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Visiting The Colourful Houses Of St John’s, Newfoundland


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Cybill Brockway



Welcome to St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Nestled on the eastern coast of the island, this vibrant city is known for its picturesque landscapes, rich history, and charming architecture. One of the most notable features that sets St. John’s apart is its colourful houses. Walking through the streets feels like stepping into a whimsical fairy tale, where every corner is adorned with a kaleidoscope of hues.


Steeped in history and culture, St. John’s offers a unique experience for visitors. The city’s architecture reflects its past, with a mix of traditional and modern structures creating a captivating backdrop. However, it is the tradition of painting houses in vibrant colours that truly sets St. John’s apart from other cities.


In this article, we will delve into the history of St. John’s and explore the significance behind the colourful houses that dot its streets. We will uncover the charm and beauty that draws visitors from near and far, and provide tips for experiencing the magic of St. John’s firsthand.


History of St. John’s, Newfoundland

St. John’s has a rich and storied history that dates back centuries. It was first discovered by European explorers in the late 15th century and became a strategic location for fishing and trade. The city’s name is derived from the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24th each year.


Throughout its history, St. John’s has experienced numerous challenges and triumphs. It played a crucial role in the transatlantic cable communications during the 19th century, connecting North America with Europe. The city also served as a key military base during both World Wars.


One of the defining events in St. John’s history is the devastating Great Fire of 1892. The fire destroyed much of the city, including many of its wooden houses. It was in the aftermath of this tragedy that the tradition of painting the houses in vibrant colours began. The colourful houses served as a symbol of hope and rejuvenation, a way to brighten the streets and lift the spirits of the residents.


Over the years, St. John’s has evolved into a thriving city while still retaining its historical charm. It has become a hub for arts and culture, with galleries, theatres, and festivals celebrating local talent and creativity. The city’s strong sense of community and resilience is evident in its architecture and the way its residents embrace and preserve their unique heritage.


Today, St. John’s continues to be a popular destination for tourists seeking to immerse themselves in history and experience the beauty of the colourful houses that line its streets. The city offers a glimpse into a bygone era while embracing a modern and vibrant atmosphere that captivates visitors from around the world.


Architecture of St. John’s

The architecture of St. John’s is a delightful blend of old-world charm and contemporary influences. The city features a diverse range of architectural styles, reflecting its rich history and cultural heritage.


One of the most prominent architectural styles in St. John’s is the traditional Newfoundland vernacular. This style is characterized by steep-pitched roofs, brightly painted wooden houses, and decorative trim. These houses, often referred to as “saltbox” houses, were originally built by early settlers and fishermen using readily available materials.


Another architectural style commonly found in St. John’s is Gothic Revival. This style emerged in the mid-19th century and is characterized by intricate detailing, pointed arches, and decorative elements inspired by medieval European architecture. Some notable examples of Gothic Revival buildings in St. John’s include the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and several historic churches.


As the city developed and grew, modern architectural styles began to influence St. John’s. Today, you can find contemporary buildings and structures that add a modern touch to the city’s skyline. The mix of old and new architecture creates a unique visual appeal, where historic buildings stand alongside sleek, glass-paneled structures.


St. John’s is also home to a variety of colorful row houses, often referred to as “Jellybean Row.” These charming residences, with their vibrant facades and picturesque settings, have become iconic symbols of the city. Walking through the streets of Jellybean Row is like strolling through an open-air art gallery, with each house showcasing its own unique color scheme and character.


Whether you appreciate the historic charm of traditional Newfoundland architecture or the modern allure of contemporary design, the architecture of St. John’s offers a captivating visual experience for visitors.


The Tradition of Colourful Houses

One of the most enchanting aspects of St. John’s is its tradition of painting houses in vibrant, eye-catching colours. Each street in the city seems to have its own palette, with houses adorned in hues of blues, pinks, greens, and yellows. But what is the story behind this charming tradition?


The tradition of painting houses in St. John’s began in the aftermath of the devastating Great Fire of 1892. As the city was rebuilding and recovering, residents decided to add a touch of brightness to their homes as a way to lift the spirits of the community and bring a sense of hope and rejuvenation. The colourful facades became a symbol of resilience and a way to create a cheerful and inviting atmosphere in the city.


Over the years, the tradition of colourful houses has been passed down through generations, with residents diligently maintaining and preserving this unique feature of St. John’s. Today, it has become a defining characteristic of the city’s identity.


