Did you know that the Titanic hit an iceberg only 650 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland? The iceberg it hit was likely making its way to the Labrador current, a part of the aptly named Iceberg Alley that sees hundreds of icebergs every year.
“Every year, half of Greenland breaks off and comes down on top of us.” —Peter Decker, Newfoundland Fisherman.
Icebergs on the eastern coast of Canada can be viewed from the shore, by boat, or by kayak and will leave you in awe. Here’s everything you need to know about seeing icebergs in Canada: the best spots, when to go, and how to see them.
What is an Iceberg?
Before we get down to planning how you’re going to explore icebergs in Canada, here’s some basics about what icebergs really are.
An iceberg is a pure, freshwater floating mass of ice that is formed when a glacier breaks off a portion of itself into the ocean. Most icebergs in Canada flow from glaciers in Greenland, although some come from the Eastern Canadian Arctic Islands. While 40,000 icebergs break off from Greenland in a year, only about 1500 will make it all the way to Newfoundland before melting.
The icebergs that reach Newfoundland’s East Coast often spend a year or more passing through David Straight before entering the frigid Labrador current. Once they enter the current, they are pushed southward through Fleming Pass and down the Eastern side of the Grand Banks.
While many know that over 90% of an iceberg is below water, a rarer fact is that icebergs are upwards of 10,000 years old.
The number of icebergs that make it to the Canadian coast depends on the weather of the previous three years, as it can take up to three years for an iceberg to float to Iceberg Alley. Some years you will see massive icebergs without leaving the shore, other times you may be hard-pressed to find them.
Best Times to View Icebergs
The best time to view the iceberg is from April to July. Boat tours often operate starting in May.
While there may be plentiful icebergs as soon as April, frozen ice can make it impossible for boats to get out. If you only want to see the bergs from the shore, you might consider going in April and early May, as the icebergs will be more plentiful.
The Best Spots to View Icebergs
The best places to see Icebergs in Canada are in Newfoundland and Labrador, the iceberg capital of the world. The most accessible places are from Newfoundland. You can take a ferry from Newfoundland to the southern shore of Labrador to view icebergs, or you can remain on Newfoundland for many viewing options.
Before we get into specific towns, Iceberg Alley is part of the Atlantic Marine Ecozone that stretches from Davis Straight to Newfoundland and includes parts of eastern Nova Scotia, some of the Bay of Fundy, and a portion of the Gulf of Maine.
The nickname “Iceberg Alley” is credited to the many boating disasters icebergs have caused in this ecozone, most notably the Titanic. Underwater archeologists have found several shipwrecks in this area, including some as far back as the 1500s.
The towns in Newfoundland are on the shores of the Iceberg Alley and offer the best views of icebergs on land and sea.
St. John’s, NL
Watch icebergs from the city at St. John’s. You don’t need to go too remote to watch the icebergs in Canada. Book a hotel room on the coast during peak season or schedule a boat tour to get closer. Icebergs frequent the coast around St. John’s from May to June so make sure you book in advance.
Located on the coast of Iceberg Alley, take a boat tour of the bergs between May to June. After the iceberg season is your chance for whale watching. Twillingate is an extremely tiny town about 100 kilometers north of Gander. Since it is a tourist destination, you should be able to find accommodation in the village, but make sure to book well in advance.
St. Anthony’s, NL
St. Anthony’s claims to be the best place on earth to watch Icebergs. With a yearly iceberg festival the first week of June, it is clear that the locals are proud of the icebergs that frequent the area. The peak season is late May to early July. Humpback whales are also often seen on these tours, so you can combine wildlife viewing with icebergs during one of the many excursions offered from St. Anthony’s.
The remote island of Fogo is a beautiful place to enjoy Newfoundland culture and view the icebergs. Early April to late June is the best time to spot them from the shores. To get to Fogo Island, you must take a ferry a 50-minute ferry from Farewell. You can spend a few days exploring the island, staying in one of Airbnb’s or the illustrious Fogo Island Inn.
Bay Bulls is less than a half-hour drive from St John’s and is an excellent place to spot whales, thousands of puffins, and icebergs. There are numerous great tours to choose from at Bay Bulls. If you need a hotel pick up from St John’s go with O’Brien’s tours.
Many Ways to Explore Icebergs
There are numerous professional tour guides that will take you out to sea to get up close and personal to the icebergs. With one of these experiences, you will glean fun facts and the history of the region and dive into what icebergs really are.
For a more intimate experience, kayak around the icebergs off the shores of one of the coastal communities. It is recommended that you only take a guided tour for your safety. Guides will know how close you can get to an iceberg safely and will keep an eye out for other potential dangers while spreading their knowledge of the area, wildlife, and the icebergs.
If you prefer to stay on solid ground, many towns boarding Iceberg Alley offer an excellent vantage point of icebergs from the shore. Book an oceanfront room or Airbnb and you might not even have to leave the comfort of your room to see these majestic pieces of glaciers.
Take a hike around the coast to spot the icebergs from the shore and to enjoy some picturesque exercise while you’re at it. There are several great trails to explore. You can take a guided hike here, or explore on your own.
The Newfoundlanders know how to have a good time using what they have. Enjoy liquor made from local iceberg water. Quidi Vidi brewery, pictured above, brews the famed Iceberg beer. You can also enjoy iceberg vodka, gin, and rum at various establishments and breweries throughout the province.
Hero Image: Derek Oyen