I admit it, I’m something of a beach bum. I love to be active in the outdoors but I also adore watching the world go by on the beach. The sound of the waves, the fresh air, the sea views….there is nothing better on a sunny, warm day than a beach visit. And while exploring Nova Scotia for seven weeks last summer, we visited many, many beaches. And in reality, we only saw a taste of what is on offer, seeing as this beautiful province hosts an incredible 7400km of coastline just on the mainland!
When it comes to the best beaches in Nova Scotia, I can assure you that the standards are high. Any single one of the 40+ beaches we visited was wonderful in its own way. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong in Nova Scotia. But a few did, however, stand out from the others. Without further adieu, let me introduce thirteen of the best beaches in Nova Scotia and why we loved them so much.
Summerville Beach is one of those places that is hidden in plain sight. It is located right off the main highway and yet you could so easily miss it when travelling past. Protected as a Provincial Park, Summerville Beach features a wide, kilometre long swath of light sand. The water is fantastically clear and turquoise on a sunny day. The beach is backed by low sand dunes, with parking lots and outhouses behind.
We reached Summerville Beach just in time for our first really nice (25c+) day in Nova Scotia and it was the perfect place to enjoy the heat.
How to find this beach: Summerville Beach is located on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, about 40 minutes (52km) north of the town of Shelburne on Highway 3. From the north, Summerville Beach is just 15 minutes (15km) from Liverpool. The Provincial Park is well signed from the highway.
Backed by forest and with few houses in sight, Carter’s Beach feels like a world away from busy Highway 103, just a stone’s throw west. The impossibly azure waters here would look like something more suited to the Caribbean rather than Nova Scotia! There are three gorgeous stretches of soft, light golden sand here, separated by two forested peninsulas. There isn’t a lot of parking in the small lot, so get here early on hot summer days.
While we loved Summerville, we were blown away by the solitude and natural surroundings of Carter’s Beach. This would definitely be in our top three best beaches of Nova Scotia.
How to find this beach: Carter’s Beach is located just south of Summerville Beach (above) on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. The beach is most easily accessible via Carter’s Beach Road, a cul-de-sac branching from Central Port Mouton Road and Highway 3 before it.
Borgles Island SandBar, 100 Wild islands
At the southern tip of Borgles Island, a spit of golden sand reaches to connect with nearby Middle Island, creating a picture-perfect sandbar. On either side, the clear cerulean ocean gently laps onto the sand. The Borgles Island sandbar is just one example of the beautiful beaches in the 100 Wild Islands protected area on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. Those who make the effort to reach Borgles Island are likely to have this idyllic sandbar all to themselves.
Reaching the Borgles Island sandbar was the highlight of our five-day kayak trip in the 100 Wild Islands. The area was so stunning that we decided to camp just around the corner.
How to find this beach: Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is about an hour’s drive north-east from Halifax. The sandbar is located between Borgles Island and Middle Island, around five kilometres from the mainland (as the crow flies) Accessible only via water, you’ll either need your own boat or kayak to reach this amazing beach.
Seal Bay, Cape Chignecto
Another beach that takes a little effort to reach, Seal Bay is only accessible via boat, kayak or the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail. The latter is a 51km circular hike, with the majority of the route closely bordering the ever-changing Bay of Fundy. Seal Bay is a small rock and pebble beach. It has a slight pink hue, common to other beaches in this area. The reason it is one of the best beaches in Nova Scotia is simple – isolation and its unspoiled nature. The fantastic sunsets are a bonus.
On the headland above Seal Bay Beach, there is a designated campground for hikers. This was our first overnight stop on the Cape Chignecto Trail. Visiting kayakers are able to camp directly on the beach.
How to find this beach: Seal Bay Beach is located on Nova Scotia’s northern Bay of Fundy coastline and accessible via water as well as the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail. The nearest town is Advocate Harbour, approximately 4km to the east of Cape Chignecto Provincial Park.
Terence Bay Beach
Bordered by purple wild roses, this golden sand beach isn’t large but it remains one of our favourites in Nova Scotia. The water was the clearest and calmest we saw anywhere near the Atlantic Coast. A short walk from the beach is Terence Bay Lighthouse, something of a doppelganger for the one further west at Peggy’s Cove. The granite rocks may not be quite as high, but the view is just as scenic. We spotted minke whales from here, who then headed towards the beach!
