As a Nova Scotia local, I can promise you there are so many incredible things to do in Nova Scotia, especially if you love sunny skies, the tang of saltwater, and a warm breeze on your cheek.
Think lazy evenings sipping craft beer on a Halifax patio; river-rafting on the world’s highest tides, or embarking on a sea voyage to one of the world’s most fascinating and remote islands.
Think juicy lobster and crisp sparking wine…served as a picnic on the beach.
Whatever adventure you choose, let me – a Nova Scotia local – guide you through one of the world’s emerging destinations.
Learn about the 17 best things to do in Nova Scotia – from a local’s point of view!
17 Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO READERS: Please note that this article was originally drafted before the pandemic, so not all activities mentioned may be open or safe to visit at the moment. Tourism Nova Scotia has a helpful resource page with the latest info on travel restrictions. Travel Lemming encourages you to avoid travel until such time as local public health authorities in both your country and your destination advise that travel is safe for you and the communities you will visit.
#1 – Hunt for Treasure at Oak Island
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Some locals say the Oak Island treasure doesn’t exist, or that it was found years ago. Others have made it their life’s work to keep digging, and drilling down into the complex maze of shafts and booby traps that in their view, prevents the legendary fortune from being discovered.
To get up close and personal with the legend, you can rent a kayak and paddle around the private island, or pre-book an excluisve tour from Oak Island Tours. There is also a four-hour Legends and Lobster experience that includes an excursion around Oak Island, and a Lobster picnic on a private island.
Local Tip: If you want to stay nearby, Over The Way Cottage is a wonderful family-friendly hotel that overlooks the famous island.
#2 – Explore Downtown Halifax and Dartmouth
Some of the best things to do in Nova Scotia are right in the center of its capital city, Halifax – an attractive, busy city set on a large working harbor, with two beautiful suspension bridges leading to the opposite city of Dartmouth. In fact, there are so many things to do in Halifax that we wrote a whole post listing them!
Halifax is especially lovely in the summer, when it hosts several major annual festivals including the TD Jazz Festival, the Buskers Festival and the Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It’s also the perfect time for excursions on the Tall Ship Silva, which can be booked in advance or from a kiosk on the boardwalk.
There are other ways to see Halifax too. The Halifax hop-on-hop-off double deck bus tours are highly recommended. Or join the hilarious Harbour Hopper Tour – an amphibious vehicle that drives around the city and into the water!
#3 – Go Mud River Rafting on the World’s Highest Tides
Get your adrenaline pumping with one of the most exhilarating Nova Scotia attractions: white water rafting on the Bay of Fundy’s tidal bore…except in Nova Scotia, the rapids aren’t white – they are a rich gravy-red.
At the Shubenacadie River Runners, experienced guides will take you out on a zodiac, and you will ride the rapids of the tidal bore (basically, a big tidal wave) like a roller coaster.
Some of the rapids reach 10 feet high!
You can’t fail to have an incredible experience river rafting on the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. Just don’t wear your Sunday best – you are going to get muddy!
#4 – Visit the Town of Lunenburg
With brightly colored buildings and a rich shipbuilding history, the waterfront town of Lunenburg – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is a must-see on your trip to Nova Scotia.
There are plenty of amazing restaurants in Lunenburg including the Grand Banker Bar and Grill, and the Salt Shaker Deli. After lunch, stop into the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic which explores the history of Atlantic Canadian fisheries.
Fun Fact: Lunenburg is home to the Bluenose – the schooner depicted on the Canadian dime. If you are lucky, she may be in port!
#5 – Forest Bathe, Star Gaze, and Indulge at Trout Point Lodge
Trout Point Lodge is a luxury wilderness resort deep in the Tobeatic forest, on the edge of a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Attracting a discerning crowd, some Trout Point guests arrive to the nearest airport by private jet, and in years gone by, guests would sign a confidentiality waiver to protect the privacy of fellow guests.
Relax in the riverside wood-fired hot tub, warm up in the outdoor sauna, take a guided forest bathing walk or yoga session, or – under darkness, look through a telescope to the most beautiful night sky.
The cuisine at Trout Point Lodge is also out of this world: local food prepared with European expertise worthy of Michelin stars.
#6 – Go Whale Watching on the Bay of Fundy, or off the Coast of Cape Breton
Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Nova Scotia. Between May and October, up to 12 species of whales make their way up the Atlantic coast to the rich feeding grounds off the coast of Nova Scotia.
There are two areas where you are almost certain to get up close and personal with whales: The Bay of Fundy (around Brier Island is said to be the best), and off the coast of Cape Breton.
