Cradled by the Atlantic, many of the best places to visit in Nova Scotia owe their beauty to the ocean. 

Nova Scotia South’s Shore promises colorful fishing villages, gentle maritime drives, and endless beaches, while the rich red tides of the Bay of Fundy and the warm shores of the Northumberland Strait are perfect for fossil hunting and road-tripping. 

Connected to mainland Nova Scotia via a short causeway, the island of Cape Breton is quite distinct from mainland Nova Scotia, with lush, dramatic mountains and a warm, laid-back vibe. Here's our guide to the province's highlights.

A lighthouse with crashing waves under a cloudy sky
Lighthouse at Peggy's Cove being buffeted by winter storm ocean waves © Peter Steeper / 500px

1. Peggy’s Cove

Even those who prefer to stay off the beaten track should follow the crowds to Peggy’s Cove and the iconic Peggy’s Point lighthouse, only a 50-minute drive from Nova Scotia’s capital city, Halifax.

There's a reason the cove is consistently named one of the best things to do here. Once you get to the rocks, there is a sense of freedom as you leap from boulder to boulder in the fresh salt air, exploring the crevices and crystals of the sparkling ice-age granite, with waves crashing against the shore. In the cove itself, brightly colored houses and fishing shacks cradle the small but busy wharf in this working fishing village. 

Don’t rush back to the city. From Peggy’s Cove, you can explore the lesser-known regions of Terence Bay and Prospect to the east, or head southwest to the coves and beaches of St. Margaret’s Bay, Hubbards, Bayswater, Chester, and Mahone Bay, and the town of Liverpool.

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Three people riding bikes across a dock
Halifax Harbourwalk is one of the longest downtown boardwalks in the world © Destination Canada

2. Halifax and Dartmouth

Halifax, Nova Scotia, is connected to its lesser-known twin, Dartmouth, by two handsome red and green suspension bridges that span the harbor and a public ferry system that takes you across the water every 15 minutes during peak times. 

The Halifax Harbourwalk is one of the longest downtown boardwalks in the world at nearly 5 km (3 miles) long, with dozens of restaurants, galleries, museums, world-class hotels and tour opportunities. Downtown Dartmouth offers playgrounds, parks, eclectic restaurants and pubs – and a great view of Halifax. 

Of the many worthwhile museums and galleries in Halifax, Africville Museum and Park explores an important chapter in Nova Scotia’s history in which a predominantly Black neighborhood was demolished and its citizens evicted in the name of “urban renewal.” The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 explores Canada’s proud immigrant history. 

A harbor area surrounded by colorful buildings
Lunenburg harbor in Nova Scotia ©Brigitte Smith/Getty Images

3. Lunenburg

Lunenburg is one of the most popular towns on Nova Scotia’s South Shore and is an essential stop if you love maritime culture. Its old town was named a Unesco World Heritage City because it is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.

For locals, Luneburg is known as home to the Bluenose II, an elegant schooner featured on the “tails” side of the Canadian dime. Don’t miss the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and Boat Shop on the waterfront. Near Lunenburg, explore exciting sea caves at The Ovens, or spend the day kayaking in the shallow waters of Blue Rocks. 

A rocky coast with a small peninsula jutting out into calm waters, with blue skies above
Sandy Bay Beach on the border of Thomas Raddall Provincial Park © Design Pics RF / Getty Images

4. South Shore Beaches

Nova Scotia’s South Shore is filled with stunning white-sand beaches that would rival any in the Caribbean. Some of the best beaches in Nova Scotia are White Point, Hunts Point, Summerville, as well as the small beaches and secret coves at Kejimkujik Seaside and Thomas Raddall Provincial Park. And of course, they're all free.

Carter’s Beach in Port Mouton (pronounced Port Ma-toon) is one of the most beautiful beaches in the province with white sand, ice-cold water and million-dollar views, while lesser-known Beach Meadows has equally breathtaking scenery with warm shallow waters (and better facilities and dune protection than Carter’s, which is at risk of over-tourism) 

Continuing south toward the Acadian Shore, Shelburne county has some of the best beaches in Nova Scotia, including Crescent Beach, Roseway Beach, and Sandy Point Beach and lighthouse.

5. Cliffs of Fundy Geopark 

The Cliffs of Fundy Global Geopark is a group of geological sites in northwest Nova Scotia awarded Unesco designation in 2020 as a place of significant geological value. Translation: incredible scenery, great hikes, dinosaur fossils, cool rocks and gems. 

