Nearly everything in Nova Scotia revolves around the water, from bustling coastal cities, to historic waterfront sites, to beautiful hikes and scenic drives.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada
For about two centuries, the Halifax Citadel — a large hill overlooking the city — served to protect the waterfront city and its inhabitants. It was the hill which prompted the British to build a settlement in Halifax in 1749, knowing that it would be easy to defend. Today, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada doesn’t serve to protect the town, but rather to teach people about its history. Explore the star-shaped military fortification, as it was built in 1856, and which no enemy ever dared to attack. Tour the Army Museum and imagine life as a soldier within the fort walls. Experience the changing of the sentry guarding the Citadel Gates and listen for the Royal Artillery’s traditional Noon Gun. Or take a guided tour and learn about the ghosts that are said the haunt the Citadel to this day.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
A historic city by the water usually has a history closely connected to said water. With that in mind, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic serves to capture and display that history in an immersive, entertaining way. Canada’s oldest and largest maritime museum covers all the bases when it comes to boats, from small crafts and sailboats to war convoys and cruise ships. Explore Halifax’s link to the Titanic, and learn about the 1917 Halifax explosion that would shape the future of the city. There are over 30,000 artifacts and an equal number of photographs for you to browse. When you’re done, step outside for a tour of the 100-year-old CSS Acadia, which floats outside the museum in the Halifax Harbour.
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
When you step inside the walls of the Fortress of Louisbourg, you’re actually stepping back into the 1700s. This National Historic Site was one of the busiest harbors on the continent in the 18th century, acting as a key French site for trade and defense. Now, you can experience it just as it was. You’ll rub shoulders with French soldiers, sailors, servants and children; you’ll see food being cooked on an open fire, watch lace being made, and drink rum alongside fishermen who regale you with tales from the sea. Try not to be shocked by the roar of the cannon — you can even learn to fire one yourself.
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
Of the 160 or so lighthouses you can find in Nova Scotia, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse might just be the most famous — or at least the most photographed. Built in 1915, the red-and-white lighthouse sits on a granite outcrop overlooking a large bay. The recognizable structure is what postcards are made of, and countless visitors trek to the site every year, often while travelling the lighthouse trail. Pay a visit to the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, take a photo with this icon, and then head into the nearby fishing village for some fresh lobster and souvenirs.
The Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is one of the most famous drives in Canada. The 185-mile road takes you along the coast of Cape Breton, offering unrivaled views of the coast and bringing you to many of the island’s most popular attractions. Along the trail you’ll encounter opportunities to golf (at the equally famous Highlands Links), hike, bike, kayak and whale watch, all in a dramatic east coast setting. But the real draw of the Cabot Trail is the drive itself. USA Today readers ranked it one of the 10 best motorcycle trips and Zoomer called it one of the seven greatest road trips. As you weave your car around bends and peer over the oceanside cliffs, you’ll quickly understand why.
Old Town Lunenburg
Where the Fortress of Louisbourg brings you back to an 18th century French harbor town, Old Town Lunenburg brings you back to the same period, but from the perspective of an English colony. Lunenburg is the best surviving planned British colonial town in North America, which earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. As you walk through the town you’ll see the masts of tall ships moored along the waterfront and streets lined with colorful wooden homes, and you will encounter tradesman and artists making their wares in their shops and galleries. Grab a seat in a horse buggy or take a guided tour and learn the history of the town and its residents, including the spirits that come back to haunt those who remain.
Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk
The capital of Nova Scotia, like most of the province’s big destinations, sits right on the water. In Halifax, that waterfront is home to one of the world’s longest downtown boardwalks. The two-mile Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk is home to cultural and historical experiences, like the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. It’s also home to lots of little shops and boutiques, and to some of the best eats in Halifax (fresh fish and chips, anyone?). On a trip down the boardwalk you might encounter bagpipers and street performers or stumble on a deep-sea fishing tour that piques your interest. Or maybe you’ll get called into a beach volleyball game and cool down with a big ice cream cone. Every day brings something new.
The Skyline Trail
Few places beat the Skyline Trail when it comes to seeing the sunset in all its glory. Located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the trail is a relatively easy five-mile return hike that brings you into the boreal forest, through meadows, and up onto a cliff. It is there, on that cliff, that many people choose to watch the sunset over the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The scene is hard to describe, but let’s just say that a good number of people choose the spot for their marriage proposals. Even if you’re not there for the sunset, the hike is a great outdoor excursion, particularly if you enjoy wildlife viewing. You just might encounter eagles overhead, moose on the ground, and whales out in the water.
In 1921, a ship known as the Bluenose launched from the shores of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. That ship would become a racing champion, going undefeated for 17 years and cementing its place as a Canadian icon. The legend of the Bluenose is as important to the province as ever, and the history is carried on through the Bluenose II. This exact replica of the original ship has sailed around the world, but spends most of its time welcoming visitors to the waters of Nova Scotia and promoting its maritime heritage. Walk onto the deck of the 143-foot schooner, feel the wind blowing through your hair and its sails, and go for a ride you won’t soon forget.
The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus
The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus is as fun as it sounds. Hop onto a big double-decker bus and ride it from beautiful winery to beautiful winery, sampling as you go. Wolfville is one of the big wine hubs in Canada, and the bus tour will bring you to four different wineries, where you’ll spend a relaxing hour tasting and learning. Along the way you’ll find out about the region’s history and where the wineries and local food producers fit into it. Once the tour ends, they’ll drop you back off in the town of Wolfville, where you can move directly into one of the local pubs or restaurants for more local flavors