There are few places in the world that are more naturally beautiful and charming than Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Wedged between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the 2,185-square-mile island is a popular vacation destination for Canadians, as well as Americans who treat themselves to the gorgeous drive along the coast up through Maine. Visitors congregate in the warmer months to explore the island’s red-sand beaches and lighthouse-dotted coastline, and partake in outdoor activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing on the coast, and hiking in the rugged interior.
All that outdoor activity works up an appetite, which is perhaps one reason PEI has also earned a reputation as “Canada’s Food Island.” Its culinary claim to fame is the mussel; the island produces 80 percent of Canada’s mussels, about 50 million pounds per year, which is why you’ve likely encountered them even if you haven’t visited the area. But the famous bivalves don’t get all the attention. Locally raised beef, an array of summer produce, and a variety of other seafood are all on the menu. The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown attracts talent from all over too, feeding skilled cooks and a spirit of innovation into restaurants across the island. Even so, the wilderness culture imparts a casual vibe on the restaurant scene. It’s not uncommon to see people sit down to a nice dinner in camping gear.
Though many Canadians keep second homes on PEI, the year-round population is small, like a lot of seasonal coastal destinations. As of 2019, there are just over 150,000 permanent residents, who work in a mix of agriculture, fisheries, aerospace, biotech, and renewable energy. Though few in number, the friendly locals often can’t help striking up impromptu conversations with visitors about their beloved home.
Between the picturesque inns serving multicourse feasts, craft beer bars with decks ideal for sunset drinks, and loads of seafood around every turn, it’s hard not to rave.
What are the best things to eat on Prince Edward Island?
Prince Edward Island is synonymous with mussels, and visitors are never far from a fresh bowl. While mussels are native to PEI, farmers ramped up production in the late 1970s. These days, mussels are grown in 19 shallow bays and inlets across the island.
The Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people that has long inhabited the northeastern seaboard, have been eating mussels for thousands of years. The original inhabitants of Prince Edward Island, the nomadic Mi’kmaq took to the coast in summer to fish, harvest shellfish (lobster, snow crabs, oysters, clams), catch eel, and hunt seals; come wintertime, they hunted rabbits and other small game. Seaweed and berries were also abundant in their diets. You can learn more about their history and language at the Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Culture Centre, or get a literal taste for yourself at the Bannock and Clams in the Sand experience (highlighted below).
The culinary resources on the island today mimic this twofold, inland and coastal diet. The fertile soil is prime for growing potatoes, and the mineral-rich land is home to 450 beef farms, most of which are small, family-owned operations. Locals swear the animals benefit from the salt air (don’t we all). In the warmer months salads teem with flavorful local greens, and chefs experiment with vegetable-forward dishes featuring tomatoes, peppers, squash, and berries of all kinds.
At the same time, PEI has almost 1,000 miles of coastline famous for lobster, clams, and oysters. Herring, mackerel, and bluefin tuna are abundant during their respective seasons as well. The island is also well-known for lobster suppers, a tradition started in 1957 as a fundraising effort by the New Glasgow and District Junior Farmers Organization; the organization eventually morphed the tradition into a restaurant, simply known as New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, one of the longest-operating family restaurants in PEI.
What to know before you go
The Culinary Institute of Canada: Prince Edward Island is home to Canada’s premiere culinary school, where many budding chefs get their start, alongside people studying pastry arts and hotel and restaurant operations management.
The Island Walk: Inspired by the Camino de Santiago in Spain, this 700 kilometer (about 435 miles) path circumnavigates the island and is divided into 32 sections in both inland and coastal areas. Along the trail, you’ll traverse red dirt roads, picturesque beaches, and major cities like Charlottetown and Summerside. If you don’t have time to complete the full loop — which takes about 32 days at a pace of 12 to 15 miles per day — it’s easy to choose a small section and reward yourself with a treat along the way. One good option is to walk from Souris to Howe Bay, where you can see blueberry fields and refuel with wine and charcuterie at the Inn at Spry Point. Or you can travel from Wellington to McNeil Mills and stop for lunch at Backwoods Burger or Richmond Dairy Bar for ice cream.
Confederation Trail: This other trail, which runs tip to tip as opposed to around the island, takes hikers and cyclists through wetlands, forests, and charming villages.
Anne of Green Gables: Anne of Green Gables is the best selling Canadian novel of all time, and people come from all over the world to visit Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish. Even if you’ve never read it, it’s worth stopping by to see the beautiful surroundings that inspired the setting of author L.M. Montgomery’s beloved book. There you can explore the original house, 19th-century gardens, and walking trails. Afterwards, stop for lunch or dinner at Blue Mussel Cafe, one of the most popular restaurants in the area.
