Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Designated as the Island capital in 1765, Charlottetown is both PEI’s oldest and largest urban center. However, since the whole "metropolitan" area only has a population of about 65,000, a pleasing small-town atmosphere remains. The city is a winner appearance-wise as well. Peppered with gingerbread-clad homes, converted warehouses, striking churches, and monumental government buildings, Charlottetown’s core seems relatively unchanged from its 19th-century heyday when it hosted the conference that led to the formation of Canada. The city is understandably proud of its role as the "Birthplace of Confederation" and, in summer, downtown streets are dotted with people dressed as personages from the past who’ll regale you with tales about the Confederation debate.
For complete and current listings of entertainment events check The Buzz; you can pick up a free copy at most hotels, restaurants, and newsstands.
The most interesting shops in Charlottetown are on Peake's Wharf, in Confederation Court Mall (off Queen Street), along Victoria Row (the section of Richmond Street between Queen and Great George streets), and on Water Street. There are also factory outlet stores along the Trans-Canada Highway at North River Causeway near the western entrance to the city, next to Cows Creamery.
Northern Watters Knitwear
This shop carries its own line of chill-chasing knitted sweaters and a wide range of other Island-made products.
Anne of Green Gables Chocolates
This local chocolatier fittingly sells old-fashioned chocolates, peanut brittle, and assorted candy—all made here. (For a double dose of local flavor, try chocolate-coated PEI potato chips.) Sweet treats for those who can't get enough of the Island's sweetest fictional orphan are available at this location year-round. Other outlets in Avonlea Village, Gateway Village and on the Cavendish Boardwalk open seasonally.
Pilar Shephard Art Gallery
This gallery has earned a name for quality Maritime, Canadian, Inuit, and international art. Antiques and Canadian-designed jewelry are also sold on-site.
The section of Richmond Street between Queen and Great George streets is home to a variety of shops (Island crafts, art, hand-knitted sweaters, chocolates, antiques, and glassware are just some of what's inside), together with eateries, cafés, and a dance club. This vibrant, compact stretch of road really comes alive in summer, when traffic is blocked off and you'll frequently see musicians perform at lunchtime or in the evenings. For more shopping, head around the corner to Queen Street or Water Street.
Founders' Hall–Canada's Birthplace Pavilion
The state-of-the-art exhibits and multimedia displays at this 21,000-square-foot interpretive center on the Historic Charlottetown Waterfront merge high tech with history. A case in point: the "Time Travel Tunnel," which transports visitors back to the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, eventually returning them to the present day with a greater understanding of how Canada came together as a country. In addition to its own gift shop, Founders' Hall has a civic visitor information center where you can get maps, brochures, and advice, as well as a kiosk where you can book tours and purchase theater tickets.
Province House National Historic Site
This three-story neoclassical sandstone structure, completed in 1847 to house the colonial government, is a designated National Historic Site and remains the seat of the Provincial Legislature. Period rooms, now restored to their 1860s appearance, include the Confederation Chamber where representatives of the 19th-century British colonies originally gathered. A short film explains the significance of their meeting; and, in summer, there are themed interpretive programs available weekdays from 9 to 5. July through September, starting at 9:30 pm, the PEI Sound and Light Show (which focuses on Confederation and the Island) is projected onto the front of the building as well. Visitors more interested in the "hot potato" topics of today are welcome to watch from a public gallery as local politicos debate during the Spring and Fall legislative sessions.
Beaconsfield Historic House
Designed by W.C. Harris in 1877 for shipbuilder James Peake Jr., this gracious mansion-cum-museum near the entrance to Victoria Park is one of the Island's finest historic homes. The 11 furnished rooms have rich architectural details and accents (imagine ornate plaster moldings and imported chandeliers)—little wonder the once-wealthy Peake went bankrupt soon after his house was completed. Having taken a tour of the first and second floors, pause to enjoy a view of Charlottetown Harbour from the veranda. An on-site bookstore has a variety of Island publications, and special events (such as musical performances and history-themed lectures) are held year-round. A carriage house on the grounds also hosts a children's festival on weekday mornings, mid-July through late-August.
Confederation Centre of the Arts
With a 1,100-seat main stage theater, a 1,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, and several studio stages, this block-long building—opened in 1964 to mark the centennial of the Charlottetown Conference—is the Island's leading cultural venue. Each year, from late-June through September, it hosts the famous Charlottetown Festival which includes Anne of Green Gables—The Musical, plus concerts, comedy acts, and other theatrical productions. Weather permitting, the festival offers free lunchtime performances in the amphitheater and on the plaza every day except Sunday. Off-season, a dynamic mix of touring and local productions, choral concerts, and special events is also scheduled. Visitors planning to take advantage of any of these will find that the Centre's bar and bistro, Mavor's, makes a convenient spot for preshow dining. Also on-site: a provincial art gallery and public library. The former (which has more than 15,000 works in its collection) holds year-round exhibits showcasing Canadian art. The latter, being cool and quiet, offers a welcome break from vacation craziness.
Charlottetown's boardwalk extends from Confederation Landing to Victoria Park, wending its way along the water past historic sites and leafy picnic spots, providing views of sailboats and cruise ships en route. As an added bonus, it's lit at night for romantic strolls.