Saint John, New Brunswick is a unique and refreshing east coast destination, perfect for exploring if your cruise stops at the port, or if you’re planning a road trip to the Maritimes.
The welcoming, historic city has a great food and drink scene, and offers lots to do outside, from fun hiking and biking trails, to beaches, shopping, and more.
Here are seven of my favourite things to do in Saint John that you need to explore the next time you’re visiting the Port City.
Explore historic Uptown Saint John
Saint John is a truly historic city, and the Uptown area around Kings Square offers a lot of those stories, iconic buildings, beautiful park spaces, restaurants, and art galleries. You can easily walk the area for an hour or two, or spend half the day snacking, exploring, and discovering the city’s story.
Kings Square itself features a beautiful bandstand, with statues and memorials to important people that helped inspire the city (like Sir Samuel Tilley, one of the Fathers of Confederation), and it’s a great spot to start walking, if you head out on foot. You can even book a walking tour if you would like to learn more about the history.
Across the street is the iconic Loyalist Burial Ground, that was started in 1783, and features a number of important people from the city’s founding.
On the other side of Kings Square you’ll find the Saint John City Market, which I’ll get to in the next section, and then you can walk down King Street to explore side streets that are filled with art galleries, restaurants, breweries, and some of the most beautiful architecture in the city.
You can also visit Market Square, the nearby Waterfront Container Village that offers unique artisanal gifts, and the Imperial Theatre, where you can book a 15 minute tour to see this beautiful venue.
Highlights of the Uptown area include Picaroons General Store for a pint, Hopscotch Whisky Bar, Churchill’s Pub & Steakhouse, Java Moose coffee, Wild Flours Sweets and Treats bakery, Handworks art gallery, and Freak Lunchbox for all the candy you can imagine.
Sample the Saint John City Market
Across from Kings Square, the Saint John City Market is a National Historic Site of Canada, and the current building was opened in 1876, but the market dates back even further. The market is the oldest continuing farmer’s market in Canada, and inside you’ll find fruit and vegetables, the iconic roof that looks like a ship’s hull, artisans, food, and wine tasting.
As part of a larger tour of the Uptown area, and the nearby streets and stores, the market is really interesting and you can get great photos inside. Stop for a selfie or a group photo, pick up some snacks or book a tour, or grab breakfast from Slocum & Ferris.
Plus, if you arrive at the start or end of the day, you can hear the ringing of the Market Bell, the tradition that goes back all the way to the origin of this Saint John institution. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to find some dulse, the seaweed snack that many New Brunswickers love.
Visit Fort Howe and Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Sites
Built as British forts in 1777 and 1813, respectively, these two National Historic Sites of Canada offer very unique perspectives on the city, but also a unique perspective into the history of the city.
Used in the War of 1812, the conflicts surrounding World War II, and part of the city’s defences right up to 1944, the sites offer park space, and the history that helped to shape the city. They’re also the kinds of structures you can really only find in a small number of cities on the coast.
Fort Howe is free to visit, while Carleton Martello charges a modest fee, and it’s free for youth under 17.
See the Reversing Falls
For more than 3,000 years the Reversing Falls have been a fascinating part of the area, as the Bay of Fundy’s tides push back against the Saint John River. Twice each day, the tides cause the river to essentially back up, creating whirlpools and turbulent waters.
There are two places where you can view the spectacle, from either the Fallsview Park on the east side of the river, or Wolastoq Park on the west side.
For a bite to eat, the Plank Restaurant has windows that look out over the river, so you can watch as the tide comes in or out.
The Reversing Falls are always interesting, and can even be quite calm at times, so for the most activity check a tide schedule and plan to visit at high or low tide.
Hiking at Irving Nature Park
One of Saint John’s most popular outdoor destinations, Irving Nature Park features over 600 acres of land, and over 11 km of coastline on the Bay of Fundy.
The huge park includes boardwalks, walking trails, viewing platforms, a lookout tower, and a Children’s Forest with a playground and mazes, so there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast. Walking here you can discover wildlife, picturesque views, a wide range of flora and fauna, and it’s a wonderful spot for a picnic.
The park also occasionally hosts special events, and it’s all free and there are a number of parking lots.
Soft adventure at Rockwood Park
Rockwood Park is a gem, and it’s one of the largest urban parks in Canada. At nearly 2,100 acres, the beautiful park includes hills, caves, lakes, and dozens of trails.
Visitors can play golf, camp out, go biking, boating, or swimming, there are playgrounds, and even a wellness spa to get a little pampering.
Part of the Stonehammer Geopark, the park has climbing, guided tours, equipment rentals, and so much more.
You can easily visit casually and hike the trails, but kayak rentals start at $32, bike rentals start at $30, plus there is paddle boarding, hydro bikes, zorbs, and rock climbing starts at $65 per person.
Rockwood Park also has two restaurants, and there’s swimming at Lily Lake and Fisher Lakes.
Take a day trip to St. Martins
A short drive from Saint John, at just a little over 40 minutes, St. Martins is a quaint, charming, and vibrant community with great seaside restaurants, inns, and sea caves alongside a large, public beach.
You can easily spend a morning or afternoon in St. Martins and still have time to enjoy Saint John, but there’s enough to do here that you can also make it a slow vacation, and spend a day or two visiting St. Martins too.
The town features a small harbour with fishing boats, a special two-lane covered bridge, shops and art studios, and more than a dozen inns, B&Bs, and places to stay, like the classic St. Martins Country Inn.
For meals, you can’t beat The Caves Restaurant, right beside the caves, but there are lots of options, and the Fundy Trail Parkway is also around the corner for more scenic coastal hikes and views.
Are you ready to plan your Saint John trip, or your New Brunswick road trip? Read my guides on where to go in New Brunswick, get inspired by the Fundy coastal drive itinerary from St. Andrews to Moncton, and find out how to plan your travel to the province.
Looking for festivals and events in Saint John? Visit Tourism New Brunswick for the full listings or Discover Saint John. The city hosts lots of events all year, and this summer you can experience the new Boxcar Country Music Festival on July 28 & 29 at the Waterfront Container Village.
Looking for more travel stories? Visit our Canadian Travel Guide for ideas across the country.
All images by W. Andrew Powell/The GATE, except Reversing Falls and Carleton Martello Tower which are courtesy of Discover Saint John.
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