When it comes to Canada’s smallest province – once referred to by the resident Mi’kmaq population as Epekwitk (“cradle on the waves”) – most of us have a lot to learn.
We’ve been to Prince Edward Island before and we were absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the beautiful beaches and sunsets.
But – as Calgary writer John Gilchrist (known best as a restaurant critic for the CBC and The Calgary Herald) demonstrates – there’s more to this gorgeous Atlantic province than stunning geography.
1. The music – From folk singers in cafes and ceilidhs in community halls, there’s music of all kinds – everywhere. Charlottetown’s Richmond Street becomes concert central throughout the summer as patio loungers are serenaded nightly by local and international musicians. (Joel Plaskett, for example, performed one night while we were in town.) The Mack Theatre – kitty-corner to and operated by the Confederation Centre of the Arts – hosts productions such as Come-All-Ye, a musical comedy review of life on PEI and Late Night, where the super-talented performers of Anne of Green Gables let their hair hang down and perform personal favourites. (Don’t miss this!)
A month after our visit, the music was still clinging to our brains.
2. Confederation Centre of the Arts – This is the musical home of Anne and a community hub that features a fantastic art gallery, evening performances of shows such as A Tribute to Johnny Cash and a fine restaurant – Mavor’s. Staff here also handle historic tours and have a great youth group who perform free outdoor shows.
3. Charlottetown Farmer’s Market – Compact and friendly, the market is filled with wild blueberries, cured salmon and outstanding, lard-pastried butter tarts. (For a buck!) Don’t forget to try PEI’s yummy, trademark potatoes. They’re as good as they say they are.
4. The Great George Hotel – Strategically located on Great George Street between the wharf and historic Province House (where Canada was born) and just a block from the Confederation Centre, this is a boutique hotel cobbled together from 15 heritage buildings. We stayed in what once was an oyster bar two doors from the tavern where Sir John A. and his buddies used to drink. Great location. Great rooms. Great staff. Great George.
5. Anne – Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery pervade island culture – the highlight being a musical that’s run for 50 years. Buy a straw hat with dangling red braids and join the Anne crowd.
6. Shellfish – We ate more lobster in a week than we normally do in a year, and not because it’s cheaper in PEI. (It is, but not by much.) We also ordered mussels and sucked back oysters gladly because, when on PEI …. well, you know the drill. Learn more about shellfish on the aptly named Top Notch Lobster Tour with Captain Mark and Cody.
7. Beaches – Walk them. Sit on them. Pick shells and rocks off them. The sand – formed from soft sandstone and a red rusty colour due to high iron oxide content – is mesmerizing.
8. Restaurants – The Pearl, Lot 30, Inn at Bay Fortune, Sim’s, Gahan House, Trailside Café, The Dunes, Landmark Café – not a bad meal among’em. Two treats – a Fisherman’s Wharf lobster dinner at North Rustico and fish ‘n chips at Richard’s Fresh Seafood in Stanhope.
9. Lighthouses – Made mostly redundant these days by high-tech GPS navigation, many PEI lighthouses have been turned into interpretive centres and tourist attractions. I challenge you to find one and do your best Cap’n Highliner imitation from the top floor!
10. People – Dang, they’re nice. Helpful, charming, bend-over-backwards-to-help-you-out types. There may be some cranky people on the island, but we never saw them.
11. 2014 – This will be the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that gave birth to Canada as we know it. So go and celebrate. Meet Anne. Sip a cool one with Sir John A. And have a warm island holiday Canadian-style.
Editor’s note: Our writer was hosted by our partners in tourism, who did not review or edit this story before publication.
linda and jack commented:
Magnificent photo of the beach. Can hardly wait to visit this beautiful province. So much to see and do – eateries, walks along the beach, music, theater, art – what more could one ask for. Well done John Gilchrist!
Oh, one more thing – the Top Notch Lobster Tour sounds like an absolute “must” Linda
My husband and i did this tour last year, it is for sure a “must-do”!!! Mark and crew are awesome, and so is the lobster meal!
Had two of my most amazing meals ever at the Inn of Bay Fortune. PEI is also a great spot for easy biking. You could do the length of the island comfortably in a few days. The Greenwich Dunes section of PEI Nat’l Park is fantastic and not crowded because it’s a bit of a walk to get there.
Island Rob commented:
Thanks for the shout outs! Nothing makes an islander happy than boosting his ego for the weekend!
Also, Top notch is the greatest. Great people, former great hockey players, great times.
Don’t forget the free-roaming bison at Buffaloland Provincial Park in Milltown Cross! It’s impossible to see a herd of 33 buffalo anywhere else on the East Coast.
