An unspoilt island of rolling farmland, red cliffs, dazzling white lighthouses, golden sand dunes and shining lakes – Prince Edward Island is a different type of Canadian adventure. PEI, as it’s known, is one of the three Maritime provinces on Canada’s east coast. At just 139 miles long and 40 miles wide it’s the country’s smallest and only island province but it packs a lot into a small space, and you’ll find plenty of great things to do in Prince Edward Island.
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Generations know Prince Edward Island as the home of Anne of Green Gables. But although Anne is the star of the book, PEI is her gorgeous co-star, with luscious descriptions that make you want to walk through the woods or sit on the sparkling lakeshore yourself. But there’s more to the island than Green Gables, with a beautiful coastline, delicious food and fascinating history. So here are my 14 of my favourite things to see and do in PEI.
14 things to do in Prince Edward Island
1. Go lighthouse spotting
You can’t get a more classic Maritime Canada view than a white and red lighthouse among the sand dunes. Lighthouse spotting is top of many people’s Canada bucket list and one of the top things to do in Prince Edward Island. PEI has 63 lighthouses and whether they’re round or square, plain or striped, tall or short, wood or brick, they were all built around the mid-19th century to protect passing ships from the treacherous seas.
Not many of PEI’s lighthouses are used for navigation now, but they’re still looked after by local conservation groups and each lighthouse has its own story to tell. You’ll find them all around the island, but if you want to get a taster then head along the Points East Coastal Drive in Eastern PEI which has six lighthouses open to visitors in summer.
Among them are Point Prim, PEI’s first, oldest and only round brick lighthouse, Cape Bear where the first distress signal from the Titanic was heard, and East Point which has had to be moved twice after the coastline eroded. And if you’re a big lighthouse fan you can even sleep in one in the West Point lighthouse in the west of the island.
2. Find Anne at Green Gables
For over 100 years, children around the world have grown with stories of red-haired Anne of Green Gables, the 11-year-old orphan girl who’s sent to live with a middle-aged brother and sister by accident when they’d asked for a boy to come and help on their farm.
Visiting Green Gables Heritage Place on PEI’s north shore is like walking into a chapter of the book, with its white clapboard house, green shutters and an old carriage parked outside. In real life the house once belonged to author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s cousins, a brother and sister who inspired the characters of Matthew and Marilla.
The interiors of the house have been recreated from the stories, right down to Anne’s bedroom in the east gable with her beloved puff-sleeved dress hanging up. You can also take a walk through the Haunted Wood, where you’ll find Lucy Maud’s grave at the end of the path.
As well as Green Gables Heritage Place, Anne fans can get their fix at Avonlea, a recreated 19th-century village in Cavendish with replicas of buildings in the book and a selection of places to eat. Both the New London house Lucy Maud was born in and the Silver Bush house where she got married have been turned into museums. And Charlottetown has two Anne-themed musicals – Anne of Green Gables: The Musical and Anne and Gilbert.
3. Discover the story of Confederation
Prince Edward Island might be small, but it’s played a major role in the history of Canada. It was in Charlottetown that the Fathers of Confederation – representatives from the British colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario – met in Province House in September 1864 for the Charlottetown Conference, which led to the formation of Canada.
Follow in their footsteps along Great George Street, one of just two streets in Canada that have been designated a National Historic District. Province House is currently being renovated but you can see a replica of the original Confederation Chamber at the Confederation Center of the Arts – also well worth a visit for its Canadian artworks.
You might also see the Confederation Players out and about in Charlottetown during the summer. These costumed guides dressed in period clothes play characters from 1860s PEI and run guided walking tours where they share the history of Charlottetown.
4. See red sandstone cliffs
As you travel around Prince Edward Island you’ll see flashes of its unusual bright red soil. It gets its colour from the high amounts of iron in the island’s sandstone which oxidises and rusts when it comes in contact with the air. As well as being great for farming the sandstone makes for gorgeous views, especially contrasted with the island’s green fields or blue waters.
