Tapping toes in St John’s

As one of the oldest cities in North America, St John’s in Newfoundland is rich in history, colourful characters and toe-tapping music. In our 3-day stay we meet a host of friendly locals keen to share their stories and to help us understand why they are such proud inhabitants of this feisty seafaring town. But there’s also a ‘short-cut’ way to learn about St John’s and its fishing past and that’s through the music.

st johns newfoundland

I am privileged to chat with Dave who runs O’Brien’s Music in water Street. His grandfather started the shop back in the 1920s and he now manages it and lives upstairs. A professional musician who tours frequently, when in town he sells a diverse range of fiddles, guitars, accordions and spoons! And by way of demonstration, using an old Italian ‘squeeze box’, Dave plays Do-Re-Mi, before launching into a rousing tune with the spoons. He’s also full of information about great gigs on in town that night, and so it is that we find ourselves squeezed in tight at the Black Sheep Inn, listening to a blue-grass band with honey vocals, wild female fiddlers and super cool guitarists with ‘mountain boy’ beards and flannelette shirts. It’s a joyful, toe-tapping, thigh slapping, foot stomping, hand clapping ride.

Where else would you be?

st johns newfoundland 

How did we reach St John’s?
We drove back to St John’s from Trinity, once again travelling on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH). It’s a 3.5-hour trip, which is uneventful and not particularly scenic. Those coming from mainland US or another Canadian province, will arrive at St John’s Airport and have the choice of a bus, taxi ($25) or a hire vehicle to get to town. Be warned, in the short summer season of July and August, rental cars are in scarce supply and at $850 for all extras for five days, ours was a tad expensive. You’ll need to save up and book ahead if you want to guarantee your wheels.

st johns newfoundland

Don’t do what we did. There are three large four-star hotels in St John’s; The Murray Premises, the Marriott and the Sheraton. I selected Murray Premises for its historic past and its waterfront location. Little did we realise that the Keg, a multi-storey restaurant, had been built in front of the hotel, blocking any reasonable view. And the history and charm were in short supply. Instead it offers a bland, overpriced experience. We visited the Marriot on Duckworth Street and it looks a lot better, with interesting décor, and a great view from the lobby and the bar. Up the hill the Sheraton is huge, ugly and too far from the centre of town. So, don’t do as we did – try, instead, one of the many boutique hotels in the centre of St John’s, such as the Duckworth Hotel or the Franklin.

Coffee fix: Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food 

Walk: Signal Hill lookout

Shop: Nonia social enterprise crafts and knits email: [email protected]

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Written by Kaye Fallick