There is no doubt the water was absolutely freezing on our visit in early July, but swimming at Terence Bay was the perfect way to cool down from 30c heat.
How to find this beach: Terence Bay is a small fishing community about 30 minutes drive from Halifax. The turnoff is about two-thirds of the way to Peggy’s Cove. The beach can be found at the end of Sandy Cove Road, past the SS Heritage Park Society Visitor Centre (also worth a stop). Parking is limited.
Crystal Crescent Beach
Crystal Crescent Beach is a little off the beaten path but all the better for it. It is only 30km from Halifax yet on a sunny day, there is usually still room on the sand. This sheltered cove offers a surprisingly sheltered place to swim and sunbathe, plus sweeping views of the ocean. There are actually three crescent beaches here, with the first also being the largest. The third has gained popularity as a nude beach.
After admiring the beauty of the first beach, we headed on to the third and then continued on to the Pennant Point Trail. From the headland rocks, we saw minke whales feeding in the ocean.
How to find this beach: Follow Highway 306 south out of Halifax, towards the small fishing community of Sambro. Continue onto Highway 349 and then keep an eye out for the green Crystal Crescent Beach signs. There are two parking lots at Crystal Crescent. If you change your mind about which beach to visit, there is a trail leading between all three.
Another of our favourites along the Eastern Shore, Martinique Beach features the longest beach in Nova Scotia. With 5km of white sand, this beach looks and sounds like it belongs in much more exotic locale! Not only loved by beach bums like me, Martinique Beach is also very popular with surfers. The exposed location makes the surf pretty consistent, though summer apparently offers the best conditions. Surfing lessons and rentals are available at Martinique Beach. There is also lifeguard supervision during the summer months.
How to find this beach: The journey to Martinique Beach is an easy cruise east along Highway 107. At Musquodoboit Harbour, head south and follow the signs to Martinique Beach Provincial Park. It will take about an hour in total from downtown Halifax to reach this stunning Nova Scotia beach.
Burntcoat Head Beach
Burnt Coat is a little different to the others named on this list of the best beaches in Nova Scotia. It is not known for its soft sand, aquamarine water or excellent swimming. Burnt Coat is the home to the world’s highest recorded tides. On this beach, you can explore the muddy ocean floor at low tide and search for fossils in the red rocks. Just a few hours later, the tide will rush back in and surround the ‘flower pot’ rock formations. It’s a place like no other in Nova Scotia!
As well the beautiful beach, there is also an interesting little lighthouse museum (free entry) at Burntcoat Head to visit. Tidal tours are also offered. If interested, check the available times on the website first.
How to find this beach: Burntcoat Head Park is located on the Minas Basin (Bay of Fundy), almost exactly halfway between Truro and Wolfville. It is signed from Highway 215. For beach walking at Burntcoat, prepare to go barefoot or bring some old shoes. The red mud can stain. There is a water tap by the beach for visitors to use for clean-up.
Pond Cove Beach, Brier Island
Whether you’re a full-blown rock hound, have a casual interest in geology or just like to search for pretty stones from time to time, Pond Cove is the place for you. The beach almost entirely consists of unusually shaped pebbles, agates and glittering rocks. Beyond the rock hunting possibilities, Pond Cove is a pretty place in its own right. The wildflowers bordering the beach are particularly wonderful to look at. Brier Island is popular for migrating birds, so birdwatchers will also be in their element.
If you like off the beaten path places, Brier Island should definitely be on your Nova Scotia bucket list. The island may be small (7.5km by 2.5km) but it punches well above its weight when it comes to things to do and see.
How to find this beach: Pond Cove Beach is at the southern end of Brier Island, a place reached by two ferries and a 70km drive from Digby. Due to the small size of Brier Island, Pond Cove is just a very short trip from the main settlement of Westport. It is also possible to walk there (about 3-4km).
A family holiday favourite, Rissers Beach makes this best beaches in Nova Scotia list for its lovely kilometre long stretch of golden sand, beautiful boardwalk and waterfront campground. The convenient location just off the main highway is also a major plus, especially for those visiting Nova Scotia with limited time. Part of a Provincial Park of the same name, Rissers Beach has almost one hundred campsites. Some are hidden in the trees bordering the beach while others have incredible unobstructed views of the coastline.
If you’d like to stay at Rissers Beach during July and August, early reservations are recommended to secure a spot. Even in mid-June, most of the oceanfront campsites were taken by the time we arrived.
