Scenic routes, coastal access, the Bay of Fundy, and delicious seafood are just a few of the offerings that inspire people to travel to Nova Scotia. Throw in the adorable seaside towns and the abundance of hands-on experiences and things to do in Nova Scotia – and you’ve got an incredible vacation destination.
When it comes to driving around Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail is constantly touted as one of the world’s best drives – it gets all of the attention. However, as a self-professed underdog lover – I want to let you know that there’s much more to Nova Scotia’s highways than Cape Breton.
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Nova Scotia Scenic Drives
There’s a whole series of scenic driving routes throughout the island that deserve praise. Each are densely marked with their own logo which makes it easy to follow the route as it winds around towns, beaches, rural areas, and fishing villages.
When I started researching Nova Scotia for my mother-daughter trip, I knew right away that I wanted to do a Nova Scotia road trip driving holiday – but I didn’t just want to focus only on just the Cabot Trail. So with the help of Visit Nova Scotia, we were able to put together a complete Nova Scotia driving holiday that would take us on the majority of the scenic drives in addition to driving the Cabot Trail.
All we had to do was follow the route markers, and we were treated to the generous local hospitality and stunning views! This guide includes our driving routes, where we stayed, favorite restaurants, and things to do on this Nova Scotia road trip.
Plus, I’ve updated this for new lodging, restaurants, and experiences in 2021.
How Much Time do you Need in Nova Scotia?
The trip took us a little less than 2 weeks overall – including our time in Halifax. However, you can adjust this for however much time you have. You can drive one or two of the routes if you only have a week and get a great feel for Nova Scotia’s culture – and you’ll get great seafood no matter what region you visit!
Nova Scotia Road Trip Routes and Things to Do
We started in Halifax Nova Scotia since that’s where most people arrive on the island via flights. However, we took the train to Halifax from Toronto; stopping in Montreal. The Montreal to Halifax Nova Scotia Route is called the Ocean Route. This is a unique way to slow travel out to Atlantic Canada if you have the time – I can’t recommend it enough!
When I travel, I find the cheapest rental car rates at RentalCars.com. Check out their prices for a Nova Scotia road trip!
One Item You’ll Find in Every Nova Scotia Region
There was one thing you could find on each of these scenic driving routes – colorful Adirondack chairs! They were everywhere – standing out like a bright beacon of color amidst an often gray, moody background.
During our 2 weeks driving around Nova Scotia this iconic chair was found everywhere along our routes. Some were new and brightly painted, some were plastic, and some had seen better days as the paint peeled due to neglect and the harshness of the Nova Scotia weather had taken its toll. However, no matter the condition, they were always gazing off toward some amazing tranquil views.
Things to do on the Lighthouse Route – South Shore
Not only did we see lighthouses, but we also got a great feel for the seafaring heritage of the area. The South Shore is also the site of the famous Nova Scotia Lobster Crawl. Every February – for the entire month – the South Shore throws a fantastically tasty event called the Nova Scotia Lobster Crawl Festival.
You see, February just happens to be the peak of the lobster season along the entire South Shore, so from Barrington (the Lobster Capital of Canada) to Peggy’s Cove and every port in between – you can expect all kinds of lobster celebrations.
My South Shore Highlights: Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, LeHave Bakery, Petite Riviere Vineyards, Lunenburg Fisheries Museum
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
This route is full of lighthouses, with the most well-known one being Peggy’s Cove. We left Halifax Nova Scotia and headed for Peggy’s Cove to see the famous lighthouse and nearby quaint fishing village. We happened to get there as a big storm was arriving, so it was moody and bleak – perfect for photography.
New in 2021 – Peggy’s Cove is undergoing a big project to add a beautiful new viewing deck. It will allow people to view the lighthouse and experience the waves and rocks in a way that is fully accessible and safe – making a visit to Peggy’s Cove even better if that’s possible!
We also stopped along the winding road to see beautiful water views and outlooks. We stayed in the fishing village of Lunenburg and hunkered down for the approaching storm.
Stop in Lunenburg – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
We stopped in Lunenburg for the night; a picture-perfect little fishing village on the South Shore. It’s a 260-year-old town with a huge fishing history. When we woke up the next day it was pouring rain, but we didn’t let that stop us! We still went to see the Fisheries Museum and we also watched the Dory races – a local treat!
Lunenburg also is a UNESCO World Heritage site! Old Town Lunenburg is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. Established in 1753, it has retained its original layout and overall appearance, based on a rectangular grid pattern drawn up in the home country.
