The beauty of Nova Scotia, Canada, can’t be confined to one town. The best way to experience the postcard-perfect communities that dot its shores is by taking a journey, driving between seaside villages.
Dean Petty takes you on a journey through his Nova Scotia.
My name is Dean Petty and I feel extremely lucky to call Nova Scotia home. I originally moved here for university 18 years ago, and it immediately felt like I belonged here. After bouncing my way through a surfing career and various odd jobs, I now own a few small businesses including a coffee roastery, a few pizza shops, a cafe and a design company.
I really love my work and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Nova Scotia has all my favorite things: great surfing, yummy food, awesome fishing, wonderful humans, beautiful coastline…the list goes on and on. With a little luck, you’ll get to experience the magic, too.
Why you should visit Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is a wonderfully authentic corner of the world. It has the perfect balance of stunning natural beauty paired with gritty, amazing people and lots of fun activities. The magical “grounded-ness’” to this place is kind of indescribable. It’s just good Ol’ Nova Scotia.
To really experience Halifax and explore the more remote corners of the province, I’d suggest carving out seven to 10 days to take it all in. It’s worth traveling slowly here: taking your time, brushing elbows with locals, soaking up the beauty and really enjoying the experience.
You might do best by leaving much of your journey through Nova Scotia unscripted. There are tons of places to pull off and chill out while enjoying a gorgeous view. This is one of those places where the “no-plan plan” might be your best plan.
But if you need some suggestions to get started, here are a few of the spots I took Lonely Planet when they came for a visit.
Begin your journey in Halifax
Grab a slice at Yeah Yeah Pizza, the pepperoni is perfection © Jack Pearce/Lonely Planet
Wake up to a beautiful sunrise surf check. Assuming it’s flat, you can head out paddle boarding – or just head into town for breakfast.
I would humbly recommend my cafe Two if By Sea as the perfect spot for a morning cappuccino and a massively delicious croissant. My roastery next door, Anchored Coffee, provides the beans for the coffee served inside. We like to keep it in the family.
After breakfast, grab a bike and head to the Salt Marsh Trail in Cow Bay – a flat and cruisy gravel trail with a lot of nature to enjoy. If you’re down for a mission, a cool one is to ride along the trail from Cow Bay to Lawrencetown. (Just make sure you bring some bug spray for the mosquitos.)
After you’ve burned off all that butter and caffeine, head to Rainbow Haven Beach to rinse off with a quick post-ride dip in the refreshing North Atlantic.
Dry off: it’s time to eat again. Lunch options are endless, but when I have a friend in town, it’s straight to John’s Lunch in Woodside. Here you’ll find some of the freshest, most down-and-dirty fried seafood in the game. This establishment has no bells and whistles – just delicious, salty, fried stuff from the sea.
Want a lighter option? Check out my pizza joint Yeah Yeahs Pizza (locations on Ochterloney St in Dartmouth or Barrington St). I recommend grabbing a slice and Caesar salad. While you’re there, draw on a plate and stick it to the wall to leave your mark.
Make sure to check out Pro Skates Halifax, one of the oldest skate shops in North America. This spot is an institution of shred. And If you need a haircut while in town, head out back and see Joel at Oddfellows. The guy does one good cut.
For dinner, I recommend checking out The Narrows Public House for some good old Nova Scotia comfort food. Along with delicious options like fried pepperoni, potted smoked mackerel and hot chicken and stuffing, The Narrows offers one of the coziest vibes in the city for sitting and enjoying a delicious dinner with pals.
Move inland to the Annapolis Valley
A picnic in the vineyard of Lightfoot and Wolfville is hard to beat © Jack Pearce/Lonely Planet
Now that you’ve gorged on delicious food and enjoyed the coastline, head into the Annapolis Valley for a completely different vibe, landscape and microclimate. As you make the drive, take it slow, as there are plenty of sweet little family-run farmers markets and produce stands to stop at along the way. If antiques are your thing, there are lots of funky shops worth checking out, too. Country Barn Antiques is one of my favorites: its five floors of nostalgia offer knickknacks and random stuff you’ll enjoy rummaging through.
Fun fact: the Valley has some of the highest tides in the world, which have left behind lots of pristine sloped tidal banks perfect for mud sliding. This is an activity that you won’t see in many other parts of the world – and it’s an absolute blast. I recommend heading to the Avondale Wharf, which has some of the fastest mud in the game as well as some of the nicest locals anywhere. Pro-mud sliding tip: bring some towels that can get dirty and some fresh water to rinse off with. Believe it or not, you will get muddy.
After a break to clean up and take a rest, enjoy a nice, mellow evening at family-owned vineyard Lightfoot & Wolfville. With an amazing food menu and lots of delicious wines, this is the perfect spot to take in the sunset as you learn and taste why the Annapolis Valley’s microclimate produces such special wines.
Hop between the beautiful seaside towns of the South Shore
Lunenburg harbour in Nova Scotia. ©Brigitte Smith/Getty Images
Next, we’re headed out to explore the beautiful seaside towns of the South Shore. When you think of Nova Scotia, an image of a lighthouse probably pops into your head – and the one at Peggy’s Cove might be the prettiest in the province. While it can be a touch touristy, you’ll see why the minute you arrive in this quaint fishing village, complete with big granite slabs sloping into the ocean. It’s out-of-this-world beautiful. (Tip: this is a great place to grab a frozen treat. I recommend crushing one at Central Smith Ice Cream.)
Further down the road south is Lunenburg, a Unesco World Heritage Site. If you think it looks cute enough to be on a postcard, go into any tourist shop and your feelings will be confirmed. Lunenburg epitomizes a vibrant fishing town to a tee. It also has some incredible restaurants.
The best way to enjoy the town view is from the sea. Hop on a boat with Walter Flower: not only will you get that Instagram-perfect photo of Lunenburg, but you’ll also get to see some cool sea life like whales, seals and the odd shark.
Once back on shore, go to The Knot Pub for a post-boating bite and pint. This is a watering hole, Maritimes-style, and it’s nothing fancy – only cold pints, simple and delicious food, great people. There’s not much more you can ask for in life.
For a comfortable and peaceful place to stay, check out Ivy House, a boutique inn in Lunenburg that opened in 2019 with just three suites. The owner (and my pal) Tara describes the decor as “tastefully modern, Scandinavian with a pinch of coastal.” It’s a beautiful spot to rest your bones after a long day along and on the water.