Newfoundland Road Trips: Guide to Gander
Disclaimer: Information is accurate as of time of publication.
If you’ve been paying any attention over the last few years, you’ve heard lots about Gander, Newfoundland. On September 11, 2001, when American airspace was closed, 38 planes landed at Gander International Airport depositing almost 7,000 passengers and crew into the small town. With the population doubling overnight, the town’s residents jumped to action turning schools, church halls, and any other available space into emergency shelters. Some even took strangers into their own homes. Thousands of meals were cooked, and everything from clothing to toiletries donated to help out the “plane people.”
The most amazing thing about the generosity shown by Gander residents, is that they don’t think it’s amazing at all. It was just the right thing to do in that situation, so they did it. Their kindness extended beyond the basic of food, waster, and shelter. Over the five days that people were stranded, Gander residents took passengers sightseeing, moose hunting, berry picking, barbecuing, and hosted kitchen parties. Their spirit inspired an award-winning Broadway musical, Come From Away, that now has companies in four countries.
All that attention is piquing people’s interest in visiting Gander for themselves so I put together a guide to help you have an amazing visit to Central Newfoundland’s Broadway famous town.
How to Get To Gander
The town of Gander is located in Newfoundland’s central region, just over 330km from the capital of St. John’s. There are four main ways to get to Gander from off the island:
- Fly into St. John’s and drive or take the DRL bus
- Fly directly into Gander International Airport
- Take the Port-aux-Basque ferry from Nova Scotia and drive 570km east
- Take the Argentia ferry from Nova Scotia and drive 280km northwest
Getting Around Gander
The town of Gander is roughly contained within the triangle of the Trans Canada Highway, Route 230, and Magee Road. There is no public transportation in Gander, though there are taxis for local destinations and some shuttle services that will transport you to St. John’s, Twillingate, or Lewisporte. There is no Uber in Newfoundland. It’s best to have your own vehicle to really get the most out of your visit to Gander.
Tip: book your car rental early as there’s a limited supply on the island and they’re routinely booked up during the busy season from June-August.
Where to Stay in Gander
There are approximately 500 hotels rooms available in Gander itself, with the main hotels located directly on the stretch of highway that runs past town. You will also find motel, B&B, and cottage rental options.
Sinbad’s Hotel & Suites
Sinbad’s Hotel & Suites is one of three hotels in town owned by Steele Hotels, a local chain if you will. They offer corporate suites with adjoining living rooms as well as standard bedrooms and efficiency units. The latter have tables and chairs, a small refrigerator and a stove with an oven should you want to cook a little something for yourself. The hotel is also equipped with a business centre, fitness room, and dining room on site.
Quality Hotel & Suites
Honestly, it was a toss up between the Quality Hotel and Choice Hotels sister property the Comfort Inn. Both are located steps from each other and are priced about equally. Both have business centres, fitness rooms, and complimentary breakfast. What swung me in favour of the Quality Hotel was the fact that they have a pool. However, if finding a pet friendly hotel in Gander is higher on your wishlist, then you’ll like the Comfort Inn. You can’t go wrong either way.
Country Inn Cottage
If you’re looking for a different experience than your typical hotel, you might want to check out Country Inn Cottage. It’s a two bedroom cottage with a double and queen sized bed, living room area with a flat screen TV, a spacious washroom and full kitchen. They are also wheelchair accessible. It’s located on the site of the Country Inn Motel & RV Park on the north end of town.
Inn on Bennett
If a bed & breakfast is more your speed, Gander has that too. Inn on Bennett is an eight room B&B just a few minutes from the airport. The rooms mainly have queen beds, but there’s one room with two double beds if you’re travelling with a few people.
Where to Eat + Drink in Gander
The Gander Bread Box & Cafe
Come for the freshly baked bread, stay for the touton burger with a side of wedges. Pick up a package of Jam Jams or snowballs for a quick hit of sugar and deliciousness during your day of sightseeing. They also have vegan and gluten free options. Don’t forget to get your “mugshot” by their mug wall.
The Newfoundland Tea Co.
Despite the name, the Newfoundland Tea Co. is more than just premium teas. They also have a cozy and inviting restaurant that serves fresh, up market lunch, dinner, and desserts, including gluten free options. Don’t be fooled by the commercial location and facade, inside you’ll find some of the best meals in all of Gander. My suggestion: try the crab cakes.
Rosie’s Restaurant and Bakery
Here’s what you’re going to do, you’re going to head to Rosie’s Restaurant on Sunday and order up their Sunday dinner, complete with salt beef and peas pudding. Would you believe they even serve up a crustless pizza for those who are on the keto plan? But if you’re a carb lover like myself, you’d do yourself a disservice if you left without trying some of their sweets like lemon meringue pie or their signature “Moose Farts”, tasty little balls made of graham crackers, coconut, and chocolate chips.
Ches’s Fish & Chips
A classic Newfoundland fish ‘n chip shop, Ches’s has 7 locations across the province. Do yourself a favour and order your fish ‘n chips with dressing and gravy on your fries. I also recommend an order of onion rings if you’re particularly hungry. Wash it all down with a pineapple Crush.
Jumping Bean Coffee
No trip is complete without a good cup of coffee and Jumping Bean will get your morning off right. Boutique coffeehouse atmosphere with some of the best brews around. Pair it with a breakfast sandwich to really complete your morning. Be sure to pick up a pound of beans to bring home as a delicious souvenir.
