These exciting things to do in Saint John, New Brunswick, will help you plan the most incredible visit for a weekend or longer in the only city on the Bay of Fundy.
As the only city that lies on the shores of the epic Bay of Fundy, Saint John, New Brunswick, is already a destination worth experiencing. But the excitement and adventure of Canada’s oldest incorporated city involve so much more than just the historic waterfront.
Saint John’s incredible collection of historic buildings, where baristas steam art in the foamy milk of macchiatos and a plethora of new and exciting restaurants and attractions are popping up along a once-neglected waterfront, is one of Canada’s most up-and-coming cities.
The lure of Saint John’s historic avenues and bohemian vibe has attracted droves of Canadians, Americans, and Europeans to the city on cruise ships and road trips in search of incredible food, vats of craft beer, and the alluring nature that makes Saint John one of the best hubs for exploring the Bay of Fundy.
Saint John is the second-largest city in New Brunswick and, with all of the exciting things to do in Saint John, is often mistaken as the province’s capital. But that designation actually lies with the city of Fredericton, another fantastic New Brunswick destination that lies just one hour inland.
About Saint John, NB
The history of Saint John, NB, treads back thousands of years. The Saint John River is the traditional home of the Maliseet First Nations and was also often visited by the Mi’kmaq First Nation. For thousands of years prior, the region was home to the Passamaquoddy Nation.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain first landed on the shores of what would eventually become the city of Saint John in 1604. It was June 24, the day of St. John the Baptist’s feast, where the Saint John River received its name. The river had been named Wolatoqiyik by the local Mi’kmaq communities.
The ideal location for trade and defense led to an established French settlement, which lasted until the Acadian Civil War before being abandoned in 1755. It was then that British forces moved in. During the following decades, the city of Saint John was shaped by waves of immigration, most notably during the Great Famine, which led to the modern city’s unique culture and society.
Modern-day Saint John is a fabulous mix of both historical elements and hip urban culture. It’s a city that is an ideal blend of Maritime culture, natural beauty, and chic couture where high-end shopping and risk-taking restauranteurs slip between traditional local delights and Canadian-ethnic fusion.
Exciting Things To Do In Saint John, New Brunswick
It’s no surprise that Saint John, Canada’s first incorporated city, boasts a tremendous amount of history. However, there is far more to this Maritime city of 70,000 residents than just old buildings and fishing boats.
Saint John is amid a resurgence as locals who left the city for school and careers are drawn back to the romance and livability of the city by the bay. As they return, they’re bringing with them global ideas and risk-taking ventures that have given new life to the city and the surrounding area.
The city remains an amazing urban base for those exploring the harbour and the Bay of Fundy and a must-stop for those undertaking an East Coast road trip. And with the amazing list of attractions in Saint John, it’s not hard to imagine why so many visitors choose to stay.
So hang on tight and prepare to be amazed as we explore the best things to do in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Saint John City Market
There are few better ways to begin a day exploring what to do in Saint John than with a stop at the Saint John City Market. Canada’s oldest continuously operated farmer’s market dates back nearly 250 years to 1785.
Here you can shop from local artisans, bakers, butchers, farmers, and restauranteurs. You’ll find a great range of deals throughout stalls, lined up neatly beneath a towering ceiling. Try “dulse,” a dried seaweed that has become a Maritime favourite.
Or, make your way over to Slocum & Ferris, one of the oldest restaurants in Canada, having been established in 1885. Don’t let the simple facade fool you. They serve up some of the best classic breakfasts in town.
Reversing Falls Rapids
For many visitors to Saint John, Reversing Falls Rapids tends to rank among the most “underwhelming” things to do in the city. While I’ll admit this is not a “thrill a minute” attraction, Reversing Falls is also one of Canada’s most little-understood geological wonders. It’s only by seeing the river in various stages of movement throughout the day that one can truly begin to appreciate the sheer mass of water that is being moved.
Twice a day, the epic tides of the Bay of Fundy (home to the highest tides in the world) race through the bay, sending the waters of the Saint John River racing 90 kilometres back upstream. This attraction has become the cornerstone of the Saint John tourism industry with a brand new multi-story viewing platform with glass floors, a cafe, and a multimedia presentation called “The Plank Restaurant, Bar & Lookout”
The Plankis not the best place to view Reversing Falls. that award goes to the completely free viewing platform on the other side of the river. However, if you’re looking for great insight into the history, geology, and natural beauty of Reversing Falls, The Plank offers a great place to learn about the feature.
Located along the North Market Wharf, funky Market Square houses a range of eateries, local bars, and shops housed in renovated warehouses that date back to the 1800s. The lively hotspot offers a mix of historic charm paired with the modern, hip pulse of the city.
New renovation means that quite a bit of construction is happening near the market, but at nighttime, this vibrant section of the city comes to life with live music, local craft beer, and exciting shops.
Market Square offers some of the best places to eat in Saint John, including Saint John Ale House and Lemongrass.
After grabbing some picnic essentials from the Saint John City Market, one of the best things to do in Saint John is to enjoy the atmosphere of Kings Square, one of the best parks in the city.
