JUNE - JULY
Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Halifax
Antigonish Highland Games Festival de l'Escaouette, Cheticamp
Halifax Pride Festival
Pictou Lobster Carnival
Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Canso
TD Halifax Jazz Festival
JULY - AUGUST
Festival Acadien de Clare
Halifax International Busker Festival
Chester Race Week
Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival
Deep Roots Music Festival, Wolfville
Fin Atlantic International Film Festival, Halifax
Gran Fondo, Baie Sainte-Marie
Hike the Highlands Festival, Cabot Trail
Wharf Rat Rally, Digby
Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton
Devour! The Food Film Fest, Wolfville
Nocturne: Art at NIght, Halifax
Writer: Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb
Tenuously connected to New Brunswick by a slim sliver of land, then tethered by ferries to P.E.I. and Newfoundland, Nova Scotia acts as Atlantic Canada's anchor. Yet this small but mighty spot—the most populous and prosperous of the four sister provinces—offers travellers within the region far more than a convenient location. Its sensational sites are must-sees in their own right.
A SEA-BOUND COAST
The scenery alone can make you want to linger indefinitely. After all, Nova Scotia is essentially surrounded by water, and every stretch of its 7,600-km (4,722-mi.) coastline promises adventure opportunities as well as oh-so-fresh seafood. Yet each also has its own distinctive character.
The Minas Basin, for one, is a magnet for migrating shorebirds, hundreds of thousands of which descend each summer to dine on its mud flats before flying to South America. Nearby, the constant beating of the Bay of Fundy tides uncovers 300-million-year-old fossils in Joggins’ UNESCO-designated cliffs. The South Shore, conversely, is dotted with centuries-old towns and sheltered coves once frequented by privateers; the Eastern Shore boasts pounding surf; and between them is Halifax, home to one of the world’s largest natural harbours. Northumberland Strait, meanwhile, is notable for warm, sandy strands, whereas much of Cape Breton is marked by loch-like inlets and rocky highlands that drop dramatically to the sea. Inland, the geography is equally varied, which is why A-type vacationers can explore the orderly vineyards of the agricultural heartland and the wondrous wilds of the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve within a single day.
Like its scenery, Nova Scotia’s man-made attractions cover a broad range, from museums to amusement parks, art galleries to golf courses. Historic ones, however, are especially plentiful here because the region once played a crucial role in the imperial plans of both British and French forces.
The star-shaped Halifax Citadel, for example, is a literal highlight of any visit to the capital city, and the meticulously recreated Fortress of Louisbourg lures history lovers north to Cape Breton (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/halifaxcitadel; www.parkscanada.gc.ca/louisbourg). The Annapolis Valley, which contains some of the continent’s oldest European settlements, has even more in store. Witness Port-Royal, founded by the French in 1605, three years before they established their base at Québec City (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/portroyal); Fort Anne, a.k.a. “the most attacked site in Canadian history,” originally erected in 1629 as an Anglo counterbalance (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fortanne); and gorgeous Grand-Pré, another UNESCO World Heritage site where politically-neutral Acadians were forced into exile for refusing to pledge their allegiance to the British crown in 1755 (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grandpre).
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Since Mother Nature and Father Time happily coexist here, there are many places where you can get a fresh perspective on the past while inhaling fresh air. The Fundy Geological Museum, for instance, has a tour that combines a Zodiac boat trip with an actual dinosaur dig (fundygeological.novascotia.ca). And perhaps that’s Nova Scotia’s biggest asset: it offers the best of both worlds.
Last year Travel+Leisure again named Cape Breton “Canada’s #1 Island.” See why on Great Earth Expeditions’ four-day package (www.greatearthexpeditions.com/tour/cape-breton-tour).
Move over Peggy’s Cove: the towering Cape Forchu Lighthouse near Yarmouth gets its star turn in Lighthouse: a new cinematic release featuring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (www.capeforchu.com).
Taking off from Halifax Harbour, Vision Air Services’ Heli-Picnic Island Escape pairs a helicopter tour with a beachside repast on secluded Sambro Island (www.visionairhelicopters.ca/heli-picnic-island-escape).
The Discovery Centre’s newest exhibit, Voyage to the Deep, is a kid-sized submarine which allows children to explore how submarines work and discover weird and wonderful sea life (www.thediscoverycentre.ca).
Based in Lunenburg, Seaweed Tours’ sightseeing bus promises visitors new ways to explore the South Shore and beyond with a seasoned storyteller. Private charters are also available (www.seaweedtours.com).
The Halifax Citadel debuted an immersive, multimedia exhibit—Fortress Halifax: A City Shaped by Conﬂict—which chronicles the history of Nova Scotia's capital, recounting stories of the Mi’kmaq and British, French, Acadian, Black Loyalists and other immigrant cultures (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/halifaxcitadel).
Thanks to virtual reality, you can now play the role of an 18th century messenger at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, surmounting obstacles along the way (www.fortressoflouisbourg.ca).
At Port-Royal, A Meeting with the Governor is a new immersive experience. Visitors take on the role of new colonists arriving at the settlement receiving orders for work—a great way to better understand the life of colonists and their relationship with the Mi’kmaq (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/portroyal).
If you need an urban fix, Halifax is the place to go. Although this is Atlantic Canada’s largest, most cosmopolitan city, its tourist centre is conveniently compact, and most major attractions—the Halifax Citadel, the Historic Properties, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 among them—are all within blocks of its huge natural harbour. Tempting shopping, dining, and nightlife options are close at hand as well. After strolling around the bustling waterfront boardwalk, you can take a leisurely harbour cruise or follow the locals’ lead and hop a commuter ferry for a quick cross-harbour trip (www.discoverhalifaxns.com).
