From kayaking within protected wilderness areas and hikes in remote regions to incredible foodie adventures and exciting urban spots waiting to be discovered, we’ve pulled together a list of some of Nova Scotia's hidden gems.
Musquodoboit Trailway: With 41 kilometres of trailway, including a 15-kilometre section of former railbed and 26 kilometres of backcountry trails that weave through two protected wilderness areas, the Musquodoboit Trailway is a perfect hiking or cycling daytrip from Halifax.
100 Wild Islands: The 100 Wild Islands are a group of over 100 pristine wild islands located just an hour from Halifax. These protected islands offer sheltered coves and turquoise water with white sand beaches and windswept headlands. Explore the area with Coastal Adventures, who offer a multi-day sea kayaking expedition led by a biologist and sea kayaking expert.
Balancing Rock: Discover this much-photographed basalt column that appears to be teetering on the edge of the Bay of Fundy. The well-groomed 2.5-kilometre trail leads to a 235-step staircase descent. Bonus – it takes a short, enjoyable ferry ride to get there and you can hop aboard a whale watching tour nearby (be sure to book ahead).
Big Tancook Island: Hop aboard the Tancook ferry in Chester to make your way to this picturesque island located 10 kilometres off the south shore of Nova Scotia. Stroll the peppery sand of Southeast Cove Beach, search for fossils and seaglass near the wharf, peddle or hike your way around the island, and see why birdwatchers, artisans, and photographers flock here. Keep an eye on the time as there are no overnight accommodations located on the island.
Blue Rocks: Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Lunenburg you’ll discover the pretty fishing village of Blue Rocks. The perfect sunlight at sunrise and sunset along the rocky shoreline makes this spot a photographer’s dream, and the small, sheltered harbor is the perfect spot to start and finish a sea kayaking tour with Pleasant Paddling. Looking for unique accommodations? Book the “Private Island Yurt for Two” experience with Pleasant Paddling to stay on your own island in a handmade yurt!
Burntcoat Head Park: Have you ever wondered what the ocean floor would look like without water? Wonder no longer, with a visit to Burntcoat Head Park at low tide. Site of the Guinness Book of World Records highest recorded tides in the world, twice a day every day, the tide in the Bay of Fundy goes out and visitors to the park can walk, play, hunt for treasures left by the tide. You can even dine on the ocean floor!
Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail: Find yourself at the site of the first lighthouse in North America (built in 1734) with its view overlooking what was once one of North America’s busiest seaports. In the distance you’ll see the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, the largest reconstructed French fortified town in North America, recreated as the town was in the 1740s era.
The Hawk Beach: Located on the most southerly tip of Nova Scotia, walk this white sandy beach at low tide and explore the 1,500 year old drowned forest - an area of petrified tree stumps still rooted in the soil that is exposed at low tide. This area is also one of the most popular birding spots in the province.
Thomas Raddall Provincial Park: Another hidden gem on Nova Scotia’s South Shore is Thomas Raddall Provincial Park. The park offered visitors 11 kilometres of coastal and wooded multi-use trails, camping, picnicking, and large stretches of secluded white sand beachfront closely located across the harbour from Kejimkujik National Park Seaside.
Cabots Landing Provincial Park: Cabots Landing Provincial Park is a picnic and beach park on the shore of Aspy Bay, 10 kilometres north of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island. The park also features a National Historic Site cairn commemorating the landfall of Italian explorer John Cabot. Walk the long stretch of sandy beach and take in the amazing views of the Pollets Cove-Aspy Fault Wilderness Area and the Cape Breton Highlands mountain range.
Sandford Drawbridge: A visit to the small fishing community of Sandford, near the town of Yarmouth, would not be complete without seeing the second smallest working drawbridge in the world (the smallest is in Bermuda). Located at the Sandford Wharf, the drawbridge was built so that the fishermen and visitors could cross from one side of the wharf to the other without having to travel back on the road.