There is also a buffalo reserve in Cap Pele New Brunswick with large numbers. 🙂
A lovely compliment to little Island in the Gulf on the East Coast. Thank you from an Islander who is so proud of this place .
toque & canoe commented:
Hi Sandi – Any other recommendations for our readers? Cheers! Toque & Canoe
What we Islanders call ‘up west’ (places north-west of the village of Tyne Valley–though others will debate where up west truly starts…) there is so much to see. The Kildare Capes are beautiful Island sandstone cliffs. Catch those in a sunset and you’ll also have to catch your breath! The West Point Lighthouse is a B&B and cafe. The PEI Potato Museum in O’Leary houses everything, you got it, potatoes. Alberton is a beautiful community. In Bloomfield is the oldest continuous family owned business on PEI: MacAusland’s Woollen Mill. This is a must see on a visit to PEI. The 100% wool blankets are beautiful and given to many newlyweds as wedding presents. The mill itself is like stepping into a 1920s business. Very interesting and very cool. But then again, I’m biased; it is my family’s business, started by my great-grandfather! I love it there!
Lynn Ellsworth commented:
Your bias is quite well justified – the mill is a treasure and the products are stellar – it’s always a stop on my touring visitors’ tours of PEI.
Sandy Ramsay commented:
I must agree with Heather….yes the Island is just as lovely as the writer says but don’t forget the rest of the Island. Going “up West” is one of my yearly treks that I love and the scenery is never a waste. Lets not forget beautiful Summerside as well, a perfect little city covered with trees. I also am an Islander!
What a wonderful article – one of the best I have ever read on my beautiful province…
The only thing I would add is the charm of our two small cities – Summerside and Charlottetown. I make it a point every year to spend an afternoon and evening strolling the streets of old Charlottetown, checking out the outdoor cafes and neat touristy stores… Summerside is charming as well in it’s own way.
Catherine Bailey commented:
I live in Charlottetown at the moment but am from Summerside, where I’ve lived up until this year and I will say that there is NO WHERE else I’d rater live! It’s beautiful here, small enough to get around easily yet big enough we have all the necessities. Beaches are amazing and people are friendly. I’m proud to live here. Thank you for the wonderful article. Those of us who are proud of this little place appreciate the kind words for our home. <3
Jovette and Lawrence Keeler commented:
There are many beautiful beach houses all over the island that their owners offer for rental to summer visitors through vacation rentals websites (pei-cottages.com, Homeaway, VRBO) …. a wonderful alternative to the ‘ever so predictable’ hotel stays!
Don’t forget that in the summer months, those beaches border the warmest waters north of the Carolinas! Swim, swim, swim to your heart’s content!
Marcela Rosemberg commented:
I agree with all the 11 reasons…and I would add that I Love PEI as PEI found me 9 years ago when I immigrated from Argentina with a unique opportunity of growing as a human being and as an artist. Thank you PEI!
P.E.I. was my home until I moved to Nova Scotia….I remember as a small child going to the beaches in the summer…oh how I wished that the summer never ended….then in the winter going skating on the man made iceponds outdoors in the public playgrounds hours spent outdoors. There are many days I wish I was still a child to relive those wonderful years as a child growing up in our beautiful land of red soil and wonderful people….Home sick yes I am….
If you liked Fisherman’s Wharf, you should try New Glasgow Lobster Suppers next time. There may not be a salad bar, but the quality of the food is so above and beyond and the staff is fantastic, bringing all 4 all you can eat courses right to your table.
My husband and I spent a few days in PEI and loved every minute. Stayed at the Great George and the Inn at Bay Fortune, both were wonderful. Great experience!
Michael Nesbitt commented:
I notice it says nothing of the Acadian Forest or the 50 trails located across the province, many of which access the peacefulness of that feature.
Except where the government has decided to decimate the forest for a brand, shiny-new Trans Canada Highway section to replace a perfectly good (when traveled properly) highway segment several hundred meters away).
I trust the tourists won’t mind navigating the still-critical corner in Crapaud, the myriad of driveways that still directly access the highway all along its length.
But, the government is plowing ahead with it shiny new blacktop in a province that has the highest per-capita distance of roadways already… to help tourists explore every nook an cranny, without fear of actually being too far from any place or anyone to get seriously or dangerously lost; but look out for those roads that end at the shoreline cliff faces.
Welcome to P.E.I., what’s left of it, anyway. Come today, before further Plan Bs take it all away.
Way to Buzz kill. Keep the local politics to yourself. A few less curves on the Trans Canada highway is not going to kill the PEI experience. There are lots of things to do on the Island – festivals, music, beaches, and great food galore. I’ve lived here 7 years now and still experience something new and exciting every year.
