Fresh seafood, stately homes, seaside shops and friendly folks are among the charms of Charlottetown, the picturesque capital of Prince Edward Island. Coupled with the fact that the city is the birthplace of the country’s confederation, it’s no wonder many people make the trip out to the spot on Canada’s east coast—particularly during the summer months.
With a surprising amount of attractions in the small, walkable city there’s plenty to please everyone, whether you peg yourself as a foodie, hipster or even a fashionista. Here are some of the top picks for what to do in Charlottetown, for every type of traveller.
The History Buff
Save for the nation’s capital, Charlottetown is perhaps one of the most important places in Canada when it comes to tracing the country’s roots, making it a mecca for history buffs. The city plays up its past by employing guides dressed in period costumes, and it’s not uncommon to see a croquet match break out in a park near the Confederation Centre just as it would have in the old days.
The Fathers of Confederation met at Province House National Historic Site in 1864, and one century later the surrounding area was expanded with the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Today, the massive sandstone complex showcases Canada’s heritage along with the likes of an art gallery, walking tours and live theatre including Anne of Green Gables- The Musical which has a Guinness World Record for the longest running production.
Towering St. Dustan’s Basilica sits along nearby Great George Street, and its grand steeples are pretty great themselves. The cathedral was built in the early 1900s in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style, yet sadly had to be rebuilt just a few years later following a devastating fire.
Closer to the waterfront are two of Charlottetown’s most historic landmarks. The first is Beaconsfield Historic House, which dates back to 1877 and was once considered one of PEI’s most elegant homes (and still is, in this writer’s opinion). Also built in the Victorian style, it boasts 25 rooms and eight fireplaces, and hosts tours and special events year-round.
The other spot of note is the Government House, also known as Fanningbank, which was built in 1834 as the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of PEI. Its winding driveway, grand white façade framed by pillars and manicured gardens are reminiscent of the historic estates found in America’s deep south, and visitors are welcome to explore the grounds.
The last stop for history buffs is found by following the pathway from Fanningbank along the Victoria Park boardwalk. There, overlooking the water, are a number of cannons which have stood guard since the 1800s. Prince Edward Battery overlooks the harbour, and visitors are welcome to wander between them or peer through a telescope that brings other notable spots around the island such as Port-la-Joye Fort Amherst National Historic Site into focus.
With miles of farmland and coastlines, it’s no wonder Prince Edward Island’s culinary scene is thriving, particularly in Charlottetown. Fresh seafood is never hard to find, and farm to table cuisine is the rule rather than the exception. Many of the city’s top restaurants are found along Victoria Row which is pedestrian-only during the summer, and diners can usually score a seat on the patio at spots like Fishbones Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill or the Row House Lobster Co.
Other spots worth checking out around town include Terre Rouge Bistro Marche where ingredients are sourced from small local producers, and Local 343 which offers a bistro-style menu including to-go items. And while PEI isn’t as well-known for its beef as say, Alberta, you’d never know it after devouring a burger from local favourite BOOMburger. Their made-to-order patties are served up with a side of fresh-cut PEI fries and topped with butter and cheese from COWS Creamery—which just so happens to be across the street.
The perfect spot to satisfy a sweet tooth, COWS Creamery was founded in PEI decades ago and has since expanded to other locations across Canada. Rated as one of the world’s best ice cream spots even beating out heavy-hitters like Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s, the creamery christens its flavours with creative cow monikers like Moo Henry, Gooey Mooey and Messie Bessie.
Thanks to streets lined with independent shops and a growing craft beer scene, hipsters will find themselves at home in Charlottetown. Queen Street in the heart of downtown is home to a number of used book stores worth checking out, while City Cinema located just one block over on King Street has been screening films since 1993. The 70 seat theatre showcases productions that aren’t found in mainstream cinemas, and has also partnered with the Toronto International Film Festival to bring more films in house.
For a night out, hipsters will want to start off by sampling local brews at spots like Upstreet Craft Brewing, or The Gahan House which offers brewery tours and serves up beer from the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. made with fresh PEI water, malted barley, hops and yeast. Finish off the night at The Alley, a cool bowling alley that also has a restaurant and serves up cocktails like Moscow mules, bourbon sours and of course an old fashioned.
While Charlottetown will never compete with the likes of Rodeo Drive, there are more than enough shops around town to keep fashionistas occupied. Confederation Court Mall is in the heart of downtown, and has dozens of stores and boutiques offering everything from fashion, giftware and home decor as well as typical offerings like a salon and food court.
The mall just so happens to be on Queen Street which also has a number of independently owned shops, and tourist favourites like the Anne of Green Gables Store which has more Anne-related merchandise than you ever knew existed. Shoppers will want to tuck into Victoria Row for nautical-themed gift shops, or time their visit to check out one of the city’s farmer’s markets.
The Charlottetown Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday along Belvedere Avenue, and features fresh produce, baked goods and art displays. The market is also open on select Wednesdays from June through October. Meantime, the Downtown Farmers’ Market pops-up on Queen Street between Grafton and King Streets, running Sundays from early July to late September. Boasting locally grown produce, food vendors, artisans and musical performances, shoppers will want to come with an empty stomach and a full wallet!
About a 10 minute drive from downtown to where the Trans-Canada Highway begins along the North River Causeway, there’s also an outlet mall selling the likes of athletic gear and homewares, as well as PEI favourites like Anne of Green Gables Chocolate, the COWS Creamery and BOOMburger.
With 1,100 kilometres of coastline, a bike path that links much of the province and no shortage of open water to explore, Prince Edward Island is a great spot for outdoor, athletic types. In Charlottetown, it’s easy to rent a bicycle and hit the trails in and around town, or go for a run along the Victoria Park boardwalk which traces the waterfront.
Hitting the water is a great way to get some exercise while still enjoying the sights, and kayak and canoe rentals are available from Peake’s Wharf through companies like Paddles. Those who prefer an afternoon on the links are in the right place, as Prince Edward Island is famous for its scenic golf courses with many located just a short drive from the city. There are also options right in Charlottetown, including the Belvedere Golf Club and All About Golf in Confederation Mall which has an indoor putting green.
Where to stay in Charlottetown
The Great George– This “hotel” is actually a cluster of unique historical buildings, with beautiful in-room features like clawfoot tubs and elegant furnishings. For a special getaway, treat yourself by booking a deluxe room which includes a fireplace and jacuzzi or bathtub. Be sure to join the complimentary daily happy hour to mingle with other guests. Click here to book
The Harbour House– This boutique hotel offers a complimentary hot breakfast in the morning that can be enjoyed in the dining area with other guests, and the property’s quiet location is off the beaten path yet still an easy walk to the waterfront and downtown. Click here to book
The Sonata Inn– Guests will experience the true hospitality of PEI at the Sonata Inn, where staff make everyone feel like family and serve up a home cooked breakfast each morning. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and clean. Click here to book
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Globe Guide explored Charlottetown in collaboration with Tourism Prince Edward Island. As always, hosts have no influence on articles.