A Canada and New England cruise is the perfect way to get a taste of the picturesque and historic northeastern US and Canada’s Maritime provinces. Find out about the best ports you can see when you take a cruise to New England and Canada.
The Canada and New England cruise season runs from May until October, though the busy season is between August and October. The window for leaf-peeping in the region is fairly short—from late September into early October when fall foliage is at its peak.
Families with kids generally choose the summer months for a Canada and New England cruise, so take this into consideration when booking. Fall sailings will bring chillier temps, but ships will generally be kid-free.
Canada and New England cruises embark from several East Coast cities, with New York and Boston being the most popular. Some cruise lines also offer sailings from Baltimore, Norfolk, or Fort Lauderdale.
Or start your cruise in Canada—many sail from Montréal or Québec City.
Most Canada and New England cruises are one-way journeys (though you can always book a back-to-back to turn your voyage into a round-trip sailing).
Various cruise lines stop at different ports in the region, but of course the length of your cruise is a factor in how many ports are on the itinerary.
I’ve highlighted the ten best cruise ports you can visit on a cruise to New England and the Maritimes. Use this guide (written by a native New Englander!) to choose the ports you most want to see. You might be surprised at what you’ll be able to experience in these gorgeous cities!
I’ve also included my favorite shore excursion in each port to help with your planning. Be sure to read to the end to find a short list of must-pack items for your Canada and New England cruise.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is famous for its Gilded Age mansions, massive summer homes that the ultra-wealthy actually called “cottages”! You can see many of them from the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) path along the breathtaking Atlantic coast.
You can even take a tour inside some of the majestic estates—The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff are all open to the public for tours.
Newport Harbor was home to the America’s Cup international yacht race from 1930 until 1983. Fans of sailing will want to check out the exhibits at the Newport Museum of Yachting. Or, take a sailing lesson at the Newport Yacht Club.
Summertime is festival season in Newport, and it’s not just about the legendary Jazz Festival! Newport is also well-known for its folk and classical music festivals, as well as annual events showcasing flowers, food, wine, beer, and more. Check out Newport’s event calendar for a complete list.
In the mood for a beach day? First Beach, King Park Beach, and Fort Adams State Beach are all free and open to the public.
Best Newport shore excursion: Newport Gilded Age Mansions Trolley Tour with Breakers Admission
Historic Boston is a very walkable city, and exploring the Freedom Trail on foot is the perfect way to sample its charm. Follow the trail from Boston Common to Charlestown, stopping at fascinating Revolutionary War-era sites. Be sure to take time to try some of Boston’s iconic food along the way!
Shopping fanatics will want to visit Newbury Street, the Back Bay neighborhood’s home to quirky independent boutiques, high-end fashion houses, and everything in between. Start at the Mass Ave end and walk east to reach the Public Garden and Boston Common, a pair of scenic public green spaces.
Whether you’re a Red Sox fan or not, visitors to Boston need to experience a behind-the-scenes tour of historic Fenway Park. Home to the Sox since 1912, Fenway is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball—and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Get up close to iconic sites around the park including Pesky’s Pole and the Green Monster.
Not a fan of bustling big cities? Take a day trip to nearby Salem, the home of the infamous 17th-century witch trials. The seasonal round-trip ferry will get you to the Witch City in under an hour.
Best Boston shore excursion: Boston Small-Group Food & History North End Freedom Trail Walking Tour
Your stop in Portland, Maine takes you to one of the state’s coolest cities for foodies. Downtown Portland alone has over 300 dining venues for you to try, including world-class restaurants with James Beard award-winning chefs. Bon Appétit named Portland its 2018 Restaurant City of the Year!
Discover the beauty of Maine’s coastline by visiting one of the numerous nearby beaches. South Portland’s Willard Beach is perfect for anyone wanting to escape the crowds. Stroll from there to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, the only caisson-style lighthouse in the US that visitors can walk to.
Or visit Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park. Just ten minutes from Portland is Maine’s oldest lighthouse, dating to 1791 (its construction was ordered by George Washington!) Then spend the day exploring the park where you can hike, tour the arboretum, and enjoy a casual lunch.
Take a side trip to nearby Freeport for outstanding outlet shopping. Just a 20-minute drive from Portland, you’ll find New England’s favorite bargain shopping destination! Check out hundreds of brand-name outlets and indie boutiques, some housed in lovely brick buildings from the 18th century.
Best Portland shore excursion: The Real Portland Tour: City and 3 Lighthouses Historical Tour with a Real Local
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia National Park, an almost 50,000-acre slice of paradise on and around Mount Desert Island. From spring through autumn, visitors can enjoy coach tours around the park’s paved loop road, or get out and enjoy the scenery on foot, bicycle, or horseback.
Park rangers are on hand to lead group activities (check the ranger program schedule for details), or go off on your own adventure rock climbing, kayaking, or just relaxing by the shore at Sand Beach or Echo Lake.