This region of Nova Scotia also holds special significance to the Mi’kmaq, as the home of Kluskap, a legendary figure in indigenous lore across New England and the Maritimes. 

From the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark, you can easily drive into the neighboring provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island or continue a tour along Nova Scotia’s North coast, including the quirky town of Tatamagouche, the town of Pictou, and warm beaches such as Melmerby Beach.

A whale lobtailing with a boat of whale watchers in the distance
Boaters can spot humpback, finback and right whales off the coast of Brier Island © SurinaWild / Shutterstock

6. Brier Island

Brier Island, a small island jutting out into the Bay of Fundy on Nova Scotia’s Western tip, is one of the best places to visit in Nova Scotia. The island is known for its unique landscape and geology, but it's perhaps most famous for its whales, who come annually to feed in the rich waters of the world’s highest tides. Birders love it here too.

There are only a small handful of tour operators on Brier Island, which means a relaxed experience for you and a safe experience for the whales. Whether you join a family-friendly tour on a fishing boat or suit up and hop aboard a highspeed Zodiac, you’re likely to get up-close-and-personal with humpback or minke whales, which may come to greet your boat like an old friend. 

The drive to Brier Island is part of the experience – it is one of Nova Scotia’s best road trips. Stop into the town of Digby, Nova Scotia, famous for its delicious scallops, or hike the trail to Balancing rock on Long Island.

7. Shelburne and Birchtown 

The town of Shelburne is a great place to stop on your way to the western region of Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores, or makes a great short road trip from Halifax. The Shelburne Museum complex has several hands-on museums, perfect for children, including Ross Thompson House and the Dory Shop, which honors boatbuilding history. 

Nearby, the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown tells the story of one of the most fascinating chapters in Nova Scotian and African history – the journey of the Black Loyalists from America to Nova Scotia, recently highlighted in the book and TV miniseries The Book of Negroes.

Boats in a harbor with calm water
The village of Cheticamp on Cape Breton Island ©Alexander Howard/Lonely Planet

8. Cape Breton 

Cape Breton Island is a region in the northeast tip of Nova Scotia, about 4 hours drive from Halifax. Ten percent of Nova Scotians live in Cape Breton, including native Gaelic, French and Mi’kmaw speakers. Cape Breton’s coal mining industry, which drove the economy from the mid-1700s to the mid 20th century, attracted immigrants from all over the world, including Europe and the Caribbean.  

When coal mining stopped, tourism took its place. The fortress Louisbourg is one of the best places to visit in Nova Scotia – a recreation of a French fort. Other places to visit in Cape Breton include the Glace Bay Miners Museum, the town of Sydney, Goat Island – and of course, the world-famous Cabot Trail.

9. Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley

The Annapolis Valley was once considered the “apple barrel of the British Empire,” and there are still many orchards and farms here, but one of the best reasons to visit these days is that other delicious fruit – grapes…which are fermented into award-winning Nova Scotia wines (try the sparkling whites, or the local appellation, Tidal Bay).

In the fall, the town of Wolfville hosts Devour!, a huge food and film festival, which brings foodies and luminaries from all over the world. 

Nearby, the Unesco World Heritage Site of Grand Pré tells the story of Le Grand Dérangement – the deportation of thousands of Acadians by the British in 1755, while the trails and viewpoints at Blomidon and Cape Split Provincial Parks are considered some of the best hikes in Nova Scotia.

Read more: When is the best time to go to Nova Scotia?

A road snaking around a hilly coastal road
The Cabot Trail in peak fall colors ©Cindy Creighton/Shutterstock

10. Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail, considered one of the best drives in the world, is a roughly 300km (185-mile) weaving in and out of one of Nova Scotia's best National Parks, Cape Breton Highlands

Although the landscape is glacial, not volcanic, the highlands look more like Hawaii or New Zealand than Atlantic Canada, with steep mountains and valleys covered in lush greenery. In October, the foliage turns to an inferno of red, yellow and orange, as the leaves change.

Highlights in and around the Cabot Trail include the town of Baddeck, the ski hill and gondola at Cape Smokey, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and – for longboarding enthusiasts – the world’s only museum dedicated to downhill skateboarding at the Highlands Hostel in Cape North. 

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This article was first published September 2021 and updated December 2021

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