Grand Manan is not only my favorite destination in New Brunswick but it’s easily one of my most loved places in the world.
And while the slower pace of island life, fog horns, playful whales, seaglass, planning your day around catching the sunset, and incredibly welcoming locals may not be for everyone – the older I get, I simply can’t get enough of it.
The last time I hit publish on an East Coast Mermaid Guide to Grand Manan, it was 2020 and we were entering the summer of NB staycations.
This summer, I can’t wait to see people from around the world sail to Grand Manan to discover the magic. From the trips to Machias Island to see the puffins in July to the arrival of the humpback whales in August – it’s going to be an adventure for so many!
And with a return to normal, means the return of many of the islands beloved restaurants and faces who have finally made it back to the island after two years away.
Having just spent the weekend on the island before hitting publish on this year’s guide, let’s just say that I can’t wait to spend a lot more time there this year!
So what do you need to know to plan an incredible Grand Manan adventure?
I’m so glad you asked.
By the most epic ferry ride, of course!
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 $65 to $90 for a couple to a family of four (and depending on the age of your children).
Ferry reservations are HIGHLY recommended in the summer and can be made online by accessing the ferry schedule at Coastal Transport. The ferries WILL be full, so if you have your heart set on sailing at a certain time on a certain day – book a reservation. They are easy to reschedule, if needed or if you decide to stay longer. Which I totally won’t blame you.
IMPORTANT: You MUST arrive 45 minutes before your reservation to check-in when going to and leaving the island.
When in Blacks Harbour, you can use this time to check out the beach and views. When on Grand Manan, swing by the local shops and restaurants for a cold drink or last-minute souvenir.
While on the ferry, keep an eye out for whales, seals, shorebirds and more. I’ve had some amazing whale sightings over the years from the ferry deck!
If day trips are more your style, 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. I have a whole post dedicated to the day trip or 24 hour stay right here that you can check out!
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.
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 with restaurant patios like the Old Well House Cafe and Newton’s Mercantile & Café being very welcoming of your furry friends. But always check with your accommodations beforehand to make sure they accept four-legged guests.
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— to bring small children.
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! And if you’re planning to bring your littles, you will definitely want to check out the playground at Seal Cove Beach!
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.
The first time I went to Grand Manan, 21 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.
My experience with Captain Matt Lambert last summer was easily one of the best whale watching experiences of my life. You can read all about it here. Even if you’re not a morning person, trust me when getting up for their sunrise tour is absolutely WORTH IT!
Want a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Try to book one of Sea Watch Tours trips 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. Book on January 1st of each year to secure your booking and avoid disappointment.
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!
Have you ever ridden on an eBike? I can’t say it’s something I’d had the opportunity to try until our most recent visit to Grand Manan and OH EM GEE! You’re going to be more giddy than a seagull with a french fry on one of these!
Island Bike Rentals are located conveniently in North Head (just off the ferry) and these super fun bikes will get you anywhere you need to go on the island, including up the hill to Swallowtail or out to the Whistle where you can spot whales in the summer months.
You can rent a bike for up to 2 hours for $45 and up to 4 hours for $75. Spending the day on the island and walking over on the ferry? Rent a bike for 24 hours for $120.
I can’t WAIT for you to try these out this summer!
We haven’t had a chance to experience Adventure High yet – the last time we had a trip booked it was way too windy and the tour was cancelled but this is high on our adventure list for this summer as we love kayaking!
Adventure High is located right in North Head and offers a number of kayaking trips and adventures to choose from on the island.
You can find details on tours and book your adventure here.
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! I would say they are one of my top destinations on the island.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 can park anywhere along the road, just be mindful not to block anyone’s driveway!
Despite first visiting the island 21 years ago, I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until 2020 that we first discovered how amazing the Grand Manan Museum is! We learned so much about the island and there are some pretty cool artifacts and collections to browse.
I’m absolutely fascinated by shipwrecks (I’m a mermaid, after all!) so I especially loved their Shipwreck Gallery. They also have a fantastic number of outdoor exhibits for you to peruse, so while it’s an excellent rainy day activity, do make sure to take a stroll to explore what they have to offer outdoors, including a wonderful observation deck!
The museum is open seasonally from June 13- September 23, 2022. For current hours and updates, make sure to check out their website here.
And last but certainly not least, you should definitely plan to stop by the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station (GMWSRS) and gift shop during your visit. It’s centrally located in North Head and just steps from the ferry.
My first visit to the GMWSRS coincided with my first visit to Grand Manan in 2001 when I was planning to attend Dalhousie University to study Marine Biology but I’ve enjoyed visiting on visits to the island ever since and if you’re curious about ocean creatures and conservation, you should definitely stop by!