The choice of colours for the houses is not random. In fact, there is a history and meaning behind the hues that fill the streets. Many believe that the vibrant colours were originally used as a way for fishermen to easily identify their homes from the sea. Each house would be painted in a distinct colour, making it easier for fishermen to locate their own house among the rows of dwellings. This practical purpose gradually transformed into an aesthetic tradition that has brought joy to locals and visitors alike.


Not only do the colourful houses add charm and character to the streets, but they also provide a backdrop for countless stunning photographs. The vibrant facades against the backdrop of the rugged Newfoundland landscape create a striking contrast that is truly mesmerizing. It is no wonder that photographers and artists from around the world flock to St. John’s to capture the beauty and magic of these colourful houses.


When visiting St. John’s, take a leisurely stroll through the streets, and you will find yourself immersed in a world of colour. The tradition of painting houses in vibrant hues is a testament to the spirit and resilience of the city’s residents, creating an enchanting atmosphere that is sure to leave a lasting impression.


Why are the Houses Painted?

The practice of painting houses in vibrant colours in St. John’s, Newfoundland is steeped in history and carries both practical and cultural significance. While the tradition initially served a practical purpose, it has since evolved into a beloved aspect of the city’s identity.


One explanation for the tradition of painting houses in St. John’s is rooted in practicality. The bright and distinctive colours were believed to help fishermen identify their homes from the sea. As wooden houses lined the shore, it was crucial for fishermen to easily spot their dwellings upon returning from their fishing trips. The unique colours acted as beacons among the rows of houses, guiding the fishermen safely home.


Over time, the practical purpose of the colourful houses shifted to symbolize something more profound. After the Great Fire of 1892, the painting of houses in vibrant colours became a way for residents to overcome the devastation and bring hope to the community. The act of painting their houses served as a metaphorical rebirth, a way to lift spirits and infuse brightness into their lives.


Beyond practicality and symbolism, the tradition of painting houses also has cultural significance in St. John’s. Newfoundlanders have a strong sense of community and pride in their heritage, and the colourful houses are a visual representation of this. The tradition serves as a way to preserve and celebrate the unique identity of the city. It is a nod to the past, a tribute to the resilience and resourcefulness of the early settlers, and a testament to the vibrant spirit of the people who inhabit the houses today.


The colourful houses have also become a symbol of St. John’s as a welcoming and inclusive city. The brighter hues add charm and character to the streets, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for visitors. The colours evoke a sense of joy and whimsy, reflecting the lively and friendly nature of the locals.


Furthermore, the tradition of painting houses serves as a source of inspiration and creativity for the residents of St. John’s. It encourages individuality and self-expression, as each homeowner can choose their own unique colour scheme. Walking through the streets of St. John’s feels like stepping into an open-air art gallery, with each house showcasing its own distinct personality.


Whether it is for practical, cultural, or aesthetic reasons, the tradition of painting houses in vibrant colours has become an integral part of the charm and allure of St. John’s. It continues to delight residents and visitors alike, offering a visual feast that, combined with the city’s breathtaking natural beauty, creates an unforgettable experience.


Famous Streets with Colourful Houses

St. John’s is a city that boasts an array of streets adorned with colourful houses. Each street has its own unique charm and character, offering visitors a visual delight as they explore the vibrant neighbourhoods. Here are some of the famous streets in St. John’s that are known for their colourful houses:

1. Jellybean Row

Arguably the most famous and iconic street in St. John’s, Jellybean Row is a collection of colourful row houses nestled on steep hills. This street, officially known as Gower Street, stretches from Water Street to Colonial Street and is a must-visit for anyone exploring the city. The houses on Jellybean Row showcase a kaleidoscope of hues, creating a truly enchanting sight.

2. Water Street

As one of the oldest streets in North America, Water Street is steeped in history and lined with beautifully restored buildings. Many of the buildings on Water Street, particularly in the downtown area, are painted in vibrant colours, adding to the street’s charm. Walking along Water Street offers a blend of colourful houses, eclectic shops, and stunning views of the harbor.

3. Duckworth Street

Adjacent to Water Street, Duckworth Street is another bustling thoroughfare in St. John’s. The street is lined with various establishments, including shops, cafés, and restaurants, all housed in colourful buildings. Duckworth Street offers a vibrant atmosphere and a chance to soak in the local culture while enjoying the picturesque surroundings.

4. Victoria Street

Located in the historic neighborhood of Quidi Vidi, Victoria Street is a hidden gem bursting with charm. As you stroll along this cobblestone street, you’ll encounter row upon row of brightly painted houses, creating a picturesque and welcoming scene. Don’t forget to stop by Quidi Vidi Lake, a serene backdrop that enhances the beauty of the colourful houses.