True Islander commented:
lol you know that you are a true islander when you mention plan B. Love PEI! In my opinion, it is one of the best places in the world.
edith jordan commented:
Their is no place like Home I am a Prince Edward Islander. We are a Hidden Gem that should be explored by everyone.
Miss Home commented:
Great article and so true…….BUT ..there is so much more from East Point to West Point…the people they are so nice…and genuine..almost an innocence about them…if you walk the streets of Souris,Alberton,Kensington or Montague..it is all the same..freindly ,kind and willing to help…….and that says it all……..An influx of new Aisian immigrants have seen the establisment of unique Chinese,Thai and Korean restaurants adding to the already great dining that has been generated by the Culinary Institute of Canada in the capital City of Charlottetown……Seafood festivals,local beef and pork,and add to it the very unique taste of Island MILK from it’s Diaries and the sweetness of it’s carrots…… Yes a jewel in the Northumberland Strait….of 140,000 souls…There must be something to the place ,you either love living here or wish you lived here………..I know I do!
David Tetrault commented:
PEI is a beautiful province. We were there late October, however no one told us it was closed. Yes, PEI is closed pretty much from October to the beginning of the tourist season the following year, and no one told us. Restaurants, museums, even provincial parks.
However, we drove around for a few days and had a wonderful time. It is truly beautiful. What amazed us was the number of derelict old two-storey homes on vast tracts of farm land. We can envision the original owners passing away, and the children, not wanting to be farmers or coming back home just leasing the land and allowing the home to collapse under its own weight.
We stayed in a B&B outside Summerside, which turns the lights out fairly early on Sunday evening. Although the Chinese food restaurant we visited was good, it wasn’t what we had in mind.
Back again when everybody comes home next year.
We <3 PEI – especially the big, juicy lobsters on offer!
Kim Kelly commented:
I am from PEI, so never did the tourist thing till last year. First time I was ever at the West Point Lighthouse. Even though we knew everything was closed as it was late April, it was gorgeous just to take all the sites in and have the place to ourselves. Can’t wait to visit home again in the summer though!
Kim Kelly commented:
Oh should of mentioned I left PEI in the early 90’s but still consider it home.
Don`t forget to visit Georgetown & Montague! The Georgetown Inn is a gem – and their dining room is a ‘dont miss’ (Chef Joel will do a taster’s menu for you). Clam Diggers, Eden’s Gate & the Maroon Pig are also great places to eat.
Montague’s waterfront is gorgeous. Hingry? Windows on the Water… the Station Cafe… Famous Peppers Pizza (try the lobster pizza or the spudIslander)… Kate’s Cafe… Gillis’s Drive In (a car-hop will allow you to eat in your car!). It’s well worth the drive to eat in King’s County!
Ooh.. and the Route 3 Eatery in Vernon River is not to be missed. The owners create everything (and I mean everything) on site. They have a wood fired oven that is used to bake all their bread and fabulous artisan pizzas). They smoke their own bacon, harvest from their herb garden and use locally sourced products. It is comfort food taken to the next level. Yummy yum yum.
don’t forget the food truck n the wharf next to and below the museum in Montague. Fun on a Bun best clams and chips in PEI
Proud to call myself an Islander, and even more proud after reading about your wonderful visit!
You’ve already listed some of my favourite things about Prince Edward Island, but I would love to point out the amazing crafters and artisans as well. Check out http://peicraftscouncil.com/ for a directory of our creative artisans.
All the best, and come back any time! =)
Simonne Smith commented:
No mention of all the beautiful red clay Heritage roads. We love to drive all the back roads and bring a picnic lunch.We never know where we’ll end up ! 🙂
I’m from P.E.I. I know we have a wonderful province but since the bringing in of the HST. I don’t see what everyone Is gawking about, we went from one the lowest gas prices to the highest our motels charge a unreal price on staying there and our restaurants put their prices way up for the summer when the tourists are here.. I know if I didn’t live here this would not be a spot for me to visit It is just way to exensive to Stay here…. People from New Brunswick said just for them to come here couple hour drive cost them over 1000 dollars just for the weekend and Rainbow Valley wasn’t even here… JUST A EXPENSIVE PROVINCE TO VISIT.!!!!!!!!!!!
Same everywhere George…check your facts…shame on you!
Julie Haddow commented:
For a fun family friendly Island Experience don’t miss one of the longest running Playhouses in Canada, The King’s Playhouse in Georgetown – we are open year round if you are coming in the off season we always have a Ceilidh every Tuesday as well as plays and shows. In the summer our local theatre group produces two affordable play every Wednesday and Sundays. Lots to do in Georgetown, three great restaurants, a ice cream shop, a bakery, an Inn, Tranquility Cove Adventures that takes you out fishing or clamming and several shops. Not to mention fabulous gardens and a boardwalk along the water, pick up a walking tour and read about all our historical homes! Georgetown is a must see for those visiting the Island a nice slice of Eastern PEI life.
