The best of St John's
– a fantastic museum in a fantastic structure in a fantastic setting. Newfoundland & Labrador's history, natural history, art, culture, archives and architecture, all rolled
into one amazing building. One of the best museums in Canada; if you only go to one
tourist attraction in St John's, make it this one.
Signal Hill (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/signalhill/index.aspx)
– walk a few minutes east out of downtown St John's and you're in another place altogether, hundreds of feet above sea level, with a glorious view of the world. A steep climb from the town takes you on a route into a National Historic Site that includes the Johnson GeoCentre, Gibbet Hill, the Signal Hill tattoo, the visitor centre, and the Queen's Battery. And when you get to the top, you've got Cabot Tower, where Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal, and where you've got a good chance of spotting some humpback whales. If the fog's not in, of course.
The Battery (http://oldlostsea.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/battery-ice.html)
– the old fishing village in the Narrows beneath Signal Hill is a step back in time. Modernity still sneaks in here and there, but the place has an ancient, happily neglected quality. It's a jumble, a disorganized scattering of jetties and cottages, where tight, steep, sinuous lanes negotiate a sliver of shoreline. A false step away, the glacier-gouged gullet of the Narrows offers to swallow you up. Looming over you like a school master, vertiginous cliffs of Ediacaran conglomerates leap out from between houses, shove their huge red feet into the roads, and generally remind you of the impermanence of human settlement here, especially settlements made of timber.
– a walk along Quidi Vidi lake and down into the harbour is a must. You could see otters and ospreys on the way, and when you get to the village you might well find an iceberg jammed into the narrow entrance to the inlet. Scramble up the East Coast trail and the views are magnificent, walk along the old jetty to admire the view, or just drop into the Quidi Vidi brewery and buy some local beers.
– the quintessential jelly bean road of downtown St John's. Coloured houses jostle for prominence along this up-and-down road, whilst every so often you get a glimpse of the harbour below. Just don't go too far west and end up on New Gower Street: it's dismal. Go east instead, and continue on to Quidi Vidi or the Battery.
Bowring Park (www.bowringpark.com)
– a fair way west of the city, along the Waterford River, but a lovely spot of greenery and water. Includes the memorial to the Newfoundland Regiment, and a statue of Peter Pan, erected in honour of Mr Bowring's grand-daughter, who drowned in a shipwreck.
Pippy Park (www.pippypark.com)
– huge country park immediately north of the university campus. The Fluvarium (www.fluvarium.ca) is built into Rennie's River, and allows you to watch trout in their (semi-)natural habitat, whilst the golf course gives you amazing views of the city.
The tourist guides will tell you that the best place to drink in St John's is George Street, the “densest accumulation of pubs and bars in North America.” What these guides don't clarify is that George Street is the densest accumulation of low-quality pubs and bars in North America. So give them a wide berth and try these fine hostelries instead:
Yellowbelly (www.yellowbellybrewery.com), corner of Water Street and George Street.
Brews its own beers and serves good food in a multi-levelled stone-and-timber building in the heart of downtown. Unsurprisingly, is very popular, especially on quiz night and weekends.
The Ship, corner of Duckworth Street and Solomon's Lane.
A dark and dingy backstreet bar with a great atmosphere and an amazing array of events: folk nights, film festivals, gigs, poetry readings. One minute there'll be just you and the barman, next thing you know, a party has started.
The Duke of Duckworth, corner of Duckworth Street and McMurdo's Lane.
Claims to serve the best fish and chips in St John's – a hotly contested title – but worth visiting even if you don't like fish and chips. A pub that claims to be English-style, but throws in Irishness and North Americana just for good measure.
The Rose & Thistle, Water Street.
A yellow awning, a few slot machines, and not much space, but a proper downtown bar, where you could be sitting next to a Portuguese fisherman or an American jazz musician.
The Inne of Olde, Quidi Vidi.
If you take a stroll into the village, it's well-worth checking out if this pub is open, as it's rather like having a beer in someone's front room.
Christian's, George Street.
If you really must go to George Street, this is the best place to drink in, especially if you want to get screeched in.
Best places to eat:
Magnum & Steins, 329 Duckworth Street (www.magnumandsteins.ca/en/)
– quite pricy, and an odd name, but they pride themselves on creative dining, and it's usually very nice indeed.
Pi Pizza, 10 Kings Road (http://gourmetpi.com/#pizza)
– the best pizzeria in St John's, serving delicious dinners with a mathematical twist. Fancy a Fibonacci? Then come here!
The Casbah, 2 Cathedral Street (www.thecasbahrestaurant.ca/about.html)
– right next to the Anglican Cathedral, beneath the old Masonic Lodge, this is a New Orleans-inspired restaurant of excellent quality.
The Sprout, 364 Duckworth Street
– Newfoundland's only vegetarian eatery, but even if you're not a vegetarian, this is a fun place to go for lunch. Serving salads, sandwiches, burgers and beer, The Sprout is friendly, cheap, and atmospheric.
Sappho's Cafe, 183 Duckworth Street
– a really good little cafe, slightly off the main tourist tread.
The Rooms Cafe, The Rooms, Bonaventure Avenue (www.therooms.ca/cafe/cafe_menu.asp)
– this is worth visiting if only for the view of the harbour, but the food and drink is excellent too.
I'm not much of a shopper, but if you want some good gifts to remind you of your stay, the outlets of the Craft Council of Newfoundland & Labrador (www.craftcouncil.nl.ca) offer an excellent array of provincial products. Alternatively, pop into Living Planet T-Shirts (http://livingplanet.ca) on Water Street for a slightly more modern take on local culture.
The Boreal Poetry Garden, Portugal Cove (www.marlenecreates.ca)
– Newfoundland & Labrador is a place where the wilderness inspires all sorts of art, and there are many events to be enjoyed. Foremost among these is the Boreal Poetry Garden, run by environmental artist and writer Marlene Creates, who will be running a special, geologically themed event – Tuff Love – on Saturday August 18th at 7.30 pm.
Haunted Hikes, Anglican Cathedral, West Entrance (www.hauntedhike.com)
– part history, part folklore, these walking tours of downtown St John's are extremely popular, and justifiably so. Run by local writer and historian Dale Jarvis, the hikes cover different themes on different nights, from ghosts and ghouls to sinners and spirits. And for 2012, Friday and Saturday nights will feature a special 'Ghosts of Signal Hill' tour.