These are my favourite cozy micro-adventures and things to do in Charlottetown, PEI's capital city and all round amazing travel destination.
As Canada's smallest provincial capital city, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, is just made for cozy adventures. But it's not just the size of this 40,000 strong city that makes it so snug and inviting. Charlottetown's pretty seaside location, impressive architectural history, and prominent place in Canada's political, cultural, and social fabric make for an irresistible combination for visitors. This is where you want to be if you'd like to celebrate the meetings which led to Canada's confederation in 1867, to honour the artistic legacy of Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery, or simply feast on homemade ice cream, rich lobster rolls, and damn fine coffee. With no shortage of things to do in Charlottetown, I've focused on the coziest experiences I've enjoyed in more than 30 years of visits and I have a feeling you'll love them just as much as I have.
Feast on COWS ice cream
This isn't exactly a little known tip - COWS is arguably the most famous thing in PEI next to Anne of Green Gables. But just because it's popular doesn't mean you shouldn't have it on your list of cozy things to do in Charlottetown. They make spectacularly good ice cream and everything about them is just a delight, from the cute flavour names (Messie Bessie and Wowie Cowie come to mind) to the fun t-shirts that put bovine-themed riffs on pop culture.
Sip cortados at Receiver Coffee
During a dark period of my life (translation = I was tired one morning), I happened upon Receiver Coffee (translation = you can't miss it on Victoria Row). Their cortado was nothing short of magical (translation = it really was magical. I don't joke around when it comes to the power of coffee!)
I love this local coffee house, its long list of espresso-based drinks, and its short, simple menu with a strong emphasis on vegetarian fare.
Browse books at The Bookmark
In my youthful innocence, I once fancied the Confederation Court Mall in downtown Charlottetown as the most sophisticated place imaginable for a spot of shopping. In hindsight, a strong factor in my infatuation was the presence of an IT Store (long since shuttered). IT Stores, it must be said, sold useless novelties. But they were cool! How could any mall with an IT Store not be the IT place to be?
Today, Confederation Court is bit on the sleepy side but my affections remain strong thanks to a bookstore I adore. The Bookmark is the kind of delightful independent bookstore that used to be in every shopping centre and it is just packed with amazing titles. Plus, it has a strong selection of gifts, literary themed novelties, art supplies, and stationary. On my last visit, I picked up an anniversary edition of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and a calendar of sassy birds for my friend. Across the street from the mall are three other top spots for book lovers: The Bookman (PEI's first used bookstore), the Book Emporium, and the Comic Hunter.
Pop into the shops at Victoria Row
Yep, they're a bit touristy. But guess what? You're a tourist - and so am I! And I am happy to be delighted by the well curated little shops of this pedestrian street and the surrounding area. One Victoria Row shop, Green Eye Design, never fails to make me swoon and they feature the creations of dozens of PEI artists and makers.
Attend a performance of Anne of Green Gables-the Musical at the Confederation Centre of the Arts
Part of the annual Charlottetown festival, Anne of Green Gables - the Musical is Canada's longest running musical theatre production and is a delightful must-see for any fan of Anne. There are afternoon and evening shows running from mid-June to early September.
Visit the L.M. Montgomery exhibit at the Confederation Centre of the Arts
The Confederation Centre’s Art Gallery houses 16 Montgomery novel manuscripts and personal artifacts such as her scrapbooks, wedding dress, and shoes. You can also browse a large collection of historic and artistic Canadian artifacts in their permanent collection.
Enjoy a free waterfront concert
Come summer, there are twice-daily outdoor concerts at Peake's Quay, a popular waterfront restaurant and shopping complex. If possible, time your visit to correspond with lunch. One of the city's most popular lobster roll vendors has set up shop there. Dave's is famous for the 'half and half' - that's a lobster roll that's filled with cold meat mixed with mayonnaise on one half and hot meat mixed with melted butter on the other.
Pick up a dirt shirt
My inner eight-year-old STILL craves one of these novelties. PEI is famous for its rusty-red dirt roads and an authentic PEI dirt shirt is exactly what it sounds like, a t-shirt stained with local soil until it's delightfully and permanently dirty. They're much cuter than you might suspect and I personally think they'd be the perfect gift for a gardener - definitely no worries about getting this one messy!
You can pick one up at Founders Food Hall, which also sells Maritime Madness hot sauce, Oh Fudge! PEI Potato Fudge, and local food (including vegan, Japanese, and French-Caribbean cuisine) and souvenirs (including local spirits, lavender, and sea glass).
