Scenic hiking trails, relaxing beaches, cool craft breweries and lots of lobster — there are definitely so many fun things to do in the Nova Scotia, and sometimes driving yourself is the best way to experience it all. This was very much true on my flexible self-driving tour of Nova Scotia with Canada by Design, which gave me the opportunity to explore at my own pace allowing me to focus on finding the best bucket list adventures for you.
SEE + DO
1. Visit the UNESCO Town of Lunenburg
The port town of Lunenburg is a historic Nova Scotia coastal community that has the well deserved title as an UNESCO world heritage site. Whether you take in some shopping, dine at the quaint restaurants or stroll along the waterfront you will be in awe of its charm.
Start your day with a cappuccino and a little shopping at the Shop on the Corner. Afterwards, hit up Ironworks Distillery for a short tour and a taste of delicious raspberry liquor. Make a stop for lunch at Salt Shaker Deli whose name is deceiving because there is much more than just sandwiches! If it’s docked in town, set sail on the tall ship Bluenose II, a replica of the famous fishing and racing schooner. For dinner head to the trendy Lincoln Street Food where you can nosh on vegan fish and chips or beet gnocchi with chanterelles.
2. See the UNESCO Landscape of the Grand Pré
Lunenburg isn’t the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nova Scotia (there are five!), you can add the landscape of the Grand Pré to that list. The 5 square mile landscape is located in the Annapolis Valley’s Bay of Fundy. The marshland and archaeological sites are a testament to the technology from the 17th century. The best glimpse of the landscape drive to the View Park on Old Post Road.
Since you’ll be nearby, also stop at Domaine de Grand Pré for a wine tasting from the region.
3. Witness the Dramatic Changes in the Tide
Nova Scotia has some of the most dramatic tide changes in the world (at a rate of up to 1 inch per minute!!). Hall’s Harbour is a small fishing village where not only can you eat at the local lobster pound, but is also the best place to witness these tide fluctuations. At low tide the wharf is completely dry, leaving the fishing boats sitting on the rocky floor of the harbor. But if you time it correctly and return about 6 hours later, the boats are bobbing in the water ready to fetch some fresh fish. For the tide times check here.
4. Go Tidal Bore Rafting
The Nova Scotia tides cause 160 billion tons of water flow through the Bay of Fundy twice a day, which feeds into the Shubenacadie River. This surge of seawater creates a once-in-a-lifetime adventure like no other, tidal bore rafting. It’s a wild ride where you will zip through up to 10 foot waves, they will crash over your motorized raft drenching you from head to toe or submerging you completely. If you have only one adventure in Nova Scotia, this is it!!
There are many companies that have Tidal Bore Rafting. River Runners, Shubenacadie River Adventures and Fundy Tidal Bore Adventures are amongst the most popular, plus have great reviews. We chose the latter of the three because if was a shorter excursion (2 hours versus 3 1/2 – 4) and it included mud sliding where you can roll down hills of fluffy mud until you are not only wet, but also covered in mud.
Related > Tidal Bore Rafting Video
5. Make a Call From the Luckett Vineyard Phone Box
At Luckett Vineyards, not only can you get a taste of the locally grown grapes, but you can also make a free call to anywhere in the United States from inside the famous Phone Box! If you’re feeling especially winey, take the Magic Winery Bus who will not only stop at Luckett Vineyards, but three others too.
By the way, try a glass of Luckett’s Phone Box Red, it was my fav!
6. Take a Candlelight Graveyard Tour in Annapolis Royal
If a spooky adventure is on your bucket list, then don’t miss the opportunity to tour the oldest English graveyard in Canada by candlelight. The Garrison Cemetery in Annapolis Royal comes alive with a lively tour that starts at Fort Anne.
Tour Annapolis Royal will guide you through the graveyard telling stories of the people who lay there, dating back to the 1700s. Some of the tombstones are so old that they have lost their facing!
7. Walk on the Ocean Floor
Nova Scotia has some of the most severe tide fluctuations, with the average tide being 47.5 feet. If you plan it correctly to catch low tide at Burntcoat Head Park, you can take a stroll on the ocean floor. There are not many other opportunities to walk for miles on the bottom of the ocean without getting wet! Have fun exploring the small leftover pools of saltwater to see what types of marine life you can find inside. Maybe a crab or mussel?
Click here for tide schedule at Burntcoat Head Park.
8. Drive Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island
The Cabot Trail is a 185 mile driving loop that has picturesque lookout points, miles of hiking trails, lush forests and 360 degree beauty, plus quaint crafty shops, harbors and delectable fish eateries. It is a drive where you can take a walk on the beach, take in the scenic vistas, eat lobster rolls at the Rusty Anchor and pet some four-legged friends at the Groovy Goat Farm.
Don’t forget to make the quintessential Cabot Trail stop — hiking the Skyline Trail (see #9 below).
9. Hike the Skyline Trail
You’ll know you’ve reached the Skyline Trailhead by the dozens of cars that line the entrance. This hiking trail is the most famous on the Cabot Trail and for very good reason. It will not only give you the most incredible views, but you will also have the opportunity to spot a moose (we saw 3!). Make sure to ask the hikers you pass along the trail if they saw Bullwinkle on their route and how far back, so you can catch one before they retreat into the dense brush.