How to find this beach: Found on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Rissers Beach is easily accessible via coastal Highway 331. Rissers Beach Provincial Park is just ten minutes drive south of LaHave and twenty-five minutes away from Bridgewater. If you like coffee and home baked cakes and pastries, you must make a stop at the LaHave Bakery before heading to Rissers Beach!
Hawk Beach on Cape Sable Island
Located on Nova Scotia’s most southerly tip, Hawk Beach may look like ‘just another’ beautiful white sand beach but there is much more to it than that. At low tide, a peculiar view appears. Hundreds of petrified tree stumps appear from the sea bed appear; a 1500-year-old drowned forest. Clearly birds find it fascinating too, with the area being one of the best in Nova Scotia for birdwatching. Keeping watch over it all is Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse (30m). Hawk Beach is an atmospheric kind of place, quite different from any other beach we visited in the province.
Cape Sable Island was a bit of an accidental find for us. We were fishing off the dock in Shag Harbour when we got talking to a local lobster fisherman. He advised that before leaving the area, we simply must visit Cape Sable Island first. Thanks Maurice!
How to find this beach: Hawk Beach can be found right at the southern end of Cape Sable Island on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. The Island is accessible via a causeway from the mainland. From Shag Harbour, Hawk Beach is about a twenty-minute drive.
Offering all you could need in a municipal beach, Inverness Beach is family friendly and super easy to access. Located on the edge of the Gulf of St Lawrence, the water is much warmer here than on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coastline. Inverness Beach is a good solid choice for a beach stop when heading to (or from) the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island. There are lifeguards on duty in summer on this beach.
Another of our favourite beaches on Cape Breton Island is Pleasant Bay Beach. We spent a wonderful afternoon eating ice-cream and swimming in the ocean after an overnight hike on the Fishing Cove Trail (below).
How to find this beach: The small town of Inverness is located on the western coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. It takes around two hours to drive from Sydney, Cape Breton’s largest town, to Inverness. From Halifax, the total journey time is around four hours.
Fishing Cove beach, Cape Breton
Driving the Cabot Trail may be one of the most popular things to do in Nova Scotia but there are still plenty of places to find some peace and quiet. One of these spots is Fishing Cove. A relatively easy 6km trail leads down from the highway to what was once a tiny Scottish fishing community. At the end of the hike, you’ll find a welcoming pebble beach with what must be some of the best sunset views in Nova Scotia. It is an ideal place to swim and cool off after a hot hike! There’s great backcountry camping here too, the only designated area in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
How to find this beach: Fishing Cove Beach is only accessible via boat or a 12km return hike. The trailhead (and parking lot) is located right on the Cabot Trail, about fifteen minutes drive south of Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton Island. To hike to Fishing Cove, you must have a Cape Breton Highlands National Park Pass.
Other amazing beaches in Nova Scotia
There are dozens of more beaches I could name on this best beaches in Nova Scotia list. I’m sure any native Nova Scotians reading will have plenty of suggestions for places I have missed! Here are a couple more of my nominations for best beaches in Nova Scotia.
- Five Islands – Experience the Bay of Fundy tides from the other side of the Minas Basin
- Kejimkujik Seaside – The coastal section of Nova Scotia’s fun-to-pronounce National Park
- Pomquet Beach – A long stretch of sand on the Northumberland Shore, lifeguard on duty
- Joggins Beach – The best place to hunt for fossils!
- Thomas Raddall – A great beach camping alternative to Rissers Beach
- Taylor’s Point – Another wonderfully quiet, sandy Eastern Shore beach
Best Beaches in Nova Scotia: Visiting tips
Please keep the following in mind when visiting any of these amazing beaches in Nova Scotia:
- Unless specifically mentioned above, none of the mentioned beaches have lifeguard stations
- Always pack-out what you bring to the beach. Not only does this keep the beach beautiful for other visitors, but it helps the environment and animals too
- Rip currents (also known as rip-tides) are possible. Make sure you know what to do if caught in a rip-tide
- Some of the beaches noted above are habitats for the endangered piping plover shorebirds. Keep off sand dunes and walk along the tide line to avoid disturbing these birds.
- Keep dogs on leash. This is especially beneficial for the piping plovers – their eggs are often crushed by off-leash dogs.
Where do you think are the best beaches in Nova Scotia?