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The Essential Guide to New Brunswick

By Barbara Peck

02.19.20

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Wait until high tide and then kayak around the towering Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy.

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Wait until high tide and then kayak around the towering Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy.

Visit this wide-ranging province for outdoor adventure, historic sites, delicious seafood, and scenic sand dunes, sea caves, and rock towers.

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New Brunswick is the least densely populated of Canada’s four Atlantic provinces—but that works to visitors’ advantage. Its many attractions are seldom crowded, its nature pristine, and driving anywhere is a dream. 

The scenery here is varied and beautiful—a mix of rugged coastline, wooded hills, and deep valleys, all within a few hours of one another. For a spectacle that never fails to amaze, visit the Bay of Fundy, which empties and refills twice a day and features the world’s highest tides. When it comes to the rest of the province, rely on New Brunswickers to show you around; they’re fiercely proud of their home and enjoy sharing it with newcomers. Below, a few more suggestions for how to amuse yourself in this Maritime province.

Stroll the ocean floor

You’ll want to check the tide table before visiting the Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy. As the water rushes in, it surrounds the rock towers that jut up from the ocean floor, turning them into little islands—or “flowerpots” as they’re known to locals, because of the trees and vegetation that grow on top. If you go at low tide, you can walk down a staircase and stroll on solid ground among the rocks. Stick around or come back later for high tide and take a kayak tour around the bay with Baymount Outdoor Adventures. Tides change twice a day, and the Hopewell Rocks are open to visitors from mid-May to mid-October.

Indulge your sweet tooth in Canada’s Chocolate Town

Tour the chocolate museum at Ganong Bros., the oldest candy company in Canada.

Those driving to New Brunswick from the United States usually cross the border near Saint Stephen, which bills itself as “Canada’s Chocolate Town.” Here, visitors will find the country’s oldest candy company, Ganong Bros., which opened a chocolate museum in its original factory in 1999. Learn how chocolates were made over the years, watch hand-dippers at work, and take advantage of the generously dispensed samples. Afterward, have lunch at the Five Kings, a brew pub located in the town’s old train station. For treats of a different sort, know that Saint Stephen is also home to one of New Brunswick’s several cannabis dispensaries, which now sells edibles like tablets, gummies, and, of course, chocolate. (You must be 19 years or older to enter.)

Paddle around Deer Island

Take the drive-on ferry to Deer Island for a day of kayaking and exploring.

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The free, drive-on ferry to little Deer Island in the Bay of Fundy runs every half hour and takes just 20 minutes. Once there, follow the rolling roads to Seascape Kayak Tours for a half-day paddle among the Fundy isles. You’re almost sure to spot seals and porpoises in the water, as well as gulls and bald eagles soaring overhead. Back on dry land, drive south to Deer Island Point Park to see the Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. The best viewing time is three hours before high tide.

Vacation like a Roosevelt on Campobello Island 

FDR used to spend his summers at this oversized cottage on Campobello Island.

Campobello Island appears to be part of the United States—it’s easily reached by bridge from Lubec, Maine—but it actually belongs to New Brunswick. (A ferry from Deer Island serves the area in summer.) From 1909 to 1921, Franklin Delano Roosevelt summered here with his family in a sprawling, 34-room “cottage.” Today, the memorabilia-filled house is open to the public, looking almost exactly as it did in 1920. Guides conduct tours and preside over the daily “Tea with Eleanor,” telling tales about the First Lady’s inspiring life over drinks and cookies. After your visit, explore the surrounding trails and gardens of Roosevelt Campobello International Park, or wait until low tide and check out Head Harbour Lightstation—built in 1829, it’s the second oldest lighthouse in New Brunswick. 

Go sightseeing in Saint Andrews

Base your Saint Andrews visit at the historic Algonquin hotel.

