Tenuously connected to New Brunswick by a slim sliver of land, then tethered by ferries to P.E.I. and Newfoundland, Nova Scotia acts as Atlantic Canada’s anchor. Yet this small but mighty spot—the most populous and prosperous of the four sister provinces—offers travellers within the region far more than a convenient location. Its sensational sights are must-sees in their own right.
A SEA-BOUND COAST
The scenery alone can make you want to linger indefinitely. After all, Nova Scotia is essentially surrounded by water, and every stretch of its 7,600-km (4,722 mi.) coastline promises adventure opportunities as well as oh-so-fresh seafood. Yet each also has its own distinctive character.
The Minas Basin, for one, is a magnet for migrating shorebirds, hundreds of thousands of which descend each summer to dine on its mud flats before flying to South America. Nearby, the constant beating of the Bay of Fundy tides uncovers 300-million-year-old fossils in Joggins’ UNESCO-designated cliffs. The South Shore, conversely, is dotted with centuries-old towns and sheltered coves once frequented by privateers; the Eastern Shore boasts pounding surf; and between them is Halifax, home to one of the world’s largest natural harbours. Northumberland Strait, meanwhile, is notable for warm, sandy strands, whereas much of Cape Breton is marked by loch-like inlets and rocky highlands that drop dramatically to the sea. Inland, the geography is equally varied, which is why A-type vacationers can explore the orderly vineyards of the agricultural heartland and the wondrous wilds of the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve within a single day.
A STORIED PAST
Like its scenery, Nova Scotia’s man-made attractions cover a broad range, from museums to amusement parks, art galleries to golf courses. Historic ones, however, are especially plentiful here because the region once played a crucial role in the imperial plans of both British and French forces.
The star-shaped Halifax Citadel, for example, is a literal highlight of any trip to the capital city, and the meticulously recreated Fortress of Louisbourg lures history lovers north to Cape Breton. The Annapolis Valley, which contains some of the continent’s oldest European settlements, has even more in store. Witness Port-Royal, founded by the French in 1605, three years before they established their base at Québec City (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/portroyal
); Fort Anne, a.k.a. “the most attacked site in Canadian history,” originally erected in 1629 as an Anglo counterbalance (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fortanne
); and gorgeous Grand-Pré, where politically-neutral Acadians were forced into exile for refusing to pledge their allegiance to the British crown in 1755 (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grandpre
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Since Mother Nature and Father Time happily coexist here, there are many places where you can get a fresh perspective on the past while inhaling fresh air. The Fundy Geological Museum, for instance, has a new tour that combines a Zodiac boat trip with an actual dinosaur dig (fundygeological.novascotia.ca
). And perhaps that’s Nova Scotia’s biggest asset: it offers the best of both worlds.
The cool Discovery Centre’s new, larger location offers families an added incentive to visit the Halifax waterfront (www.thediscoverycentre.ca
The high-energy Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo amps things up even more this summer in honour of its 40th
The ribbon has been cut on the Halifax Convention Centre, part of a $500 million downtown development (www.halifaxconventioncentre.com
The award-winning Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards now boasts a scenic 4,645 sq.-m (50,000 sq.-ft.) hospitality centre (www.lightfootandwolfville.com
Sydney’s Hearthstone Inn unveiled five tastefully themed rooms, each celebrating a must-see Cape Breton attraction (www.hearthstonehospitality.ca
The popular White Point Beach Resort is turning 90 and will celebrate with a number of activities including the 90th
Anniversary Wedding Vow Renewal Ceremony in September—with 90 couples (www.whitepoint.com
If you need an urban fix, Halifax—recently ranked as a “Destination on the Rise” by TripAdvisor
—is the place to go. Although this is Atlantic Canada’s largest, most cosmopolitan city, its tourist centre is conveniently compact, and most major attractions—the Halifax Citadel, the Historic Properties, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 among them—are all within blocks of its huge natural harbour. Tempting shopping, dining, and nightlife options are close at hand as well. After strolling around the bustling waterfront boardwalk, you can take a leisurely harbour cruise or follow the locals’ lead and hop a commuter ferry for a quick cross-harbour trip (www.discoverhalifaxns.com
Sydney, technically part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, is Nova Scotia’s only other urban centre. Located on the Island’s east coast, it has its own waterfront boardwalk and a smattering of heritage buildings. Moreover, it makes a handy base for exploring attractions in nearby Glace Bay, including the Marconi National Historic Site which is dedicated to the Italian radio pioneer who established a transatlantic messaging station there in 1902, and the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum where you can don a hard hat and descend into a coal mine. The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site is 45 minutes away by car (www.cbrm.ns.ca
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Nova Scotia has been dubbed “Canada’s Ocean Playground,” and since you’re never more than 67 km (42 mi.) from a coast, enjoying on-the-water activities is easy. Boating is a top draw, which is no surprise considering options include sailing on Bras d’Or Lake, and paddling in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site—retracing routes Native Mi’kmaq used for thousands of years. Scuba diving and deepsea fishing are also popular; ditto for surfing, a fun if somewhat frigid alternative on the Eastern Shore. Looking for something truly unique? Experience the rush of rafting on the Shubenacadie River, where a tidal bore whips up big waves.