Coastal drives: Hiking the Island Walk or Confederation Trail is a great way to see PEI, but if you want to cover more ground, the Island’s three coastal drives are a great way to take in all the stunning natural beauty. Colorful signs mark the North Cape Coastal Drive, Central Coastal Drive (which is divided into Green Gables Shore in the north and Red Sands Shore in the south), and Points East Coastal Drive. They also make a handy way to organize eating your way across the area.
Fall Flavors Festival: You can eat well year round on Prince Edward Island, but come September, locals and visitors celebrate the island’s culinary excellence during the Fall Flavours Festival, which also encompasses the PEI International Shellfish Festival. Expect oyster-shucking parties, potato peeling contests, and seafood galore.
The best restaurants around PEI
Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island’s capital city is beautiful and walkable, and it’s home to a number of colleges and universities, which give it a youthful energy. Pull up to the bar at Sea Rocket Oyster House, where you can watch the staff expertly shuck while you sip a martini or house a smashburger. Water Prince Corner Shop is famous for its lobster dishes, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the seafood-focused menu. Second-year students are doing the cooking at the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Dining Room, where you can enjoy dishes like seared sea scallops with miso glaze and celeriac puree while taking in water views. Receiver Coffee has three locations in town and serves breakfast, lunch, baked goods, and coffee cocktails. If you visit from July to September, the Sunday Downtown Farmers’ Market is worth a stop too.
Red Sands Shore: Along Red Sands Shore, the southern half of the Central Coastal Drive, make it a point to stop in charming Victoria-by-the-Sea for lunch or dinner. Make a reservation at the Landmark Oyster House and have a seat at the bar, where you can order a plate of PEI oysters before digging into nachos and a local lobster roll. Lobster is also the main attraction at Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery, but the restaurant serves a large selection of burgers and sandwiches too.
North Cape Coastal Drive: Before hopping in the car and heading for the North Cape — which has the longest natural rock reef in North America — stop for breakfast and coffee at Samuel’s Coffee House in Summerside, PEI’s second-largest city. The Summerside Farmers’ Market is open on Saturdays year-round as well. As you make your way north, stop for a beer flight at Moth Lane Brewing and stay for an excellent lunch; the chalkboard menu changes daily, and most of the fare comes off the smoker out back. If you stop for the night in West Point, Sally’s Galley Pub and Grill is the place to be for dinner, mostly because it’s the only restaurant in town; the fish is fresh, the wine pours are generous, and the laidback staff will make you feel at home.
Green Gables Shore: Green Gables Shore is the northern half of the Central Coast Drive, and you can probably glean from the name that it’s also home to Green Gables Heritage Place. Stop for lunch (reservations recommended) at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico, a lively harbor-front eatery that’s a favorite of both locals and vacationers; try the seafood chowder poutine or the beer and lime mussels, which are steamed in garlic and blueberry ale. Nearby, Glasgow Glen Farm is known for its gouda, but the shop also serves pizza, charcuterie boards, and baked goods. While you’re at it, pick up some quality sweets at Jane & Sue Chocolate, which serves house-made chocolate treats like mango-passionfruit bonbons and single-origin chocolate bars.
Points East Coastal Drive: Some of the most beautiful views on PEI can be had from the oceanfront picnic tables at Point Prim Chowder House & Beach Bar, which serves excellent casual fare like lobster rolls, peel-and-eat shrimp, and several types of seafood chowder. After your meal, walk along the shore to the nearby Point Prim Lighthouse, the first and oldest lighthouse on PEI. Further east, set inside a beautiful house overlooking Colville Bay, 21 Breakwater has a well-curated menu with dishes like citrus butter steamed mussels and fish and chips with hand-cut fries. The restaurant’s Second Side Bar serves apps and drinks if you’re craving something lighter.
The best bars on Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown and Central Coastal Drive: The Dali Café serves solid drinks and hosts live music and events like dueling pianos and drag bingo. Amaro Old Fashioneds, espresso martinis, and Negronis are on the menu at Italian restaurant and bar Abbiocco. Hopyard has one of the biggest craft beer menus on the island and will spin your vinyl of choice from their extensive collection. And at the lively Pony Boat Social Club, you can play bocce, billiards, and arcade games with a drink in hand.