Or explore Bar Harbor’s charming downtown, full of quaint shops and local restaurants serving up Maine favorites like lobster rolls, clam chowder, and the area’s best craft beers.
Much like Newport, RI, Bar Harbor was also a favorite summer home of the uber-wealthy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tour the waterfront Georgian Revival mansion “La Rochelle” to get a glimpse of turn-of-the-century elegance, just a short walk from the cruise port.
Best Bar Harbor shore excursion: Savor Bar Harbor Culinary Walking Tour
Saint John, New Brunswick
Don’t be fooled by Saint John’s gritty, industrial appearance when you first sail into port. Past the shipping terminals and oil tanks lie a wealth of cultural and historical sites.
The Saint John City Market, built in the late 19th century, offers a unique shopping experience with vendors hawking handmade Maritime crafts, art pieces, apparel, and imported goods. Enjoy a meal from one of the numerous on-site restaurants, featuring both local and international cuisine. Or buy some picnic fixings and head over to Kings Square for an alfresco lunch.
Explore the New Brunswick Museum to get a feel for the area’s history, then explore some of the local sites firsthand. The Carleton Martello Tower, a round fortification perched on a rocky cliff, dates to the War of 1812 and was part of the city’s defense strategy until 1944.
Follow the Loyalist Trail through downtown to find historic sites that tell the story of the city’s early settlers. You’ll find the Old Burial Ground at Sydney Street, the Stone Church, The Loyalist House, and Barbour’s General Store, where you’ll learn more about the Loyalists, British subjects who escaped persecution during the American Revolution.
But for many visitors to Saint John, the main attraction is access to the beautiful Bay of Fundy. The bay separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia and is a stunning backdrop for a range of outdoor activities.
Hike or kayak at Fundy National Park where you’ll find cool, mossy forests, dramatic waterfalls, and breathtaking waterfront cliffs.
If you don’t want to make the 70-mile (112km) ride out to the national park, instead visit the Reversing Falls, just two miles from downtown. This series of rapids on the Saint John River actually changes course twice a day, caused by the bay’s strong tides.
Best St. John shore excursion: New Brunswick Shore Excursion: Bay of Fundy and More Tour
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia was built around the waterfront, and the sea is just as relevant to the city today as it was when it was founded in 1749. With one of the busiest ports on the east coast, the waterfront is certainly a happening place.
Sample the food vendors and restaurants (you’ll find tons of the freshest seafood here!), and be sure to explore the Halifax Seaport Market for local crafts, artisan food products, handmade jewelry, and more. Each September the waterfront hosts the Halifax Oyster Festival, the largest of its kind in Canada.
Canada’s oldest and largest maritime museum, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is also in the waterfront district. Learn about events that affected the city with exhibits about the Halifax Explosion of 1917 and the sinking of the Titanic (cable ships based in Halifax recovered the bodies of over 200 Titanic victims, and many are buried in Halifax). Ship lovers won’t want to miss their exhibit of over 300 ship portraits, the most extensive collection in Canada.
If you’re into military history, tour the star-shaped Citadel (it’s officially named Fort George) to learn about the important part Halifax played in the American Revolutionary War, WWI, and WWII. From May to October, you can even be part of their popular Soldier for a Day program. Get fitted for your uniform, march to the parade square, and learn how to fire a rifle!
Or escape the city to tour the lovely Annapolis Valley. Don’t miss the picturesque fishing village of Peggy’s Cove and its iconic lighthouse. Visit nearby Lunenburg where a replica of its famed racing ship Bluenose is often in port welcoming visitors (the original two-masted schooner was wrecked in 1946).
Best Halifax shore excursion: Nova Scotia Day Tour With Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg, and the Annapolis Valley
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
Not to be confused with the similarly named cruise port in New Brunswick, NL’s capital is the easternmost city in North America, and one of the oldest, too! Appearing on maps as early as 1519, St. John’s is a historic city with lots of small-town charm.
For the best views of St. John’s, head to the top of Signal Hill where Marconi received the very first transatlantic wireless message back in 1901. Tour Cabot Tower, built in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of explorer John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.
Close by Signal Hill is The Battery, a neighborhood that’s well-known for its colorful “Jellybean Row” houses. These houses, painted in striking shades of blue, red, pink, and yellow, aren’t just on one street—you’ll see their cheerful facades all around the area. The Battery is also home to Anderson House, thought to be the oldest structure in the city.
Looking for an introduction to the local culture and history of St. John’s? The Rooms, a public cultural space that houses the Provincial Museum, the Provincial Archives, and the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, is the place to go. You’ll find an extensive collection of art and artifacts, and an observation deck with some seriously stunning views of the entire harbor.
The Ocean Sciences Centre, just a short drive from downtown, is the perfect way to learn about Newfoundland’s variety of sea creatures. Reach into the saltwater touch tank to pet a starfish, and see the facility’s resident harp seals from the outdoor viewing platform.
