I don't know if any literary character is as synonymous with their setting as Anne of Green Gables. You mention Prince Edward Island to anyone around the world and chances are, if they know of it, it's because of Anne.
As a redhead, Anne has been close to my heart ever since reading her story as a child. While I lacked Anne's impulsive nature and was rarely teased about my hair color, Anne had a way of putting delightful and nebulous truths into words that enchanted me. By the time we watched the movie in fifth grade, Anne of the books was already a fast friend to me. Megan Fellows' version was very nice, but she was just an actress, not really Anne.
Naturally, when my parents starting looking to buy land in PEI, I was thrilled. My first trip up to the tiny maritime province was during a college spring break. While other students were headed for the beach, I was headed toward an island covered in several feet of snow. Even with the less-than-ideal weather, visiting Green Gables was as magical as I could have hoped, right down to the Christmas dress with puffed sleeves hanging in Anne's room and Marilla's brooch on the spare room dresser.
Each time I go back to PEI, I try to visit a new Anne site. As an adult, I've also gained an appreciation for the author of the series, L.M. Montgomery. "Maud", as she was known to friends and family, was an incredibly prolific author who, despite bringing joy to millions of people, lived a rather unhappy life. Her mother died when she was a toddler and her grief-stricken father gave her to her maternal grandparents to raise.
Maud's birthplace is a tiny little white-washed house. Frankly, the way it's decorated feels more like a Victorian doll museum than an actual historical site, but the house does hold a replica of Maud's wedding dress, which is nice. Those with some imagination will be able to see how the place must have inspired Anne's visit to her own similar birthplace in 'Anne of the Island'.
L. M. Montgomery Birthplace
Maud's grandparents, the Macneills, were old-fashioned and strict, but also fostered Maud's love of story telling and literature. Maud also enjoyed her visits to various relations, including her paternal grandparents and cousins on both sides of the family. The nearby homestead of her McNeil cousins, in particular, would become immortal through her works.
When L.M. Montgomery chose to write about the sleepy village where she grew up, she decided to rename it. Cavendish became Avonlea. Maud's grandparents' house, where she grew up, no longer exists. The grounds, however, are maintained by the family. It's one of the sites I still need to visit!
Braving the Haunted Woods
A short way down the road is the far more famous Green Gables. It's been preserved as a national historic site, and is probably the most visited place on the island. The rooms have been furnished as they are described in the book. You can see Anne's room, take a walk through the Haunted Woods, and learn a bit about how a farm worked in those days out in the barn.
The Anne Museum at Park Corner
NEAR NEW LONDON
While Green Gables is the site most associated with the books, Maud's Montgomery cousins' house near New London is just as fulfilling to the true fan. It's now referred to as the Anne Museum at Park Corner, but readers may also know it as 'Silverbush', the setting of another set of novels by L.M. Montgomery. Driving up to the museum, I suddenly felt like Green Gables made sense to me - while the Cavendish farm clearly inspired Green Gables, things from the books, such as the Lake of Shining Waters, are missing. That's because it's located here, near New London.
The Lake of Shining Waters
Maud's Montgomery grandparents lived catty-corner to the Park Corner farm. Maybe Maud and her cousins signaled one another with candles when she stayed there, just as Anne and Diana did. Today, Magog the china dog lives here (Gog was broken long ago, sadly). As of two years ago, the house was open and operated by descendents. The owner, Mr. Robert Montgomery, is a character, knows his family history, and really made the place worth visiting. If you're in Park Corner anyway, I'd definitely inquire whether or not it's still open.
Montgomery Grandparents' Homestead
Maud, much like her character, went to college and earned her teaching certificate. Unlike Anne, she never really enjoyed the job. She did, however, take advantage of this time to write. Maud was first published when she was still in school, and now as a teacher, she would wake up at ungodly hours to work on her stories. Her first post was in Bideford, where she lived with a local parson and his family. Her room was quite large for the time, which she hated - it was impossible to heat in the winter! Maud's stay here also inspired Anne's liniment cake, as a similar mistake was made in the parsonage pantry.
The Lower Bedeque School House is one of the few sites I have left to visit. While I do want to go, I doubt the small museum can convey the drama of Maud's life at this time. Through the early 1890s, she had a number of suitors. Most were more infatuated with her than she was with them. She eventually agreed to marry one young man, but fell for another while teaching here. The match was unsuitable, and Maud ended up writing off romance for a good eight years.
She returned to Cavendish to care for her ailing grandmother. It was during this time that the first two Anne books were written and published. After her grandmother's death in 1911, Maud married a minister to whom she'd been secretly engaged for five years. The couple moved away from the island. Maud rarely returned to her beloved PEI, but she continued to write stories about it for the rest of her life. She is buried a short walk from the Green Gables house.
Dalvay-by-the-Sea stood in for the White Sands Hotel in the movies, but I figured I'd include it anyway, as you can imagine Anne and her friends arriving for a recital on a cold winter's night. It's also right by Prince Edward Island National Park, one of the more scenic island drives.
As with any tourist destination, you'll find kitschier Anne attractions on PEI as well, from chocolate shops to recreated villages to musicals. (My mom assures me the musical is great - I don't have the fortitude to find out for myself.) But I hope that this serves as a primer to the historic sites!