If you’re pressed for time, the gift shop is an excellent option to pop over and visit once you’ve checked in for the ferry. You’ll find all sorts of unique gifts and souvenirs to bring back from the island.
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.
Here are a few places I recommend staying during your visit:
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 20 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 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.
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
- Grand Manan Geodome
- Red Herring Cottage
- Marathon Inn
- North Head Campground and Park
- Anchorage Provincial Park Campground
- Castalia Marsh Retreat
- Whale Cove Cottages
- Turning Tide Cottages
This summer, there will be more dining options than the island has had in years including the return of some beloved classics like Post Office Pizza and the Compass Rose Dining Room! I can’t wait to spend more time on the island this year!
That said, if you’re planning to visit the island for an extended stay, you should always plan accordingly. Bring some groceries from the mainland or hit up the island’s grocery store when you arrive to stock-up your rental or campsite. Ahmet’s Grocer has a fantastic selection and a great organics department, which we love. For fresh seafood, swing by the fish market at Sunrise Seafoods.
When dining out or picking up takeout, here are some of my absolute faves.
Truth be told, we only discovered how amazing Sunrise Seafoods, located in Woodward’s Cove, truly was last summer. And oh em gee. It is now easily one of my favorite spots on the island.
Their lobster roll is incredible and MASSIVE! At $22 you won’t find a lobster roll this large at a better price around these waters. And the fried clams and scallops? YUM!
Make sure to check out their Facebook group for updated hours and they ONLY TAKE CASH.
NOTE: Sunrise Seafoods is closing for the season on Saturday, September 3rd.
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, lunch or dinner on the patio. They are also licensed and serve BBQ and drinks in the evenings. Ah-mazing!
Love nachos? You’re going to want to order one of those.
Everything is baked fresh every morning and their homemade soups are to die for! They also make incredible desserts and take my word for it – 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! As of September 1st, 2022 – hours may vary due to staff shortages. Check the Facebook Page for up to date hours.
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 a handful of things: hot lobster dip for your seafood lovers, hot spinach dip for your landlubbers, and the most delicious homemade salsa!
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!
Trapped is now closed for the 2022 Season.
The Seaquel is new in 2022 and located just foot steps from the ferry landing in North Head. It’s the perfect spot to go to if you’re craving burgers & fries, pizza, nachos, or fish & chips. I absolutely adored their nachos! And I have heard amazing things about their breakfast, which I can’t wait to try out this summer.
Lastly – THEIR PIE! I am a totally sucker for coconut cream pie and OH EM GEE! It was delicious. My husband may have even caught me sniffing it in the takeout container before we got it back to the motel.
Check out their Facebook Group for hours + updates. As of June, they are open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm every day except for Tuesday.
The best pizza on the island! The Old Post Office—it’s literally the old North Head post office, you can’t miss it —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!
And after two summers away from the island, I know I’m THRILLED to have him back on the island and serving his delicious pizzas!
The Old Post Office Pizza is typically open late (until 10:00pm in the summer) so if you’re catching the sunset or out on a sunset cruise, it’s a great place to get a meal after dark!
Post Office Pizza is open for the season but check out their Facebook page for current hours and updates!
Another island gem! Newton’s is located in Grand Harbour and is also home to the cutest gift shop. They make the most delicious baked goods, cookies, and pastries. Want to grab lunch or pack a picnic basket? They have multiple grab and go options for lunch to choose from that are perfect to pack on adventures. 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 open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and closed on Sunday and Monday. Like their Facebook page to be up to date on hours this summer.
Finally open again this summer to the public, this mermaid could not be more excited! 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 regularly 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!
The Compass Rose Dining Room is open Tuesday through Sunday. You can make a reservation by calling (506) 662 3563. Make sure to like them on Facebook!
Unless you’re new around these waters, you know that I’m pretty seaglass obsessed. I’m also a total beach bum. 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.
Pettes 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.
And while you’re in the area, make sure to stop by Pettes Cove Arts gift shop to find some beautiful gifts to bring back home. It’s where I bought my knitted whale tail toque I wear everywhere!
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!
Traveling with kids? They have an adorable playground right by the parking lot that your kids will love!
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.
Well there you have it! All of my mermaid secrets to visiting the dreamiest island in the Fundy Isles this summer!
If you have been thinking or maybe even dreaming about a Grand Manan vacation, there is no time like the present to make it happen. Start planning your adventure on Grand Manan and DM me on my shell phone if you have any questions at all!
See you on the ferry this summer!
PS: Make sure to check out my handy Mermaid Secrets to Grand Manan Infographic for all of my mermaid secrets for visiting the island this summer!