Saint John New Brunswick just might be the most underrated city in Canada. But during our two visits, we found plenty of things to do in Saint John, that will completely surprise you. With historic buildings converted to chic coffee shops and micro brewpubs, local artists setting up shop downtown, and nature at your fingertips, Saint John has quickly turned into one of Canada’s coolest cities to visit.
Things to do in Saint John New Brunswick
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Saint John, NB is one of Canada’s oldest cities dating back to 1604. Discovered by Samuel de Champlain, it became a major hub due to its inviting harbour. The city has been having a renaissance this past decade with Millenials opening businesses and artists setting up shop. If you are planning an East Coast road trip, be sure to put Saint John, New Brunswick on your list. These are the top attractions in Saint John and the best day trips from the city.
While the rugged coast of New Brunswick is a major draw road tripper, there are plenty of things to do in Saint John located in the heart of the city. We suggest spending at least two nights to take in the energy of the town and to explore the nightlife.
1. Reversing Falls
As one local said to us, “The Reversing Falls of Saint John is probably the most overrated attraction in the city, but the science behind it is interesting.” And once you understand that the Bay of Fundy is so powerful that it reverses the flow of the Saint John River twice a day, it’s pretty cool.
We checked it out from two different viewpoints. I highly recommend going to the Reversing Falls Skywalk and Bridge to see it from above.
Saint John itself s located on the Bay of Fundy creating a unique phenomenon as the Bay of Fundy’s high tide collides with the Saint John River. As the tides rise, it overpowers the river reversing the flow. It’s a cool thing to see the river flowing one way and then smashing against the tide creating rapids and whirlpools.
2. Market Square
This cool street has kept its historic feel with eateries and bars inside building facades dating back to the 1800s. It has that old world charm with a hip modern vibe.
Stroll along North Market Wharf’s waterfront boardwalk where you’ll happen upon festivals and music events on the outdoor stage. Pop into a pub or restaurant and do some shopping. At night, things really kick off with people bar hopping and outdoor entertainment taking place at the waterfront.
Cool fact: The New Brunswick Museum is also located at Market Square. It’s Canada’s oldest continuous-running museum!
3. Historic Imperial Theatre
The Imperial Theatre is a gorgeous historic theatre with a connection to Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer (MGM Studios fame) grew up in Saint John and mentored a local businessman by the name of Walter Golding.
Golding opened the vaudeville theatre attracting the likes of Ethel Barrymore and Harry Houdini. It has recently been renovated and the historic decor will knock you off your feet. You can take a tour of the theatre, or see a show!
4. Grannan and Germain
This is the coolest corner in Saint John. Here you’ll find quirky shops, artist galleries, and plenty of choices for food, bars, and pubs. Grab dinner at Italian by Night that serves delicious authentic Italian food and then finish off on the comfy sofas of Port City Royal for cocktails.
5. Downtown Art Galleries
There are plenty of artists that have set up shop in Saint John and you can take a gallery tour to see them all. The people of Saint John are welcoming and will happily invite you in for a chat to talk about the artists and art of display.
If you continue walking to Princess Street from Grannan, you’ll come to many galleries and workshops. Pop into the historic warehouses and you’ll find artists studios showcasing unique works of art.
6. City Market
City Market is an indoor market in downtown Saint John and it is perfect to stroll through to buy some snacks for your road trip or for a picnic in the park. Grab some bread and cheese at the lovely and have a picnic in Kings Square. This is a great place to end your walk after browsing the Saint John Galleries.
7. Kings Square
We grabbed some fresh bread and cheese after browsing the galleries downtown and enjoyed the warm sunshine on a bench at King’s Square. Established in 1734, King’s Square was named after King George III. There are statues and monuments dedicated to great Canadians and war heroes. And it’s situated in a lovely setting with park benches and greenery surrounding the main pavilion, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
8. Barbour’s General Store
Barbour’s General Store is a very cool museum and shop that dates back to the 1800s. This is a great place to start your tour of Saint John. It was originally built in Northern New Brunswick and brought to Saint John in 29167.
The Saint John visitor’s centre is located inside where you can book tours and pick up information on the area. And get information on touring downtown for the historic walks of Saint John.
9. Historic Walks of Saint John New Brunswick
Saint John is Canada oldest city and the only city located on the Bay of Fundy. It is filled with history from the early settlers and a fascinating maritime past.
It is worth taking one of its historic walks to learn more about a city that dates back to 1604 when Samuel de Champlain proclaimed the name St. John. It was another 25 years before a trading post was built here.