Mystic Dining Room
Feeling a bit fancier? Get dressed up and make a reservation at Mystic Dining Room at Sinbad’s Hotel. Whether you order the walnut crusted salmon, the bacon wrapped chicken, or one of their steak options, you don’t be disappointed. Order a bottle of wine from their excellent wine list and enjoy fine dining in Gander.
Now, while Legends serves food, that’s not why you’re going to go there. It’s Gander’s nightlife hotspot hosting trivia nights, karaoke, comedy, and live entertainment on the weekends. The lounge is attached to the Irving West Hotel so if you overindulge a bed is within stumbling distance.
Thingamajiggers Pub and Eatery
If you’re down for a little dive bar pub grub, pop into Thingamajiggers for an affordable and reliable menu of burgers, wraps, and deep fried seafood. If you want an authentic rural Newfoundland experience and to rub elbows with the locals, this is it. I’d recommend one of their homemade burgers with thick cut fries or the French onion soup served with a homemade roll.
Things to Do in Gander
Gander International Airport
The tiny airport that inspired a hit musical is also a modernist architectural gem. Gander has had a long history with aviation. During World War II, as the only operative airport in this maritime area, it became the main staging point for the movement of Allied aircraft to Europe. Post-war, it was at the crossroads of transatlantic flights and remained an important refueling stop for many years. Everyone from Hollywood movie stars to pop stars to world leaders touched down in Gander.
In 1959, the Queen of England opened a sleek, modernist International Departures Lounge at the Gander airport. The avant-garde lounge reflected the glamour of midcentury air travel and, though Gander’s importance has faded as jumbo jets can now make the trip without refueling, the lounge remains untouched. A time capsule to a time when flying was exoctic and glamourous.
Many people visiting Gander want to see the places mentioned in the musical, Come From Away, so Gander does what Gander does best and accommodated. The Beyond Words Tour will take you to the Gander International Airport, Gander Town Hall, an exclusive mini exhibit, driving tour around key areas of the town and concluding at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. You may even get to meet someone who inspired a character in the musical.
Note: Beyond Words Tours have been cancelled for the 2021 season and will be back in 2022.
Continuing with the Come From Away theme, take some time to Meet the Flynns. They played host to 6 “plane people” and Derm Flynn even inspired a character in the musical. Visit the Flynns in their home for a chat and a cuppa and learn more about the 9/11 efforts and Come From Away. Discuss why Come From Away has been so well received by all who see the musical. While in Appleton, visit Twin Towers Steel and Peace Park.
The North Atlantic Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving and presenting stories and artifacts highlighting Gander’s role in the development of Trans Atlantic Aviation. The bulk of the artifacts, photos, and text focusing on the WWII years through the early jet age. They also have a collection of planes you can explore, including a prized WWII Lockheed Hudson MkIIIA mid-range bomber.
Beyond the Overpass Theatre Company encourages the development of local theatre talent, especially in creating original content related to the town of Gander. Keep an eye out for their production of Diverted, a play with music that juxtaposes the story of Gander’s origins during World War II with specific events surrounding 9/11.
On the morning of Thursday, 12 December 1985, shortly after takeoff from Gander en route to Fort Campbell, Arrow Air Flight 1285 stalled, crashed, and burned about half a mile from the runway, killing all 248 passengers and 8 crew members on board. As of 2018, it is the deadliest aviation accident to occur on Canadian soil. A memorial statue by Kentucky artist Steve Shields was erected at Gander Lake dedicated to the memory of those who lost their life.
This informal, outdoor interpretive site is a demonstration area for people to learn about the forest and forest management techniques in Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with picnic and restroom facilities, the demonstration forest has a network of three interpretive walking trails ranging from .4km – 5km in length. Located on the Trans Canada Highway 1km east of Gander, the hiking is easy-moderate walking depending on the trail you choose.
Have a picnic on the lawn of one of Gander’s most scenic places. Walk the 4km trail or have a swing in the playground. Made up of boardwalk and granular sections, this trail is a light walk. Named after Mr. Alexander Cobb – a worker with the Newfoundland Railway Project in 1892 – the Park is a tranquil area with lots to offer including lunch hour concerts on Fridays during the summer (weather permitting).
See a show at the Arts & Culture Centre
The Arts & Culture Centres are a collection of theatres across the province that play host to plays, musicals, comedy, concerts, and more. Peruse their upcoming events and be sure to catch something when you’re in town.
The Festival of Flight is Gander’s annual multi-day summer festival featuring tons of fun, food, and music. Take part in events like a Splash Ball water obstacle course, horseshoe tournament, a demolition derby, the community breakfast, shop at the farmer’s market, or kick up your heels at the kitchen party.
Happening in September, Quad-a-palooza is Newfoundland’s premier ATV event. Enjoy awesome trails, an ATV parade through the streets of Gander, and more. After a day on the trails, come back and enjoy some marvelous food and entertainment with a special accommodation package which includes meals, live entertainment, dances, and great prizes.
Try one of Newfoundland’s hottest new pastimes: axe throwing. It’s not just for lumberjacks anymore. Gander now its own local axe throwing joint. Your new spot for a great time with friends and colleagues. Plaid shirt not required.
Plan to spend at least two days exploring the area, but really three would be better. There’s enough to see and do so I guarantee you won’t be bored.
Will Gander be your next Newfoundland road trip?
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