From its evocative craggy coastline to its lush vineyards and farmlands, Nova Scotia is dotted with towns that are as colourful and welcoming as the salt-of-the-earth locals who live there.
This seaside town perched on Nova Scotia’s southern shore will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard, with its serene oceanic vista and handcrafted heritage homes adorned with ornate trim, Gothic Revival peaked gables, and traditional curved windows. Take a garden tour and stroll the historic harbourfront and capture one of the most photographed views in Nova Scotia, the Three Churches of Mahone Bay. Be warned: with its artisan vibe, boutique shopping, gorgeous cafes, and water activities, you might just want to move here!
Further along the Lighthouse Route from Mahone Bay, the captivating town of Lunenburg is a must-see, with its brightly coloured homes lining the peaceful harbour front. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lunenburg was formerly a major shipbuilding centre, responsible for the design of the famous Bluenose, a fishing and racing schooner built in 1921, eternalised on the Canadian dime. Make sure you check out her replica, Bluenose II, Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador housed here in Lunenburg.
The charming harbour town of Shelburne is perfect for kayaking and a magnet for fishing enthusiasts. Picnic on the beach and take in the iconic view of the harbour lighthouse, or wade across the sandbar at low tide to get up close with this historic landmark. Shelburne’s waterfront has been preserved with the look and feel of a bustling 18th century port, with its original United Empire Loyalist homes dating back to 1783. Feast on outstanding seafood and visit the Boxing Rock Brewing Company to sample home-grown craft beers.
Dip your oars into the glittering coves of Yarmouth and marvel at hundreds of sea birds overhead. Here on the Gulf of Maine, Yarmouth is lobster heaven. In fact, it’s the largest lobster fishing location in the world. Locals will tell you that lobster is their staple food – even the children take lobster sandwiches to school – and there’s nowhere better to get your fill. Go on a Lobster Bay Culinary Adventure, spend a day stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking, or hire a bike and cycle the stunning Cape Forchu route with its rocky coastline and lighthouse.
On the western shore of the Annapolis Basin, the town of Digby is the gateway to some of the most incredible marine wonders in the world, including the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. The Digby Neck and Islands are a hotspot for whale watching, with Humpback Whales returning in their hundreds in late June. Have the binoculars ready for close-up views of fascinating birdlife, including the Atlantic Puffin and piping plover, or take a stroll along The Admiral’s Walk from downtown Digby for captivating views of the fisherman’s wharf. Nearby Fishermen’s Memorial Park offers the perfect spot for a picnic with its beautiful seascape across the Annapolis Basin.
Originally inhabited by a Mi’Kmaq community, this must-visit town was home to some of the earliest European settlers in 1605, with the Fort Anne National Historic Site a major drawcard for visitors. The beautiful streetscape of Annapolis Royal shows off its many heritage buildings (135 at last count), and its idyllic position between mountain and sea makes this vibrant township a magnet for artists, performers and visitors. Visit the art studios and boutique stores or take a National Historic District Tour, where you’ll stroll through the centuries with a costumed interpreter as 400 years of history come to life along Canada’s Oldest thoroughfare.
This thriving university town is the perfect place to base yourself as you explore nearby natural gems, such as the Bay of Fundy and the lush wine country where some of Canada’s finest grapes are cultivated. This tiny town packs some cosmopolitan punch, with its world-class culinary scene including craft ciders, beers and spirits, innovative restaurants that are serious about sustainability, and artisanal food producers and markets. Originally settled by the Acadians, Wolfville is steeped in history. Take a walking tour of the heritage homes, visit the Randall House Museum, and check out the dykes built in the 1600s. Don’t miss the Grand-Pré National Historic Site where you’ll learn of the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians – the inspiration behind the famous poem, Evangeline, a Tale of Aadie, by American poet Henry Longfellow.
As you drive the world-famous Cabot Trail along the west coast of Cape Breton Island, don’t skip past the lively fishing village of Cheticamp. Listen to the locals speak their native Acadian tongue and feast on traditional Acadian food. Savour the cultural flavours of the town, an epicentre for the craft of rug hooking, among many other fine arts. Make the most of the outdoor adventures in the harbour, including whale watching and canoeing, or head inland to Cape Breton Highlands National Park for hiking and horse riding.
A stunning little village set on the shores of the Bras d’Or Lakes (Nova Scotia’s inland sea), Baddeck is home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Take a White Glove Tour and get to know the man behind the inventive genius. Make the most of Baddeck’s surrounding natural wonders with day trip to the Uisge Ban Falls. This four-kilometre hike winds through maple, birch, and beech wood forests to a spectacular 16-metre-high waterfall.
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of Cape Breton Island, the seaport of Louisbourg boasts some of Canada’s most significant historical sites. Explore the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, perched on Cape Breton’s rocky shoreline, and discover a time when the French and English fought for control of the New World, using Nova Scotia as their battleground. The coastline across the harbour from the Fortress will lead you to the site of Canada’s first lighthouse. A 16-metre-tall lighthouse now stands in its place, with portions of the original lighthouse still visible. As you take in the sweeping ocean views and abundant birdlife, you can’t help but marvel at Mother Nature’s masterpiece here in this pristine, remarkable corner of the planet.