Nova Scotia, a beautiful coastal province in Canada, is truly a hidden gem for tourists and adventurers. It's rich with natural wonders, a captivating history, and a vibrant culture that'll keep you coming back for more.
From the heart of the province, Halifax, to the picturesque Peggy's Cove Lighthouse and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia offers delightful surprises at every turn.
The local travel experts at Canadian Train Vacations help travellers plan personalized trips in Canada, including in Nova Scotia. So what is Nova Scotia known for? In our guide, you'll find some of the top attractions that put Nova Scotia on the global tourism map.
What is Nova Scotia Known For?
As 'Canada's Ocean Playground,' there's no doubt that Nova Scotia's maritime charm is incomparable. It was first dubbed this way because of its proximity to four major water bodies — the Atlantic Ocean (east), the Bay of Fundy (west), the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (north), and the Gulf of Maine to the southwest.
Another stunning attraction is its 160 historic lighthouses, including the famed Peggy's Cove Lighthouse — one of the most photographed lighthouses in Canada. Nova Scotia's extensive coastline, stretching over 13,300 kilometres (8,300 miles) is also a magnet for both explorers and nature lovers.
The province's vibrant fishing industry is the backbone of its economy and culture, with bustling fish markets and wharfs being regular attractions for locals and tourists. Whether it's sampling the Atlantic lobster, exploring the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, or witnessing the workings of a fisherman's wharf, a genuine maritime experience awaits you here.
Natural Wonders of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is full of natural wonders that showcase its extensive coastline, beautiful landscapes, and rich marine life. Let's dive into some of the top natural wonders to add to your itinerary on your Nova Scotia trip.
1. Scenic Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is a renowned driving route that encircles Cape Breton Island's northern coast and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
With a distance of 298 kilometres (185 miles), this trail gives you breathtaking views of the coastal scenery, charming villages, and dense forests.
Noteworthy viewpoints along the trail include the picturesque MacKenzie Mountain Look Off, the skyline of Chéticamp Island, and the mystic views from the Skyline Trail.
2. Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy is home to the world's highest tides reaching a peak of 16 metres (53.6 feet) and is famous for its tidal bore phenomenon. You can observe this dramatic shift of water (from the bay to its tributaries and back) at places like Hopewell Rocks and South Maitland.
Burntcoat Head Park holds the record for the highest measured tide — an unparalleled spectacle when 160 billion tonnes of seawater fill up and drain from the bay, twice each day!
3. Peggy's Cove
Peggy's Cove is a quaint fishing village best known for its historic lighthouse (Peggy's Cove Lighthouse or Peggy's Point Lighthouse) — built in 1915 and one of the most photographed landmarks in Canada.
This scenic village lets you uncover the raw, rugged beauty of Nova Scotia's coastlines — characterized by massive granite rocks shaped by glaciers centuries ago along with erosion.
4. Whale Watching
Nova Scotia has an abundance of marine life along its lengthy coastline, creating ideal conditions for whale watching.
The two most popular whale-watching locations are the Bay of Fundy and Cape Breton Island. Spot humpbacks, minke, pilot whales, and even the endangered North Atlantic right whale in these destinations.
Geography and Climate
Nova Scotia's physical characteristics give it a unique place on the map. From the ancient fossil-bearing cliffs to the lush landscapes shaped by seasons, Nova Scotia offers a varied geographical and climatic spectrum.
Landscape and Geographical Features
Nova Scotia's landscape is steeped in ancient history, marked by fossil-rich rock formations such as the Joggins Fossil Cliffs and Wasson's Bluff. These ancient geological imprints offer glimpses of natural history going back hundreds of millions of years.
You can find the province's highest point, White Hill, within the rugged beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands, further enhancing Nova Scotia's diverse geographical portfolio.
The province has over 3,800 coastal islands and more than 5,400 lakes (being placed along the 45th parallel north), making it a perfect destination for outdoor exploration and water-based activities.
Climate of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia's climate is characterized by relatively mild winters and moderate to warm summers due to its geographical location along the North Atlantic Ocean.
