Visiting Prince Edward Island has long been on my travel to-do list. It was one of only two Canadian provinces I had yet to set foot on and I was determined to tick it off as part of my Canada 150 celebrations. Being the country’s smallest province, I set aside just two days of my two weeks on the east coast for visiting Prince Edward Island. Turns out this was two days too little. Here’s why:
To say the province of PEI is small is an understatement. Located in the Gulf of St.Lawreance, this Canadian island straddling New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is just 5,600 square kilometres. In comparison, PEI can fit inside Ontario 190 times. The Territory I grew up in can hold 238 Prince Edward Islands. You can drive tip-to-tip in a day and has only two cities with a population over 10,000.
With this small size in mind, I foolishly thought I could cover its highlights in a couple of days. Although possible, I forgot that Prince Edward Island is, after all, an island. Life on an island tends to run a little slower and therefore shouldn’t be rushed.
Lighthouses and Lobster Rolls
It was around the time I bit into the most amazing lobster roll of my east coast tour when I came upon my error in time management. After the short ferry hop from Caribou, Nova Scotia, we hit the red soil running. Whirlwind stops at Rossignol Estate Winery and Cape Bear lighthouse, the first post to answer the distress call from the Titanic, was followed by a brisk stroll along the Panmure Island causeway. There was little time to admire the white sands on one side and red on the other. Along the panicked way, we passed cute blink-and-you-will-miss-them towns with lobster trap lined wharves and immaculately manicured homes.
Each of these places begged for further exploration, but there was just no time.
Now, sitting on the patio of the Point Prim Chowder House listening to the waves slowly crash on the red sandstone shore, I tried to reflect on the blur that was my first day. That’s when I realized I was doing PEI wrong. Taking a satisfying sip of my Up Street Commons craft Pilsner out of a yellow solo cup I concluded, just like the sun melting into the Northumberland Strait, PEI is not meant to be rushed. Time to change course.
We awoke to find ourselves in a wet and socked in Charlottetown. With a new island time mentality, we decided to take a lazy stroll through town before hitting the road. Let me tell you, there is no better place to take a lazy stroll than Charlottetown, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. The city is incredibly sleepy and easy to explore on foot.
We made our way past the massive St. Dunstan’s Basilica, a National Historic Site of Canada, and colourful character homes that once housed prominent politicians, lawyers, and Canada’s founding fathers. At the Province House, you can read all about the party that was the Charlottetown conference. This series of meetings in 1864 united the Maritimes with the west. Over a week grand balls and parties, the framework for the Canadian Confederation came to be.
The thought of Canada uniting over cocktails only strengthens my love for this place.
Not So Sleepy Charlottetown
Our Charlottetown stroll continued with coffee to go from the surprisingly hip Reciever Coffee Co, quite possibly the busiest spot on the island. Warm Americano in hand, we walked down the pedestrian street of Victoria Row. Although deserted during my time visiting Prince Edward Island, I could easily imagine the place alive on warm summers nights with buskers and beverages.
But not today.
This quiet trend continues at the newly built (and massive) Charlottetown Beer Garden. We tried to stop in for a giant pint later that night only to find it closed. Nothing online or at the door pointed towards this.Compare prices on flights to PEI with Skyscanner
Although we chalked it up to visiting Prince Edward Island during the shoulder season, we did manage to find some life in Charlottetown. UpStreet Craft Brewing, makers of the very refreshing pilsner I was sampling during the previous day’s sunset at Point Prim, proved to be alive with locals sampling a wide selection of craft beer and playing crokinole. Same goes for Hopyard, an amazing mix of beer, cheap fusion eats, and serve yourself vinyl records. So very cool.
Then there was Hunter’s Ale House, a chain like a restaurant/bar without being a chain. The real draw here was the live music, something there is never a shortage of on the island. As a bonus, it was open mic night which saw me on stage for the first time in a long time. Thank you, Charlottetown for that!
PEI Day Trip
The other great thing about Charlottetown is its mid-island location, making it the perfect hub to explore from. We continued our lazy day by lazily driving up the island, stopping at what was quirky or cool along the way. A warning, there’s plenty of this on PEI.
Jams, cheese, and ice cream
Although PEI is known for its lobsters and potatoes (it provides 25% of Canada’s spuds!), it’s the local condiments and creameries that caught my eye and my stomach. Here are a few of my favourite highlights on my short time visiting Prince Edward Island:’
East Coast ice cream giant Cows Creamery calls Charlottetown home. Factory tours are available at its headquarters location as is its fresh ice cream, all made with milk from PEI cows, and cow chips– chocolate-covered potato chips. Don’t question it, just put it in your mouth.
