One Short Week in New Brunswick, Canada

low tide bay of fundy new brunswick
Daniel's Flats as seen from the park at Hopewell Rocks illustrate the dramatic tidal highs and lows of the Bay of Fundy

You would think we'd know better, after years of traveling. But we jumped on the chance to visit New Brunswick for a week, not allowing ourselves enough time to stay and do everything we wanted.  One short week in New Brunswick was just enough to show us why we want to return. But one short week also gave us plenty of ideas to pass along to other would be travelers and feed our “Next Time” file folder. (We spent a week in Nova Scotia, too, which we cover here.)

This was our first visit to Atlantic Canada–the four Maritime Provinces–and we now understand the appeal. All sorts of wayfarers–interested in food, nature, photography, culture, history, adventure, or family vacations–will find attractions here. New Brunswick, in particular, is compact yet diverse. It’s the only Canadian province to be officially bilingual (French and English, of course), and offers coastline, farmland, forests, dunes. That’s a lot to see, and a lot of chowder to sample!

Watching the Bay of Fundy can be a full time job.
Watching the Bay of Fundy can be a full time job. This is overlooking Whale Cove on Grand Manan Island

A car is key. We put on about 1500 kilometers (932 miles) in our rented Nissan Micra, starting from Halifax, Nova Scotia, circling around the Bay of Fundy, zigzagging to Fredericton and St. Andrew with a side trip to Grand Manan Island, and returning to Nova Scotia by ferry from Saint John NB to Digby NS. Though that sounds like a lot, the whole drive pleased us with spectacular scenery. Wildflowers in white, purple and yellow brushed the road. Roadside rest areas featured bright Adirondack chairs for viewing.

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Fundy National Park is within the larger UNESCO protected Biosphere area on the north side of the Bay of Fundy
Fundy National Park is within the larger UNESCO protected Biosphere area on the north side of the Bay of Fundy

The region’s centerpiece is the Bay of Fundy, known for its extreme tides of 25-50 feet, the highest in the world. Someone like me can be constantly entertained just observing these tides, and that's not even counting the whale-watching, migratory birds, interesting geology, and delicious lobster that go along with the Fundy experience. The tides dictate daily life here, including feeding tidal power plants. In spots you can raft on fast changing tides. In Saint John, you can even observe river rapids reversing course twice a day. If you are boating or fishing or just walking the ocean bottom at low tide (and you should try all this), you’ll be well-advised to understand the enormity of the tidal effect.

hopewell rocks new brunswick
Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy: a rare place offering close-ups of seaweed and the ocean floor twice a day at low tide.

We started our familiarization tour at Fundy National Park, where a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the tidal coast combine to attract families, hikers, naturalists, and adventurers.

In the park we hiked a couple short trails, starting at a covered bridge and walking along an inlet once used for shipbuilding. Other trails lead to waterfalls, around the UNESCO protected biosphere, through the mountains and to overlooks and waterside stops. [Note, for more ambitious hiking, look to the Fundy Trail or Fundy Footpath near St. Martin’s, between Alma and Saint John.]

Get your Lob here, hot or cold. The back room includes a huge cold holding pond.
Get your Lob here, hot or cold. The back room includes a huge cold holding pond.

Nearby in the town of Alma, we found the freshest little lobsters at Alma’s Lobster Shop, part deli part fishery part wholesaler. We sat outside at high tide, protected from the wind, and devoured such succulent lobs that no butter was required. (But we dipped most bites in butter anyway. Wouldn’t you?)

The spectacular Hopewell Rocks are further up the bay, close to its most northerly inlet. This might be the most photographed section of the Bay of Fundy. Not in the National Park system, this provincial venture requires a separate admission fee of $10 Canadian. (Outside of business hours you can walk in sans fees to capture unpeopled dawn or dusk photos.) As advertised, we did “walk on the ocean bottom” at low tide, and found the seaweed covered rocks and packed dunes mesmerizing. With more time or a repeat visit, we’d have gladly taken a kayak out or set up a time lapse photo.

Most people visiting this area choose to stay in Moncton, which is sizable enough to provide everything you want including a few good restaurants. The seaside village of Alma is right next to the National Park. Booking late, we ended up in Sussex, between the two, for a little dairy cow town experience. Get to dinner before 8 p.m. or everything will be shut down. Sushi Jo is a good find.

From Sussex we drove to Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick. Arriving on a Friday afternoon, we were able to visit the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and enjoy a walk down main street and back. It’s a short walk, if you get my drift. The enjoyable museum, about to be doubled in size, possibly in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, offers an eclectic bunch of work mainly by Maritime Canadian artists. Galleries focus primarily on contemporary and early 20th century modern art (with a few 19th century romantic landscapes tossed in). A fun special exhibit featured the cartoon work of Lynn Johnston (“For Better or Worse”) and political art of Michael de Adder.

