7 Things to Do During Your Visit to Nova Scotia

With the high-speed ferry from Bar Harbor, it’s never been easier to take a two-nation vacation.

Map of Nova Scotia
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Jutting out from mainland Canada like a lobster claw, Nova Scotia has many of the attractions that make Maine a beloved Vacationland — lighthouses, lobsters, and a craggy coastline. But Nova Scotia also has distinct cultures and natural settings that make it a unique destination. With the high-speed ferry from Bar Harbor, it’s never been easier to take a two-nation vacation. Here are seven of the best things to do on your trip across the border.

Experience the world’s highest tides.

Bay of Fundy

The ocean rises and falls more than 50 feet twice each day in the Bay of Fundy, the deep, long basin between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At low tide, visit Burntcoat Head Park to walk for miles or dine on the ocean floor and probe tide pools for hermit crabs, periwinkles, and fossils. For a more adventurous encounter with Fundy phenomena, ride a whitewater raft atop a tidal bore — the massive waves that form when the powerful incoming tide surges up rivers and reverses their flow.

Toast the coast.

vineyard in Nova Scotia

The region’s cool climate, coastal breezes, and rich soil are ideal for cultivating grapes, and Nova Scotia’s rich winemaking tradition spans four centuries. The province even has its own wine appellation, Tidal Bay, a crisp, dry, still white wine produced exclusively with local grapes. More than 20 wineries and vineyards dot the province, and many of them welcome visitors. And there’s more than wine to pour: Find more than 80 craft breweries, distilleries, cideries, and meaderies on Nova Scotia’s Good Cheer Trail.

Go glamping.

geodesic dome

Love fresh air and rustic charm, but not interested in roughing it? Nova Scotia has a myriad of accommodations with social distancing built right in. Sleep in a yurt at the edge of a seaside vineyard, get cozy in an oTENTik (a cross between a tent and an A-frame), wake up in a geodesic dome at an eco-resort, or hide away in the forest canopy inside a teardrop-shaped Ôasis tree house.

Hit the trails.

Nova Scotia’s wide array of trails are perfect for exploring by foot, bike, horseback, and plenty of outfitters offer rentals and guided tours. The Rum Runners Trail is a former railbed stretching 74 miles from downtown Halifax to the Old Town Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The path is named for Prohibition-era bootleggers who took shelter in the secluded coves along the route. In the Annapolis Valley, the 68-mile Harvest Moon Trailway connects the marshlands of Grand Pré, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the 417-year-old seaside town of Annapolis Royal. On Cape Breton’s west coast, the 57-mile Celtic Shores Coastal Trail between Port Hastings and Inverness passes by warm-water beaches and fishing villages with a panoply of pubs, restaurants, shops, and lodging.

Follow in John Cabot’s Footsteps.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park

In 1497, John Cabot sailed to North America and landed on the northern shore of Cape Breton Island. Honoring his journey, the 185-mile Cabot Trail is lauded as one of the world’s best road trips, taking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and several fishing villages, with nonstop panoramic ocean views along the way. Allow plenty of time to explore the Acadian, Irish, and Scottish communities on the route. Golf, hike, and take in local festivals in the spring, summer, and fall. When the snow flies, the region becomes a wonderland to be explored on snowshoes and telemark, downhill, and Nordic skis.

Immerse yourself in culture.

Opportunities abound to learn about the many peoples who have called Nova Scotia home. At Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, cultural interpreters give guided hiking and canoe tours of historic Mi’kmaq routes, pointing out ancient petroglyphs and sharing stories and music. Grand Pré National Historic Site commemorates the Acadian settlement that began in 1682. Birchtown, on Nova Scotia’s southwestern shore, was the largest free African settlement outside of Africa in the late 18th century. The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre tells the inhabitants’ story and preserves the settlement’s schoolhouse, trails, churches, and burial grounds. On Cape Breton Island, the Highland Village Museum and Celtic Music Interpretive Centre offers an immersion into the distinctive music, dance, and language of the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled there centuries ago.

Get your city fix.

Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, has a decidedly cosmopolitan atmosphere, with museums, boutiques, restaurants, and breweries, as well as a three-mile boardwalk that traces the edge of its natural harbor. Visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to learn about the colorful history of the harbor or tour the city from the water on a tall ship. For a bird’s-eye view, head to the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fort built by the British military atop the city’s highest hill in the 18th century. Every day, the 78th Highlanders and the Royal Artillery reenact marching and drumming drills on the parade grounds.

Get There From Here

Go by sea. From May to October, Bay Ferries Limited operates the CAT high-speed car ferry from Bar Harbor ME, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, which is a 3.5-hour trip.

Take a road trip. It’s approximately 9 hr drive from Portland, ME to Halifax, NS.

Just fly over. Numerous airlines run direct flights from Boston Logan International Airport to Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

*All travel requires a valid passport. Check on current pandemic protocols.

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