If not for a narrow strip of land separating New Brunswick and Nova Scotia at the junction of Highways 2 and 104, all of the province of Nova Scotia would be an island. Surrounded by Atlantic Ocean waters, it is popularly known as Canada’s Ocean Playground, and the overall warmest province by some measures. It was also one of the first North American regions to be settled by Europeans. Ocean views, beaches, the highest tides in the world, dinosaur relics, inspiring mountains and fruitful valleys, lakes and rivers, whale-watching, history galore, thirst-quenching wine—in this Atlantic Canada province you have all that is needed for an adventurous and memorable Maritimes trip!
Nova Scotia is ellipsis-shaped, and most visitors traveling by land (other options include taking one of the four ferries, or air travel) start by visiting the Amherst Visitor Information Center (90 Cumberland Loop, Amherst) on Trans Canada Highway enroute from New Brunswick.
This is not just a list of best places to visit in Nova Scotia — the article is arranged in such a way that you can complete a Best of Nova Scotia Road Trip connecting all these places, especially if you are coming from New Brunswick and would like to continue to Prince Edward Island. A Google map is given at the end.
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Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Joggins)
Nova Scotia boasts five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with North America’s first certified and UNESCO-supported Starlight Tourist Destination. Canada’s 15th UNESCO WHS is Joggins Fossil Cliffs, selected because it is the world’s most complete record of life in the Carboniferous era.
The cliffs overlook the world-famous Bay of Fundy, just a few kilometers southwest of Amherst. The Bay of Fundy is renowned for having the world’s largest tidal range, or difference between low and high tides, at 50 feet, along with more than a dozen species of whales. More than 160 billion tonnes of water flow in and out of the Bay twice a day, making the tide schedule a crucial part of life for resident fishermen. In 2014, the Bay of Fundy was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America.
While visiting Joggins, enjoy a walk along the 15 kilometres of beach, with coastal cliffs and exposed layers of rock revealing the world’s most complete fossil record of life in the “Coal Age”. Everything from the evidence of miniscule Jurassic reptiles and dinosaurs to footprints of ancient amphibians have been exposed by the amazing force of the world’s highest tides.
To continue your exploration into the amazing world of ancient fossils, visit the Fundy Geological Museum, a short drive away in Parrsboro, an area also famous for its gems and minerals.
The Anne Murray Centre (Springhill)
While in Springhill, be sure to visit the Isabel Simpson Heritage Centre, which houses artifacts, photos, clothing and machinery from early life in Springhill. Then Tour a Mine at Springhill Miner’s Museum, which allows visitors to explore the depths of a Springhill coal mine and hear accounts of various local mining disasters, such as that of 1891—as well as the subterranean fire of 1916 that raged through the passages, the 1956 explosion that killed 39 men, and the major “bump” in 1958 that took 75 lives.
Victoria Park (Truro)
Victoria Park is 1,000 acres of pure fun in the heart of Truro, one of Nova Scotia’s most visited crossroads towns in the centre of the province. The park boasts natural wonders such as a winding river, cascading waterfalls, steep-sided gorge, an ages-old Eastern Hemlock forest. Hiking, bird-watching, picnics, cycling, sports such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, swimming and tennis in the summer, along with live music, are all enjoyed in this park. Some visitors even dare a 175-step climb to the top of Jacob’s Ladder.
For those who enjoy racing, be sure to take in the Truro Raceway, Nova Scotia’s largest harness-racing track that has been in operation since the 1860s.
The Colchester Historeum offers an array of programs and seasonal exhibits and maintains a collection of artifacts that depict the settling and development of the region, all the way to the present.
Shubenacadie River (Shubenacadie)
Adventure seekers will want to visit the Shubenacadie River, southwest of Truro, which runs approximately 70 kilometres from its source at Shubenacadie Grand Lake to its mouth at the historic seaport village of Maitland on Cobequid Bay. Cobequid Bay is famous as the site of the construction of the William D. Lawrence, the largest wooden ship ever built in Canada.
The Shubenacadie River has been named one of the top five whitewater rivers in Canada. The lower 30 kilometres of the river (from the point where the Stewiacke River meets to the mouth) is tidal, and the river experiences tidal bores twice daily, with some reaching up to 10 feet, rendering it a natural roller-coaster wonder, perfect for tidal-bore rafting and sea-kayaking surfing. The river is also popular among anglers for its striped bass.
