Not her first visit to Nova Scotia, Frontier Canada travel consultant Joanne Moores made a fresh journey to this fascinating part of the Great White North in September 2023. Our latest post will take you on a virtual tour, as Joanne guides us through this warm and welcoming destination, her trip starting in the capital of Halifax and encompassing the Atlantic province’s wilder quarters, including the world-famous Cabot Trail and the Cape Breton Highlands.
HALIFAX: OUR FIRST PORT OF CALL
Dubbed Canada’s maritime gem and the country’s ocean playground, Nova Scotia has more than 13,300 kilometers of coastline, so it’s no surprise that water plays a huge part in any stay here. Whether you love beaches, water-based pursuits, or fabulous seafood—the province is world-famous for its lobster—or simply want to combine all three, it’s definitely worth the short hop.
Incredibly easy to reach, we took the direct flight from London Heathrow to Halifax on Air Canada, and just over six hours later we touched down in Nova Scotia’s capital, the largest city in Atlantic Canada. After our hire cars were collected, it was then a mere 25-minute drive over the toll bridge (have $1.25 in your pockets as they don’t take cards) into the downtown area.
Exemplifying maritime hospitality at its finest (Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles have occupied the hotel’s Crowne suite), we stayed at the Westin Nova Scotian, a 4-star waterfront hotel located close to the Pier 21 National Historic Site and Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk. Many of the rooms overlook Cornwallis Park, but the panoramic views of Halifax Harbour are simply stunning.
The hotel is a great base from which to explore the city—and explore we did—dropping by the 5 Fishermen restaurant on Argyle Street on our very first night. Eager to savour Nova Scotia’s incredible lobster once again, my order was already decided upon, but we hear the Five Fish Experience, served with seared shrimp, local scallops, half lobster tail, halibut, and salmon, is another delectable option.
On our second day, we awoke to a lovely sunrise—again, the harbour view rooms really have the edge when it comes to this time of day—and decided to take a leisurely walk along the Halifax waterfront. A must-see attraction in all of Nova Scotia, the Waterfront’s nearly 4-km-long boardwalk is a colourful journey through past and present, with lots of bars, artisan shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants lining the route.
In the same area, you will also find the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, with its moving exhibits dedicated to the nearly one million immigrants who passed through here between 1928 and 1971. Equally impressive, the Maritime Museum connects people and places through the many events that have shaped the city, including a display devoted to the Titanic. Halifax is central to the story of the tragically doomed vessel, as the local cable ship crews were tasked with bringing back the dead.
CAPE BRETON ISLAND BECKONS
You could easily spend three or four nights in Halifax, but our itinerary was jam-packed, and in the afternoon we headed to Baddeck on Cape Breton Island: ranked as North America’s Number One Island by readers of Conde Naste Traveller Magazine.
An adventure-seekers playground, the village is surrounded by stunning scenery and rugged terrain, which is perfect for exhilarating off-roading experiences on everything from dirt bikes to 4X4s. We navigated our way through dense forests, up steep hills, and across challenging trails to be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Bras d’Or Lake and the Cape Breton Highlands. We even had an exciting wildlife encounter with a local moose—or at least the back end of the moose running into the trees!
In the evening, we chose to dine at a waterside bistro on the Baddeck waterfront called The Freight Shed. The chowder comes highly recommended here, and we were not disappointed. Paired with a bottle of local Nova Scotian Jost wine, it was yet another memorable culinary encounter, and on my next trip back, I might just have to find some time to visit the nearby vineyard.
THE CABOT TRAIL: AN EPIC DRIVE
The next day, we hit the road again and drove along the world-famous Cabot Trail. The 186-mile loop is heralded as one of the most scenic drives in Canada, and while we were a little too early, it’s particularly impressive when dressed in its autumn finery. Along the way, we stopped at several little villages and cute bed and breakfast properties, and as on my previous trips to the Bluenose Province, the people were as friendly as ever. Sadly, the weather didn’t hold out and the cloudy skies turned to rain, but it all added to the experience, with a succession of waves crashing dramatically on the rocky coastline.