The area saw many historic events including the American Revolution where 14,000 Loyalists settled along the St. John River. Today you can trace that history along the Loyalist Trail, Victorian Stroll, and Prince William Walk.
Each self-guided walking tour takes about 1.5 hours and is an interesting way to explore the architecture and streets of Saint John.
10. Loyalist Trail
Walk the Loyalist Trail throughout the downtown core to follow in the footsteps of early settlers. There are signs throughout the city featuring plaques and buildings showcasing the history of the Americans who settled the area after the American Revolution. Here you’ll see the loyalist cemetery and picturesque gardens.
Stops on the Loyalist Trail Include:
- County Court, King’s Square
- City Market
- The Old Burial Ground at Sydney Street
- Stone Church on Carlton Street
- Loyalist House on Union Street
- Barbour’s General Store.
11. Cape Spencer Lighthouse
Just a short drive out of the city is the Cape Spencer Lighthouse. The lighthouse itself isn’t spectacular, but the view is phenomenal. High cliffs overlook the Bay of Fundy with the lighthouse standing proud on a steep hill reaching 200 feet above the bay.
12. Sunset at Fort Howe
The best place in Saint John for sunset is Fort Howe. Climb to the top of the hill and watch the sun go down over the city with the Trinity Church Steeple front and centre.
13. Carlton Martello Tower
Martello Tower dates back to the war of 1812. It is just one of 9 remaining Martello Towers in Canada that were important forts for keeping watch over the port. It is a national historic site and worth a visit. The structure has been restored with army barracks, jail, and gun powder rooms dating back to 1865.
It’s located near Bayshore Beach, when you are there, head down to the water for a little bit of beach time.
14. Hiking Trails Irving Nature Park
If you are looking for things to do in Saint John outdoors, there are plenty of things to do near the city. Irving Nature Park has plenty of hiking trails with lookouts to impressive views of The Bay of Fundy. With 6 different ecosystems, it’s an interesting hike. We stumbled upon a long sandy beach that we walked hand in hand in solitude and it is a great place for bird watching and watching the Bay of Fundy.
Saint John Day Trips
When travelling anywhere in Canada, we recommend having your own car. We booked a car rental for our road trip giving us a lot of flexibility. And with cheap parking across the street, we set out daily to explore the sights in and around the city. Most attractions are anywhere from 10 minutes to 2-hours away.
If you visit Saint John, New Brunswick, here are the main attractions you cannot miss.
15. Hopewell Rocks
The Hopewell Rocks are probably the most famous attraction on all of New Brunswick and with good reason. Located 2 hours from Saint John, they make for an excellent day trip from the city.
These flower pot rocks grace the covers of magazines and travel guides whenever one searches for Canadian East Coast Attractions. Every day 100 million tons of water drain from the Bay of Fundy revealing the ocean floor. This is your chance to witness the world’s highest tides.
Visitors can walk for hours along the Bay of Fundy taking in the massive rock formation uncovered by the tides. Keep an eye on tidal times to plan your visit. You can walk around the rocks 3 hours before and 3 hours after low tide.
We recommend visiting around sunset. Once the sun goes down, most people leave and you have it all to yourselves. There are companies that offer kayaking around Hopewell Rocks at high tide and this is highly recommended.
- We kayaked the Three Sisters on the other side of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia and it was a highlight of our trip!
16. Fundy National Park
Fundy National Park is one of Canada’s Premier National Parks Located between Hopewell Rocks and Saint John, it is just a 1-hour drive from the city. Spend at least a day exploring the beautiful scenery and hiking trails of the park. Trails range from short 100 metre walks to 8 km treks.
It’s a beautiful drive, but please do get out of the car to take in the lovely waterfalls, bogs, beaver ponds and boardwalks. If you decide to overnight in the park, there are several options from camping to cabin rentals, yurts and oTENTiks.
You can also book guided walks at the park headquarters to explore the Medicinal forests, beach explorations and indigenous experiences.
18. Cape Enrage
Cape Enrage is not only a gorgeous scenic stop on the coast, but it is also a beautiful drive. Driving through the winding roads, we stopped regularly to take in the views before coming out at a rocky beach filled with Inukshuks.
When the tide is out, the rock led to a giant sandbar where you can walk out 200 metres along the ocean floor.
Just a little farther along is the Cape Enrage lighthouse sitting atop a towering cliff. Bring a picnic to enjoy the view or have a coffee and snack at the restaurant.
There are also some adventures to be had including a zip line and 46-metre (150 foot) rappelling wall. We didn’t know about the rock climbing wall, or we would have definitely geared up for a climb.
