Nova Scotia may be one of Canada’s smaller provinces, but it still packs a punch when it comes to keeping visitors entertained. Part of the Maritimes, it is located to the far south-east of the country on the rugged Atlantic Coast. The Maritime Provinces are made up of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, which along with Newfoundland and Labrador create a region known as Atlantic Canada. As Nova Scotia has an Atlantic coastline, it boasts thousands of coastal islands and nowhere in the province is more than 42 miles from the ocean.
A paradise for outdoor adventurers and history buffs alike, the province has experienced a turbulent history. Make sure you are able to see everything this jam-packed province has to offer by booking a fly drive holiday to Canada and seeing Nova Scotia at your own pace.
Nova Scotia was initially part of a French colony and the land ownership caused some formidable battles. It has a rich history of immigration, with Scottish, Irish and British settlers bringing their own traditions into the mix. There is a strong Acadian influence in the area. These intrepid French settlers arrived in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s and brought with them their spirit of l‘Acadie. They are different from the French Quebecois descendants found elsewhere which means Nova Scotia has a distinct culture. The Acadians are known for their vibrancy, jaunty rhythms and romantic language.
Halifax is the capital of the province of Nova Scotia and is a great place to start any journey into exploring this corner of Canada. The city is dominated by Citadel Hill which is the site of fortifications that were first established in 1749.
In an effort to see off the French in their British stronghold, the first fortifications were pivotal in defending its citizens from a number of enemies (the French, Acadians and Mi’kmaq). The first major and permanent fortification was built in 1776 in the midst of the American Revolution and Halifax became nicknamed ‘Warden of the North’.
With each new threat, the Citadel was expanded and improved, and thus the revolutionary wars saw the third citadel. Today the Citadel is a National Historic Site that revels in its military history. You can get a real sense of not only the strength of the fort but the importance it had to the town. Even in modern day Halifax, the citadel watches over the city and the harbour.
If you visit today, you can witness sentry changes, explore the Citadel Army Museum and even spook yourself on a ghost tour.
Fortress of Louisbourg
To experience life from the French encampment, head to the Fortress of Louisbourg. Though a reconstruction, it gives an accurate depiction of life in 1744. The fortress offers a truly multi-sensory opportunity to step back in time and relive the trials and tribulations the soldiers would have faced. Enjoy a mouthful of the past from the king’s bakery or eat at one of the authentic 18th-century restaurants. Though this fortress eventually fell, it is a key part of Nova Scotia’s history.
Summer Outdoor Activities
With such an incredible coastline, it is no surprise that Nova Scotia is full to the brim of brilliant summer activities. You can enjoy the rugged terrain from any angle and thoroughly enjoy the brilliant hospitality that Canadians are famed for.
Head to Cape Breton Island on the Northern tip of Nova Scotia and stretch your legs on the Skyline trail for breath-taking vistas and a chance to see some of Canada’s famed wildlife. Though the trail can be popular during peak times, it is long enough for crowds to not be a problem. Tara from the Backroad Ramblers explains the best way to approach the hike up to the clifftop viewpoint:
“The trail is fairly flat, gaining 377 feet in elevation as you head toward the coast. The loop is best hiked counter-clockwise, so when the trail forks about a half mile in, stay to the right. As you begin, you will pass through a thick, boreal spruce forest. After the junction, the trail becomes a bit more difficult. You will find yourself picking your way among rocks in the path. It still remains level, taking you through lush meadows, ripe with wildflowers and intermittent spruce forests. If you hike early in the morning or late in the evening, you have a very good chance of spotting wildlife, including coyotes, bears, eagles, and moose.”
At the end of your hike, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views into the Gulf of St. Lawrence (keep your eyes peeled for whales!) as well as an eagle’s vantage point of the famous Cabot Trail driving route.
For people who want to see Nova Scotia from a different angle, take to the skies with an adrenalin filled zip line adventure. Mountain Pine Adventures offers a powerful and personal experience with platforms at 15 and 50-foot elevations. Thanks to their enviable location on Cape Breton, the heights allow you to see Cape Breton Island and the famous Cabot Trail from a completely new perspective. You can be as bold as you dare and take in the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains.