LaHave Bakery – a Local Favorite
The next day, based on advice from locals we continued along the Lighthouse Route to the LaHave Ferry. We rode the ferry across with a local who invited us for coffee on the other side at the LaHave Bakery – a must for those along the Lighthouse Route!
You’ll be welcomed by a big porch where you are tempted to just sit and watch the world go by for a while. In addition to being a bakery and coffee shop, LaHave Bakery is also a market where you’ll find fresh local produce and other goods.
New in 2021 – In the nearby town of Pleasantville they have a new floating cottage that you can stay in as of 2021! The Ketch Floating Cottage is situated on a dock jutting out into the calm waters of the beautiful LaHave River – it’s a totally unique vacation experience! This is on my list for my next trip for sure.
Sip Wine with a View at Petite Riviere Vineyards
We also stopped in the little town of Petite Riviere to do some wine tasting at Petite Riviere Vineyards and checked out some other great little art shops.
Sip wine out on the large terrace overlooking the vineyards. Or try one of the ciders they’ve started making. The vineyard also hosts concerts in the summer. Plus, winery and vineyard tours are run every Wednesday through Sunday during the months of May-October.
The thing that stuck out to me on the Lighthouse Route was that the locals were so proud of their area – we sort of followed an unplanned trail of breadcrumbs along the route where locals had suggested we stop, visit, and eat at making this one of our favorite areas of Nova Scotia!
Where to Stay and Eat on South Shore
Restaurants: Petite Riviere Vineyard, The Knot Bar/Restaurant, Broadmore Café, LaHave Bakery
Things to do Along the Evangeline Trail – Annapolis Valley and Fundy Shore
This route skirts the Bay of Fundy and its miraculous highest tides in the world, as well as gives you a glimpse into the farming culture of Nova Scotia. The Annapolis Valley has an abundance of farm-fresh produce, farmer’s markets, and fresh seafood that’ll leave your mouth watering! In fact, I think they should rename this scenic drive the Eating Trail – be sure to go hungry.
This is also your best way to see and experience the Bay of Fundy tides. Fundy has the highest recorded tides in the world where you can walk or dine on the ocean floor when the tide has dropped the height of a four-story building. This is a site to see!
My Annapolis Valley and Fundy Shore Highlights: Halls Harbour Lobster in the Rough, walking on the ocean floor, flower garden at Blomidon Inn, Seeing the boats slowly sink into the mud at low tide, eating scallops in Digby.
Visit Digby – the Scallop Capital of the World
Our first stop was in Digby, known as the scallop capital of the world. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from to feast on Digby scallops – just walk along the water and pick one that looks good to you. We sat outside at the Fundy Restaurant and watched the boats in the Bay of Fundy slowly lower with the tide as we ate our giant Digby scallops.
Walk the Oldest Town in North America – Annapolis Royal
We went onward to the oldest town in North America, Annapolis Royal, and enjoyed the small town, fort, and bay views. This is the perfect time to get out of your car and walk around the lovely boardwalk by the Bay of Fundy. Stop in the shops and enjoy all of the creativity; the town is a magnet for visual artists, craftspeople, performers, and writers.
Visit Atlantic Canada’s Oldest Winery
We continued away from the Bay of Fundy through the fertile farming land of Annapolis Valley, enjoying the lush green fields and frequent wineries. Consider stopping at Grand Pre Winery – it’s Atlantic Canada’s oldest Farm Winery, owned and operated by the Stutz Family since 1994.
The landscape of the Grand Pre is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site!
New in 2021 – They’ve developed the family farmhouse into a new Inn – so now you can stay at the winery! In addition, they’ve also added a Chef’s Table Dining where up to 10 guests are seated at Chef’s Table and interact with Chef Jason Lynch as the meal is being prepared.
Eat a Hall’s Harbor Lobster – a Hidden Gem
Next, we turned towards the rocky coastline to have some fresh lobster in Hall’s Harbor. Here you can watch the boats in the harbor sink slowly toward the dirt bottom. As we sat there and ate the tide must have gone down about 6 to 10 feet. I couldn’t help but think about how fishermen must have time their work very carefully in this odd environment.
When we arrived at Hall’s Harbor in Nova Scotia not only were we in for a beautiful view eating outside with harbor views of the Bay of Fundy, but we were also ready to try their famous Lobster in the Rough.