Prince Edward Island Preserves
Don’t let the lineup of tour buses and blue-haired seniors throw you, this place is legit. I was sceptical until stepping inside and finding seemingly endless jams, jellies, and dips to try. Thankfully I had plenty of storage and a great trunk organizer in my vehicle as I left with an assortment of antipasto and tapenades.
Glasgow Glen Farm
Is there anything better than a large wheel of cheese? Turns out, yes. Sampling it straight from the source. Glasgow Glen Farm is a great stop for its wide variety of Cheeselady Gouda, woodfire pizza, and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.
Charcuterie, East Coast Style
Although nowhere near hungry, lunchtime found us in the sleepy seaside town of North Rustico. Home to yet another historic lighthouse, lobster buoy souvenirs, (don’t miss the cute PEI Wooden Lobster Buoy shop.It’s set up in a small garage!) and the sexiest charcuterie board I have ever seen.
Most patrons head to the Blue Mussel Café for its seafood chowder, seafood poutine and, of course, blue muscles. Although we sampled all of that, it was the smoked charcuterie board the blew me away. We’re talking house-smoked mackerel, cold-smoked salmon, local cheeses and the most vibrant jam to tie it all together. What is not to like in this sexy spread?
Visiting Prince Edward Island’s Green Gables
No visit to Prince Edward Island is complete without stopping in at Green Gables Heritage Place, former home to Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s family and inspiration for her series of books based on a redheaded freckled orphan named Anne.
Canada loves them some Anna of Green Gables. With TV shows, movies, and play adaptations of the popular novel series, Anne has lived on for over a century in the hearts of Canadians. Turns out the world loves Anne too. The size of the complex and the number of tourists visiting it is surprising. With over 50 million books sold worldwide and transcriptions in 36 languages, I guess this should not have been a shock.
Aside from artefacts and park guides dressed in turn of the century clothing, highlights include the well-manicured grounds and trails. Don’t miss a stroll down Lover’s Lane, a favourite spot Lucy Maud Montgomery used for inspiration in her series.
All Things Red
After a rip along the beach in our rental car (because that’s what you do when visiting PEI) we continued up the Gulf Shore Parkway and shifted gears from fabulous food to Prince Edward Island’s unique coastal scenery. Along with various seabirds we encountered PEI’s prettiest local, the red fox. Turns out they’re plentiful on the island and they are surprisingly playful. Swimming in backyard pools or jumping on trampolines are apparently common occurrences.
Although we weren’t lucky enough to witness this level of awesome, we did see these beautiful foxes trotting along the coastal bike path, stopping only to pose for pictures. Later that night we would see another one cruising along a downtown Charlottetown sidewalk like it had every right to do just that.
Again, this island is great.
With so much left to see in and around the island, our departure day included in a few favourite stops as well. Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst is worth a visit as it is the original Acadian settlement on the island. After falling to British forces it became Fort Amherst and was sadly the site of French deportation. Today it offers visitors a green and overgrown fort with beautiful views of Charlottetown in the distance.
Victoria By the Sea
Home to possibly the most Canadian looking lighthouse in the country, this two-street-town features a cute coffee shop, character homes, and a handmade chocolate shop.
One last lobster roll and we were off, stopping at Confederation Bridge Park to say goodbye Prince Edward Island.
Completed in 1997, this 13-kilometre long bridge connects the island to mainland New Brunswick. It also holds the unique title of being the longest bridge in the world crossing ice-covered water. What an incredibly Canadian and wonderful title to own.
Visiting Prince Edward Island – Where to Stay
Our time visiting Prince Edward Island was highlighted at night by the ridiculously posh Sydney Boutique Inn and Suites. Situated in a renovated Notre Dame Convent, this beautiful building is a PEI highlight of its own. The modern and recently renovated rooms made for an incredibly comfortable place to return to during my short stay and the friendly service was tops. Highly recommend.
Two Days Too Little
As I rode into the fog, watching this tiny green and red island disappear in my rearview, I couldn’t help but think about my next visit. Even with my early realization that PEI is meant to be enjoyed slowly, my time visiting Prince Edward Island was crammed with unique towns and sights that deserve more attention. Yes, I ticked off visiting Prince Edward Island, however, I only scratched the very red surface.
So For those making the trip to PEI, and you should, take it slow. Plan for a few days. Enjoy the red sandy beaches. Relax, you’re on island time.
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Although my short time visiting Prince Edward Island was made possible by Tourism Prince Edward Island,
the experience, opinions, and poor time management were my own.