Between July and mid-October is the best time of year to go whale watching in Nova Scotia and with such rich oceans surrounding this province, you will not be disappointed! The Bay of Fundy and Northern Cape Breton are great spots to see the giants of the sea and you can see lots of different species including fin, humpback, minke and the Northern right whale.
Although you can often see them from the shore, the best way for guaranteed whale sightings up close is to join one of the many guided boat tours. It is not just whales visible on this type of tour as you can see lots of Canada’s famed wildlife. For budding ornithologists, there will be seabirds a plenty while dolphins and porpoises are often spotted amongst the whales.
Winter Outdoor Activities
Though Nova Scotia may not have the Rockies to ski in, there is still a lot to do in the area throughout the winter months. From UNESCO heritage towns to truly Canadian experiences, make sure you don’t miss this province when it is most picturesque- under a blanket of snow.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers everything one could hope for from a quaint Canadian village. Its colourful houses and narrow streets sit on the waterfront and the village’s lifeblood, the sea. Though from the waterfront all may seem quiet, the town has an important history of shipbuilding with local mills supplying the wood needed to build some of Canada’s most impressive sailing ships. The famous Bluenose, a schooner built in 1921, is from the area. The original ship lives on the Canadian Dime, while a replica, Bluenose II, can often be found in Lunenburg’s harbour.
Snowshoeing – Sugar Moon Farm
For the most Canadian winter experience possible, head up to Sugar Moon Farm in Earl Town in the Northumberland Shore Region and rent some snowshoes. Sugar Moon Farm is ideally located near 30km of outdoor trails that are perfect for any snow sports enthusiast to go out and explore. Once you have exhausted yourself with all that hard work, retire to the farm for some of the tastiest treats Canada has to offer. The restaurant has a no-nonsense approach to food, but serves hearty Canadian favourites that will set you up after a day in the snow.
High tides at the Bay of Fundy
To see an incredible phenomenon in Nova Scotia, head to the Bay of Fundy where you can see some of the highest tides in the world! The tides in this area reach a peak at around 16m which is a similar height to a five-storey building. See the exposed flower pot rocks that have been carved by these ferocious waters and are some of the most distinctive geographies in the area.
Attractions for Foodies
Unsurprisingly the best food in Nova Scotia comes from the sea, so when you are in the region make sure you try some of the freshly caught and sustainably fished seafood. Though great seafood is available all over the province, we have picked some fail-safe spots where you absolutely cannot go wrong.
Halls Harbour Lobster Pound & Restaurant
Though the name is unusual, Halls Harbour Lobster Pound & Restaurant delivers just what it promises – lobsters! Located in Halls Harbour, an authentic fishing village in the Bay of Fundy, the buildings The Lobster Pound inhabits date back to the 1820s. The Lobster Pound is one of the largest lobster holding facilities in Canada but it is great to eat in and experience lobster’s as fresh as possible.
Sharla from Halls Harbour Lobster Pound & Restaurant told us about the restaurant’s appeal:
“Our restaurant is popular because you can pick whatever size lobster you would like up to 12 pounds+, then carry it over to the cookhouse to be boiled in Bay of Fundy seawater. It is a very interactive experience and you can watch the fishermen come and go and the tides rise or fall as you sit in the dining room. We have incorporated lobster into many of our dishes such as lobster poutine, lobster mac and cheese and our lobster roll is very popular.”
Digby Scallop Festival
If you are lucky enough to visit Nova Scotia in early August, head to the fishing town of Digby in southwestern Nova Scotia. Here you’ll find yourself amidst a celebration of one of the tastiest seafood the ocean has to offer – the scallop. The three-day Digby Scallop Festival sees scallop shucking competitions, a grand parade and other entertainments. Most importantly, it is all about eating scallops freshly caught and perfectly prepared. Delicious!
Martin St Amant (Wikimedia Commons)