The culinary hot spots of Fredericton are a little limited. Lunar Rogue Pub may appear to be your normal pub with oversized appetizers and burgers, but it also features over 600 single malt whiskeys. Just a block away is Isaac’s Way, a cozy bistro emphasizing fresh and local ingredients. The inventive food comes with ambience: sales of the artwork on the walls goes toward supporting kids’ art camps.

Seafood chowder from Isaac's Way, Fredericton, NB. This version is seasoned with the salty, deep-red Dulse, a sea vegetable hand harvested and dried, and sometimes eaten like potato chips.
Seafood chowder from Isaac's Way, Fredericton, NB. This version is seasoned with the salty, deep red Dulse, a sea vegetable hand harvested and dried, and sometimes eaten like potato chips.

We were lucky to hit the Highland Games Festival in Fredericton, celebrating the close ties between New Brunswick and its Celtic cousins. If you can't find the fair grounds, follow the kilts and the bagpipes. We spent a fair amount of time watching dudes heaving large rocks and flinging balls on chains across the lawn in the heat of the day, accompanied by a pipe parade and ceremony. If you visit on a weekend devoid of festival, a walk along the river greenway trail would be a good bet.

Heaving stones and ball-and-chains under the midday sun.
Heaving stones and ball-and-chains under the midday sun.

We’d planned to spend a night in St. Andrews, but missed out by booking late. (Again, we should know better, especially in this late July high season.) We found, instead, a place in St. George, where there are precious few food options. Happily the drive to St. Andrews is quick, so we ate there three times. We started with the traditional roadside lunch at The Clam Digger (fish and chips) and returned in the evening for a luscious view of the tide out in front of Niger Reef Tea House (highly recommended). We were back in the morning for a lovely breakfast at , where the homemade bread selections are plentiful and a view of the harbor from the back porch is charming. This is a busy little town that seems to be benefit from seasonal and expat residents.

St. Andrews is about a half hour drive from the US-Canada border crossing (St. Stephens NB and Calais ME). The St. Croix river divides the two countries here. We met up with friends from Maine who led us to a small park on Highway 127 overlooking the river and St. Croix Island, where French explorers including Samuel Champlain wintered in 1604-05, starting some of the first North American settlements. (This international historic site is administered by the U.S. National Park Service. ) We could even see the roof of our friends' house from here!

Low tide at St. Andrews, New Brunswick
Low tide at St. Andrews, New Brunswick

After a visit to Grand Manan Island (see note below), we passed through Saint John, the largest city in New Brunswick. During an overnight stay, we ate Thai fusion food at Thandi, walked along the waterfront and watched some volleyball league play in front the restaurant area at Market Square, and visited the old city farmer’s market.  Our welcome accommodations were at Mahogany Manor Bed and Breakfast, where we did some laundry, met some cheery Canadians at breakfast, and arranged to catch the ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia.

With more time, we would have definitely done some kayaking and more hiking, and scheduled a whale-watching trip from Grand Manan. We missed the Acadie area of New Brunswick entirely, but will catch that next time when, presumably, we’ll take the bridge over to Prince Edward Island, too.

We have more tips below, but when you plan your trip, check in with the New Brunswick tourism website for up-to-date tips and calendars of events.

Near Hopewell Rocks, the Bay of Fundy tidal waters stir up the red sandy bottom, while piles of seaweed show yellows and greens under the sun.
Near Hopewell Rocks, the Bay of Fundy tidal waters stir up the red sandy bottom, while piles of seaweed show yellows and blue greens under the sun.


Grand Manan Island The island deserves a post of its own, with its rich history, idiosyncratic islanders, fishing and shipping culture. Grand Manan is right at the entrance to Fundy bay. It’s also the jumping off point for world-renowned whale watching (some dozen varieties including humpback) and bird spotting (puffins in season). We spent two nights (and devoured two spectacular breakfasts) at SeaCup Inn, and wanted weeks if not months more. Our Grand Manan Island post will follow.

Other than the places mentioned above, we happened on many friendly faces and hospitable locales, where we stayed and where we ate. Some notables:
Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market This 60-year-old market is an entertaining center of social activity, artisan goods and, of course, fresh fish, local cheeses, and a good cup of coffee.
Octopus' Garden Cafe, Alma. Every now and then you may want something other than lobster. This Italian oriented restaurant fits the bill. Upbeat and friendly service from the Argentinian server to the chef who steps out to make sure everyone is happy.

Baked goods at Fredericton's Farmers Market. These sisters didn't mean to show up wearing similar clothes.
Baked goods at Fredericton's Farmers Market. Joyce and Brenda are sisters, but they didn't mean to show up for market day wearing the same shirts.

Grand Manan

grand manan morning low tide fog
Our second morning on Grand Manan provided the famous Fundy fog we'd been promised. That, and the low tide make the boats seem so far away and so ghostly.

