A couple of years ago Joel and I traveled to the east coast for the first time to Nova Scotia where we rented a car and toured around for 10 days. Being the type-A personality that I am, I scoured across countless websites, TripAdvisor reviews, and travel blogs to plan our newest adventure, making sure we would hit up all the main stops along the way. While we ventured across most of the province, we didn’t get to everything on my list, however, we did still manage to see some of the top places.
So, without further adieu, here is my list of some of the best places and things to do while visiting Nova Scotia…
1. Peggy’s Cove
The lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove is probably one of the most iconic landmarks in the province, and one of the most highly photographed lighthouses in the world. It’s located on a beautiful rocky bed of stone that overlooks the coast line of St. Margarets Bay. The lighthouse itself is rather small and unexciting, however the view of the bay is what makes the visit.
Traveler’s Tip #1: If you do plan to stop at the lighthouse, get there early to avoid a swarm of people! Typically there are tour buses that drop off loads of people in the morning, around 9:00-10:00am. We happened to get there first thing before 9:00am and we were one of the first people there (even Joel agreed it was worth being dragged out of bed so early)!
After admiring the gorgeous view from the lighthouse, make sure you leave room to explore what the rest of Peggy’s Cove has to offer. The stunning scenery, the adorable quaint fishing village, and colourful shops and cafes will leave you wishing you could live there forever (at least I wished I could)!
2. The Fisheries Museum
Although I am typically not the biggest fan of museums, this fishery museum located in Lunenburg was surprisingly very interesting! The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and provide rich information on the fishing history of Nova Scotia. You are also able to go aboard the two fishing vessels, located on the wharf-side (Theresa E. Connor and Cape Sable). Also, depending on when you go, the iconic Bluenose II may be docked right out front. With a pleasant little aquarium, interesting displays, and interactive tours, you can plan to spend at least 1-1.5 hours here. You can also check out a great view of the waterfront.
Travel tip #2: If you are a student and have your student card or have a CAA card, you get a discount on the entrance fee!
3. The Balancing Rock Trail
While on your way to whale watching down along Digby Neck towards Brier Island, you will pass a small village named Tiverton. After catching the first ferry onto Long Island, you will have the opportunity to stop and walk along the Balancing Rock Trail. I highly recommend this! It is about a 2.5km trail, and although it may seem like there will be nothing worthwhile at the end, and that you may be discouraged to know that you must walk down roughly 230 stairs (to only then have to walk back up those stairs)… it is so worth it! The steep descent down the stairs brings you out to the most amazing view where you can witness the amazing sight of this natural rock formation.
Travel tip #3: Make sure to give yourself lots of time to catch the second ferry if you are planning to go whale watching on Brier Island as the ferries depart every hour, on the hour! You should allow yourself 2 hours from Digby to Westport (on Brier Island) in time for your whale watching.
4. Whale Watching
Whale watching is an absolute must! There are a few different tour companies off of both Westport and Freeport. We went with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises and we were thoroughly impressed! To be honest, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. Yes, I knew we would see whales (although there’s always the off-chance you won’t!), but I wasn’t sure how many we’d see and how close we’d get. We toured on a Zodiac boat, which I highly recommend if you can stomach the bumpy ride, as you can get up nice and close to the whales. We were able to get in arms reach to three humpback whales.
5. Lobster Dinner
If you’ve never had lobster, now is the best time as there is no shortage of restaurants serving lobster in Nova Scotia! This is definitely a must when visiting the east coast. We had our lobster dinner in Baddeck, however there are many other places to choose from, such as the Shore Club in Hubbards (it’s one of the oldest and most popular). There are lobster boat tours that offer hands-on lobster fishing, lobster beach dinners, and opportunities to perfect the art of cracking open your very own lobster. I recommended planning ahead to figure out which lobster restaurant you’ll be dining at, as they can get quite busy and may require reservations.
6. The Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy is a bay that rests between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and is known for its extremely high tides (highest in the world)! There are many places to visit the Bay of Fundy and depending on where you go and what time of day, you will get a different experience as the tide moves in and out twice daily. We only had time to stop at Halls Harbour, a charming fishing village, during low tide and got to see the boats settled on the harbour bottom. Burncoat Head Park is another popular spot to see the low tides and where you can walk along the ocean floor.
