This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ve been focusing on one part of their magnificent country and sharing it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and codfish-kissing in the Maritimes, our toast to Canada gives you well over 150 reasons to make this the year you take the trip. This month we’re exploring lighthouse views and historic landings in Nova Scotia.
Canada 150: Nova Scotia
With a mix of city conveniences and rural charm, Nova Scotia offers the perfect introduction to eastern Canadian sensibilities. In the winter months, the reasons to visit don’t disappear. Cooler temperatures don’t dissuade locals, and their infectious spirit will have you joining in on the fun. The weather also makes cozy and comfortable indoor spaces—and fantastic food and beverage offerings—even more enticing. In the end, you may find you prefer the quieter winter season to the popular summer one. You’ll just have to come back to find out.
The City: Halifax
Nova Scotia’s capital city has something for everyone. And no matter which season you choose to explore it, you’ll find the waterfront boardwalk is the perfect place to start. The area plays host to events, fantastic restaurants, and top-notch shopping year-round.
But where Halifax shines brightest is through its historical connections.
The Halifax Seaport Farmers market is the oldest continuously operated market of its kind in North America. Pop in for coffee and a pastry, local produce, or just to chat with the farmers behind the stands to get a sense of the community here. Then, make a point of visiting the Museum of the Atlantic. Halifax is inextricably tied to a marine history, and as the country’s oldest and largest maritime museum, this space does a great job sharing that history through over 30,000 artifacts, including some that demonstrate the area’s ties to the Titanic. For a different perspective, pop over to the Halifax Citadel, where in the winter, the hills are perfect for some sledding adventures, and in the summer, your kids can try their hand at being a soldier for a day. Then toast the ancestors who knew what they were doing when they started the country’s oldest brewery, Alexander Keith. (The namesake was mayor of Halifax three times.) You can still grab an ale brewed on site just as it has been since its founding in 1820. For indoor family fun, head for the Discovery Centre. Pick a new-to-you board game and order up a round of hot chocolates for an afternoon of fun at The Board Room Game Cafe or while away an afternoon at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Why Now is the Perfect Time to Go to Nova Scotia
Winter Activities: Eastern Canadians don’t hide from winter, they embrace it. From snowshoeing at Ski Wentworth and taking a horse drawn sleigh ride at Hatfield Farm to skating the Emera Oval in Halifax (free admission and rentals on this outdoor rink) and winter surfing at Lawrencetown Beach and White Point Beach, there’s plenty to do. Skiers of all skill levels and sizes will find downhill and cross-country options across the province as well.
Get “Sociable!”: When glasses are lifted in Nova Scotia, the proper accompanying toast is “Sociable!” Given the friendliness of the locals, it’s a fitting greeting and the province offers up plenty of places to raise a glass. In Halifax, The Lower Deck is an icon. With music seven nights a week, you’ll always find someone there to share a round. Prefer cider? Head to Wolfville to sample the Annapolis Cider Company wares. And if you’re more of a craft beer drinker, you’ll want to explore the scene across the province. Hell Bay Brewing Co. in Liverpool is a great place to start. To design a tour all your own, explore the Good Cheer Trail, where you can sample local productions from 50 spots across the province.
Eat Well: The best time to eat seafood in the Maritimes? Always! Whether you pop into a restaurant to try a freshly caught lobster or have a package packed up to carry home, local seafood is a must-do. In the winter months, don’t miss a steaming bowl of seafood chowder at places like The Sou’Wester Restaurant at Peggy’s Cove. Or head out to a Tastes of Nova Scotia-member shop or restaurant to sample products highlighted for their regional excellence. Among the participants: Farmers, chefs, winemakers, and chocolatiers. Then pop into Sugar Moon Farm, where you can pair your Canadian maple syrup pancake breakfast with an afternoon sleigh ride. And don’t miss a Sunday Celidh experience at the Celtic Music Centre in Cape Breton. You’ll get a full sense of the rich Celtic history and culture through traditional live music and a menu of Nova Scotia specialties.
Why Nova Scotia Is Great Other Times of Year
Islands: Looking for an even quieter getaway? Nova Scotia is home to dozens of islands. A few you should consider for day trips include McNab’s Island (where you can hike, kayak, and explore with or without a local guide) and Sable Island (a 26-mile-long sandbar where more than 500 wild horses run free).
Louisbourg: No summertime visit is complete without a stop inside the walls of the Fortress of Louisbourg. The 18th century fort was a key French defense site during its heyday, and thanks to costumed interpreters, you’ll see what it felt like when you visit. Kids love the cannon demonstrations and sampling foods cooked over open fire on the National Historic site grounds.
Food Festivals: If it can be eaten, there is probably a festival celebrating it on the east coast. Come hungry to enjoy the Savour! Food and Wine festival in the spring. Or bring a friend to help you get through Halifax Burger Week, Halifax Ribfest and Halifax Oyster Festival in the summer and fall.
Snap Happy: Whatever the season, the UNESCO World Heritage site Town of Lunenburg is a photographer’s dream. Old Town Lunenburg is billed as the “best surviving planned British colonial town in North America.” Brightly colored wooden homes and horse and buggy tours make it a popular stop. The Bluenose II, a replica of the 143-foot schooner that raced its way into Canadian history from Lunenburg’s shores in 1921 often sits in the waters here, giving visitors a chance to walk the decks of the boat that can be seen on the back of the Canadian dime. Add to that the more than 150 lighthouses across the province (including the 1915 iconic red-and-white light house at Peggy’s Cove) and you’ll find plenty of Instagram-worthy moments waiting to be snapped.
If You Go Don’t Miss …
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21: This incredible museum celebrates the stories of more than one million people from around the globe who made their way to Canada through this port. The story collections on-site also include accounts of World War II veterans who sailed from the famous pier for service overseas. The museum encourages Canadians to share their own immigration stories as well.
The National Park
Cape Breton Highlands: What makes Cape Breton so interesting is that the highlands hold the cultural history of so many Canadians. The Mi’kmaq were here first (about 4,000 years ago) but since then, everyone from the Portuguese and Scottish to the Dutch and French have made their way through the area. Most of the park is forested, but 186 miles of The Cabot Trail run along and through the forests, allowing travelers incredible vista views. Head to the western edges and you’ll hit the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Head east and you’ll meet the Atlantic Ocean. At each shoreline, you’re rewarded with dramatic cliffs and sandy beaches, not to mention the bounty in the waters themselves. Travelers can stay in the park at one of the campgrounds, or simply spend their days exploring hiking and biking trails, popular golf courses, and beachfronts. The park is open year-round, and snowshoeing and skiing options abound in the winter months.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Canada 150: Scenic Shorelines in Newfoundland and Labrador
- Canada 150: Wild Frontiers and Unforgettable Nature in the Yukon
- Canada 150: Quebec Delivers the Ultimate Summer Vacation
- Canada 150 Saskatchewan: The Prairie Province that Defies Expectations
- Canada 150: Visit Alberta for Stars, Stories, and the World’s Wildest Wilderness
- Canada 150: Ocean-Floor Adventures and Maritime History in New Brunswick
- Canada 150: Bliss in British Columbia
- Canada 150: Churchill Polar Bears and Winter Fun in Manitoba
Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com
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