The Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia was one of the provinces that I visited on my Eastern Canada Road Trip.
I was surprised to find that there were a seemingly endless amount of things to do in Nova Scotia.
Unfortunately, we had less than a week to explore the province. This wasn’t enough time to do everything we wanted, although we still got to explore quite a bit
I’d love to return to explore more of everything that Nova Scotia has to offer. In this post I want to share some of the highlights of my visit to the province as well as what you can expect if you’re planning your own Nova Scotia trip.
Explore the Port Town of Lunenburg
If there’s one thing that Nova Scotia is known for its the beautiful Port Town of Lunenburg.
This historic little town is one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Walking through the downtown area it’s easy to see why.
Many of the buildings and churches in the center of town are 150+ years old and very well-preserved. Lunenburg was one of the most photographic towns in the Maritimes. This was thanks to all the beautiful buildings and picturesque architecture.
Along with a well-preserved commercial and residential area another one of the highlights of Lunenburg is the waterfront. This is the heartbeat of the town with ships coming and going all day and people enjoying themselves on the water.
Depending on when you visit you’ll find a replica of the Bluenose II here. When I came in September the schooner was in Halifax so it didn’t get a chance to see it (thankfully I I was able to catch up with it in Halifax).
If you’re going to be in Lunenburg for more than just a day it’s a good idea to head out to some of the nearby towns. These are even smaller towns that continue to represent the friendly and charming maritime vibe that you find here in Eastern Canada.
When you’re driving around in this area, especially along the coast, keep an eye out on the water. You might catch a seal sunbathing or see a whale jumping off in the distance!
During my trip to Lunenburg I stayed at the Lunenburg Inn just outside of the city center. I had a great time there and I would recommend it if you’re looking for somewhere to stay.
Drive the Cabot Trail
Driving the Cabot Trail was one of the biggest highlights of our Nova Scotia road trip.
We got lucky with the weather, there wasn’t much traffic, and we couldn’t have had a better experience for the drive.
The Cabot Trail is a famous Scenic Highway that runs around the outside edge of Cape Breton Island. It’s nearly 300 km in length and rewards drivers with some of the best views in all of Canada!
Along with driving there are a few other options for exploring the Cabot Trail. There are a variety of hiking trails, beaches, lookout points with informative signs, and small towns all waiting to be discovered.
Try to stop at all of the scenic lookouts and vantage points that you can find. The views are incredible from all directions. Hopefully you get lucky with a sunset as well.
It’s also a good idea to stop at the Cabot Trail Visitor Center. There isn’t much here that you can’t find online but it’s great to pick up some of the guides as souvenirs.
Depending on the time of year that you’re visiting you can also stop for a quick swim while you’re driving the trail. There are a few different beaches with easy access to the water. Keep an eye out for the signs when you’re driving.
Explore the Trails and Lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove
Peggy’s Cove is another one of the most famous Nova Scotia attractions. It was the busiest place I visited in the province even though it was raining and foggy during my trip!
There really isn’t much going on around Peggy’s Cove but it’s definitely worth visiting to see the world-renowned lighthouse. There’s a small fishing village around the cove with some tiny shops and restaurants that you can check out.
For the most part, visiting Peggy’s Cove is all about the lighthouse.
At first I was disappointed that it was foggy. Later on I came to appreciate the fog and how fitting it was for photographing the lighthouse.
If you’re on a tour then you going to be stuck with all of the other crowds of tourists. I recommend renting a car to visit Peggy’s Cove on your own and getting there as early in the day as possible.
Parking fills up quickly. You might have to wait in line to park depending on the season that you visit. Thankfully, parking is free in some of the main lots.
This is one of those things to do in Nova Scotia in August or September. The weather is still warm and you can enjoy the best of what peggy’s Cove has to offer!
Check Out the Bluenose II in Halifax or Lunenburg
The Bluenose II is a replica of the original fishing schooner known as the Bluenose. It’s the most popular Nova Scotia tall ship as well as the sailing ambassador for the province.