Travel tip #5: Plan ahead! Check the times for low and high tides to get the most out of your experience. You can check for various locations here.
7. The Blomidon Look-Out
The Blomidon Look-Off is located on the North Mountain 12km from Blomidon Provincial Park and has the most breath-taking panoramic view of Annapolis Valley Region. Pictures do not do it justice. You must definitely plan to visit here if you are traveling around the Bay of Fundy, as it will only take a few minutes to stop and see the gorgeous views. The look-off point is right off the side of the road with a bench to enjoy a picnic and a small ice-cream shop nearby.
8. Prim Point Lighthouse
Located in Digby, the Prim Point Lighthouse offers an amazing view overlooking the bay. About 15 minutes from downtown, at the end of Lighthouse Road you will see the lighthouse and more importantly the rocky shoreline. Be careful not to slip when you venture across the rocks! If you manage to make it down, you will not be disappointed in the endless view. You’ll also be able to view the ferry that travels from Digby to Saint John, New New Brunswick.
9. The Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island is truly remarkable – it’s like a whole other world. I wish we could have stayed longer! We honestly could have spent our whole trip here as there was so much to see and do. Definitely pack some hiking shoes as there are countless trails to explore at Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Luckily for us, it was Canada’s 150th birthday so admission fees for national parks were free the year we traveled. We certainly took advantage of this!
Probably the most popular trail in the park is the Skyline Trail. There’s a reason why it’s so popular. With a 9km hike taking 2-3 hours (depending on how many rest breaks you take!) the view along the trail is truly (and literally) breathtaking. Walking along the boardwalk a steep cliff overlooks the rugged coast where you get a birds-eye view of the winding Cabot Trail.
Another notable trail that we hiked was the Acadian Trail. A rather challenging hike (depending on which end you start at) at 8.5km, expect to be hiking for around 3 hours. With steep inclines and rugged sections, you will not be disappointed with the beautiful ocean and mountain scenery.
10. Fortress of Louisbourg
I’m no history buff by any means, but even I found the Fortress of Louisbourg fascinating. Located in Sydney, the fortress is set in the 18th century and is a National Historic Site of Canada. Stepping into the fortress you are taken back in time and experience what life was like. There are plenty of buildings to explore, guided tours, and live demonstrations. You can even stay the night in the fortress either camping or in the Lartigue house.
11. Halifax Waterfront
Unfortunately by the time we got to Halifax at the end of our trip, the weather was rainy so we didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. However, the waterfront is worth checking out if you are in the city. There are tons of great restaurants and plenty of entertainment to check out as well. When walking along the waterfront you’ll have opportunities to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which includes displays on the Titanic. There is lots to discover in Halifax with harbour boat tours, events, and countless dining options. Some of the pubs and restaurants we checked out were located all within walking distance from the harbour front: Stillwell Brewing Co., Durty Nelly’s, The Old Triangle Irish Ale House and Lot Six. Lot Six has THE best cocktails ever! If you are looking for a late-night drink (or a little pick-me-up throughout the day) stop in there – you won’t be disappointed! The bar has a great ambiance with live music and the tastiest drinks ever (heads up, the cocktails are pricy but so worth it)!
Also… side note… does anyone remember the children’s TV show Theodore Tugboat??? I didn’t realize it was filmed in Halifax and the my inner child was so excited to see this!
There are many places to go kayaking on Nova Scotia. If you get the chance to do so, go for it! Since we were in Nova Scotia in September, our options were slightly limited plus with our busy schedule it was hard to squeeze this in. We made it work while with were in Cape Breton Island and joined a kayak tour with North River Kayak Tours. They offer a variety of different tours, some extending up to five days! However we opted for a half day tour where we paddled through St. Anne’s Bay region. The tour takes you to a small, yet pleasant, waterfall and beach area where you’re provided with some hot tea and fresh-baked banana bread.
Although there is much more to see in Nova Scotia, this was a list of our highlights that I would recommend to anyone travelling the east coast. I would recommend staying no less than 10 days if you are planning to travel around most of the province. We stayed at a different location every night and felt that we only just had a glimpse of what Nova Scotia has to offer, and I already can’t wait to go back again!
What’s on the top of your list to see and do?
P.S! Check out my travel video below to see even more of the highlights from our Nova Scotia adventure!