Ocean views, delicious seafood, and friendly people are the foundation for the best road trips in Nova Scotia, often combined with a tour of Nova Scotia’s neighboring maritime provinces: Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
The best time to visit Nova Scotia is June to September if you love warm weather, and October for crisp air and blazing autumn colors. Although Nova Scotia is small (it would take roughly 8 hours to drive the entire length of the province,) this doesn’t mean you should rush through. Instead, roll down the driver’s side window and plan for relaxed, easy days exploring small friendly towns, beautiful white-sand beaches, and stunning coastal scenery. This beautiful part of North America has plenty of bang for its buck when it comes to places to visit.
A taste of the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore
Start – Halifax (round trip); Distance – approx 217miles/350 km (allow 3-4 days)
Starting in Halifax, zoom up highway 101 to Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley, once known as the “apple barrel of the British Empire,” home to several award-winning wineries, with fantastic tasting rooms, restaurants, and touring opportunities. Hike Cape Split or explore Blomidon Provincial Park, then head to Hall’s Harbour to eat delicious lobster, while watching the world’s highest tides rise (or fall) on the Bay of Fundy.
For your next leg, head straight down through the province toward the south coast and head for the charming towns of Chester, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg where you’ll find small inns, boutiques, bakeries, cafes, folk art – and a healthy dose of ghost and pirate lore.
Head back to Halifax via the Aspotogan peninsula and the beaches of Bayswater, Hubbards, and Queensland. This time, take the slow road: Highway 3 (not the 103). Turn right at Tantallon and visit the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. If you stay overnight here, you’ll have bragging rights, most tourists only visit Peggy’s Cove for an hour or two. Your reward: both a sunset and sunrise in Nova Scotia’s most iconic place.
Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth and the Acadian Shore
Start – Halifax; End – Yarmouth; Distance – approx 236miles/380 km (allow 4 days)
Although Nova Scotia is officially an English-speaking province, there are pockets of strong Acadian French culture where families still speak, play music, and cook the Cajun way. One of the best ways to experience Acadian culture is through a Nova Scotia road trip that explores the tourist region of Yarmouth and Acadian Shores – home to old-growth forests, stunning beaches, and some of the darkest skies in North America.
From Halifax, travel through the white sand beaches of Queens and Shelburne County, exploring the historic towns of Liverpool, Shelburne, and Birchtown, home of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. Turn the corner at Barrington, toward the Acadian shore, where highlights include the Tusket Islands, Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse, beautiful Mavillette beach, and Église Sainte-Marie – the tallest wooden church in North America.
If you want to continue your East Coast road trip south of the border, a high-speed CAT ferry can take you from the town of Yarmouth to Bar Harbor, Maine (USA) in 3.5 hours.
Beaches and islands of the Eastern Shore
Start – Halifax; End – Sherbrooke Village; Distance – approx 121miles /195km (allow 2 days)
The Eastern Shore is hardly a hidden secret. Lawrencetown Beach has long been a surfer’s paradise with reliable year-round waves, while further along the shore, Clam Harbour Beach has been the location for Nova Scotia’s biggest sand-castle competition for almost half a century.
But lately, there has been a resurgence of enthusiasm for this cool, atmospheric coast. The superb white sand and hiking trails of Taylor Head Provincial Park are a dream for nature-lovers, while the pristine, untouched beaches of the 100 Wild Islands are perfect for camping and kayaking. For families, Memory Lane Heritage Village and Sherbrooke Village have exciting historical programs for all ages.
Whale watching road trip: Digby to Brier Island
Start – Digby; End –Westport; Distance – approx 43miles/69 km (allow 1-2 days)
The beautiful fishing town of Digby is best known for its extra-large, plump scallops. Nova Scotia road-trippers can approach Digby from the east via the Annapolis Valley or from the southwest via the Acadian shore. Alternatively, you can get there from neighboring Saint John, New Brunswick by a 2.5-hour ferry ride aboard the MV Fundy Rose.
From Digby, a road trip to the whale-watching and birding mecca of Brier Island makes a wonderful one or two-day excursion that includes two very brief ferry journeys. Along the way, explore the Balancing Rock Trail, Brier Island Coastal Trail, and Seal Cove. These interesting coastal hikes, charming ferries, friendly whales, and the undulating roads themselves make a journey to Brier Island one of the best road trips in Nova Scotia.
The Cliffs of Fundy and the Northumberland Shore
Start – Halifax; End – Pictou; Distance – approx 225miles/362 km (allow 3 days)
Travel from the capital Halifax to the “upper left” corner of the province to explore the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark and the charming, artsy town of Parrsboro, only 45 minutes from the New Brunswick border. Thrills here include the Fundy Geological Museum, the “bubbling tides” phenomenon at Partridge Island and the general magnificence of the world’s highest tides as seen from Five Islands Provincial Park.
After you’ve explored the cliffs of Fundy, meander north to the town of Tatamagouche for more art, quirk and history. Swim the warm waters of Rushton or Melmerby beach, or visit a lavender farm before ending your trip in Pictou, with a side trip to Stellarton/New Glasgow to visit the cheerful Museum of Industry.
Once this road trip has ended, you can continue east toward Antigonish and Cape Breton, or cross over to the red-sand paradise of Prince Edward Island via the Caribou – Wood Islands Ferry.
Nova Scotia’s best road trip: the Cabot Trail
Start – Baddeck; End – Cheticamp; Distance – approx 130 miles/210km (allow 2-3 days)
There’s something about the way the sun moves over the mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands, pushing shadows and ethereal light across the mountains, and sending slices of sunlight onto the road as you drive. The locals call Cape Breton “God’s country” while seasoned travelers compare its mountains to Hawaii, New Zealand or the Scottish Highlands. Despite its diminutive size, Nova Scotia has some of the most stunning national parks to be found in Canada.
The Cabot Trail, considered one of the best drives in the world, is a well-paved, winding highway that weaves in and out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, passing through several local communities along the way. Don’t miss the Gondola and tree walk at Cape Smokey, whale watching in Pleasant Bay, and the famous Skyline Trail – an easy hike near the fishing village of Chéticamp.
Set aside at least two or three days to drive this legendary Nova Scotia highway. Outdoor enthusiasts, hikers and slow-travelers will want to stay in Cape Breton for a week or more.