Pick your fresh lobster directly out of the tank, hand it over to the chef, grab a beer, and wait outside for your cooked lobster to arrive! This is an iconic Nova Scotia lobster experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Want to learn more about Nova Scotia Lobster? Check out my article on where and when to find lobster in Nova Scotia including how to cook it!
Walk on the Ocean Floor At Scott’s Bay
We took a detour off the Evangeline Trail and went towards Scott’s Bay where we could take a walk out on the ocean floor during the Bay of Fundy low tide – a unique perk of this area!
We planned for the low tide and drove to Scott’s Bay – a little fishing community near Wolfville that a local had recommended we see. The drive out there was pretty solitary – but totally worth it!
We went up and over a footbridge and stared out along a vast open space of rocks and glistening wet sand on the other side. There it was – the ocean floor exposed, just waiting for us.
New in 2021 – you can not only walk on the ocean floor, but you can also dine on the ocean floor! Check out these special one-of-a-kind dinners dining and foraging ingredients at low tide with a local chef.
Stay in a Historic Sea Captain’s home in Wolfville
We then went back inland to the charming town of Wolfville to stay at the Historic Blomidon Inn – a historic Sea Captain’s home turned into a B&B. After a long day of driving we enjoyed the flower garden and some pampering at the Inn. No need to venture out for dinner as the Inn served one of the nicest dinners we had in all of Nova Scotia.
Where to Eat and Stay in the Annapolis Valley and Fundy Shore
Restaurants: Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound, Blomidon Inn Restaurant, Fundy Restaurant in Digby, Grand Pre Winery Chef Dinners
When I travel, I find the cheapest rental car rates at RentalCars.com. Check out their prices for a Nova Scotia road trip!
Things to do on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island
The Queen of all of Nova Scotia’s driving routes – the Cabot Trail – is typically littered with superlatives such as best, greatest, and most scenic. It certainly deserves praise as it provides a whole different feel of Nova Scotia than the other routes. The road hugs the cliffs and winds around forests on the Northwest side, and the Eastern side provides a rocky coast dotted with fishing villages and beaches.
There are plenty of scenic lookouts along the Cabot Trail giving you many photo opportunities or just a place to sit and take in the magnificent views.
My mom and I split our Cabot Trail drive across 2 days. That way we had plenty of time to enjoy everything in Cape Breton. However, if you only have one day check out this perfect Drive the Cabot Trail one-day itinerary I did a few years later.
My Cape Breton Highlights: Those incredible views, the Middlehead hiking trail, watching the sunset, experiencing the Celtic culture, and the non-touristy White Point Harbor fishing village for a real taste of authenticity.
Listen to the Celtic Culture at the Gaelic College
The next morning another storm had arrived in force and we couldn’t even see the coastline! We continued our drive along the now stormy Cabot Trail giving us a whole new respect for Mother Nature’s force. We stopped at art galleries and the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts to see bagpipe, fiddle, and other demonstrations – a great rainy day stop.
They also have a lovely gift shop with unique souvenirs.
Note: Music demonstrations are only held in the morning once a day – so get there early! Check the schedule here. You’ll also find MANY places on Cape Breton offering live Celtic music at restaurants and bars.
Find the Best Views in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
This is one of the crown jewels of the drive around Cape Breton. This National Park has a number of wonderful hiking trails, restaurants, small towns, and so many incredible coastal views!
One of my favorite and most clever uses of the Adirondack chair in Nova Scotia was by the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in their “Red Chair Challenge”. The mission was to find and sit in ten red chairs scattered around Cabot Trail. At each chair, there’s a unique view of the landscape and seascape.
Mom and I were excited to see how many we could find, but honestly finding the chairs was much more of a challenge than we expected! We only found one – we saw it from a distance and then had to figure out how to hike to it. When we did finally figure out the way, the view was indeed breathtakingly placed on top of a waterfall.
Watch for Whales on Skyline Trail
This hiking trail will have you oohing and aahing as you suddenly leave the forest area behind and are high on top of a headland cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A boardwalk with stairs leads you down to a viewpoint with benches.
There are many places to whale watch in Nova Scotia – but the Skyline Trail is one of my favorite whale-watching spots! Keep your eyes peeled for whales down below and enjoy the view.
Enjoy an Ingonish Beach, Hike, or Gondola
This community on the northeast coast of Cape Breton Island is known for its beaches and hiking, and it just recently launched a gondola. This stunning part of the Cabot Trail is worth a stop.
