Our Nova Scotia summer road trip: beaches, trails, lighthouses and good eats

Part 2 of our road trip is now live. In it I share our favourite markets, goooood coffee and much more.

We are home from a 2600 kilometer (1600 mile) summer road trip around the previous undiscovered (to me) province of Nova Scotia and have lived to tell the tale! Actually, we thrived, despite our jam-packed itinerary which put us in a new town nearly every night with a host of sights and tastes in-between.

I’m excited to share a few of the highlights with you in a couple of posts as I attempt to put into words the rugged beauty of the coast, the quaint towns and the and generous people who occupy them. Experiencing this portion of Canada opened my eyes to the true diversity that our country offers. I eagerly drank in the coastal beauty and ate up the local fare. Both were spectacular.

sunset over Cheticamp lighthouseSunset over Cheticamp lighthouse.

As we sank into our own bed last night, surrounded by duffel bags and laundry, Danny asked if I had a favorite part of the whole 12-day trip and I really couldn’t narrow it down to a single experience or place. Each day was an adventure and brought a magnificent new vista; each town offered their take on seafood chowder and lobster rolls. I never tired of either!

Rather than retrace our steps around the province, I’ll feature my top twelve highlights from our Nova Scotian adventures, delivered in two posts.

1. The Cabot Trail

Cabot trail on Cape Breton

It’s been named one of the world’s top road trip destinations and only a few miles in it is easy to see why. Dramatic cliffs rise out of a deep blue sea along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island, carpeted by trees as far as the eye can see.

Not one fast food establishment or equivalent eyesore can be viewed from the road; instead the trail brings you to one charming village after another, all with quaint churches and colorful, simple houses.

Cape Breton Cabot Trail

The road is lined with delicate wild roses, blooming purple thistles and clusters of raspberry brambles. It is well maintained and clearly marked. Plenty of lookouts are scattered throughout the route, but you will still want to pull over and snap a photo at nearly every turn.

Cabot trail wildlife

Views, secluded beaches and gentle towns are not all that the Cabot Trail offers, wildlife sightings are another reward of taking the scenic route. In one short afternoon of driving (and boating) we were treated to close encounters with three mild mannered moose, a bald eagle, and -most exciting- whales!

Pilot whale watching in Nova Scotia

We had a fantastic experience with Captain Mark’s Whale Watching, who got us very close to a pod of twelve or so pilot whales. At one point we were completely surrounded by these majestic creatures. Amazing!

The Cabot Trail views are renowned, and quite unequaled in all of Canada. We can’t wait to return again, perhaps in the fall when the leaves turn their many colors.

2. Lighthouses

For someone born on the Prairies and raised in the mountains, the attraction of lighthouses is not lost on me. No two are alike and they are all as beautiful as their surroundings.

Peggys Cove Lighthouse-3Peggy’s Cove lighthouse

Peggy’s Cove rivals them all and is Nova Scotia’s most photographed lighthouse. I’ll share more on Peggy’s Cove in my next post – we left the area and immediately began researching real estate in the area. We loved it, and it wasn’t just because of DeeDee’s ice cream!
Neil's Harbor Lighthouse-3Neil’s Harbor Lighthouse

And should you come across a lighthouse that also has an ice cream shop inside like this one in Neil’s Harbor, well, what could be better? For two boys, not much. We also enjoyed marvelous ocean views from the patio of this lighthouse.

3. Boats & Wharfs

I couldn’t get enough of all the colorful boats and sprawling wharfs and marinas that each town boasted. They always provided an enchanting setting for an after dinner stroll, or even an early morning walk, when the water is as still as glass.

Lunenburg wharf
Lunenburg marina.
lunenburg wharfLunenburg wharf
Bluenose II

We even found the Canadian icon Bluenose II in Lunenburg, although she was in the dry dock for repairs. Still, pretty cool.

4. Best Culinary Delights

Nova Scotia is a haven for the enthusiastic eater. We ate seafood daily in the form of crab cakes, lobster rolls, chowder, fish tacos, and the ever-so-accessible fish n’ chips.

Feasing on Nova Scotia seafood

Although I could easily go on for another thousand words about our good eats, I’ll just give some highlights!

  • Best Scallops: Delicate and perfectly seared, served with a host of seasonal vegetables, at Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax. (They had the best burger too)
  • Best Fish & Chips: Shaw’s Landing, just outside of Peggy’s Cove offered fried haddock so delicate I could have consumed a couple of portions myself. (Note: they also had one of my favorite views from the trip)
  • Best Oysters: a half-dozen Malpeque slurped at Edna in Halifax.
  • Best Cocktail: Basil Lemonade: pear eau de vie, gin, basil, honey, green peppercorn syrup, lemon juice, sparkling water – poured at Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg.
  • Best. Plate. Ever: A seared halibut with a fragrant lobster risotto at Edna in Halifax. Outstanding.

