When I tell people how much I love Grand Manan and how to me, it’s one of the most magical islands in the world, I always like to add “And I’ve been to Hawaii.”
While there no palm trees, tropical weather, tiki bars, or someone to “lei” you at the ferry landing; its otherworldly cliffs, sweeping coastal views, whales and sea life around every corner, charming locals and breathtaking sunsets make it easy to escape to time and time again. It’s an incredibly special slice of seaside paradise—and it’s RIGHT here in New Brunswick.
How lucky are we?
While we have certainly talked about Grand Manan countless times on East Coast Mermaid, with New Brunswickers and our bubble provinces looking to plan the ultimate #NBStaycation or Atlantic Canadian staycation this summer, we thought it couldn’t hurt to share our best tips, tricks, and mermaid haunts on the island to help you plan the most memorable vacation ever this summer.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
Grand Manan Island is only accessible by an amazing 1.5-hour car-ferry ride from Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. Blacks Harbour is about 45 minutes from Saint John and about 2 hours and 10 minutes from Moncton. You don’t pay anything on the way over but you pay to take the ferry back to the mainland when leaving the island from North Head.
Plan to budget about $60 to $70 for a couple to a family of four. Ferry reservations are HIGHLY recommended in the summer and can be made online by accessing the ferry schedule at Coastal Transport.
IMPORTANT: You MUST arrive 45 minutes before your reservation to check-in when going to and leaving the island. And due to COVID-19, all passengers MUST have masks in their possession before boarding the ferry and are required to wear their masks at all times.
While on the ferry, keep an eye out for whales, seals, shorebirds and more on the ride over. I’ve had some amazing whale sightings over the years from the ferry deck!
HOW LONG SHOULD I STAY?
Keeping in mind that some New Brunswickers may wish to avoid overnight travel this summer, I’m happy to say that you can absolutely visit and drive across the entire island in a day. Just take an early ferry over in the AM and a later one home in the evening.
Of course, I highly recommend spending at least a night or two to relax, discover your favourite spots on the island, eat a few amazing meals, and honestly just take it all in. There is something special about the sunsets on this island that you will have to see for yourself! It’s such a unique destination, I believe you truly should stay a few days on the island to feel its magic and fall in love. Especially if it’s your first time.
WHO SHOULD I BRING?
It’s the summer of the NB Staycation and no one should be left behind! But when planning your trip to Grand Manan, you may have questions about whether it’s an ideal vacation for your children (or fur children.)
First of all, the island is very dog-friendly. But always check with your accommodations beforehand to make sure they accept four-legged guests. Several restaurants on the island have great outdoor patios too, so you can keep your furry friends nearby.
And what about kids? As many of you know, I don’t have any children of my own, but here’s my two cents. There are some areas of the island where I’d be a pinch nervous—Think HIGH CLIFFS and NO RAILINGS—But plenty of families visit Grand Manan with children of all ages each year. Just use your super awesome parenting instincts to determine which sights are safe and which ones are not. You’ve got this, mom and dad!
WHAT SHOULD I DO ON THE ISLAND?
While you can easily drive from one end of the island to the other in 30 minutes, there are SO MANY amazing little destinations along to stop, discover, and explore. One of the most beautiful things about visiting Grand Manan is that you really can let the ocean breeze take you wherever you feel like. So my advice? Explore as much of the island as you possibly can!
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is only ONE gas station on the island and it closes at 8:00 pm most nights and only opens at 12:00 pm on Sundays. So while there are less awesome places to be stranded with no gas, it’s best to make sure you fill up after a day of adventuring before closing time.
BOOK A WHALE WATCHING CRUISE
The first time I went to Grand Manan, 19 years ago, it was for whale watching. Today, it continues to be one of the best destinations to travel to if you want to see whales up close. And while you can see whales from the land at many locations on the island, if you want to hit the open sea and really play with some whales, book a tour the Lambert Family or with Captain Peter Wilcox of Sea Watch Tours.
And if you want a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, try to book one of his world-famous tours to Machias Seal Island to see the puffins. The tours run until July 31st and book up QUICK as Sea Watch Tours is the ONLY tour company in Canada licensed and permitted to bring tours to Machias Island to see the puffins.
EXPLORE SWALLOWTAIL LIGHTHOUSE
If you have only one day on Grand Manan, Swallowtail Lighthouse is a MUST! In fact, it’s my favourite spot on the island. Located in North Head, Swallowtail Lighthouse is the lighthouse you will see from the ferry when you arrive in Grand Manan.
It’s free to walk out to the lighthouse and only $5 per person to tour the lighthouse and go to the top. Definitely recommended if you’re into lighthouse history.
My favourite way to enjoy Swallowtail is to grab a coffee, sit on the cliffs and watch the whales and ferry go by. You can also catch playful seals in the herring nets below, who will gladly entertain you for hours.
Mornings at Swallowtail are the best in my opinion, especially when the water is flat and calm. If you want an extra incredible experience, plan to be there to watch the sunrise!