Sydney, technically part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, is Nova Scotia’s only other urban centre. Located on the Island’s east coast, it has its own waterfront boardwalk and a smattering of heritage buildings. Moreover, it makes a handy base for exploring attractions in nearby Glace Bay, including the Marconi National Historic Site, which is dedicated to the Italian radio pioneer who established a transatlantic messaging station there in 1902, and the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum where you can don a hard hat and descend into a coal mine. The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site is 45 minutes away by car (www.cbrm.ns.ca).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Nova Scotia has been dubbed “Canada’s Ocean Playground,” and since you’re never more than 67 km (42 mi.) from a coast, enjoying on-the-water activities is easy. Boating is a top draw, which is no surprise considering options include sailing on Bras d’Or Lake or paddling along ancient Mi’kmaq canoe routes in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. Scuba diving and deepsea fishing are also popular; ditto for surfing, a fun if somewhat frigid alternative on the South and Eastern Shores. Looking for something truly unique? Experience the rush of rafting on the Shubenacadie River, where a tidal bore whips up big waves.
Landlubbers, of course, needn’t feel left out. Choices for bikers and hikers abound. The former love to pedal on the 119-km (74-mi.) Rum Runners Trail connecting Halifax and Lunenburg; while the latter lace-up their boots in places like Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which alone has 26 trails. If golf is your game, world-class courses span the province. Standouts range from traditional favourites like Highlands Links and Fox Harb’r Golf Resort, to newer stars like Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, acclaimed sister courses.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland” and descendants of its Scottish settlers make much of that connection—particularly on Cape Breton Island, where you can take a class or buy a kilt at North America’s only Gaelic college (www.gaeliccollege.edu), raise a glass at the continent’s first single malt whisky distillery (www.glenoradistillery.com), tour the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (www.celticmusiccentre.com), then dance your feet off at one of the summer ceilidhs (traditional Gaelic-inflected parties) held Island-wide. The province, however, isn’t entirely draped in tartan.
After all, events like Festival acadien de Clare (www.festivalacadiendeclare.ca/en) and the Musique de la Baie concert series (www.yarmouthandacadianshores.com/en/things-to-do/view/musique-de-la-baie) are tuneful testaments to the strength of francophone culture here. Mi’kmaq com-munities carry on the legacy of this land’s original residents through powwows and other special programs (www.novascotia.com/travel-info/our-culture), while contributions made by new arrivals are celebrated at the moving Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (www.pier21.ca).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Feast on fresh seafood. Lobster . . . scallops . . . salmon: from waterfront shacks and roadside restaurants to fine dining rooms, you’ll find seafood topping menus everywhere (www.tasteofnovascotia.com).
Ogle Lunenburg’s Old Town. Hundreds of heritage buildings have earned this port community’s downtown core recognition from UNESCO (www.explorelunenburg.ca).
Explore the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Turn back time to the mid-18th century at North America’s largest historical reconstruction (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/louisbourg).
Snap a picture at Peggy’s Cove. It’s almost obligatory to visit this seaside hamlet where one of the world’s most iconic lighthouses sits atop a slab of wave-blasted rock (www.peggyscoveregion.com).
Follow the Good Cheer Trail. On the first winery, cidery, craft brewery and distillery trail of its kind in Canada, you can sip beverages from dozens of local producers (www.goodcheertrail.com).
Tap your toes to old tunes. Be entertained the traditional way at a Cape Breton ceilidh or opt for the francophone alternative, a rousing Acadian soirée (www.novascotia.com/travel-info/about-us).
The Cabot Trail delivers one of the most dramatic drives anywhere. The 300-km (186-mi.) road runs straight through Cape Breton Highlands National Park and, in places, rises and falls like a roller coaster as it follows the Atlantic coast.
Hugging the South Shore for 339 km (211 mi.), the Lighthouse Route boasts over 20 postcard-perfect beacons, including those at Peggy’s Cove and Cape Forchu. Charming towns like Mahone Bay and Lunenburg make ideal stopovers.
The 291-km (181-mi.) Evangeline Trail connects Yarmouth and Mount Uniacke. Named for Longfellow’s tragic narrative, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, it showcases the scenery that inspired his setting.
Animated by buskers, glass-blowers and tour-boat operators, Halifax’s working waterfront has proven kid appeal. Along it lies the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca), the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (www.pier21.ca), plus the hands-on Discovery Centre (www.thediscovery centre.ca). When hunger hits, refuel at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market (www.halifaxfarmersmarket.com). Experience the Bluenose II on a 2-hour cruise in Lunenburg or Halifax (bluenose.novascotia.ca).
THE PROVINCE’S WINE INDUSTRY HAS A LONG HISTORY; CHAMPLAIN PLANTED THE FIRST GRAPEVINES HERE IN 1611.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Besotted by Cape Breton, Alexander Graham Bell chose to spend his last 37 summers in Baddeck—arguably the Island’s prettiest resort town. Today, it is home to an eponymous national historic site which spotlights the famed inventor’s achievements. On display you’ll see personal photos and artefacts along with intriguing models of the telephone and many other Bell creations, including an early airplane, a manned kite and a full-scale hydrofoil boat. Special activities, which run the gamut from kid-friendly experiments and kite making sessions to virtual reality races and detailed behind-the-scenes tours, draw visitors of all ages (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/alexandergrahambell).
National Parks and Historic Sites: