To kick off our summer 2019 travel plans, my partner and I took a week off work and hopped on a plane to spend some time in Nova Scotia. We were partly there for the Memorial Cup (go Guelph Storm Go), and partly just for the adventure.
I had never been to the east coast of Canada before this trip and to say that I was excited would have been an understatement. I’ve been to the west coast a number of times for various conferences, but the east coast just seemed to have something special about it that I couldn’t wait to experience first hand. Maybe it’s because it’s name literally means New Scotland, and I have half Scottish ancestry? Who knows. In any case, we hopped onto several planes and starting exploring.
The travel diary that follows below isn’t so much of a guide as it is what we did, and what we enjoyed. I wouldn’t expect anyone to want to do what we did, because we didn’t do a ton of ‘touristy’ stuff, but it worked for us.
We spent our first three days in Halifax, so my partner and his best friend could go to several Memorial Cup games. We stayed in Dartmouth in this Airbnb, because all of the options in downtown Halifax were very much outside of our budget. (Psst.. use my Airbnb invite link to get 15% off your home booking and $17 towards an experience).
If you live in Nova Scotia, you know this already, but there is a ferry that runs between the two sides (Dartmouth and Halifax), and it costs the same as a bus ticket (which blows my mind). Getting around was very simple and we didn’t have to rent a car for this portion of our trip.
Having lived in a smallish, rather isolated city for the last two years, Halifax reminded me of all the reasons I like city living (easy walkability, lots of good food options and a general sense of hustle and bustle).
- Yellow Curry Fish Ramen from Studio East
- Shoyu Pork Ribs from Water & Bone
- Purple Monarch from Agricola (this delicious cocktail even came with a stainless steel straw!)
- Halifax Public Gardens
- We finally got some sun on our last day of the trip so we walked around the gardens for about an hour before dinner and it was a perfect way to end our adventure
Other Good Eats:
- The Bicycle Thief (pricey, but we wanted our last meal of the trip to be on the water)
- The Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market
- Goldwater seafoods
Other Stuff to See:
- Halifax Central Library (I am such a nerd)
- Halifax Waterfront
Since we stayed in Dartmouth at the beginning of our trip, we got to see a fair amount of it. If Halifax is the modern, urban centre of Nova Scotia, Dartmouth is like the cool, hipster cousin. And you know I love me some hipster vibes.
- Our apartment AirBnb will the largest tub you have ever seen in your life.
- Seafood platter at Pleasant Street Diner
- If this trip taught me anything, it’s that I love fried clams.
Other Good Eats:
- Two if by Sea Cafe
Quench Your Thirst:
- New Scotland Brewing Co.
- Brightwood Market
- Battery Park Beer Bar
After our first few days ferrying (literally) back and forth between Halifax and Dartmouth, we rented a car and got out on the open road. My partner really wanted to show me Cape Breton and I’m so glad he did.
Cape Breton is movingly beautiful. I was expecting it to be pretty, it is an island with a massive amount of coastline, after all. But I wasn’t prepared for the staggering cliff faces and drops down to the Atlantic Ocean.
Even though we had terrible weather for this part of our trip, and there’s not much to do in Cape Breton except for hike or go whale-watching, it remains my favourite part of the trip.
I don’t really know how to explain this but I find beauty in places that are rural and isolated. And maybe even a little rough around the edges. There is genuinely nothing more beautiful than a fishing town.
- Getting to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in Glace Bay
- Neil’s Harbour (it’s literally on the side of the ocean)
- Cheticamp Harbour Restaurant
Quench Your Thirst:
- Big Spruce Brewing
After a couple of days in Cape Breton, we headed back down the right side of Nova Scotia to explore wine country, aka the Annapolis Valley. We had pretty terrible (aka rainageddon) weather while we were there, so we weren’t able to do a lot of outdoor or walking exploring. Basically, we just drove from winery to restaurant to coffee roastery all day. It was lovely.
I wish we had been able to see the Valley in better weather, but I can say that the libations were delightful!
- Touring Acadia University (where a bunch of our friends from grad school attended)
- Cape Saint Mary Lighthouse Park (ok technically this is in the Clare area)
- This one is a bit of a trek off the beaten path and if you try to go after it’s been raining a lot, there is a fair chance that the road will be washed out. But, it’s a lighthouse on a cliff that feels both like you’re on the east coast of Canada, and also Scotland. Plus, I saw my future tiny house on the way there.
- Fish Cakes at The Church Brewing Company (it’s a restaurant inside an old church and it is so cool)
- Scallops at the Shoreline Restaurant in Digby
- When in Digby, you get scallops. That’s the rule.
- Steak Pasty from the Yarmouth Farmer’s Market
Quench Your Thirst:
- Tidal Bay at Grand Pre Wines
- Tidal Bay Lightfoot & Wolfville
- Tusket Falls Brewing Company
Fun fact: the wineries in Nova Scotia got together and wanted to create a blend that doesn’t exist (or can’t exist) anywhere else (kind of like champagne in France). The result was a blend of white wine they call Tidal Bay. I had the pleasure of trying a handful of them from different wineries when we were in Nova Scotia and they were all excellent. My favourite would have to be the Tidal Bay from Planter’s Ridge (which I actually had at Agricola in Halifax). It tasted like dry fuzzy peaches!
Our last adventure in Nova Scotia was along the South Shore. My partner had promised that the South Shore was by far the prettiest drive we’d have on our entire trip, and after seeing it, I do not agree. Don’t get me wrong, the South Shore and its communities were very pretty, but they reminded me of the town I grew up in (aka tourist central). It might also have been because we were there on a Saturday in excellent summer weather, but everywhere was crazy busy. Which is not really my travel vibe. Give me gloomy and deserted any day.
What I did absolutely love about Nova Scotia generally, and the South Shore, in particular, is that all of the houses are so adorable and painted in amazing bright colours. It made my rainbow minimalist self deeply, deeply happy.
Quench Your Thirst:
- Boxing Rock Brewing Company
- Downtown Lunenburg
- Just try to not take 100 photos of all of the brightly painted colours
- Lunenburg Harbour
- We *think* we saw the Bluenose being worked on, but we can’t be sure.
Some Final Travel Thoughts
Never having been to Nova Scotia before, I was excited to tour around and just generally take in the sights. Despite some less than optimal weather, our trip was really lovely. It was cool getting to see another part of Canada, especially a part that seems to have a much stronger pride in their culture and history than Ontario. (However, I would like to acknowledge that a lot of that history is problematic and steeped in colonialism, much like the rest of Canada).
Not that I want to play favourites, but my favourite part of our Nova Scotia trip was Cape Breton. It’s beyond beautiful and it was an adventure just driving up and down the different mountains. Maybe it is special to me because it is the place I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. It just felt more peaceful and slow than the rest of the province, which I appreciated.
Even though we were there for a week, I think I could go again today and have a completely different experience. I guess that means I’ll have to go! Thank you for having us, Nova Scotia.
Have you ever been to Atlantic Canada? Did I miss your favourite spot in Nova Scotia?
(P.S. do you like travel diaries? Let me know what you’d like to see included in future diaries!)
Image Credits: Tiny Ambitions