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Visitors Guide to Saint John, New Brunswick

Beautiful and historic Saint John is a highlight on any traveller's New Brunswick itinerary. Saint John is Canada's oldest incorporated city with its rich historical heritage, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant cultural scene. With its well-preserved historic sites and architecture, it offers a unique glimpse into the past. Saint John hosts many festivals and events sure to delight. The Canadian province of New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province with services in both French and English (seasoned with the unique flat New Brunswick accent).


Locals are very welcoming. On each of my visits, I have been treated with extraordinary kindness with locals going above and beyond to offer directions, suggestions, and friendly conversations. I uselessly crossed streets several times until I learned not to stand at intersections while deciding my route, as drivers stop to allow pedestrians to cross safely.

A small stone church with two arched windows on either side of a 3 story clock/bell tower
Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz - unsplash

Come meander with me as I share some of the must-see activities and attractions in Saint John, New Brunswick.


 

 

A Brief History of Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John is Canada's oldest incorporated city, established in 1785. Its history is deeply connected with the Loyalists who settled in the area following the American Revolution. Later, Saint John became a major entry point for immigrants escaping the Irish famine during the 19th Century.


The city is advantageously located on the Bay of Fundy, a deep and ice-free harbour ideal for supporting shipbuilding and trade. The logging industry was especially important during the early years.


All did not go smoothly, however. The Great Fire of 1877 destroyed much of the city, requiring a massive rebuilding effort. Economic decline and industrial changes in the late 19th and early 20th Century led to unemployment. Residents began to migrate to other areas in search of jobs and economic security. Pollution and environmental degradation have posed health risks and required costly cleanup and regulatory changes. More recently, Saint John has diversified its economy to focus on oil refining, manufacturing, tourism and its commercial port.

Head and shoulders of a brass moose with a garden in the background
Moosehead Brewery - a favourite Maritime beer

Getting Around Saint John

Most of the city's major attractions are clustered in the uptown area within walking distance of each other. For visiting sites outside the uptown part of the city, you will need your own vehicle, a taxi,or a day tour. There is no Uber/Lyft in Saint John. The Metro bus service includes routes covering the city. For most visitors, bus lines 1 and 3 will be the most popular, delivering passengers uptown with stops at Kings Square. The cash fare is $3.00. Exact change is required. A 10-ticket pack can be purchased for $26.50. Check the Saint John Transit page for fare and route information.



Explore Nature Around Saint John

Saint John is home to some of the country's most stunning natural scenery, most notably the incredible Bay of Fundy, where visitors can watch the highest tides in the world. The Saint John UNESCO Geopark includes multiple sites around the city. City parks and nature reserves abound with opportunities to hike, bird watch, or kayak.

Looking at wildflowers with a girder-steel bridge over a river in the background

Stonehammer UNESCO Geopark (85 Water Street)

Stonehammer Geopark covers a 2500km region in Southern New Brunswick with multiple separate sites. This fascinating region has a geological history going back 1 billion years and demonstrates tectonic geology and the emergence of life.


The Interpretation Centre is located in Area 506 Container Village (see below). Stop by to pick up self-guided tour maps, arrange a tour, and get inspiration from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. You can also check out the latest fossils found in the region.


Open mid-May - early November


Rocky and eroded shores of a river with moving water,

The Reversing Falls (200 Bridge Road)

The Reversing Falls is a natural wonder where the powerful tides from the Bay of Fundy drive the Saint John River to flow backwards twice a day. There are several places to see the effect, with some of the best views from the Reversing Falls Skywalk or on a jet boat ride on the rapids. Check the tide tables to ensure you arrive to see the change of tide. If you have the time, try to see both the high and low-tide rapids.

A large sign showing a uniformed Loyalist soldier resting his right arm on a sign welcoming visitors to Reversing Falls in English and French
This sign is VERY visible from the road, you can't miss it!

The skywalk location includes a theatre, gift shop, restaurant, and Visitor Information Centre. Access to the Skywalk costs $15. The small area around the Centre is beautifully planted and encourages visitors to take their time.

close-up of a wild Queen Anne's Lace blooming with a rocky crag in the background
The wildflower walk to the viewing area

We arrived in time to watch the tide flow left to right with swirling rapids, then stop completely before turning to flow from right to left.


