Nova Scotia is an amazing destination often overlooked by non-Canadian travelers. After many years of traveling in Canada, we visited Nova Scotia a few years ago for the first time. Simply, we were blown away by its beauty and culture. Keep reading for our complete Nova Scotia road trip itinerary. We’d recommend taking about ten days (or longer) for this road trip although seven days in Nova Scotia is a good start.
Overview of this Nova Scotia Road Trip
- Peggy’s Cove
- Tidal Bore at Truro
- Burntcoat Head Park
- Baddeck, Cape Breton Island
- Bird Island
- Cabot Trail
- Annapolis Royal
- Brier Island – Whale Watching
- Kejimkujik National Park
- Return to Halifax
- Grand Pre day trip
Halifax and Dartmouth (1-2 days)
There are many things to do in Halifax and Dartmouth. The Canadian Museum of Immigration offers exhibits on the nearly million immigrants who arrived to Canada. It is the Canadian version of Ellis Island in NYC. The stories of the immigrants here truly came alive.
The Maritime Museum has exhibitions about the Titanic, shipwrecks in Nova Scotia, and other worthwhile exhibits. We found the massive explosion of Halifax harbor particularly fascinating.
One of the main things to do in Halifax is to climb the Halifax Citadel to have epic views over the city and to learn more about Halifax’s history. This citadel built in the 1800s has a distinctive British design and it’s worth the stop-off.
While the Halifax waterfront is very commercial, it offers festivals, bars, and many public events.
If you want to go on the alternate side, visit Dartmouth. It is less expensive and commercial with beautiful views of Halifax. It is a twenty-minute ferry boat ride to Halifax. While in Halifax, visit the Eastern Passage since it has Fisherman’s Cove. It is a commercial fishing port without the tourist crowds that you find in Halifax.
One of the best restaurants during the trip was the Pleasant Street Diner in Dartmouth. They serve very fresh food, inexpensive, and popular. It’s worth the wait. We ended up paying around C$30 for a delicious dinner for two people with fresh fish.
We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth that was a five-minute drive to ferry. Rates here were lower than in hotels in the city center of Halifax and we got a full breakfast with our room. You’ll also find a number of traditional inns and boutique hotels.
Peggy’s Cove, Truro, and Lunenburg (1-2 days)
We ended up using Truro as our base as it offered easy access to all the places that we wanted to visit in the area and it was inexpensive compared to Peggy’s Cove. We stayed at the Belgravia B & B in Truro, a well-run bed and breakfast with friendly owners, and a terrific breakfast. They have limited rooms so be sure to book early.
Peggy’s Cove is one of the iconic spots on all Nova Scotia that has become famous for the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. It has even appeared on Canadian postage stamps. It’s situated in a cute fishing village although be warned that it is very popular.
We recommend arriving early in the morning to beat out the many tour groups. Similarly, if you’re driving yourself, parking in the afternoon can be very difficult.
Lunenburg is a UNESCO designated site since it is a historic Nova Scotia port with beautiful old buildings. It is especially worthwhile to be there around sunset since the historic buildings glisten in the sun. It is recognized by UNESCO as it is the best surviving British colonial settlement in North America.
Originally an Acadian/Mi’kmaq village, the settlement, as it is today, was established in 1753 as Lunenburg. Lunenburg has the original city layout and look. This is rare throughout Nova Scotia as Nova Scotia’s governor wanted it destroyed. Luckily, this was not!
This lovely town became a hub for shipbuilding, a legacy still carried on today by its residents who have become master shipbuilders who are knowledgeable about modern ships.
Tidal Bore at Truro
The Tidal Bore at Truro is where you can see rushing water coming into the river at high tide. Nature can be incredible and it’s 100% free to view this natural phenomenon. The time tables are readily available so schedule your visit at high and low tides.
An excellent restaurant that we enjoyed was Fletcher’s Restaurant in Truro for dinner. You’ll find lots of locals here and it was quite busy!
Drive to Cape Breton Island (1 day)
One highly unique activity on the way to Cape Breton island from Truro is viewing the highest tides in the world. At high tides, the tides rise on the Bay of Fundy by over 50 feet. At low tide, you might see boats sitting on sand and several hours later, floating in the bay. Burntcoat Head Park offers this great opportunity. It is memorable and unique to Nova Scotia.
Cape Breton Island (3-4 days)
Visiting Baddeck (Pronounced Ba- Deck) was one of the highlights of our Nova Scotia road trip. It has some tourists, but it’s a lovely town with many restaurants and interesting sites to see.