Check out the rocks on the lawn of Province House
This travel suggestion comes from my loyal road trip companion: Ollie dog! Together we enjoyed many a romp on the lawn of Province House, the seat of Prince Edward Island's provincial government. There are interesting rocks on the lawn and it turns out that they are gifts from all the other Canadian provinces. Pretty cool!
While Province House is currently undergoing a serious restoration, you can still explore parts of this historic site. This page details how you can visit and even sit in on the legislative process.
Drink beer and change the world
Charlottetown's Upstreet Craft Brewing isn't just making great beer and non-alcoholic libations. They're also supporting artists with their Do Good Fund. 10% of sales are donated to Do Good, which in turn supports arts and cultural initiatives. As a writer, I am a big fan of this! While I am admittedly not a huge fan of beer in general, I do love that Upstreet has inventive products like Mango and Pink Guava Sour (love a sour!)
Head for coffee at Kettle Black
Another excellent spot for quality coffee, Kettle Black is in downtown Charlottetown but it's just a tiny bit outside the heart of all the action. (In other words, there are popular coffee spots which are closer to the Confederation Centre). As such, the vibe is local and laid back.
Catch the buzz around the Hive (and Honeycomb)
Hive and Honeycomb is a combination of board game lounge and activity bar, paint-your-own-pottery studio, and sweet-treat destination (with bubble waffles, crazy-shakes, and lots of snacks). H & H is tucked inside the Confederation Court Mall in downtown Charlottetown and easy to miss - but now you know!
Relax at Victoria Park
This large waterside park is filled with history (including an old military battery) and attractions (like beautiful gardens, a tennis court, a ball field, and a splash pad). But me being me, I need to tell you about the ice cream. The Kiwanis Dairy Bar in Victoria Park is PEI's longest operating dairy bar!
For over 65 years, ice cream sales have been funding the Kiwanis' community projects. If that doesn't make eating ice cream a heroic act, I don't know what will. Their banana splits are so glorious they should be commemorated on a stamp.
Visit Brighton Beach Front Range Lighthouse
If there is any city that deserves to have an adorable little lighthouse in the middle of a pretty residential neighbourhood, it's Charlottetown. Located just a short walk from Victoria Park, Brighton Beach Front Range Lighthouse has been keeping the city safe since 1889. I'm told there is a companion light, the rear range lighthouse, about 400 feet away but haven't seen it myself.
If the folks who make Hallmark holiday movies are reading this, PLEASE consider a storyline that sees a gruff lighthouse restoration worker fall in love with a big city event planner putting on a Christmas festival at Victoria Park.
Watch an indie flick at City Cinema
I love this wee theatre specializing in indie films, art house flicks, and the occasional mainstream movie. This is Atlantic Canada's only full-time art house cinema and it's run by the non-profit Charlottetown Film Society. Its King Street entrance is a bit tucked away, which adds to the sense of really being a part of a local's experience. Tourists don't come here unless they're really in the know (and now you are!)
Feast on gourmet grilled cheese
With a name like Moo Moo BBQ, how can you NOT stop in for a sandwich? They specialize in making classic and creative grilled cheese sandwiches from local cheese, butter, and other ingredients. The grilled cheese with bacon and apple jelly is at the top of my list for my next visit!
Hear out some history
Hear the history of Charlottetown - and learn about the pre-Confederation people and communities that are often left out of less detailed presentations - on this excellent Great George Heritage Walk. A must-do for history lovers.
Get ghostly with a grave digger
I love, love, LOVE a good ghost walk and a historic city like Charlottetown is just filled with spooky tall tales. Based out of the Confederation Centre of the Arts, this gravedigger-hosted tour runs on Wednesday and Friday nights in summer and early autumn.
Explore sweet and spicy secrets
The Secrets of Charlottetown walking tour is a nice mix of spooky tales and sweet stories with a strong dash of history (and perhaps is the ideal choice for anyone who feels like the aforementioned ghost tours and history tours are too niche for them). Kids will love the costumed interpreters.
Get a lobster roll - at the airport!
Cheap seafood and public transportation are rarely a match made in heaven but I have a feeling that the rule doesn't apply to the bargain priced lobster roll at the Charlottetown airport. Budley's restaurant offers a $12.95 lobster roll (only $2 more for a platter!) You can get a three egg lobster omelette with toast and a drink for $14.95. Now, I haven't tried Budley's myself so I can't make a personal endorsement but I have a feeling it's an awesome place. Please report back if you go there yourself! And have yourself a delicious, delightful trip to Charlottetown!
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