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8 Must Do Nova Scotia Road Trips: Itineraries, Tips + Maps

The destination of your next road trip? Nova Scotia, Canada. At least, it should be!

This East Coast province may look small(ish) on the map, but it actually has over 13,000km of coastline as well as mountain plateaus, lush valleys, 3000+ lakes and more.

As well as the outstanding scenery, you’ll find friendly locals, authentic small town charm and plenty of fresh, locally produced food.

Oh, and the world’s highest tides, 12 species of whales, 4 UNESCO Heritage Sites, 2 UNESCO Biospheres, 2 National Parks, 13 National Historic Sites and 1 Dark Sky Preserve! I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Looking back on a Nova Scotia fishing village with brightly coloured houses dotted on hill near wharf
Nova Scotia is famed for its colourful fishing villages

In this post, I’m going to be sharing seven of the very best Nova Scotia road trips, with detailed route information featuring things to do and places to visit. JR and I have visited every place mentioned, most recently on a two month long road trip across the entirety of the province.

Nova Scotia is located on Megumaagee, land of the Mi’kmaq. This post published February 2021, updated November 2022.

The golden sands of Summerville beach, backdropped by calm ocean
Summerville beach, South Shore

Nova Scotia Road Trips

To give you a taste of what’s to come, here are some highlights of each Nova Scotia road trip (you can also skip to each itinerary directly)

  • The Annapolis Valley (2 to 3 days) – Wolfville, Grand-Pré, Cape Split, Fort Edward, Look-Off, Annapolis Royal
  • Digby Neck and Beyond (3 to 4 days) – Brier Island, Long Island, Digby, Annapolis Royal, Port Royal, Bear River, Kejimkujik National Park
  • Yarmouth and Acadian Shore (2 to 3 days) – Acadian Village, Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Mavillette Beach, Smugglers Cove, Port Maitland Beach, Église Sainte-Marie, Belliveaus Cove
  • South Shore (3 to 4 days) – Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg, Mahone Bay, Oak Island, LaHave Islands, Risser’s Beach, Liverpool, Kejimkujik Seaside, Shelburne, Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
  • Eastern Shore (2 to 3 days) – Lawrencetown Beach, 100 Wild Islands, Memory Lane, Taylor Head Provincial Park, Sherbrooke Village, Canso Islands
  • Antigonish and the Cape George Scenic Drive (1 to 2 days) – Downtown Antigonish, Mahoneys Beach, Ballantyne’s Cove, Cape George Lighthouse, Arisaig Lighthouse, Arisaig Provincial Park, Keppoch Mountain
  • Cabot Trail (3 to 4 days) – Chéticamp, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Skyline Trail, Fishing Cove Trail, Pleasant Bay, Jack Pine Trail, Ingonish, Franey Trail, Baddeck
  • Bay of Fundy (2 to 3 days) – Burntcoat Head Park, tidal bore rafting, Five Islands Provincial Park, Parrsboro, Cape D’or, Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, Joggins Fossil Cliffs

At the end of the post, you’ll find two more Nova Scotia road trips featuring complete circular routes of the province:

Red/orange sunset with sun disappearing below horizon
Nova Scotia is host to some spectacular sunsets

Please note that I have not included Halifax in any of these Nova Scotia road trips – it deserves a post of its own! If you’re visiting from outside Nova Scotia, I’d suggest spending at least two days exploring the city. My recommendations for things to do in Halifax are here!

This post was written in partnership with Tourism Nova Scotia. It includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.

The Annapolis Valley – 2 to 3 days

Annapolis Valley road trip Google Map nova scotia
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The Annapolis Valley is a rich, agricultural region located on the west coast of Nova Scotia. Small towns and villages dot a patchwork landscape of farms, vineyards and fields, all backdropped by the extraordinary Bay of Fundy (home of the world’s highest tides).

The artsy yet regal town of Wolfville (C), an hour’s drive from Halifax, is an ideal first stop. From here, you can easily explore some of Nova Scotia’s best wineries (try the Magic Winery Bus!), breweries, cideries and distilleries.

Two glasses of wine on table in front of vineyard on Magic Winery Bus tour at Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville
Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville

A short drive away is the foodie mecca of Port Williams (D), where local produce is king (think honey, gin, freshly made pasta and more). Just up the road is the simply named Look-Off (E), where you can take in panoramas of the fields and ocean beyond.

If you want to stretch your legs, consider the 16km round trip hike to Cape Split (F). This may sound long but the trail is almost flat all the way to the end, where the rugged tip of the Cape dramatically falls into the Bay of Fundy.

