It’s perhaps strange to talk about a destination as being boutique. In travel, we often think of boutique hotels – small, independent accommodations that offer a personal service to every guest and are usually found in trendy areas. But what if a whole location had its trendy side, was full of independent outlets, as well as people who offered a very warm welcome, and it was all served up in a petite place? That place would be called Prince Edward Island – Canada’s smallest, but most perfectly-formed province. I have such fond memories of my time there, so am sharing some Prince Edward Island attractions with you in this guide.
The island is one of the provinces that makes up the Atlantic Canada region on the country’s east coast, which also includes the provinces of Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is an area renowned for its sea-faring lifestyles, incredible food, dramatic scenery, and a host of unique features.
Get a feel for the island first in this video…
This travel guide to Prince Edward Island is part of a project with Atlantic Canada tourism. It is, however, a destination I’m delighted to share with you as I adored it. There may be affiliate links in this post that provide us with a small revenue at no extra cost to you, so book with confidence and visit this beautiful Canadian island.
Why visit Prince Edward Island
I have to confess, I didn’t know much about Prince Edward Island, or PEI as it’s known. It’s a bit of an injustice that it’s not somewhere that gets enough attention in the UK at least. But perhaps that affords it some mystique as it isn’t a destination overrun with tourists. PEI, like much of Atlantic Canada, is a place to escape from the rush of life and enjoy all of its goodness – from nature and quiet places to relax, to a vibrant cultural scene.
With red sandstone cliffs punctuated by lighthouses, seaside villages with bustling harbours, and quilted green fields dotted with omnipresent red barns- a feature of the country’s landscape, it’s easy to see why Canadian mainlanders have something of a love affair with the island. It is aptly nicknamed the Garden of the Gulf due to its natural landscape and the fact that it has only two urban centres, charming capital Charlottetown, home to a mere 40,500 people, and the very laidback Summerside.
But it is also an island with lots of history as it’s seen as the birthplace of Canada, it is also home to literary character Anne of Green Gables – you can even visit her house, and has a great arts scene. Then there’s the food, which will make any food lover salivate. The sea surrounding Prince Edward Island provides it with a banquet of incredible seafood, and the chefs transform this and the island’s famed potatoes, into dishes worthy of the home of the Culinary Institute of Canada.
Prince Edward Island may not be the first place you consider when you think of a trip to Canada, but you will be more than pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer.
The best Prince Edward Island attractions
Check into Charlottestown
Charlottetown is one of the most elegant of provincial capitals and is a great place to base yourself during your visit as the island’s other attractions are in easy reach by car, it is also a perfectly walkable city with a lovely harbour front onto the Atlantic Ocean.
The city is central to the history of Canada because it was the site of the Charlottetown Conference, when in 1864, Canadian and Maritime statesmen gathered to discuss the proposed Maritime Union. This conference led to the union of British North American colonies in 1867, which was the beginning of the Canadian confederation, and the very foundation of the country. You can learn more about this history at Confederation Centre of the Arts, which explores the origins and evolution of Canada through a rich variety of heritage and the arts.
Charlottetown has a lively cultural scene and well-preserved historic sites such as St Dunstan’s Basilica and Victoria Park, while its delightful harbour front is worth a visit too. Also be sure to call into Victoria Row – a street with stylish boutique and artisan shops, a great variety of eateries serving farm to table dishes, and plenty of places for people watching over freshly brewed coffee.
Take a walk in the island’s history
You can also take a two-hour guided walking tour of Charlottetown to discover the city’s history, architecture and more. Starting at Confederation Landing the tour takes in Great George Street, renowned as a location that reflects the evolution of the city’s architecture – on one side you will see beautifully preserved Georgian buildings and on the other side of the street you find buildings in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The tour also takes in sights like the Bishops’ Palace and Dunstan’s Basilica, considered to be the defining silhouette of Charlottetown, plus Province House, known for being the birthplace of the Confederation, before heading on to Victoria Row and more.
See the light – tour Prince Edward Island’s lighthouses
There are quite a few unique things to do in PEI, and one of them is touring its lighthouses. The island has 63 lighthouses, of which, about 35 are still actively aiding marine navigation, but seven of them are national historic sites and make great places to visit in Prince Edward Island. If you’re used to straight-up-and-down round lighthouses all painted white then think again, because the island has a range of shapes and styles that are as diverse as they are large in number.
Despite it being more traditional in style – it is the island’s only round lighthouse – Point Prim was one of my favourites because of its location at the entrance to Hillsborough Bay, set on a wild, windy bluff. And as the sun begins to set in the evening it is the perfect time to enjoy the peace and solitude and also the lovely natural light that, lights up the building.
Built in 1845, Point Prim is PEI’s oldest lighthouse, and you can take a guided tour and even climb to the top for views across the island and Atlantic. The shoreline off of Point Prim is understandably treacherous so this is not a place for swimming – please heed all warnings there!
One of the prettiest lighthouses is the Victoria Seaport in Victoria. It is a working lighthouse that is adorned by flowers and makes for a perfect Instagram shot. It also has an exhibition, which traces the area’s history through the golden era of seafaring.
It is also close to some very pretty boathouses which offer up another opportunity for a great shot.
Another that should be on your list to tour is Covehead Harbour lighthouse which sits above one of PEI’s lovely beaches.
Visiting the island’s many lighthouses is a fun way to tour the island and check out it’s idyllic landscapes too.
