Nova Scotia

The Beautiful Maritime Province in Eastern Canada

Almost completely surrounded by sea, Nova Scotia holds the promise of remarkable scenery and a warm welcome. Like the other maritime provinces, it’s an incredibly friendly place where Nova Scotians will treat you like a local.

The province boasts nearly 8,000 km (5,000 mi) of coastline so you’ll always find yourself near the ocean. The bustling streets of Halifax, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, and the wild island of Cape Breton are just a few prize attractions. Discover more below!

Quick Facts

  • Capital: Halifax
  • Area: 55,284 sq km (21,345 sq mi)
  • Population: 923,598
  • Nova Scotia is Canada’s second-smallest province after Prince Edward Island
  • Major cities in Nova Scotia include Halifax, Bridgewater, and Sydney. 
  • Halifax locals are known as Haligonians. 
  • The province has more than 500 lighthouses of which Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is the most famous.

Map of Nova Scotia

Washed by the Atlantic Ocean, Nova Scotia has interesting geography. Although it looks like an island, the province is actually a peninsula. It consists of a mainland peninsula and Cape Breton, a large island northeast of the mainland.

Nova Scotia is connected to mainland Canada by the Isthmus of Chignecto, where you’ll find its  border with New Brunswick. To the west lies the Bay of Fundy and to the southeast lies the Atlantic Ocean. The province is separated from Prince Edward Island by Northumberland Strait.

Getting There

Nova Scotia is closer than you might think! It’s about one hour from Boston and two hours from New York by plane. Halifax Stanfield International Airport is Atlantic Canada’s busiest airport, serving flights from major Canadian, American, and European cities.

  • Flying from the United States? Take advantage of direct flights year-round from Boston, Newark, and Orlando. In summer there are direct flights from LaGuardia, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
  • Flying from Europe? Take a direct flight year-round from London. In summer, there are also direct flights from Frankfurt, Munich, Dublin, Manchester, and Glasgow.
Westjet aircraft in Halifax Stanfield International Airport

Up for a train ride? Halifax is served by VIA Rail operating trains from Montreal. If you want a professional driver to take you to your destination, Maritime Bus serves maritime provinces and connects with Greyhound from New York and Voyageur from Montreal.

You can also take a ferry to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick (Bay Ferries), Newfoundland (Marine Atlantic), and Maine, USA (Bay Ferries).

Weather in Nova Scotia

The province enjoys a mild climate that’s greatly influenced by the ocean. The average temperatures are warmest from May to September, hovering around 20°C (68°F).

Nova Scotia Landscape

Summers in Nova Scotia are a traveler’s delight. Temperatures range from 20°C (68°F) to 25°C (77°F). Some days can be hot and humid with temperatures as high as 32°C (90°F).

Fall and spring will welcome you with comfortable weather that’s perfect for outdoor adventures such as hiking and cycling. Temperatures typically range from 10°C (50°F) to 20°C (68°F).

In winter temperatures range from -15°C (5°F) to 5°C (41°F). 

Insider tip: Sea breezes near the ocean are best enjoyed with a light jacket. Further inland temperatures are somewhat warmer. Make sure to have enough light layers to accommodate varying temperatures across the province!

Nova Scotia in Winter

Kid tobogganing in Canada

Nova Scotia in winter is another world. Admire snow-covered pine trees, dramatic coastline, and outdoor activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, and tobogganing.

Tobogganing is a big deal in Halifax. For family fun, check out Fort Needham Park. Up for jumps and speed? Go after slopes in Flynn Park and Citadel Hill.

But let’s be real: Winters in Nova Scotia are cold and not for the faint of heart. That’s why locals love to play music and celebrate festivals during the chillier months. Make sure to check out these festivals:

  • In the Dead of Winter Acoustic Music Festival
  • Icewine Festival
  • New Ross Christmas Festival.

If you want to learn how to properly beat the winter blues, then Nova Scotia is a place for you!

