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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nova Scotia

Pretty and peaceful, Nova Scotia is Canada's second smallest province, a peninsula on the eastern edge of the Canadian mainland. But its lengthy coastline is dotted with fishing harbors, sandy beaches, and plump islands. The scenery varies greatly, from the foggy Atlantic Ocean in the southeast to the tidal salt marshes of the Bay of Fundy in the west and Gaelic highlands of Cape Breton to the north. In these maritime latitudes, Nova Scotia has a pleasantly breezy if rather damp climate. Summer is bright and sunny, but weather conditions can often cause fog, with snow in winter.

Halifax is the capital and largest city. In 1604 the French, including Samuel de Champlain, settled the Annapolis Valley, founding Port-Royal, the first lasting European settlement north of Florida. They called it Acadia, a name that is now used to refer to all French settlement in the Maritimes.

1 Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail
Cabot Trail
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A 300 kilometer scenic drive rings the northwest coast of the island and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It is a coastal route, where the highest mountains in Nova Scotia dramatically meet the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cliffs, beaches, viewpoints, and a twisting road give countless photo opportunities. Many small communities and attractions line the route, which unofficially begins and ends in Baddeck, home to the father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Autumn is a favorite time to drive the Cabot Trail owing to the region's vibrant fall colors.

2 Peggy's Cove

Peggy's Cove
Peggy's Cove
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About 43 kilometers southwest of Halifax, the fishing village of Peggy's Cove has a back-in-time feel and sits on the foggy Atlantic Coast. The much-photographed lighthouse marks a perilous point. Stark, wave-battered granite bluffs surround the lighthouse. Fishing wharves, boathouses, colorful heritage homes, and art galleries line the winding road through the community. In September 1998, a Swissair plane crashed off the coast here, killing 229 people.

3 Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
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This historical reconstruction recreates mid-18th century life with more than forty historic buildings, costumed guides, and working establishments. It is a living history museum with a cast of soldiers, servants, fishermen, maids, and merchants who go about daily life. A defensive wall surrounds the town, and the Frédéric Gate sits right on the waterfront, for easy access to ships. Another entrance is the heavily guarded Porte Dauphine near the Armoury.

Address: 259 Park Service Rd, Louisbourg

4 Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
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Overlooking downtown Halifax, this hilltop fortress is the remnant of a British garrison that was first established in the 18th-century. Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, which itself was built in 1856, never saw a battle. Today, the warren-like tunnels, powder magazine, and barracks have been preserved, and living-history guides give tours. There are reenactments and fortress guards with interpreters dressed in British reds. The road leading up Citadel Hill is popular for its city and harbor views, and it passes the Old Town Clock, which Prince Edward commissioned in 1803.

Address: 5425 Sackville St, Halifax

5 Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
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The highest peaks in Nova Scotia are in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which covers more than 950 square kilometers at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island. Both the coastline of beaches and cliffs and the inland forests and rivers tempt hikers, campers, and families to explore the park. Wildlife watching is excellent in the national park with moose, beaver, eagles, and deer often visible from the Cabot Trail scenic drive, which partially cuts through the park.

The small Acadian town of Chéticamp lies just outside park boundaries

6 Lunenburg

Lunenburg waterfront
Lunenburg waterfront
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Brightly colored heritage buildings dot the Lunenburg townscape, which is picturesquely set on a hill. The community is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its legacy as a working port. Along the waterfront, fishermen shovel ice, and vessels dock at the wharves. The town's most famous craft, however, is the Bluenose schooner. Built here in 1921, the boat won many international races before sinking off the coast of Haiti. A replica Bluenose II is sometimes in port, while other fishing vessels and a schooner can be seen at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

7 Grand Pre National Historic Site

Grand Pre National Historic Site
Grand Pre National Historic Site
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Acadians settled in Grand Pre in the early 18th century, reclaiming Bay of Fundy salt marshes for agricultural land through a series of dykes. But as Nova Scotia changed hands between the French and British, it brought unrest to the region. When the French-speaking Acadians refused to swear allegiance to England in 1755, the British deported about 10,000 people and destroyed their farms. Grand Pre National Historic Site is a memorial to this injustice. Pretty gardens, a small chapel, and a statue of Henry Longfellow's fictional heroine Evangéline are part of the picturesque grounds at the historic site.

