For centuries life in ST JOHN’S has focused on its harbour, a dramatic jaw-shaped inlet approached through the 200m-wide channel of The Narrows. In its heyday, the port was crammed with ships from a score of nations; today, although traffic is not as brisk, it draws a mixed maritime bag of trawlers, container ships and oil construction barges. It still possesses a boisterous nightlife too, but the rough houses of the waterfront have been replaced by shops, slick office buildings and chic restaurants, and its inhabitants – of whom there are about 200,000 – are less likely to be seafarers than white-collar workers, artists and students from all over Canada. Yet the waterfront remains the social hub, sprinkled with lively bars that showcase the best of Newfoundland folk music – one good reason for visiting in itself – as well as providing the backdrop for hit Canadian TV show Republic of Doyle.
With the exception of Signal Hill, all the main downtown attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. Note that the appellation “cove”, commonplace here, means a short side-street, not a bay.