Prince Edward Island is an island unlike any other. Though it has a reputation as "The Garden on the Gulf" (thanks to the many farms here), it's a vastly varied landscape, with beaches, dunes, red sandstone cliffs, saltwater marshes, harbours, lakes, grassland, and more. It also has a long, rich history dating to its earliest days as a British colony in the early 1700s. Charlottetown and Summerside are the two main cities on the Island, and a road trip hitting both lets you really get into the spirit of PEI. Summerside especially has that authentic, small town feel. If you need a break from the lovely charm of Charlottetown, an adventure to Summerside is just the ticket. Along the way, you'll get to enjoy some of the features that make PEI what it is today, including a handful of picturesque lighthouses and, of course, the sites that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write her famous Anne of Green Gables books, set right here on the Island.
With Victorian-era homes, waterfront development, and plenty of parks, the capital of PEI has a lot to explore. Stay in downtown Charlottetown at the Fairholm National Historic Inn, whose housed famous guests like Sir Paul McCartney. Take a stroll through Victoria Park, located right on the waterfront. Speaking of water, you should definitely eat some type of seafood when visiting Charlottetown. Luckily, there are plenty of options for enjoying oysters, lobster, and crab. For a fancier feast, head to Claddagh Oyster House-- the rotating menu may keep you on your toes, but you'll always find great seafood here. For a more relaxed atmosphere, try Water Prince Corner Shop, which also happens to have a rare blue lobster mounted to the wall.
The Prince Edward Island National Park is all about the seascape. Walk or cycle on a seashore path, along sandy beaches guarded by red cliffs. Hike through woodlands that lead to ponds and perhaps even a fox spotting. You can even stay the night and enjoy the national park by starlight. This relaxed park is extremely family-friendly, with plenty of nature to discover that is easy to navigate.
Avonlea is the fictitious name given to the real rural community of Cavendish in the Anne of Green Gables stories. So what’s a rural community to do? Build Avonlea Village to pay homage to L.M. Montgomery’s work (and draw lots of visitors every year). With no entrance fee, you can freely roam the village that Anne would have first arrived to from the train station. Interact with costumed actors that bring the story to life, or dine at one of the village’s several restaurants. The food won’t be as authentic, but we know that Anne would have really enjoyed doughnuts, pizza, and grilled cheese.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how many bizarre things you’ve seen in life-- you must stop at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. With 6,000 square feet to roam, 250 exhibits, and 14 themed galleries, there are enough oddities here to make you believe in the unusual. So what kind of strange things are housed here? Authentic shrunken heads, a genuine Vampire Killing Kit, and a 20-foot section of the Berlin Wall. You’ll just have to see it to believe it.
Touring Green Gables starts right at the Charlottetown Visitor Information Centre. Just like Anne, you’ll take a 45-minute journey (by car, not horse) to Green Gables Shores over rolling green hills, sandy beaches and yellow sandstone cliffs. Once you arrive at Green Gables, tour the farmhouse that hundreds of thousands of visitors explore each year. You can even take a walk through the Haunted Woods and Balsam Hollow trail, just like you’ve read in the book (...or the movie, or the TV show).
Built in 1872, the Campbell home where L.M. Montgomery visited is now a museum for Anne of Green Gables fans. View furnishings that Montgomery enjoyed during her life, as well as the enchanted bookcase that is a major theme throughout the series. There’s plenty to do on the grounds outside the Campbell home, like a half-hour carriage ride that takes you through the flower gardens, the Lake of Shining Waters, and even down to a private beach. If you want to take a piece of Anne home with you, stop at the Shining Waters Gift Shop for Anne merch, island jams, and tea.
Summerside is PEI's second largest city, so there's a lot of ground to cover, but you may want to focus your attention on the waterfront. Spinnakers' Landing isn't your average marketplace-- it's a waterfront market with brightly coloured shops and restaurants. This is a must stop to find precious pieces to take home, or to enjoy seafood at one of many restaurants. If you're looking for a bit more adventure, head to Off The Wallz Trampoline Park in Slemon Park. This indoor adventure zone has trampolines, climbing structures, and ball pits. You can also take it to the water at the Splash Park at Holman's Wharf, a full aquatic adventure zone.
Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Shipbuilding was the backbone industry for PEI during the 1800s and allowed Prince Edward Island to join the Confederation. Shaping the land, the people, and Canadian history, PEI’s shipbuilding has been declared a National Historic Event. To fully appreciate the hard work put into shipbuilding, tour the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum and Yeo House. Here you can step back into the 19th century to learn about the shipbuilding process, or walk the restored Victorian rooms in the Yeo House, where prominent shipbuilder James Yeo, Jr. once resided.
Ocean air, the salty waves, and sandy beaches - is there a better way to spend an afternoon? The Cedar Dunes Provincial Park can be accessed from scenic North Cape Coastal Drive. This is the perfect spot to build a sandcastle, go swimming, or enjoy sandy dunes. Extend your stay by booking a room in the only lighthouse-turned-inn, the West Point Lighthouse Inn & Museum.
Is it a lighthouse? Yes. Is it a museum? Yes. Is it also an inn? Yes! Located within Cedar Dunes Provincial Park, the West Point Lighthouse Museum can be toured as a lighthouse, and/or slept in as an inn. The lighthouse is notable for being the tallest lighthouse on PEI (standing at 69 feet). Tour the museum to learn about maritime life, artifacts, and coastal living. Or stay at the lighthouse in one of its 13 contemporary rooms. Each room overlooks the Northumberland Strait from the shore of West Point-- if that isn't the coastal experience, what is?
The year is 1834. You're navigating a ship down a long, rocky reef (the longest in North America, in fact). Your ship must navigate between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait. It's pitch black and danger surrounds you. This exact scenario is why the North Cape Lighthouse was built (just not until 1867). This lighthouse is one of the most important lighthouses on PEI. When stopping for a visit, admire its lifesaving ability while enjoying the ocean, sea lions, rocky beaches, and reefs.
Whether you're an Anne of Green Gables fan, lighthouse fanatic, or maritime enthusiast, PEI and its communities have plenty to explore. Full of charm and history, Charlottetown and Summerside let you enjoy today's life mixed with the history that made PEI what it is today.
In the Canadian Dream, it's our experiences that make us richer. That's why we're encouraging all Canadians to get out and experience everything that Canada has to offer. You don't have to go far. Incredible, engaging experiences are all around us, all you have to do is start exploring.