How to spend a weekend in St. John’s and the Avalon Region.
Newfoundland and Labrador is a Canadian province that has captured my imagination. Out in the far east of Canada, the island of Newfoundland sits slightly removed from the rest of the country. The people have their own fascinating cultures and traditions, and the landscape reminds me more of Ireland than Canada. And the rumours are completely true: the people are warm, friendly, and inviting.
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When Ford Canada invited me to St. John’s, Newfoundland to test drive their brand new Ford EcoSport, I jumped at the opportunity. And I brought my sister, Robyn, along for the adventure! I couldn’t wait to take their new vehicle out for a spin to explore the wonders of the Avalon Peninsula. While I only had a weekend in St. John’s and the surrounding region, you can cover a lot of ground in 48 hours.
OUR RIDE: THE FORD ECOSPORT
It was pretty thrilling to be among the first in Canada to test drive the Ford EcoSport. They’re doing a cross Canada tour to showcase this compact SUV, starting in Newfoundland and ending in Vancouver. Follow along on social media by searching the hashtag #FordEcoSport.
I noticed immediately that the Ford EcoSport looked like an SUV, but had the pep and personality of a smaller vehicle. It was designed for the summer road tripper, the urban commuter, and suits everyone from couples to families. Most of all, it was really fun to drive. I was inspired to hit the open road ahead.
This car is outfitted with essential bells and whistles with your comfort and convenience in mind. The heated steering wheel and seats kept us toasty warm in the early hours when we were driving to Cape Spear for the sunrise. There are two smart-charging USB ports to keep your smartphone batteries charged on the go. The cellphone pocket above the glove compartment is a total game changer, and the air conditioning that runs through the glove compartments doubles as a cooler for your beverages.
The Sync 3 touchscreen is intuitive and easy to use, just like your smartphone. It includes so many useful features, like a GPS, backup camera, and satellite radio. We turned up the tunes and drove to tiny towns along the coast, all while staying connected with the built-in Wi-Fi. Open the power moonroof to allow a refreshing breeze and rays of sunshine to filter in.
CAPE SPEAR AT SUNRISE
A highlight of the trip was watching the sunrise at Cape Spear, just outside of St. John’s. We woke up bright and early at 4:00am to make the drive, as the sun rises at around 5:15am. With a coffee in hand, I soaked up my surroundings in total awe. I was one of the first to see the sunrise that day in North America. Cape Spear is the most eastern point in Canada and the sunrise was spectacular.
The Cape Spear Lighthouse is a national historic site as it’s the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador. There’s a second, more modern lighthouse a little closer to the cliff edge. I drove my Ford EcoSport up a steep hill to the lighthouses and navigated the rocky cliff with ease. Backing the car up and getting back on course was a breeze with the sensor system and the backup camera.
BIRD WATCHING BOAT TOUR
Our group boarded a boat tour with O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours in the hopes of seeing some wildlife. At different times of the year, you can view whales, seabirds, and even icebergs! In the spring, many migrating birds were everywhere, including the adorable Atlantic Puffin. While Justin and I saw a bunch of puffins in Iceland, but nothing compared to the quantity of puffins I saw in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. We watched hundreds upon hundreds of puffins flutter in the air and glide into the water, sometimes clumsily splashing about. These tiny birds certainly are quite cute, and I can’t get enough of them.
Out of the four islands in Witless Bay we passed, Green Island had a massive amount of Common Murres. There had to be thousands of them, resting on the rocks and flying in the air. From afar, they almost look like penguins with their black and white feathers. I’ve travelled across oceans to witness something this beautiful, and scenery and wildlife sightings that are equally as amazing (if not better) exist right in my own country.
EXPLORE COASTAL VILLAGES
I highly recommend driving a car from the city if you have a weekend in St. John’s. While there’s plenty to do in St. John’s, you’re going to want to get out to explore the rugged coastline and the quaint harbour villages. From Bauline East to Petty Harbour, there is no shortage of dramatic scenery dotted with colourful homes.