Saint Andrews, New Brunswick’s busiest tourist town, has blocks lined with charming heritage buildings; a legendary hotel called the Algonquin; and a 50-room historic mansion you can only reach at low tide by driving across the ocean floor to Ministers Island. Go whale-watching on a tall-ship cruise aboard the Jolly Breeze of Saint Andrews, visit the resident harbor seals at the Fundy Discovery Aquarium, wander through the 27-acre horticultural masterpiece that is Kingsbrae Garden, and climb inside a blockhouse built during the War of 1812 to protect the town from American privateers and military. For one of the tastiest meals in town, be sure to book dinner at the Rossmount Inn, which serves creative, market-fresh cuisine and local seafood like oysters and lobster.

Bike the picture-perfect island of Grand Manan

The island of Grand Manan is home to 240 different bird species, including puffins.

For years, artists have flocked to 21-mile-long Grand Manan Island for its picturesque landscapes. The 90-minute ferry ride south from Blacks Harbour gives you time to scan the waters for minke, finback, and humpback whales. Once on the island, drive or bike around to spot lighthouses, beaches, volcanic rock formations, awesome cliffs, and tranquil forests of spruce, balsam, birch, and poplar. Go in June and you’ll also see fields filled with pretty purple lupines. Because Grand Manan is located on the Eastern Flyway, it’s also a bird-watcher’s paradise, with more than 240 species. J.J. Audubon himself came here in search of puffins. 

Walk over water in Saint John

Get a bird’s-eye view of the famous Reversing Falls Rapids on the Skywalk Saint John.

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New Brunswick’s biggest city, Saint John, is home to one of only three skywalks in North America. Skywalk Saint John is also the only one of its kind in a city and over the water, earning it a worthy place on your itinerary. The stainless-steel-and-glass observation deck sits high above the swirling Reversing Falls Rapids, where the Saint John River changes direction with the Bay of Fundy’s high tide. After taking in the vistas, visitors can explore the on-site theater, geodesic dome, roof deck, and Reversing Falls Restaurant, a longtime destination dining spot for its historic vibe, views of the falls, and regional delicacies like lobster rolls and elk burgers. 

Go spelunking in Saint Martins

Outfitter Red Rock Adventure offers kayak tours around the many sea caves in Saint Martins.

Less than an hour’s drive east of Saint John is Saint Martins, a fishing village on the Bay of Fundy where, at low tide, you can walk to a series of sea caves carved from the cliffs. Red Rock Adventure offers sea-kayak tours and boat rides in the area and, several times a summer, arranges a “wilderness dining” experience on the beach by the caves, accompanied by stories about the region’s culture and natural history. Hikers should also note that Saint Martins is the gateway to the Fundy Trail, a 12-mile coastal parkway and 10-mile hiking trail that’s open seasonally from mid-May to mid-October.

Dune-hop on the eastern shore

The town of Bouctouche features 7.5 miles of magnificent sand dunes.

Drive up New Brunswick’s eastern shore to discover some of the most unspoiled red- and white-sand beaches on the northeastern coast. Start in Shediac, a beach town that calls itself the “Lobster Capital of the World” (you can’t miss its roadside attraction, the 35-foot-long World’s Largest Lobster), and stop in Bouctouche, where the dunes stretch for 7.5 miles and the Irving Eco-Centre offers tours, interpretive displays, a boardwalk, and free interactive programming. More spectacular dunes—plus blissfully uncrowded beaches—are in Kouchibouguac National Park

Get a taste of France on the Acadian Peninsula

The Acadian Historical Village will transport you back in time to the 18th century.

Many Acadians, descendants of the region’s original French settlers, live amid the fishing villages, salt marshes, and coastal landscapes of New Brunswick’s northeast coast. Visit the Acadian Historical Village just outside Caraquet to see traditional buildings like a blacksmith’s workshop, general store, one-room schoolhouse, chapel, and tavern, brought here from different communities around the province. Bilingual guides demonstrate pioneer skills, while restaurants serve contemporary fare alongside Acadian classics like poutine râpée (potato dumplings) and aboîteau (spruce beer brewed on site). The nearby town of Bouctouche is home to Le Pays de la Sagouine, a re-created village where you can immerse yourself in Acadian music, comedy, and food.

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>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Atlantic Canada