Are you ready to fall for one of the most picturesque and beautiful coastlines in the world? Nova Scotia is a perfect vacation destination, from incredible food and amazing hospitality to historic landmarks and stunning beaches and highlands, the province is a gem on Canada’s east coast.
If you’re planning your next vacation, my family spent 10 days exploring the province, with stops in Halifax, Baddeck, Inverness, the Cabot Trail, Chéticamp, Ingonnish, Sydney, and so many wonderful places. Read on for the best of each stop, plus driving times, must-visit places, favourite hotels, and restaurants.
Watch my full video touring the province at the bottom of the story or on YouTube.
We flew into Halifax with Swoop, which was really affordable, and Stanfield International Airport is a short drive into the city. If you book in advance, flights are as low as $49 each way from most of Canada, plus the cost of checked luggage and carry-ons.
Driving notes: We rented a car from the airport and drove in to Halifax. It’s a 30 minute drive from the airport to downtown Halifax. Our plan was to have a little time in Halifax on our first day, but you can also depart directly from the airport to Cape Breton. From the airport it’s around a 2 hour and 30 minute drive to Cape Breton, and it’s 3 hours from the Halifax city centre.
We stayed at The Halliburton Hotel on the west side of downtown Halifax, and it’s a quick 10-15 minute walk to just about anywhere near the harbour. The boutique hotel is three heritage townhouses, and the rooms are comfortable, and charming.
The hotel’s restaurant, Stories, is also excellent, and very cozy with a wonderful menu that includes Faroe Islands Salmon, Duck Magret, and local highlights.
If you love restaurants, there are a lot of options in the city, from upscale to family friendly, and a few fun highlights include all of the dining options on Argyle Street, and the restaurants along the waterfront near Lower Water Street, like The Bicycle Thief. We also loved The Wooden Monkey on Grafton St., and there are dozens of great options, especially if you love seafood.
If you have the time, I’d recommend 3 days to explore the city. Halifax has so many great activities, for just about everyone. You can get out on the water with cruises or boat tours, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site features interpreters in period costumes, there are some great art galleries and museums, and for some real Canadian history you can explore the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 that traces immigrants to the country from ships that came in from around the world.
After our day in Halifax, we hit the road, stopping at Peggy’s Cove for the morning before we drove on to Cape Breton.
Driving: Our drive from Halifax was gorgeous and scenic, and it took about 45 minutes to get to Peggy’s Cove and the historic lighthouse.
The community is so charming and quaint, with local artists, restaurants, and souvenir shopping, and I highly recommend a few hours for a visit. A new accessible platform at the lighthouse offers gorgeous views of the coast, and Sou’Wester Gift & Restaurant is a great spot for Nova Scotian hospitality, lobster rolls, seafood chowder, or a full platter of fish, mussels, and scallops.
We also had the most incredible time hiking along the rocks near the lighthouse, and there are quite a few hiking trails in the area.
Baddeck, Inverness & Chéticamp
We left Peggy’s Cove around mid-day so we could make it to the town of Port Hawkesbury, the first main town in Cape Breton, by the evening.
Driving: From Peggy’s Cove it takes 3 hours and 30 minutes to drive to Port Hawkesbury. Alternatively, from Halifax, the beautiful town of Baddeck is about a 3 hour and 45 minute drive, and Sydney is 4 hours and 30 minutes. Either way, you can stop for a meal in New Glasgow or Antigonish along the Trans Canada Highway on your way Cape Breton.
From Port Hawkesbury, we went on to stay at the Inverary Resort in Baddeck, near the middle of the island and on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. The resort is so welcoming, and it’s a beautiful town with a lot to offer, including a number of places to stay. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is also in town and it’s a fascinating museum featuring full-size recreations of Bell’s planes and hydrofoils, as well as other inventions.
West of there, and especially convenient if you’re driving route 19 on the way north west to Inverary, Glenora Distillery is a major highlight for it’s perfect, idyllic location, and the distillery itself. We had a tour and tried their award-winning single malt whisky, and they also have a bar and restaurant. You won’t believe the views along this drive.