Sable Island: Located about 300 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia, Sable Island National Park Reserve is visited by very few due to its remote location and transportation challenges, yet is on the bucket list of many adventurous travellers. Special permissions are required by Parks Canada to gain access to the island, so plan a trip with an approved tour operator like Kattuk Expeditions, Picture Perfect Tours, and One Ocean Expeditions.
Taylor Head Provincial Park: Located on a rugged, wind-swept peninsula that juts 6 kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean, Taylor Head Provincial Park is located an hour from Halifax in the Eastern Shore region. Featuring 14 kilometres of hiking trails and a beach walk trail, you’ll discover secluded white sand beaches, perfect picnic areas, and 16 kilometres of unspoiled coastline.
Concrete Garden behind Cosby’s Garden Centre: Stop at Cosby’s Garden Centre in the town of Liverpool, Nova Scotia and as you walk to the end of the rows of plants and greenhouses, you’ll discover a magical, mystical world of concrete sculptures placed in the forest along a well-maintained path. From a large dragon to acrobats frozen in movement, you’ll never be quite sure that you’ve seen them all.
Unique accommodations and unexpected places to eat
Trout Point Lodge: Experience luxury in the wilderness when you visit Nova Scotia's premier luxury wilderness resort and hotel. Nestled within the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, visit Trout Point Lodge for stargazing and exquisite culinary experiences.
Wild Caraway Restaurant & Café: Located approximately a three-hour drive from Halifax in Advocate Harbour, you’ll discover delicious, locally-inspired dishes. The owners’ experiences working in restaurants in Australia, London, Ireland, and across Canada has shown them that the best meals are made with the food found literally in our own backyards. Lobster, scallops, goose-tongue greens, humanely raised pork, as well as garden vegetables and herbs travel the short distance from their backyard or the harbour across the street to your plate.
The Bite House: Inspired by the seasons, The Bite House is a 12-seat restaurant located in a century-old farmhouse in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. Experience thoughtfully planned five-course meals prepared with the best ingredients the area has to offer – either sourced from small independent farmers, foraged, or grown in on-site gardens.
Train Station Inn: All aboard! Stay in one of the seven cabooses, circa 1887, that have been renovated into deluxe accommodations at the Train Station Inn. Located in Tatamagouche on the Northumberland Shore, you can also dine in the circa 1928 railway car.
Tangled Garden: Stop by Tangled Garden when visiting the Wolfville/Grand Pré area of the Annapolis Valley to discover a place where herbs and fruit are transformed into jewel-like jellies and flavourful liquors to enhance simple fare or gourmet meals. Take a tour of the gardens or reserve your spot in the Gourmet Garden Party.
Downtown Dartmouth: Over the past number of years, downtown Dartmouth has seen a number of popular restaurants open up, including The Canteen, Two If By Sea Cafe, Battery Park Beer Bar & Eatery, Il Trullo Ristorante, Humble Pie Kitchen, and Portland Street Creperie, with another craft brewery and cidery opening in summer 2018. Unique shops such as New Scotland Yard – a barbershop, record store, coffee shop, AND recording studio all in one – and the Dart Gallery and Picnic – an art gallery and small restaurant with a menu inspired by the current art exhibit – have added to the trendy Dartmouth vibe. Add in an amazing weekly, year-round Farmers’ Market and a waterfront boardwalk that offers up the best views of the Halifax skyline, and you’ve got more than enough reasons to hop across the Halifax Harbour to start exploring.
Maud Lewis exhibit in the AGNS: Released in 2017, the film “Maudie” is based on the life of beloved Nova Scotian folk artist, Maud Lewis. Looking to learn more about Maud Lewis’s life and paintings? Plan a visit to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) in downtown Halifax to view some of her works and also see her tiny house, which is a permanent exhibit in the gallery.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21: Did you know that between 1928 and 1971, one in five people immigrating to Canada came through Pier 21 in Halifax? Today, you can step into the past and experience first person accounts of what it was like to immigrate to Canada, view artefacts, exhibits, and more. For those with an ancestral connection to Pier 21, you may even uncover photos of or signatures from of relatives whose first steps in Canada happened in the very building you’d be standing in.