Brackley, Stanhope, Dalvey, and Cavendish — all our North Shore beaches are wonderful as are the South Shore beaches. If you are “up west” a must-see is Jeffery’s Folk are near O’Leary and if you are “up east” you must stop in and walk the Basin Head “Singing Sands”! Sit on a beach in the evening and watch the beautiful and peaceful sunsets! Love it all! I was born here and have lived most of my life here – now how lucky is that! Come and experience my “Gentle Island!”
Beth Fogarty Campbell commented:
Both my parents were born and raised on P.E.I., I , along with my two brothers were born in Boston, Mass., my sister is the only one born on the island. I spent my summers there growing up and really never appreciated the beauty of it. Now, as I get older, I can’t wait to get there every summer. I got married at my parents summer cottage in Georgetown last summer and what a beautiful experience that was, had all my family around us and it was the best day ever. So, if you have the chance to visit the Gentle Island please do, it will be forever etched in your mind!
Stephen Gaudet commented:
#12 – Don’t forget the amazing golf courses, no matter where you are, you’re less than an hour away from some nationally ranked courses.
pei love commented:
What a beautiful article. I love being able to call pei home! I lived out west for a few years and just could not wait to move back home.
Where to start..the beaches are beautiful…the food is awesome…people are friendly.
Don’t forget to go to the pei brackley drive in is a must!!!
I really could go on and on! I love pei!!!
Gees guys, you’re giving away all of our secrets! Shhh… That’s why PEI is so great, we’re the best kept secret in Canada! 😉 (JK of course).
All the previous comments I agree with, except for two – yes you found the two grouchy ppl here and they had to have their say… Although I recommend not engaging the locals in a discussion on politics, you’ll hear more than you wanted!
Relax, go to the beach, go for a walk at the boardwalk at Victoria Park on the Charlottetown waterfront. See if you can spot the people dressed in period costume and ask them about Confederation, or go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage! 🙂 PEI is the only place to be in the summer, which lasts into October these days…
Well done John! Thanks for your take on PEI. It’s nice to see what people from other parts of the country think of it!
Born and raised in Charlottetown. Moved to Ontario when I was 7. Visited my island every summer until I married in /66. After that, visited every possible year we could. Introduced the island to many friends during those years. Have soooo many wonderful memories. Fondest ones are the beaches, the red clay stained sox and underwear, the fabulous snow storms in the winter with the snow up to the telephone wires at time and some of my favourite meals. Cod fish and bacon with blue (yes blue) potatoes and butter beans. Boiled dinners. I could go on forever. Rocky Point and the trip over there on the boat at the bottom of Prince Street. Best place in the world as far as I am concerned, and the islanders are the friendliest, most hospitable people on the planet. Getting older now, and have plans (when the time comes) to take my lawn chair out to the north shore, sit on one of the pristine beaches and let the tide take me away. PEI is a precious piece of heaven here on earth…..
Richard’s Eatery at Covehead Harbour has the best fish & chips on the Island! Also, the Covehead Lighthouse is a lovely spot for photos after a long walk on the beach at sunset.
PEI is a dream, yes. But you are barely scratching the surface of the island with just the tourist things. They show you the beauty that the island beholds but there is so much more to explore. There are hidden treasures hidden everywhere that you have to go explore for yourself. Get lost in the waters of the hidden beach where only islanders know (ask us directions for a beach and we shall give it to you). Find yourself on one of the many windmill trails up west. Dance and drink on the beach until you can dance and drink no more. Come visit us in the fall and I promise you don’t regret it.
I agree with all of the above. So much so that after visiting every year for nearly thirty years, my wife and I are moving to North a Rustico in the spring of ’18. We bought a seashore property in 2005 and the plan (my wife’s dream) is finally coming g to fruition.
Winters will be tough though. Temperatures are not so bad, it’s the snow and wind that will test our infatuations. But the way we look at it is winter ducks most anywhere in Canada. We are leaving Peterborugh Ontario, and it’s never been noted for being balmy in January or February. The beautiful and breathtaking summers in PEI are enough to make up for long winters.
We have family in PEI and New Brunswick and it’s the people that really make the maritimes special. It’s all just geography until……..you set a spell with the locals.
I truly believe that PEI is Canada’s jewel. I’ve lived or worked in every province and territory except Newfoundland and nothing compares to the island. Try it, you’ll love it