It experiences unique seasonal variations, with average temperatures fluctuating between 20 to 25 °C (70 to 80 °F) and 30 to 32 °C (86 to 90 °F), with humidity during the summer (Mid-June to mid-September). In the winter (Mid-December to mid-March), temperatures range between -15 °C and +5 °C (5 to 41 °F).
The ocean significantly influences Nova Scotia's weather patterns, resulting in milder winter and cooler summer temperatures than regions situated inland.
Cultural Gems and Local Flavors
Immerse yourself in Nova Scotia's cultural essence brimming with vibrant arts and culture, and culinary delights that pay tribute to its coastal roots.
Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a symbol of Nova Scotia's rich cultural and maritime history.
It's known as the finest conserved example of a planned British colonial town in North America with captivating sights. From a horse-drawn carriage or through a guided tour, you get to see the tall sailing ships anchored at the waterfront and historical wooden houses that dot the locale.
The town is also alive with skilled tradespeople and artists, whose works you can admire in their shops and galleries.
Your visit isn't complete, however, without tasting the local culinary offerings, particularly the exceptional seafood. Freshly caught and cooked seafood dishes like lobster rolls and seafood chowder are local favourites.
Annapolis Valley Wineries
The Annapolis Valley is famous for its growing wine business and its special 'Tidal Bay' wine. The beautiful vineyards, within rolling hills and influenced by the cool climate and fertile soils, are perfect for grape cultivation.
Notable wineries, such as the Domaine de Grand Pre, Luckett Vineyards, and L'Acadie Vineyards offer exceptional wine-tasting experiences. Savour the red, white, and fruit wines while soaking in the breathtaking valley views.
Cape Breton's Celtic Colours International Festival
Cape Breton's annual Celtic Colours International Festival ushers in the autumn every October. This nine-day festival ignites the island with music, culture, and the breathtaking autumn hues illuminating Cape Breton.
This festival attracts artists from around the globe to present a dynamic schedule of events including:
- World Class Concerts: Bear witness to global artists including Cape Breton's best singers, dancers, culture bearers, players, and storytellers. Enjoy local dance traditions, Gaelic singing, Cape Breton fiddling, and world-class bagpiping.
- Workshops: Learn from presentations and lectures on Celtic history, art, and craft, music, and community heritage.
- Interactive Events: Join in on a Square Dance session, or milling frolic.
- Outdoor Events: Enjoy guided boat tours, walks, and hikes.
- Visual Art / Heritage Craft: Appreciate Cape Breton's artistic spirit through art exhibits, craft demonstrations, and workshops.
- Community Meals: Savour home-cooked community meals and visit Farmer's Markets for local delights.
A popular feature of the festival is the Festival Club running each night from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. at the Gaelic College in St. Ann's, giving artists an intimate platform for spontaneous performances.
As you witness Cape Breton change into bright fall colours, you also get to see beautiful places like Bras d'Or Lake and the Cabot Trail.
To make the most of the festival, plan ahead, secure tickets in advance through the Celtic Colours official website, and participate in cultural and outdoor activities in between events.
Culture and History
Immersing yourself in the diversity of Nova Scotia's culture and history gives you a unique perspective on the province's past.
1. Mi'kmaq Heritage
The Mi'kmaq people hold a significant place in Nova Scotia's history as the region's first inhabitants. Their rich ancestral history is evident in their age-old encampments, fish weirs, burial grounds, and hunting territories, present in Kejimkujik National Park.
Their deep connection to the land, along with their language, art, music, legends, spirituality, and history are key cultural contributions to the province.
Key aspects of their heritage include fascinating petroglyphs and traditional hunting and fishing practices that have helped shape Nova Scotia's identity. The Mi'kmaw legends of mythic hero-god Glooscap have also given meaning to the geography of Nova Scotia.
The enduring presence and cultural practices of the Mi'kmaq people continue to enrich the province's cultural fabric, making their heritage an integral part of Nova Scotia.