Top 5 Things to Do in Nova Scotia

1. Drive the Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

Cabot Trail is something you simply can’t miss on your visit to Nova Scotia. The 298-km (185-mi) ocean drive rings Cape Breton Island and reveals jaw-dropping views. Gape at Nova Scotia’s highest mountains, placid lakes, and striking cliffs. Along the way take scenic hikes and scout artisans shops. You won’t find a better place to reconnect with nature and reset.

You won’t find a better place to reconnect with nature and reset.

The route begins and ends in Baddeck, home to Alexander Graham Bell, the father of the telephone.

Insider Tip: To experience nature’s finest colours, plan your road trip through Cabot Trail in fall. With all kinds of shades from fiery red to orange to golden yellow, you’ll think you’re in a painting!

2. Visit the Historic Port of Lunenburg

Lunenburg Harbour in Canada

The town of Lunenburg is the region’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its brightly painted historic buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Go there to catch the sunset and snap some epic photos along the waterfront. For free rum and liqueur tastings, check out Ironworks Distillery, located in a 19th-century blacksmith’s building.

Insider tip: As you explore the town, notice a unique architectural feature known as the “Lunenburg Bump,” an enlarged dormer that extends from the centre of the house.

3. Photograph Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse

Peggys Cove Lighthouse in Canada

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is the biggest tourist attraction in Nova Scotia. Find the striking red-and-white tower in the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove about 43 km (27 mi) southwest of Halifax. Sitting on a massive granite cove, the lighthouse will show you the power of nature. Take a walk around and marvel at striking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Moments of inspiration guaranteed!

Sitting on a massive granite cove, the lighthouse will show you the power of nature.

Insider tip: To avoid tourist crowds, try and go there before sunset and enjoy the beauty of the site.

4. Check Out Inn and Distillery Glenora

Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia

Located in the magical Mabou Highlands, Glenora Inn and Distillery is North America’s first single malt whiskey distillery and Canada's only producer of single malt whisky. Book a tour of the distillery and taste the legendary Glen Breton Rare whiskey.

An additional bonus? It’s one of the best places to have dinner or spend the night with eye-caressing views all around. Adventurers can go hiking, horseback riding or salmon fishing. 

5. Visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Trail in Cape Breton National Park

Spanning more than 950 sq km (367 sq mi), Breton Highlands National Park unites the best blessings of the region’s nature. Soak up startling views of the sea, forests, rivers, and rugged cliffs. Want to feel like you’re in a dream world? Hike Skyline Trail, a scenic 6-km (4-mi) route that goes through thick woodland all the way to a viewing platform overlooking the ocean.

Hike Skyline Trail, a scenic 6-km (4-mi) route that goes through thick woodland all the way to a viewing platform overlooking the ocean.

Located at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, the park is also home to fascinating wildlife such as moose, beavers, eagles, and deer. Binoculars will certainly come handy!

Things to Do in Halifax

Stroll in Point Pleasant Park

Memorial anchor in Point Pleasant Park

Take a stroll at Halifax's famous Point Pleasant Park to get the best ocean views in the city. Located at the southern point of the city, the large wooded area is the perfect place to stretch your legs and enjoy views of Halifax landmarks such as McNab's Island and Purcell's Cove. 

Take a stroll at Halifax's famous Point Pleasant Park to get the best ocean views in the city.

2. Visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration

Canadian Museum of Immigration in Nova Scotia

Halifax's Pier 21 is at the heart of Canada's rich history of immigration. Plan a visit to the Canadian Museum of Immigration to get a look into the ways that immigration has inspired and shaped modern-day Canada. On your way back, don’t forget to stop by their gift shop for souvenirs, books, and gift items. 

3. Ride the Ferry to Downtown Dartmouth

Halifax–Dartmouth Ferry service

Take a 15-minute ferry ride from downtown Halifax to downtown Dartmouth. The tickets only cost $2.50 (CAN) and last around 3 hours depending on the time of day. When you get to Dartmouth, enjoy one of the many local pubs serving great food and local wine and beer.