On to Inverness, we had lunch at Route 19 Brewing and explored the huge, beautiful beach, where there’s also a lot of sea glass, if you’re lucky. From there, we drove on to Chéticamp and had the most incredible east coast meal before we went on to Aucoin Bakery for some treats. Our last stop in the area was a long stroll on the gorgeous Petit Etang Beach, with its scenic views of the nearby hills.
Highlands National Park & Ingonish
You probably won’t believe how big Highlands National Park is, and how many trails there are throughout the Parks Canada site. It’s over 900 square kilometres, with 26 trails that offer more than 100 km of hiking combined.
Driving: From Chéticamp, driving through Highlands National Park on the Cabot Trail, it’s a 1 hour and 40 minute drive through the park to Ingonish. Some of the top destinations within the park are about 20 to 40 minutes from the western gate, but it depends where you plan to stop.
On the way through the Highlands National Park, from the west side of the island, I’d recommend a visit to Pleasant Bay for whale watching, and you’ll find scenic views around every turn. Throughout the park there are also fishing villages, restaurants and even a few shops on the drive to Ingonish.
In Ingonish, we stayed at the stunning Keltic Lodge, the best hotel in Cape Breton, and we hiked Middle Head, Black Brook Cove, and then Dingwall Beach. We also had one of our best meals on the whole trip at Morrison’s Restaurant in Cape North–I highly recommend a visit.
Even with a few days to explore, we barely scratched the surface in the highlands. There’s just so much to see and do. When you’re planning your trip, I recommend at least 3 days in the highlands, but 7 days would give you more time for hiking, whale watching, and to explore more of the small towns. You’ll be dreaming of coming back to the highlands the moment that you leave.
Sydney & Louisbourg
Once we tore ourselves away from the highlands we had a wonderful drive to Sydney, and spent three days in the area, staying at a hotel in Membertou, the Mi’kmaq community, and exploring nearby sights.
Driving: Sydney is a 2 hour drive from Ingonish or Inverness, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Port Hawkesbury, and it’s an hour from Baddeck. From the south and the rest of Nova Scotia, the Trans Canada Highway goes right to the city, but there are a number of routes to the city from around the island.
Sydney has two bigger hotels, plus inns and other lodgings, and numerous restaurants, including one of our favourites, Governors Pub on Esplanade near a must-visit attraction, the Big Fiddle (it even plays music!).
While we were in town, we also learned about the history of the area and picked up some Indigenous-made souvenirs from the Membertou Heritage Park, and then went on to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.
The historic French site is an incredible place. It was originally built in the 1700s, and then it was destroyed by the British in 1758. Today, the site exists because it was rebuilt starting in the 1960s, and it’s filled with local flavour, interpreters, and details about the people who lived and worked there 300 years ago.
You can easily spend half a day exploring the fortress, and there are options for food, there’s a bar, soldiers put on displays throughout the day, including firing muskets and canons, and the Mi’kmaw Interpretive Centre offers vibrant history and culture told through stories and music.
Back in Halifax, we spent our last two days in Nova Scotia exploring some of the things that we missed the first time around.
We walked the waterfront–one of the best boardwalks I’ve seen anywhere in Canada–and explored the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic where you can see artifacts from the Titanic, as well as history, and huge scale models of legendary ships.
We took the ferry to Georges Island National Historic Site and explored the tunnels of the old military base, and then I tried some local beer at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse.
And we took our daughter to the Discovery Centre to have some fun with experiments, science, and even some sea creatures.
It was the perfect way to end our trip; not rushing back to a flight, but relaxing and soaking up more of the province’s wonderful charm.
So are you ready to book your trip to Nova Scotia this summer? Start planning!
The GATE will have more stories on Nova Scotia in the coming days.
For more resources to plan your road trip, NovaScotia.com has trip ideas for any length of time, from 48 hours up to 10 days. You can also find more ideas from CBIsland.com, Cape Breton’s official tourism website. And for ideas in Halifax, visit Discoverhalifaxns.com.
All photos and video by W. Andrew Powell, The GATE.
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