Nova Scotia—one of Canada’s Maritime provinces brimming with fresh lobster, yellow rain jackets, iconic lighthouses, deep roots of aboriginal occupation, European migration, and an immortalized history of sailing with a little bit of pirate mystery.
Whether you have one week, a few days, or just a weekend, here’s my ultimate Nova Scotia bucket list, including the top 20 recommendations for mid-budget and free things to do in Nova Scotia, entire vacation ideas, parks, hikes, road trips, and more!
Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia, Canada
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1. Stroll Down Halifax’s Historic Waterfront Boardwalk
Halifax is Nova Scotia’s hip and sprawling capital city. Its diversity and mixture of people, pubs, and parks create an exciting, welcoming atmosphere. One of the best free things to do in Nova Scotia as well, walking the scenic waterfront boardwalk is worthy of a bucket list checkmark!
2. Get Lost in the Colorful Town of Lunenburg
Lunenburg is Nova Scotia’s colorful colonial town. With its richly preserved British grid-style streets and European-influenced architectural homes, the town’s historic past proceeds itself, making it a top tourist destination in Nova Scotia.
Many wanderers end up in Lunenburg and with its quaint and calm vibes, its no wonder why. Plus, we tasted some of the absolute best homemade cheddar scones and coffee concoctions at No. 9 coffee house!
3. Stargaze in Kejimkujik National Park
Kejimkujik National Park is an adventure and nature enthusiast’s paradise. Whether it’s to hike, camp, wander, or marvel at waterfalls, the Kejimkujik National Park is the place to go! You can paddle on the lake, or just revel in the history of 4,000 years of aboriginal presence. Kejimkujik in Mi’kmaq language, as the park states, refers to “tired muscles.” Probably from all that paddling!
4. Take a Picture of the World’s Largest Fiddle at Sydney Harbor
When you take the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, you’ll likely end up in Sydney (not Australia). Here, at the harbor, stands the largest fiddle in the world!
The fiddle commemorates the folk music of the region. But if you think that’s impressive, take a glance at the gigantic ropes anchoring the ships that come to dock at this port!
5. Island Hop around LaHave Islands
LaHave Islands are a cluster of scenic, wild islands on Nova Scotia’s south shore. To truly take advantage of the inlets, dense forest, and hundreds of lakes, make sure to carve out time for a leisurely Sunday drive.
6. Road Trip the 186-mile Cabot Trail
The world-famous Cabot Trail is a 186-mile scenic drive around Cape Breton Island. It passes through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and skirts the rugged cliffs and clear coastline.
Many travelers tour it by car or motorcycle in one or two days. (Check out our 2-day itinerary here!)
7. Go Whale Watching
Whale watching along the coast of Nova Scotia is a popular outdoor activity, especially during the summer. Digby on the Bay of Fundy side of Nova Scotia is a top-rated place to whale watch, as is Cape Breton Island.
But since Nova Scotia is practically surrounded by coastline, you’ll no doubt find whale-watching tours anywhere. The whale-watching season runs from June to September, with July and August being the top months to go.
8. Send a Postcard from Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is one of the most popular destinations in Nova Scotia. A bucket list adventure through and through, Peggy’s Cove serves up a postcard-perfect location.
Its iconic and historic lighthouse, which once functioned as a fully-serviced post office, is what attracts so many people to its coastline. A trip here and you’ll be immersed in a truly authentic Nova Scotian fishing town (aside from the tourists).
9. Eat a Lobster Sandwich
No doubt you’ll see signs for a “fresh lobster sandwich” nearly everywhere you go throughout Nova Scotia. And if not a sandwich, you at least have to try the lobster just once! Nearly every town or city will serve fresh seafood.
Next to lobster, don’t forget to try the fresh catches of the day or freshly-shucked Nova Scotian oysters!
10. Taste Ocean-Aged Rum at Ironworks Distillery
Have you ever tasted rum aged in barrels that have survived the surging waves of the ocean from the Caribbean all the way to Nova Scotia’s clear waters? If not, now is your chance!
The Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg puts out the best rum in the region. You’ll have to taste it to believe it!
11. Ride the Tidal Waves on the Bay of Fundy
Experience the Bay of Fundy like never before—from atop the tidal waves! We missed out on this must-do bucket list adventure but that just means we’ll have to go back! We did get to kayak the Bay of Fundy, however from the New Brunswick side!
12. Go Kayaking with Pleasant Paddling in Picturesque Blue Rocks
Blue Rocks is a quaint fishing village and town famed for inspiring artists.
Only situated 15 minutes from Lunenburg, don’t forget to make the stop here. You can also go kayaking in the scenic, clear-water inlets with Pleasant Paddling.
13. Bike the Rum Runners Trail from Halifax to Lunenburg
Cyclists rejoice. If you’re looking for an epic bucket list adventure in Nova Scotia, look no further! The Rum Runners Trail is a 74-mile multi-use trail and biking trail which connects Nova Scotia’s capital of Halifax all the way to colorful and historic Lunenburg.
Talk about fresh air and freedom! Forget driving down the coast, bike it!
14. Search for Buried Treasure on Oak Island
Oak Island is surrounded by mystery and mayhem, of pirates buried treasure and gore. The History Channel on YouTube even has a long-running “Curse of Oak Island” series. Will they ever explain the mysterious objects found here? Tune in here:
15. Snap a Skyline Photo of the Three Churches in Mahone Bay
Mahone Bay is a tiny gem of a town found between Halifax and Lunenburg. Passing through this town you can’t help but take notice of its charm.
It’s quickly gaining in popularity because of the three churches that make out Mahone Bay’s skyline! The churches are from different religious denominations from their rich migrant history.
16. Climb up the Zig-Zag Stairs in Halifax Central Library
Having won several architect awards, the Halifax Central Library is a sight to marvel at! Beyond a place to cozy up in a nook with a book, the library has stunning visuals for visitors.
Climb up the zigzag staircase to the top, eventually stepping out on the roof-top terrace that overlooks downtown Halifax. Sunsets from atop here are sunkissed and sweet!
17. See the Shipwrecks on Sable Island
Sable Island off Nova Scotia’s southeast coast is home to more than 300+ shipwrecks. As such, it’s often nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and many curious travelers venture here to seek out the shipwrecks. The island is protected and managed by Parks Canada.
Visitors must arrange a tour to visit the island! No one lives on Sable Island apart from the hundreds of wild-roaming horses which, according to Discover Halifax, were almost removed from the island and turned into pet food! Luckily that didn’t happen…
18. Hike the 26 Hiking Trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is rich in wildlife, hiking trails, beaches, and even waterfalls! Not only is it home the world-famous Cabot Trail as mentioned earlier, but there are also many sights to see within the National Park itself.
Click here to search the hotels and campgrounds in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
19. Camp Overnight in an oTENTik Dome
Nova Scotia has lots of campgrounds to stay at if you’re searching for a night under the stars. But a particular bucket list item to tick off is a stay in Parks Canada’s exclusive oTENTik domes—”the perfect mix of tent and A-frame cabin comes together in our oTENTik with its raised floors, cozy beds, and furniture.”
20. See the Famous Bluenose II Schooner in Port
The Bluenose Schooner is Nova Scotia’s most prized ship and “sailing ambassador” to have ever graced its seas. But unfortunately, the original Bluenose was lost off the Haitian coast back in the 1950s.
Since, it’s been immortalized on car plates, coins, and in Nova Scotians’ hearts and legends! However, you can witness the Bluenose II (an exact replica) when in port in Lunenburg—the seat of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
How many of these Nova Scotia places to see and things to do will you check off? Overall, Nova Scotia is a sea lover’s escape.
So next time you’re considering where to go in Nova Scotia, you’ll have an entire bucket list of ideas to inspire your trip.
Enjoy the salty air and fresh seafood for me!