During the slack time, many small boats went under the bridge. The smaller vessels could only get through during the short 20-minute slack tide. The line-up began to form about 15 minutes before the tidal change.

A small fishing boat travelling on the tide

The area under the bridge is part of the Stonehammer Geopark. Visitors can see evidence of where the Pangea supercontinent split into North America, South America, and Northern Africa. The dark stone in the foreground is 500 million-year-old Cambrian rock, part of what is now Northern Africa. On the north side of the bridge is the lighter-coloured pre-Cambrian roc became South America. These rocks are a billion years old!

side and underneath view of the bridge with lightcoloured rock seen across the river and dark rock in the foreground

Visitors can honestly boast that they visited three continents in a single afternoon.


Explore the City

Probably the most important thing to know about exploring the city of Saint John is that its main business area is referred to as "Uptown." Here, visitors will find beautiful architecture, a vibrant city market, boutique shops, art galleries, museums, a bustling waterfront, and a thriving food and beverage scene. Fun Fact: Statistics Canada reports that Saint John has the third most pubs per capita in Canada.

A street lined with colourful row houses with a church at the end of the road

Visit the New Brunswick Museum (277 Douglas Ave)

The oldest continuing museum in Canada is the New Brunswick Museum. Exhibits include natural and cultural history. The most interesting exhibit for me was the Hall of Great Whales, which features large whale skeletons. Other exhibits feature shipbuilding, local art, and the fascinating geological history of the region.

Inside a museum with a large whale skeleton with other displays in the background

Market Square: The City Market (47 Charlotte St)

Market Square is a historic hub in the heart of Uptown. It offers a variety of attractions and services, including shops, restaurants, event space, a public library, a waterfront promenade, the New Brunswick Museum, and the Saint John City Market.


No city visit is complete for me unless I visit a local market. The Saint John City Market, established in 1876, is the oldest continuously operating farmers' market in North America. This is a great place to sample and purchase local specialties, including meat, seafood, produce, souvenirs, artisan crafts, and ready-to-eat meals.

Inside a bustling farmers market with the distinctive keel ceiling design

Don't forget to look up to appreciate the unique design resembling the hull of a ship. You'll also notice that the floor of the market slopes to find the contour of the land on which it's built.


Saint John Boardwalk (1 Market Square)

The recently revitalized Saint John Boardwalk blends the historic and contemporary along a boardwalk area in the summer and year-round on the Harbour Passage walking trail. Visitors will find restaurants, bars, and shops. The Boardwalk hosts many of the local festivals.


Wander along to discover fun art installations. My favourite has to be the cartoonish people. Count the hands of this fellow in green.


Area 506 Container Village (85 Water Street)

Area 506 is a new public space that includes a performance area, bars, food trucks, public art, pop-up events, and retail shops housed in 60+ shipping containers.


King's Square (100 King Street)

King's Square is a large urban park, named for King George III in 1844. The square features several monuments and plaques honouring important citizens and a beautiful Victorian bandstand. The pathways are designed to resemble the UK flag as a salute to the Loyalist roots of the city. Large trees provide shade for visitors to enjoy coolness on a hot summer day.

a 2-storey bandstand with open space beneath. The top is a domed copper roof

The King Edward VII Memorial Bandstand has a gleaming copper roof with filigree metal framework, which a local Cornet band gifted to the city in 1908. It was restored in 2013 and continues to host free concerts during the summer season.


Old (Loyalist) Burial Ground (Sydney Street and King Street East)

Across Sydney Street on the east side of King's Square is the Old Burial Ground, also known as the Loyalist Burial Grounds. Burial grounds aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I find them a fascinating glimpse into the history of an area.


This peaceful park opened shortly after the arrival of the American Loyalists in 1783 and closed 65 years later. It is the final resting place of the earliest settlers. After its closure, it was turned into a memorial park.

graveyard with rows of weathered gravestones

In 1994, a local family sponsored the revitalization of the park, which included restoring the gravestones, a planting program, the addition of benches, gates, and more pathways, and the construction of a large Beaver pond. It is a delightful place to take a quiet walk in the middle of an urban area.