During the summer, from June 1st to September 30th, the Bluenose II is on tour. It follows a strict sailing schedule and you can look this up beforehand to see where the schooner is going to be.
In the winter the Bluenose II is kept in Lunenburg. Here it’s protected by the harsh Atlantic waters while maintenance is done.
It’s possible to tour the Bluenose II to learn more about its history. You can even book a Bluenose II tour that will take you out on to the open water.
The Bluenose II is an important part of Nova Scotia history. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance!
Go Whale Watching in Nova Scotia
Wherever you are in Nova Scotia you’re going to hear about the Bay of Fundy. You’re probably going to hear about whale watching at the same time.
In many of the coastal towns and cities you’ll find whale watching excursions. These adventures provide you with an up-close look at aquatic life in the Bay of Fundy. The highlight of these trips are the whales. You’ll also see seals, bald eagles, porpoises, and other aquatic animals.
It’s also possible to go whale watching in Cape Breton and many other whale watching spots in Nova Scotia. I had a chance to head out on to the Bay of Fundy. I imagine it would be an equally awesome experience to go whale-watching out on the open ocean!
There are a ton of different whale watching excursion companies to choose from. Do your research beforehand to try to find somewhere close to where you’re staying. Don’t forget to look at reviews!
Explore Downtown Halifax
A trip to Nova Scotia wouldn’t be complete without visiting Halifax, the beautiful provincial capital. There are plenty of things to do in Halifax and I recommend spending a few days in the city.
Right on the water you’ve got the world famous Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk. This is supposed to be one of the longest wooden boardwalks in the world. It pairs well with Halifax Harbour – the second largest ice free harbour on Earth!
Throughout the downtown area there are a seemingly endless number of restaurants, cafes, and bars. I was there during the week and I still saw quite a few people enjoying themselves and letting loose.
Those of you interested in museums are going to want to check out:
- The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
- The Pier 21 Immigrant Museum
- The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
These places are great if you want to learn more about local history and culture.
Compared to larger cities like Toronto, Halifax has a much more welcoming and personal feel to it. The people walking around are friendly, everybody is helpful with visitors, and it feels great to explore Halifax.
You definitely want to plan a Halifax visit when you’re visiting Nova Scotia. It’s the capital of the province and full of amazing sights and interesting attractions.
Eat Some Local Lobster (Don’t Forget the Lobster Roll)
Driving around Nova Scotia I couldn’t help but notice that Lobster was sold in every small town we drove through. Throughout the province you can find local lobster rolls as well as cooked lobsters available everywhere.
In many restaurants you can pick your own lobster depending on its weight and how it looks. Then you can have this very same lobster cooked for you however you want. It’s one of the freshest ways you’ll ever have lobster prepared and a Nova Scotia attraction you don’t want to miss!
You can also find the famous Nova Scotia lobster rolls in many places. This is a small sandwich made using lobster and other ingredients. It’s typically served on a toasted bun with coleslaw or pickles. Depending on where you’re going lobster rolls can be pricey. Expect to pay between $15 and $30 for a single roll!
I found most of them to start at around $20. It was common to see lobster rolls being sold for $30 or more.
For some this might be a little on the expensive side. There’s more value with a lobster meal if you wanted to try it out.
Stroll Through Picturesque Amherst, Nova Scotia
The town of Amherst provided me with my first experience of Nova Scotia. This is a sleepy little town in Cumberland County a few minutes away from the border of New Brunswick.
I planned on visiting Amherst and using it as a base to explore the surrounding area. It turns out that Amherst is a pretty neat place!
Less than 10,000 people live in the town and everyone’s going to know right away that you don’t belong. There are a few small shops in the downtown area, a theatre, and some restaurants. The busiest spot in town is the Tim Hortons so be sure to stop by if you’re looking for some action!
Amherst was once important for its prime location as the geographic center of the Maritimes. Regional industries looking to ship their goods across the provinces had to come through Amherst. Over the years it started building up into a small town and continues to exist as an important commercial center.