Rusty Anchor Lobster rolls

  • Best Lobster Roll: The Rusty Anchor on The Cabot Trail served up the top lobster rolls of the trip, with toasted buttered buns and whole lobster claws for a perfectly memorable bite. Another killer view here, too.
  • Best Crab: At the very memorable Beggar’s Banquet at Point of View Suites. Steamed Snow Crab with a side of melted butter.
  • Best Calamari: Served up tender, hot and crispy at Front and Central in Wolfville. (Update: this restaurant is now closed)
  • Best Mussels: A Pint and a Pound (beer & mussels) at Salt Shaker Deli.
  • Best Shrimp Cocktail: At the utterly adorable Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg
  • Best Chowder: We ended our road trip n a high note with an epic seafood chowder at Front and Central in Wolfville.

Farmer's Market pies

  • Best Breakfast: Eggs Benedict at Digby Pines Resort and Spa
  • Best Take Out Dessert: Blueberry, Rhubarb and Apple pies from Boulangerie la Vendéenne via the Lunenburg farmers market.
  • Best Plated Dessert: Strawberry Soup at Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg
  • Best Ice Cream: Wild Nova Scotia Berry at Dee Dee’s Ice Cream in Peggy’s Cove. (Also at Halifax Seaport Market)

Seafood chowder in Nova Scotia

Taste of Nova Scotia has put together a fantastic edible guide to the province.

5. Wild Beaches

One only has to swing off the highway to discover a beach, and if you miss the turn, you can usually drive another five to ten minutes and find another one. It’s a perfect way to take a break from the car and catch an afternoon nap, like Clara did in her little red pop-up tent.
Cape Breton beach at Inverness

Most beaches we enjoyed all to ourselves. Dogs and children splashed together, while I prepared a picnic lunch. Take note, future road trippers, a map doubles as a table cloth to hold your lunch.

Nova Scotia beach picnic

6. The Fortress of Louisbourg

As fascinated as my children were, I could have stayed all day exploring this most memorable spot: an 18th century fortified French town – North America’s largest historic reconstruction –  adeptly brought to life by costumed artisans at work.

blacksmith Louisburg-3 Solders at the Fortress of Louisburg Solders firing at Louisburg-3 Child at Fortress of Louisburg

We sampled authentic solder’s rations – I believe Clara gnawed on a crust of the bread for the better part of half an hour-, our hearts leapt as the cannon was fired, and we roamed around the fort in wonder. The Fortress of Louisbourg is about as family-friendly as it gets and well worth the visit.

Exploring Fortress of Louisbourg

 Part 2 is coming soon! I’ll share more about Halifax, our favorite little towns, farmer’s markets, and goooood coffee. Stay tuned.

Disclaimer: This post was partially sponsored by the Nova Scotia Tourism Board. Yep, they helped us get around the province and made terrific suggestions for our itinerary. I am grateful for their partnership in helping our family explore this amazing province and bring our experiences to you.

Beaches, wharfs or seafood chowder. What would draw you to visit Nova Scotia?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. My parents “dragged” me to Nova Scotia when I was 17. I live in the Pacific Northwest. My dad decided a red eye with 2 layovers would be a great way to save money. I’m sure I was delightful to travel with — my teenage attitude too.

    Some of these pictures bring back memories and remind me that I probably should have appreciated it just a little bit more.

    Peggy’s Cove was beautiful and I still remember the taste of bread at the Fort. They also had delightful cheese to taste with the bread.

    Maybe one day I’ll “drag” my 17 year old with me too. 🙂

    • This would be a whole new wild and wonderful trip with teens. We love to hike and canoe, but our kids were a little too young for some of that. We’ll have to return.

  2. Beautiful photos! Looks like you guys had a great trip! Can’t wait for part 2!! 🙂

  3. Oh my goodness…I’ll have to put this on my list of places I’d like to go. The food, the scenery…wow! It looks like Maine with a European twist.

  4. Your photos are wonderful! We saw pilot whales from Captain Marks boat too! My sister in law was on his boat for a summer photographing whale families for her Masters. We went on the boat and stayed with her in Cheticamp.
    The Cabot Trail is gorgeous – an amazing drive for your soul to breathe in.

    • Is your SIL still there? We met a couple girls on the boat working on their masters. There was a really chatty one from BC. 😉

      • Nope. She’s long gone. This was a way long time ago called “before kids” 😉 10+ years. You picked a great tour Mark is really respectful of the whales – sadly not all of them are.

