Nova Scotia might be Canada’s worst-kept secret. Word is getting out about this simply stunning coastal province surrounded by the Atlantic. Here, where sleepy fishing villages meet modern cities, the history of Canada’s Maritimes abounds. And boy, is there a lot to see and do. Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 26 National Historic Sites and 28 Provincial Museums make this one of the most culturally rich destinations in Canada.
Nova Scotia is a province that welcomes you in and leaves you breathless. Cycling, hiking, whale watching, kayaking… they’re all on offer in this magic corner of Atlantic Canada. Here, cinematic landscapes and dramatic coastlines are the order of the day, while deliciously fresh seafood and friendly locals provide the warming flavours.
Have we whet your appetite? Then read on for our guide to Nova Scotia’s colourful regions and our favourite things to do in each one.
Nova Scotia’s regions
Nova Scotia can be divided into seven distinct regions which each promise their own rich culture and sublime coastal vistas. From palm-sized scallops to Gaelic heritage, each one has a host of unique adventures waiting.
Cape Breton Island
Travel + Leisure magazine’s No.1 ranked island in North America. This island is characterised by its hilly highland scenery which creates world-famous driving routes with unbeatable views.
Cape Breton Island sits atop the northern end of the province. It’s around a 3 ½ hour drive from Halifax Airport to Cape Breton Island, which is linked by a bridge to the mainland.
The Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is easily Cape Breton Island’s most famous attraction. This 185-mile road completes a loop of the northern tip of the island and is famous worldwide for its beauty, making it one of the most lusted-after driving routes on the planet. The road links seaside communities together and provides stunning coastal views around every corner. It’s a great way to sample the fresh seafood on offer in each town you stop at. To really do it justice, we recommend spending a few days driving the Trail.
Bras d’Or Lake
Bras d’Or Lake is Cape Breton Island’s magical inland sea, which can contains islands within a sea within an island in the sea! The lake is lush with forested islands and surrounded by woody hills. A brilliant way to see the gorgeous scenery is by boat. Companies like the Cape Breton Sailing Charters take you out on the lake in a yacht for a peaceful day’s sailing. Discover the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site on the way and learn about the lock’s 10,000 year history.
Hiking in the Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands National Park has 26 hiking trails for you to explore, covering everything from gentle strolls to strenuous climbs. The area isn’t a National Park for nothing – it’s blessed with views of canyons and coastlines. One of the best-loved hikes is the Skyline Sunset Hike which takes you out to a headland overlooking the Cabot Trail. The sunset views from the top are out of this world.
Don’t forget to visit the Fortress of Louisbourg and Louisburg Harbour for a fab day out.
Bay of Fundy & Annapolis Valley
This is the region where whales come out to play. 300ft cliffs characterise this rugged coastline where humpbacks, fin and 13 other species of whale hang out. It’s also home to succulent scallops the size of your palm.
This region stretches across the northwest coast of the province. Digby, in the furthest corner of the region, is around 2 ½ hours’ drive from Halifax Airport.
Whale watching from Digby
Digby is the hub from which the best whale watching tours depart. The Digby Neck Islands are one of the best places in North America for spotting whales and you’ve got an excellent chance of seeing humpbacks here from June to the end of summer. Keep an eye out for the endangered North Atlantic right whale as well as pilot, sperm and blue whales. Join our Brier Island Whale & Seabird Cruise excursion for a thrilling adventure to get close to many species of whales as well as dolphins, porpoises and seabirds.
Nestled in the hollow between twin mountains, the Annapolis Valley is a fertile wine-growing region. The valley supports more than 20 varieties of grape and the wine industry is blossoming here. The best way to sample the local vintages is on a winery tour. We recommend the Annapolis Highland Vineyards for their award-winning Pinot Grigio and Riesling, and the Avondale Sky Winery for its spectacular setting in a former church.
Bay of Fundy Tides
This experience is perhaps one of the most iconic in the whole of Atlantic Canada. The Bay of Fundy is famous for having the highest tides in the world. At their highest, the tides in the Minas Basin region of the Bay can reach an incredible 16 metres in height! That’s as tall as a building! You can experience the tides by simply finding a good spot to watch them, or by joining in more exhilarating activities like tidal bore rafting.
Visit the Joggins Fossil Cliffs UNESCO World Heritage Site to view the world’s most complete “Coal Age” fossil record.
This is Atlantic Canada’s beach bum paradise, with more warm-water ocean beaches than anywhere else in the region. Here, surf’s up, culture is laid back and the golden sands are out of this world.
This is Nova Scotia’s northern coastline. Antigonish, in the furthest corner, is around a 2-hour drive from Halifax Airport.
The Birthplace of New Scotland
The quaint town of Pictou is renowned as the “Birthplace of New Scotland” – it was here that Scottish immigrants first landed in 1773. It’s a wonderful place to stroll streets rich with period homes and old-world charm. Hector Heritage Quay is a top attraction, home to a full-scale replica of the impressive ship which brought the Scots safely into harbour over 240 years ago.
Northumberland Shore is a wonderful place to tuck into delicious local seafood. From learning about the local fishing industry to shucking your own oysters, there is plenty for foodies to tuck into! There’s a great selection of restaurants in this region which focus on using fresh, local ingredients. Try the Hillcrest View Inn in Pugwash for a famous lobster roll, or the Pictou Lodge Resort for award-winning seafood chowder.
Rockhounding at Arisaig
The 400-million-year-old rockface at Arisaig Provincial Park is continuously eroding, exposing new layers of rock – and new possibilities for fossil hunting. A mile-long loop track helps you see the most interesting features of the shore, winding through a trail of white spruce. There are lookout spots and several access points to the beach where you can hunt for ancient rocks. But remember, take photos, not fossils.