5. Signal Hill Road

Signal Hill Road is a winding street that takes you up to the iconic Signal Hill, offering stunning panoramic views of St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean. Along this road, you’ll find a collection of vividly painted houses that add a burst of colour to the landscape. The combination of the colourful houses and the breathtaking views makes for a truly memorable experience.


These streets are just a sample of the many vibrant and picturesque areas you can explore in St. John’s. Each one offers a unique perspective on the tradition of colourful houses, making the city a visual feast for visitors seeking to immerse themselves in its charm.


Exploring the Houses of Jellybean Row

One of the most iconic and picturesque areas in St. John’s is Jellybean Row, a collection of colourful row houses that adorn the streets in a vibrant and whimsical display. Walking through this enchanting neighborhood is like stepping into a storybook, with each house telling its own unique tale.


Jellybean Row, officially known as Gower Street, stretches from Water Street to Colonial Street and is a beloved destination for both locals and visitors. Here, you’ll find row upon row of charming houses painted in a kaleidoscope of colours, ranging from bright blues and pinks to bold yellows and greens.


Exploring the houses of Jellybean Row is a treat for the senses. As you wander through the streets, let your curiosity guide you, allowing the vibrant facades to draw you in. Each house offers its own unique charm and character, reflecting the personality and tastes of its occupants.


Take your time to admire the beautifully maintained exteriors, with their welcoming front porches and intricate trim details. Notice the contrasting hues of neighbouring houses, creating a harmonious and playful visual display. Be sure to look up, as some houses feature brightly painted dormers or intricate decorative elements, adding an extra touch of whimsy to the streetscape.


As you explore Jellybean Row, you’ll find that the houses are not just delightful to look at from the outside. Many of the houses have been converted into unique shops, art galleries, and cozy cafés, offering a chance to step inside and experience the vibrant atmosphere firsthand.


The colourful houses of Jellybean Row also provide a captivating backdrop for photography enthusiasts. The vivid facades against the backdrop of the picturesque St. John’s scenery make for stunning photo opportunities. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, you’ll find endless inspiration in capturing the charm and vibrancy of these houses.


While Jellybean Row is a popular tourist attraction, it’s also a cherished residential area. As you explore the streets, please remember to be respectful of the residents’ privacy and property. Keep in mind that these houses are not just a picturesque backdrop; they are homes filled with treasured memories and stories.


Exploring the houses of Jellybean Row is an unforgettable experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the whimsical charm and vibrant culture of St. John’s. So, be sure to add this enchanting neighborhood to your must-visit list and prepare to be captivated by the colourful tales that each house has to tell.


Captivating Photo Opportunities

St. John’s, Newfoundland is a city that offers endless opportunities for captivating and picturesque photographs. With its stunning landscapes and vibrant streets, it’s no wonder that photographers of all levels are drawn to this beautiful destination. Here are a few of the many photo opportunities that await you in St. John’s.

1. Jellybean Row

The vibrant and colourful houses of Jellybean Row make for truly captivating photographs. The charming facades, lined up in a row, offer a whimsical backdrop that immediately catches the eye. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to capture the unique character of each house. Whether it’s a wide shot capturing the entire row or a close-up of the intricate details, you’ll be sure to capture a photograph that is full of charm and personality.

2. Signal Hill

Head up to Signal Hill for breathtaking views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean. The historic Cabot Tower, perched atop the hill, provides a stunning focal point for your photographs. Capture the sweeping vistas from various vantage points, showing the rugged coastline, the colorful row houses below, and the vast expanse of the Atlantic. In particular, try to catch the golden hues of the sunrise or the warm tones of the sunset for a truly mesmerizing shot.

3. Quidi Vidi Village

A visit to Quidi Vidi Village offers a wealth of photo opportunities. This picturesque fishing village, nestled in a scenic harbor, is a photographer’s paradise. Capture shots of the traditional fishing boats, known as “stages,” against a backdrop of colorful houses and serene waters. The reflection of the houses in the calm harbor creates a mirror-like effect, adding a touch of magic to your photographs.

4. Cape Spear

Just a short drive from St. John’s, Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America and offers stunning coastal views. The rugged cliffs, crashing waves, and historic Cape Spear Lighthouse provide an ideal setting for dramatic and awe-inspiring photographs. Capture the power of the ocean, the ruggedness of the landscapes, or the classic beauty of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the endless horizon. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for whales that often pass by offshore, providing an additional photogenic element.

