Nova Scotia is a beautiful province and you could easily spend two weeks here and not see everything, however many people do an abbreviated 3-4 day tour to see a few high points, and then move on. If you are lucky enough to have the time, I encourage you to extend your stay. As it was, we only had 10 days to spend, so we visited three distinct areas of the province – the capital city of Halifax and surrounding sights, the Annapolis Valley with a brief day trip south down the western coast, and Cape Breton Island, which is almost another province unto itself.
Sept 8 – 11: Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg
We landed in Halifax, around 6pm, after a two-city hop flight from Kelowna-Calgary-Halifax. To our bodies, it was four hours later, so by the time we checked into our downtown hotel, we were exhausted and got to bed early. There is a seasonal (May 1-Oct 31) Airport Express shuttle bus that runs between the airport and downtown for $22 per person, but we took the MetroX 320 city bus that runs more or less the same route for $3.50 instead and it was an easy, inexpensive way to get downtown. We had no trouble taking our two suitcases on board the bus and it was only a 4-5 block walk to the Atlantica Hotel which was well located to many of the sights, and reasonably priced for a big city at just under $120 CAD a night on booking.com. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the bar in the hotel, then hit the sack.
Sept 9 – The next morning, we slept in then wandered through town, stopping to visit an ancient cemetery on our way to the famous Pier 21 Canadian Museum of Immigration where Erik and his Mom, brother, and sister first arrived in Canada in 1956. The museum was an interesting place to visit and we spent at least 3 hours inside looking at the exhibits and then we sat on the bench where Erik’s family waited to see the officials before taking the train to Edmonton to meet his Dad who had arrived months earlier. Erik was only 6 at the time and his memories are limited but it was an emotional and touching visit that we both enjoyed. Entry price is $14.50 for adults with reduction for kids and seniors.
Afterwards, we walked back along the Halifax waterfront boardwalk, stopping for a snack along the way. We saw some huge ships and there are a few museums along the way, including one about the Halifax Explosion which destroyed much of the city when two ships collided in the harbour in 1917.
There are lots of interesting places to see in Halifax, including the famous Citadel, but our time was limited and we only had time for a few sights.
Sept 10 – Today we picked up our rental car and drove about 2 hours to Lunenburg, taking a side trip to Peggy’s Cove along the way. It was warm and muggy with a few clouds, 20-24C – pretty nice weather for September – and the drive was pretty. The cove itself is pretty touristy but it’s still a must-see when visiting the province. Only a 45 minute drive from Halifax, it’s an easy day trip visit if you are staying in town for a few days.
Peggy’s Cove is a small village with just a few homes, shops, and restaurants, but it has a large parking lot and small information museum which is only a short walk to the rocky outcrop with the famous lighthouse. There are plenty of signs warning people to stay away from the “brown rock” which is within striking distance of rogue waves, but as usual, people tend to flaunt danger and a few fools were wandering out further than they should. That being said, on the day we visited, the waters were relatively calm and the skies were sunny and warm with just a light breeze.
Of course, there were busloads of tourists who were crawling the rocks and it was sometimes difficult to get a clear photo without too many people but we stayed long enough to take some nice pictures. Nova Scotia, and the rest of the maritime provinces, are littered with less famous but equally beautiful lighthouses, all along the coast. Here are just a few.
Back on the road a few hours later, we continued down the coastal highway another hour and arrived in the pretty little town of Lunenburg, which among other things is famous for being the home port of the Bluenose ll, a replica of the original Bluenose schooner that is depicted on the Canadian dime. The schedule for its location, which is primarily split between Lunenburg and Halifax, can be found here so be sure to check to ensure you don’t miss it.
We were lucky that the schooner had arrived in port that day and we were able to walk on the deck and admire the beautiful wood work and rigging. The best part is that it’s free to board her although for a fee, you can also go for a sail. You can even apply to work as a crew member for those so inclined.
Afterwards, we had dinner on a deck of a restaurant overlooking the harbour. We stayed in a cute little Airbnb room on the edge of town and enjoyed chatting with our hosts – a young local woman and her Aussie partner. Both have done a lot of traveling.
Sept 11-13: Annapolis Royal, Port Anne, Digby, Mavillette
Sept 11 – Today we drove across the province to Annapolis Royal, stopping in Kejimkujik National Park for a picnic lunch along the way. There is a fee to visit National Parks in Canada but we chose to purchase a one year pass that would allow us to visit any park or historic site in the country.
Once in Annapolis Royal, we checked into our B&B, a 200+ year old home, and then went for a wander around Fort Anne, where Champlain first landed in 1608. We had a lobster roll for supper at a nice cafe, then went back to our room to relax.
Sept 12 – After a leisurely breakfast at our B&B, we drove south down the coast along the Evangeline Trail for an hour or so. We stopped in Digby and checked out the lobster boats in the harbour. The highway is named after an Acadian woman, in a poem “Evangeline”, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the story, she is separated from her love, Gabriel, during the expulsion of the Acadians in the mid 1700’s.
We learned a lot about Acadian history on this trip and I found it really interesting. The Acadians were the original French settlers who arrived in the early 1600’s and settled all over the Maritime region. They built homes, improved the land by reclaiming the marshland, and intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people of the area. Subsequently, over several generations, they began to see themselves as separate from the French, although they tended to side with the French and Mi’kmaq during any battles with the British.
When the British finally took over in 1755, they deported the Acadians to the British Colonies and France, burning their homes and destroying their farms. Some Acadians made their way as far south as Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. Others escaped and hid in the woods, living with the Mi’kmaq until they were able to resettle after the 7 years war in 1763.
To this day, there are Acadian settlements all over the Maritime provinces, and you will see the red, white, and blue Acadian flag with a single star as you drive through the French villages that dot the coastline.
We drove as far as Mavillette Provincial Park, where we sat on a beautiful sandy beach for awhile before we had a big bowl of seafood chowder at a seaside restaurant. Eventually we drove the hour or so back to Annapolis Royal via the highway.
In the evening, we into town at 9:30pm for the Port Anne Garrison Graveyard Tour which was absolutely fascinating. The guide, who was dressed in period costume, gave each of us a candle lantern and took us on a walk through the dark graveyard, telling us stories about the early inhabitants and history of the area. I highly recommend this tour.
Sept 13 – Today we had a leisurely breakfast with our hosts then packed up to leave around 10:30. Before leaving town, we visited Port Royal historic site, went to the Port Anne museum and looked around the Fort a little, stopped in for a free tour of the only tidal power plant in North America, and then took the Evangeline Trail road to our next destination, Berwick, about an hour away.
We were really hungry by the time we got there so we dropped off our bags at our B&B – yet another old Victorian home (1848) – and went to Jonny’s Cookhouse in Berwick for a very late lunch / early dinner. I had the best home made bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Seriously. I wish they would deliver to Kelowna…
Today I searched real estate in the Annapolis Valley and found you can buy a 2500 square foot, 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom 150 year old Victorian style home with a large heated workroom on half an acre for under $100,000. For twice that, it would be in perfect condition. Crazy.
Sept 14-19 – Cape Breton Island – Louisbourg, Cabot Trail, Mabou, Ceilidh Trail
Sept 14 – We had a nice breakfast with our hosts and two other couples and then hit the road around 11am headed for Port Hastings, just over the Canso Causeway on Cape Breton Island.
I didn’t take many pictures but it was a nice 4 hour drive through rolling countryside and forest. We stopped for lunch and gas in New Glasgow and arrived at our B&B around 4pm. We relaxed for awhile, had dinner at a pub down the road, and got to bed early as we have a busy day planned for tomorrow. It was another mostly sunny, warm day. It’s supposed to be showery tomorrow and then sunny again.
Sept 15 – We had breakfast with another couple our age at the B&B this morning. As we talked, we soon learned that their daughter lives about 6 houses up the street from us. When they told us they live in London Ontario, we asked if they knew Chris, a lawyer we met on the Camino. It turned out they did know him and his father quite well. What a small world….
Today we drove about 2 1/2 hours along Bras D’or Lake (an inland sea) to the Fortress of Louisbourg, on the far east coast of Cape Breton Island. We parked at the lot and took a shuttle bus to the site which had been reconstructed from the original plans on the original foundations in the 1960’s as a retraining project for out-of-work fisherman. About one quarter of the site had been rebuilt and there are guides in period costumes all over the fort, telling us about life there. It was the shoulder season so not every tour was offered but we did enjoy our day nonetheless.
The fort was built by the French in 1713 and was a thriving community based on the fishing industry for many years. Unfortunately it wasn’t well positioned and the British were able to take control in Seige of Louisbourg in 1758.
My 5G-Grandfather, Henry Goldrup, was a soldier from the 60th Royal Regiment of Foot (2nd Battalion) in General Wolfe’s (British) army. He fought with Wolfe at Louisbourg and then went on to fight in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quenec City in 1759. It was kind of neat to try to imagine what it was like for him there.
It was mixed sun and cloud, cool, and VERY windy today with gusts that almost knocked us over.
We spent about 4 hours at the Fort, then had a meal before driving an hour to our B&B in Syndey Mines. Tomorrow we start the Cabot Trail which winds its way around the coast of Cape Breton Island.
Sept 16 – Today we drove part of the Cabot Trail starting from our B&B in Sydney Mines. We took a little ferry from Englishtown across St Ann’s Harbour then up the east coast, stopping at several lookouts and small beaches. We stopped for lunch near the north part of the Island and then drove down the west coast to the coastal town of Cheticamp where we had a nice B&B right on the water.
We did a load of laundry at the laundromat, then had dinner at a restaurant with live music. I finally had a whole lobster and it was great. It was mixed sun and cloud most of the day but reasonably warm.
Sept 17 – Today we drove about an hour to Baddeck to check out the Alexander Graham Bell museum (boy was he an interesting and very diversely talented guy – I had no idea!)
Along the way, we stopped into the tiny village of Belle Côte to visit the gas station where my family had camped when we broke a spring on our tent trailer back in 1972.
There was a young woman who was working in the gas station so I told her the story and she mentioned that the previous owner, Charlie, lived right across the street. He was working on his truck so I went over and introduced myself. He remembered our family staying there in 1972, and remembered my mom and step dad stopping in to visit about in the mid 1990’s as well. Charlie is 79 now but he looks and acts much younger. I asked him to come take a photo with me in front of the station and he obliged. So cool!
We continued our drive to Port Hood, stopping for lunch at a picnic site by a quiet lake where we ate our oat cakes, and then at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou to get info about the live music later that night.
We checked into our Port Hood B&B, a rambling 10 room house inn that’s about 110 years old. We rested for a bit then drove 10 minutes back to Mabou to snag a seat for the live music tonight – a fellow who played piano and a young woman who played fiddle.
We had some dinner and beer while they played from 7-9pm. The place is very popular because it is owned by two of the Rankin sisters who grew up in Mabou. The place was packed and we had a great time. You definitely have to get there early if you want a seat as many people were turned away.
Sept 18 – Today we slept in and then had a decent continental breakfast at our Inn. We dropped into the Mabou Sunday farmer’s market for awhile then drove around the area a bit.
We went back to the Inn for a nap then headed over to the Red Shoe Pub again for a Ceilidh (Kay-lee) from 4-7pm. It was led by a well known Cape Breton fiddler named Chrissy Crowley and an excellent pianist. She played for about an hour (amazing) and then a few people came up to join her for a song or two. First was a little boy with his ukulele. He was about 5-6 and couldn’t really play chords but he strummed along to the beat quite well. Then an old man came up and played spoons. He was great.
There were a couple more guests who played and then she got two of her friends to come up (another girl who played fiddle and a guy on guitar) and they were unbelievable! We found out later they are actually 3 members of a 5 piece Nova Scotia band called Coig who have won a number of awards.
Apparently the show tonight was one of the best they’ve had this summer so we were very lucky. I could easily spend a week here… We shared a table with a couple for Langley and had some travel talk in between songs. There are lots of people our age on the road out here. 🙂
It was a cloudy day with a few showers and is supposed to be like that again tomorrow but will hopefully turn around as we head to PEI.
Sept 19 – Today we left Cape Breton Island and drove to Scotsburn near the ferry terminal by Pictou today. It was overcast with showers for the 2 hour drive and we made two stops along the way.
The first was to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in the little village of Judique. The road all along the coast from Margaree to Port Hawkesbury is called the Ceilidh Trail and many famous Canadian musicians were born and raised here including the Rankin Family, Ashley McIsaac, and Natalie McMaster.
I had a blast at the interactive museum where I got to play a fiddle and take a step dance lesson. I bought a fiddle music book and think it’s time to get back to playing my violin when I get home.
Oh – I have to add “learn to quilt” to my retirement bucket list. I wanted to buy a hand made quilt but they cost $1000 (yikes!)
We also stopped for lunch and a walk in Antigonish and we had dinner at Sharon’s Place Family Restaurant which is Trip Advisor’s top rated restaurant in Pictou. Sharon was awesome and the food was simple but great.
Next up – our trip to PEI.
Click here for a link to a zoomable map of our trip.