The rugged and beautiful land that comprises what is now Nova Scotia has been inhabited by the indigenous Miꞌkmaq people for thousands of years – and today it’s an unforgettable destination to explore. Whether you’re looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, culinary trails or family-friendly attractions, this Maritime province has it all.
On the edge of the Atlantic, Nova Scotia offers up glowing sunsets and jaw-dropping scenery – which can be seen along its incredible winding coastal roads. This slice of seaside heaven is all about outdoor fun, so make sure to pack your sense of adventure…and a few layers.
See incredibly whales in the Bay of Fundy © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet
1. Feel the power of the Bay of Fundy
Located halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the Bay of Fundy is often on every list of best things to do in Nova Scotia. For good reason too. The highest tides on earth, the rarest whales in the world, semi-precious minerals and dinosaur fossils are all there to discover at this Natural Wonder of North America.
There are many ways to experience this phenomenal site beyond just pulling up for a quick roadside visit. Walk on the ocean floor at low tide at Burntcoat Head Park, where kids will enjoy examining ocean life in the tidal pools and exploring caves while parents gawk at the jaw-dropping scenery. Meanwhile, foodies will want to pre-book the Dining on the Ocean Floor experience for a unique full-day culinary experience that will never be forgotten.
Adventure seekers, get ready to immerse yourself in the Bay of Fundy tides with Tidal Bore Rafting. You’ll find yourself mud sliding before maneuvering the raft through the tidal waves.
Detour: If your kids are into dinosaurs, take them to the Fundy Geological Museum, which has exhibits on fossils found in the area.
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is often referred to as the most photographed lighthouse in Canada, and for good reason © Joe Regan / Getty Images
2. Go lighthouse spotting
With its rugged coastline, it should come as no surprise that Nova Scotia is home to the largest collection of lighthouses in Canada. Although Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse (also known as Peggy’s Point Lighthouse) is one of the best places to visit in Nova Scotia, there’s plenty more to explore as you roam around the province. Catch a sunset by Cape George Point Lighthouse, on a clear day you can see both Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island from atop the point. If you’re visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg, keep an eye out for the one there that replaced the original, which was lost during the famous battles between the French and the English. As you roam the coast, you’ll spot quite a few of the 170+ Nova Scotian lighthouses – and true fans will definitely want to pop in to the Out of the Fog Lighthouse Museum on Half Island Cove.
Read more: The 15 best free things to do in Halifax
3. Glamp under the stars
While there are numerous scenic trails and plenty of provincial and privately-owned campgrounds, not everyone is ready for the backpacker lifestyle. Luckily, Nova Scotia has plenty of glamping options even for those who seek the finer things in life.
True North Destination’s 5-star eco-resort offers luxury domes that come with full bathrooms, kitchenettes and hot tubs. Mountain sunrises greet you each day and ocean sunsets will lull you to sleep. Archer’s Edge Luxury Camping, found on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Judique, is a solid option for those looking for an adults-only Nova Scotia getaway. Valley Sky Luxury Camping lets you immerse yourself in the wondrous outdoors and natural beauty of Grand Pre and offers the finest of luxuries to complement the peace of mind that comes with a rural retreat.
Savor all the experiences on the Cabot Trail Scenic Highway as it navigates throughout the majestic Cape Breton Highlands National Park © Rob Crandall / Shutterstock
4. Cruise the Cabot Trail
Undeniably, one of the best things to do in Nova Scotia is to drive the Cabot Trail. The trail navigates a 185-mile (298-kilometer) loop around most of Cape Breton Island, weaving throughout Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise, spend a day or five, be sure to make time for the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck.
Stop to enjoy the vistas, taste the local flavors and sneak in a cèilidh (a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering) if you can. The Acadian village of Chéticamp is a great spot to learn about hooked rugs and fiddle music. The Keltic Lodge Resort is a worthy resting spot and if you’re a golfer, you will want to swing by Highland Links, one of the top 100 courses in the world. Remember to pack your bathing suits if you’re visiting during the warmer months of July and August because there are many beaches on the Cabot Trail.
Planning tip: For more celtic experiences, be sure to visit during the Celtic Colours International Festival (October 7-15 in 2022). Book early; the festival attracts a ton of visitors from around the world and accommodation fills up fast.