Be sure to spend an hour or two walking around downtown Amherst. The architecture is beautiful, there are a variety of well-preserved historic buildings, and there are some wall murals as well.
Consider staying in Amherst if you’re looking to explore some of the nearby attractions like the Joggins Fossil Cliffs and the Fort Beauséjour—Fort Cumberland National Historic Site. I spent 2 nights at the incredible Apothic Inn. Check it out – definitely the best place to stay in Amherst!
Relive History at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs are one of the most interesting things to do in Nova Scotia. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can look directly at the world’s most complete fossil record showing life in the “Coal Age”.
You’ll be able to take an up-close-and-personal look at 300 million-year-old fossils. Enjoy a glimpse of what the area must have been like when it was covered with lush forests.
After checking out the fossils make some time to check out the visitors center. There are a wide range of helpful exhibits here and the staff are going to be able to answer any questions you might have.
At the Joggins Fossil Cliffs you can choose from three different tours. There is a 30-minute, a 2 hour, and a 4 hour tour available.
Depending on how interested you are with the fossils and geology of the area should determine which tour is best for you.
Admission includes full day parking and access to the local beach and surrounding area. This is an awesome place to visit, especially if you’re looking for things to do with kids in Nova Scotia!
Stargaze at the Northern Lights in Nova Scotia
Believe it or not but you can actually see the Northern Lights in Nova Scotia. You never notice how far north and secluded you are until you glance at a map. That’s when it all makes sense.
Unlike Southern Ontario and the Quebec City/Montreal areas of Quebec, the rest of Canada isn’t as densely populated. This leads to less light pollution and more opportunities to see the night sky unhindered.
While there are a lot of places in Nova Scotia where you can see the Northern Lights, I would recommend heading to the Kejimkujik National Park.
This is one of the only national parks in Canada. It’s easily accessible if you’re going to be visiting Nova Scotia by car.
The park acts as a huge natural reserve in the middle of the province. The area is secluded and there isn’t much light pollution. This means that when the Aurora Borealis hits the sky you’re able to enjoy an incredible sight above you.
There is a campground at the park if you’re looking for accommodation. Otherwise, you can easily visit the park if you’re going to be traveling around the western part of the province.
Find Out About the Acadians at the Grand-Pré National Historic Site
The Grand-Pré National Historic Site is a historic monument and landscape dedicated to the Acadian people.
The area surrounding Grand-Pré is where the Acadian settlement flourished from 1682 until 1755. Their culture was developed here and the Acadians were able to overcome the harsh Canadian Winters.
Unfortunately, the Acadians from this area started getting deported in 1755. Since 2012 the landscape of Grand-Pré as well as the National Historic Site has been listed on the World Heritage Site list by UNESCO.
When you’re traveling through Nova Scotia there’s no denying the strong Acadian roots across the province. Keep an eye out for the Acadian flag. You’ll probably see it everywhere you go.
Grab a Photo at the Welcome to Nova Scotia Sign
The Welcome to Nova Scotia sign is one of the coolest that I’ve ever seen. If you’re taking the Trans-Canada into the province then keep an eye out for the Nova Scotia Provincial Visitor Center.
You’ll spot the sign at the side of the highway as you’re coming into the province. The Visitor Center is where you can stop and get closer to it to take some photos.
Feel free to stop by the visitor center if you need any maps or travel guides for your trip. There are always staff available to help you plan your trip or find somewhere to stay.
To access the sign, drive past the parking lot. There is a small parking area near the sign. It’s quite a trek from the visitor center parking lot so you’re better off driving right up to it.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Overlooking the city is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. This is where you’ll find the remnants of an old British fortress that was established during the 18th century.
Originally built to protect the harbor, the Halifax Citadel was built in 1856. While it never saw battle, it remains as one of the most culturally important and well-preserved historic sites in Halifax.
From Citadel Hill you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views of downtown Halifax and the surrounding area. Whether you visit at night or during the day, the views from here are incredible.
