Nova Scotia is one of Canada's Atlantic Provinces. With around 950,000 inhabitants, it is one of the least populated. For visitors, Nova Scotia offers beaches, history, rugged wilderness parks, a mix of Celtic, Acadian French, and Indigenous cultures. As a peninsula exposed to the Atlantic Ocean, Nova Scotia has a more maritime climate than mainland Canada, with mild winters and cool summers.
|Minas Basin |
Some of the highest tides in the world and the Joggins UNESCO World Heritage site
|Northumberland Shore |
Beaches with some of the warmest water north of the Carolinas
|Halifax Region |
The largest urban centre in the province with the historic city of Halifax and the iconic rocks and lighthouse of Peggy's Cove
|Annapolis Valley |
A historic agricultural region with many small towns and villages
|South Shore |
Beaches and picturesque seaside villages like Mahone Bay and Lunenburg
|Yarmouth and Digby |
The far western tip of Nova Scotia where Acadian culture lives on; inland is the large protected Tobeatic Wilderness Area
|Eastern Shore |
The less travelled, wilder shore
|Cape Breton Island |
Celtic and Acadian culture, and the scenic Cabot Trail
- 1 Halifax — Capital of the province and economic and cultural hub of Eastern Canada. There's history to explore, culture, beaches and friendly laid-back East Coast hospitality.
- 2 Amherst — Closest city to the Joggins Fossil Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 3 Dartmouth — The "City of Lakes" across the harbour from Halifax.
- 4 Guysborough — an attractive seaside town with a lighthouse museum and an excellent harbour
- 5 Lunenburg — Historic fishing village with the brightly painted houses and picturesque townsite. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 6 Pictou — the birthplace of new Scotland has many old buildings to see, an attractive waterfront and several museums
- 7 Sydney — Largest city on Cape Breton Island and close to the ferry to Newfoundland
- 8 Windsor — the "birthplace" of hockey
- 9 Yarmouth — a good base for exploring the inland wilderness areas, with over 365 lakes and several major rivers
- 1 Tobeatic Wilderness & Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve — The largest protected wilderness area in Atlantic Canada. The Tobeatic is a large natural area that spans five counties and more than 104,000 hectares of central southwestern Nova Scotia. Nine major rivers flow from the Tobeatic and over 120 lakes are found within the wilderness area. The wilderness area is available to the public for canoeing, birding, and other outdoor pursuits for the enjoyment of nature. The Tobeatic features numerous species of interest including the last native population of moose, black bear, southern flying squirrel, Blanding's turtle, Eastern ribbon snake, Bald Eagle, brook trout, Lady Slipper orchids, and various carnivorous and non-chlorophytic flowering plants.
- 2 Brier Island — a unique destination off the end of ancient basalt formation (Digby Neck) jutting out into the world famous Bay of Fundy. This area is rich in marine life (Whale watching, Atlantic flyway for migrating birds and has a resident seal colony) The area has been long visited by naturalists who regularly spot rare and endangered plants. Rock hounds will be impressed with the many types of rock formations and can find quartz, agate jasper, amethyst and even zeolite. An area truly unspoiled, off the beaten track and deeply steeped in maritime tradition. (Home of the famous Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail solo around the world in 1895 on the Spay a 37’ sloop.) Brier Island offers many trails to explore both easy and challenging for hikers on short or extended visits. The island is accessible by two short ferry rides from the end of Digby Neck.
- Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, Maitland Bridge, Annapolis County, ☏ . Named for the Kejimikujik Lake, it contains beautiful scenery as well as ancient native Mi’kmaq petroglyphs, habitation, fishing and hunting sites, travel routes and burial grounds
For a population just under a million Nova Scotia is remarkably diverse: Mi'kmaq, Scots descendants, black Nova Scotians, French Acadians, Annapolis Valley farmers, Cape Bretoners and Haligonians all form distinct groups with their own unique quirks, culture and language. The novel "Rockbound" is written entirely in the South Shore dialect of the fishermen of that region, a fusion of Shakespearean English, German and unique local idioms.