Along the north shore of the island you can see red sandstone cliffs in Prince Edward Island National Park and Cape Tryon, with weird and wonderful rock formations which glow at sunset. You’ll also find more stunning sandstone scenery on the south shore at Argyle Shore Provincial Park and Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site.
5. Eat all the seafood
Prince Edward Island is famous across Canada and beyond for its seafood, with some of the juiciest oysters, silkiest lobster and tastiest clams, scallops and mussels around. Sit on the waterfront with a buttery lobster roll with a dash of lemon and you’ll see why. Seafood is available all over the island – from high-end restaurants to simple waterfront stalls.
You can feast on oysters at the Claddagh Oyster House in Charlottetown or Malpeque Oyster Barn in Malpeque Bay. Try clams at the Clam Diggers Beach House and Restaurant in Georgetown and mussels at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico. Or enjoy crispy fish and chips on the deck at Richard’s Fresh Seafood in Covehead.
A much-loved PEI’s tradition is the lobster supper. These community dinners started as a way to honour the island’s lobster fishermen, and they’re still held as fundraisers. But you can also join in lobster suppers at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, who’ve been serving lobster to the locals since 1957, and Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in North Rustico.
If you really love your seafood, then autumn’s the best time to visit the island for the PEI International Shellfish Festival. Held each September, there are tastings, music, cooking demos and a record attempt for the world’s longest lobster roll. And if you want to catch your own, you can try digging for clams and shucking oysters or join a fishing expedition.
6. Visit a scenic small town
Prince Edward Island is full of charming small towns packed with character, and the island’s compact size means you can easily visit a few in one day. Explore artists’ studios and shop for handmade jewellery, pottery and fabrics in Victoria-by-the-Sea, learn about its seafaring history at the Victoria Seaport Museum and visit the red sand beach.
Watch the boats come in with the day’s catch in North Rustico, and take a walk along the boardwalk to the beach for sunset. Try wine from the Newman Estate Winery and spot wildlife as you walk the Beck Trail in Murray River. Or learn about Eastern PEI’s history and culture at the Garden of the Gulf Museum in Montague, followed by a local brew at the Copper Bottom Brewery and a drive along the scenic Points East Coastal Drive.
7. Walk the boardwalks
A walk along the boardwalk, breathing in the smell of the sea, was one of my favourite things to do in Prince Edward Island. The 2.7km-long Greenwich Dunes Trail in Prince Edward Island National Park includes a boardwalk with a floating section that takes you over marshland, past grasslands and the area’s protected parabolic sand dunes to the ocean.
It’s a flat and easy walk that’s perfect to do with all the family. Or in Charlottetown you can join the early evening parade of joggers, walkers and cyclists in Victoria Park, where there’s a boardwalk which runs along the edge of the park and on past the remains of a historic fort, alongside lines of boats to Peake’s Wharf and the harbour.
8. Ice cream heaven at Cows Creamery
Whatever the time of year, eating a cone of Cows is a Prince Edward Island must-do – ice cream so tasty it’s been voted the best in Canada. Cows Creamery started in PEI and opened their first store in Cavendish in 1983. Since then they’ve expanded across the country and have six stores around the island, including their HQ outside Charlottetown where you can take a tour to see how it’s made and pick up their trademark cow pun t-shirts.
Cows ice cream is extra creamy, made to a secret recipe with milk from PEI cows and served in handmade waffle cones. There are over 30 different flavours, including seasonal specials – my favourites were Wowie Cowie (vanilla ice cream with toffee, chocolate flakes and moo crunch) and PEI Apple Crisp (apple ice cream with apple crumble).
9. Cycle (or snowmobile) the Confederation Trail
The Confederation Trail is a 270-mile-long former railway line that makes up Prince Edward Island’s portion of Canada’s Great Trail – the world’s longest recreational trail. It stretches from Tignish at one tip of the island to Elmira at the other, with branches connecting it to Charlottetown, the Confederation Bridge and some of the island’s beachside towns.