DRIVE TO THE SOUTHERN HEAD CLIFFS
Easily my second favourite spot on the island, the Southern Head Cliffs can be found at the southernmost point of the island and will absolutely take your breath away, every single time. Whether you catch them on a sunny day or in the fog, they’re a must!
To get to them, drive until the very end of the island until you can’t drive anymore. They’re free to access and are absolutely majestic at sunset. You may even see some whales at sea!
Travelling with small children? These cliffs are massive and there is no fencing along the edge. If your toddlers are at that running stage, these cliffs are not quite as family-friendly as other parts of the island.
HIKE TO HOLE IN THE WALL OR FLOCK OF SHEEP
If you love to hike, Grand Manan has so many incredible hiking trails to choose from and so many that I still have yet to explore myself such as the famous Flock of Sheep hike towards the Southern Head Cliffs. Details on that trail and hike here.
Of course, there is one hike that remains one of my go-to’s every time we’re on the island and that is Hole in the Wall. It also happens to one of the most Instagramable spots on the island. And while you’re still hiking to a cliff, this hike is a bit more family-friendly than other vistas on the island.
To hike this trail and so many other amazing little (and longer) hikes around it, head to North Head Campground and Park. You will need to purchase a day pass – $5 per person and kids under 12 are FREE. There are also several other notable lookouts and spots to check out when visiting, so make sure to get a map with your day pass.
Start planning your adventure here.
DRIVE DOWN TO DARK HARBOUR
Dark Harbour is one of the coolest spots on the island. It gets its name because even on the sunniest day, the high cliffs keep the harbour relatively dark. A great spot to enjoy the sunset or explore at low tide, it’s also where some of the best dulse on the island is grown and harvested. For my fellow seaweed enthusiasts, of course.
ISLAND HOP TO WHITE HEAD ISLAND
It’s no shocker that I love to island hop and when visiting Grand Manan for a few days, I highly recommend you hop the FREE ferry to White Head Island just off Grand Manan when visiting. It’s a great morning or afternoon trip, with several great beaches on the island to explore. You can grab the ferry schedule to book your visit here.
It’s important to keep in mind that while you can spend as much time as you’d like exploring White Head, the ferry lineup can be longer in the summer as the ferry only fits so many cars at once. Allow yourself plenty of time to travel back to Grand Manan, especially if you have dinner reservations, a tour or ferry booked.
CATCH THE SUNSET AT THE WHISTLE
What’s the BEST way to end a day in Grand Manan? It is absolutely catching the sunset at the Whistle which offers two fantastic spots to watch the sunset: from a platform beside a lighthouse or at Arthur’s Bench—my personal fave—where many locals will join you, share island stories, and give you the latest island gossip.
It’s also an AMAZING spot to see whales, seals, porpoises, and more! And of course, epic island sunsets. From North Head, take Whistle Road all the way until the very end. You will see the lighthouse first, keep going to access Arthur’s Bench. You can park anywhere along the road, just be mindful not to block anyone’s driveway!
WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
From the moment you decided to plan your visit to Grand Manan, I highly recommend booking your accommodations ASAP! The island is small and there are only so many places to stay. This summer, especially, many New Brunswickers and Maritimers will be traveling to the island, so book early!
Here are a few places I recommend staying during your visit:
THE SURFSIDE MOTEL
What can I say? I’m a mermaid of habit. I’ve been staying at the Surfside Motel since my first trip to Grand Manan over 19 years ago. The owner is the sweetest, its location in North Head is near great restaurants and activities, and it’s located on a beachfront stretch. And that beach is where I’ve found some of my BEST sea glass over the years.
If you can, snag a room on the ocean side for great views of the ferry coming and going all day long.
Book it here.
THE BEACH HOUSE
The Beach House is on the Surfside Motel property and shares the same owner as the motel. If you ever visited the island over the years, you may recognize it as the old Galloways Restaurant.
I can’t say ENOUGH about this incredible slice of coastal heaven and I can’t wait to get back to it this summer. With three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, this cottage is perfect for a getaway with friends or a family vacation. You’re also STEPS from beach and morning seaglass strolls have never been easier.
It’s easily one of the dreamiest spots to stay on the island. Book your stay here.
OTHER COZY SPOTS TO STAY OR CAMP
I told you, I’m a mermaid of habit so the Surfside and Beach House are all I’ve ever known for 20 years but here are a handful of other cozy locations you may want to consider when booking your Grand Manan visit!
- Compass Rose Inn
- Marathon Inn
- North Head Campground and Park
- Anchorage Provincial Park Campground
- Castalia Marsh Retreat
- Whale Cove Cottages
WHERE SHOULD I EAT?
If there is one thing to know about dining on Grand Manan, it’s this: while there are not endless options when it comes to where to eat, the dining gems that do exist? Omg YUM.
With COVID-19, there are fewer restaurants open than usual this summer, so if you’re planning to visit the island for an extended stay, plan accordingly. Bring some groceries from the mainland or hit up the island’s grocery store where you arrive to stock-up your rental or campsite.