19. St. Martins
St. Martins is a beautiful historic town that is not far from Saint John. While we recommend staying a night here, it can easily be done as a day trip to see it’s amazing scenery including its 2 covered bridges. New Brunswick is known for its historic covered bridges. You can find them scattered throughout the province. But there are two located very close to Saint John in the town of St. Martins.
If you time it right, you can experience the best of the Bay of Fundy at low tide. We went early in the morning to avoid crowds and traffic and explored at low tide. The town was quiet and fishing boats sat on dry land waiting for the tides to come in. The ocean floor was exposed and we walked along the rocky beach spying eagles perched on the pier looking for their prey. Be sure to take a walk on the trails near the lighthouse for better views of the river and bridges.
The Caves of St. Martin are also not to be missed! St. Martin Caves almost disappear at high tide, but when the water goes out, you can walk all the way out to explore inside. These caves are massive and impressive.
The red cliffs attract photographers from around the world to capture those iconic Instagram shots. Don’t forget to go around the corner to explore even more caves and cliffs.
And make sure come back later in the day to see the caves at high tide. You’ll be amazed to see how much water covers the ground that you walked on hours earlier. You can also book kayaking trips in St. Martins to go out and explore the Bay of Fundy.
20. Fundy Trail Parkway
St. Martins is the gateway to the Fundy Trail. The Fundy Trail Parkway is a 30km (19mile) drive along the coast of New Brunswick.
At one time, visitors could only see this scenic stretch of coastline by hiking the Fundy Footpath (68 km long). But today anyone can explore the coast by car with the option to get out and hike a few km to see beaches, gorges and waterfalls.
Hikes range from 300 (984 feet) metres long to 4.4 km. (2.73 miles) It is one of the most scenic drives in Canada with incredible views of massive sea cliffs. What we love about this drive is that the speed limit is only 40 km (24mph) and there are several pull-offs to take in the view.
21. Split Rock at Duck Pond Beach
We never would have known of this spot were it not for Ingrid at Bunkhaus Hostel. We were searching for a place to spend sunrise and she suggested Duck Pond Road, just 40 minutes outside the city.
While crowds gathered at the cliffs of St. Martins, we had the view of the Cliffs of Simonds all to ourselves. They are just as impressive as St. Martins with red cliffs stretching out to the sea. The cliffs are located on a beach where you can spread out a blanket to take in the view.
Alma is a town located at the entrance to Fundy National Park and is a charming fishing village that is worth spending some time in. It has a lot of different options for dining and a few places for accommodation.
There are gift shops and bookstores reminding me a bit of the small towns located along Route 66. In the summertime, this place is buzzing. It is here that you can capture another one of those iconic shots of fishing boats tied to the pier sitting on dry land waiting for the tide to come in.
Where to Eat in Saint John
Lemongrass/Peppers – Lemongrass had authentic Thai Cuisine that was very satisfying. Located at Market Square you can eat on the patio or inside.
East Coast Bistro – East Coast Bistro is an upscale restaurant that is perfect for a romantic night out. We strolled along Prince William Street to the inviting diner where we ate wine and cheese while waiting for our main course. I’ll definitely be eating there again.
Saint John Ale House – Located near Lemongrass at Market Square, Saint John Ale House is another great place to eat. Its upscale pub fare offers a lot of choice with a rotating menu. Like Lemongrass, it has a patio where you can take in the action on the boardwalk.
Italian by Night – This was our favourite meal in Saint John. The authentic Italian cuisines made us feel as if we had stepped into a little corner of Italy.
Port City Royal – Port City Royal has an inviting atmosphere with exposed brick and a comfy leather couch that invites patrons to mix and mingle. Great for a cocktail after your meal, or you can order food here too.
Where to Stay in Saint John
- The Hilton Saint John is a good central location on the water that is within walking distance to all the downtown attractions. Plus, you can never go wrong with a Hilton. Check out rates and Availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
- Delta Hotels by Marriott is another great location downtown. Just 25 minutes from Saint John Airport in the heart of downtown. The indoor pedway system connects it to Saint John City Market, Brunswick Square Shopping Complex, City Hall, the Canada Games Aquatic Centre, Harbour Station. View it on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Saint John, New Brunswick will definitely surprise you. Many people overlook travel to New Brunswick when visiting the East Coast, but there are many things to do in Saint John and the surrounding area.
If you add it to your itinerary, you won’t be disappointed.
If you ask someone from Saint John what makes it so special, the unanimous answer will be the people. And we agree! The people of Saint John are the friendliest in Canada and are happy to lend a helping hand, offer advice and just say hello in the morning while you are out for your coffee. If you travel to Saint John New Brunswick, you’ll make memories to last a lifetime.
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