Canada is on the bucket list of most travelers. First-time travelers to Newfoundland are not only visiting the most easterly province in Canada, but their first trip to Newfoundland also takes them to an Island with three distinct bio-geo-climatic zones, one of the only places in the world where you can see icebergs, and the absolute spot to be for nature, wildlife, and adventure seekers.
It’s distinct from the other Canadian provinces in many ways. When you arrive, you might, for a moment, feel like you’re in a different country, even though Newfoundland is just as Canadian as Maple Syrup.
With the densest population of Moose on the planet, the largest concentration of Humpback Whales, 35 Million annual nesting seabirds, amazing people, and countless other wonders you’ll undoubtedly discover along the way, it’s important to keep the following travel tips in mind for your first trip to Newfoundland.
1. Newfoundland is not only an island, it’s a giant island
If you’ve ever been to places like Prince Edward Island or Vancouver Island, it’s important to keep in mind Newfoundland is much larger than either of these.
Driving from Port Aux Basques, the most westerly ferry terminal, to St. John’s, the capital city, will take you over 10 hours of driving and will cover 900km of highway. That’s a lot of driving, and in our opinion, far too much for one day.
It’s a fantastic drive, with lots along the way, like two National Parks (Gros Morne National Park in the West and Terra Nova National Park in the East), exciting communities, beaches, mountains, Viking settlements, adventure tours, dinner theatres, and more.
So if you’re going to drive the distance from one tip of the island to the other, be sure to plan accordingly, go slow, and take in the sights along the way. It’s not a race, and the more you plan the drive across the better it will be.
2. Know your Ferries
Understand there are two main ferry terminals in Newfoundland and both are operated by Marine Atlantic. Check out the Summer 2022 Newfoundland Ferry Schedule and book your crossing well in advance. Both ferries depart the mainland in the town of North Sydney, in Nova Scotia.
West – East
If you’re planning to do the 900km drive across Newfoundland from West to East, the ferry terminal you want to go to is in the town of Port Aux Basques.
East – West
Alternatively, you can take a different ferry to Newfoundland that will sail you all the way to the East coast to the community of Argentia, which is located just 130km from the capital city of St. John’s.
The ferries in and of themselves give you a wonderful experience, like being on a National Geographic boat tour, complete with marine biologists onboard ready to help you spot and identify the marine life you’re bound to see along the way.
If you chose to take the longer ferry to Argentia, it will sail you along the ultra remote south coast of Newfoundland, an area known for blue whales, biodiversity, and spectacular sea cliffs and beaches. If you’re lucky enough to have great weather along the way, you’ll feel like you are on a mini cruise. It’s an awesome experience.
There are restaurants on board, and you can book a cabin for your crossing complete with beds and showers (which we highly recommend), leaving you feeling rested and refreshed by the time you arrive. For more detailed information and links on taking the ferry to Newfoundland, check out our Taking the Ferry to Newfoundland Article.
3. Bring a jacket
Yes, we understand you may be coming in the peak of summer, and we have fantastic summer weather, but Newfoundland is also known to sometimes give you a taste of all four seasons in a single day.
Some days you can wear flip-flops and shorts, but in others, you’ll want a jacket and hat. Because Newfoundland is located at the confluence of the Jet Stream and Gulf Stream, weather patterns can be unpredictable. If you’re coming in summer you won’t need your parka, but if you just show up in sandals and sundresses, there will be days you’ll feel underdressed.
4: Leave your serious side at home
Locals in Newfoundland are known for going slow, talking fast, and taking it easy.
They’re also known for keeping things light, breezy, and humorous. They can laugh at and make light of situations in almost any scenario, they’re always up for a chat. They have a way of making you feel instantly at ease and will take the time to get to know you.
If you take the time and reciprocate, your experience in Newfoundland will be even more magical, and you’ll probably get invited to join some super local experiences that will end up being the highlight of your first trip to Newfoundland.
5: Go on The Water
If you’re visiting in the summer, taking a trip on the sea is an absolute must. All life in Newfoundland has always been linked to the ocean, and the local’s connection to the water is obvious from the first day you arrive in Newfoundland.
With so many unique boat tours, like the Western Brook Pond Boat Tour in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that takes you into a 2000 foot glacier-carved land-locked fjord on a lake that’s so clean the water doesn’t even conduct electricity to the world-famous boat tours in the Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve that take you along humpback whale feeding grounds with hundreds of whales in the water, it’s well worth it to spend some time on the ocean during your first-time travel Newfoundland.
For detailed information on boat tours in Newfoundland check our Best Boat Tours in Newfoundland Article.
6: Chose Accommodations Wisely and Book Early
Newfoundland has some five-star accommodations you can avail of that will really make your trip, like the Inn on Fogo Island and the famous Stargazing Hot Tubs at Whale House Guest House in the Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve where you can whale watch and stargaze overlooking a Marine Ecologically Protected Area and Humpback Whale Feeding Grounds.
7: Explore some of the East Coast Trail and Coastal Paths
The East Coast Trail and greater Appellation trail network offer something for everyone, with easy coastal walks that take you to the perfect picnic spots to multi-day wilderness east coast trail hiking adventures, the east coast trail network is your ticket to getting off the beating bath and immersing yourself in nature.
This path is also rated as easy and can be done as a partial walk or a half-day adventure linking the communities of Mobile and Tors Cove.
8: Eat Local
Newfoundland has some of the freshest fish and tastiest seafood on the planet, so be sure to indulge.
There is no shortage of fresh fish and chips and seafood chowder in every coastal community restaurant and take-out, but there are also some five-star restaurants like Fork Restaurant, Chinched and Mallard Cottage, some of the best restaurants to eat at on the island, with local veggies, moose, caribou, rabbit, halibut, cod, and lamb all on the menu (with ample vegan and vegetarian options also available).
These, by far, are the top reviewed fusion restaurants in Newfoundland, and competition for reservations can be fierce, so be sure to book a table early and show up hungry.
9: Book your rental car early (very early)
Every summer, demand for rental cars outstrips supply. If you’re thinking you’re going to fly to St. John’s International Airport in the heart of summer, walk to the car rental kiosk, and rent a car on the spot, you’ll probably be told by the rental agent that everything is already booked.
With the increased travel demand this summer paired with shortages of new cars across the planet, if you don’t book your rental car well in advance, you won’t get one.
Most car rental companies, however, offer free cancellation of car rental reservations, so if you have an idea of when you’re travelling to Newfoundland for the first time this summer, make your reservation now. You can always make changes to your booking if needed.
10: Hang out with the locals
Just do a quick google search of what Newfoundland locals are like and your see that friendly and welcoming are the top features they boast.
The locals of Newfoundland are genuinely interested in you and are always up for a yarn (another word for friendly chat) so even if you’re an introvert that has a hard time getting out of their comfort zone and engaging others, try it here in Newfoundland.
You’ll be surprised at just how friendly and welcoming this place is, and you may get invited to a special local event or even make a friend for life.
We just want you to be happy and have a fantastic first-time trip to Newfoundland. And we can’t wait to see you. Got any questions about the ultimate guide to first-time travel to Newfoundland? Post your questions in the comments below, or just call Amanda at 1-709-702-0303 for a friendly chat anytime.