Driving through New Brunswick, Canada: Saint John and Moncton

While most people visiting Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island will likely fly into Halifax and drive from there, we took a different approach. We live in Boston, and with all the flight hiccups in the news this summer, we decided to just drive. We would be dropping our kids off a summer camp and such in New Hampshire and decided to take an open-ended couple’s road trip that direction.

For folks less familiar with Northeast geography, here’s a map:

Some people do take the “CAT” ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. This ferry used to go from Portland, Maine, but apparently they changed the route post-covid to Bar Harbor. This is a significant difference – Portland is 2 hours from Boston, while Bar Harbor is 5 hours from Boston. We would have taken the ferry from the old Portland route, but from Bar Harbor, we decided to just drive and see what was along the way, with the idea that we may take the ferry home.

In any case, the towns in New Brunswick aren’t particularly focus destinations, but we still thought we would share our experience. We stopped in Saint John and Moncton on the way there, and had intended to stop in Fredricton on the way back. But in the end, we needed to return home more quickly than we originally intended and skipped it.

We spent the morning driving through New Hampshire, Maine, and to the Canadian border. As of summer 2022, you need to get an online ArriveCAN barcode in advance to enter Canada, but no pre-testing is required if you are vaccinated. There was a 1-hour time change when crossing into New Brunswick, and the border wait was a nominal 10 minutes.

Saint John, NB

(Note: St. John’s, Newfoundland is a very different place, about 1000km away, and supposed to be much nicer. The “‘s” is very significant here! Also, apparently, “Saint” is always spelled out in “Saint John, NB” but not for “St. John’s, NL”)

We made it to Saint John, New Brunswick, around 3:30pm. Given that most of the museums were scheduled to close around 5:00pm, we probably could have squeezed one it, but ended up deciding that it was a walking tour of the city or keep driving.

Our initial impression was that the city was on the small side and a little rundown, although the architecture made it clear that this place had more prosperous times in the past. We found street parking near King’s Square and put enough change in the meter for an hour and a half. First, we decided to walk towards the water, stopping to take a peak in Saint John City Market. Small, but fun!

We then did some wandering. There are really only a few blocks of interest to tourists, but I had fun trying to find different church spires peaking up behind the other buildings.

If you ignore some of the wear and tear, there are some other architecturally interesting buildings and you are likely to have fun wandering a bit and enjoying views of the water. The actual waterfront didn’t seem to have as much, most of the buildings and restaurants were slightly up the hill.

Deciding that an hour or so was plenty there, we wanted to continue on to Moncton for dinner. To tide us over, we stopped to pick up a donut at a Tim Hortons. While I find their donuts a bit sweet, think of Tim Hortons as the ubiquitous Dunkin’ or Krispy Cream of Canada and make sure you get at least one donut there!

We then continued onto King’s Square. It was quite peaceful and relaxing and well worth a wander. As you explore the sights, you will quickly realized that many of the patriots stayed in New England, while the loyalists moved into Canada.

Just on the other side of the park was the Loyalist Burial Ground. Again, definitely worth a walk!

We were glad that we stopped for an hour, but also glad that we had decided not to spend the night here. Since our main goal was to get to Prince Edward Island, driving another hour and a half would make the following day more enjoyable.

Moncton

At this point, we decided to hop back in the car and continue another hour and a half to Moncton. While we were happy to spend an hour in Saint John, our real goal was to use our energy getting as close to Prince Edward Island as possible. It would have been nice to go a little out of the way and see the Fundy National Park of Canada, but with only a week in this area, we decided to skip it on the way there but potentially see on the way back.

As we entered Moncton, we were greeted by the sight of an aluminum factory. The town is definitely lacking in tourist charm and architecturally interesting features, but it felt much newer and not as run down as Saint John. Moncton is a town that feels like it would be a nice place to live and work.

One factoid that we learned was that due to history/proximity to Quebec, Moncton is Canada’s only official bilingual city, with 36% of the population speaking French at home, and roughly half the population speaking both English and French. It is apparently a popular place for Canadian companies to open call centers given the abundance of bilingual staff.

After checking into our hotel, we decided to walk towards the downtown and the trail going through Riverfront Park.

There were some nice views! While we were not awake during the tidal bore, twice per day a big wave runs up the river and delights the tourists. The best viewing point is supposed to be from Tidal Bore Park.

Eventually, we came to a monument to Joseph Salter, a shipbuilder and Moncton’s first mayor.

Starting to feel tired, we decided to get dinner and head back to our hotel. There are quite a few choices of restaurants and we ended up settling on a Vietnamese/Thai place. It was reasonably tasty, but it’s also not like were were in New York or anything .

Conclusions

All-in-all, we had a fun day, but our conclusion was that both Saint John and Moncton are good places to stop for an hour if they are convenient, but that they shouldn’t necessarily be a travel destination in themselves. Next time we are traveling through this part of Canada, we plan to stop in Fredricton and the Fundy National Park of Canada! Here is a rough map of ideas for where you may want to stop on your next Canadian road trip to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia!

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