  5. Wow! Gorgeous photos! And the food looks amazing too:)

  6. kelly @ kellybakes says

    Aimee!! This is making me want to hop into the car I don’t have and take a road trip myself. Admittedly, my sister and I have a geeky not-so-secret love for historical re-enactment sites [We spent the morning of my grad school graduation at Valley Forge Historical Park before rushing back to school for my ceremony!] so combined with the promise of gorgeous cliffs [Cabot Trail reminded me of Ireland] and amazing seafood, I think this would make for an amazing family vacation. I’m so glad you let us experience Nova Scotia’s beauty vicariously through these posts! Can’t wait for pt 2!

  7. OMG – so beautiful! I love your detailed post about all that experienced.

  8. Oh wow!! Such a wonderful family vacation….thanks for the peek 🙂

  9. I am so happy you enjoyed our beautiful gem of a province! I literally had goosebumps reading your post.

  10. Oh my gosh, those whales, that town, those light houses, THAT food! I am in love with it all!

  11. Nova Scotia is now on our bucket list!!

  12. We visited Nova Scotia when I was about 6 and I still remember how beautiful the Cabot Trail was! Definitely someplace I want to travel with my boys when they are just a tad older. The photos are bringing some lovely memories back-thank you!

  13. What a beautiful trip, and lovely pictures. It makes me crave a family trip!!

  14. Seriously, stunning photos and gorgeous vacation. Why didn’t you pack me in your suitcase?! 😉

  15. We moved to Calgary from Oregon two years ago. This past April I had the opportunity to chaperone my Grade 8 son’s 8/9 school band to Charlottetlown, PEI and Halifax, NS. It was an amazing trip! We didn’t get to eat at a lot of great spots, but we did get lobster, yummy fish and chips, and an awesome strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie that I found a recipe to try this week.

    When you left for your adventure, I started getting excited to see your photos. Can’t wait to see what you discovered in Halifax! Oh, and our last night’s dinner was in Peggy’s Cove. What a wonderful way to end it. I haven’t researched property, but I have started figuring out how to get my family out there. Soon. 🙂

    Thanks for the photos!

  16. This makes me more homesick now than ever before… beautiful recap of a really special place.

  17. Beautiful recap, Aimee. I’ve got some new food spots I want to try, and I want to go back to the Cabot Trail. Autumn sounds like the perfect time to go back.

    I have a dream house at Peggy’s Cove so I understand researching real estate after being there. 😉

    Looking forward to part 2!!

  18. thank you for sharing – it was all very beautifully photographed and described.

  19. You totally just took me back!! My boyfriend and I had our ‘first date’ (2 week drive to Nova Scotia from VA and back) three years ago. I not only fell in love with the place but also with him. We weren’t as luck on the food though–dang, everything you ate looks and sounds amazing!

  20. Stunning pictures and nice peek at your vacation. Thanks

  21. What beautiful photos! I’m looking forward to taking this sort of trip with Mr. Sandwich and Baguette. (And I really, really want to eat lobster rolls until I pop.)

  22. Just came back from almost the exact same trip with almost identical pictures. We were gone for a month and absolutely loved our trip to Nova Scotia. Thanks for sharing the lovely photos and letting us relive the trip all over again.

  23. I live in Nova Scotia. Born and raised. It’s the bomb. I love this place – and always enjoy seeing it through another’s eyes…

  24. Yay! So glad you had a lovely time in this beautiful place, and I’m so glad that your audience gets to read about it, too. Just a quick correction to your disclaimer, just to alleviate any confusion. Nova Scotia’s a peninsula – Cape Breton is an island, though. Come back soon, and all the way down to the Southwest tip! (Good luck with your real estate hunting! ;))

  25. I see my cousin Sherrie commented just before me!

    So glad you loved our beautiful province. I love travelling, even nearby when there is so much to see. I’ve been to most of the areas you mentioned, but will have to visit some of them again soon.

  26. Wow!!! My mouth is watering and my feet are itching. Looks like a fantastic trip. I may have missed it, but what type or accommodation did you stay in?
    Time to start sourcing out some flights…

  27. Aimee, I’m so glad you had a wonderful time in Nova Scotia! It’s a great province and I’m impressed at all the places you managed to visit – I think you’ve seen more of the province than I have, even after 14 years here! Thanks to your pics and travel advice (especially the food-related advice) I have renewed inspiration to discover my home province!

    • You need to get out and get around. 😉 I loved how close everything was – after living in both BC and Quebec, where it takes all day to drive anywhere.