We spent two days on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy off the New Brunswick coast. I wish it could have been longer. Of course, we say that about so many places we visit.

But in this case, it was just one view after another. Every little jaunt in the car, and every short hike, yielded more beauty.

All the time I was shooting, I was thinking, “If I had a month here, I could really get some good stuff.” So, I guess I'll just have to come back.

lighthouse grand manan new brunswick
The Swallowtail Lighthouse on the spit of land at the north end of the island greeted us as we arrived on the ferry.
grand manan swallowtail lighthouse fog
Another view of Swallowtail Lighthouse, grabbed in a hurry as we were running to catch the departing ferry.
sunset dark harbour grand manan
On our first night on the island, we took the only road that runs to the west side of the island to get this shot of Dark Harbour, the ominously named place where they harvest the seaweed called dulce.
adirondack chairs bay of fundy grand manan
The Whale Cove Inn, where we had dinner the first night on the island, provides chairs so you can just sit and look at the Bay of Fundy while you digest your delicious dinner.
coastal cliffs grand manan
A short walk up the west side of the island shows you the treacherous cliffs that make up that side. Nobody really lives out there, since there are very few places to dock a boat. The basalt rock formations reminded us a lot of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Same volcanic forces, I suppose.
deb claude seacup inn grand manan
Our stay was made so pleasant by our hosts Deb and Claude at the Seacup Inn, which we were able to book by pure chance because they'd had a cancellation. They make the best breakfasts ever, by the way. Next time, we're calling way ahead to book here. We loved it.
southwest head light grand manan
Another sunset at the south end of the island this time. Sort of the last vestige of human contact on the rocky southwest shore.

sunset dark harbour grand manan new brunswickAfter a delicious dinner at the The Inn at Whale Cove on Grand Manan, we decided to take a leisurely drive down the east coast of the island. But, as we perused a crude map we'd pick up on the Grand Manan ferry, we noticed the one east-west road on the entire island running over to the west side and the ominously named Dark Harbour. The sun was setting, so I decided I would take the west bound Dark Harbour Road at a speed slightly in excess of the posted 50 kph limit. We made it to a cliff overlooking the tiny inlet of Dark Harbour just as the sun was showing itself off to best effect.

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17 thoughts on “One Short Week in New Brunswick, Canada”

  1. Love your photos, especially the baked goods sisters :). We had a trip to the region a few years ago, and the clam chowder we had at a little cafe in New Brunswick near the Confederation Bridge is still legendary in our minds.

    • Duly noted! I noticed a “Chowder Trail” promotion which offered a guide to dozens of spots. It serves as a passport, and after so many chowder stamps, users are eligible for prizes. Chow down!

  2. I love the idea of the “next time folder.” If you only knew how many times I went to a place just to discover that whatever amount of time I allocated to visiting it is barely enough to just give me an idea about it. I never visited New Brunswick but judging from you beautiful photos I understand why you feel frustrated. A week in such a place is way too little.

  3. First, awesome pictures! Being Canadian, I know I should get out to the east coast and you definitely confirmed this. Lucky you for getting such great lobster! (I would dip it in butter too!) You certainly saw a lot in one week and I love how you did a whole variety of things. That makes a trip so much more memorable. That a lot of mileage you covered but I’m sure you felt it was worth it.

  4. I’ve never been to the Canadian Maritime provinces either which is inexcusable given that I live in the northeastern United States. Not that the writing isn’t splendid, but your (Tom’s?) photos prove that a picture is worth a thousand words.

  5. Beautiful photos, beautiful place. Thanks for sharing. I’m part Canadian, but I’ve never been up there. Guess I should plan a trip up north.

  6. Henk and I did a road trip to NB two years ago and loved it! As you said, there is so much there to see, and we only scratched the surface ourselves. (We learned to plan to see the tidal locations twice, to time it for both low and hide tide to see the two extremes.)

  7. Seafood and scenery – New Brunswick has that in spades, right! Here we are, Canadians too, and we’ve only made one trip out East. The problem is that the flights within Canada to the Maritimes are almost as expensive as going to Europe (and like many people, we tend to travel overseas before exploring our own back yards). Your post shows how attractive New Brunswick is though for a holiday…

    • Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia seem to be effective in starting to spread the word. I’m guessing they are targeting Eastern U.S. more than Western Canada, and maybe that is due to accessibility. We thought of driving from Minnesota, but just didn’t have the time. We flew Air Canada MSP-YHZ for about $650 each. Not cheap.

  8. Thank you for the glowing review of my home province! NB has often been noted as the ‘drive through’ province, for people travelling to or from NS, PEI and Maine. For those of us who call it home we know what people are missing by not getting off the Hwy to explore the diverse and spectacular beauty!
    I think our Tourism dept are working hard to spread the word as you say! Happy to hear you will be back! ?


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