There are no facilities on the cruise pier. As the locals say, the cruise dock is within five minutes walking distance of everything you'll want to see or do downtown.
Signal Hill National Historic Site
, at the mouth of St. John's Harbour, commemorates the cliff top where signal flags once alerted merchants, customs officials and harbor pilots to approaching ships, be they friend or foe. Cabot Tower, built in 1897, is perched atop the hill. The tower was used for signaling until 1960 and houses exhibits of Marconi's historic, first-ever transatlantic wireless message, received on the hill in 1901. (Open 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, June to August; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., mid-April to May and mid-September to January)
, seven miles southeast of town, is the easternmost point in North America. It's the site of Cape Spear Lighthouse, Newfoundland's oldest surviving lighthouse. Built in 1836 and actively used until 1955, it has been restored to its original appearance. Depending on the time of year, from the top of Cape Spear, you might see icebergs (they float over from Greenland), whales or seabirds. (Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, May 22 to June 11; daily, June 12 to September 4; and Saturday to Wednesday, September 5 to October 15)
is a cultural museum, art gallery and provincial archives rolled into one. Though the colorfully painted sides of the building are based on simple, oceanfront fishing rooms where families once processed their catch, the massive structure is strikingly modern and dominates the skyline. Displays and dioramas depict the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, starting from the glacier age. (9 Bonaventure Avenue; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, June to mid-October; closed Mondays, mid-October to May)Johnson Geo Centre
showcases geology of the world in general and Newfoundland and Labrador in particular. The museum is built largely underground in 550 million-year-old rocks. It also includes a fascinating Titanic exhibit that tells the complete story of the ship's sinking. (175 Signal Hill Road; open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays mid-October to mid-May)
An accident of storing port wine in St. John's in the late 1600s seemed to give the wine a better flavor. Hence, the practice of leaving port to mature in Newman Wine Vaults
, not to mention the ensuing ghostly tales. The brick and stone vaults that remain are among the city's oldest structures, and tours capitalize on the haunted factor to build intrigue. Sampling port helps, too. (435 Water Street; Open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, July to August)
Train buffs will be fascinated by the Railway Coastal Museum
. It's located on the ground floor and passenger platform of the century-old Newfoundland Railway station. Learn about trains that once criss-crossed the island, providing links to coastal steamers. See the interiors of vintage dining cars and sleepers. (495 Water Street; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, June to mid-October. The rest of the year, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday)
and comical puffins
return to Newfoundland each summer. Watch them on boat tours departing from Bay Bulls. You'll cruise around Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to two million seabirds and countless whales. Tours last two to three hours and leave several times a day, May to October. Two popular operators are Gatherall's (www.gatheralls.com) and O'Brien's.
On Foot: Water Street, the main shopping street, is one block up the hill from the port. Water Street runs into George Street, best known for its lively pubs. The City of St. John's Visitor Information Center at 348 Water Street is open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., May through early October and weekdays the rest of the year.
By Taxi: Taxis are usually waiting at the pier. If you're heading to the airport and your ship does not supply transfers, take the 20-minute taxi ride. Call Bugden's Taxi at 709-722-4400.
By Bus: Ride the Metrobus around town. Be aware, exact change is required. Or, buy a multi-ride M pass online. (www.metrobustransit.ca)
By Car: So you want to get out of town and don't want to join a tour. Rent a car. All the major rental agencies are represented. Cars are in limited supply, so make a reservation.
St. John's claims it has more pubs for its population than any city in Atlantic Canada, and many of them are found on George Street. So, what could be more natural than a pub lunch or pub dinner of fish and chips? The fish is generally cod. Don't miss the local favorite of cod cheeks or crispy cod tongues. Both are fleshy parts of the cod's head and as tender as you might imagine.
Local Eats: Portobello's (115 Duckworth Street, www.portobellosrestaurant.ca) serves exceptional seafood, steak and poultry in a two-story setting overlooking the harbor. Lunch, served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, includes salads, chowder, fish cakes and pan-fried cod with scrunchions (fried pork rind). Celtic Hearth (298 Water Street) serves beer-battered fish and chips, Guinness lamb stew, and other Irish pub grub. It's open 24 hours and handy if you're looking for a bite at odd hours. The Gypsy Tea Room is tucked in the historic Murray Premises. The Mediterranean menu highlights seafood. Check out the fisherman's stew, seafood pasta or Greek souvlaki. (315 Water Street; Open for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday; brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)
Gourmet Dining: Oppidan (115 Cavendish Square in the Sheraton Hotel) offers chic surroundings with harbor views. Lunch, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., features Screech glazed salmon, burgers and salads. Saltwater Restaurant + Bar (284 Duckworth Street) serves fresh fish and shellfish in a classy contemporary setting. Go for lunch, noon to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Near Attractions: Grab a bite at The Rooms Cafe. when visiting the cultural museum of the same name. The menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches and traditional fish dishes. (9 Bonaventure Avenue; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday)
Where You're Docked
Ships dock in the heart of town, at piers 10 and 11 alongside Harbour Drive. When two ships call, the smaller vessel docks at pier 17. If you don't have an exact address, no worries. You'll be able to see your ship from all over town.
Watch Out For
Don't confuse St. John's, Newfoundland, with Saint John, New Brunswick (it's easy to do because both are cruise ports found on Atlantic Canada itineraries). And, when setting your watch, note that Newfoundland has its own time zone. It's an hour and a half ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Canadian dollar is the official currency. Visit www.xe.com and www.oanda.com for current rates. ATMs are easy to find in banks and the lobbies of larger hotels. Most shops and some taxis accept credit cards.
English is the official language. After a few pints at the pub, you might have a hard time understanding the accents or local slang. "Now the once," for example, means "a little later in the day."
It's worth buying a bottle of Screech Rum, a high-proof spiced rum, for the fun name on the label alone. A shot of Screech and kissing a cod fish serve as integral parts of being "Screeched in," a hilarious ceremony at a bar or on an excursion that welcomes mainlanders to the island of Newfoundland. For a sweeter foodie option, bring home berry jams, especially those made from bakeapple (aka cloudberry) and partridgeberry.