The Annapolis Valley is home to a number of National Historic Sites – Fort Anne (G) and Port Royal (H) in Annapolis Royal, Grand Pré (B) near Wolfville and Fort Edward (A) in Windsor. Annapolis Royal itself is also steeped in history, with over 120 heritage buildings and worth the detour from the Wolfville area on longer road trips.

Look Off views near Wolfville, with patchwork of farms, fields and vineyards, backdropped by ocean
The view from the Look Off near Wolfville

Essential details

Total distance: 200km
Where to stay: Micro Boutique Living in the heart of downtown Wolfville
Where to eat:
The Noodle Guy in Port Williams, Crush Pad Bistro at Lucketts Vineyards
Detours and extensions:
Take a trip to Burncoat Head Park to walk on the oven floor and see red ‘flowerpot rocks.’ Or for a bit of excitement, consider a tidal bore rafting adventure

Read More: A Weekend in Wolfville – Nova Scotia’s Coolest Small Town

Digby Neck and Beyond – 3 to 4 days

Digby Neck road trip Google Map Nova Scotia
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If you’re looking for a nature-focused off the beaten path adventure in Nova Scotia, this may be the one!

Digby Neck is a 30km long peninsula extending into the Bay of Fundy from the town of Digby (A) itself. Long Island (B) and tiny Brier Island (C) are found at the end, accessible by short vehicle ferries. Natural beauty is the main draw here, with the ocean never being far away.

Whale watching is a must do activity, with humpbacks commonly seen nearby (just one of twelve species visiting the Bay of Fundy!) If you prefer wildlife spotting on land, this area is a popular migration spot for birds.

Brier Island coastline with small basalt columns falling into ocean, with red and whit striped lighthouse on hill in background
Brier Island’s stunning basalt rock coastline

As well as sharing a wonderfully laid back vibe, Long Island and Brier Island both have excellent hiking trails and coastlines featuring beautiful basalt columns (the best example being Balancing Rock).

Back on the mainland, make a short detour up to Annapolis Royal (D). In addition to a number of notable National Historic Sites, this distinguished town has over 120 heritage buildings (and a great brewery). Be sure to also drop into Bear River (E). This tidal village on stilts is as characterful as it is small.

Outdoor adventure awaits in Kejimkujik National Park (F), where you can camp under Nova Scotia’s darkest skies, paddle an intricate lake system (guided tours available) and hike to beautiful waterfalls. It’s also possible to connect with Mi’kmaw culture, with canoe building demonstrations.

Looking out to a calm lake, with cloud reflections in water, in Kejimkujik National Park
One of the many lakes in Kejimkujik National Park

Essential details

Total distance: 250km
Where to stay: Brier Island Lodge on beautiful Brier Island
Where to eat:
Kalen’s Takeout in Digby, Lighthouse Café on Brier Island
Detours and extensions:
Backtrack to the Bay of Fundy and then head to Wolfville (see above itinerary) or continue along Highway 8 from Kejimkujik to the South Shore

Read Next: Brier Island, Nova Scotia’s Hidden Gem

Acadian Shore – 2 to 3 days

Acadian Shore road trip Google Map nova scotia
Click here or above to view this Google Map

In my mind, Nova Scotia’s southwestern coast is the most underrated area in the province. Imagine beautiful coastal scenery, an abundance of fresh seafood, pretty lighthouses and a vivacious blend of Acadian and English culture.

You first stop is the Historic Acadian Village of Nova Scotia (A). This beautiful living museum by the sea offers the chance to immerse yourself into the life of local Acadians back in the early 1900’s.

A short drive from Yarmouth will bring you to the uniquely shaped Cape Forchu Lighthouse (B). This red and white ‘apple core’ light sits on a headland, surrounded by hiking trails and epic views. Time your visit right and there’s the chance to see a sunset too!

A blacksmith hammering a hot red piece of iron on an anvil. Miscellaneous tools hanging from the walls in the background. A fire is roaring in the red brick furnace.

As you travel north from Yarmouth, bilingual signs and the tricolour flag (with yellow star representing the Virgin Mary) welcome you into la Baie Sainte-Marie, home of Nova Scotia’s largest Acadian community. North America’s largest wooden church, Église Sainte-Marie (F), is here, plus other heritage sites.

There are fabulous beaches along this coast too, with Port Maitland beach (C) and Mavillette beach (D) being great examples. Belliveau Cove (G) is another ideal place to stop, featuring 5km of looping trails along salt marshes and shingle beach. Pretty Smuggler’s Cove (E) was used by rum runners during the prohibition era.