While in the area, be sure to visit the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park, 100 acres of woodlands that are home to many native mammals and birds, as well as some exotic species. Mastodon Ridge in nearby Stewiacke boasts a life-sized replica of a prehistoric mastodon along with an exhibit and 18-hole mini golf.
Burntcoat Head Park (Noel)
Burntcoat Head Park, overlooking the Minas Basin with an average tide of 47.5 feet and an extreme range of 53.6 feet, does indeed have bragging rights as the keeper of the world’s highest recorded tides. The three-acre park features one of Nova Scotia’s roughly 170 lighthouses, walking trails, breathtaking views of both the Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay. The replica lighthouse contains an interpretive centre explaining more about the Bay of Fundy tides, old lighthouses and history. Walk along the beach after the tide goes out and discover small species of ocean life in pools left behind. Some of the varied sea life you’re likely to find, depending on the time of your visit, include barnacles, periwinkles, whelks, false angel wings, leafy bryozoans, rock crabs, tommy cod, mackerel, small-mouthed bass, eels, monkfish, flounder and squid, to name but a few.
Ford Edward National Historic Site (Windsor)
Grand Pré National Historic Site (Grand Pré)
Traveling west into the Annapolis Valley, you will find Grand Pré National Historic Site, located within The Landscape of Grand Pré (meaning Great Meadow), which in 2012 was designated Canada’s 16th UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 13-square-kilometre site includes acres of farmland, which still benefits from the dyke system put in place by 17th-century Acadian settlers on land reclaimed from the sea. The Acadians are the descendants of French colonists who settled in the New France colony of Acadia during the 17th and 18th centuries. Learn about what was a bustling Acadian settlement from 1682 to 1755—before the Deportation of the Acadians, which began in 1755 and continued until 1762. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s narrative poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie was inspired by the region and the legendary statue of Evangeline.
Wine-lovers will want to further explore the area, which is bordered by productive farmland and known for its prolific award-winning vineyards, which can be discovered on wine tours. Be sure to check out the local farmers’ markets, offering the latest in local crops.
Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound (Hall’s Harbour)
To many, Nova Scotia is synonymous with great lobster. For large numbers of Nova Scotians, lobster fishing is their livelihood. Along the Bay of Fundy shoreline you can visit many small fishing communities, most equipped with their own small wharfs to accommodate their lobster boats. Driving along the shoreline, you may see signs advertising dulse for sale; this red seaweed, especially once dried, is a popular and nutritious food in the province.
If experiencing Nova Scotia lobster at its finest is on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound, where you can choose your own lobster from the tank then enjoy the experience of being at a bustling lobster wharf, watching the boats come and go (as long as the tide isn’t out!) and checking out the historic fishermen buildings. Hall’s Harbour dates back to1779 and is named after the infamous Captain Samuel Hall and his band of privateers (legalized pirates).
Oaklawn Farm Zoo (Aylesford)
Heading west, be sure to stop in at the 50-acre Oaklawn Farm Zoo in Aylesford, which boasts a number of different mammals, birds and reptiles and the largest display of cats and primates in the Atlantic provinces. This unique zoo offers a traditional family farm setting but with an unusual mix of exotic animal species. If you enjoy “up close” animal experiences, whether with chickens or pythons, this is the place for you.
The Ross Farm Museum, 60 kilometers south of Aylesford in New Ross, is an authentic living heritage site on 60 rolling acres of farmland. It is a working farm museum that depicts 150 years of agriculture in Nova Scotia, a great place to learn about real life on a 19th-century Nova Scotia family farm, with interactive activities offered, such as wool spinning, ox shoeing and even cow milking!
Annapolis Royal and Port Royal
No visit to Nova Scotia would be complete without a visit to the historic town of Annapolis Royal and nearby Port Royal. The area, settled by the French in 1605, is steeped in history. Fort Anne National Historic Site offers the opportunity to be inside what remains of one of the first forts erected in North America, with a museum displaying exhibits from a variety of groups who have populated this intriguing place, including Mi’kmaq, French, British, Acadians and African Nova Scotians.
Next visit the 17-acre award-winning Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, which blends gardening-related history with the natural beauty of today’s plants. The Sinclair Inn Museum in downtown Annapolis Royal, built in 1710, features construction techniques from the Acadian mud-filled walls of the 18th century to the wood-paneling of the 20th. Head north toward the equally historic Port Royal, and along the way, check out the only salt-water tidal generating station in North America located on the Annapolis River Causeway.
