How to Spend 3 Days in St. John’s Without a Car
If you’ve tried to plan a vacation to Newfoundland and Labrador this summer you may have come up short in your attempts to secure a rental car. They’ve always been limited on the island and even more so now after two years of companies reducing their stock. Turo.com launched in May to allow people to rent out their own vehicles (think Airbnb for cars) and some used car dealers have started renting out their stock. It helped but some folks were still left without wheels.
If you didn’t book early you may be finding yourself figuring out how to have a great trip on foot and by transit. Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
While most of Newfoundland is rural and pretty inaccessible without a car, St. John’s is urban and you can still have an amazing vacation even without your own vehicle. Let me show you how.
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Wake up and be the first to see the sunrise in North America. Today you’re going to get yourself a two-day pass on the St. John’s Hop On-Hop Off bus. Tickets can be purchased at their kiosk just outside of the Alt Hotel on the east-end of Water Street or you can buy directly on the bus. They don’t have any online booking, both kiosk and on-bus accept debit/credit payments.
I love hop on-hop off buses when I’m travelling. They run on a continuous loop so if you want to take more time to explore a stop you can get off and then just catch the next bus that comes around, roughly every hour.
On your first day in St. John’s catch the first bus leaving stop #1 – Alt Hotel at 10:00am and ride it all the way out to stop #8 – Cape Spear. You’ll get there around 11:25am. Hop off and go explore the most easterly point in North America. See if you can spot any whales off the coast. Wave to Ireland.
Be sure to catch the next bus at 12:25pm because you want to get something to eat before your afternoon activity. Get off at top #10 – Harbour Drive and grab a sidewalk table at Rocket Bakery. Try some fish cakes or a roast chicken sandwich with blueberry tea or a “St. John’s Sunrise”.
This afternoon, let’s go for a walk. Meet your tour guide from St. John’s Walking Tours at 2:00pm for their Signature tour through downtown. Don’t expect a purely historical tour here. You’re going to get entertaining stories, quirky facts, and some hidden gems. There’ll be some history of course but St. John’s history is as colourful as its houses. You’ll probably even learn something most locals don’t know. What’s Regatta Roulette? How did Jellybean Row get its colours? Why did the prime minister have to run for his life in 1932? Is Mary Brown a real person? I guarantee you’ll have a good time.
After your tour, head to the Duke of Duckworth for a feed of fish & chips. While there are many places to get a good meal of fish (aka cod), the Duke is one of my favourites and a true local icon. Make sure you get dressing and gravy on those fries. You may even spot a few local celebrities, like Alan Doyle, perched on a stool at the bar. The Duke was the main inspiration for the bar in the CBC tv show, Republic of Doyle, and is also one of the many places in St. John’s to have a ghost. Just say hi to Fred if you see him.
After dinner, enjoy a local pint with some local music at Broderick’s Pub on Water Street after dinner. Owned by one of the original members of the Irish Descendants, you know you’ll always get some good tunes any night of the week. The music is typically one or two singers with an acoustic guitar so it’s never overpowering. I appreciate not having to shout. For local tunes, you’ll never go wrong here.
Finish off your first night in St. John’s by becoming an honorary Newfoundlander. Some locals have some reservations about the whole Screech-In tradition but the way that Christian’s Bar does it, it’s a good bit of fun with some island pride. They do Screech-Ins daily at 5pm, 7pm, and 9pm (and sometimes as 3pm) but be sure to sign up at least 30 minutes before because it’s a popular activity. Anthony Bourdain became an honorary Newfoundlander at this very spot back in 2017. You’ll eat some bologna, drink some Screech (bad Jamaican rum), say a few words, kiss a cod, and get a certificate to take home. Welcome to the club.
- The Alt Hotel – rooms start at $199 in high season
- St. John’s Hop On-Hop Off – $45pp for two-day ticket
- St. John’s Walking Tours – $45pp for 2.5h Signature Tour
- Rocket Bakery – 294 Water Street. Open 8:30am-6pm.
- Duke of Duckworth – 325 Duckworth Street. Open 12pm-2am.
- Broderick’s Pub – 201 Water Street. Live music every night.
- Christian’s Pub – 23 George Street. Open 3pm-3am.
Be ready for day two of your Hop On-Hop Off tour. Grab that first 10:00am bus but this time hop off at Signal Hill and enjoy the views of our dramatic coastlines. You can even see Cape Spear where you were yesterday. This is the spot where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal back in 1901 ushering in the age of wireless communication. Go ahead and post a selfie to Instagram.
From Signal Hill, catch a bus and get off at stop #4 – Quidi Vidi Village. Whether you decide to have lunch at Mallard Cottage or get some more fish & chips from QVFC on the Wharf, you’re going to enjoy this charming little part of St. John’s.