A brass pond installation showing beavers building a dam with some gravestones in the background

Loyalist House (120 Union Street)

Loyalist House, constructed in 1817, is the former home of the loyalist and wealthy Merrit family, who emigrated from the USA. It is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire. The Merrit family continued to live in this home until 1958. The New Brunswick Historical Society took ownership in 19 1961 and was declared a National Historic Site as the only unaltered building of its era in the city.

A square 2 story Georgian building painted white with green shutters

The house is Georgian style with the original grand staircase and many of the original furnishings and quality craftsmanship. It is a true capsule of Loyalist history in the city with many documents and writings documenting the lives of the Merrit family through 5 generations.


Have Fun at Festivals

Saint John, like many Maritime cities, has an energetic festival scene hosting many events through the year. During the summer months, you will be sure to arrive during one of them. The top annual festivals include the Area 506 Arts Festival, the Fundy Fringe Festival, and the Buskers On the Boardwalk Festival. There are also many other events that are listed on the Discover Saint John website.

A laughing busker wearing bright yellow socks and aviator cap, a blue overcoat,white shirt and red tie with an electric guitar
Buskers on the Boardwalk Festival

Take a Day Trip to Hopewell Rocks

Approximately 2 hours from Saint John along the Bay of Fundy is Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park. Here visitors can walk on the ocean floor amongst towering sea stacks eroded by the powerful Fundy tides. For a full description of what to expect, check out my Hopewell Rocks post here.

Looking down onto the muddy bay floor with tower sea stacks with trees growing on their crowns. People are walking around

Final Thoughts

Saint John's blend of historical charm, natural wonders, and cultural vibrancy makes it a standout destination in New Brunswick. Whether you are strolling through its historic Uptown, exploring the dramatic landscape of the Bay of Fundy, or participating in one of the city's many lively festivals, Saint John provides a rich and varied experience for all travellers. The warmth and hospitality of the locals add to the city's welcoming atmosphere.


From the bustling Saint John City Market to the fascinating geological history of Stonehammer UNESCO Geopark, and the natural spectacle of the Reversing Falls, there is no shortage of unique and engaging attractions to explore. The surrounding parks and reserves offer many opportunities for outdoor adventures.


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11 Comments


Guest
5 days ago

Who would not like visiting a single place only to discover later on that one can be in three different continents without really having to travel that far?! That says a lot about Canada's New Brunswick. Not to mention the biggest tidal flow in the planet as well the flow of booze at St. John having the most pubs per capita in the country! #flyingbaguette


Jan - https://flyingbaguette.com/

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Guest
7 days ago

Ah bugger about the fire but I guess this is obligatory in history and taught mankind to build with more resistant materials. I love that this can be seen in the market hall resembling a ship in its construction and the flooring kept natural. I would love to see the reverse river effect and Saint John is a reliable place where one can admire the effect daily.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
6 days ago
Replying to

Great Fires are definitely a recurrent theme through history! It seems like almost every city worldwide has experienced at least one! The Reversing Falls is a truly unique experience.

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Museums and markets? You're speaking my language! Each of your posts makes me want more and more to get over to the eastern provinces. St John seems a great place to spend a few days, what beautiful scenery and seemingly with plenty to do. And I had no idea how old the city was. Living in western Canada that seems almost unfathomable, but as a Brit it makes me happy to see a bit of history

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Replying to

I love the history and cultural blends in this part of Canada. It is very different from the west coast ... even the design of the fishing boats is different but the proximity to the coast gives a homey vibe for me.

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I'm so impressed with the history and beauty of the area. Canada really has some amazing places that aren't on people's radar. I didn't realize they had the biggest tides. The reversing falls sounds really interesting too, I've never seen one of them before.

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Replying to

The tides are truly something to see. It is hard to envision how much water fills the Bay without seeing it. The reversing falls are fascinating. I love seeing nature do amazing things beyond my imagination.

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You got me at "Saint John has the third most pubs per capita in Canada." That is my kinda town.

It looks beautifully historic, It amazing that those buildings have stood the test of time and are still there.

Seeing the biggest tides in the world would certainly be a sight to see

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Replying to

The Maritimes can promise you'll never be thirsty or lonely! Settler history began here. During the economic devastation caused by the cod fishing moratorium, much government money was spent to restore historical sites, provide training and much-needed employment, plus promote long-term benefits in tourism. The Bay of Fundy is one of those natural wonders that need to be seen to truly appreciate.

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