Bonavista is where modern North America began. On June 24th 1497, Giovani Caboto (John Cabot), an Italian explorer sailing under the British flag for King Henry VII, made landfall in the New World. "O Buona Vista," meaning "Oh Happy Sight," he was said to exclaim after nearly two months at sea. News of the existence of this New Found Land--and the riches of the Grand Bank fishery--spread throughout Europe after Cabot's return journey across the Atlantic.
In the last decade of the 19th century, Bonavista was a booming town that serviced the 20,000 people living on the peninsula. Long a regional centre for the cod fishing industry, the closure of the fishery in 1992 saw Bonavista's population of ~6,500 nearly cut in half to its present population of 3,500.
Today Bonavista is experiencing a resurgence thanks to a sustainable snow crab fishery and a booming tourism sector. It is home to some of the friendliest folk in Newfoundland, and boasts several of the province's most important historic sites. Be prepared to get engaged in long and wide-ranging conversations. As tourism is a major industry, and wanes during the winter, many businesses are closed November–April, or longer. But in July and August, things are in full swing.
Many visitors travel to Newfoundland via the ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to either the Town of Port aux Basques on Newfoundland's southwest coast, or to the terminus in Argentia (Seasonal) near St John's. You can also travel here via a number of international airlines which travel to St. John's International Airport, or a few regional airlines that fly to Gander.
There are three access points to the Bonavista Peninsula in order to get to the Town of Bonavista. The most western access junction is at Port Blandford (Route 233), the Bonavista Overpass (Route 230), or at the Town of Clarenville (Route 230-A). St John's is about 3½ hr away, while Gander is about 3h away.
By public transport
Shirran's Taxi and courier operates the only public transport to Bonavista. Vans depart daily from Bonavista at 7AM, and depart from St John's for the return journey at around 2PM. With advance reservation you can be picked up or dropped off anywhere in either city or along the route. Approximately $40 one-way.
Hitchhiking in rural Newfoundland is relatively easy, though of questionable legality. It is pleasant when the weather is nice. Friendly locals and eager tourists often cover long distances. Be prepared to wait if stopping in an area with little traffic.See Hitchwiki for more.
Bonavista is a pedestrian's delight. The gentle topography is appealing but it is the rich cultural landscape which makes for enjoyable walking in the community.
There is a complex network of roads and laneways connecting the central area of the town known as the Harbour and Church Street to various sections of the community bearing age old names such as Canaille, Mockbeggar, Rolling Cove, Red Point, Bayley's Cove and Bakeapple Marsh. This all makes Bonavista a superb place to wander.
As the topography is relatively flat, traffic is light, drivers are courteous, and even more distant sites are seldom more than a few kilometres apart, travel by bicycle is also pleasant.
Most visitors to Bonavista come for the scenery, the cultural history, and the chance to view rare North Atlantic wildlife:
Iceberg season begins as the arctic sea ice melts, and winds and currents blow broken glacier chunks south along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts. Since Bonavista is a north-facing town on a long peninsula, icebergs are easily trapped in its vicinity. At peak iceberg season in May and June, dozens of icebergs can be spotted from shore or from nearly any scenic viewpoint (see below).
Puffins can theoretically be found all along the coast, though in practice, they're rather elusive. A marine bird, they only come to shore to breed and raise their young, which they do in earthen burrows. This tends to take place between roughly mid-April and mid-August. Since they also go back to sea to fish, the best time to spot them on the Bonavista cape is in the evenings, beginning a few hours before sunset, when they come back to feed their young and rest.
Twenty-two species of whale call Newfoundland home at various points in the year, returning in cyclical migrations to fish its rich fish stocks. With a little bit of patience and a lot of luck, they can be spotted from any vantage point with a view of the sea. In Bonavista, they've even been known to come right into the inner harbour! In practice though, it's exceptionally rare to spot them without a boat. Three companies run whale watching tours from Bonavista port:
- Discovery Sea Adventures (Tickets near Matthew Legacy), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 2½–3 hr tours aboard a zodiac, operating several times daily during peak season. Adults $90, Under 12 $60.
- , 15 Roper St (Near Matthew Legacy), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Roughly 2½ hr trips aboard a hard-hulled boat with washrooms and heated indoor seating available. Departs several times daily during peak season. Adults $65, Ages 4-12 $30.
- MV Shirley R, ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Operated by the Lancaster Inn aboard a converted fishing boat. Departs twice daily in season. Follows set route: whales subject to availability. Adults $80, Under 12 $50.
