When you reach St. John, New Brunswick the ship will dock right in the centre; you’ll be able to see a good majority of one of North America’s oldest port cities from the boat deck. There is often a craft market that opens just outside the cruise terminal, the best souvenirs to be had – they come with interesting stories too.
When we docked there were a lot of volunteer representatives from the city. Although incredibly hilly, the sidewalks for the most part are paved (as opposed to cobbled). There are plenty of self-tour maps of the city with detailed explanations both on the maps and often on/in the location. I am sure if we had asked one of the volunteers would have been happy to give us a personal tour.
The following is some detail of the various self-guided tours you can take. Map in hand you are ready to go, most of the tours won’t take you more than 2/3 of a mile (if that). Most of the buildings along the routes are only seen from the outside; you will not be able to make it into the churches or old public buildings; but I was able to get in the door and peek around at more than I thought and some were accessible.
Prince William’s Walk covers some of the interesting Trinity Royal Preservation Area (to protect the character of the buildings in the central core). Prince William and Germain Streets have some buildings that are so elaborate that it is easy to imagine the fierce competition amount property owners to outdo one another. Along the walk, you will explore Corinthian columns, elaborate Italianate facades, and curious gargoyles grimacing at you. There are 21 stops and will take you about one and a half hours to complete. Featured along the way are: Market Slip, Old Post Office, Old City Hall, Palatine Building (gargoyles galore), The Three Sisters Lamp, Church of St. Andrew and St. David, and the Union Club.
The Loyalist Trail retraces the footsteps of the Loyalists who landed on May 18, 1783. There are 21 stops and will take you approximately one and a half hours. Among your stops are the following: Old County Courthouse with a stone spiral staircase, the Loyalist Burial Grounds, King’s Square, the Old City Market, Loyalist House, St. John’s Stone Church, the Jewish Historical Museum, City Hall, Market Slip, Market Square, and the New Brunswick Museum. Barbour’s General Store, and the Imperial Theatre.
In 1877, the Great Fire destroyed over 1600 buildings and left 13,000 people homeless. You can view the period rebuilding along the Victorian Stroll, the tree-lined, 19th-century residential streets of downtown highlighting grand homes of high style.
At the foot of King Street, located at Market Slip on the waterfront, you will find Barbour’s General Store. The store is “an authentic turn-of-the-century country store, and, in July and August, the starting point for guided historic walking tours.”
The New Brunswick Museum is located in Market Square, at the foot of King Street. The museum houses history galleries, natural science galleries, and decorative, fine art galleries. Visit the family discovery gallery and television studio. See a full-sized whale and a mastodon. The museum is three-stories high and is wheelchair accessible. This was a wonderful place to visit and also had accessible washrooms to boot. The only drawback was that you seemed to need security guards with you to operate the elevators.
The Old City Market is now internally linked to the museum and although crowded and chaotic, fairly accessible. It has been a farmer’s market since 1876; it is the oldest continuing farmer’s market in all of Canada. Look up its roof resembles the inverted keel of a ship, with hand-hewn timbers and dove-tailed joints. This is a must-see.
Things worth seeing that are not within the central 8-block area for which you can arrange a cab car or shore excursion; none of these are fully accessible but all are worth seeing and you will have enough access to enjoy them (you will be able to use the washroom at all of the following sites).
The Cherry Brook Zoo in the northern section of Rockwood Park, is the only exotic animal zoo in Atlantic Canada. The zoo is home to over 100 animals – including zebras, lions, tigers, and the Gentle Brown Lemur, a highly endangered monkey.
The Irving Nature Park was built to protect an environmentally-significant endangered area. It features nature walking trails (all fairly short) on the Bay of Fundy, not all of these are accessible but the view is worth it. You can see most of the wildlife at Nature Park, including 248 species of birds, Harbour Seals, deer, porcupines, and red squirrels.
The Reversing Falls are just plain interesting and attract a lot of visitors.
While in St. John eating at the market, why do something boring and sit down when you can have a taste of local cuisine. Pete Luckett, of Pete’s Frootique is a Canadian icon, have a cappuccino along with some amazing baking.
You can enjoy most of St. John without ever spending a cent, the folks are wonderful and truly happy to have you there.