Today, it’s possible to visit the historic site. You can explore the tunnels, old barracks, powder magazine, and the picturesque clock tower. All these attractions have been well preserved with informative signs teaching you about their history.
Depending on the time of year, re-enactments are held. This makes for an interesting experience, especially if you’re a fan of Canadian history. These reenactments are complete with educated interpreters, bagpipe players, and musket salutes.
Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park
The Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park is an awesome day trip from Halifax, just 40 kilometers away. It’s also worth stopping by if you’re traveling through the area.
Covering more than 40 hectares, the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park is home to a wide range of native and exotic animals. At the park you can see moose, black bears, beavers, cougars, whitetail deer, and foxes. It depends on your luck of course, but you’re bound to see something interesting on a visit to this Wildlife Park.
What makes the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park so unique are the Sable Island horses. This is the only wildlife park in the world where you can see these horses roaming free.
Along with looking for wildlife, there are plenty of other things to do at the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park. Spend the day hiking or relax with a picnic, it’s up to you how to decide to spend your time here.
Don’t forget to visit the visitor center for more information about the park and its popular Wildlife species.
Port-Royal National Historic Site
The Port-Royal National Historic Site is another one of the most interesting and well-known historic sites in Nova Scotia. This site is located in the Annapolis Valley and is known to be one of the first permanent settlements in North America.
It was first settled in 1605 by Sieur des Monts as a fur trading outpost. As it became more popular, the outpost grew into a permanent settlement for traders and explorers.
Unfortunately, the British destroyed the fort. Thankfully, it has been rebuilt using authentic building techniques from the 17th century.
At the Port-Royal National Historic Site you can explore the rebuilt Governor’s residence, the priest’s quarters, and a fur trading post. You can even see an interesting reproduction of the Habitaton, or what the original quadrangle would have looked like.
At this Historic Site there are living history interpreters that you can interact with. These interpreters will teach you about the struggles that the settlers faced trying to live in these harsh conditions. You can also learn more about how the native Mi’kmaq tribes helped the Europeans survive the first few winters.
When you’re in New Brunswick you hear about the Bay of Fundy non-stop. Well, has its own side of the Bay of Fundy that’s waiting to be explored.
With some of the highest tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy is dotted with beautiful harbours and coastal towns. Hall’s Harbour is one of the prettiest of these harbours that’s worth checking out.
Visitors to Hall’s Harbour are in for a treat. It’s a picturesque harbour with some great Instagram opportunities. It also has a quiet, white sandy beach and a small port.
During the day you’ll see all the fishing boats sitting on the bottom of the bay. They’re stuck there until the tide comes back in!
In the tiny village of Hall’s Harbour there’s a great seafood restaurant. It’s the perfect spot for lunch before heading to some of the other attractions nearby in the Annapolis Valley.
Dig for the Famous Nova Scotia Clams
In many of the small towns in Nova Scotia it’s possible to go clam digging. You can do it on your own or take advantage of a tour guide to help you out.
This is one of the best ways to experience Nova Scotia’s seafood. One of the places to try this is at Bay Enterprises. This is a small business in Malagash where you can go digging for clams by hand.
If you’re on the hunt for mussels, check out the Aquaprime Mussel Ranch. Here you’ll be able to steam your own mussels on the same day that they’re harvested from the fresh Nova Scotia waters.
Don’t forget to swing by the small town of Digby for a look around. This is where O’Neil Fisheries harvests more than 1 million pounds of scallops every year. You’re bound to find some of the best seafood in Nova Scotia right in Digby!
Go Tidal Bore Rafting on the Bay of Fundy
Even though I keep mentioning the Bay of Fundy, it’s one of the highlights of visiting Nova Scotia. There are so many attractions and things to do along the bay that it can’t be overlooked.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bay of Fundy has some of the highest tides in the world. Twice a day, more than 100 billion tons of seawater comes rushing from the Atlantic into the bay itself. This process is called the tidal bore and it’s possible to take it for a ride if you’re adventurous enough.