Bonavista is noted for the authenticity of its 19th-century (and earlier, and later) outport architecture. In addition to the provincial and national historic sites listed under "Do", check out the historic churches: Memorial United Church (completed 1923; 37 Church St) and St Joseph's Catholic Church (Completed 1842; 5 Sweeneys Ln) continue to offer regular religious services, while Alexander for All Souls Mortuary Chapel (completed 1897; 70 Coster St E) can sometimes be visited as a historic site. Civil society buildings include the Orange Hall (1907; 14 Sweetland's Hill), which once had the largest membership of loyal orangemen in Canada; Court House (1900; 1 Church St), still featuring whipping post, stocks, and a cannon from World War I; the Garrick Theatre (opened 1945), which often hosts a cinema or live entertainment; and wooden Fishing Flakes, raised wooden platforms located throughout town, which were once used to store and dry salt cod.
- 1 The Dungeon Provincial Park (Make a left on your way back from the lighthouse, or a right on your way into Bonavista from Elliston.). 24 hours daily. One of Newfoundland's smallest provincial parks, the highlight is an oceanside sinkhole penetrated by waves that pass through two openings in a gigantic archway. A frequent stop for tour busses, but otherwise you generally have the place to yourself. free.
- 2 White Rock Lookout, White Rock Rd (Drive as far as your vehicle is willing to go, then park and walk the rest of the way.). 24 hours daily. Visible from basically everywhere, the highest point in town is punctuated by a large silo that was painted with a blue mural in preparation for Queen Elizabeth II's arrival in 1997 in honour of the 500th anniversary of Cabot's voyage. A good place to get your bearings and to watch for big icebergs. free.
- 3 Bayview Hill. 24 hours daily. The site of a weather station and the second highest point in Bonavista, Bayview Hill has a 360-degree view of the town, the mountains, the sea in three directions, and the lighthouse. A few metres scramble from the gravel road to the top. free.
- 4 Elliston Puffin Viewing Point (former Maberly Provincial Park) (Drive through Elliston to the next cape, where signage is quite clear). Sunrise to Sunset. Perched high on a cliff a few hundred metres from the nearby roadway, Elliston's puffin viewing site is supposedly the closest shore-based viewing of a puffin nesting site anywhere in the world. But it's still worth bringing your binoculars or optical zoom camera! Unlike most puffin viewing sites, these puffins are generally still visible even in the middle of the day. free.
- 5 Cape Shore Trail. This pleasant trail starts from a wooden hut just outside of town and runs for 3½ km (one-way) to the lighthouse, following the beautiful shoreline and featuring occasional benches to stop for a break. Donations Appreciated.
- 6 Klondike Trail (Elliston to Spillar's Cove Trail). This 3½ km (one-way) trail leads from populated Elliston to spartan Spillar's Cove, running through low hills with drawfen trees before spilling out into a golden view high on the cliffs about the sea. Consider carrying on along the cliffs beyond the trail, but watch where you step, both for your own safety, and to protect the sensitive ecosystem. Donations appreciated.
- 7 Old Days Pond Boardwalk. 24 hours daily. Short boardwalk around a shallow inlet. Catches the sea breeze and has a nice view of the historic town centre. Free.
- 1 (Keep going North!). 9:30AM–5PM. One of Bonavista's top draws and Newfoundland's most photographed sites, the historic lighthouse includes an interpretive museum and is one of very few historic lighthouses in the world that permit entry. Your entry ticket also includes entry to the Mockbeggar Plantation. Access to the site is free, and includes a network of trails, excellent views, free binocular podiums, parking, and (in season) a puffin colony that is visible at dawn and dusk. $6/4/3 (adults/seniors/children 5-15), children under 5 and Newfoundland Historic Site pass holders ($15) free, Group and Family rates also available.
- 2 Mockbegger Plantation, Roper St (Overlooking the water to the north-west of the centre), ☎ . 9:30AM–5PM mid-May to Mid-Oct. Knowledgeable staff give tours of the family home of Newfoundland's first Canadian Senator, restored to the 1940s period. Features a stunning library/chapel. Often hosts events in summer. Entry includes/included with Lighthouse..
- 3 Ryan Premises, 10 Ryans Hill Rd (The ticket office is the left one of the two road-facing structures marked "shop."). 10AM–6PM seasonally. A National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada, the premises are a series of 19th-century buildings that once lodged the Ryan family and their cod businesses facilities. Now features a series of well presented museums and art displays. Free in 2017 in celebration of Canada 150.
- 4 Matthew Legacy, Roper St (The huge blue building right on the inner harbour), ☎ . 9:30AM–5PM. This building houses a small and text-heavy narrative museum about the era of Cabot's voyage, and a replica of his original ship (named Matthew) built in 1997 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Cabot's landing. While you can board the ship, due to maintenance issues, it is permanently in dry dock. Adults $7.25, concessions available.
- 5 Home from the Sea (John Crosbie Sealers Interpretation Centre), 5863 Main St, Elliston (Across the street from a church and sports centre), ☎ . May-Oct 9AM–5:30PM. A modern multimedia museum about the realities of the early seal hunt, plus commemoration of local men who died in the hunt, and a large gallery of 20th century seal-hunt paintings. Adults/Seniors/Students $7/$5/$5 + HST.
- 6 WWI Trench Shooting Range (Discovery Shooting Club) (From Highway 230 south of Bonavista, proceed 2 km along Hwy 238 towards Elliston.). Fire off a weapon of your choice (up to a grenade launcher) in one of many ranges, including a World War I trench. Advance booking encouraged. Shooting packages from $40..
- Discovery Day, June 24th, in celebration of Cabot's arrival in 1497
- The Bird Island Puffin Festival, one week in mid-July, celebrates Elliston's culture and landscape
- Bonavista Days, one weekend in late July, features the town's annual fireworks celebration
- Church Street Festival, early August, featuring Bonavista's Mummer's Parade, a disguised Newfoundland tradition
- Bonavista Bienniale, mid-Aug to mid-Sept odd years, huge international art exhibition
- The Roots, Rants, and Roars Festival, one weekend in mid-Sept, a celebration of food in Elliston.
Crafts and gifts
In addition to the unique shops listed below, souvenirs, gifts, and handicrafts are available at Cabot Crafts Nonprofit (adjacent to Bonavista Lighthouse), Ryan Premises Historic Shop (24 Ryan's Hill Rd), Tuckamore Discovery Puffin Shop (10 Bonavista Bay Hwy; also does walking tours), Bonavista Flowers and Gifts (69 Church St), and Broken Books (61 Church St, upstairs at Boreal Restaurant).
- Yellow Rose
- Tree Line Craft Shop
- Trailer Gifts
Groceries and supplies
Beer is available for purchase at any of the 3 gas stations located on the main highway at the entrance to town, or at the 3 convenience stores, located in the south, centre, and north of the town. Wine and Spirits are only available at Foodland's adjoining liquor store. In addition to Swyers (listed below), hardware and general goods are available at Home Hardware (18 Forbes St) and Riff's Department Store (56 Church St) respectively.
- 1 Foodland Supermarket, 143 Confederation Dr (On the main highway at the entry to town), ☎ . M–Sa 8AM–9PM, Su noon–5PM. This mid-sized Sobey's-owned supermarket has the largest selection in town, though is still very clearly a small town grocery. There is a pharmacy in the same plaza.
- 2 Saltbox Specialty Market, 59 Hospital Rd, Bonavista (Turn left when you get to Ryan Premises), ☎ . Fresh local crab, lobster, and mussels.
- 3 Swyer's, 11 Cape Shore Rd, ☎ . Bonavista's last remaining general store, the business relocated from its original location (whose structure, now housing a hotel and restaurant, confusingly still prominently bears its name), but continues to offer fresh produce, grocery, hardware, and retail goods.
Most local restaurants are only open during the summer tourist season. Subway (154 Confederation Dr, inside Irving Gas Station) is the only international fast-food chain, though Newfoundland-native Mary Brown's Famous Chicken & Taters (230 Confederation Dr) has begun an international expansion in recent years. Pizza is available at Marsh's Snack Bar (62 Church St) and Greco Pizza (11 Campbell St).
- 1 Boreal, 61 Church St (A few blocks north of the bridge in the centre of town), ☎ . M-Sa noon-10PM, Su 10AM–3PM. The closest thing to "fine dining" in Bonavista, and what foodies would declare its best restaurant, Boreal opened in 2016 with a rotating small weekly menu of locally-inspired international dishes. $12-20 for mains.
- 2 Skipper's, 42 Campbell St (At the main level of the Harbour Quarters Inn), toll-free: . 7AM–9PM daily during peak season, less in shoulder seasons, closed Jan–May. An inoffensive hotel restaurant with a good view of the inner harbour. Serves standard Canadian offerings (sandwiches, pasta, etc.) and a few Newfoundland dishes as well. Has a full bar. $10-18 for mains.
- 3 PK's Dining Room and Take-Out, 89 Church St (A few blocks north from the bridge at the centre of town), ☎ . A classic Newfoundland diner with a tasteful adjoining dining room. PK's has a broad menu but specializes in seafood. $8-15 for mains.
- 4 Baie Vista, 11 Campbell St (At the main intersection, where the road into town reaches the harbour), ☎ . A classic rural Canadian breakfast diner, which also serves lunch and dinner. Popular with seniors. Coffee is cheap and weak. Hearty food, big portions, efficient service. Shares a building with Greco's Pizza. $6-14 for mains.
