Cost: Between $22 and $40
9. The Royal St. John’s Regatta, August 7
The oldest continuous sporting event in North America, Regatta Day is a civic holiday. The day-long rowing races are just one part of the event, which is attended by upwards of 30,000 people each year: the lakeshore turns into a gigantic fair, with games, food, rides and booths.
Address: Quidi Vidi Lake
10. Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, August 9-11
This is the 37th year for the folk festival, which features local and international talent. Performers this year include Joel Plaskett, Mo Kenney, and Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case.
Address: Bowring Park
Cost: $25 for one evening to $100 for a full-weekend adult pass. Free for kids 12 and under.
11. Fred’s Records
A quirky, fun, independent record store. Fred’s has been around since 1972 and is the local source for CDs and vinyl as well as concert tickets, with a specialization in Newfoundland and Irish traditional music. Fred’s often hosts live shows, with past musicians including The Canadian Tenors, Amelia Curran and Hawksley Workman.
Address: 198 Duckworth Street