In fact, hiring a car is a great way to make the most of Prince Edward Island’s attractions. The island has a number of scenic drives, but one that stands out is the Points East Coastal Drive. To enjoy it, you would need a few days setting out from Charlottetown to take it all in (or you could do segments in days out from the town). But it will take you closer to island life and uncovering all its hidden corners.
This route of the eastern part of the island takes in 475 kilometres, 50 beaches, six scenic heritage roads, six lighthouses and the towering dunes and white sand beaches of Prince Edward Island National Park – Greenwich. Here you can park up and walk the Confederation Trail, a 15 kilometre section of the park, or cycle it and head on to St Peter’s Bay where you can take in the blue of the Atlantic, mussel beds, sand dunes, and spot irises and heron swooping along the way.
If peace and solitude is at the top of your list, Prince Edward Island National Park is nature’s playground. So have your cameras at the ready for shots of resident wildlife including herons and red foxes. Finish off with a picnic, with sea views and fresh air for company.
Touring this region is a phenomenal way to see many of the island’s cultural highlights too – there are local artisans with shops and studios along the way. History buffs will love Croft House: Selkirk Heritage and Cultural Centre, which displays the heritage of this area of PEI, telling the story of the arrival of 800 Scottish settlers 1803, known as the Macdonanldites, plus Acadian (French) settlers to the area.
Alternatively, explore the huddle of eastern harbour towns of Beach Point, Murray Harbour and Machon Point where you can watch fisherman bring their haul of fresh lobster ashore, and Cape Bear Lighthouse – with its Marconi station, which was the first Canadian lighthouse to receive a distress signal from the Titanic. This area too has lots of art galleries and studios of artists and craftspeople.
What and where to eat in Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island has many fantastic eateries and food producers. Shellfish is a speciality, the island has some of the Atlantic’s best lobster and oysters, combined with fresh farm produce.
You will find a host of excellent restaurants in Prince Edward Island – check out The Lobster Barn Pub and Eatery in Victoria for arguably the best lobster rolls in the island. But it’s not all about the lobster here, Prince Edward Island also has some of the best oysters in the world, so shuck them out at The Wheelhouse in Georgetown. And if you’re looking for a relaxed lunch while out exploring in the east Point Prim Chowder House and Oyster Bar serves a variety of island seafood favourites from chowders to sandwiches. Resting along the shoreline, it will be hard to decide which is better – the food or the views.
Chefs learn their trade at a number of schools across Canada but perhaps the country’s premier school is the Culinary Institute of Canada, in Charlottetown, which also runs culinary bootcamps for home chefs to learn some tricks of the trade. I had a huge amount of fun at the class I attended and we came away not only with tummies full of delicious food, but we were armed with recipes to take home and make the dishes all over again. I can’t recommend the boot camps enough.
But Prince Edward Island’s foodie attractions are not only to be found in its finest foods, even the humble root vegetable is exciting here – Prince Edward Island potatoes are famously good. At if you head to Cow’s Ice Creamery, which I recommend for their fantastic range of delectable ice creams, be sure to also pick up Cow Chips – PEI potato chips covered in chocolate.
Another notable treat is the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company. Here, alongside watching them produce preserves and tasting and buying their jams and sauces, you can have lunch or dinner at a restaurant sat by the water, in the north of the island. Save room for the raspberry cream pie for dessert. Serious foodies should visit in September or October to coincide with the Fall Food Festival, which has workshops, competitions and tastings.
Get crafty with PEI’s brewers and distillers
If you like craft beers then you’ll find some great offerings in PEI. Visit the Taproom at Upstreet Craft Brewing, in Charlottetown, to sample some of their finely crafted beers, or head to the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company. Not only does it produce excellent beers with seasonal specials, but you can sample them on a tour of the brewery and see how they’re made. If you’re looking for something stronger, head to the Prince Edward Island Vodka Distillery to sample its award-winning potato and blueberry vodkas, or to Myriad View Distillery, which produces the only legal moonshine in the whole country.
How to get to Prince Edward Island
WestJet and Air Canada are the leading airlines operating flights to Prince Edward Island, with an average flight time of ten hours, including connections, from the UK.
Search for Prince Edward Island flights
Where to stay in Prince Edward Island – we recommend…
There are many hotels, inns and B&Bs (which are a popular form of accommodation in Canada) to choose from in Charlottetown including boutique and historic Great George Hotel, with four-poster beds, and corner Jacuzzi baths in beautiful traditional rooms with modern amenities.
It’s walking distance to the city’s attractions and restaurants, plus the hotel has great features like water and towels for joggers, daily fresh-baked complimentary cookies and happy hour. It even has a floor dedicated to women travelling alone.
For a regal stay on the coast, visit Dalvay by the Sea, near Prince Edward Island National Park. It’s a beautiful Victorian building with elegant wood carved interiors and has a great restaurant. Plus it’s where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed when they visited the province, and if it’s good enough for Will and Kate…
Other recommended places to stay:
More PEI tips
- With a short tourist season, the long summer days of July or August are the best time to visit Prince Edward Island.
- British tourists need an electronic travel authorisation visa to visit Canada. Apply through your travel provider or visit www.cic.gc.ca
- It is customary to tip 15% in restaurants and 10% for taxi rides.
- The currency is the Canadian dollar, with an exchange rate of $1.71 to the £1 as at June 1, 2021.
Map of places to visit in Prince Edward Island
Click to get a downloadable Google map of Prince Edward Island and the many unique things to do there mentioned in this article.
Leave a Reply