8 Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park

Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park
Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park
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Located 40 kilometers from Halifax, Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park makes an excellent day trip. The park is spread over 40 hectares and is home to a wide variety of native and exotic animal species, including moose, foxes, beavers, wolves, black bears, and cougars. Horse fanciers take note: the park is the only wildlife park in the world with Sable Island horses.

Address: 149 Creighton Rd, Lake Egmont

9 Halifax Harbour

Halifax Harbour
Halifax Harbour
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A boardwalk lines the Halifax Harbour, leading from Pier 21 Museum and the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market in the south along to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and restaurants. Tugs, sailboats, and navy vessels come and go, and the views look out to Dartmouth across the harbor and Georges Island mid-channel. Near the ferry terminal, "Historic Properties" is a group of restored heritage buildings turned shopping and dining area. A number of sightseeing cruises depart from the waterfront.

10 Kejimkujik National Park

Kejimkujik National Park
Kejimkujik National Park
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Kejimkujik National Park is the Maritimes only inland national park, though it does have a seaside adjunct with a stunning white sand beach. The inland area is popular for its lakes and rivers with excellent paddling, historic canoe routes, portages and hiking trails.

Address: Route 8, Maitland Bridge

11 Port-Royal National Historic Site

Port-Royal National Historic Site
Port-Royal National Historic Site Charles Hoffman / photo modified
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The first French settlement in North America was at this spot in the Annapolis Valley. Port-Royal National Historic Site was where, in 1605, Sieur des Monts founded the first permanent settlement in North America. Though the British destroyed the fort, it has now been rebuilt in plain wooden 17th-century style, and living-history guides give insight into the settlers' struggle to survive. The complex includes a Governor's Resident, a fur trading post, and priest's quarters.

Address: 53 Historic Lane, Port Royal

12 Sherbrooke Village

Sherbrooke Village
Sherbrooke Village Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
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Sherbrooke Village consists of about 25 buildings representing a Nova Scotia village around the turn of the 20th century. Not all of the buildings are open to the public, but visitors can enter a woodturner shop, blacksmith, pottery studio, and print shop. Although the village is only open during the summer months, there are seasonal events that take place here, including Christmas activities.

Address: 42 Main St, Sherbrooke

13 Hall's Harbour

Hall's Harbour
Hall's Harbour Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
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Though it's lesser publicized than New Brunswick, the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy shares claim to the highest tides in the world. Hall's Harbour is not the pinnacle of that tidal range (head instead to the Minas Basin), but it is one of the prettiest with a wide sandy beach and wharves where docked fishing boats act as tidal markers. At low tide, the vessel sits on the harbor bottom. A lobster pound and restaurant is the main destination in the tiny village. From Hall's Harbour, other Annapolis Valley attractions are nearby, including The Lookoff viewpoint near Canning, Cape Split hiking trails, and Blomidon Provincial Park.

14 Ross Farm Museum

Ross Farm Museum
Ross Farm Museum Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
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Ross Farm Museum does an excellent job of representing a working farm from more than 150 years ago. Numerous displays and buildings take visitors through a time warp to a bygone era. The 60-acre farm is, in fact, a real working operation, with a dairy barn, oxen pulls, and wagon rides. Visitors can see a variety of animals including Canadian horses, oxen, various types of poultry, Southdown and Cotswold sheep, along with Berkshire Pigs. There is a nature trail that allows visitors to stroll throughout the property along with a blacksmith's shop, a cooper's shop, a barn, a schoolhouse, and the original Ross cottage.

Address: 4568 Highway 12, New Ross

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