9 of the Best Nova Scotia Experiences
Wednesday, 16th March 2022
One of Eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia is almost completely surrounded by sea. With over 13,000km of coastline, it has more than its share of beautiful beaches and candy-striped lighthouses. Fresh seafood – particularly lobster, scallops and mussels – are another highlight, and you could spend days sampling its artisan craft studios, music festivals and wineries. Don’t forget to leave room in your itinerary, though, for these nine unmissable Nova Scotia experiences… from touring the Cabot Trail to whale watching.
1. Drive the Cabot Trail
Right up there with some of the world’s greatest coastal drives, this 298km route hugs a wild peninsula on Cape Breton Island in the far northeast of Nova Scotia. As well as breathtaking viewpoints overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Cabot Trail is full of hiking potential. Don’t miss the Skyline Trail – a prime spot to witness the sunset – or any of the other numerous walking trails of Cape Breton Highlands National Park (see below). You can also go kayaking or whale watching, but the Cabot Trail has plenty of cultural diversions too.
Baddeck was once the home of Alexander Graham Bell, while Glenora has a famous distillery where you can sample North America’s first single malt whisky. The trail links numerous fishing villages, their harbours crammed with colourful boats. Seafood restaurants and artists’ studios reflect the region’s vibrant maritime traditions, while the Celtic Music Interpretive Center and Les Trois Pignons Acadian Cultural Centre & Museum provide fascinating insights into Nova Scotia’s heritage.
2. Discover the history of Halifax
Museums, boutique shops and restaurants line a boardwalk that stretches nearly 4km along the Halifax Waterfront. It’s a great spot from which to watch boats come and go, and soak up the atmosphere of Nova Scotia’s capital. Commanding a hilltop in the heart of the city, the star-shaped Citadel was completed in 1856 – although its origins date back to 1749 when the British military established a guardhouse to defend the harbour. Guided tours bring the history of the fort to life. A cannon is fired daily at noon by the 3rd Brigade Royal Artillery, while the sentry guard of the 78th Highlanders is changed at the front gate every hour.
3. Explore Old Town Lunenburg
It’s not surprising that this historic port, located about 100km southwest of Halifax, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – most of the colourful wooden buildings along its waterfront date from the settler years of the 1800s. The Knaut-Rhuland House museum shines a light on their lives, while the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic delves into Lunenburg’s maritime past.
Built in 1921 and immortalised on the Canadian dime, the Bluenose was once the world’s fastest racing schooner – you can now take a trip on the replica Bluenose II, the most iconic of the vessels moored in Lunenburg. The town also boasts a wealth of restaurants, craft shops and galleries. Pop in to the Ironworks Distillery to pick up a bottle of local rum.
4. Hike the Cape Breton Highlands
Around 950 square kilometres in size, this rugged national park of sea cliffs, beaches, river canyons and forested valleys is riddled with no fewer than 26 trails, many of them easy hikes. One moment you could be walking through Acadian or boreal forest (home to black bear, moose and lynx); the next you could be striding across a dramatic headland, catching glimpses of pilot whales in the sea below. As well as the 8km Skyline Trail (see no.1 above), popular hikes include the 7km Franey Trail near Ingonish Beach, the 4.5km Middle Head Trail (which straddles a narrow peninsula) and the 9.5km Acadian Trail, a forest hike accessed from the western side of the Cabot Trail.
5. Witness the world’s highest tides
Bordered by Nova Scotia to the south and New Brunswick to the north, the Bay of Fundy has many claims to fame – including superb whale watching (see no.6 below). Twice a day, the 280km long inlet empties and fills a billion tonnes of water during each tidal cycle, creating the world’s highest tides of up to 16m. The most extreme tidal ranges occur at the head of the bay. Joggins is a good spot – not only can you walk on the ocean floor at low tide, but the cliffs here are a world heritage site for fossils.
6. Spot humpbacks and other whales
Up to 12 species of cetacean can be found in the Bay of Fundy during summer – the powerful tides stir things up, creating nutrient-rich waters full of krill, squid and herring. Humpback whales and white-sided dolphins arrive in June, but from mid-July to October you also stand a good chance of seeing minke and fin whales. Keep your eyes peeled for endangered North Atlantic right whales, as well as sei and pilot whales. If you’re lucky, you might also spot blue and sperm whales, orca and beluga.
7. Visit the iconic lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove
Perched on wave-scoured rocks near the picturesque lobster-fishing village of Peggy’s Cove, the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse is one of the most photographed spots in Nova Scotia. Built in 1915, the lighthouse is 15m tall and octagonal in shape. If you visit just one of Nova Scotia’s 160 lighthouses, make sure it’s this one.
8. Experience the wilderness of Kejimkujik
West of Halifax, the Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is a mosaic of lush forests, meandering rivers and island-speckled lakes. The Mi’kmaq – the First Nations people indigenous to Canada’s Atlantic Provinces – canoed the waterways of Kejimkujik for thousands of years. You can follow in their wake, discovering intriguing stone carvings, or petroglyphs, along the shore. Hiking and biking trails also probe this watery wilderness.
9. Time travel at the Fortress of Louisbourg
Presiding over the westernmost reaches of Nova Scotia, the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site offers a window into French colonial settler life in the mid-1700s. A ‘living museum’ with cannons firing and French soldiers marching down the streets, you’ll enter a surreal time warp where you can meet local residents dressed in traditional garb as they bake bread, fire muskets, sip rum and sew lace.
Our week-long Cape Breton Explorer self drive holiday takes in the highlights of Nova Scotia, from Halifax to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, while our two-week Maritimes Explorer combines Nova Scotia with New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
If you have any questions about any of our Canada holidays or want to start planning your own trip, send an enquiry or call our travel specialists on 01737 214 250 to start discussing your options.