The Middle Head hike is a perfect way to get out of the car and stretch your legs. This is a 2.4-mile easy hike out of the narrow peninsula separating two ocean bays. It ends on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Looking for more things to do on Cape Breton Island? Read about the culture, golf, hiking, food and more
My mom and I actually stayed in a cute little cabin at the Keltic Lodge and enjoyed this elegant historic lodge with its live music and incredible restaurant. After a dinner fit for royalty at the Purple Thistle, we enjoyed Celtic music at the lodge.
New for 2021 – Go to great heights on the new Ingonish gondola ride. Try out the new 8-person gondola, the first in Atlantic Canada, which will take riders from the bottom of Cape Smokey 320 vertical meters to the top in 4 minutes.
Try Fishcakes for Breakfast
Charlene’s Bayside restaurant in Whycocomagh is known for serving up the best chowder on Cape Breton and they serve it up for breakfast along with a fish cake and a homemade biscuit. A fish cake and chowder for breakfast….what??? Trust me on this – it’s incredible! Plus, the atmosphere at Charlene’s is like having breakfast in your grandmother’s house, and who doesn’t love that?
Stay in a Tiny House with a Big View
New in 2021 – the Cabot Trail Tiny Homes have some of the best views on the Cabot Trail. On one side you have the breathtaking view of Margaree Harbour and the beautiful Cape Breton highlands on the other. Each tiny house is equipped with a deck from which to see the gorgeous sunsets over the water. There is also a shared outdoor campfire and a beachfront for swimming or launching kayaks or canoes.
Play on a Top Ranked Golf Course
The Cabot Cliffs Golf Course is ranked 19th in the world’s top 100 golf courses, so why not stop and get in 9 holes? And if you can, do an entire 18 as the last 3 holes of the course are some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen! And be sure to bring plenty of extra balls to replace all of the ones you are going to lose off the cliffs!
And if your pocketbook can afford it – get a room at the Cabot Cliffs resort too – it’s pure luxury.
Visit the Fishing Village of White Point Harbor
At the north end of Cape Breton just slightly off the Cabot Trail, you’ll find White Point Harbor. This isn’t a tourist town…this is a fishing village of days gone by. Park by the docks and take a little walk around the town. You will find a few local fishermen there and piles of lobster traps, but this sleepy little town has virtually no tourism and that’s what makes it so great. And the views aren’t bad either.
Where to Eat and Stay in Cape Breton
Accommodation: Keltic Lodge, Read reviews of Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa
Inverary Resort, Read reviews of Inverary Resort
Mid Trail Inn, Read reviews of MidTrail Inn
Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge & Cottages – Read reviews of Keltic Quay Lodge
Cabot Links Resort – Read reviews of Cabot Links Resort
Cabot Trail Tiny Homes
Restaurants: Purple Thistle at the Keltic Lodge, Charlene’s Bayside Restaurant, Rusty Anchor Restaurant in Pleasant Bay,
Things to do on Marine Drive and the Eastern Shore
This drive along the Southeast coast of Nova Scotia was the Cinderella of scenic drives. It gets very little coverage, but it had the most character. It starts with the loveable town of Guysborough where you’ll find plenty of history and helpful locals.
This side of Nova Scotia isn’t considered a popular tourist area – so you’ll be treated to a good dose of small fishing village culture. The weather was ever-changing as we drove the entire Marine route, and the small towns were plentiful. Lighthouses dotted the horizon and lobster traps were stacked in small harbors.
My Highlights on the Eastern Shore: DesBarres Manor Inn, so many small fishing villages, lighthouses, and eating lobster straight from the boat.
Get a Dose of History at DesBarres Manor Inn
Built in 1837 for Supreme Court Justice W. F. DesBarres, the historic DesBarres Manor Inn has been meticulously restored to its original grandeur. It is now a beautifully designed Bed and Breakfast with a seafaring history. It was so lovely that we stayed a rare two nights in Guysborough!
The breakfasts there are scrumptious, and they’ll be more than happy to direct you to things to do around the area. They’ll even pack a lunch for you if you want to go hiking or to the beach.
Take a Free Historic Walking Tour in Guysborough
My mother and I took the Guysborough Historic Walking Tour begins at the Old Court House Museum at 106 Church Street. This self-guided walk takes only about an hour and leads you through town viewing the shops, churches, and homes that make up this little fishing village. The oldest of which was from 1820. You can get a simple map at the Museum or download this pdf guide and it’s easy to follow along! Below is a detailed map of the Nova Scotia Guysborough Historic Walking Tour.