Continue your way up the coastline north of St. John’s to the villages of Flatrock and Pouch Cove for more stunning views. Flatrock was even designated as one of the “Tidy Towns,” a tradition I thought only existed in Ireland. Apparently, it’s alive and well on the east coast of Canada, too!
QUIDI VIDI VILLAGE
Quidi Vidi is a neighbourhood in St. John’s showcasing a picturesque harbour paired with a couple of exceptional attractions. The Quidi Vidi Village Plantation is an incubator for local and emerging artists and artisans, doubling as both a workspace and a studio. There are booths where you can interact with the craftsperson and purchase their wares. We found pottery, screen printed works, handspun yarn, paintings, and more.
Make a quick stop at the Quidi Vidi Brewery to sample their Iceberg Beer. Yes, they use iceberg water to brew the beer, harvested from chunks of icebergs that materialize off the coast of Newfoundland.
A weekend in St. John’s isn’t complete without a trip to Signal Hill. At the very top of the hill, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and the North Atlantic. While this was once the site of famous battles between the English and the French, Signal Hill is most well known for its role in communications history. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first ever transatlantic wireless signal there. If this didn’t happen, we might not have the same wireless technology as we do today.
It is also extremely windy at the top of Signal Hill. While walking around Cabot Tower, I firmly planted each step and had to hang on tightly to my belongings as that was one of the windiest places I’ve experienced.
Who knew that St. John’s was so colourful? I have a thing for colourful houses. St. John’s has the most brightly painted houses in one space that I’ve ever seen. There are rows upon rows of houses, street after street, in every colour of the rainbow. If you’re spending a weekend in St. John’s, Newfoundland, you can’t miss the houses of Jellybean Row as they truly capture the playful nature of the city.
GET SCREECHED IN
The “screech-in” ceremony is performed on non-Newfoundlanders (“mainlanders”) to welcome you to the province. It involves taking a shot of dark rum, reciting some traditional lines, and kissing a cod. Skipper Dickie performed the ceremony at a pub on George Street, a lengthy stretch of pubs in St. John’s. You hold your shot of screech, recite the line (Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!), down the shot and then kiss the fish. We saw another ceremony that involved kissing the bum of a toy puffin, which was a lot cuter and less smellier. After this joyful and hilarious ceremony, I felt one step closer to belonging in Newfoundland.
WHERE TO STAY
We spent two glorious evenings at the JAG Boutique Hotel in downtown St. John’s. From the accommodation, we could walk all over town or hop in the car and embark on our road trip. Besides the perfect location, I had a very peaceful night’s sleep in my spacious and comfortable suite. With ample space, a luxurious bathroom, two flatscreen TVs, Keurig coffee maker, and speedy Wi-Fi, it’s really a blogger’s dream. I adored that the hotel had a music theme, with band posters and photographs featuring artists like David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. Be sure to check out more photographs and reviews from fellow travellers.
WHERE TO EAT
St. John’s is a very vegan-friendly city and I experienced no difficulties finding delicious plant-based eats. Throughout your weekend in St. John’s, you can try a Chinese vegan restaurant called the Peaceful Loft, a vegetarian Mexican restaurant called Poyo and the Sprout, and even a sumptuous cauliflower steak at an upscale restaurant, The Merchant Tavern. Here’s my vegan guide for St. John’s, Newfoundland.
I thoroughly enjoyed my short weekend in St. John’s and can’t wait to return hopefully soon. Thank you so much to Ford Canada for inviting me to experience Newfoundland and being among the first to drive the new Ford EcoSport. If you’d like to learn more about this sporty SUV, please follow the hashtag #FordEcoSport on social media to watch new participants test drive it all across Canada. I can’t wait to see the places they drive around our spectacular country.
If you’d like to see more photos of Newfoundland, please check out my travel photo album.
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Have you driven around Newfoundland before? What do you think about the features of the Ford EcoSport?
Lauren is the full-time travel blogger and content creator behind Justin Plus Lauren. She started Justin Plus Lauren in 2013 and has travelled to 45+ countries around the world. Lauren is an expert on vegan travel as one of the very first vegan travel bloggers. She also focuses on outdoor adventure travel, eco and sustainable travel, and creating amazing travel itineraries for cities and small towns.