If you think there’s not much left to discover within striking distance of your home city, ask yourself what you know about Saint John, New Brunswick. The answer may well be “Not very much,” or “Nothing at all,” and yet there are rewards aplenty waiting for those who visit the only city on the Bay of Fundy — famed for the highest tides on the planet —with North America’s only Unesco Global Geopark on its doorstep.
With such world-class appeal you might expect to find a city transformed by tourism, but much of Saint John’s charm lies in it’s salty workaday character. A bustling commercial port shares the waterfront with a growing number of cruise ships and on city streets New Brunswickers go about their everyday business amid the fine art galleries, craft boutiques, great restaurants, modern shopping centers, and characterful pubs that delight all who disembark down a gangplank, step off a plane, or drive across the border from New England.
Market Square and the Boardwalk
This is the city’s most festive summertime spot, with bands, buskers, and festivals, restaurants with sunny patios overlooking the action, and public artworks. Sniff the sea air while strolling Harbor Passage through waterfront parks (www.marketsquaresj.com).
Saint John City Market
The oldest indoor farmers’ market in the country is also one of the best, in an impressive brick building that survived the great fire of 1877. Stalls are stacked with local produce, prepared foods, wine, and arts and crafts, daily except Sunday (www.sjcitymarket.ca).
Come at low tide to see the mighty Saint John River roiling through a rocky canyon on its way to the bay; come back at high tide to see the force of the bay waters pushing the rapids in the opposite direction. Pep it up by zip-lining across the rapids (www.saintjohnadventures.ca).
A billion years of geological and climatic upheavals and the beginnings of life itself are embossed on the landscape here. See remnants of the last Ice Age, the birthplace of the Atlantic Ocean, and land that once adjoined Africa. Canoe on Ice-Age waters, climb 500-million-year-old lava rockfaces, and hike unspoiled coastal wilderness (www.stonehammergeopark.com).
Saint John is 70 miles from the U.S. border at Calais, Maine. It’s on 14 major cruise lines’ itineraries. To fly into Saint John Airport, you’ll need to connect via Toronto, Montréal or Halifax.
Did you know?
• Downtown Saint John is known locally as “Uptown."
• Actor Donald Sutherland’s first theater experience was in Saint John, with childhood puppet classes at the Museum of New Brunswick.
• Saint John is home to Canada’s oldest brewery, Moosehead.
• The first Miss Canada, Winnifred Blair, crowned in 1923, was from Saint John.
For more Canada travel advice, go to www.insightguides.com.