While exploring the Clare region, be sure to look out for informal seafood suppers, listen to the local dialect of Acadian French and have a taste of râpure (also known as rappie pie), a classic Acadian comfort food dish made of meat and potatoes.

View of coastline with large rocks close to camera and beach in distance, with calm ocean as far as the eye can see
La Baie Sainte-Marie coastline

Essential details

Total distance: 140km
Where to stay: Argyler Lodge in Lower Argyle
Where to eat:
Keeper’s Kitchen at Cape Forchu, La Cuisine Robicheau in Saulnierville
Detours and extensions:
Consider starting at Cape Stable Island instead. This laid back place (accessible via causeway) hosts Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse as well as a 1,500 ‘drowned’ forest. On the way to the Acadian Village, you could also stop at the Shag Harbour Incident Interpretive Centre to learn about the 1967 UFO crash

South Shore – 3 to 4 days

South Shore road trip Google Map nova scotia
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This 250km stretch of coastline south of Halifax is absolutely packed with gorgeous scenery and things to do, which is why it’s my top road trip choice if you’re short on time. Some sections are busy in summer, but there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy solitude as well.

Leave Halifax early to arrive at Peggy’s Cove (A) before most visitors arrive. Once you’ve taken in those iconic granite rock and lighthouse views, head past infamous Oak Island (B) to the picture perfect churches of Mahone Bay (C). The colourful port town of Lunenburg (D) is just a short drive away.

Looking from the water towards Lunenberg in the distance, with many red buildings visible on the hill
The pretty port town of Lunenberg from the water (we kayaked from Ovens Natural Park)

With the most popular sights ticked off, it’s time to explorer the quieter side of the South Shore. Stretch your legs at Ovens Natural Park, where a trail leads above and into rugged ocean caves. To continue along the coast, take the cable ferry (one the last remaining in Nova Scotia) across to LaHave (E).

If you like beaches, you’ll love this next section. In fact, you may even be overwhelmed by the number of beautiful white and golden sand stretches of sand! Some of my favourites are Risser’s Beach (F), Summerville (H) and Kejimkujik Seaside (I).

For a deeper insight into Nova Scotia’s history, I’d recommend stopping in the towns of Liverpool (G) and Shelburne. Just outside the latter is Birchtown, once home to the largest settlement of Black Loyalists (former slaves offered freedom by the British) in North America. If you go to just one museum on the South Shore, let it be the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre (J).

View of golden sand beach at Risser's Beach Provincial Beach, Nova Scotia
Beautiful Risser’s Beach on the South Shore

Essential details

Total distance: 275km
Where to stay: Smugglers Cove Inn in Lunenburg
Where to eat:
LaHave Bakery in LaHave, Quarterdeck Grill in Summerville
Detours and extensions:
Make a real road trip of it and complete a circuit by travelling the Acadian Shore towards Digby. Along the way, take the trip to Cape Sable Island at the very tip of southern Nova Scotia. Be sure to visit ‘the Hawk,‘ a white sand beach featuring 1,500 year old petrified tree stumps and views of Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse.

Read Next: 13 of the Best Beaches in Nova Scotia, Canada

Eastern Shore – 2 to 3 days

eastern shore road trip Google Map nova scotia
Click here or above to view this Google Map

The Eastern Shore starts just north of Halifax but feels like a world away. There are no busy tourist traps here, just plenty of authentic fishing villages and beautiful sandy beaches. The road stays close to the coast, which means great views and also a lot of twisty turns!

If you’d like to have a go at surfing, head to Lawrencetown Beach (A). There are a number of surf schools here with rentals and lessons.

For beauty, my top pick is Martinique Beach (B). Living up to its exotic sounding name, Martinique features a sweeping, 5km long stretch of white-sand. Further north, Taylor Head (D) is also worth a stop.

Grass bordered walkway to Martinique Beach, with wooden ramp leading down to sand, the ocean is visible in the background
Martinique Beach on the Eastern Shore

More idyllic beaches can be found within the 100 Wild Islands archipelago, which borders part of the Eastern Shore (between Clam Harbour and Taylor Head). If you don’t have your own boat, you can still reach these pristine paradise islands by joining a kayak tour.

For something a little more cultural, check out the Memory Lane Heritage Village (C) and Sherbrooke Village (E). These community focused projects depict life on the Eastern Shore during the late 19th century (Sherbrooke) and 1940’s (Memory Lane).