4. Go Back in Time at Citadel Hill

Halifax Town Clock in Nova Scotia

Take a journey back in time at Citadel Hill, a national historic site located in the middle of the city. Citadel Hill's star-shaped structure was once used as a fort to protect the city in the 18th century. Learn all about the strategy behind the fort and the daily lives of its inhabitants.

5. Scout Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market

Halifax Farmers' Market in Canada

If you're in Halifax on a Saturday, plan a stop at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market to enjoy local food, culture, and sounds. Find many vendors selling local crafts, food and produce in the beautiful contemporary warehouse-turned-market. The market is open every day of the week, though most vendors are only there on Saturdays.

If you're in Halifax on a Saturday, plan a stop at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market to enjoy local food, culture, and sounds.

5 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns in Nova Scotia

Still need ideas for what to do in Nova Scotia? Take a road trip along the South Shore and visit the province’s most beautiful seaside towns and amazing beaches along the way. 

1. Chester

Chester Harbour n Nova Scotia

Established in 1759, this historic seaside town is dotted with the expensive summer homes of upper-crust Americans and Haligonians and quirky little shops of local artisans. Feel the relaxed pace of life as you stroll along the picturesque streets lined with old trees. Feeling hungry? The town has amazing seafood restaurants. Let Chester make you smile, relax and feel inspired. 

Feel the relaxed pace of life as you stroll along the picturesque streets lined with old trees.

2. Mahone Bay

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Mahone Bay, perhaps the most picturesque town in Nova Scotia. The gently rippling shoreline is lined with three wooden churches and Victorian houses. On top of that, discover more than 100 islands in the bay, which make it a lovely kayaking destination. For antiques and local paintings check out the town’s many gift shops and boutiques.

Insider tip: For a cup of coffee, stop by Barn Coffee & Social House, which serves up a cappuccino you won’t soon forget. Find the coffee house on Main Street.

3. Shelburne

Town of Shelburne

Shelburne will charm you with its historic waterfront and beautiful wooden houses that are several hundred years old. The town once was home to Black Loyalists who escaped here from the American Revolution, and you can hear their story at Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in nearby Birchtown. Wander the streets of Shelburne and feel history come alive as never before.

Insider tip: Don’t forget to taste local craft beer at Boxing Rock Brewery, which serves seasonal brews.

4. Lockeport

Crescent Beach, Lockeport, Nova Scotia

Located nearby Shelburne, Lockeport has some of the best beaches in the province. The most famous one is Crescent Beach, a remarkable stretch of soft white sand that was once featured on the back of the Canadian $50 bill. In fact, Lockeport would be an island if it weren’t connected to mainland Nova Scotia by Crescent Beach. Walk along this gorgeous coast and let your worries drift away. 

Located nearby Shelburne, Lockeport has some of the best beaches in the province.

5. Yarmouth

Yarmouth Harbour aerial view

The biggest town in southern Nova Scotia, Yarmouth is a mix of history and modern culture. Stroll along the historic waterfront, taste the province’s freshest seafood, and visit modern art galleries displaying works by maritime artists.

The town’s architecture features Victorian, Georgian, and Gothic buildings. Notice that some houses have so-called “widow’s walks,” platforms on top of roofs that wives of sea captains used to look out for their husbands’ returning ships.

FAQ

What are Travelers Asking About Nova Scotia?

Nova Scotia is located on the eastern edge of the Canadian mainland and borders the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east.  

For the best weather and blooming flowers, travel in July and August. Spring will let you avoid the crowds and is perfect for hiking. If you plan to drive the Cabot Trail, plan your Nova Scotia vacation around fall when the foliage is simply stunning.

Winter in Nova Scotia can be cold but it’s the only time when you can try your hand at tobogganing, a traditional sport developed by Canadian native tribes.

Nova Scotia means “New Scotland” in Latin, referring to early Scottish settlers. 

No, Nova Scotia is a peninsula with the large island of Cape Breton to the northeast. 

Yes, Nova Scotia enjoys snow in winter, making it a lovely place for snowshoeing and tobogganing.