Champlain named Nova Scotia "Acadie" and claimed it for France in 1604. French immigrants settled the area and became prosperous farmers and fisherman. However, they were expelled by the British in the mid 18th century, with their lands, especially on the South Shore, repopulated with "foreign Protestants", meaning mostly Dutch and Germans. Many areas still retain a strong Acadian French culture, including the largest Francophone municipality, Clare in Digby County and Argyle, in Yarmouth County. Nova Scotia hosted the World Acadian Congress in 2005. The Louisiana "Cajun" is a slang adaptation of "Acadien" in the French. Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" celebrates the victims of the expulsion, as does Zachary Richard's drum and voice song "Reveille". Because of the expulsion, French is far more commonly heard in New Brunswick.
Nova Scotia received 3,500 Black Loyalists, who were evacuated by the British from the United States between 1776 and 1785. Shelburne was a main landing spot.
Halifax, the capital, is one of the oldest cities in North America and was a critical sea link during World Wars I and II. The infamous "Halifax explosion" caused by collision of two ships in Halifax Harbour in 1917 was the worst man-made explosion on Earth until Hiroshima in 1945.
Halifax today is an education and high technology centre, with over a dozen post-secondary institutions including Dalhousie University and substantial operations by major high-technology firms. Academics have unusual influence in Nova Scotia, perhaps because of their concentration in the capital.
Unless you are a winter surfer, or like to snowshoe, then it is probably best to visit Nova Scotia sometime between June and October, when the weather is warm, the skies are blue and the water may be less frigid. The main byways are along the coast, and a lot of small shops and restaurants are open around the coast during the summer months. Watch out for mosquitoes and horseflies in the summer, however, especially after a storm.
Maritime Bus provides inter-provincial bus service into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Out Here Travel, a backpacker-focused hybrid bus transport and tour company, has some services that travel into Nova Scotia.
Ferry service is available from Prince Edward Island to Pictou, Digby to Saint John, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland to North Sydney. A service to the US is available between Bar Harbor, Maine and Yarmouth.
Nova Scotia has a comprehensive road network, with three tiers of highways:
- Provincial (100-series) highways — The fastest and most direct routes as they tend to by-pass the towns and villages, but not as scenic as the other highways. Some of them, such as the 102 and much of the 104, are expressway/motorway standard.
- Trunk highways — Two lane highways with the occasional passing lane. These routes connect the towns and villages so are slower than the 100-series highways but more scenic.
- Collector highways — Generally narrow, windy and variable quality (may be paved or gravel), but are best for taking you off the beaten path.
The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 104 on mainland Nova Scotia and Highway 105 on Cape Breton) and Highway 102 form the backbone of the road network connecting most of the province's main centers with New Brunswick and the ferries to Newfoundland. Highways 101 and 103 connect Yarmouth to Halifax via the Annapolis Valley (Hwy 101) and the South Shore (Hwy 103).
The provincial tourism department has created a number of scenic routes that cover specific geographic regions of the province, such as the Lighthouse Route along the South Shore or the Glooscap Trail that covers the Minas Basin region. The routes are generally well sign-posted and good to explore if you want to focus on a specific region in-depth.
If driving, be aware of road conditions in the winter, especially away from major areas.
Maritime Bus connects major destinations, including Amherst, Truro, Sydney, and Halifax.
Park Bus connects Halifax to Kejimikujik National Park.
Peggys Cove Lighthouse, 35 km SW of Halifax on road 333 is one of Canada's more renowned landscape scenes. It is a lighthouse on rounded rocks. There is a restaurant and tourist information, but otherwise it is just big rocks with a dozen small houses and 60 people living there. Outside Peggys Cove on the 333 there are plenty of B&Bs and restaurants. The Swissair Memorial, close to Peggys Cove on the 333, commemorates a 1998 aircraft disaster.
The Cape Breton Highlands provide a profoundly beautiful drive along the Cabot Trail any time of the year but it is most pristine in Autumn, once the leaves change.