2. Fortress of Louisbourg
Located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Fortress of Louisbourg sheds light on the Britain-France rivalry of the early 18th century. Founded in 1713, it served as an important French seaport and the hub for the North American fishing and trade business. As the capital of Ile Royale, it housed the local government, military garrison, and civilian population.
Stepping into the Fortress of Louisbourg, you find yourself in the historic atmosphere of North America's largest restored 18th-century French fortified town. The bustling streets of the fortress are filled with authentic 18th-century sights, sounds, and characters who reenact life from the era.
Explore classic military structures, and historic town architecture, and engage with period-dressed staff detailing the fortress's history.
The Fortress of Louisbourg holds a wealth of historical significance in Canadian history with notable events including:
The Siege of Louisbourg (1745): New England forces and British naval troops captured the formidable French fortress during the War of the Austrian Succession.
The Siege of Louisbourg (1758): As a part of the Seven Years' War, British forces captured Louisbourg for the second time, marking a turning point in the conflict and contributing to the downfall of New France.
The Fortress Reconstruction (1961-1980s): The Canadian government undertook the ambitious project of partially reconstructing the Fortress of Louisbourg, reinvigorating interest in its historical significance.
3. British Colonialism and Settlement
Nova Scotia's history of British colonialism and settlement is marked by key events that affected the province, significantly shaping its culture and history.
The British asserted their control over the territory in the 18th century, which was part of the wider British-French rivalry that dominated global politics. A central event was the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, where Britain gained control over Nova Scotia, excluding regions like Cape Breton.
However, actual British settlement didn't intensify until the establishment of Halifax as a military town and naval base in 1749.
4. Interactions with Mi'kmaq People
The arrival of the British settlers signaled a new era for the indigenous Mi'kmaq people, who had resided in the region for over 10,000 years. Despite their long-established presence, the Mi'kmaq had greater interaction with the French settlers rather than the British due to the latter's strained relationships with indigenous communities.
Post-1749, British settlers ushered in a wave of transformations in the province. Their settlement led to the establishment of vibrant towns and communities, which turned into familial hubs rather than isolated establishments.
Challenges and Achievements
The British colonial era had its fair share of challenges. Settlers faced difficulties adapting to a new environment, and establishing socio-political norms was a complex task. On the other hand, the challenges catalyzed achievements.
British colonialism led to the diversification of Nova Scotia's ethnocultural fabric. It also laid the groundwork for key institutions and societal structures, which continue to influence the province's socio-cultural landscape to this day.
Maritime Provinces and The Formation of Canada
The historical narrative of Canada is incomplete without the inclusion of the Maritime Provinces — New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. These regions, united under British control after 1763, were culturally influenced by settlers from a variety of backgrounds, forming a distinct regional identity.
Before Confederation in 1867, the Maritime provinces had a shared sense of prosperity, optimism, and pride — seeing themselves as having a special role in the creation of a new British Empire.
After the Confederation, however, an economic slump sobered them up, hitting Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island the hardest. This caused regional protests against what they thought was marginalization by the federal government.
Despite the struggles, better economic conditions in the late 1920s sparked hope. This change helped Nova Scotia and the other provinces move past their initial frustrations, embracing their identity as a part of Canada.
Nova Scotia's Significant Contribution
Despite initial resistance, Nova Scotia would become a key player in the unified Canada.
Its regional protest played a major role in voicing maritime concerns — pushing for more recognition in the federation and exerting a significant influence in shaping the ongoing evolution of the Confederation.
The Halifax Citadel, ceremoniously perched on a large hill, was initially built to watch over the harbour city for nearly 200 years. This strategic point is what lured the British to establish a settlement in Halifax in 1749.
Nowadays, the purpose of the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada is only to teach people about its past.
The Citadel impresses visitors with its star-shaped architecture, a common design for forts in the 16th to 18th centuries. Its goal was to provide a clear line of fire and protection against enemy assault. The Halifax Citadel's fortified walls, mounted cannons, and intricate systems of defence speak volumes about the military architectonics of the era.
Get transported to a distant past as you view regular sentry change ceremonies and the firing of the traditional Noon Gun by the Royal Artillery.
