If you’re looking for an unforgettable vacation destination, the Canadian Maritime Atlantic province of Nova Scotia truly has it all, from picturesque seaside villages, fresh seafood and a rich maritime history to spectacular landscapes, Celtic tunes, vineyards and especially welcoming people. When it comes to things to see and do, you’ll find a ton, but be sure to put at least some of these must-experiences on your itinerary.
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Canada is renowned for offering some of the world’s best spots for whale watching, and Nova Scotia provides some of the best of the best. You’ll have the chance to watch for the finbacks and minkes that arrive in May and the humpbacks that come in June, all of which stick around through the summer and even into October. Witnessing a whale breach, as they lunge up toward the clouds, returning with a loud splash, is an experience of a lifetime, although simply seeing their spouts that can reach as high as 13 feet, is thrilling as well. With the waters here teeming with whales in the summer, you may see those spouts all around you.
The very best viewing points tend to be along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton and the Bay of Fundy.
Driving the Cabot Trail
The incredibly scenic roadway known as the Cabot Trail can be found on Cape Breton Island, and is considered one of the world’s best drives. The 185-mile-long route winds along oceanside cliffs, completing a loop around the island’s northern tip, and passes along and through the Cape Breton Highlands, immersing travelers in the still vibrant Celtic and Acadian cultures. In addition to the jaw-dropping scenery, there are many other reasons to visit Cape Breton, including the tasty fresh seafood, endless gorgeous beaches, live traditional Celtic music just about every night of the week, and the opportunity to spot whales, dolphins, seals, puffins, bald eagles and more.
Embark on a Sailing Cruise
How about sailing on a replica of the ship you’ve seen on the Canadian dime? The original Bluenose was built to compete for the International Fisherman’s Trophy and won her first race in 1921. Over the next 17 years, she defeated all contenders to become the pride of the province. The Bluenose II is an authentic replica that sails out of the lovely 18th-century French harbor town of Lunenburg during the summer months. If you want to take the experience up a notch, sign up (well in advance) to be Deckhand for a Day which includes a safety orientation, a lesson on the history of the tall ship, learning knots, how to anchor and even taking a turn at the wheel.
Explore the Port Royal National Historic Site
History lovers won’t want to miss a visit to Port Royal, the first European settlement in the province. Here you can see history reconstructed at the site of the Habitation at Port Royal that was established by France in 1605, serving as the capital of Acadia for nearly a decade, until it was destroyed by British military forces. Take a step back in time, imagining the songs of the Order, the chaos in the kitchen and the experiences of the early pioneers who arrived some four centuries ago.
Go on a Thrilling and Unique Rafting Adventure
In Nova Scotia you can experience rafting in a unique way that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet: tidal bore rafting. It’s powered by the Bay of Fundy’s world famous tidal bore, with passengers hopping aboard a whitewater Zodiac boat, feeling the rush while riding the 8-foot waves of the world’s highest tides, which has been likened to a roller coaster ride. One minute, you’re peacefully floating along the calm water, taking in the impressive scenery, then the next, the water suddenly transforms into raging rapids.
Fundy Tidal Bore Adventures offers these rafting trips that start from Gosse Bridge in Green Oaks near the town of Truro.
Enjoy Wine Tasting and Touring
Nova Scotia’s wine is becoming an increasingly popular draw for visitors. Beyond its rugged, ocean-battered coastline, the province’s wine offerings are said to even rival that of Champagne, France, despite winemakers having to battle rather challenging conditions, like the rocky, acidic soil and cool temperatures to produce their award-winning white and sparkling wines. Here, you can wander alluring country lanes that snake through lush valleys, popping in to one of the many wineries for a tasting, tour, and often, a whole lot more, with over 70 grape growers across the province including on Cape Breton, in the Annapolis and Gaspereau valleys, Marble Mountain and beyond.
Hike the Cape Split Trail
There are miles and miles of hiking trails throughout the province, but if you’re looking for an ideal day hike, the Cape Split Trail is one of the top day treks in Nova Scotia, situated in Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve. The nearly 8-mile round trip coastal hike can be accomplished in about four to five hours, and rewards hikers with unsurpassed views of the Bay of Fundy, and its world’s highest tides. It starts at sea level and traverses through a lush canopy of trees before culminating about 200 feet above the water, with sheer cliffs on either side, along with a host of nesting birds to watch.
Go Lighthouse Hopping
If you like lighthouses, you’ll love Nova Scotia. Travelers to the province are often awestruck by the beauty of the many lighthouses here that have served as beacons to sailors attempting to safely navigate the rugged coast. One of the most famous is Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, which lies along the south shore. The classic red and white lighthouse situated in the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove marks the eastern entrance of St. Margaret’s Bay and was first lit in in 1915. Its image, set atop a mound of rocks with sea waves crashing against has been a striking sight ever since. Other lighthouses to visit include the 1864 Boar’s Head Lighthouse, Louisbourg Lighthouse, Low Point Lighthouse and the Cape Sable Light, the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia is also a great destination for beer lovers, with its craft brewery scene starting to draw enthusiasts from across the globe – in fact, the capital city boasts the most pubs per capita in the entire nation. The Granite Brewery ignited the trend, opening its doors back in 1985, and since then, there’s been an explosion, with nearly 40 breweries in the province to date. Enjoy checking out the breweries and brewpubs, craft beer bars, bottle shops, taking tours and more.