Visit the Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Studios for a chat with local artists and shop for some high-quality gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
Sample a flight of beer at Quidi Vidi Brewery, Newfoundland’s first and largest craft brewery. The brewery has been operating in a former fish plant since 1996 and has over 25 different brews available throughout the year. Personally, I love their Aloha pineapple sour with the cute puffin on the can. Great on a hot summer day. Be careful of the Calm Toms – they’re a good way to get up to no good in St. John’s. ;)
Catch the 1:46pm bus and continue onto the Newman Wine Vaults. If it’s a hot day you’ll be able to cool off at this provincial historic site. Dating back to the late 1700s, this is one of the oldest standing structures in St. John’s. If you’re into wine you’ll be interested in hearing about how the building was used to age port wine and how it was a part of a 300-year connection between Newfoundland and Portugal.
From here you can either catch another bus and travel out to Cape Spear and back again (about an hour) and enjoy the view or you can take a leisurely 10-minute stroll back east along Water Street. Enjoy the pedestrian mall and check out the local shops along the way. Whether you want to bring home a pair of trigger mittens (NONIA), local skincare (Tval), locally roasted coffee (Home on Water), or a mug with attitude (Saucy Pots) you can find it along the pedestrian mall. You may even catch a few musicians or buskers doing their thing.
Have dinner down here this evening. Some of my favourites include The Merchant Tavern (sister restaurant to the now-closed Raymond’s by head chef Jeremy Charles) and Yellowbelly Brewery. Other popular restaurants on this strip include Adelaide Oyster House, Boca, and Cojones Tacos. The food scene in St. John’s has matured a great deal in the last decade and now you have more high-quality options than you can fit into three days.
In a city that’s been inhabited for over 600 years, there’s bound to be a few ghosts, and this evening you’re going to find them. Go for a stroll tonight with The St. John’s Haunted Hike and hear captivating storytelling of ghouls, murders, and the paranormal. The 75 minute nighttime tour will have the hair on the back of your neck standing at attention.
If you’re up for a nightcap after all that head to George Street. With so many bars and pubs, you’ll be sure to find a spot that tickles your fancy. Whether it’s traditional tunes, rock, blues, dance, or even karaoke, you’ll find it. If you want a really fun night, check out one of the two local drag bars, Kaleidoscope and Velvet. Leave any judgments at the door and enjoy the show.
You should know that many shows start late in St. John’s. Most bands (except for the trad bars) don’t go on until around 11:00 pm and will play until 3:00am. Some exceptions would be bars with traditional music, like O’Reilly’s or Bridie Molloy’s, who often have multiple acts starting earlier.
- Mallard Cottage – 8 Barrows Rd. Open 11:30am-9:30pm.
- Quidi Vidi Fish & Chips – The Wharf at Quidi Vidi
- Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Studios – 10 Maple View Place. Open 10am-4pm
- Quidi Vidi Brewery – 35 Barrows Rd. Open 11am-11pm.
- Newman Wine Vaults – 436 Water St. Open 9:30am-5pm.
- The Merchant Tavern – 291 Water St. Open 11am-11pm.
- Yellowbelly Brewery & Public House – 288 Water St. Open 11:30am-9:30pm.
- The St. John’s Haunted Hike – $26pp for 75min tour. Advance booking required.
Have brunch this morning at the cafe with the best view in town. The Rooms is the provincial museum, art gallery, and archives. They also have a cafe on the 4th level that looks out over downtown to Signal Hill and out through the Narrows. The menu emphasises Newfoundland and Labrador’s food heritage, focusing on traditional fare with an eclectic twist.
Spend the rest of your morning enjoying the exhibits and galleries. Learn about early life in Newfoundland, our connection to Beaumont-Hamel in the 1st World War, and our involvement in the Titanic. Don’t miss the giant squid either.
You can’t very well visit Newfoundland and not get out on the water at least once. On your last afternoon in St. John’s get yourself down to the harbour for Iceberg Quest’s 2:00pm boat tour. If you’re visiting from May-June you might be lucky enough to see an iceberg and if you’re here in June-August you just might see some whales or puffins. Either way you’re going to have a great time on the water and see our rugged and spectacular coastline.
Choose another pedestrian mall restaurant for your dinner tonight. Or venture a little outside the mall and check out somewhere like No. 4 Cathedral, Chinched, India Gate, or Little Sparo.
This evening, check to see if there’s any shows happening at the Resource Centre for the Arts at the LSPU Hall. The RCA operates out of the historic building on Victoria Street in downtown and has hosted countless numbers of emerging actors, artists, and musicians over the years. If there’s a show on the go, you can count on it being high quality.
If you’re visiting on a Monday in July you could also catch a Reel Downtown movie in the parking lot next to Solomon’s Lane. You’ll need to bring your own chair or blanket to sit on. Movies start at dark, which is around 9:00pm, give or take.
Every Friday evening, Erin’s Pub hosts a trad session at 7:00pm featuring local musicians, professional and amateur alike. Grab a pint and have a listen.
And, as always, there’s George Street to finish the night. Pick a bar, any bar, and you’ll be sure to find either great music or entertaining characters.
There you have it, a great three-day itinerary for St. John’s when you don’t have a car. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s so much to see and do in this vibrant provincial capital.
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