Music and Entertainment Scene
Nova Scotia benefits from a vibrant music and entertainment scene, with a rich cultural heritage shown through its diverse genres. Folk, country, pop, rock, and the traditional music of the Gaelic and Mi'kmaq people all have their place on Nova Scotia's stages.
Many talented musicians contribute to the province's lively atmosphere, with music festivals making a large part of Nova Scotia's cultural identity. Events like the Halifax Pop Explosion, the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, and the Cape Breton's Celtic Colours International Festival showcase a range of local and international talent throughout the year.
Live music venues pepper the province, with many bars, pubs, and coffeehouses in Halifax. Enjoy live performances at The Carleton, The Seahorse Tavern, and The Marquee Ballroom during your visit.
Cuisine Unique to Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia takes pride in its unique cuisine that reflects its rich maritime heritage. With a bounty from the sea and farm-fresh ingredients, a delightful culinary journey is ready for you.
Seafood, including freshly-caught lobster and scallops, dominates the culinary scene, due to Nova Scotia's close association with the sea.
The Halifax Donair, a uniquely Nova Scotian spin on the doner kebab, features spiced ground beef in a warm pita topped with a sweet garlic donair sauce.
Traditional dishes include:
- Hodge Podge: A creamy soup featuring fresh summer vegetables.
- Rappie Pie: An Acadian dish made from grated and pressed potatoes filled with chicken meat and chicken broth.
- Blueberry grunt: A tasty Nova Scotian fruit-based dessert that's basically a cobbler with blueberries.
Several restaurants and markets across the province feature these local specialty dishes. A good place to try the Halifax Donair, for example, is at Tony's Famous Donairs & Pizza. And if you want to sample the seafood, renowned restaurants like Five Fishermen and Salty's in Halifax have you covered.
The Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market, the oldest continuously running market in Canada and the U.S. (for over 170 years) is also a must-visit.
Digby Scallop Days
Digby Scallop Days is a beloved annual festival held in the town of Digby, Nova Scotia, celebrating the local world-famous sea scallops. The four-day festivity promotes the region's rich fishing heritage and showcases the community's strong connection to the sea.
The event consists of various activities such as:
- Scallop shucking contests
- Grand Street Parade
- Woodsmen competition
- Live music performances
- Scallop shucking demonstration and boat gear demonstration
Local participation is high, with fishermen, chefs, and artisans coming together to make this festival a unique experience.
Nova Scotia Wine Country
Nova Scotia boasts a booming wine industry with several picturesque vineyards and wine-producing regions worth exploring. The Annapolis Valley, Gaspereau Valley, South Shore, and Malagash Peninsula are some of the notable wine regions in the province.
Delight in wine-tasting experiences and learn about grape varieties native to the region, such as L'Acadie Blanc and Marechal Foch. Notable vineyards include Luckett Vineyards, Benjamin Bridge, and Grand Pré Winery, each offering unique wine selections and vintages reflecting the character of Nova Scotia's terroir.
Alexander Keith's Brewery Tour
Alexander Keith's Brewery Tour offers visitors a unique experience at one of the oldest working breweries in North America, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. With a history dating back to 1820, and with the founder, Alexander Keith being a revered politician in Halifax, the brewery has a rich cultural and historical significance within the province.
Take a guided tour through the brewery, learn about its fascinating history, and discover the traditional brewing techniques. Also, sample limited-edition beers and enjoy live music performances at the historical Stag's Head pub.
National Parks and Other Attractions
Explore the rugged highland terrain, serene coastal trails, and secluded island reserves of Nova Scotia that reveal an impressive display of wildlife.
1. Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a top attraction in Nova Scotia known for its 950 square kilometres of diverse and rugged landscapes.
From steep cliffs to deep river canyons, the park offers ample opportunities for hiking, fishing, cycling, and even swimming in fresh waters.
Not to mention, it gifts some of the best ocean and mountain views in the Maritimes, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts craving panoramic vistas.