There are various tour operators that offer whale watching excursions in Nova Scotia, from large boat excursions to intimate, totally thrilling rides in zodiacs. This tour in particular gets solid reviews, so book early.
#7 – Indulge in Maple Syrup at Sugar Moon Farm
Another precious treasure from Nova Scotia is the sugar maple tree.
Every spring, depending on the whim of Mother Nature, this species of tree warms up and begins running sap, which when tapped and boiled, becomes maple syrup. The tapping season is only 3-6 weeks long between February and April, making the syrup an even more valuable commodity.
In Earltown, Nova Scotia, Sugar Moon Farm offers tours of the sugar camp year-round. Eat your heart out on pancakes and sausages in the camp restaurant or sign up for a chef’s night or special packages like Canada’s Marvelous Maple Feast.
Another place to enjoy maple syrup, and pick up some sweet souvenirs is Acadian Maple Products, which is actually on the other side of the province, in Tantallon, on the way to Peggy’s Cove.
#8 – Eat as Much Lobster as You Can Handle
Eating lobster is one of the absolute best things to do in Nova Scotia, and the best way to enjoy lobster is whole, at a venue like the Shore Club where they serve lobster suppers every evening throughout the summer.
Not sure how to eat it?
Most servers are more than willing to help newbies crack open the delicious and mysterious Atlantic lobster, using lobster crackers, lobster picks. At some places, there are even instructional placemats in most places showing you how to crack your lobster, gently pulling out the tail– and even sucking juicy meat from the legs!
But there are many ways to eat lobster in Nova Scotia. On the Yarmouth and Acadian shores, they like creamed lobster, served on toast, while in Halifax, you can try lobster mac’ and cheese, lobster poutine, and lobster pasta.
If heading to Peggy’s Cove is on your Nova Scotia itinerary (and, obviously it should be!), consider taking this tour that combines with a lobster roll lunch!
In summer, Nova Scotia even has the McLobster – a delicious, affordable lobster roll from that little Scottish restaurant we all love: McDonald’s!
#9 – Sip Award-Winning Wines and Ciders in the Annapolis Valley
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley provided apples for much of the British Empire, but then the industry fell into decline. Fast-forward to 2020, and “The Valley” is booming again with new industries that produce award-winning wines, ciders and spirits.
Nova Scotia has its own appellation, Tidal Bay – a crisp, slightly acidic white wine, perfectly paired with seafood. Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge also uses a Méthode Classique, which produces “mind-blowing sparkling wines that would challenge any highly rated French Champagne, ” according to the critics.
There are several wine tours available, but one of the best is the Wolfville Magic Winery Bus, which takes you sipping around the Annapolis valley… in a classic double decker bus!
Local tip: At Luckett’s Winery, step inside the authentic English phone box in the middle of the vineyard, and call anywhere in North America, for free!
#10 – Climb the Boulders at Peggy’s Cove
Climbing over the sparking granite boulders at Peggy’s Cove is one of top things to do in Nova Scotia. Peggy’s Cove is also one of the most photographed spots in Canada, and rightly so – it’s stunning.
But Peggy’s Cove is more than just a lighthouse. You can book a guided hike or kayak tour nearby with Kattuk Adventures or East Coast Outfitters, or hike the nearby trails using your own map (Halifax Trails is an amazing resource for this).
For dinner, order a delicious lobster roll at a roadside kiosk, try the famous steamed gingerbread in the Sou’wester restaurant, or buy some live lobster at market price, to take back home!
Local tip: Not many people know that you can stay overnight at Peggy’s Cove!
For luxury, stay at the Oceanstone Seaside Resort. Next door, Rhubarb Restaurant has dinner, deck parties, and weekend music session.
#11 – Learn to Play the Spoons at an Acadian Kitchen Party
Every Friday night, there is a kitchen party in Argyle, where you can listen to folk tales and fiddle music, and dine on lobster and delicious Nova Scotia sparkling wine. You can even learn how to play the spoons!
The Acadians were a group of French settlers who called Nova Scotia home until in 1755, when they were expelled en masse, and sent back to French colonies. Fun fact: The word “Cajun” derives from “Acadian,” – there are similarities that can be observed in language, cuisine, and family names between Nova Scotia and Louisiana.
The Acadian culture is strong in the Maritimes, especially on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores, and attending a kitchen party is one of the best ways to experience it.
#12 – Drive the Cabot Trail
No Nova Scotia itinerary is complete without at least a little road trip, and there is no place better than Cape Breton.
The Island of Cape Breton, which is connected to mainland Nova Scotia via a causeway, was voted #1 Island in Canada by the 2019 Travel and Leisure Awards and #1 Island in the Americas by Conde Nast Traveler’s 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards.