- 5 Little Dairy King, Cape Shore Rd (Near the turn-off for The Dungeon), ☎ . Beautifully located on the cape, it serves a wide variety of good freshly prepared food, plus take-away ice cream. Mains $6-15.
- 6 Sweet Rock Ice Cream, 102 Church St (The last shop on the main strip north of the bridge at town centre), ☎ . An Ontario couple have settled in Newfoundland and opened this fresh and delicious ice cream parlour, specializing in local flavours. They also sell chocolates from their shop in nearby Trinity.
- 7 Moreish Cupcake Bakery, 77 Church St (Across from Shannon's Pub), ☎ , . Tu–Sa 11AM–7PM, Su noon–6PM. The locals have a sweet tooth, so much so that Moreish might be the only place they're willing to queue.
- 8 Nanny's Root Cellar Kitchen, 77 Main St, Elliston. Set inside Elliston's 19th-century Loyal Orange Lodge, Nanny's serves up classic Newfoundland dishes in big portions. A good place to try fried cod's tongue. mains $10-16.
- 1 Neil's Yard (Behind the Mockbeggar plantation), ☎ . 9:30AM-5:30PM. Miss Europe? English Neil and French Francine make Bonavista's only Espresso, which you can pair with a Breton Crepe while gazing at the view from their historic seaside property. Coffees $3-5, Crepes $9-14.
- 2 Mifflin's Tea Room, 21 Church St (Across from the post office), ☎ . M-Sa 8AM-9PM, Su noon-9PM. Cozy tea room with a big patio, ideal for warm drinks on cold days or cold drinks on warm days. Good tea, quality coffee, food served too. Jiggs Dinner available from lunchtime Sundays until sold out.
- 3 Robin's Donuts, 248 Confederation Dr (On the main Highway 230 at the entrance to town), ☎ . very early to very late. Chain shop with a drive-through. This is where you need to go if you're a Tim Horton's addict, since the nearest Timmies is a long, long ways away.
- 4 Walkham's Gate Pub and Cafe, 2 Sweetland Hill (At the very centre of town, by the bridge), ☎ . A dark watering hole with video lottery terminals along one wall, Walkham's long stood as Bonavista's only true pub. It occasionally gets lively for weekends and events. The adjacent cafe serves decent food, good desserts, and cheap coffee, and is generally open later than most other restaurants in town.
- 5 Shannon's Pub and Grill, 82 Church St, ☎ . 11am-late. A real Irish pub owned by a real guy from Ireland. Good craic. Opened summer 2017.
There are a number of hotels and B&Bs in Bonavista, in addition to a wide selection of vacation rental properties.
- 1 , 40 John Cabot Dr (From the bridge at the centre of town, continue south along the winding road, a few hundred metres past Ryan Premises), toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM. A clean property near the centre with free parking and Wi-Fi. Guests have access to shared toilets with hot showers, and a full kitchen. Dorms have a plug and light for each bed. Private rooms have locks, TVs, and individual thermostats. Lockers in a common space are free to use. Dorms (4-bed, 6-bed) $30/$35, Private (4x double, 1x double + bunk) $65/$69 (member/non-member).
- 2 Elliston Municipal Park (Gary Baker Memorial Campground) (Just east of Elliston, before the puffin site). A field for tents, 16 serviced lots, picnic sites, washrooms, and a kitchen. Tents $7, unserviced site $15, serviced site $20.
- 3 White's B&B, 21 Windlass Dr, Bonavista NL, ☎ . Private double from $100.
- 4 The Harbour Quarters Inn, 42 Campbell St, toll-free: . In a city filled with B&Bs, this is arguably the only true hotel: The 11-room inn is the largest in Bonavista. The building was built in 1920 and restored in 2004. Skipper's Restaurant occupies the main level of the building. $100-160 off-season, $140-240 in-season.
- 5 Robbin's by the Sea, 38 Ryan's Hill (100m past Ryan Premises). Overlooking the harbour, stunning sunset views in summer. $125-150.
Cellular service is provided by Telus/Bell and their subsidiaries and network users (including Virgin, Koodo, PC Mobile, and Public Mobile). SIM cards are available at the Bell distributor, Custom Computer Centre (23 Church St). Rogers and its subsidiaries and network users (including Fido, Chatr, and 7/11 Speakout) do not have service in the Bonavista Peninsula region.
WiFi is available for customers at many restaurants and hotels.
Scotiabank (64 Church St, Bonavista) is the only bank in the area, but there are also ATMs at Walkhams Pub, Irving Gas Station, and Bonavista Convenience.
There is a full-service Canada Post in the centre of town.
- Explore Trinity and other areas of the Bonavista Peninsula
- Terra Nova National Park
- St. John's
- Saint Pierre and Miquelon