Newfoundland & Labrador
They call Newfoundland 'the Rock', a fitting name, as this is an island of thoroughly elemental attractions and aesthetics. The muskeg and cliffs are barren and salt-drenched. The trees give off the smell of spruce like the air was spiced. The ocean roils, flecked with icebergs and spouting whales. The wind roars, and at any time, a storm may scream across the bights and coves.
If you enjoy the rugged and the rough, there are few more beautiful places. Yet ever contrasting the harsh geography is a culture that is, simply, magic. Bright houses painted like rainbows spill over the cliffs; menus advertise cod tongue and crowberries; at night, fiddles compete with the howling wind; and the ever-present chill is countered by the warmest locals you'll ever meet. This, then, is Canada's easternmost, most idiosyncratic province, a marriage of land and salt and storm all its own.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Newfoundland & Labrador.
A must-see for visitors to Newfoundland, this 1800-sq km coastal park and Unesco World Heritage Site features dramatic mountains, fjords, beaches, bogs and barren cliffs. Remnants of a mountain chain formed 1.2 billion years ago, its notable geology is a rare example of continental drift, with exposed deep ocean crust and mantle. Hiking, sea kayaking and sightseeing cruises are popular activities.
Designated a World Heritage site in 2016, this ecological reserve protects 575-million-year-old multicelled marine fossils – the oldest in the world. The only way to reach it is via a free ranger-guided hike from the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South.
Dominating the southwest corner of the park, near Trout River, are the unconquerable and eerie Tablelands. This huge flat-topped massif was part of the earth's mantle before tectonics raised it from the depths and planted it squarely on the continent. Its rock is so unusual that plants can't even grow on it. You can view the barren golden phenomenon up close on Rte 431, or catch it from a distance at the stunning photography lookout above Norris Point.
Named from the Inuktitut word torngait (place of spirits), this national park is the ancestral home of Inuit and their predecessors. Its spectacular wilderness features herds of caribou, polar bears and even seals in a freshwater habitat. The park comprises 9700 sq km, extending from Saglek Fjord in the south, including all islands and islets, to the very northern tip of Labrador. No superlatives can do the beauty of this place justice.
Consisting of four islands in Witless Bay, this reserve is North America's largest Atlantic puffin colony, with more than 260,000 pairs nesting here during the late spring and summer. Every summer, more than a million pairs of birds gather here, including puffins, kittiwakes, storm petrels and the penguinlike murres; the incredible mass of avian life moves like living clouds. Tour boats sail through cold waves to the islands, hugging the shore beneath the cliffs.
The city's most famous landmark is worth it for the glorious view alone, though there's much more to see. The tiny castle atop the hill is Cabot Tower, built in 1898 to honor both John Cabot's arrival in 1497 and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. In midsummer, soldiers dressed as the 19th-century Royal Newfoundland Company perform a tattoo and fire cannons.
Leif Erikson and his Viking friends lived here circa 1000. Visitors can see the remains of their waterside settlement: eight wood-and-sod buildings, now just vague outlines left in the spongy ground, plus three replica buildings inhabited by costumed docents. The latter have names such as 'Thora' and 'Bjorn' and simulate Viking chores such as spinning fleece and forging nails. Allow two or three hours to walk around and absorb the ambience.
Over Signal Hill, away from town, is the tiny picturesque village of Quidi Vidi. Check out the 18th-century battery and the lakeside regatta museum, but make your first stop Quidi Vidi Brewery, which whips up Newfoundland's most popular microbrews. Located in an old fish-processing plant on the small wharf, it's a scenic place to slake your thirst.
This site is dedicated to the ancient burial grounds of three different Indigenous groups that date back 5500 years. The modern visitors center tells of creative survival in this rough area and of one group's unexplained disappearance 3200 years ago. Several good trails around the park let you explore further. Reached by walking, Phillip's Garden, a site with vestiges of Paleo-Eskimo houses, is a highlight.