One of the island’s greatest treasures is The Cabot Trail – a 186-mile stretch of highway that hugs the highland coast on the northeastern tip of the island. Part of the highway goes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
The perfect road trip through Cape Breton will take about three to four days, stopping along the way to enjoy traditional Celtic music, delicious seafood, incredible hiking and beach opportunities, and warmhearted hospitality.
Pro tip: buy a park’s pass before you go.
#13 – Step Back in Time at Fortress Louisbourg
When the Fortress Louisbourg – perhaps one of the greatest fortifications in North America–fell to the British in 1758, the British dismantled the fortifications brick by brick.
Luckily, the precision of French engineering and the French policy of archiving documents back in the mother country meant that when historians decided to recreate the fortress in the 1960’s – there was no doubt as to how they were able to restore the fortress to its former glory.
Louisbourg is huge, and feels like a working town, filled in the summer with hundreds of costumed animators dressed as 18th Century soldiers and townspeople.
Probably the best experience at Louisbourg is to spend the night through a Parks Canada Wake up in the Past! where you can sleep in a period tent (already set up), with lanterns, floor mats, a propane stove, and a fire pit. (This is definitely one for your Nova Scotia bucket list!)
#14 – Explore Nova Scotia’s Black History
If you are interested in African American and African Canadian history, there are many things to do in Nova Scotia, starting with a Halifax-based Nova Scotia Black History Tour, which includes the former Halifax community of Africville.
The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, Nova Scotia tells the story of nearly 3,000 black settlers who came to Nova Scotia in the late 1700’s, pledging allegiance to the British crown in exchage for freedom.
In addition to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, you can learn about Black history at the Halifax Citadel which celebrates the WWI No. 2 Construction Battalion – the first and only black battalion in Canadian history.
Interesting Fact: In the late 1700’s Birchtown, Nova Scotia had the largest free African population outside of Africa.
#15 – Cycle in Nova Scotia
Cycling is a popular way to get close to the beautiful scenery in Nova Scotia. The “rails to trails” system (retired Canadian National railway beds that have been groomed into pathways) means that there are miles of pleasant cycling tracks throughout the province.
The website, Cycle Nova Scotia has nine suggested itineraries listed in its website, each one including route maps, trail notes and a GPS download. There are also many places such as Freewheeling Adventures or Kattuk Expeditions that offer day and multi-day cycling tours.
In the western part of Nova Scotia, the beautiful, beachy municipality of Clare hosts the Gran Fondo Baie Sainte Marie annually. The race ends with a celebratory group meal – lobster of course!
#16 – Paddle in Nova Scotia
There are so many things to do in Nova Scotia that can be enjoyed from the water, and the best way is in a kayak or canoe!
One of the most incredible Nova Scotia experiences I’ve had is with Whynot Adventure, which offers kayak and canoe rentals and tours from Kejimkujik National Park, including challenging multi-day adventures like the Women of the Woods tour, or the 2-day Dark Sky Canoe trip.
In Cape Breton, North River Kayak‘s owner Angelo Spinazzola is into more than just kayaking. He’s an accomplished musician with 7 CDs and an East Coast Music award to his name.
Local Tip: North River Kayak also rents incredible water-view River’s Nest Wilderness Cabins handcrafted by Angelo with custom built beds, stained glass windows, carvings and iron rails. Click here to check availability on Air BnB.
#17 – Visit Remote Sable Island
Sable Island is a fascinating, remote sand bar located 180 miles offshore from Halifax. Nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, it is home to over 350 shipwrecks, 500 wild horses, the world’s largest colony of breeding seals – and one lone, disheveled pine tree.
Tourists are not permitted to stay overnight on Sable Island (there are exceptions for researchers and scientists).
Sable Island tours come at a price (think 2,000 to 3,000 Canadian dollars) – but they are the trip of a lifetime.
Travel Tip: If you can’t get to Sable Island, then the exhibit Over the Dunes, Beyond the Wild Horses, at Halifax’s Natural History Museum will give you some idea of what life is like on this incredible nature reserve.
We hope you enjoyed 17 best things to do in Nova Scotia – but take note: this is only the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many more reasons to visit Nova Scotia!
There are plenty more adventures in Nova Scotia, including family adventures; historic sites, and plenty of shopping, entertainment and dining opportunities in Halifax-Dartmouth. Or how about this itinerary for an epic road trip around the South Shore?
Start planning these experiences and more over at our Nova Scotia Staycation Center.
So… cead mile failte! Or, one hundred thousand welcomes to you.
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