  28. This is amazing! I think we visited a long long time ago, but it was long enough ago that I hardly remember it. I’ll live vicariously through you for now. 😉

  29. Adding Nova Scotia to my bucket list. The trip sounds and looks wonderful – great post!

  30. What would draw me there? Your photos and all of the above! Seafood, beaches, wharfs…wow!

    Interestingly, the grade 8 class at our local elementary school won a trip to the Fortress of Louisberg this past spring. It was an amazing experience for those prairie kids to get to see the gorgeousness of the maritime provinces.

    If we ever make it as far east as Quebec, you have convinced me to try to add Nova Scotia to our itinerary as well. What a place!

  31. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    I never really thought about Nova Scotia as a must-do, bucket list sort of place, but after following your trip on Instagram and seeing your posts, Aimee, James and I both agree – it’s going on the list!

  32. I live in New Brunswick and ironically was just thinking last week while at my parent’s cottage that it would be so neat if you came to NB on vacation to see the scenery and the awesome seafood. So, very ironic that you were actually just one province over doing just that!! Stop in NB next time, less driving, great scenery and food and history!

  33. WOW!! What a fabulous vacation, so much good food and beautiful scenery!!! I would have been so excited to see a moose (or 3) 🙂

  34. Rachel Chiasson says

    I just wanted to say that I love your blog!

    These pictures of your vacation brings back so many memories. I grew up all my life in Nova scotia , actually 20 minutes from Peggy’s Cove. If you are thinking of moving there, I can tell you first hand that it was a wonderful place to grow up!

    While I have been away from Nova Scotia for almost 4 years now for work, It is so nice to see other people enjoying our natural beauty, seafood, and simple lifestyle.

    So glad that your trip was wonderful!


  35. Our summer travels have ended but we’re already thinking about where to go next summer and Nova Scotia was on our list (road tripping from Upstate New York). This post was fabulous – sending to my husband now. Planning is half the fun of traveling – right? Great images of the landscape.

  36. We are headed to Nova Scotia this July, partly inspired by your blog posts and instagram photos! A couple questions if you have time…. Did you take your smallest one on the whale watching trip? We’ll have our toddler (almost two at the time) with us, and I’m a little hesitant about taking her on such a small boat. Are these the silly qualms of a landlocked Midwesterner? Also, the pace of your road trip seems rather break-neck. Did it still feel relaxing to you or if you had it to do over would you spend longer periods of time in fewer places?

    • Hi Rebecca,

      That is super exciting! I’m thrilled for you.

      We did take Clara on the whale watching trip and there were other small ones. Danny kept her in a snugli on him the whole time. Now, because of her, they only let us go on the larger(est) vessel, but that was plenty exciting for us! And we got up as close to the whales as the speedboat. I have goosebumps just thinking about it!

      It WAS a quick trip. But you never really know until you get there if you are going to be bored stiff or want to linger. We encountered both. I like exploring and fortunately, my family doesn’t mind coming along. 😉

  37. I am from cape breton and just wanted to say i’m glad you enjoyed your stay on our island. Unfortunately at pace you were going i think you may have missed a lot of the things that make it special here…your always welcome to come back and i’ll be your personal tour guide if necessary…lol

  38. Oh, Nova Scotia! Not only are your descriptions beautiful, but they make me hungry too. 🙂 About the best scallops though…you’ve really got to go to Lavena’s Catch in Freeport to get the best scallops in the WORLD. They usually come as part of a meal, but if you just ask for scallops, you can get ’em.
    My absolute favourite place in Nova Scotia is Brier Island, a tiny island at the end of the Digby Neck (where you’ll find Lavena’s Catch by the way). If you do get a chance to return, it’s a reeeeally long drive from Cape Breton but worth the trip!

  39. Tara McCarthy says

    Hello – Is there any way that you can give me your itinerary? We live in upstate New York and I am trying to plan a road trip and need help – no idea where to stop or stay, and would like to know your specific route if you wouldn’t mind…Tara McCarthy 🙂

  40. We went to Nova Scotia on a motorcycle ride about 10 years ago and it was a beautiful place to visit!

  41. I was recommended this blog by way of my cousin. I am now not certain whether or not this post is
    written through him as no one else recognize such special about my problem.
    You’re amazing! Thanks!

  42. We’ll be taking the CAT Ferry out of Portland, Maine in late July and spending our first evening in Yarmouth. The next day we will travel to Parker’s Cove where we rented a cottage for a week. We want to do as much as possible so any help you can give us would be great. Your photos are simply elegant! Thanks, Sue

    • Hi Sue,

      How was your trip? We too are planning to take the Ferry from Portland. We have 4 days or so, unfortunately will be limited to how much we can see. Any highlights we shouldn’t miss, in fairly close proximity to Yarmouth? Thanks and enjoy the balance of the summer. Best, Jon

  43. Hi! Would like to plan a summer trip with my kids this summer to NS – do you have recommendations on places to stay? Thanks!

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