NEWFOUNDLAND FAMILY VACATIONS: St. John’s with Kids – Jellybean-colored houses line the streets leading down to St. John’s Harbour. Mermaids cavort at all around town, including outside the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. And ginormous Newfoundland dogs (AKA Newfies) with their soulful expressions win the hearts of everyone they meet. Does a vacation destination get more family-friendly than that?
St. John’s, Newfoundland, is an otherworldly place – one where fairies exist, where the fog physically rolls in, and where a Rock becomes home because of the friendly people. And it’s great place for an unforgettable family vacation.
In this quaint harbor town, fishing (and seafood!) is part of daily life. You’ll see this in the family-friendly activities you can do and lighthouses you can explore, as well as in its history, art, and food.
But be warned: one visit to St. John’s likely won’t be enough. This city, poised on the west side of the world’s 16th largest island, has layers like an archaeological dig. And you and your kids will want to keep uncovering more of its fascinating history.
While there are many, many things for families to do here in St. John’s, here are my top recommended family activities, plus a great place to stay and dine while visiting Newfoundland with kids.
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1: Explore Local History at “The Rooms”
I’d head to “The Rooms” as soon as you can when you arrive in St. John’s. Why? This natural history museum provides a good overview of the history, landscape, and people – and will make your experiences here much richer.
Once you know the background of a place, you’ll be more interested the whole time you’re there. This is no exception! (And it also makes a fun rainy day activity if needed!)
You can make snow goggles, try on snow shoes, and more – a whole slew of other interactive activities await. You’ll also see a polar bear, wild animals, a giant squid, enormous sea creature skeletons, and trilobites. You can read more about The Rooms in my review, here.
Tip: Try some Traditional Newfoundland Toutons (fried dough balls with molasses) at the Rooms Café, perfect for hungry kids (and their parents).
2: Cruise for Humpback Whales and Atlantic Puffins
What else, on an island known as the Rock, would you do–especially when it’s located near the world’s largest population of humpback whales?
Don’t miss your family’s chance to head out to sea on a boat tour from St. John’s, where it’s easy to go whale watching and view hundreds of thousands of birds, including Atlantic puffins. This is a bucket list item for many – and how awesome for your kids to experience it while young! There are several options for tours, so you can find one that’s perfect for your family’s vacation.
During our three-hour “Whale and Puffin Cruise” with O’Brien’s, we saw whales (a mom and two “babies” that were almost as big as the boat!) frolic in the water for almost an hour. Then we headed to Puffin Island, where we saw (and smelled) a variety of sea birds, including puffins (which are really tiny and burrow into the earth for their nests).
Kids of all ages were delighted by the antics of the whales – and the funny and interesting commentary of the guide. Make your reservations ahead of time to ensure your space on the boat. Click here to find out more about Whale Watching Tours in Newfoundland.
3: Head East to Historic Cape Spear!
Just a few miles southeast of St. John’s is Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America. Your kids can say, “next stop, Ireland!” as they pose next to the sign, or peer over the rocky cliffs. Cape Spear provides many possible outdoor adventures, including hiking trails that lead past WWII bunkers, along narrow paths atop cliffs (don’t worry, you’re further from the edge than you think), and through flowers and bracken.
You can also head to not one, but two lighthouses there. You can enter the smaller, square-shaped lighthouse and see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived. It’s also a place to run and play, to listen to the waves crash against the rocky shore, and to enjoy a picnic lunch outside, weather permitting.
4: Eat a Chocolate Meal While Experiencing History on Signal Hill
The visitor centre out at Signal Hill has a pretty special café – the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Café! Here, you can have sandwiches with chocolate in them, mole tacos, gelato, chocolate fondue, and chocolates – along with hot chocolate.
Time it right to visit the Signal Hill National Historic Site and hear the boom of the noon day cannon and take a Chocolate Hike. Or come around dusk to go hiking with the ghosts of Signal Hill. Whatever you choose, your taste buds will be happy. Follow this link for more details about Signal Hill and the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Cafe.
While there: Don’t miss the Johnson Geo Center, a natural history museum cut INTO the rock of Signal Hill and taking you into the earth to learn more about our fascinating planet and solar system. Tip: The inspiring Terry Fox Monument is also nearby and an easy stop on your way out.)
1 Great Place to Eat in St. John’s: Ches’s Fish and Chips
You know it’s a good restaurant when visitors head here before going to visit their local relatives. Ches’s Fish and Chips is the best fish and chips in St. John’s, serving freshly caught fish and plenty of it. If you want to go local, get it with dressing and gravy – sort of a thanksgiving fish and chips combo.
There are other items on the menu, but why bother when they serve the best? Once you finish, you can ask for a certificate stating you’ve tasted the finest fish & chips to be found in all of Newfoundland and Labrador. For more about Ches’s and other restaurant recommendations, see my “Top 10 Family-Friendly Restaurants in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Tip: Try the pineapple crush – our daughter likened it to crushed pineapple dum dums, and save room for dessert – not only will the waitress bring around tiny cupcakes, but you can also order lemon meringue pie, made daily.
Best Bet St. John’s Hotel for Families: St. John’s: JAG
Your kids will feel very cool staying at this rock star hotel, where the elevators are to the right of Ray Charles. At the JAG Hotel in St. John’s, walls are splashed with photos of musicians, the fresh flowers are funky, and the rooms, well, they are definitely family-friendly. You’ll note the Keurig, a small refrigerator for snacks, comfy chairs, even comfier beds, and a shower they won’t want to leave.
This boutique hotel charms in so many ways, including daily chocolates from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, and the attentive staff is very kind to all guests, but especially to families. Located right at the east end of downtown, the JAG Hotel makes exploring St. John’s easy. You can follow this link to see more photos and read my full review of JAG Hotel.
Want more ideas of fun things to do with kids in Newfoundland?
Try a Newfoundland road trip taking in these amazing sites:
Gros Morne National Park (West Side)
Terra Nova National Park (North / East Side)
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Reader note: This post was first published September 22, 2015. It has since been updated.