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Lunenburg harbour, a UNESCO world heritage site

Gems of Nova Scotia: A Holiday Guide

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21 February 2019 by Andy Austen

While introductions to Nova Scotia are made in its lively capital, this guide will bring you beyond Halifax’s historic charms. You'll be taken on a trip of postcard-perfect fishing villages, of grand old colonial forts and of windswept natural grandeur, all linked together by impossibly gorgeous coastal drives. It's all brought to life by its famously hardy, famously friendly residents. In short, here’s a selection of unmissable highlights in this wild region, never fully tamed by its Scottish settlers or Mi’kmaq First Nation. If you ever need to get your bearings, take a look at the route's map at the bottom of the page.

  1. Halifax
  2. Peggy's Cove
  3. Lunenburg
  4. Yarmouth
  5. Bay of Fundy
  6. Annapolis Royal & Annapolis Valley
  7. Northumberland Shore
  8. Cabot Trail & Cape Breton Island

  9. Halifax

    Halifax Harbour at sunset
    Halifax Harbour (Credit: Tourism Nova Scotia)

    The historic provincial capital is the starting point for most Nova Scotia tours. And, you should head straight for the bustling waterfront to get a feel for the city and an overview of its fascinating past. The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 tells the story of the millions who were processed there between 1928 and 1971, as well as a broader sweep of over 400 years of European settlers’ journeys. Be sure to also take in a guided tour of the British fortress at Halifax Citadel  – a national historic site overlooking the deep natural harbour it was built to defend the city. Then, take a stroll through the tranquil Victorian-era Public Gardens before sampling the lively bars and eateries.

    Peggy’s Cove

    The lighthouse at Peggy Cove
    Peggy's Cove Lighthouse (Credit:Tourism Nova Scotia)

    Less than an hour’s drive south of Halifax, Peggy’s Cove’s famous lighthouse is one of the most visited and photographed in Canada. The picturesque seaside village has simply constructed wooden homes dotted among wave-washed boulders while fishing boats ply their trade from a wharf strewn with nets and lobster pots. Take a hike in the thousand-acre Preservation Area to see how ancient glaciers shaped the land, and visit the deGarthe Gallery and Museum to view a collection of paintings depicting historic fishing practices.


    Lunenburg Harbour
    Lunenburg Harbour

    Following the lighthouse route down the coast, you’ll reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg, where British colonial settlement buildings dating back to the 1750s trace the town’s evolution through fishing and shipbuilding. Other attractions include the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, and summer sailings on the replica schooner Bluenose II.


    Yarmouth Harbour
    Yarmouth (Credit: Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association)

    A seaport since the Viking era, Yarmouth prospered greatly in the 19th-century shipbuilding boom, aided by the plentiful availability of local lumber and skilled labourers. Forming the westernmost extreme of Nova Scotia, the sprawling former residences of merchants and ship owners testify to the wealth accrued through trade with the Caribbean, South America, Europe and the Far East. Fine churches and sturdy Victorian warehouses also went up at this time and offer further glimpses into the past.

    Bay of Fundy

    Breaching whale at Digby Neck
    Breaching whale at Digby Neck (Credit: Tourism Nova Scotia & Wally Hayes)

    The Bay of Fundy, marking the border between Nova Scotia and Brunswick, is known for the world’s highest tides. And, the power of the sea can be best felt on a tidal bore rafting trip, riding the crest of the white-tipped rapids as they reverse the flow of the rivers that feed the bay. At low tide, the waters retreat by up to three miles, exposing vast tracts of the ocean floor. At Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tidal erosion regularly reveals new evidence of life among ancestors of the dinosaurs, dating back 300 million years. For the wildlife of the present, some of the best whale watching tours can be enjoyed at Digby Neck and Brier Island from June to October. As well as the main attraction, the majestic humpback whale, you’re likely to encounter dolphins, seals, leatherback turtles and a variety of marine birds.

    Annapolis Royal & Annapolis Valley

    Traditional dress, Fort Anne
    Fort Anne(Credit: Grand-Pre© National Historic Site of Canada & C. Reardon)

    French Acadia’s administrative and military centre, established as Port Royal in 1605, was the first permanent European settlement in Canada. Today this quaint seaside town on the Bay of Fundy is a melting pot of Mi’kmaq, French and British (notably Scottish) heritage. At Fort Anne, Canada’s oldest national historic site, you can view the 17th-century Royal Charter that gave rise to Nova Scotia’s name and flag. There’s also a vibrant shopping, arts and culture scene, alongside lots of outdoor activities in the surrounding valley where you'll find several up-and-coming vineyards.

    Northumberland Shore

    Couple at Melmerby Beach
    Melmerby Beach (Credit: Tourism Nova Scotia & Scott Munn)

    Long, sandy stretches and warm waters attract a beach crowd to Nova Scotia's central-northern coast, where they're also entertained by a series of excellent golf courses. Then, the town of Pictou is known as "The birthplace of New Scotland’ and nearby Antigonish even has its own Highland Games each July. For more of the local residents, the Wallace Bay National Wildlife Area on the Northumberland Strait is an important habitat for migrant and nesting waterfowl, encompassing marine and freshwater wetlands.

    Cabot Trail & Cape Breton Island

    The Cape Breton Island's Meat Cove on the Cabot Trail
    Meat Cove on the Cabot Trail (Credit: Tourism Nova Scotia & Tom Cochrane)

    We've saved perhaps the best until last: the Cabot Trail is considered to be one of the top ten scenic coastal drives in the world. It winds for 185 miles, darting through old-growth forests, among glacier-scarred rock and over the rugged highlands of Cape Breton Island that caps Nova Scotia's northeastern reach. Then, after you wind alongside the fast-flowing Margaree River, you'll arrive at one of the many isolated fishing villages, ideal for setting off on a whale-watching cruise. Tours operate daily through summer and autumn from many points along the Cabot Trail.

    Nova Scotia Highlights Map

    Lastly, although I’ve picked out a few of my favourite itineraries below, please also don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our Canada specialists today. For more information, fill out an enquiry form or call us on 020 7590 0610.

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