The capital of Prince Edward Island exudes the charm of a tranquil small town; indeed, Charlottetown holds the distinction of being the smallest provincial capital in the country. Navigating the Victorian-era streets and harbor area is a leisurely affair on foot, with tourist attractions conveniently clustered in the central vicinity. Set sail on cruises departing from the bustling waterfront, where an array of activities awaits, including shopping, dining, and live music.
Charlottetown holds a special place in the hearts of Canadians as the backdrop to the historic conference in September 1864, a pivotal event leading to the unification of Canada. References to this momentous occasion abound at several of the city’s attractions.
Throughout the summer, the annual Charlottetown Festival unfolds, treating visitors to theatrical productions, art exhibitions, and daily concerts, with a standout being the musical adaptation of Anne of Green Gables—a narrative rooted in the books set in the nearby Cavendish on the island’s northern shore.
To ensure you do not miss any of the highlights, consider planning your vacation using this convenient list of the best places to visit in Charlottetown.
1. Confederation Centre of the Arts
One of the initial destinations to explore is the cutting-edge Confederation Centre of the Arts, spanning an entire city block and inaugurated in 1964 as Canada’s national monument to Confederation. It accommodates a museum, art gallery, provincial library, two theaters, and a restaurant. The venue is particularly renowned for the annual summer production of Anne of Green Gables – the Musical, featured as part of the annual Charlottetown Festival held from June to September.
The art gallery on the third floor showcases splendid works by contemporary Canadian artists, with a dedicated room honoring Charlottetown-raised artist Robert Harris, a prominent Canadian painter from the turn of the century. In 1967, painter Ronald Bloore crafted the custom mural White on White for the Entrance Gallery of the newly constructed center, and it has been recently conserved to allow its textured planes to interact with the light and surrounding architecture once again.
Among the other notable works housed here are Eleanor King’s mural Emerald and Paul Griffin’s sculpture Leviathan.
2. Beaconsfield Historic House
W. C. Harris designed the elegant Beaconsfield villa, constructed in 1877, featuring intricate wooden decoration, a mansard roof, and a graceful dome. The mustard-yellow structure stands as an exemplary representation of Victorian architecture, and the interior design and furnishings of this charming historic house justify taking a tour.
Currently serving as the home for the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, it also accommodates a bookshop specializing in publications related to the island. Periodically, the venue hosts exhibitions on local history, lectures, and concerts.
3. Government House
The elegant white Government House in Charlottetown, also known as Fanningbank, is surrounded by formal gardens on the Victoria Park grounds. Constructed in the Georgian style, the building assumed the role of the official seat of the Governor of the island after 1835. Presently, it serves as the official residence for the Lieutenant Governor of PEI, representing Queen Elizabeth II in the Province.
The house is a destination for visits from royalty and dignitaries when they are on the island; Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited in 1959. Government House is open to the public, free of charge, during July and August only.
4. St. Dunstan’s Basilica
The red sandstone spires of St. Dunstan’s Basilica grace the city skyline, serving as an elegant reminder of Charlottetown’s Victorian heritage. Erected at the close of the 19th century in the French neo-Gothic style, this seat of the province’s Roman Catholic diocese underwent reconstruction after a fire in 1915. During this restoration, the interior was redesigned in a somewhat more English Gothic style.
Recognized as a National Historic Site, the ornate basilica stands out as one of the largest buildings of its kind in eastern Canada. It is particularly renowned for its altar, featuring beautiful Italian carving, and a superb rose window.
Just across Great George Street from the Basilica, keep an eye out for the historical statue of the two John Hamilton Grays who attended the Charlottetown Conference in 1864.
5. Victoria Row
During the daytime, Victoria Row closed to traffic, is a shopping haven, with the Anne of Green Gables Shop standing out as a highlight for many tourists. In the summer evenings, a beloved activity is sitting in the sidewalk cafés and restaurants, enjoying live music from the open stage. Along one side of the street, people engage in games of chess and checkers at the picnic tables.
Take a moment to gaze upward and appreciate the exquisite Victorian architecture of the brick commercial buildings. The facades showcase intricate details of stone carving and brickwork in the window frames, cornices, pilasters, and doorways.
6. Prince Edward Battery and Victoria Park
Positioned strategically on the harbor and offering expansive views, Prince Edward Battery holds a significant location. A waterfront boardwalk guides visitors from the city center to Victoria Park and the battery, where a line of cannons and small barracks is on display. The battery was relocated from Great George Street to this fortified point in 1805 and was subsequently named Fort Edward, even though its firepower was never engaged in action.