Port Royal was one of the first European settlements in North America, the home of Samuel de Champlain as the 1600s dawned, and the first capital of Acadia. Established by the French in 1605, it was destroyed by the British in 1613. Visit the Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada to experience a 1939 reconstruction of the settlement’s early 17th-century buildings, featuring the Habitation, a closed-in quadrangle. While in the area, don’t miss the Melanson Settlement National Historic Site and North Hills Museum.
Travel south to Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site in Maitland Bridge, the only inland national park in the Maritimes. The abundant lakes, rivers and trails in this 380-kilometre wonderland make for ideal canoeing and hiking as well as camping.
Whale Watching (Tiverton)
West of the town of Digby—known for its awesome scallops, folk artist Maud Lewis and annual Wharf Rats motorcycle rally—lie Long Island and Brier Island, prime locations for the best views of those frisky and unpredictable marine mammals, whales! Take an ocean cruise to learn more about not only the 12 species of whales but other sea creatures and seabirds that visit the area. On Long Island, follow a 2.5 kilometre trail, then climb the 235-step staircase that leads to a platform from which you can view the Balancing Rock, dubbed “Nature’s Time Post”, a narrow vertical column of basalt that is balanced on its tip. It’s also the perfect spot for a spectacular view of beautiful St. Mary’s Bay.
On your way back, be sure to stop in at the Maud Lewis Replica House, which depicts the tiny but comfy home of the famous Canadian folk artist, the subject of the popular movie Maudie.
Cape Forchu Lightstation is popularly known as the Beacon to Canada, mainly because it has been welcoming visitors since the early 1600s. None other than Samuel de Champlain named the area Cap Forchu, meaning forked tongue of land. By 1878 Yarmouth was the second largest port of entry in Canada, and the lightstation provided an important service to the operators of the many sea vessels that sailed in and out. Yarmouth still welcomes numerous visitors, even more so recently with the rebirth of a ferry service to and from Portland, Maine. The 19-acre park is the perfect spot for a picnic, and a visit to the Lightkeeper’s House, a municipal/provincial Heritage Property, will enhance your understanding of the region’s history.
While in Yarmouth, be sure to visit the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, an award-winning museum that specializes in Yarmouth’s seafaring history; W. Laurence Sweeney Fisheries Museum, which houses a collection of artifacts that provide a glimpse into the history of Yarmouth’s fishing industry along with five reproduced buildings, a 60-foot trawler and a 100-foot wharf; the Pelton-Fuller House (circa 1895), the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred (Fuller Brush Man) Fuller that today features period-furnished rooms along with a variety of memorabilia; and the Firefighters’ Museum of Nova Scotia, showcasing the types of fire engines employed in Nova Scotia from the 1800s to 1930s.
Lower West Pubnico
East of Yarmouth, Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse of Lower West Pubnico is part of the oldest Acadian region still inhabited by the descendants of its founder, Philippe Mius-d’Entremont (1653). The Acadians who lived in the area were amongst the few who survived the Deportation of 1755. The 17-acre seaside village overlooks the Pubnico Harbour and provides visitors with a rare opportunity to explore numerous well-preserved historic buildings as well as experience fishing and farming practices of the past.
The Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos, situated in an 1800s Acadian homestead, in West Pubnico offers information on Acadian history dating back to 1653 as well as tours of its traditional Acadian garden, representing the typical plants and vegetables grown by Acadians in the 17th century. The museum houses a substantial collection of Acadian and regional artifacts, and its research centre, Les Archives Père Clarence d’Entremont, offers numerous Acadian historical and genealogical documents.
Old Town Lunenberg (Lunenberg)
Old Town Lunenburg is another one of Nova Scotia’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites—and one of only two North American urban communities to be designated as such—transporting visitors back to the 18th and 19th centuries when this fishing port was host to large numbers of tall ships. Ranked by many as the best surviving planned British colonial town in North America, you can enjoy exploring it by foot or horse-drawn carriage. In between the shops and restaurants on Lunenburg’s narrow harbour-side streets are colourfully painted historic homes. The harbor itself is famous as the home of Bluenose II, a replica of the original fishing boat that became famous as a racing schooner. The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic provides an opportunity to discover a lot more about life on the high seas, the Maritimes fishing industry and natural ocean life. The blacksmith’s shop now operates as Ironworks Distillery, a micro-distillery.
