New Brunswick topography is characterized by northern uplands rising to 820 m and mountainous in appearance. There are gently rolling hills in the central and eastern parts of the province. Sharp hills on the southern coast slope down to tidal marshes and a lowland plain in the southeast.

No part of New Brunswick is more than 180 km from the ocean. The ocean was the principal means of early transportation. An extensive river system brought access well into the interior of the province, permitting early development of the and dictating patterns of settlement. The largest cities are located on the rivers, as are most of the towns and villages. Lakes are common in the south, with the largest, Grand Lake, more than 30 km in length

The two largest cities in New Brunswick are Moncton and Saint John. Moncton has long been a headquarters for transportation and distribution facilities. It is also the traditional headquarters for Acadian media and financial institutions; and, in 1963, became the site of the provincial francophone university, Université de Moncton.

The trend to urbanization changed New Brunswick from more than two-thirds rural before 1941 to predominantly urban by 1971. Then came a reversal as the officially designated urban population dropped from 52 per cent in 1976 to 48 per cent in 1991, owing to a resumption of migration from the region as well as a residential move to the suburbs, which had been made attractive by improved services, cheaper land and lower taxes. In 2016, the population was 747,101, 49 per cent of which was urban.