Bras d'Or Lake (pronounced 'bre-dor', an inland sea within the island of Cape Breton).
The Cape George Lighthouse, on the northeastern mainland coast, near Antigonish provides incredible views.
Citadel Hill in downtown Halifax is a fortification dating from the first half of the 19th century; it is called the 'Warden of the North'. Downtown Halifax is a compact historic city with some interesting sites.
The Southern Nova Scotia Biosphere includes the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and Kejimikujik National Park in the southern half of the province. Together they form the largest protected wilderness area in Atlantic Canada.
The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site on Cape Breton Island is the largest reconstructed 18th-century French fortified town in North America.
For fossil collectors, there are many beaches along the shores of Cape Breton Island that have exposed coal seams and rocks containing fossilized ferns and other flora can be found in these areas.
During the Tall Ships Festival, Halifax hosts up to 30 historic and unique (and usually massive) maritime sailing vessels from around the world.
Whale-watching tours are popular in towns along the Atlantic coast.
Tidal Bore Rafting is a unique way to experience the highest tides in the world near Truro.
Victoria Park is a 400-hectare park in Truro with wooded trails, swimming pool, picnic areas, waterfalls, ball field, playground, and outdoor stage.
Hike the Trans Canada Trail in Nova Scotia.
Berries: having so much of the province in a natural state, there are many opportunities to pick wild fruit and berries. There are wild strawberries in the fields and along roads, wild blueberries, raspberries and cranberries (in coastal areas). Blueberry grunt is a blueberry baked with a sweet dumpling topping.
Deep fried pepperoni: a bar snack often dipped in honey mustard sauce.
Dulse: most of this seaweed is harvested at very low tides in parts of Nova Scotia. Locally it is dried and used as a snack.
Garlic fingers: similar to a pizza in shape and size and made with the same type of dough. Instead of the traditional tomato sauce and toppings, garlic fingers consist of pizza dough topped with garlic butter, parsley, and cheese, cooked until the cheese is melted. Bacon bits are sometimes added. They are typically eaten as a side dish with pizza and often dipped in donair or marinara sauce. They are presented in thin strips (or "fingers") as opposed to triangular slices.
Halifax donair: a pile of roasted, spiced beef (known as donair meat) with diced tomatoes and white onions covered in condensed milk sauce and wrapped in a pita. It is unique to the province and is available at almost every corner diner and pizzeria.
Hodge podge: a creamy soup of fresh baby vegetables; rarely found in restaurants.
Lobster rolls are common throughout the province.
Digby Scallops: local seafood which is highly recommended by literature and locals.
Nova Scotia produces some very good wines. Most wineries offer free tours. Of particular note is Jost Winery along the Northumberland Strait north of Truro.
Try the local beers. Nova Scotia is best known as the home of "Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale", known locally as "Keith's" But there are many lesser known brews available as well. Not to be missed are the offerings of Propeller Brewery and Garrison Brewing as well as several microbreweries and brewpubs (such as the Rogue's Roost [dead link]).
Due to the increasing popularity of the area, there are several options of accommodation to choose from. Especially in the rural areas one should rather expect smaller B&Bs that international hotel chains.
As in most places, there are great differences between season and off-season, both in price and availability. Many places close during winter (late October/early November until March/April).
In case of emergency, dial 911. Seat belts are mandatory for drivers and all passengers. Helmets are required by law for all motorcycle and bicycle riders. Radar detectors are illegal and will be confiscated if found by the RCMP. If you are hiking in grassy areas you should be aware that Lyme Disease is present in Nova Scotia and carried by ticks. Tie your pant legs or pull your socks over your pant legs and watch for ticks. In wilderness areas: there are no poisonous snakes in the province but coyotes are becoming bolder and a few people have been attacked.
- Ferries leave for Newfoundland from North Sydney
- Ferry service to Maine runs from Yarmouth
- New Brunswick and Quebec can be reached in a day's drive on the Trans-Canada Highway
- Prince Edward Island (PEI) can be reached via ferry from Caribou Wharf near Pictou, or via the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick.