When the blue skies coax swaths of bright flowers out of the earth and fresh grass carpets seaside bluffs in green, spring has sprung in the Maritimes. It’s especially beautiful in laidback Prince Edward Island, known for its quiet, sandy beaches, succulent seafood, rolling farmland, and postcard-perfect lighthouses, not to mention friendly folk and seafaring culture. Get out and explore Canada’s smallest province — easy by bike and car, thanks to its modest size — with this handy spring top 10 list.
1. Eat lobster
The two-month spring lobster season kicks off in May each year and sampling the fresh stuff during it is an island must. Family fishers have been pulling these high-quality crustaceans from the Gulf of St. Lawrence for generations and you can meet them in person and buy live lobsters at the wharf for a true PEI experience. Look for the popular smaller variety, which is far more flavorful and delicate.
2. Listen to Celtic music
Islanders adore their music, especially the foot tapping, fiddling kind. A seasonal favorite is the May Ceilidh at the Irish Hall in Charlottetown, PEI’s longest running and a showcase of traditional, song, dance, and music including Irish and Scottish jigs and reels at the Hon. Edward Whelan Irish Cultural Centre. If you miss that one, don’t fret: The lively ceilidhs continue on Friday nights throughout the year.
3. Tour a vintage island lighthouse
PEI is filled with cheery lighthouses, most historic and still operating. But Panmure Island’s is one of the oldest and most quaint. In spring, the island is warm and sunny, but not too crowded, so you can enjoy the scene in relative quiet. Just off PEI’s east coast, today Panmure is accessible by a causeway, but in the past you could only reach the island at low tide. Its wooden lighthouse sits in a provincial park and campground, surrounded by one of the most beautiful beaches on an island known for them. Another popular attraction is the annual First Nations Pow Wow. Rent a cottage and step into Panmure’s life in the slow lane.
4. Stroll the city
Canada’s birthplace, Charlottetown, is charming and filled with history. It also hosts festivals year-round and is surrounded by well-manicured golf courses. Visit the historical landmarks, bike the area, shop and see a musical, then head to the wharf to eat fresh seafood and sample local ice cream.
5. Play at the beach
Basin Head Beach always appears at the top of “best” lists, thanks to its soft sugar-white sand and warm water —the warmest north of Florida, in fact. On PEI’s most eastern tip near Souris, this spot is optimal for swimming and picnicking. The long shore is perfect for beachcombing and quiet strolls and also gets its nickname “Singing Sands” from the fine grains of silica that squeak when you walk on them. After a dip, you can visit the nearby Basin Head Fisheries Museum and cannery, on a bluff looking out over Northumberland Strait, to learn more about the island’s fishery economy, history, and traditions.
6. Go fishing
Angle for the big one with Tuna Charters on a private or group excursion. You might just reel in a giant bluefin, some of which weigh up to 1,000 lbs! And while you've probably already sampled some lobster, try something different and catch it yourself. Longtime seaman Captain Mark of Top Notch Lobster Tours will teach you how to pull in a feisty, live crustacean, carefully take it out of the trap, band a claw, and stash it in the holding tubs. Afterwards, you get to enjoy a traditional lobster boil onboard.
7. Eat oysters — and mussels and clams
PEI is famed for its celebrated Malpeque oysters — big and bold with a clean finish — that are best paired with crispy fries (made from local potatoes) and a cold beer. The North Cape is PEI’s seafood dining zone, dubbed the Canadian Oyster Coast, and you can use this guide to find where to stop. You’ll also want to try clam chowder, seaweed pie, and steamed mussels while you're there. There are tons of places to check out, but the Malpeque Oyster Barn is a locals’ top pick. For dessert, get a cone of local COWS ice cream. It’s luscious, old fashioned, and nearly as popular as the oysters.
8. Celebrate Anne of Green Gables
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard in Anne country, the setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s globally renowned Anne of Green Gables series starring the beloved red-haired heroine Anne. In spring, it’s even more stunning with the green fields dotted with lupins and fragrant lilacs. Take a leisurely road trip stopping at the Birthplace of L.M. Montgomery in New London, the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Kensington, and Cavendish Grove in PEI National Park. End with a sunset swim and picnic at one of the lovely beaches.
9. Meet the farmers and learn to cook
Spring is when asparagus, rhubarb, fiddleheads, nettles, green onions, garlic scapes, peas, and lettuces are at their peak in PEI. Learn how and when to harvest these edibles at their prime, and how to craft them into spectacular dishes with contemporary style and island flair. The Table Culinary Studio introduces you to the island’s leading farmers, fishers, cottage producers, and chefs, plus storytellers, artists, and local characters in an immersive and intimate cooking and culture program. A big part, of course, is sitting down all together at the close of each day for a festive feast in a handsomely restored former church near Cavendish.
10. Cycle and paddle
You’ll love the flat roads and the steady, fresh spring breeze off the ocean as you cycle along the green-carpeted red cliffs of the Argyle Shore, named by Scottish settlers for its resemblance to the drop-dead-gorgeous coast back home. There are plenty of quaint towns along the way where you can park your bike for a fresh seafood lunch, shopping, paddling, and golf. Don’t miss fishing village Victoria-by-the-Sea, a top stop. The best route is along the south coast, including a trek over the Confederation Bridge, one of the world’s longest at eight miles, with side trips to Argyle Shore Provincial Park and Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site, dating back to 1720.
Pack and prep at the Prince Edward Island Tourism website.