Buy Lobster Right off the Boat in a Fishing Village
In Guysborough at the DesBarres Manor Inn, chef Anna Nickerson gave us the opportunity to get even more hands-on. She had us cook our own lobsters! The lobsters were purchased directly off the local fisherman’s boat earlier that day, and now a few hours after catching them, they were going to be our dinner. Chef Anna showed us how to cook up the fresh lobster in the Inn’s kitchen – and then we got to the best part – eating it!
Just ask any local if there are any lobster boats coming in today and see if you can meet them and purchase directly from them. Most captains will be happy to oblige. The Marine region lobster season is from November to January and from March 31 to July 9.
Explore Chedabucto Bay
Chedabucto Bay is the largest bay on the Atlantic Coast. The Bay’s 600 kilometers of shoreline provide a seemingly endless array of natural and historical adventures for travelers to explore. Rent a kayak or a SUP and get out on the water for some fun.
Go Surfing on the Eastern Shore
The Eastern Shore is where you can catch a wave – even if you are a beginner. Surf’s up year-round at Lawrencetown and Martinique Beaches. You’ll find surf enthusiasts and some of the best surfing conditions on the east coast. Even though I love to surf, I have yet to try out this adventure in Nova Scotia.
Where to Eat and Stay on the Eastern Shore
Things to do in Halifax Metro
It’s not a driving trail like the others, but it is the largest city in Nova Scotia – it’s the hub. Make sure that before or after your road trip you spend some time exploring this city’s sites.
We stayed at the historic Halliburton House – which is not simply a house but a trio of heritage townhouses full of character. It was only a few blocks from the waterfront and boardwalk full of eating options.
Walk the Halifax Boardwalk
Nearly four kilometers long, the harbourfront boardwalk is lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, art, and entertainment. Watch buskers, grab treats from vendors, and watch the boats go by – the possibilities are endless!
In addition, there are a number of interesting museums along the waterfront. Be sure to check out the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to gain an understanding and appreciation for how Pier 21 was a gateway to Canada for nearly a million immigrants and has shaped Canada as we know it today.
Eat at Five Fisherman – with a Few Ghosts
We also enjoyed a luxurious meal at the historical Five Fisherman Restaurant which is said to be haunted – like most of Halifax. We learned about the history of the big Halifax explosion, ghosts, and why the restaurant used to be a funeral home. Oh yes – and the food was delicious too!
Tour the Citadel in Halifax
And of course, when you are in Halifax don’t miss the Citadel on top of the hill in Halifax. The Halifax Citadel is one of the main sites of the area and this living history fort completely exceeded my expectations.
Students depict serious soldiers as they mimic what life would’ve been like when defending Halifax from Americans and other invaders. Get there before noon so that you can see and hear the noon canon that is shot off every day except Christmas Day!
New for 2021 – Georges Island National Historic Site is the newest addition to Nova Scotia’s National Historic Sites. Georges Island is located in the heart of Halifax harbor, the place the Mi’kmaq called Kjipuktuk or “The Great Harbour.”
This island and its fortifications played a large role as a prison and internment camp for Acadians, in the development of Nova Scotia and in the overall defense of Canada.
Take the Halifax Beer Bus
Taste and learn all about Halifax’s exploding craft beverage scene by visiting 3 breweries and one cidery with Taste Halifax. There’s no better way to taste beers than when you have someone driving you around!
And if beer isn’t your thing – you can also check out Taste Halifax for food tours too!
Stop at the Queen’s Marque District and Explore
This brand-new waterfront district in the center of downtown Halifax is filling up with restaurants, art, shopping, and events.
New in Fall 2021 – MUIR, a Marriott Autograph hotel, will be a 5-star property on the Halifax waterfront with custom-designed furniture, a speakeasy, and a private guest-only art gallery. The Muir juts dramatically over the waterfront, a beautiful example of architecture on the waterfront.
Where to Eat and Stay in Halifax
Restaurants/Sites: Boardwalk/Harbor, Citadel, Maritime Museum, Five Fisherman Restaurant
Nova Scotia and its variety of scenic drives are perfect for a driving holiday or road trip. It has so much variety beyond just the Cabot Trail and Bay of Fundy. Hopefully, you can get out and follow the signs along the other routes to get a complete view of this picturesque and culture-filled part of Canada. As you can see, there’s an endless amount of things to do in Nova Scotia!
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I was a guest of Visit Nova Scotia during this trip and they provided me assistance with lodging as well as suggesting driving routes. However all of the opinions here are my own.