Be sure to visit the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. We learned a lot about this fascinating man who was more than just an inventor, but also an environmentalist, visionary, and teacher. I particularly loved hearing locals telling stories about their encounters with him.
The Bras d’Or Lake is beautiful as it is both fresh and saltwater. One great opportunity is the take the Amoeba Sailing Tour of the Lake on a sailboat. The cost is $25 for an hour and half tour. You’ll see bald eagles soaring above you. Reserve early as it’s popular.
If you prefer, you can rent a kayak at the Inverary Resort. The rental place is in the back of the resort. Rental prices for a kayak was about $10. Kayaking offers great views of the lake, sailboats in the dock, and Baddeck more generally.
St. Michael’s Parish House offers ceilidhs nightly. We absolutely loved attending a ceilidh. In case you’re not aware, ceilidhs are rooted in the Gaelic culture that came over with many immigrants and a must-see. They’re a great opportunity to watch dance, enjoy local music, and just appreciate Cape Breton’s unique culture.
If you intend to visit the one at St. Michael’s, buy your tickets at 5 p.m. as they sell out quickly. It is a small room and very intimate, so you can feel and hear the music.
For lunch and dinner, The Freight Shed offers excellent food and extremely popular. They do not accept reservations and you might need to wait. It’s worth it though!
I loved staying at the Inverary Resort & Ceilidh Lodge. It was a bit more expensive than our previous accommodation, but it had everything that we needed and felt like a bargain. They have great breakfasts, boat rentals, a fitness room, pools, a sauna, and stunning grounds.
Louisbourg offers a restored historic French fort that is operated by Canadian Parks. I expected to spend one hour exploring the historic fortress, but I enjoyed it so much that we spent four hours here. It provides a great chance to learn about the French government before the British took over.
Bird Island to see puffins
One unique excursion is the Bird Island Boat. It takes passengers to see Atlantic Puffins, bald eagles, and seals in the wild. If you’re a lover of animals, and puffins, you need to take an excursion on one of the bird watching boats. We were brought to the islands off the coast of Englishtown to view the Atlantic Puffin birds are smaller than the Icelandic birds during the summer. (These tours don’t operate year-round.)
Our eco-friendly tour was careful about ensuring that the wildlife was left untouched. Expect removable windows for photos. It’s best to have a camera with a good zoom lens. (Karen recommends a DSLR with a zoom lens that extends up to 200/300mm for those seeking amazing photos.)
Drive the incredible Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is being called one of the most amazing drives in world. If you can drive the entire trail with its great vistas, you will beautiful coast views. The road is also fun since it constantly winds up the terrain.
One tip: Always get gas when you might see an open station. If you have the time, visit Chéticamp or considering staying in Chéticamp to enjoy this stunning area. This fishing village is a great base on Cape Breton if you intend to stay a bit longer. You can do whale watches from here and eat Acadian food.
Heading back towards Halifax (2 days)
I recommend that you stay in Digby for this part of the trip. For value stay, we enjoyed the Digby Pines Golf Resort since it is spacious and something that you will rarely see elsewhere. The price includes a spacious breakfast and live shows in the evening. It reminded us of the Catskills back in the day.
Annapolis Royal is unquestionably one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. This town originally inhabited by the Mi’kmaq community became one of the early capitals during the colonial period. You’ll find stunning forts (like the one pictured above), great restaurants, and many art shops! The town is well preserved with many cute buildings.
Whale watching at Brier Island
Brier Island offers whale watches to the Bay of Fundy. We were able to spot dozens of whales as well as other marine life. The area is known for being a whale congregation area. Unlike other whale watching spots on Nova Scotia, it’s a shorter trip out to the best spots. Book early as it’s a popular excursion on Nova Scotia.
Kejimkujik National Park
Kejimkujik National Park is one of the wonders of Nova Scotia. There are many petroglyphs, hiking trails, bird watching, It is pure nature and truly offers boundless opportunities for the outdoor experience. The park is well known for its dark sky preserve, the perfect place to stargaze overnight. (Book your cabin ahead!) Be warned: there are leeches in the water.
Return to Halifax
Day trip from Halifax to Grand-Pré (1 day)
On the mainland, Grand-Pré is a sad, but important UNESCO world heritage site that tells the story of Le Grand Dérangement. This is the moment in history when the Acadians were expelled during the 18th century. More importantly, it offers a lesson where past events should not be forgotten.
Great food can be found near Wolfville. We loved the Rolled Oat Café for its great salads and wraps, which was very popular with the college kids in town.