2. Blomidon Provincial Park
Blomidon Provincial Park, located on the shores of the Minas Basin, offers a unique coastal environment for outdoor activities.
The park is characterized by its high cliffs (180 metres/ 600 feet), a 13.5-kilometre system of interconnected trails, and sweeping coastal views — providing an excellent setting for hiking.
The look-off points also offer stunning vistas, perfect for photography. And if you love birds, a host of bird species inhabit the area.
3. Sable Island National Park Reserve
Sable Island National Park Reserve is a unique and remote gem located around 300 kilometres off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean. The sandy island is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It also houses over 500 wild horses and approximately 400,000 grey seals, making it a fantastic destination for wildlife viewing.
Access to the island is limited, with visits possible either by flying with Sable Air or via cruises available through One Ocean Expeditions.
Before you experience this unique destination, however, you need to register your visit with Parks Canada.
Travel Tips and Essentials
It's best to approach your Nova Scotia trip with some practical knowledge to ensure your travel is cost-effective and enjoyable.
1. Best Time to Visit Nova Scotia
Summer months (July and August) in Nova Scotia offer comfortable weather, making them ideal for exploring outdoor attractions and participating in activities like hiking or boating.
On the other hand, fall (September to October) brings the pristine beauty of fall foliage, particularly admired along the famous Cabot Trail.
2. Is Nova Scotia Expensive to Visit?
Accommodation, dining, and travel costs are generally comparable with other Canadian destinations.
However, the cost to visit Nova Scotia will depend on the time of year, type of activities, accommodation choices, and personal spending habits.
Money-saving tips include:
- Traveling outside of the peak season (summer and early fall) for reduced hotel rates
- Taking advantage of the plentiful outdoor activities available for free or at a low cost
- Explore local eateries or seafood markets for budget-friendly dining options
- Budgeting for expenses and making informed choices can help ensure your trip to Nova Scotia is cost-effective and enjoyable.
From the historic and urban charm of Halifax to the breathtaking views along the Cabot Trail, and unique experiences at the Fortress of Louisbourg, there's no shortage of discovery. Just remember, this is only scratching the surface. There is so much more to Nova Scotia ready to make your visit one you won't forget.
Need help planning your journey? Reach out to our knowledgeable team at Canadian Train Vacations. As local experts, we can help plan your perfect Canadian adventure, right down to the fine details.
#1 Travel Tip: Book your hotel early
Nova Scotia is a popular destination, especially in peak summer months, and accommodation can book up early. Halifax is also a top spot for festivals, which can make last-minute bookings challenging.
#2 Travel Tip: Take in live music
Ceilidhs, live music in pubs, and music festivals are a big part of the culture in Nova Scotia. While you can see almost any genre, we do recommend seeking out a folk or traditional Gaelic show.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Montreal jazz fest free?
No, the majority of events at the Montreal Jazz Festival are ticketed. While some outdoor shows and activities may be free, most performances, especially headliners and indoor concerts, require tickets.
How many people go to jazz fest every year?
Over 2 million people attend the Montreal Jazz Festival annually, making it one of the largest and most popular music festivals in the world.
How much does it cost to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival ?
Ticket prices vary based on the artist, venue, and type of performance. It's advisable to check the official festival website for detailed information on ticket prices and packages.
When is the Montreal Jazz Festival ?
The Montreal Jazz Festival typically takes place in late June to early July. For 2024, it is scheduled to take place from June 27th to July 6th.
Who to see at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2024?
The 2024 artist lineup includes exciting performers such as Laufey, Pink Martini, Elisapie, Alfa Mist, and more. Stay updated by checking the official festival website and social media channels for the latest artist announcements.
Is Nova Scotia cold in June?
June is when summer starts in Nova Scotia, with temperatures between 15.6 °C and 18.3 °C (60 °F and 65 °F), making it a comfortable time to visit.
About the author: Katherine is Product Manager with Fresh Tracks Canada. Having worked in the Canadian travel industry for almost 20 years, she enjoys sharing her local expertise with visitors. She is based in Calgary and one of her favourite Canadian destination is the... Read more
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