Trip and Wellness

10 Best Things to Do in Saint John, NB

10 Best Things to Do in Saint John, NB

The initial piece of information to note about the major port and industrial center in New Brunswick is that its name is consistently written in full as “Saint John” and does not conclude with an “s.” This distinction sets it apart from St. John’s in Newfoundland.

Situated on a rocky point where the Saint John River meets the Bay of Fundy, the city boasts a fascinating phenomenon: twice daily, the bay appears to reverse its flow into the river, thanks to the Bay of Fundy’s exceptionally high tides and a narrow gorge at the estuary’s end. This unique spectacle is known as the Reversing Falls and stands as one of New Brunswick’s best tourist attractions.

However, Saint John offers much more to explore. Its historic streets, museums, and art galleries contribute to its status as one of Atlantic Canada’s favored cruise ports. Throughout the cruising season, you’ll likely witness ships docked at the bustling uptown.

Established in 1783 by Loyalists escaping the American Revolution, the city still preserves a few buildings from that era. Nevertheless, a devastating fire in 1877 destroyed over half the town, resulting in many of the distinctive brick and stone structures dating back to the Victorian era.

Uncover the city’s top attractions with our curated list of the best things to do in Saint John.

1. Reversing Falls, Skywalk, and Stonehammer Geopark

Reversing Falls, Skywalk, and Stonehammer Geopark
Source: tripadvisor

One of the optimal locations to truly grasp the formidable impact of the Bay of Fundy tides is at the narrow gorge situated at the head of the harbor. Here, the incoming tide is compelled over a rock ridge, generating an upstream waterfall. The eight-meter variation in sea levels between high and low tide leads to the reversal of the Saint John River’s flow, resulting in a turbulent array of whirlpools as it contends against the natural outward current. After twelve hours, the river reverts to its usual course, and the falls cascade over the stone ridge in the opposite direction.

For the best observation of this phenomenon, visit the Reversing Falls Bridge, which spans the narrowest section of the gorge, or explore the new Skywalk Saint John located at the bridge’s end. The observation platform extends more than eight meters from the cliff, and glass floor panels offer a transparent view of the falls and whirlpools 30 meters below. Interactive displays elucidate the tidal dynamics of the falls and the geological features of the cliffs on either side.

Witness the vigorous rush of water at Fallsview Park, adjacent to the phenomenon, where Stonehammer Geopark—the only UNESCO-listed global geopark in North America—provides information on the tides and the cliff’s geology. For a closer experience, consider a boat ride into the gorge or a zipline adventure above the surging waters.

2. Irving Nature Park

Irving Nature Park
Irving Nature Park

Established for the preservation of an 11-kilometer stretch along the Bay of Fundy shoreline, the 600-acre Irving Nature Park is situated on a narrow peninsula encompassing six distinct ecosystems. Enriched with forests, mud flats, salt marshes, volcanic rock, and an extensive sandy beach, the landscapes undergo continuous transformations with the rhythmic ebb and flow of the Fundy tides. Embedded within its marine clay, remnants of a bygone era include 13,000-year-old clam shells, formed when the park served as the outlet of the Saint John River before the glacial period. Accessible through eight walking trails of varying lengths, the park frequently offers free guided tours led by its staff.

With over 250 species of migratory and marine birds recorded, the boardwalk through the marsh provides an excellent observation point for bird enthusiasts. The Seal Observation Deck allows visitors to witness harbor seals, while the park also features picnic areas and a newly added children’s park with a playground and two cedar hedge mazes.

3. Saint John City Market

Saint John City Market
Saint John City Market

The enduring market hall, a classic structure, stands as one of the rare survivors of the Great Fire that engulfed the city merely a year after its inauguration in 1876. Regarded as the oldest ongoing farmer’s market in Canada, the hall was constructed to provide a year-round venue for the local open-air markets. Presently, a ringing bell marks the commencement and conclusion of trade each market day, occurring from Monday through Saturday.

Spanning an entire block, the building hosts local vendors offering a diverse array of goods, including farm-fresh produce, the day’s catch, bread, fudge, maple syrup, and handcrafted items. This venue proves to be an excellent spot for acquiring souvenirs to commemorate your visit to New Brunswick.

4. Imperial Theatre

Imperial Theatre
Imperial Theatre

Experiencing a performance or film screening at the exquisite Imperial Theatre is among the most popular evening activities in Saint John. This century-old theater, originally constructed in 1913 as a vaudeville house, stands as one of the city’s most majestic structures.

Throughout its history, the Imperial Theatre has served as a venue for a diverse array of events, including theatrical shows, movies, and religious services. Presently, it hosts an eclectic schedule that encompasses concerts, stage plays, classic films, comedy shows, dance performances, opera, and burlesque revivals.

A comprehensive restoration project was completed in 1994. Visitors could embark on a guided tour of this charming attraction located in downtown Saint John.

5. Prince William Street and Historic Saint John

Prince William Street and Historic Saint John
Prince William Street and Historic Saint John

The initial inhabitants of Saint John comprised families who sided with the British Crown during the American Revolution and fled on two fleets of ships from Massachusetts. While these settlers influenced the early architecture and ambiance of the city, its contemporary character was significantly shaped by the catastrophic Great Fire of 1877, which razed over 20 entire streets.

The replacement buildings that emerged reflected the prevailing architectural styles of the time, bequeathing Saint John a legacy of some of Canada’s finest Victorian architecture. The streets adorned with brick townhouses bear the imprint of Boston architects who participated in the city’s reconstruction, reminiscent of Boston’s Back Bay.

Prince William Street holds the distinction of being a National Historic Site due to its concentration of distinguished buildings designed and adorned in the styles of a specific era. Exploring these historic neighborhoods is facilitated by downloadable maps and apps detailing the Loyalist Trail, the Victorian Stroll, and the Prince William Walk. Don’t miss the opportunity to step inside the exquisite St. John’s Anglican Church, constructed in 1825 and designated a National Historic Site, one of the few original structures in this area that survived the fire.

In the waterfront’s vicinity, Market Square welcomes visitors with sidewalk cafes and vibrant sculptures by John Hooper. The 1867 Barbour’s General Store showcases exhibits of early shop goods, including a unique combination of a barbershop and dental office typical of that era.

Located at the summit of the sloping King Street, King’s Square is a spacious park designed in the shape of the United Kingdom flag. Within its confines, a two-story iron bandstand is nestled amid trees and flower beds, accompanied by an ancient Loyalist Burial Ground nearby. For cruise passengers aiming to maximize their single day in Saint John, the Shore Excursion Saint John Walking Tour offers a curated experience of the historic uptown highlights.

6. Carleton Martello Tower

Carleton Martello Tower
Carleton Martello Tower

Now designated as a National Historic Site, the Carleton Martello Tower was erected in 1813 to safeguard the port from potential attacks by the United States. It exemplifies the circular defensive forts constructed across the British Empire in the first half of the 19th century and stands as one of the only nine surviving structures out of the original 14 Canadian towers.

While rendered obsolete by subsequent advancements in firepower, these towers often found alternative purposes. During World War II, the Carleton Tower functioned as the area headquarters for anti-aircraft defense and fire-fighting services. Presently, it serves as a museum depicting military life in the 18th century.

Situated atop a hill, the tower offers a splendid vantage point for panoramic views of the town, the harbor, and the Bay of Fundy. It is worth noting that ongoing restoration efforts may occasionally restrict access to tower tours.

7. New Brunswick Museum

New Brunswick Museum
New Brunswick Museum

Housed in a contemporary facility right along the waterfront, the New Brunswick Museum showcases captivating exhibits that delve into the province’s natural history, culture, art, and history. Catering to all age groups, children are drawn to attractions like the Great Hall of Whales, engaging exhibits on the province’s distinctive geology in Our Changing Earth, and the vibrant interactive area tailored for younger visitors.

The museum adeptly captures New Brunswick’s 19th-century golden age of shipbuilding and sailing, featuring artifacts and informative displays that provide insights into shipboard life and the diverse destinations explored by New Brunswick ships.

Comprehensive coverage of Native Americans, their culture, and arts is presented, alongside a substantial presence of antiques and art. This outstanding museum places a strong emphasis on interpretation and understanding, fostering engagement beyond mere observation of collections.

8. Rockwood Park

Rockwood Park
Rockwood Park

Rockwood Park serves as a year-round gathering place for both residents and tourists seeking outdoor enjoyment. Encompassing 2,200 acres, the expansive park features over 55 paths and trails catering to hiking and biking enthusiasts. Boasting 10 lakes, including a spacious freshwater lake for swimming, boating, and fishing, the park offers diverse recreational options. Families with children can explore the sizable playground, while those accompanied by four-legged companions can unwind at Bark Park.

The Inside Out Nature Center facilitates outdoor equipment rentals, ranging from one-and-two-person kayaks, paddleboards, hydro-bikes, and pedal boats to bicycles. Additionally, the center organizes rock climbing on natural terrain, geocaching, and guided nature hikes. Camping is available within the park, accommodating tents or RVs.

During the winter, the lake transforms into a skating rink, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the trails becomes a favored activity in Saint John. As part of the multifaceted Stonehammer Geopark, the park showcases a billion years of history through caves, waterfalls, and distinctive rock formations. Furthermore, an 18-hole public golf course within the park attracts both locals and tourists alike.

9. Fort Howe National Historic Site

Fort Howe National Historic Site
Fort Howe National Historic Site

On a beautiful, clear day, Fort Howe National Historic Site offers a breathtaking panorama that unfolds over the shipyards, harbor, river, and town. The wooden blockhouse is a reproduction of one built in 1777 when the ridge was fortified and armed to protect the settlement from potential attacks by American privateers and other threats.

Following the American Revolution, the fort gradually fell into disrepair until the War of 1812, when it was once again manned and armed until 1821. The blockhouse itself is a modern reconstruction. Situated high on a rocky cliff, the fort is accessible from Main Street via Metcalfe Street and Magazine Street.

10. Cherry Brook Zoo & Vanished Kingdom

Cherry Brook Zoo & Vanished Kingdom
Cherry Brook Zoo & Vanished Kingdom

Nestled within Rockwood Park, Cherry Brook Zoo provides animals with ample space to roam, offering visitors a chance to observe them in a natural setting. Although not as expansive as major zoos in other locations, it boasts a surprising diversity of animals, including rare and endangered species. The zoo is home to over 87 residents representing 37 different species, ranging from lions and zebras to turtles and tree frogs. Notable attractions include the snow leopard and Siberian tiger.

The zoo’s manageable size makes it particularly accessible to children, who can also enjoy the associated Vanished Kingdom—a space where visitors can travel back in time with life-size replicas of extinct and endangered animals. Cherry Brook Zoo hosts various seasonal events, including special features during Halloween and Christmas.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint John: Best Areas & Hotels


Q: Is Saint John a family-friendly destination?

A: Absolutely! With attractions like the Cherry Brook Zoo and family-focused events, Saint John caters to visitors of all ages.

Q: What is the best time to visit Saint John for outdoor activities?

A: Summer and fall provide ideal weather for outdoor adventures, from hiking to whale watching.

Q: Are there any unique souvenirs to buy in Saint John?

A: Yes, explore local markets for handmade crafts and unique products that make for meaningful souvenirs.

Q: How can visitors get involved in community events in Saint John?

A: Check for local initiatives and events that encourage visitor participation, such as Uptown Clean Sweep.

Q: What is the significance of the Bay of Fundy in Saint John?

A: The Bay of Fundy, with the world’s highest tides, offers unique experiences like whale watching and kayaking.