Seven ways to experience Nova Scotia, Canada's rugged eastern province

From driving along one of world’s most scenic highways to whale-watching, hiking between hemlocks or discovering quaint fishing villages, here’s what to do in this thrilling maritime province.

By Tourism Nova Scotia
Published 12 Mar 2021, 15:00 GMT
The Bay of Fundy, between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, attracts different species ...

The Bay of Fundy, between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, attracts different species of migratory whale.

Photograph by Tourism Nova Scotia, SOAR

With around 8,300 miles of coastline setting the stage for a wealth of outdoor activities, a burgeoning artisanal food and drink scene and cultural discoveries, there are numerous options for experiencing the best Nova Scotia has to offer. Whether you’re yearning for wide open spaces or the sweet reveries of small-town comforts, read about this province to start finding inspiration for your next travel adventure — and visit it to reawaken your adventurous spirit when the time is right.

1. Whale-watch in the Bay of Fundy

Summer and autumn are often considered to be the best times to visit Nova Scotia, and it would seem that one of the region’s most esteemed regular guests agrees. The Bay of Fundy — aside from being the site of the highest tides on Earth — is a seasonal drawcard for migratory whales, including endangered North Atlantic right whales, fin whales, humpback whales and minke whales. The numerous whale-watching companies offering guided tours are governed by a strict code of ethics to ensure close encounters that are also safe and non-invasive for the animals taking centre stage.

2. Tap into the Good Cheer Trail

Both peppy-sounding appellation and happy prediction, Nova Scotia’s Good Cheer Trail is Canada’s only winery, brewery, cidery, distillery and meadery trail. The province’s tradition of winemaking is well established, thanks to its unique terroir, making it an oasis for uncommon grape varietals. With more than 80 stops stretching the length of the province, from Yarmouth to Sydney, getting a taste of the region may involve anything from sipping on the latest vintage and visiting one of a host of newer craft beer breweries to sampling North America’s first single malt whisky straight from the barrel.

Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is Nova Scotia’s only Dark-Sky Preserve.

Photograph by Tourism Nova Scotia

3. Hike the Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site

Spread across 156sq miles, this area is Canada’s only national park that’s also a National Historic Site, thanks to a landscape attesting to 4,000 years of Mi'kmaq (a First Nations people) occupancy, including petroglyphs, burial and fishing sites, hunting territories and travel routes. Part of the Southwest Nova UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it offers 15 scenic day-hiking trails, catering to both leisurely strolls as well as more challenging treks that weave between 300-year-old hemlocks and vivid bursts of red maple, along winding riverbanks and to still pools and deserted beaches. For the wilderness hiker, there’s a rare opportunity for true solitude, with numerous backcountry trails that pass through 21 different types of forest. The park was named a Dark Sky Preserve by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and is located within the Acadian Skies & Mi’kmaq Lands, the first destination in North America to receive Starlight certification by the UNESCO-backed Starlight Foundation. After a day of hiking, retire to one of the numerous camping and accommodation options and train your eyes towards the skies to watch heaven’s panorama unfold overhead.

4. Encounter history in Lunenburg

Old Town Lunenburg is one of only two urban communities in North America recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, is considered the best example of planned British colonial settlement in North America and retains much of its original 1800s appearance, making it a living relic of the region’s history. Visitors can immerse themselves deeper into yesteryear with walking tours that traverse the colourful streets. The town’s salty seafaring tales come alive with sailing tours aboard historical replica schooner Bluenose II and sojourns to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and 18th-century house-cum-museum Knaut-Rhuland House.

The Cabot Trail highway runs through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Photograph by Destination Cape Breton Association

5. Drive the Cabot Trail

As it twists and turns in a loop of over 185 miles through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, driving the picturesque Cabot Trail highway is truly an experience where the journey is the destination. Regarded as one of the world’s best road trips, the route meanders through valleys thick with old-growth forests, skirts the island’s majestic coastline and ocean vistas and is home to a treasure trove of artisanal shops, regional cuisine and Scottish heritage. Stop for a photo op at the bubbling MacIntosh Brook; pack a picnic to enjoy at the summit of the soaring Skyline Trail hike; or enjoy oceanside seafood at L’abri Cafe in the fishing village of Chéticamp.

6. Discover the hub of Halifax

For all its bucolic appeal and natural splendour, Nova Scotia also has a bustling, modern side, no more evident than in the lively provincial capital of Halifax. The city’s undisputed hotspot is the Halifax Waterfront, with its nearly 2.5-mile boardwalk dotted with trendy eateries, boutique stores and other points of interest such as the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Metropolitan though it may be, history is still honoured in the port city. From its prominent hillside perch, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is a preserved fortress that takes guests back to the 18th century with dramatic re-enactments offering insights into the city’s military history.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse has earned iconic status as Canada’s most-photographed lighthouse.

Photograph by Tourism Nova Scotia

7. Enjoy postcard views at Peggy’s Cove

From its rustic wooden cottages and weather-beaten working lobster boats to the soundtrack of crashing waves and, above all, the historic lighthouse that presides over it all, Peggy’s Cove on Nova Scotia’s South Coast is the quintessential fishing village. The Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, built on a rocky inlet in 1915, has earned iconic status as Canada’s most photographed lighthouse. The charming village is best enjoyed at a suitably laid-back pace, exploring around the rocks, visiting the William deGarthe Museum — the Finnish painter spent much of his life in Peggy’s Cove and was influenced by the dramatic marine surrounds — and diving into a traditional fresh-from-the sea lobster roll at the Peggy’s Cove Lobster roadside food truck.

How to get there

Fly directly to Halifax from London, Dublin or Glasgow. Rent a car if you’re hoping to explore off-the-beaten-track or opt for organised day tours.

Find more information about the ongoing covid-19 situation in Nova Scotia here.

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