The full trail took us about 2 1/2 hours, but if you are strapped for time when you get to the the fork in the trail head left to get to the boardwalk view and then turn around and come back the same way you came instead of completing the loop which can add up to a half hour.
10. Go Back in Time at the Fortress of Louisbourg
The Fortress of Louisbourg will bring you back in time to a busy 18th century seaport. It is the largest reconstruction project in North America, a quarter of the walls and a fifth of the town has been restored back to an old French town.
Once you are greeted at the front gates, you will be immersed into a different lifetime where elaborately dressed actors enhance the experience by roaming the streets and putting on a show with every one they encounter. Some will be acting out a scene from the second story of a window, while others will be shooting muskets at the range. There is always some sort of action going on at the Fortress!
11. Be a Soldier For a Day
The Halifax Citadel has a strategic hilltop location which made it the perfect place for the 78th Highlanders to protect the city back in the 1700s. You can not only visit the star-shaped structure, which is the highest point in the city, but also take a step back in time by being a soldier for the day.
Are you ready to enlist as a temporary British soldier? You will be fitted for a uniform (kilt included of course!), march in line, practice military drills and learn to fire your rifle.
12. Get Your Passport Stamped at Peggy’s Cove
Thousands of people travel to the quaint fishing village of Peggy’s Cove to see the iconic lighthouse (and it’s a beauty!) or eat lobster rolls with a picturesque view of the water. But, you can also get your passport stamped with the cutest picture of a lighthouse in the little post office.
TIP: Get to Peggy’s Cove early to avoid the hordes of tourists. And if you have time make a pitstop in the tiny village of Prospect. It’s just as adorable as Peggy’s Cove, minus the crowds and shops.
13. Go Clamming in Nova Scotia
Break out your rubber boots and go on a clam digging adventure on the shores of Clam Harbour. You will not only get an information lesson about clams, but also learn how to use a clam fork to find your prize mollusk. The experience wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t get rewarded for your hard work with a steamed clam feed.
14. Walk One of the World’s Longest Boardwalk
The approximately 3km long wooden boardwalk in Halifax is one of the longest in the world. It winds along the waterfront passing picturesque ships at dock, plus cute knick-knack shops, historic buildings, restaurants and seaside snack shacks.
15. Listen to Fiddlers on Cape Breton
Nova Scotia is home to the largest fiddle in the world, a tribute to Cape Bretons signature celtic music style. On the island there are many places that you can hear the sounds of their trademark fiddle music, Scottish immigrants brought fiddle music to Cape Breton and it’s tradition has been upheld ever since.
It’ll be hard to keep your feet from tapping once the musicians start to play!
Related > Cape Breton’s Fiddle Music Hot Spots
EAT + DRINK
16. Eat the Famous Digby Scallops in Digby
The small town of Digby has an active fishing community that harvests the famous Digby Scallops. These same sea scallops are served throughout Nova Scotia, but if you eat them anywhere else you can’t say that you ate “Digby Scallops in Digby”. It’s bragging rights just like drinking Champagne is Champagne.
17. Drink at One (or Several) of the Craft Breweries
Craft beer is all the rage in Nova Scotia (and thousands of other cities around the world!). Grab a creatively named brew (like an Ol’ Scurvy Bastard and Goseface Killah) at the Good Robot Brewing company or if the weather is nice sit outdoors at the popular Stillwell Beergarden. One of the most popular beer experiences is to take a tour at Alexander Keith’s (samples included!) and then hit up the Red Stag Tavern right next door to buy a glass of your favorite.
Like beer and want to drink lots of it? Then don’t mess around and just take the Beer Bus Tour.
18. Eat at a Nova Scotia Lobster Pound
Technically, a lobster pound is the enclosure where live lobsters are kept while waiting to be sold. But in Nova Scotia, restaurants where you can pick your own lobster based on weight, then have them cooked to order are what they refer to as a lobster pound.
At Halls Harbour Lobster Pound you can pick your live lobster from the their tanks that separate them by pound, ranging from 1 to 5. Take your selection to the cookhouse where it will be prepared to perfection. While you wait, take a stroll along the dock just outside to watch the lobster boats as they are waiting for the tide to come in, when they can navigate their way out to sea.
19. Overdose on Maple Syrup
Sugar season at the Sugar Moon Maple Farm is in the spring, but you can enjoy the taste of maple there all year long. During a visit you can take a tour to learn about making maple syrup and life on the farm. Follow up the tour with breakfast or lunch at the on-site restaurant where you can feast on things like Maple Mac n Cheese, Maple Baked Beans and a Spiked Maple Mocha. Do you see the theme here?
20. Go to a Lobster Supper
Lobsters suppers are typically know as a church or town event where hundreds of folks gather in large halls to eat multi-course meals where the star of the show is of course a big, juicy lobster. Though you can still find these events, many being fundraisers, there are also restaurants around Nova Scotia who have created their own style of a lobster supper.
Baddeck Lobster Suppers is the perfect stop at the end to Driving on the Cabot Trail or just about any other time too. You can choose from a main dish (lobster, crab, salmon or steak) and it includes all-you-can-eat fixins — mussels and chowder.