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The Essential Guide to Prince Edward Island

By Michael Kaminer

Feb 19, 2020

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Dine oceanside at the Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico. 

Photo by Alex Bruce

Dine oceanside at the Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico. 

It may be Canada’s smallest province, but P.E.I. punches well above its weight with charming towns, a historic capital city, a sprawling national park, and lots and lots of lobster.

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Tip to tip, Prince Edward Island is only 140 miles long. And its population—just under 157,000 as of 2019—is less than that of a small city. But Canada’s smallest province packs a big punch, offering gorgeous scenery, the world’s longest bridge over frozen water, rich natural resources, and outsized personality. 

During the summer, visitors from around the world flood P.E.I., lured by the island’s delicious food scene, sparkling harbors, and stories in Anne of Green Gables, which was set in the fictional town of Avonlea. The high season runs from around July through September, and even though it’s when the island is busiest, summer’s the best time to visit. Read on for some of the best things to see and do on Prince Edward Island.

Tour several small towns

Because P.E.I. is so compact, you could easily visit a handful of its enchanting small towns in a day. Some of our favorites include Victoria-by-the-Sea, a historic South Shore fishing village populated by artists and creatives; northeastern Souris with its jewel-like harbor, traditional lighthouse, and popular beach; and Murray River, which has only 330 residents but includes a winery, an indie craft store, and beloved all-day breakfast spot, the Home Plate. Called “the Crick” by locals, North Rustico abuts Prince Edward Island National Park. Head to the Crick to dine with a view of the ocean at harbor restaurants like On the Dock Eatery and Blue Mussel Café. Further inland, Kensington, the self-proclaimed “heart of the island,” is home to the railway station made famous in the 1985 film version of Anne of Green Gables. Tour the station, a National Historic Site, then indulge your sweet tooth at Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, featuring deep-fried Mars bars and bacon sundaes. End the day in laid-back Alberton, where you’ll find the Museum and Genealogy Centre, a busy marina, a bakery, and a local pub

Connect with locals at a lobster supper

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Don your bib, grab your crackers, squeeze in next to strangers, and dig in at one of P.E.I.’s most time-honored traditions, the lobster supper. These community dinners started as way to celebrate the island’s lobster fishermen, who now number more than 1,200. These days, the dinners are a bit more commercialized, often taking place at restaurants, but they’re still a great way to experience local life. Among the most highly rated are the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, serving since 1958; the Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Supper in North Rustico, with a 60-foot salad bar and all-you-can-eat mussels; and the Cardigan Lobster Suppers, in a heritage building on the water. Keep an eye out for flyers advertising lobster dinners and fundraisers at local churches; the events are aimed at residents, but travelers are always welcome.

Get cultured in the capital 

Slaymaker & Nichols is a stylish spot for dinner in Charlottetown.

For a city of 36,000 people, Charlottetown—Canada’s smallest provincial capital—offers a surprising amount of things to do. The Confederation Centre for the Arts showcases exciting work by Canadian artists, while cobblestoned Victoria Row and its beautifully preserved buildings house hip hangouts like Receiver Coffee Company and local favorites like John Brown Richmond Street Grille. There’s also St. Dunstan’s Basilica, a French Gothic cathedral with towering spires. If you visit from June to October, you can check out the Charlottetown Festival, a celebration of local theater with shows like Anne of Green Gables–The Musical (performed here every summer since 1965). When hunger strikes, head to Slaymaker & Nichols for “social plates” like beet-stained deviled eggs and miniature French dip sandwiches. 

Stroll the street where Canada was born

One of just two streets in Canada designated a National Historic District, Charlottetown’s Great George Street played a starring role in Confederation, how the British North American colonies joined to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867. On this street, in the historic Province House, the colonies met to negotiate terms and create Canada’s constitution. While it sounds hokey, a walking tour of the area with Charlottetown’s Confederation Players is a must. Costumed actors reenact the founding of modern-day Canada while showing you around Great George Street’s meticulously preserved buildings. 

Explore the island’s only national park

The Greenwich Peninsula in P.E.I. National Park is home to striking dunes and beaches.

P.E.I. has just one national park, but luckily, it’s a spectacular one. Clocking in at 10 square miles, Prince Edward Island National Park is best known for its seven beaches, as well as attractions like the Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site, which commemorates the first permanent European settlement on the island and consists of an 18th-century fort, settler’s house, visitor center, and memorable views of the Charlottetown harbor. Also worth exploring is Green Gables Heritage Place, home to the original farmstead and woodland pathways that inspired author Lucy Maud Montgomery, and the Greenwich Peninsula, added to the park in 1998 and rich with rare plants, magical dunes, and white-sand beaches. 

Get hooked on deep-sea fishing

Families love the friendly, patient captains at Aiden’s Deep Sea Fishing Trips.

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Especially if your regular catch is canned tuna, deep-sea fishing off the P.E.I. coast makes a great adventure. The waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Northumberland Strait typically yield mackerel and bluefin tuna, ensuring a particularly delicious haul. From July through September, you’ll find fishing charters operating out of the many ports along the island’s edges, each with its own cast of characters to make the experience memorable. Tranquility Cove Adventures lets you grill your catch right on board, while Joey’s Deep Sea Fishing offers a “Lobster Fish and Feast” excursion that includes a guided tour of oyster beds and lobster traps, followed by a lobster dinner back on shore. Families that want to fish together should check out Aiden’s Deep Sea Fishing Trips, a favorite for its friendly, patient captains and small-group charters.

Discover P.E.I.’s unusual museums 

Learn all about spuds at the Canadian Potato Museum.

The 38 nonprofit museums on tiny Prince Edward Island include ones devoted to fisheries, railways, and shipbuilding. While some border on kitsch, most will win you over with their earnest celebrations of the province’s history, culture, and industry.

You’ll know you’ve reached the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary by the 14-foot fiberglass tuber displayed on the front lawn. Inside, you can learn all about how potatoes are a billion-dollar annual crop on P.E.I. (locals even call themselves “spudheads”) while touring antique farming equipment and reconstructed farm buildings from the 19th century.

Across the island—just 30 minutes by car—Tyne Valley’s PEI Shellfish Museum details the important history of the shellfish industry in the province. Located in a former oyster research facility, the museum houses aquariums with live native fish, artifacts used to identify different species of shellfish, and displays on the history of oyster cultivation. 

Cross the world’s longest bridge 

Measuring eight miles end to end, the Confederation Bridge is the longest span in the world over frozen water—a spectacular feat of engineering worth crossing on your way to New Brunswick. On the other side, your reward is the Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area, an extraordinary pair of islands that features marshes, wetlands, beaches, uplands, more than 170 species of native and migratory birds, and spectacular views of P.E.I. A boardwalk, several trails, and a nature center mean you can spend all day here exploring. Tip: You can drive across the bridge, but the toll starts at $48.50 (tolls are based on a vehicle’s axle count and charged only when leaving P.E.I.); the cheaper—and smarter—option is to take the 24/7 shuttle to the park for $4.50 per pedestrian.  

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

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