Wander among the statues, fountains, and shade trees in a park that was established WAY back in 1734. The park was named for King George III and features many monuments dedicated to British and Canadian war heroes.
The park is absolutely lovely in the summer and makes for one of the best picnic spots in the city. It’s also very close to the Old Loyalist Burial Ground, the final resting place of some of Saint John’s earliest settlers.
Enjoy a Self-Guide Walking Tour of Saint John
One of the top attractions in Saint John, New Brunswick, is the Loyalist Trail. This trail, which winds up and down the streets of the historic city centre follows in the footsteps of the early settlers, many of whom were Americans loyal to the British Empire.
Throughout uptown Saint John, you’ll find several plaques and signs indicating the buildings associated with this early Canadian history, including the County Court, the City Market, the Stone Church, and the Loyalist House on Union St.
Of the seven ships that anchored in the Saint John Harbour in 1783, many were instrumental in the development of the city of Saint John and its eventual establishment as the oldest incorporated city in Canada.
The Loyalist Trail is just one of three Saint John walking tours. On the Discover Saint John website you can also find guides for the Victoria Stroll and the Prince William Walk.
Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site
Carleton Martello Tower is a Parks Canada National Historic Site located not far from the Saint John-Digby Ferry that takes travellers across to Nova Scotia.
A Martello is a small defensive fort built across the British Empire during the 19th century. They were used from the time of the French Revolutionary War to defend coastal land.
The Carleton Martello Tower dates back to the War of 1812 and was a critical defensive structure straight through until World War II. The historic site features a small museum and visitors centre, a restored powder magazine, a barracks, and some of the best views of Saint John and Saint John Harbour. Make sure to snap a photo in the iconic Parks Canada Red Chairs.
Irving Nature Park
Located on the west side of Saint John, Irving Nature Park is definitely one of the best places to visit in Saint John for outdoor lovers. This sprawling 243-hectare wooded park features groomed trails and gravel paths to enable hikers, walkers, and cyclists to enjoy the beautiful Fundy coastline.
The park features a children’s forest, playgrounds, mazes, and barbecues. You’ll also find numerous boardwalks, beaches, hiking trails, and educational programs, including stargazing, snowshoeing, and story sessions. And the best part of it all, they’re all free!
Rockwood Park, located in the northern section of the city, is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. This sprawling outdoor playground is part of the Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, the first of its kind in North America. The park contains over a billion years of history etched and folded into the rock within the park.
But it’s far more than just geology on offer. There is boating, fishing, and swimming during the summer, and skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing during the winter. You can also enjoy kayaking and rock climbing, or even play a round of golf.
The Three Sisters Lamp
Walking along Water St., it’s hard not to notice the bright red three-posted lamp sitting in a park near Prince William St. The Three Sisters Lamp, which lines up directly with the steeple of Trinity Church, was used to help captains navigate their way safely into Saint John Harbour at night.
The three red gas lamps were visible up to three miles into the sea. If the lamps appeared individually, sailors knew they were heading straight into the harbour. But they knew they would need to alter their course if they could only see one or two.
The Saint John Foodie Scene
Situated right on the Maritime coast of the Bay of Fundy, it’s easy to assume that Saint John has world-class seafood. But the city’s food scene doesn’t end at shellfish.
Wander some of the best restaurants in Saint John to discover steak, lobster, smoked salmon, wood-oven baked pizza (try Pomodori Pizza), and delightful courses made from fresh, local ingredients. Consider some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants, including Slocum & Ferris, one of Canada’s oldest restaurants, the Saint John Ale House, which serves up scrumptious lobster and glittering beer, or Vegolution, one of the city’s most celebrated vegan joints.
The Saint John Craft Beer Scene
Craft beer in Saint John is a celebrated tradition. The city hosts three distinct craft breweries with over 67 local beers on tap. You can even visit Uncorked Tours at the Saint John City Market to explore the regions wineries. Or visit some of the local breweries, including Big Tide Brewing or Wasted Day Brewing, to sample the flavours paired with local eats.
Moosehead is the oldest independently owned brewery in Canada. they have recently opened a small batch brewery on site.
Saint John makes for a fantastic home base for exploring the Bay of Fundy. Not only does this magnificent bay on the Atlantic Coast have the highest tides in the world (reaching higher than a four-story building), but it’s also home to many whale species, including minke and humpback whales. You might also have a chance to see the world’s second-largest living creature, the massive Finback Whale.
While no whale tours depart directly from Saint John, whale tours typically depart from Campobello, Grand Manan, and St. Andrews and generally run from July to early September.
Now It’s Time to Experience These Things To Do In Saint John For Yourself
There are more things to do in Saint John, New Brunswick than meets the eye. From the amazing parks and historic buildings to the bumping Saint John food scene and everything in between, you can find something for everyone in this beautiful region of New Brunswick.
Many of these businesses and restaurants are anxious for visitors after a tough year. So let’s support local and make the most of your Saint John adventure.
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Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.