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 approximately 6,500 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.
By carThere 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 TaxiOperates the only public transport to Bonavista. With advance reservation you can be picked up or dropped off anywhere in either city or along the route.
By thumbHitchhiking 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.
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.
The Dungeon Provincial ParkOne 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.
White Rock Lookoutaddress: 18 White Rock RdVisible 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.
Bayview HillThe 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.
Elliston Puffin Viewing PointPerched 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.
Cape Shore TrailThis 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.
Klondike TrailThis 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.
Old Days Pond BoardwalkShort boardwalk around a shallow inlet. Catches the sea breeze and has a nice view of the historic town centre.
Cape Bonavista LighthouseOne 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.
phone: +1 709 468-7444address: Roper StKnowledgeable 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.
address: 10 Ryans Hill RdA 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.
phone: +1 709 468-1493address: Roper StThis 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.
phone: +1 709 476-3003address: 5863 Main St, EllistonA 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.
WWI Trench Shooting RangeFire 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.
Whale watchingThree companies run whale watching tours from Bonavista port:
phone: +1 709 470-03222½–3 hr tours aboard a zodiac, operating several times daily during peak season.
Bonavista Puffin & Whale Toursphone: +1 709 468-8438address: 15 Roper StRoughly 2½ hr trips aboard a hard-hulled boat with washrooms and heated indoor seating available. Departs several times daily during peak season.
MV Shirley Rphone: +1 709 725-6722 or +1 709 468-5600Operated by the Lancaster Inn aboard a converted fishing boat. Departs twice daily in season. Follows set route: whales subject to availability.
Discovery DayIn celebration of Cabot's arrival in 1497
The Bird Island Puffin FestivalCelebrates Elliston's culture and landscape.
Bonavista DaysFeatures the town's annual fireworks celebration.
Church Street FestivalFeaturing Bonavista's Mummer's Parade, a disguised Newfoundland tradition.
Bonavista BiennialeA huge international art exhibition.
The Roots, Rants, and Roars FestivalA celebration of food in Elliston.
Crafts and gifts
address: 23 Church St
phone: +1 709 771-6777address: 102 Cape Shore Rd Suite B
Cabot Crafts Nonprofit
phone: +1 709 468-1600address: 24 Ryan's Hill Rd
Tuckamore Discovery Puffin Shopphone: +1 709 468-4731address: 10 Bonavista Bay HwyDoes walking tours along with the gift shop.
phone: +1 709 468-7100address: 69 Church St
Broken Booksaddress: 61 Church St
Groceries and suppliesBeer 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.
phone: +1 709 468-2770address: 143 Confederation DrThis 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. Buy wine and spirits at the adjoining liquor store.
Saltbox Specialty Marketphone: +1 709 468-1686address: 59 Hospital Rd, BonavistaFresh local crab, lobster, and mussels.
Swyer'sphone: +1 709 468-7871address: 11 Cape Shore RdBonavista'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.
Home Hardwarephone: +1 709 468-7400address: 18 Forbes StA hardware and general store.
Riff's Department Storephone: +1 709 468-2403address: 56 Church StA hardware and general store.
phone: +1 709 476-2330address: 61 Church StThe 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.
address: 42 Campbell StAn 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.
PK's Dining Room and Take-Outphone: +1 709 468-2828address: 89 Church StA classic Newfoundland diner with a tasteful adjoining dining room. PK's has a broad menu but specializes in seafood.
Baie Vistaphone: +1 709 468-5600address: 11 Campbell StA 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.
phone: +1 709 468-2820address: Cape Shore RdBeautifully located on the cape, it serves a wide variety of good freshly prepared food, plus take-away ice cream.
phone: +1 709 476-2333address: 102 Church StAn 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.
phone: +1 709 476-2440 or +1 709 727-8545address: 77 Church StThe locals have a sweet tooth, so much so that Moreish might be the only place they're willing to queue.
Nanny's Root Cellar Kitchenaddress: 77 Main St, EllistonSet 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.
Marsh's Snack Barphone: +1 709 468-2639address: 62 Church StServes pizza.
Greco Pizzaaddress: 11 Campbell StA pizza place.
Mifflin's Tea Roomphone: +1 (709) 468-2636address: 21 Church StCozy 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.
Robin's Donutsphone: +1 (709) 468-7613address: 248 Confederation DrChain 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.
phone: +1 709 468-7004address: 2 Sweetland HillA 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.
phone: +1 306 501-1751address: 82 Church StA real Irish pub owned by a real guy from Ireland. Good craic. Opened summer 2017.
address: 40 John Cabot DrA 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.
Elliston Municipal ParkA field for tents, 16 serviced lots, picnic sites, washrooms, and a kitchen.
White's B&Bphone: +1 709 468-7018address: 21 Windlass Dr, Bonavista NL
address: 42 Campbell StIn 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.
address: 38 Ryan's HillOverlooking the harbour, stunning sunset views in summer.
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