Read more: Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coastline is a lobster lover’s paradise
5. Take a helicopter to an island picnic
Want to explore the romantic side of Nova Scotia? Take in the views from above with a heli-picnic experience. Board your helicopter at the Halifax Stanfield airport and take in a bird’s-eye view of the city of Halifax before soaring over turquoise waters towards secluded Sambro Island. Here your experience includes a private picnic and wine tasting with a sommelier on the island, which you have all to yourself.
Hit all the highlights of Annapolis Valley on the Magic Winery Bus tour © Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
6. Sip wine through the Annapolis Valley
Nova Scotia’s wine scene is ever-growing, and a responsible drive through one of the four wine regions will delight wine lovers looking to chat with vintners and sample the province’s Tidal Bay appellation. Of the four (Malagash Point, Annapolis Valley, Gaspereau Valley and the South Shore), Annapolis Valley offers a variety of easily navigable options.
Travelers can bike through Wolfville along the Harvest Moon Trailway and stop in for a tasting at Mercator Vineyards, try a few nibbles at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, snap a picture at Luckett Vineyards or eat a full meal at Domaine de Grand Pre’s award-winning restaurant, Le Caveau.
Base yourself in Wolfville and check out the Grand Pre National Historic site, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Landscape of Grand-Pré. Whatever you choose, you can sip, savor and enjoy the succulent flavors found in this part of the province, often with idyllic water views of the incredible Bay of Fundy.
Planning tip: If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, the Magic Winery Bus will take you on an official tour through one of the best places to visit in Nova Scotia, the Gaspereau Valley region.
Once a meal for the impoverished, Nova Scotia lobster is now in demand the world over © Jay Jones / Lonely Planet
7. Chow down on seafood
Nova Scotia is known for its fresh seafood, hearty chowders and scrumptious lobsters. On your East Coast trip, experience some seaside lobster boils, embark on the chowder trail, learn how to shuck oysters and get some tips from the local fishermen. Go down the lobster trail making your way to the Baddeck Lobster Suppers, grab some lobster tacos at Old Fish Factory in Lunenburg and obviously some Creamed Lobster at La Cuisine Robicheau. There’s also lobster beer and lobster fries to add to your list. Lobster everything!
Planning tip: There are several lobster festivals throughout the year including the Lobster Crawl Festival that takes place each February.
Whale watching off the coast of Nova Scotia brings you closer than ever to these remarkable sea mammals © Christoph Zipko / Lonely Planet
8. Dive into a whale-watching expedition
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Nova Scotia during the summer and fall, add whale watching to your Nova Scotia itinerary. The best way to see the magnificent whales in the Bay of Fundy or Northern Cape Breton waters is to join a Zodiac tour but be aware, the ride can get bumpy. If you’re looking for a smoother ride, the fishing-style boat tours are your best option. Get that camera ready because you never know when one of the 12 species of whales known to frequent the area each year might jump out in front of you.
Nova Scotia has some of the best star-gazing spots in North America © Gianni Triggiani / 500px
9. Go stargazing
There are many places to stargaze in Nova Scotia and you’re guaranteed a mesmerizing experience when visiting the province. Spend the night at the world’s first Starlight hotel, Trout Point Lodge, for one of the best stargazing spots in North America. They even have onsite astronomers to help guests learn about the stars overhead.
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is a Dark Sky Preserve located less than 2 hours from Halifax. This makes it the perfect place to see shooting stars and constellations or a clear night. And for a truly educational visit, swing by the Deep Sky Eye Observatory for a guided tour and a peek through telescopes. They have sky cabins and sky bubbles here for those who want a complete overnight experience.
10. Head off in search of the best brews
With over 50 breweries to explore, you’ll have quite the time searching for your favorite Nova Scotian beer. Most brewmasters take pride in their work and are often nearby to answer questions about their locally sourced ingredients and craftsmanship, so don’t be shy.
Visit Big Spruce Brewing to enjoy their brewery farm and patio vibes as you sip on their classic Kitchen Party Pale Ale. Swing by Tatamagouche Brewing Company for some award-winning German-inspired Nova Scotian suds. Looking for something different? A classroom taproom awaits you at Schoolhouse Brewery! No matter what you’re in the mood for – sours, ales, IPAs, stouts – you’ll find your perfect brew in Nova Scotia.
Would you try these unusual lobster treats?