Stop at Deep Roots Distillery just outside of Charlottetown for a tour of the orchard and to sample some spirits, like apple brandy and blueberry liqueur. Catch live music at the Lone Oak Brewing taproom in Borden-Carleton while sipping on a maritime pilsner or oatmeal stout. Located a bit inland from the Green Gables Shore, Island Honey Wine Company is worth a detour to taste some expertly made meads, and farm tours are available when booked in advance.
North Cape Coastal Drive: Evermore Brewing Co. in Summerside serves craft beer (think tangy coconut pineapple sours) with snacks like cod cakes and pizza. Solid cocktails, wine, and beer await at the Sunset Room, where you can catch some of the island’s most beautiful — you guessed it — sunsets from the expansive patio.
Points East Coastal Drive: There’s always something going on at Copper Bottom Brewing in Montague, like comedy shows, musical acts, and trivia nights, to be enjoyed with an American pale ale or blueberry sour. Nearby Bogside Brewing has a nice outdoor patio where you can drink cider in addition to a large selection of beers.
Oyster Shucking, Bread Classes, and More Culinary Experiences
Chef Michael Smith and his wife Chastity have created a truly memorable dining experience at this interactive, farm-to-table meal. Fireworks Feast is held at the couple’s Inn at Bay Fortune, a five-star seaside property set on 75-acres of gardens, forest trails, an apple orchard, and mushroom patch. The evening starts at 4 p.m. with a farm tour to learn about the property’s herb gardens, greenhouses, and vegetable beds, and cocktails from the bar on the front lawn provide fuel to explore the grounds. Then comes oyster hour, when guests can bounce between live-fire cooking stations for roasted oysters and vegetable tacos made from the farm’s own produce. Guests finally file inside for a multicourse meal that includes heritage grain bread, seafood chowder, beautiful salads and vegetables, meat and fish courses, and dessert, complete with s’mores roasted by the fire.
If you’ve ever wanted to tong and shuck your own oysters, check out the Get Shucked experience at Valley Pearl Oysters. You’ll tour the plant, hop in a boat to tong for oysters, learn to shuck them yourself, and enjoy a meal at the company’s oyster bar. The $129 fee includes an oyster knife to take home.
This experience on the Lennox Island Reserve gives guests a taste of Indigenous baking practices. You’ll take to the beach, where you’ll learn to bake bannock, a traditional Indigenous quick bread, over a wood-fueled fire pit in the sand. As the bread bakes, the guides tell stories of life on Lennox Island and offer a few lessons on the Mi’kmaq language.
PEI’s Best Hotels and Inns
Two minutes down the road from the Inn at Bay Fortune, home of the Fireworks Feast, the Inn at Fortune Bridge is a Parisian-inspired boutique inn outfitted with unique French furnishings, chandeliers, and large marble bathrooms with luxurious heated floors. Guests who decide to attend the Fireworks Feast ride there in style in a 1957 Bentley. A gourmet breakfast served at the Inn at Bay Fortune is also included in the rate. Rooms start at $500 per night.
391 Route 310, Fortune, PE C0A 2B0, Canada
Treetop Haven offers forest accommodations with modern amenities like full kitchens and indoor plumbing for anyone who wants to sleep in nature without roughing it in a tent. Cabins are available, but go for one of the five tree pods: geodesic domes that sit on elevated wraparound decks, making guests feel as if they’re living in the trees. Each one features a private hot tub and grill, one or two bedrooms, and a full kitchen. Rooms start at $190 per night.
1210 Mt Tryon Road, Albany, PE C0B 1A0, Canada
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a lighthouse, book a room at the West Point Lighthouse Inn, which offers spectacular views of the Northumberland Strait and the vibrant red sand beach. You can sleep in the lighthouse itself if you reserve the Keeper’s Quarters or Tower Room, but the 11 guest rooms in the adjacent building are also wonderful, with private decks overlooking the water. Guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast and baked goods, as well as 24-hour access to the lighthouse museum, which closes to the public at 8:30 p.m. Rooms start at $184 per night.
364 Cedar Dunes Park Road, O’Leary, PE C0B 1V0, Canada
The Holman Grand Hotel is situated in the heart of downtown Charlottetown, putting guests within walking distance of the city’s bars and restaurants. Some rooms in the historic hotel feature terraces or fireplaces, and treatments at the on-site spa aren’t egregiously expensive. Lobby restaurant Redwater Rustic Grille serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a focus on local ingredients. Rooms start at $149 per night.
123 Grafton Street, Charlottetown, PE C1A 1K9, Canada
Amanda Gabriele is an avid eater, cook, martini lover, and vintage glassware enthusiast. She writes about food, booze, and travel, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @amandameatballs.