On the surface, figuring out what to do in Prince Edward Island – or PEI as it’s more commonly referred to – might not seem like a challenging task.
After all, it’s Canada’s smallest province and only takes about three hours to drive from tip to tip.
Don’t be deceived.
This is a destination that will leave you begging for more long after you’ve said goodbye to its rocky red shores.
Thanks to its relaxed maritime vibe backed by a long list of natural and historical attractions, PEI has been luring visitors for decades.
Much of the credit for its international tourism success lies with one fictional character: Anne of Green Gables.
Whether or not you’ve read the Lucy Maud Montgomery classic, which is set on Prince Edward Island and has been translated into about 20 languages since being published in 1908, it’s impossible to escape that feisty redhead’s hold over the island.
Her name or likeness is plastered on everything from bottles of “raspberry cordial” soda to golf courses.
Expect interest in Anne to intensify now that the story has been revisited in the Netflix series “Anne with an E.”
But much like Anne, the island has evolved in recent years, offering a new wave of cultural and culinary experiences.
One thing to consider before you grab a bosom buddy and book that plane ticket – PEI is a seasonal destination, which means most attractions are open from June to September.
All things Anne
Regardless of whether you’re an old or new Anne fan, Green Gables House in Cavendish will tug the heartstrings of any kindred spirit.
Its restored farmhouse brings to life the house as fans of the book might envision it, while an on-site museum highlights how islanders lived in the late 1800s. Visitors can sign up for walking tours and activities, including a weekly Sunday picnic.
But lest you forget Anne is a fictional character, we suggest paying a visit to the birthplace of her creator.
The white heritage house where author Montgomery was born in 1874 sits just outside of Cavendish in the town of New London and is open for tours.
Need more Anne? Capital city Charlottetown has two top musicals devoted to the redhead.
At the Confederation Center of the Arts you’ll find Canada’s longest running production, “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical.”
Showing annually for over 50 years, the act recently underwent re-design that includes new sets, costumes and sound design.
Meanwhile, “Anne & Gilbert,” which opened in 2013, shows annually at Charlottetown’s The Guild theater.
The north coast: Cavendish Beach and beyond
PEI’s top tourist magnet, Cavendish was once a quiet rural community populated by a few Scottish immigrants.
In addition to that famous aforementioned green and white house, this section of PEI’s north shore is stuffed full with dune-filled beaches, campgrounds, cottages and terrifically tacky tourist traps.
Even if you’re just driving through we recommend popping into the Cavendish Boardwalk for a scoop of Cows Creamery ice cream. Though Cows is now available throughout the country – and even in Beijing – this is the original shop, having opened in 1984.
For a slightly quieter seaside experience head east to Brackley, another dune-filled strip of golden sand that’s also part of the greater Prince Edward Island National Park.
It’s just one stop along the scenic Gulf Shore Parkway, which also whisks you past the Covehead Harbour, with its lovely red and white lighthouse and fishing wharf.
Looking for something more serene? About an hour’s drive northeast from capital Charlottetown are the stunning beaches and dunes of Greenwich – also national park land.
For a close-up look at the island’s wild coastal rock formations you’ll want to head for Darnley’s incredible Thunder Cove, about an hour’s drive northwest from Charlottetown.
Red Sands Shore, home to Canada’s longest bridge
Switching coasts, on the south is Red Sands Shore, site of PEI’s photogenic Confederation Bridge.
Canada’s longest bridge, this 8-mile-long icon opened in 1997 to connect PEI to the New Brunswick mainland.
Nearby Gateway Village is an open-air shopping/dining complex designed to look like an 1860 farming community.
Afterward, we recommend heading east on the Trans Canada Highway to the adorable village of Victoria by the Sea.
This seaside community of about 100 people founded in 1819 features the Victoria Playhouse, which hosts regular cultural events.
The village is filled with pretty heritage homes, a chocolatier, some excellent seafood restaurants and a harbor – historic lighthouse included.
Exploring PEI’s capital, Charlottetown
The best way to explore PEI’s tiny capital is on foot as many of the highlights are in the historic downtown core.
Sadly the latter is now undergoing repair work and won’t re-open till 2020 but visitors can still take in its neoclassical exterior.
In addition to live performances, the Confederation Center of the Arts hosts permanent and rotating exhibitions showcasing the island.
The surrounding tree-lined streets are filled with pubs, restaurants, galleries and shops. This includes Victoria Row, which in the summer closes its cobblestoned street to traffic.
For fans of craft beer, try Charlottetown’s Upstreet Craft Brewery, one of a handful of microbreweries on the island.
PEI’s best eats
Upscale restaurants have multiplied on PEI in the last 10 years, particularly in Charlottetown.
Water Prince Corner Shop & Lobster Pound is the place to get your lobster fix.
For the best plate of battered haddock pretty much anywhere – on or off the island – hit Charlottetown’s Water Street Fish & Chips.
Away from the capital are dozens of excellent culinary experiences as well.
Out east, about a 45-minute drive from Charlottetown in Souris sits the luxurious Inn at Bay Fortune and its Michael Smith-helmed FireWorks Kitchen. This high-end eatery was voted one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2016 by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.
Shucker lovers will want to head to the Malpeque Oyster Barn in the fishing harbor in Malpeque Bay. Bonus: There’s a thriving kitesurfing scene in nearby Cabot Beach Provincial Park.
And finally, there’s nothing quite like an old fashioned lobster supper.
Traditionally held in a cavernous community hall, if done right these beautifully messy feasts end with a table full of empty shells and butter-coated fingers.
Both offer all-you-can-eat seafood chowder and mussels with any lobster order.
If you’d rather hunt or forage for your own dinner, there are plenty of companies offering excursions like lobster trapping, oyster harvesting, clam digging and deep-sea fishing.
Where to stay
Given PEI’s size, you could easily base yourself in Charlottetown and take day trips to the island’s various attractions.
For a historic boutique experience there’s the Great George, in Charlottetown. It’s made up of 54 luxurious suites spread across 17 restored heritage buildings that date back to the mid-1840s.
Want to be based near the beaches of Brackley? Historic Dalvay by the Sea offers 25 antique-filled guest rooms and eight cottages. It made an appearance in the original 1985 “Anne of Green Gables” movie, standing in as the “White Sands Hotel.”