Welcome back city-lovers! Karen Moores is a cities-focused travel writer who calls St. John’s, Newfoundland home. She is proud of her city’s commitment to historic preservation while retaining a hip, modern vibe. Check out her insider tips to the Canadian city.
St. John’s is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to check in at Ryan’s Mansion, a local boutique hotel filled with Newfoundland history and turn-of-the-century charm. The inside staircase was made by the same builder as that of the iconic Titanic staircase. Plus, who doesn’t love a boutique hotel in a restored mansion?
When I crave fresh Atlantic cod I always go to Blue on Water for the freshest fish and an amazing array of local cuisine. The service rocks and the staff are young, fun and in-the-know.
To escape a busy day I head to Jumping Bean Coffee for locally roasted beans and Italian-style snacks like great panini sandwiches and monster muffins. The owner focuses on high quality, fair-trade products, which is always a bonus.
If I want to pick blueberries I go down to the infamous ‘Gut’ and take a quick hike up the trail to find the perfect patch while enjoying the view of Quidi Vidi Village.
For complete quiet, I can hide away at the Rooms Art Gallery where local artists inspire me in an environment that promotes solitude and peace of mind. International exhibits, like those by Edward Burtynsky, bring me to an entirely other place. The couches and viewing gallery make for the perfect hideaway.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a local musician. Find them downtown in local haunts like Erin’s, O’Reilly’s, or the Ship Pub.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Raymonds it has to be anything made by the in-house chef and co-owner, internationally known Jeremy Charles! Sommelier Jeremy Bonia offers tips on the best wines from around the world.
TVAL Skincare is my one-stop shop for great made-on-site soaps and makeup with names inspired by local people, places, and things. These all-natural products are good for the soul and for my skin!
Locals know to skip Screech-Ins (kissing a cod and all that jazz) and check out gastropub fare in upscale yet down-to-earth Yellow Belly Brewery.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go farther up Water Street for the best under-$10 lunch in town at Hava Java– big fat sandwiches and plenty of vegetarian options as well as lots of flavorful soups.
For a huge splurge I go to the Red Ochre Gallery for a piece of original art work by Tomova or Horan, well-known local artists with talent abound.
Photo ops in my city include the rows of colored townhouses lining the oldest streets downtown and the best vantage point is from the end of Gower Street.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be George Clooney: sexy maturity combined with an ever-youthful image.
The most random thing about my city is street names and the lack of city planning. Such oddities as Hill O’Chips and Rawlins Cross without any sense of block planning make for humorous direction-giving!
My city has the most musically inclined men who produce songs and lyrics telling stories about people and the past.
My city has the most brilliant women in politics including the first female Premier, Kathy Dunderdale, in over 100 years of responsible government in Newfoundland. A host of other female provincial party leaders, cabinet ministers and elected officials at the municipal, provincial and federal level place Newfoundland’s women on top.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves parking the car at Quidi Vidi, walking up Forest Road, and taking the scenic route around Signal Hill on the North Head Trail. Best to do it in iceberg season for close-ups of the big ones!
My city’s best museum is Provincial Museum at The Rooms, home of the provincial museum, art gallery and archives under one contemporary roof. The building was constructed to resemble a historic fishing stage, a once-prominent type of building in this old town.
My favorite jogging/walking route is an uphill battle from the harbor to the tree-lined grounds of Memorial University.
For a night of dancing, go to Bianca’s Wine Bar for classy jazz and world-class martinis. Or, for live music, check out the Fat Cat Blues Bar for old-world jazz in one of North America’s oldest cities.
The Celtic Hearth is the spot for late-night eats including Newfoundland favorites like pea soup, toutons, and hot turkey sandwiches.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read tweets from local bloggers by using the hashtag #yyt. (YYT is the airport code for St. John’s International Airport and has caught on with social-media-savvy locals.)
You can tell a lot about my city from the photography of local legends like Brian Ricks. Black-and-white photos mix old with new for the perfect modern wall adornment.
In the spring you should watch the last ice depart from the Atlantic from atop Signal Hill National Historic Site. I’m a fan of the on-site gift shop where local music, books, and culinary delights make excellent gifts.
In the summer you should picnic at Cape Spear National Historic Site and stay from sunrise to sunset for whale-spotting, wave watching, and photo opportunities with the local lighthouse that has been restored to its 1800s charm.
In the fall you should toast fall foliage with a walk along the Rennies Mill Trail.
In the winter you should rent a room at Murray Premises Hotel and watch the snow fall while dining on fresh local fare from one of the in-house restaurants. This hotel was originally a fishing stage and rumor has it the original smells still remain in some of the interior rooms.
A hidden gem in my city is the Newfoundland Chocolate Company where owners offer the highest quality chocolate along with local berries and delights. Have a tasting session on-site or take a class!
For a great breakfast joint try The Rocket Bakery for fresh quiche, flourless brownies, and French-press coffee from the world’s leading brands.
Don’t miss the Annual Folk Festival in small, well-groomed Bannerman Park. Three or more days of local music combined with small goods sales of all things Newfoundland including fine knits, books, music and pottery.
Just outside my city, you can visit Lighthouse Picnics. After a scenic hike through the woods, sit down on a fluffy (provided) blanket for a feast of gourmet sandwiches, salads, and fresh lemonade. The view is a pleasant distraction.
The best way to see my city is by helicopter! Rugged cliffs, colorful houses dotting steep downtown streets, and a view of North America’s oldest city and the Atlantic Ocean.
If my city were a pet it would be a white Scottie dog, of course! Charming, rugged, with plenty of explorer spirit.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live (where?) in the desert of Arizona or mountains of Montana. Somewhere totally reverse of St. John’s proper!
The best book about my city is yet to be written. Modern day St. John’s has an ever-changing story.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is anything by local band Hey Rosetta!
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss a whale- and bird watching tour, with the whole family, along the coast of St. John’s.
The Royal St. John’s Regatta could only happen in my city. A mid-week holiday, the first Wednesday in August, combined with food stands, competitive rowing, and local music.
My city should be featured on your cover or website because you’ll never find a better blend of old-world charm infused with youthful island spirit. The icing on the cake: a time zone all its own– Newfoundland Standard Time (NST), one half-hour ahead of Atlantic Standard Time (AST) and one hour-and-a-half ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Tell us about your favorite spots in St. John’s. Leave us the details in the comments section below.
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Photo: Brian Carey/My Shot