The following morning, before making our way to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, we stopped off at the Dancing Goat, a bustling roadside cafe and bakery. This is where you will find the best oatcakes in Cape Breton and a range of coffees that would rival any Starbucks. Nicknamed the “Vincent Van Goat” of coffee making, the local enterprise certainly upstages its urban rival with the most tremendous views, notably those over the Margaree Valley. These vistas are especially inviting if you are treated to Margaree Valley Fog, the low-lying cloud best viewed from the open-air porch.
In the national park, the scenery was as expected, with its famously dramatic coastline unfolding before us. Realistically, you could spend at least a week here as the whale watching is some of the best in Nova Scotia and the hikes go on for days.
One of the most popular walkways is the Skyline Trail, the route boasting sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Cabot Trail. Moderately taxing, we attempted the very same route. Unfortunately, on this adventure our luck was out when it came to the wildlife, but the panoramic views alone were worth the hike, and our exhilarating trek was the perfect precursor to the delicious scallops and fresh lobster we enjoyed at Baddeck’s Inverary Resort. An opportunity to dip deeper into the culture of Canada’s Ocean Playground, we were also treated to a lively performance of Gaelic music.
CANADA’S INLAND SEA: BRAS D’OR LAKE
A yachting paradise and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Bras d’Or Lake was our next destination, the irregular estuary connected to the Atlantic and nicknamed “Canada’s Inland Sea.” Fringed by deep forested hills, we headed out on a 90-minute boat tour to find the surrounding trees filled with birdlife—bald eagles and the great blue heron are both found here.
The water-based excursion is an opportunity to learn about an area that will forever be linked to scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell—he fell in love with the surroundings and built a research lab and family estate here; the Mikmaq—the land deemed sacred to the First Nations people; and the descendants of the many early French, Scottish, Irish, and English settlers.
Drawing on those very same roots, later that afternoon we visited Cape Breton’s Gaelic College to learn about the culture of fiddling and folk song—the Gaelic culture still woven deeply into Nova Scotia and a central part of any journey to this Atlantic province.
Fnally, we ended our day on a high note at one of North America’s finest hotels, where we savoured a delightful afternoon tea. The Keltic Lodge is a red-roofed tudor retreat sitting atop seaside cliffs, and it boasts beautiful views of the South Bay and Cape Smokey. Of note: this is an ideal destination for golfers, as the renowned Highlands Links Golf Course is close by.
LOUISBURG’S OCEAN FRONT APPEAL
On our last evening, we overnighted at The North Star, where we feasted on some typically Nova Scotian dishes. Beautifully appointed, the hotel sits on a four-acre peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Louisbourg Harbour. Again, it’s worth extending your stay and indulging in several nights here, as the “highly Instagrammable” Fortress of Louisbourg—a spectacular recreated French fortification where we literally stepped back in time to the 18th century—is only a short walk away, as is the Louisbourg Playhouse, where you can enjoy Cape Breton music, live theatre and dance.
With the addition of plentiful hiking trails, quiet, unspoilt beaches, and the celebrated Louisbourg Lighthouse, I can promise that every day will be a new adventure.
FAREWELL TO NOVA SCOTIA
Conveniently located in the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, The Alt Hotel is the best place to stay before your departure. Having checked in online, we went straight to the baggage drop-off, which, while automated, has Air Canada staff standing by. I experienced their amazing customer service first-hand after misplacing my maple syrup and blueberry juice (a Nova Scotian favourite) in my hand luggage! In fact, that’s something you’ll find all over this province: warm and welcoming people who are eager to make you feel right at home on the “Sea Bound Coast.”
Contact our specialists about crafting your own tailor-made adventure in Nova Scotia, as we would be delighted to help you plan the holiday of a lifetime. We can also assist with travel to more of the country’s Atlantic provinces as we know and love them all!
For more information on the holidays we offer at Frontier Canada, and to book, call us on 020 8776 8709 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ATOL PROTECTED No 5405 ABTA W3207.