5. George Street

If you’re looking for lively street scenes and bustling nightlife, George Street is the place to be. This pedestrian-only street is lined with pubs, bars, and live music venues. Capture the vibrant atmosphere of this energetic street, with its colorful signs, street performers, and happy crowds. The combination of the neon lights and the lively spirit of the people will make for dynamic and energetic photographs.


From the colourful houses of Jellybean Row to the sweeping vistas of Signal Hill and the captivating charm of Quidi Vidi, St. John’s offers a plethora of captivating photo opportunities. Whether you’re a professional photographer or simply love documenting your travels, this city will inspire you to capture the beauty and unique character of this remarkable place.


Tips for Visiting St. John’s

Visiting St. John’s, Newfoundland is an exciting adventure that promises breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality. To make the most of your trip, consider these tips for a memorable experience:

1. Dress for the Weather

St. John’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to dress in layers and be prepared for changing conditions. Even in the summer, it’s advisable to bring a light jacket or sweater, as temperatures can be cool, especially near the coast. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket and comfortable walking shoes for exploring the city’s various attractions.

2. Embrace the Local Food

St. John’s is known for its vibrant culinary scene, so be sure to indulge in the local cuisine. Try traditional dishes like fish and chips, Jiggs dinner, and toutons. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to indulge in fresh seafood, including cod, lobster, and snow crab. And of course, make sure to try the local favorite: a traditional “screech” rum!

3. Explore Beyond Downtown

While downtown St. John’s is a hub of activity, take the time to explore the surrounding areas as well. Venture out to Quidi Vidi Village, Cape Spear, or Signal Hill for a change of scenery and breathtaking views. These areas provide glimpses into the area’s natural beauty and rich history.

4. Engage with the Locals

The people of St. John’s are known for their warm and friendly nature. Strike up a conversation with locals to learn more about the history and culture of the city. They may have insider tips on hidden gems or unique experiences that you won’t find in guidebooks.

5. Attend a Traditional Music Session

St. John’s has a vibrant music scene, and traditional music sessions are a must for music lovers. Check local listings for live performances at pubs and venues throughout the city. This is an excellent opportunity to experience the rich musical heritage of Newfoundland and join in on a lively and entertaining evening.

6. Respect the Environment

St. John’s is blessed with stunning natural beauty, so it’s essential to be respectful of the environment. Follow any posted signs or guidelines when visiting parks and trails. Always pack out what you pack in and be mindful of wildlife habitats.

7. Plan for Changeable Weather

Given the ever-changing weather in St. John’s, it’s a good idea to plan your activities accordingly. Have a mix of indoor and outdoor attractions on your itinerary so that you can adapt to the weather conditions. Museums, art galleries, and historic sites provide excellent options for rainy days.


By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to make the most of your visit to St. John’s and create lasting memories of this remarkable city and its unique charm.



St. John’s, Newfoundland is a city that captures the hearts of all who visit. From its colourful houses that line the streets to its rich history and breathtaking landscapes, St. John’s offers a truly immersive and enchanting experience. Whether you’re exploring the vibrant Jellybean Row, capturing stunning photographs, or indulging in the local cuisine, the city never fails to leave a lasting impression.


The tradition of painting houses in vibrant colours reflects the resilience and spirit of the people of St. John’s. It is a tradition that has evolved from practicality to symbolism and has become an integral part of the city’s identity. Walking through streets like Jellybean Row, with its charming and vivid facades, transports visitors to a whimsical world that sparks joy and wonder.


Beyond the colourful houses, St. John’s offers a rich history that is reflected in its architecture, from traditional Newfoundland vernacular to Gothic Revival. Exploring the city’s streets reveals a tapestry of styles that tells the story of its past and present. The vibrant culture and warm hospitality of the locals add an extra layer of depth to the St. John’s experience.


Whether you’re capturing captivating photos of the scenery, embracing the local cuisine, or immersing yourself in the lively music scene, St. John’s promises to enchant and delight. Take the time to venture beyond downtown, exploring the natural wonders like Signal Hill and Cape Spear, to truly discover the beauty of the area and its stunning coastal landscapes.


As you plan your visit to St. John’s, remember to pack for changing weather and engage with the locals to gain insights into the city’s hidden gems. And always remember to respect the environment and leave it as you found it so that future visitors can continue to enjoy its beauty.


In conclusion, St. John’s, Newfoundland is a destination that captivates with its colourful houses, rich history, and breathtaking landscapes. It is a place where captivating photo opportunities abound, where traditions and culture intertwine, and where lifelong memories are made. So, pack your camera, embrace the vibrant colours, and get ready to fall in love with the enchanting city of St. John’s.