Landlubbers, of course, needn’t feel left out. Choices for bikers and hikers abound. The former love to pedal on the 119-km (74-mi.) Rum Runners Trail connecting Halifax and Lunenburg; while Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which alone has 26 trails, is an ideal place for the latter to lace up their boots. If golf is your game, world-class courses span the province. Standouts range from traditional favourites like Highlands Links and Fox Harb’r Golf Resort, to new stars like Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, acclaimed sister courses.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland” and descendants of its Scottish settlers make much of that connection—particularly on Cape Breton Island, where you can take a class or buy a kilt at North America’s only Gaelic college (www.gaeliccollege.edu
), raise a glass at the continent’s first single malt whisky distillery (www.glenoradistillery.com
), tour the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (www.celticmusiccentre.com
), then dance your feet off at one of the summer ceilidhs (traditional Gaelic-inflected parties) held Island-wide. The province, however, isn’t entirely draped in tartan.
After all, events like Festival acadien de Clare (www.festivalacadiendeclare.ca/en
) and the Musique de la Baie concert series (www.yarmouthandacadianshores.com/en/things-to-do/view/musique-de-la-baie
) are tuneful testaments to the strength of francophone culture here. Mi’kmaq communities carry on the legacy of this land’s original residents through powwows and other special programs (www.novascotia.com/explore/culture/mikmaq-culture
), while contributions made by new arrivals are celebrated at the moving Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (www.pier21.ca
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Feast on fresh seafood. Lobster . . . scallops . . . salmon: from waterfront shacks and roadside fast food restaurants to fine dining rooms, you’ll find seafood topping menus everywhere (www.tasteofnovascotia.com
Ogle Lunenburg’s Old Town. Hundreds of heritage buildings have earned this port community’s downtown core recognition from UNESCO (www.explorelunenburg.ca
Explore the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Turn back time to the mid-18th
century at North America’s largest historical reconstruction (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/louisbourg
Snap a picture at Peggy’s Cove. It’s almost obligatory to visit this seaside hamlet where one of the world’s most iconic lighthouses sits atop a slab of wave-blasted rock (www.peggyscoveregion.com
The top-rated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, which occupies an erstwhile immigration shed where around a million newcomers were processed between 1928 and 1971, is known as Canada’s answer to Ellis Island. It morphed into a museum in 1999 and doubled its display space in 2015. Now the reimagined facility uses cutting-edge digital technology, multimedia tools, oral histories and hands-on activities to illustrate 400 years of immigration to Canada, from first contact to present day (www.pier21.ca
Follow the Good Cheer Trail. On the first winery, cidery, craft brewery and distillery trail of its kind in Canada, you can sip beverages from 50-plus local producers (www.novascotiaculinarytrails.com
WWI concluded 100 years ago, and the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site commemorates it through themed exhibits (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/halifaxcitadel
The Cabot Trail delivers one of the most dramatic drives anywhere. The 300-km (186-mi.) road runs straight through Cape Breton Highlands National Park and, in places, rises and falls like a roller coaster as it follows the Atlantic coast.
Hugging the South Shore for 339 km (211 mi.), the Lighthouse Route boasts over 20 postcard-perfect beacons, including those at Peggy’s Cove and Cape Forchu. Charming towns like Mahone Bay and Lunenburg make ideal stopovers.
The 291-km (181-mi.) Evangeline Trail connects Yarmouth and Mount Uniacke. Named for Longfellow’s tragic narrative, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie
, it showcases the scenery that inspired his setting.
Animated by buskers, glass-blowers and tour-boat operators, Halifax’s working waterfront has proven kid appeal. Along it lies the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca
), the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (www.pier21.ca
), plus the new, hands-on Discovery Centre (www.thediscoverycentre.ca
). When hunger hits, refuel at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market (www.halifaxfarmersmarket.com
FUNDY NATIONAL PARK
Picture this: over 100 km (62 mi.) of hiking trails, an historic covered bridge, more than two dozen waterfalls, eight backcountry sites, three campgrounds, 20 km (12.5 mi.) of famous Fundy shoreline and a large chunk of the Acadian Highlands forest region. If you don’t have your own tent, no problem! You can rent accommodations including a yurt, oTENTik, rustic cabin, or the new and funky Goutte d’Ô pod. Part of the park’s charm is also the variety of activities on offer, from paddling the world’s highest tides, to swimming with the salmon for science, or learning about incredible edible plants on a guided nature walk
National Parks and Historic Sites: