One of my regrets from our years spent in upstate New York (before moving to Tucson) was not spending more time in the Canadian maritime provinces. Somehow we never made it to Prince Edward Island, for example, but one of these days…
In any event, this guest post from Josh Patoka reminds me of what we’ve missed — and, I hope, will inspire others to go where we have not (yet).
By Josh Patoka
Literary fans know Canada’s Prince Edward Island (PEI) best as the setting of Anne of Green Gables, but there are plenty of things for baby boomer travelers with other interests to see and do there.
The island combines rolling scenery, a relaxed pace of life, historic lighthouses, fresh seafood, and biking and hiking trails — along with Anne of Green Gables-related activities, of course — to offer an experience that just about anyone can enjoy.
Most visitors spend time in the capital city of Charlottetown. If you have a car, you will also want to make time to drive around the countryside.
Many travelers drive north from Charlottetown toward the Cavendish and Rustico communities for views of the pristine coastline. Other popular towns include Summerside, Montague, and Souris.
Because of PEI’s long winters (it’s still possible to see residual snow in May), the best months to visit are June through early September. If coming for the fall colors, you can still partake in most of the activities listed below.
Getting to Prince Edward Island
You can arrive at Prince Edward Island in three different ways. The quickest way can be flying into the local Charlottetown airport (airport code YYG). This is a small airport and you will need to catch a connecting flight from a larger airport like Montreal or Toronto first.
A second option is driving from New Brunswick over the Confederation Bridge. It’s free to enter Prince Edward Island on the bridge, but you will pay a toll when leaving the island. The toll in 2019 is $47.75 for a two-axle vehicle.
Your final arrival option is by cruise ship. Ships will port and spend the day in Charlottetown, population 36,000.
No matter how you get here, this is an exciting international travel destination, whether it’s your first-time going abroad or you have been to every continent.
Things to See and Do in Charlottetown
Despite its small size, Prince Edward Island plays a pivotal role in shaping Canadian history and culture.
Just like you might see Independence Hall when visiting Philadelphia to learn more about the United States’ Founding Fathers, you can visit Charlottetown’s Province House to learn about theirs. This is the location where talks to form the current Canadian Confederation were held in 1864.
St. Dunstan’s Basilica
A few short blocks away from Province House, St. Dunstan’s Basilica is a picturesque Roman Catholic cathedral worth popping your head into. The interior has an English Gothic design similar to St. Patrick’s in New York City.
Anne of Green Gables: The Musical
If you’re in Charlottetown for an evening between late July and the end of September, Anne of Green Gables: The Musical has been a summer staple for over 55 years. As its name implies, this musical is an entertaining take on the literary gem, Anne of Green Gables.
Another show to consider is Anne & Gilbert: The Musical. This production — a comedic take on the budding romance between Anne and Gilbert — begins showing each May, making this an evening entertainment option for early summer travelers.
Things to See and Do on Prince Edward Island
If you can venture around the island, natural beauty — and more Anne of Green Gables sites — await.
Green Gables Heritage Place
If your primary reason for visiting Prince Edward Island is on a literary-themed tour of Anne of Green Gables sites — perhaps with grandchildren in tow — head for Cavendish.
The Green Gables Heritage Place located in Cavendish is maintained by Parks Canada. The on-site house and surrounding acreage are the inspiration for the beloved book by Lucy Maude Montgomery.
A visit includes a house tour and the inspiration for the Haunted Woods and Balsam Hollow locations that Anne talks about in the book.
Several other Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maude Montgomery-themed museums are located in the northwest part of Prince Edward Island and can be visited on a day’s drive.
Prince Edward Island National Park
Outdoor lovers can head for the hiking and biking trails at Prince Edward Island National Park, where you can also walk along the beach or through the forest. The coast has impressive sand dunes that may remind you of a desert landscape. The park area is also the real-life inspiration for Anne of Green Gables‘ “Lake of Shining Waters.”
College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts Center of Canada
Driving to Summerside, about an hour’s drive west of Charlottetown, you’ll find the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts Center. Their summer production is the Highland Storm, which features Celtic music and dance. The college hosts other events during the year as well.
A trip to Prince Edward Island isn’t complete without seeing at least one of the iconic red-and-white-colored lighthouses that dot the coast. Most tourist maps will mark each location with a lighthouse symbol. Then you can make your own scavenger hunt to find ones along your route.
As you drive between lighthouses, watch for “heritage roads” — unimproved dirt roads that can make it feel like you have gone back a century in time. Along the way, you will see green fields, scenic overlooks, and coastline of varying sand colors.
If you like to bike, the Confederation Trail is an ideal way to see Prince Edward Island.
This island-wide bike trail occupies the old railroad line that ceased operations in 1989. No grade exceeds 2% so this can be a fairly easy biking trail. You can use it to bike between cities or to travel to more remote parts of the island.
The lobster supper is a Prince Edward Island culinary tradition. The most authentic experience can be found at local churches during the summer months.
You can also visit dedicated lobster supper restaurants, which offer a choice of lobster served warm or cold. If lobster isn’t your preferred seafood, try the blue mussels, another island delicacy.
Josh Patoka enjoys traveling with his growing family in his free time. You can find Josh writing about travel hacking on Johnny Jet.