But when choosing to eat out, here are some of my absolute faves.
If you have ever heard me talk about or post about a lobster dip, chances are, it was from Trapped. Patio only, Trapped is the perfect safe spot for your NB Staycation with its outdoor dining. And you should know – they serve only two things: hot lobster dip for your seafood lovers and hot spinach dip for your landlubbers.
They also serve delicious smoothies, beer and wine. And the best part, you get to feel like you’re dining inside one big lobster trap. Make sure to check out their Trapped coastal apparel line in their clothing store too!
More details + hours here.
One of my favorites! If you love Mexican food, you’ve got to try Isla Coccina.
Isla Cocina serves up delicious authentic Mexican food and popular island favorites from Seal Cove. I love to grab some food to go and head to Seal Cove beach for a coastal picnic.
Isla Cocina is open Wednesday to Saturday, but make sure to like their Facebook page to be the know about hours.
THE OLD WELL HOUSE CAFE
Want to know where you can find me at least once a day on any Grand Manan visit? The Old Well House Cafe. Located in North Head, The Old Well House Cafe is my go-to on the island to grab a coffee, breakfast treat or lunch. They are also licensed and serve BBQ and drinks in the evenings. Ah-mazing!
Everything is baked fresh every morning and their homemade soups are to die for! I highly recommend their breakfast egg muffins and their carrot cake is an absolute MUST! On top of the delicious food and coffee – the owner is the absolute sweetest!
Make sure to like their Facebook Page for hours and any updates on menu!
THE COMPASS ROSE
The Compass Rose is one of the only dining rooms in North Head but you get ocean front dining with fresh, local ingredients and seafood. The menu changes daily and it’s a small dining room, so reservations are highly recommended. Want a delicious treat? Treat yourself to their homemade pies. The blueberry à la mode is my favourite on the menu!
For more details + daily menu click here.
NEWTON’S MERCANTILE & CAFE
Another island gem! Newton’s is located in Grand Harbour and is also home to the cutest gift shop. They make delicious sandwiches and crepes, as well as baked goods and pastries. They also have gelato and homemade ice cream treats.
If you visit Newton’s and don’t leave with at treat? Turn your tail right around and go back inside to order a cookie or ice cream drumstick. Trust me on this one.
Newtons is closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, so plan your trip around these hours. Like their Facebook page to be up to date on hours this summer.
THE OLD POST OFFICE PIZZA
The best pizza on the island! The Old Post Office—it’s literally the old North Head post office—is the place to go if you want a delicious pizza and garlic fingers when visiting the island. Make sure to say hello to the owner Walter, he’s full of great tips for spots to explore on the island and I always learn something new from him!
What I especially love is that the Old Post Office Pizza is open late until 10:00pm so if you’re catching the sunset or out on a sunset cruise, it’s a great place to get a meal after dark!
Note: We haven’t heard if the Post Office will be open this summer or not, so make sure to Like their Facebook page to be in the know and we’ll try to update here as soon as we know more!
WHAT BEACHES SHOULD I VISIT?
It’s not shocking news that this mermaid is a total beach bum, so a large part of my love affair with Grand Manan is its beautiful, unique beaches. I could stroll them for hours and they are each so different in their own way. Especially if there is seaglass!
Here are a few mermaid-approved beaches that just so happen to be my regular haunts.
Pette’s Cove is a small cove with a rocky beach located in North Head, just below Swallowtail Lighthouse. If you turn right after the ferry and drive until the very end, you will end up at it.
It’s a great spot for watching seals and the ferry come and go. Parking isn’t plentiful but there are a few man-made parking spots for you to pull into. Just be mindful not to block any resident’s driveways.
SEAL COVE BEACH
The perfect family-friendly beach, Seal Cove is a beautiful sandy beach perfect for beach days! This beach is a great spot for beachcombing and spotting eagles! Pack a picnic and spend a day there! Just remember to bring your trash with you when you go!
Deep Cove is my FAVORITE sunset beach and is a must to experience both at high and low tide if you can. Deep Cove is easy to miss and is at the south end of the island. Parking is just off the road and you can take a short less than one-minute walk down a trail to the beach. At high tide, it’s a rocky beach but at low tide, you can walk out on the sand, chase seagulls, and see some amazing colours if it’s timed with sunset.
Stanley Beach is the beach at Surfside Motel and where 90% of my sea glass photos and videos are taken. It’s my favourite place to spend hours on the island, strolling at low tide and even high tide, looking for treasures. If you’re not staying at the motel, you can easily access it from Stanley Road across from the hospital. It’s a great spot for families on a hot summer day and children can safely play in the chilly Bay of Fundy water.
If you have been thinking or maybe even dreaming about a Grand Manan vacation, why not make it a reality this summer. Start planning your NB staycation on Grand Manan and DM me on my shell phone if you have any questions at all!
See you on the ferry this summer!