Many of the excursions are based in New Brunswick, but there are some options for tidal bore rafting in Nova Scotia. Jumping onto a Zodiac boat, you can ride the tidal bore as it makes its way inland. This is an incredible and thrilling experience that’s perfect for adventure lovers.
Tips for Visiting Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is a beautiful place with an interesting history, delicious cuisine, and a tremendous culture. Visiting this province is bound to surprise you whether you’re a Canadian traveler or visiting from abroad.
Here are some helpful nova Scotia travel tips to make it easier for you to plan your trip to one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada.
When is the Best Time to Visit Nova Scotia?
The best time to visit Nova Scotia is between May and September. The weather is great and everything is open. Near the end of this travel season it’ll be warm enough to go swimming almost everywhere in the province.
By mid September many restaurants and tourist attractions in Nova Scotia will start to close. It also starts to get colder with a chance of snow near the end of the month.
Despite that, it can still be worth visiting in October and for the fall season. The colours will be incredible and there are some fall festivals that you can check out. Prices will also be lower at this time, they’ll keep in mind not everywhere will be open and accessible for tourists.
How to Get to Nova Scotia
Getting to Nova Scotia is easy whether you’re traveling from Canada or arriving from abroad. The best way to explore the province is by car. Canadians should consider driving, and if you’re too far you’ll want to rent a car in Nova Scotia to explore.
Coming from abroad or from the further province’s, flying will be your best bet. Almost every international flight will land in Halifax. From here you can rent a car or take a bus to the different Nova Scotia destinations you want to visit.
Don’t forget that Nova Scotia is a huge province. While it’s possible to get around by bus it’s not ideal for tourism and sightseeing.
Transportation in Nova Scotia
As I just mentioned, the best way to get around Nova Scotia is by car. The highways are well-maintained and can whisk you quickly to the different points in the province.
Renting a car or visiting on a road trip will give you more flexibility to explore where you want. Public transportation is available, though it won’t be able to bring you to many of the best sites.
For Cape Breton especially, you’ll definitely want a car. This way you can stop at all of the scenic views and explore at your own pace. You can expect to spend $40+ on a car rental in Nova Scotia.
Food to Try in Nova Scotia
You’ll find the best seafood in Nova Scotia compared to almost anywhere else in the world. Most local restaurants and small eateries have lobster, scallops, haddock, salmon, mussels, and other locally-sourced Seafood options readily available. In the bigger towns and cities there are world-class restaurants serving anything you could want.
Keep in mind that eating out in Nova Scotia can be expensive, especially if you’re hoping to visit on a budget. You can expect to spend upwards of $50+ for a seafood meal for two. Thankfully, there will be some great budget options everywhere you go.
Don’t miss out on trying some delicious Acadian cuisine. Some of the small Acadian towns will have great restaurants for this. Look for Rappie Pie – one of the best and most delicious Acadian dishes.
If you’re visiting during the summer look for desserts and other dishes containing blueberries. There are tons of wild blueberries in Nova Scotia and the locals are very proud of the blueberry dishes they make.
Book Your Hotel and Accommodation Early
Nova Scotia is popular with visitors from all over the world. It’s not only Canadians visiting, but Europeans and Americans as well.
Accommodation, like hotels and bed and breakfasts, are in high demand during the tourist season. Booking online and making your reservations early will help you to avoid any issues with availability.
You can expect to run into problems with limited options if you’re booking last minute. Try to book your accommodation 3+ months in advance, and even more if you’re traveling during the summer.
As for Nova Scotia hotels, there are several different types of accommodation. Bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels are very popular in a smaller, coastal towns. In the bigger towns and cities you can find larger chain hotels and hostels.
Staying at a bed-and-breakfast is a great experience for interacting with the locals. They also come with fully prepared, beautiful breakfast with a wide assortment of delicious foods.
If you’re looking to save money on accommodation avoid major cities. Also, consider booking a room or apartment on AirBnb. Rooms and apartments on AirBnb can typically be found for prices starting at $30 so they’re a great choice if you’re looking to keep costs down.