Peggy’s Point Lighthouse (Peggy’s Cove)
Nova Scotia is famous for its historic lighthouses, but the most famous of all is Peggy’s Point Lighthouse of the small fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Built in 1914, it is not Canada’s oldest lighthouse but is undeniably its most photographed. Tourists are fascinated by the relentless waves crashing against huge, smooth boulders facing out into the vast Atlantic, and the popular legend of Peggy, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The name of the community likely takes its name from the bay that it touches, St. Margaret’s (Peggy) Bay. Sculptor and painter William E. deGarthe (1907-1983) carved over the course of 10 years a “lasting monument to Nova Scotian fishermen” on a 100-foot-long granite outcropping behind his house in Peggy’s Cove, depicting 32 fishermen and families along with St. Elmo, with wings spread, and the legendary Peggy. Visitors can also hike on the 1,000-acre Peggy’s Cove Preservation Area or visit the Swissair Memorial Site, which honors the 229 victims of Swissair Flight 111 that crashed into the ocean near Peggy’s Cove on September 2, 1998.
There’s so much to do and see in Halifax, the province’s capital city, that it could fill an article all by itself. A good place to start would be the popular Halifax Public Gardens, a Victorian-inspired garden that has been open to the public since 1875. The various wonders of Nova Scotia’s land and sea are featured at the Museum of Natural History, which showcases displays of everything from ancient fossils to Mi’kmaq artifacts, as well as a live in-house bee colony and butterfly house.
Take a walk along the waterfront and visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 , the gateway into Canada for one million immigrants from 1928 to 1971. The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, created by Royal Proclamation in June 1750, has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in North America.
The Halifax Citadel National Historic site, built as a military fortification, is a popular spot to visit with its distinctive Town Clock. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is Canada’s oldest and largest Maritimes museum. Take in the Discovery Centre, with a mandate to bring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to life through fun, interactive learning experiences. Don’t miss the Historic Properties restoration project on Halifax’s waterfront—a designated National Historic Site—with three city blocks of Canada’s oldest surviving buildings.
Sherbrooke Village (Sherbrooke)
Sherbrooke Village lies east of Halifax, the perfect place to step back in time to a booming 19th-century village that wove its life and commerce around timber tall ships, and the gold rush! Amongst its 25 original buildings, it’s possible to experience life as it was along the St. Mary’s River before the 1900s.Costumed interpreters, from blacksmiths to weavers, are more than willing to demonstrate their crafts, and even allow visitors to try their own hands at them. Have your photo taken at Canada’s only Ambrotype glass photo studio then jump aboard the horse-drawn wagon as it winds along the gravel roads of the village.
Before leaving Sherbrooke, visit the St. Mary’s River Salmon Museum, the perfect spot for those interested in learning more about angling and nature in general. The centre offers a historical collection of fishing tackle, photos and memorabilia of such famous anglers as Babe Ruth. There are also informative displays on Nova Scotia natives such as wood turtles, birds, bats and butterflies.
Highland Village Museum (Iona)
There’s only one way to cross over by car to Nova Scotia’s famed Cape Breton Island, and that’s via the Canso Causeway, which will take you right into the heart of Port Hastings.
Nova Scotia is truly a melting pot of different nationalities, cultures, languages, religions. Highland Village is devoted to providing to visitors a richer understanding of the Gaelic peoples who have inhabited the Maritimes. The village provides a living museum and cultural centre with 11 historic building depicting the typical life of Gaelic settlers, all situated on 40 acres overlooking the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake.
Also situated on Bras d’Or Lake in Baddeck is the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, a 25-acre property that was designated a National Historic Site in 1952, with a museum featuring artifacts and documents from Alexander Graham Bell’s achievements—which include not only the invention of the telephone but also Canada’s first powered flight, the world’s fastest boat, advances in recording technology.
This area right at the centre of Cape Breton Island is one of Nova Scotia’s UNESCO sites, the Bras d’Or Lake UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Along with the Gaelic people of Highland Village and others of European descent, there are five Mi’kmaw First Nation communities. The residents share their beautiful home with a staggering variety of bird and marine life, including awe-inspiring bald eagles and endearing grey seals. The Bras d’Or Lake and its watershed area were designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011 in recognition of the residents’ determination to work toward an environmentally healthy economy and culture.
