13 Best Sights in Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador

Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve

Fodor's choice

The reserve has some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in Newfoundland and is a good place to spot whales. Most birds visit from March through August, although some will be viewable in October. You can visit the interpretation center—guides are on-site in summer for larger groups—and then walk to within 100 feet of nesting gannets, murres, black-billed kittiwakes, and razorbills. At busy times you may have to wait your turn at the observation point. Call ahead to check on weather conditions before heading out. In July and August the interpretation center presents local artists performing traditional music.

Ferryland Lighthouse

Fodor's choice

This historic lighthouse, built in 1870, now signals the spot for breathtaking views, worry-free picnics, and great food such as smoked salmon and ice-shrimp sandwiches, green salads, and gooseberry fools. You bring the appetite, and the lighthouse staff packs everything else—even the blanket. Bread is baked daily here; in fact, everything is made on-site down to the desserts and freshly squeezed lemonade. Check the website for menus. Picnics start at C$27 per person and reservations are required; July and August book up especially quickly.

Grates Cove

Fodor's choice

Grates Cove community is 75 km (46 miles) north of Harbour Grace on Route 70. Here is a photographer's dream, with vistas of both Trinity and Conception bays from the flat rocks by the harbor. In iceberg season, you cannot find a wider field of view for the startling magnificence. The fields are covered with the remains of dry stone walls built by the original Irish settlers. Maintained and well-marked walking paths wind through the hills, the community, and along the cliffs. A community-built museum is always open to the public.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Castle Hill National Historic Site

Just north of Placentia, Castle Hill is what remains of the French fortifications. The visitor center has an exhibit that shows the life and hardships experienced by early English and French settlers in the settlement then known as "Plaisance." Performances of Faces of Fort Royale, a play about the French era, take place during the summer as weather allows on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 1:30. There are hiking trails from the forts and many lookouts on-site.

Colony of Avalon

A major ongoing archaeological dig at Ferryland has uncovered this early-17th-century colony founded by George Calvert, later Lord Baltimore. The highlights of a visit here include six dig sites, exhibits of artifacts uncovered at them, two period gardens, and a reconstructed 17th-century kitchen. You can watch the conservationists at work in their laboratory, examining and restoring newly discovered artifacts, and take in living-history demonstrations that provide a feel for colonial times. Admission includes access to the Visitor Centre and a fascinating guided tour.

1 The Pool, Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A 2H0, Canada
sights Details
Rate Includes: C$16, Closed Oct.–May

Cupids Cove Plantation

The first English settlement in Canada (founded by John Guy in 1610) has been an active archaeological dig since 1995. Engaging tours of the site are given by archaeologists and archaeology students with specific knowledge of the dig and infectious enthusiasm for the region's history.

Cupids Legacy Centre & Museum

With interactive displays, interpretive tours, a shop, and an archaeological lab, this is a good place to learn about the English settlement founded here in 1610. The bright and modern museum traces 400 years of settlement in the area through interactive exhibits and a selection of the 153,000 artifacts recovered to date at the nearby archaeological site. These include trade beads and the oldest English coin found in Canada.

368 Seaforest Dr., Cupids, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A 2B0, Canada
sights Details
Rate Includes: C$9, Closed mid-Oct.–May

Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the most significant fossil sites in the world at 575 million years old. Fossils of more than 20 species of ancient organisms are found in the mudstones here, and almost all of them represent extinct groups unknown in our modern world. Mistaken Point is 152 km (94 miles) south of St. John's via Route 10. Access to the fossils is by guided hike only. Tours are offered daily at 1 pm from the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South and include access to an exhibit at the Visitor Centre. Tours generally take from 3½ to 4 hours and include a 3-km (1.8-mile) one-way hike across the barrens toward the ocean to the fossil site. Call ahead to ensure availability and to check weather conditions. Proper footwear is required.

While you're here, travel 8 km (5 miles) farther along the road to Cape Race Lighthouse, famous for receiving one of the first SOS messages from the Titanic.

Salmon Cove Sands

This 1,640-foot sandy beach offers a pleasant day for families. With a river nearby, you have a choice of swimming in the very cold ocean water or in the more inviting fresh water. For nonswimmers, there's a 2-km (1.2-mile) hiking trail and beautiful views of surrounding rock cliffs. An on-site kiosk sells refreshments and snacks. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: swimming.

Beach Rd., Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A 3S0, Canada
sights Details
Rate Includes: C$8, Closed Oct.–May

Salmonier Nature Park

Many indigenous animal species—including caribou, lynx, owls, and otters—along with moose, which were introduced from New Brunswick a little more than a century ago, can be seen at this 437-acre wilderness area. An enclosed 3 km (1½ mile) boardwalk that is stroller and wheelchair accessible allows up-close viewing.

The Newfoundland Distillery Company

Newfoundland's first artisanal gin distillery has quickly expanded their award-winning line of local liquors and built a very cool tasting room. Located on the water in the small community of Clarke's Beach, the distillery draws a crowd on summer evenings. The seaweed, rhubarb, and bakeapple gins, along with fiery aquavit, are all worth the stop.

14 Conception Bay Hwy., Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A 1W0, Canada
709-786–1047-tasting room and shop
sights Details
Rate Includes: Closed Mon.–Wed.

Western Bay Root Cellars

At the edge of Western Bay, at the end of Lighthouse Road, a boardwalk will take you to a windy point with an unmanned lighthouse. If you take a right turn before the boardwalk, you can follow a trail that brings you to a secluded grassland called Bradley's Cove, where 200-year-old root cellars still stand. This trail also affords opportunity to encounter foxes and other woodland creatures sunning themselves on the rocks. 

Lighthouse Rd., Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A 4J0, Canada

Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Besides the colonies of seabirds and pods of whales in late spring and early summer, this is an excellent place to see icebergs, which can remain in Newfoundland's waters into June and sometimes July. The loud crack as an iceberg breaks apart can be heard from shore, but a boat gets you a closer look at these natural ice sculptures. Icebergs have spawned a lucrative business in Newfoundland beyond tourism. Iceberg water and iceberg vodka are now on the market, made from ice chipped from the 10,000-year-old bergs as they float by.

The best views of birds and icebergs are from the tour boats that operate here and are the only way to visit the reserve. There is no public access to the islands themselves—only management staff and scientific researchers (with a permit) are allowed to land. If you're driving down from St. John's, allow about four hours: between 30 and 45 minutes each way for the drive, about 90 minutes for the boat trip, and a bit of time to spare.