The route’s gentle gradients make it perfect for walking or cycling, however fit you are, with beautiful views along the way. The Confederation Trail runs though a mixture of farms, wetlands, forests, meadows and lakes, with plenty of little villages to stop off in.
You can hire a bike (or an ebike to cover more ground) in Charlottetown in summer and try out geocaching, with over 1600 geocache sites along the trail. Or in winter the trail is transformed into a snowmobile route, with tours available if you want to give it a try.
Read more: Three reasons to visit Prince Edward Island
10. Have a drink on Victoria Row
Victoria Row – aka The Row – is one of Charlottetown’s prettiest streets with its Victorian red brick buildings, cobbled streets and shady trees. The street is lined with a mix of bars and restaurants, coffee shops, galleries and independent shops selling art, antiques and gifts – and of course there are few Anne of Green Gables goodies in there too.
From May to October Victoria Row is pedestrianised, so you can grab a table outside for a sunset drink on a summer’s evening while you listen to street musicians, or head up to the rooftop patio bar at Fishies on the Roof for views out over the city’s rooftops.
11. Hit the beach
If you fancy a day at the beach, Prince Edward Island has 500 miles worth of beaches to choose from, ranging from white sand to red, and with some of the warmest waters north of Florida. One of the island’s most famous is Singing Sands in Basin Head Provincial Park, which gets its name from the high-silica-content sand which squeaks when you walk on it.
Head to Prince Edward Island National Park for Cavendish Beach with its 37-mile stretch of red sand or quieter Greenwich Beach with its golden sand dunes. Or Brackley Beach is only a 25-minute drive outside of Charlottetown and is home to the quirky Dunes Gallery.
There are so many beaches on the island though that it’s easy to pack a picnic and find your own stretch of beach away from everyone else – you can camp by the beach at Cabot Beach, Panmure or Red Point Provincial Parks or Cavendish Campground too.
12. Cross the Confederation Bridge
Built in 1997, the 12.9-kilometre-long Confederation Bridge connects Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick in mainland Canada. This impressive piece of engineering has to stand up to the tough weather conditions on the Northumberland Strait and is the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered waters and tall enough for cruise ships to sail underneath.
Many visitors to PEI use the Confederation Bridge to travel to the island, but even if you don’t it’s worth heading to to the west of Prince Edward Island to take a look at it. You get great views of the bridge from Borden-Carlton Historical Park, or if you don’t have a car there’s a half-day tour* from Charlottetown which includes a stop at the bridge.
13. Go mouse spotting in Charlottetown
When you’re walking around the streets of Charlottetown, keep your eyes out for the nine tiny bronze mouse statues hidden around the city. They’re part of a scavenger hunt based on Eckhart the Mouse – a curious mouse with a long tail – who’s a character from the book The True Meaning of Crumbfest, written by local PEI author David Weale.
It’s a great game to play if you’re visiting Charlottetown with kids, and you can download a PDF with clues on where to find them along with some historical details about the places along the route (I only managed to find six so it’s harder than it sounds!).
14. Feast your way around the island
There’s more to PEI’s food than seafood – it’s been nicknamed Canada’s Food Island for all its amazing produce. You can taste some of the delicious local flavours at the weekly Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, which takes place every Saturday plus on Wednesdays in the summer. As well as food and drink there are also art, craft and gift stalls.
Or you can visit Prince Edward Island’s food and drink producers as you travel around the island. Some of our favourites are Prince Edward Island Preserve Company for jam and chutney, Rossignol Winery for fruit and maple wines, Myriad View Distillery for spirits, PEI Brewing Company for craft beer and Island Chocolates for handmade chocolates. And don’t miss the bizarre-sounding chocolate-covered potato chips – a local speciality.
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