Victoria Park, the largest among Charlottetown’s public parks, is a favored summer destination for families. Its attractions include expansive grassy lawns, a playground, a swimming pool, and tennis courts.
7. Province House National Historic Site
In close proximity to the Confederation Centre stands Province House, known as the “Birthplace of Canada.” This three-story sandstone building was erected between 1843 and 1847 to serve as the colonial government building. Presently, the Province House functions as the seat of the Parliament of Prince Edward Island, and its parliamentary rooms are accessible to visitors.
Although the Confederation Chamber, where representatives convened in 1864 to initiate the modern state of Canada, is presently undergoing conservation, visitors can explore the Story of Confederation exhibit at Confederation Centre of the Arts next door. Here, a replica of the Confederation Chamber is on display, and visitors can watch the film “A Building of Destiny,” which delves into the history of Province House and the Charlottetown Conference.
8. Walking Tours of Charlottetown
Exploring the city’s Victorian neighborhoods on foot is a delightful activity and embarking on a walking tour—whether guided or self-guided—is one of the most popular things to do in Charlottetown. Wander along Richmond, Grafton, and Kent streets to traverse a neighborhood adorned with gabled houses, expansive parks, and gardens, offering a captivating glimpse into Charlottetown’s Victorian legacy.
Kings Square and Hillsborough Square, adorned with greenery, provide serene spaces, and on Grafton Street, take a moment to appreciate the pulpit and the beautiful Casevant Frères organ housed within the Gothic Revival St. Paul’s Anglican Church. The Great George Street Historic District, designated as a National Historic Site, boasts some of the most enchanting old wooden homes.
For a self-guided historical tour, obtain a map from the Welcome Center in Founders Hall at the waterfront. The Confederation Players, donned in authentic Victorian attire, portray delegates from the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, and The Secrets of Charlottetown tour animates history with tales of Old Charlottetown.
While meandering through the downtown area, keep an eye out for lifelike statues of historical figures, including the first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the Fathers of the Confederation.
9. Prince Edward Island National Park
In under thirty minutes by car from Charlottetown, you will find one of the most charming parks in eastern Canada—a vast stretch of coastline adorned with red-sand beaches, inviting warm waters for swimming, and a diverse array of recreational activities. The gentle surf and gradual sloping gradients ensure a safe aquatic environment for children, complemented by well-equipped changing facilities, many featuring showers.
Nestled within the park and standing out as one of the province’s most popular tourist attractions, is Green Gables—the farmhouse and surrounding land immortalized by Lucy Maud Montgomery in her renowned work, “Anne of Green Gables.” Now designated as a National Historic Site, Green Gables welcomes visitors, allowing exploration of Montgomery’s childhood home as well.
10. Charlottetown Farmers Market
Every Saturday morning throughout the year, and on Wednesday mornings during the summer, local farmers, artisans, and food producers convene at the Charlottetown Farmers Market. Exploring this vibrant venue provides an excellent opportunity to engage with locals and peruse a diverse array of locally crafted keepsakes. You might come across charmingly crafted birdhouses, raincoats for dogs, cozy sheepskin rugs, hand-knit scarves, crochet slippers, stylish leather handbags, pottery, silver jewelry, lavender sachets, or artisanal soaps—all perfect for taking home.
And, naturally, a wide range of delectable foods is on offer, from freshly made waffles and donuts to pierogis and whole-grain breads, as well as ready-to-eat sushi, tacos, sugarplums, and blueberry pies. There’s no reason to leave with an empty stomach.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Charlottetown: Best Areas & Hotels
Q: When is the best time to visit Charlottetown?
A: The summer months, from June to August, offer pleasant weather and a lively atmosphere.
Q: Are there kid-friendly activities in Charlottetown?
A: Absolutely! The city has family-friendly parks, museums, and events suitable for all ages.
Q: What is the signature dish of Charlottetown?
A: Don’t miss trying the local seafood, particularly the famous PEI lobster.
Q: Are there any free attractions in Charlottetown?
A: Yes, many parks, historic sites, and cultural venues offer free admission.
Q: How can I get around Charlottetown easily?
A: The city is easily navigable on foot, but you can also use public transportation or rent a bike for a more leisurely exploration.