Nova Scotia might be the second smallest of Canada's provinces, but this breezy ocean peninsula and collection of islands remains a hotspot for visitors looking to escape to the shore. Nova Scotia's unique maritime vibe goes back a long way... to the days of Leif Erikson and Samuel de Champlain, in fact. In addition to colorful fishing villages and bustling cities like Halifax, visitors can immerse themselves in attractions that highlight the unique heritage and culture of Nova Scotia. And let's not forget, there are plenty of stunning parks waiting to be explored as well. All in all, it's a marvelously beautiful and historic destination that's sure to enchant.
Peggy's Cove Lighthouse (also known as Peggy's Point Lighthouse) is one of Nova Scotia's most iconic attractions, and is a perfect first stop on a road trip here. There's been a lighthouse on this rocky granite outcropping at the eastern entrance to St. Margarets Bay since 1868; the original was replaced with the one we see today in 1915. The current lighthouse is made of reinforced concrete, but keeps the octagonal shape commonly used for older wooden lighthouses. Just be careful on the rocks around the lighthouse... they can get slippery. Pro tip: You might see figures or cairns made of stacked stones around the lighthouse; these are called inukshuks. They're traditionally made by First Nations peoples from the Arctic region, but the tradition has made its way to Nova Scotia. They are commonly used as landmarks for navigation or as commemorative signs, but feel free to stack up your own if you are so inspired.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the perfect way to explore the major role the ocean has played in Nova Scotia's history and culture. It's the country's oldest and largest maritime museum, located on the site of a former ship chandlery. The museum boasts loads of exhibits, including displays of steamships, Navy ships, the golden age of sailing, shipwrecks, and a re-creation of a 1900s chandlery. The most unique gallery, though, is the one dedicated to the Titanic. Halifax has a tie to the tragedy; it's where the effort to recover bodies and wreckage from the sunken ship were centered. Cable ship crews braved treacherous waters that took down the "unsinkable" Titanic to retrieve and identify those who lost their lives in the disaster. In addition to detailing the passenger experience on the Titanic before it went down, there are some sobering artifacts on display, like a pair of baby shoes and a mortuary bag.
Thirty minutes outside the bustling capital city of Halifax is the Halifax West KOA; it's close enough to be convenient, but far enough out that you can really relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Nova Scotia. The campground is located right on the banks of the Sackville River. You can rent canoes and take them out for an excursion, or simply fish off the bank. Halifax West also has a swimming pool and a variety of arcade games, and once night falls, you can settle in by a campfire to roast s'mores and tell stories. And with a variety of campsites and cabins available, you'll be able to get a good night's sleep before hitting the road again.
Canada is home to pretty special wildlife, and you're able to get up close and personal with some favorite animals, as well as exotic ones, at Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. The park rehabilitates and cares for injured and orphaned wildlife as well as animals born in captivity. Explore Wetland Centre, Moose Meadow, Reindeer Row, Wolf Trail, Horse Stables, Critter Hollow, and more. Trails through different ecosystems explain about different habitats as you encounter the animals. The black bears are especially adorable. Plus, the park is open year-round. Each season brings new sights, so there's no bad time to visit.
The Museum of Industry is one of Nova Scotia's most surprising museums. It's not just about factories and complicated engineering; it's about Nova Scotia's people, their past and future. Artifacts and hands-on exhibits delve into topics like mining, steam power, iron and steel, the railroad, WWII, technology, and even modern-day industries like tourism (which grew in popularity as industrialization created free time for workers). The museum also offers awesome daily demonstrations in the sawmill, printshop, and machine shop, which add an even deeper appreciation for how far society has come.
There are at least 150 lighthouses in Nova Scotia, and each is more quaint than the last. One excellent specimen is the Arisaig Lighthouse. It's a re-creation of the 1898 original, which burned down in the 1930s. Dedicated community volunteers rebuilt the lighthouse in 2007 with support from local and provincial governments, adding in signage telling the history of the Arisaig area. In addition to being beautiful, it's also home to the Lobster Interpretive Centre, which offers history and artifacts from the local lobster fishing industry, and the Dockside Cafe, a cute little seafood joint serving up specialties like fishcakes and chowder.
Nova Scotia was home to many Scottish settlers back in the day, and their culture can still be felt. The Highland Village Museum is on a beautiful 40-acre property with 11 historic buildings. The village shows what life would have been like for these early Gaelic Nova Scotians, specifically between the mid-18th and early-20th centuries. Costumed interpreters demonstrate blacksmithing, wool-dyeing, weaving, farming, cooking, and more as they would have been practiced centuries ago. Beyond preserving historical structures and traditional crafts, the museum also is home to a Scottish music collection and genealogy/family history center, where staff members and volunteers research and promote the Gaelic language.
Nova Scotia's most famous resident was Alexander Graham Bell. The Scottish-born inventor had a home in Nova Scotia and spent many productive years here. This historic site has a museum that sheds light on his craziest inventions, like Canada’s first powered flight (on an airplane called the Silver Dart), and the world’s fastest boat at the time (an experimental HD-4 hydrofoil that clocked in with a speed of 70 miles per hour). You will also find giant kites and, most famously, his telephone. The site sits on the edge of the lovely Bras d’Or Lake, overlooking his beloved home, Beinn Bhreagh. The home is still privately owned by his descendants, who donated many artifacts to the museum.
At the very edge of Nova Scotia is a small town called St. Ann's, which is best known for its Colaisde Na Gaidhlig (Gaelic College), another institution dedicated to preserving the Gaelic heritage of the Scottish people who settled Cape Breton. The college's museum, The Great Hall of the Clans, features an interactive look at the history of Scots on the island, their culture, traditions, and stories that the College has preserved. You can watch or listen to clips of Gaelic songs, dances, crafts, and stories. The main draw is the daily demonstrations, which include kilt displays, Gaelic lessons, bagpipe performances, and more.
The Cabot Trail is a scenic drive through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and it's one of Nova Scotia's most popular attractions. Just at the edge of the route, nestled between cliffs and the Bras d'Or Lake, is the North Sydney / Cabot Trail KOA. Rent a canoe or fish on the lake, or enjoy the mini golf course and other amenities offered here. It's a quiet little campground with impeccably clean facilities and incredibly helpful hosts: a perfect home base for exploring the Cabot Trail and National Park at the end of your trip.
From the museums of Halifax and the lighthouses of the fishing villages, to the cliffs of Cape Breton Highlands National Park and everything in between, it's not hard to see why Nova Scotia has been so alluring to explorers, settlers, inventors, and vacationers for centuries. The landscape and its ocean views are the perfect escape from everyday life, and an endless source of inspiration.
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