Things to Do in Nova Scotia
The epitome of gorgeous scenic temperate coastal drives, the Cabot Trail rings the northern half of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia with 185 miles of winding, cliff-hugging roadway. Between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean, visitors who take in the entire Cabot Trail will get ample glimpses of both. Along the way, you’ll find red-topped lighthouses, rocky shorelines with pine and deciduous forests that erupt in a riot of color come autumn, popular hiking trails including many in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, quaint towns and inns and popular attractions such as the quirky Salmon Museum in Margaree, art studios and galleries in St. Ann’s and the start/end point of the trail at the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell, now a museum, in Baddeck.
Right at the center of Halifax is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks: the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, or – more simply – the Citadel.
The Citadel is a fort, and a symbol of Halifax’s role as a principal naval station in the British Empire. It spans a large grassy park in the shape of an eight-point star. The fort in place at the moment is actually fourth in a series, having been completed in 1856.
At the site, you’ll find a defensive ditch, earthen ramparts, a musketry gallery, a powder magazine, and garrison cells. History lovers are able to tour the period-style rooms of the citadel, and the Army Museum makes for great browsing. There is also a “living history” program, where mid-Victorian Halifax is represented through music, performances, and guided tours. The Coffee Bar onsite serves up hot drinks and home-style baking for when you need a break.
In the warm summer months, pack a picnic and join hundreds of other Haligonians.
Peggy’s Cove is the place to go if you want a little piece of rural Atlantic Canadian living, just a quick drive from Nova Scotia’s capital city. The star attraction of the area is the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, a red and white lighthouse built in 1915 and still in operation today. It sits on a granite outcrop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where you’ll get to watch the waves crash cliff-side with tremendous force. Visitors are warned not to get too close to the cliff’s edge in case of turbulent seas.
If Peggy’s Point is the focus of your journey, park your car at the bottom of the road leading up to the lighthouse and take a walk through the village area, with fishing shacks and tiny houses sitting inside a narrow inlet. The piles of lobster pots and fishing nets make for some perfect photographic moments. You can also stop for lunch at dinner at the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop, where you can sample the seafood that makes the east coast of Canada so well known.
The Halifax Public gardens were opened in 1867 -- the same year as Canadian Confederation. A large team of superintendents, horticulturalists, and gardeners has kept everything blooming for over 100 years, and in 1984, the gardens became a National Historic Site of Canada.
Once you’re through the impressive main gates, you’re free to wander the footpaths at your leisure. There are over 100 species of trees here, as well as a collection of flowerbeds. Peruse the Tropical Display beds for exotic plants from around the world, or take in the colorful dahlias. Cross the Upper and Lower Bridges and visit The Victoria Jubilee Fountain, added in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The most impressive fountain, however, is the double-tiered Boer War Memorial Fountain, erected in 1903 to honor the service of Canadian soldiers in the South African war.
Although a cemetery might seem to be too depressing of a place to visit while on vacation, the Fairview Lawn Cemetery has some incredible history. It’s best known for being the final resting place for over 100 victims from the sinking of the RMS Titanic, more than any other cemetery in the world.
The headstones of the dead are simple gray granite parkers, with the name and date of the deceased. A third of the markers have never been identified, including the grave of The Unknown Child, whose shoes were donated to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. He was later identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose entire family perished in the disaster. He was only 19 months old.
Here you’ll also find a grave marked “J Dawson.” The deceased’s name is actually Joseph Dawson, but the grave became a popular place for Titanic filmgoers to leave ticket stubs and flowers after Jack Dawson first appeared on the scene.
At the Glooscap Heritage Centre and Mi'kmaw Museum in the town of Truro, the first thing you’ll see is a 40-foot statue of Glooscap — the legendary figure who, in Mi'kmaw lore, was the first human on Earth, created from a bolt of lightning in the sand. On entering the museum, you’ll learn the story of Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw people. Exhibits on show include ancient artifacts and traditional porcupine quillwork as well as beadwork. You’ll see the centuries-old stone tools once essential to the survival of the Mi’kmaws, and you’ll get to learn the Mi'kmaw alphabet and how to say hello and goodbye through an audio interactive wall panel. The Mi'kmaw are also known for their petroglyphs which can be found in a number of places in Nova Scotia, and you can see one inscribed on a boulder at the museum. The Glooscap Heritage Centre and Mi'kmaw Museum also have a visitor information center and gift shop.
More Things to Do in Nova Scotia
What better way to enjoy the fine Nova Scotia wines than on a scenic 10-hectare vineyard in the Annapolis region? Blessed with a micro-climate that permits grape growing, the Blomidon Estate Winery is located on the bucolic shore of the Minas Basin has won numerous national and international awards over the years. Many of the blocks were planted in 1986 –including established Baco Noir, L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay, with newer plantings of Riesling, New York Muscat- giving Blomidon some of the oldest vines in the province. Their 100% Nova Scotia production includes crisp whites, strong reds, sweet rosés, sparkling wines (crémants and Prosecco-style sparkling) and delicate ice wines produced in the utmost Canadian tradition. The vineyard provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxed picnic or an expert tasting, and is one of the most picturesque pieces of land in the province.
The large natural harbor along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia is one Halifax’s most lively sites. The historic waterfront was largely formed by a drowned glacial valley which succumbed to sea level rise since glaciation, and has since become the first inbound and last outbound port of call in eastern North America with transcontinental rail connections.
Tourism-wise, Halifax Harbor is home to half a dozen islands including McNabs Island, the largest and also most significant. Now a national park and National Historic Site of Canada, it played a major defensive role in Halifax’s history, having been first settled in the 1780s. The island was used as an execution site during the Napoleonic Wars (and thus earned the nickname “Hangman’s Beach”), as a defensive stronghold against German U during World War II and later on as an isolated detention center for soldiers convicted of crimes. It now hosts museums, walking trails and plenty of picnic-friendly beaches.
Nestled in the rolling hills of the luxuriant Annapolis Valley, Avondale Sky Winery is by Stewart Creaser and Lorraine Vassalo, two wine lovers who traded stressful careers in the city for the demanding but rewarding life as winemaker. The duo has kept a very local approach to their endeavour, producing wine from their own grapes only and sourcing construction materials from local forlorn chapels and barns (including one that was transported across the Bay of Fundy, where the highest tides in the world occur), giving the whole winery a very wholesome feel. Avondale Sky Winery is often regarded as the quaintest and most picturesque one around, thanks to gentle slopes, expansive nurtured vines, an ever changing tidal landscape and the legendary panoramic Avondale sky.
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