If you visit St. John’s in the warmer months, don’t miss the opportunity to take a whale and puffin-spotting cruise! Humpback and Minke whales are in the area from mid-May through September (peak season is mid-June to mid-August). You can also spot adorable puffins during their nesting season, which coincides with peak whale watching.
Best St. John’s shore excursion: Newfoundland Puffin and Whale Watch Cruise
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
The smallest provincial capital in Canada, charming Charlottetown is home to only 36,000 people. But despite its small size, it’s a vibrant seaside city with artisan shops, world-class seafood, a thriving arts and culture scene, and plenty of historic places to explore.
Charlottetown loves nothing more than a festival, and there always seems to be an event going on! The city has a festival for everyone’s taste, from jazz music lovers to fans of blueberries. October visitors won’t want to miss the annual Scarecrow Festival—you’ll see hundreds of scarecrow installations all around town. Check the events calendar to see what’s going on during your visit.
PEI is famous for its picture-perfect beaches, and there are several just minutes from Charlottetown. Brackley Beach, Blooming Point, and Kinlock Beach are among the locals’ faves.
But for many visitors to Prince Edward Island, a visit to Green Gables is an absolute must. The quaint green-and-white clapboard house was the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 classic Anne of Green Gables, and it’s just a 45-minute drive from the cruise port. Tour the homestead, then head to Avonlea Village, a cute shopping area featuring replica shops and homes from the book series.
Best Charlottetown shore excursion: Green Gables Shore Tour from Charlottetown
Québec City, Québec
Vieux Québec (Old Quebec City in English) is the only North American city north of Mexico City to retain its city walls. Visit Upper Town in this UNESCO World Heritage Site to see the 17th-century ramparts, cobblestone streets, and historic churches. Quartier Petit-Champlain is the place to go for boutique shopping and people watching from one of its streetside cafés.
Stop by the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica, one of the oldest cathedrals in North America, to gaze at its Baroque interior and French colonial-era paintings. Architecture fans will also love a stop at Maison de la littérature, the library housed in the former Wesley Church. Its Gothic windows and old-meets-new style make it a top spot for Insta pics.
Don’t miss the world’s most photographed hotel—Le Château Frontenac dates to 1893 and looks just like a fairytale castle. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about its fascinating history.
Québec City is home to several acclaimed museums, including the Musée de la Civilisation. The most-visited museum in the city, here you can find interactive cultural and historical exhibits that encourage discovery. Or, spend the day at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, home to over 25,000 local works of art.
Want to escape the city for the day and see a stunning waterfall that’s taller than Niagara? Just nine miles northeast of Old Québec is Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. You can climb the winding wooden staircase (or take the cable car) to gaze at the 272-foot (83m) falls from the suspension bridge.
Best Québec City shore excursion: Private Quebec City Walking Tour
The second-largest city in Canada, cosmopolitan Montréal is a dynamic city with historic sites, a vibrant arts and culture scene, fantastic food, and trendy bars.
Spend some time in Old Montréal, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time with its cobblestone streets and Parisian-style architecture. Check out this area’s Place d’Armes, a public square surrounded by many impressive buildings, including the Notre-Dame Basilica with its stunning vaulted ceiling. Discover the history of the city at Chateau Ramezay Historic Site and Museum, housed in a 1705 building that was once home to one of Montréal’s early governors.
Montréal is a shopper’s paradise, with over 1200 boutiques, department stores, and upscale chains along Rue Sainte-Catherine, the city’s main shopping street. Those looking for a more offbeat shopping experience should head to Boulevard Saint-Laurent for its mix of quirky vintage shops. Or explore the Underground City, a 20-mile (32km) labyrinth of shops, restaurants, and hotels. And yes, the complex is underground, making it a perfect rainy-day destination.
Museum fans will love Montréal’s impressive art, history, science, and culture spaces. The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts features art, archaeology, and antiquities from around the world. Contemporary art lovers will enjoy Musée d’Art Contemporain, and if you’re into science the Biosphere, Planetarium, and Insectarium is the place to be.
Montréal has more restaurants per capita than any other city in North America, and the cuisine is diverse—but you’ll find lots of influences from French, Irish, and Canadian aboriginal cookery. Local faves include poutine (try the many variations at 24-hour spot La Banquise), the smoked meat sandwich, and the Montréal-style bagel.
Getting around Montréal is easy by the Métro or on a rental bike, or take a walking or bicycle tour to see the best of the city.
Best Montréal shore excursion: 4 Hour Montreal Architecture & City Bike Tour with Wine or Beer
Map of the most popular Canada and New England ports
Essentials for your Canada and New England cruise
Depending on what time of year you’re cruising to New England and the Maritimes, the temperature (and weather) can be very different.
But whether you’re cruising in sunny July or chilly October, here are a few essentials you’ll want to take along:
- US and Canadian currency
- Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes
- Waterproof, windproof jacket (I love these Eddie Bauer ones for men and women)
- Lightweight binoculars (for whale and puffin-spotting!)
Have you taken a Canada and New England cruise? Which cruise ports were your favorites to visit? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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