Another surfer’s paradise with miles of surf, sand dunes and beaches. This is one for the beachcombers, the hikers and the cyclists.
The Eastern Shore starts just east of the Halifax Metro area. You can get to Clam Harbour in an hour, while Little Dover at the other end of the region is around a 3 ½ hour drive away from Halifax.
100 Wild Islands
Dotted all along the Eastern Shore are 100 islands which are undisturbed by man. These pristine environments offer white sand beaches, boreal forests and bogs. Plus, more songbirds, seabirds and shorebirds than you can shake binoculars at. A guided sea kayaking tour is the best way to visit some of these gorgeous little islands, recognised as ecologically significant coastal wilderness.
A trip back in time
Sherbrooke Village is Nova Scotia’s largest museum and offers an immersive trip into 1800s coastal life. The living museum features costumed guides assuming roles from all of life’s rich tapestry, from potters and weavers to quilters and printers. Learn about the timber and gold trade which turned this sleepy fishing village into a boom town with shows, concerts and animations.
The longest beach
Martinique Beach Provincial Park is well-worth a visit as the home of Nova Scotia’s longest sandy beach. The crescent beach stretches 3.7km along a pristine shore. There are plenty of picnic areas in both sunny open spots and in the shady woodland. The area has plenty of boardwalks to explore and beachcombing is a favourite activity among locals and visitors alike.
Head to AquaPrime Mussel Ranch for a hands-on culinary adventure to learn how mussels are grown and harvested. You can even take some mussels or local Sober Island Oysters home for dinner!
South Shore is a region bursting with historic sites, and some of Nova Scotia’s most famous attractions are found here. This region is perfect for exploring small towns and island hopping.
The South Shore is just south of the Halifax Metro area. Lunenburg Harbour is just over an hour away, while Peggy’s Cove is an hour on the button from Halifax Airport.
Peggy’s Cove has been an artist and explorer’s paradise for well over 150 years. This picture-postcard village is famous for its lighthouse, which has to be the most photographed in Canada. We offer a fantastic tour to the area where you can enjoy some free time to exploring the rocks, the trails, the village and the gift shops.
Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservedly so. The Old Town is instantly recognisable with its iconic timber architecture and narrow streets. Stroll through the bright pink and salmon-coloured buildings along the waterfront and visit the Bluenose II replica of the famous racing schooner. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hear salty tales about the harbour’s pirate and rum-running history.
This little community packs in a lot of flavour. Its harbourfront is filled with colourful Victorian buildings and bobbing boats. And, it’s fresh seafood is second to none. You can cook your own lobster here or sample some local blueberry pie. But the real stars of the dinner table are the plump mussels gathered from the pristine waters of Mahone Bay.
Yarmouth & Acadian Shores
Yarmouth and Acadian Shores is the place to head if you’re a culture vulture. Here, two distinct cultures – one French, one English – meet in the middle, and the resulting match is made in heaven.
This is the little southwestern corner of the province. Belliveau Cove is around 2 hours 40 minutes from Halifax Airport while Cape Forchu is a 3 ½ hour drive.
Yarmouth is home to the largest fishing fleet in Atlantic Canada. It’s also a town where history and modernity collide. History comes in the form of architecturally resplendent sea captain’s homes, some more than 150 years old. Modernity can be found when you fire up your mobile for an audio tour of the town. It’s a warm, welcoming and laidback place to stroll historic streets, browse galleries and exhibitions and learn about seafaring culture.
The 174-year-old beacon at Cape Forchu has been named ‘Canada’s Greatest Public Space’ in the past. The attraction is just 7-miles from Yarmouth and offers entry to the Lightkeeper’s House Heritage Property. Here, an interpretive centre sheds light on everything from the history of the lighthouse to the fog alarm building to the townsfolk of Forchu. The Keeper’s Kitchen offers traditional refreshments for afterwards.
Le Village Historique
Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse, to give it its full name, is a gorgeous seaside village. Overlooking Pubnico Harbour, it’s the perfect place to dive into the French Acadian culture which is so unique to this region. Traditional farming cultures and wooden buildings mix with the Canadian landscape to produce a truly distinctive flavour – and some delicious cooking.
Belliveau Cove’s wharf is alive with seafood stalls where you can enjoy fresh lobster, steamed clams and snow crab with the locals. You can even dig for clams yourself in the sandy cove.
This is the capital city of Nova Scotia. It’s a vibrant metropolis blooming with pubs, clubs and restaurants. Nova Scotia might be famous for its laidback pace of life, but it’s all go in the city.
Halifax sits between Nova Scotia’s Eastern and South Shores, roughly in the middle of the province on the coast. The city’s downtown is just a half hour drive from the airport.
On a hill watching over the harbour and downtown core of Halifax, an impressive star-shaped fort has stood resplendent since 1749. This mixture of history nestling cheek-to-jowl with modernity is what makes Halifax so fascinating. The Citadel is officially named Fort George and is a must-visit in the city. You can walk its wall – inside and out – and learn about Canada’s military past.
Pier 21 is the location of Canada’s newest National Museum. The museum records a fascinating and poignant time in Canada’s history when, between 1928 and 1971, almost 1 million immigrants landed in Canada. The museum offers an insight into the lives and journeys of these immigrants, and uncovers how their long voyage changed the DNA of Canada.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic contains drama, intrigue and tragedy by the barrel-load. Learn about the Wreck of HMS Tribune and the Legend of Joe Cracker through the immersive exhibits. The museum also pays tribute to the most famous maritime disaster of all time – the sinking of the Titanic. Find out the heroic and tragic part Halifax played in recovering those lost at sea.
The Halifax Waterfront is one of the most vibrant walks in Canada. With museums, galleries, restaurants and the best sea views along every stretch, it’s well worth a stroll.