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site (Louisbourg)
Nova Scotia’s rich historical roots are no more on display than at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, the largest historical reconstruction in North America, which reveals what life was like for the first European settlers. Founded by the French in 1713 as Havre à l’Anglois, this French town grew into one of North America’s busiest seaports. When the War of Spanish Succession was settled with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain was given control of mainland Nova Scotia, while France kept hold of Ile Royale, or Cape Breton Island. The Fortress of Louisbourg, named after King Louis XIV, was its capital. Over time the town and garrison were surrounded by impenetrable stone walls, measuring 30 feet high and 36 feet thick in some places. During its peak, fueled by success in cod fishing and trade, it was the third busiest port in North America and was considered the jewel of France’s holdings in the new world, attracting many hopeful French immigrants. Although the original site was destroyed by the British in the mid-1700s, the 1960s reconstruction brings back to life this once bustling French settlement.
The Cossit House Museum serves as the cornerstone of the city’s North-end Heritage Conservation District and is located in the historically preserved home of the controversial Loyalist Anglican minister Reverend Ranna Cossit and his wife, who in the 1700s began their lives in the capital of what was then a developing British colony.
Jost Heritage House, built in 1787, once the home of a prosperous merchant, demonstrates the evolution of a wooden dwelling over three centuries, from commercial to residential use.
The Membertou Heritage Park is a five-acre site that offers a living history of the people of Membertou First Nation. Those who enjoy crafts will definitely want to check out the renowned Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design.
Glace Bay, northeast of Sydney, overlooks the Atlantic Ocean toward Newfoundland. Coal-mining has been a significant industry throughout Nova Scotia, and The Cape Breton Miners’ Museum pays tribute to the region’s coal-miners and their industry. Exhibits help visitors understand the geological development of Cape Breton’s coal field. The Miners’ Village features a company store and a 19th-century home. The Ocean Deeps Colliery, a coal mine beneath the museum, offers guided tours.
The Marconi National Historic Site marks the spot where Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, in December 1902, successfully sent the world’s first radio message across the Atlantic with a wire antenna attached to four wooden towers. Visit a model of the original station and the remnants of the foundation. If you’ve never tried your hand at Morse code, here’s your chance.
The Glace Bay Heritage Museum is situated in the restored Old Town Hall (circa 1903) along the Marconi Trail. Exhibits include Glace Bay Harbour (circa 1940) when the swordfish industry was booming, a coal-mining exhibit, rotating displays on day-to-day life, labour history, sports and entertainment.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Toward the northernmost regions of the island lies the 948-square-kilometre Cape Breton Highlands National Park, one of Canada’s favorite places to get away from it all. With 26 hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging, and six beaches, the park is the perfect place to admire the forests, river canyons, ancient wind-polished cliffs overlooking the sea. Rare or threatened plants and animals are protected in the park, with a special mix of northern and southern species not found anywhere else in Canada. Visitors will want to experience the world-famous 300-kilometre Cabot Trail, named after explorer John Cabot (circa 1497), that completes a loop around the northern tip of the island, and stop at one of the many look-offs, which offer unparalleled views of the rugged coastline, fishing activities on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and local residents such as bald eagles and whales. If golfing is your thing, play a round or two at the renowned Highland Links, ranked as one of the top 10 courses in Canada.
Nova Scotia Museum of Industry (Stellarton)
Back on mainland Nova Scotia, traveling west along the northern coast overlooking the Northumberland Strait offers more opportunities to visit historic lighthouses, such as the one at Cape George Point stationed above St. George’s Bay, providing views of both Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island.
Stop in at the Northumberland Fisheries Museum, devoted to promoting the fisheries industry of the Northumberland Shore region. Inside you’ll find the Lobster Stock Enhancement Research Facility, an operating lobster hatchery; the Lighthouse Museum and Research Centre, a replica 1905 lighthouse; and the main museum, featuring exhibits depicting the heritage and culture of the fishing industry and boatbuilding.
In the 1770s, hundreds of ships carrying thousands of Scottish immigrants began arriving in Pictou Harbour. One of them was Reverend Thomas McCulloch, who came ashore in 1803. The McCullough House Museum & Genealogy Centre is located in the original home of Dr. McCullough and acknowledges his pivotal influence on public education in Nova Scotia; he is credited for the establishment of the province’s first public school, Pictou Academy. McCulloch House displays local historical exhibits as well as family and community histories.
Hector Heritage Quay Interpretation Centre is one of Nova Scotia’s 10 living history attractions and explains the role Ship Hector played in the 18th-century Scottish migration to the New World and in rendering Pictou the Birthplace of New Scotland.
If you’d like to continue your tour of the Maritimes by visiting the charming Prince Edward Island, you can get there from Caribou, near Pictou, via a ferry service (May-December).
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