You'll need at least a few hours to fully explore this extraordinary historic site that faithfully re-creates the Louisbourg Fortress as it was in 1744, right down to the people – costumed thespians take their characters and run with them. Free guided tours around the site are offered throughout the day. Travelers with mobility problems can ask for a pass to drive their car up to the site; there are ramps available to access most buildings.
Built to protect French interests in the region, the fortress was also a base for cod fishing and an administrative capital. Louisbourg was worked on continually from 1719 to about 1745. The British took it in a 46-day siege in 1745, but it would change hands twice more. In 1760, after British troops under the command of General James Wolfe took Québec City, the walls of Louisbourg were destroyed and the city was burned to the ground.
In 1961, with the closing of many Cape Breton Island coal mines, the federal government funded the largest historical reconstruction in Canadian history as a way to generate employment, resulting in 50 buildings open to visitors. Workers in period dress take on the lives of typical fort inhabitants.
Be prepared for lots of walking, and bring a sweater and raincoat even if it's sunny when you start out. There's also an ever-changing array of tours and activities on offer, from nighttime candlelit walks to period dinner theater; check the website for what's on each season.
Though the scale of the reconstruction is massive, three-quarters of Louisbourg is still in ruins. The 2.5km Ruins Walk guides you through the untouched terrain and out to the Atlantic coast. A short interpretive walk opposite the visitors center discusses the relationship between the French and the Mi'kmaq and offers some great views of the whole site.