At the upper end of the Eastern Shore is the Canso Islands National Historic Site (F), preserving the remains of the oldest fishing port on mainland North America. As well as an interesting visitor centre, it’s usually possible (in non-Covid years) to take a free boat trip out to Grassy Island to walk amongst the ruins of a fort.

1928 Model A vehicle parked next to vintage Esso gas station station at Memory Lane heritage village on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore
1928 Model A vehicle and gas station at Memory Lane heritage village on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore

Essential details

Total distance: 340km
Where to stay: Liscombe Lodge in Liscomb
Where to eat:
The Cookhouse at Memory Lane, Henley House Pub & Restaurant in Sheet Harbour
Detours and extensions:
Continue on to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island (info below) or head towards Pictou and the Northumberland Shore

Read More: Kayaking the 100 Wild Islands, Eastern Shore

Antigonish and the Cape George Scenic Drive – 1 to 2 days

antigonish and cape george scenic drive google map road trips
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This short Nova Scotia road trip is worthwhile as a weekend getaway trip or a side adventure on the way to the Cabot Trail.

Starting (and ending) in Antigonish, this picturesque driving route follows the edge of a triangular shaped piece of land jutting into the Northumberland Strait.

Antigonish may be small, but much more vibrant than you may imagine due its status as a regional centre and university town. Spend one full day here (we have several suggested itineraries) before starting the Cape George Scenic Drive.

If you haven’t already, stop at Antigonish Landing (B) for a 4km walk along the river. Continue to Mahoneys Beach (C), the first of many lovely sand beaches on this stretch of the drive.

The next stop is Ballantyne’s Cove (D) – take a break to explore the beach and enjoy some seafood (more details below). The Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre is also worth a look.

Drone view of Cape George Lighthouse near Antigonish, with red and white lighthouse on edge of cliff, surrounded by forest. The ocean is visible on the left
Cape George Lighthouse

After Ballantyne’s Cove, the road starts to curve as it ascends up to Cape George Lighthouse (E). Perched at the top of 100m high cliffs, Cape George Lighthouse hosts commanding views of the Northumberland Straight and Cape Breton Island.

Consider starting a hike at nearby Cape George Point Day Park. 37km of looped paths can be accessed from here. Otherwise, continue onto Livingstone’s Cove Wharf Park (F) to see far reaching vistas of the road ahead.

Another lighthouse awaits in Arisaig (G) as well as a provincial park (H). The main attraction of the latter is the rare exposed section of Silurian rock, featuring 400 million year old fossils.

The final stops on this scenic drive are Big Island Beach (I) and Keppoch Mountain (J), a four season recreational area featuring 40km of non-motorized paths.

Only have one day to spare? Start the Cape George Scenic Drive in the morning and return to Antigonish in the late afternoon for drinks at one of the local breweries and dinner at the Townhouse.

Sidewalk view of colourful houses in downtown Antigonis, with green/orange trees in foreground

Essential details

Total distance: 136km
Where to stay: Fossil Farms Oceanside Resort in Merigomish
Where to eat: The Townhouse in Antigonish, Fish and Ships take-out in Ballatyne’s Cove
Detours and extensions: If you’re still craving beach time, head to beautiful Pomquet Beach Provincial Park (15 mins east of Antigonish). Consider combining this trip with the Cabot Trail, see below for details

Cabot Trail – 3 to 4 days

cabot trail road trip Google Map nova scotia
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The Cabot Trail is a 298km driving loop on Cape Breton Island, where Nova Scotia’s highest mountains meet the sea. This scenic drive is an adventure in itself. Expect to be pulling over often for the views! This is the ideal road trip if you love the outdoors.

There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, whale watching, camping and kayaking along the way. The most popular hike is the Skyline Trail (C). Ballpark two hours for the 6.5km return distance, which leads through meadows (watch for moose) to a headland with sweeping ocean views.

Other awesome day hikes include the Jack Pine Trail (F) and Franey Trail (H), both near Ingonish. For an overnight hiking adventure, check out Fishing Cove (D). The 12km return trail leads down to a pretty seaside campground, with ocean views from most tent pads.

Gemma hikes down boardwalk steps away from camera, towards headland with expansive views of ocean and winding road
Hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Besides all of these outdoor activities, you can also experience local Acadian, Canadian and Scottish culture and cuisine in fishing villages like Baddeck (I), Chéticamp (B) and Ingonish (G). Pleasant Bay (E) is another of my favourite places to stop, as it features a gorgeous pebble beach.

One place that is certainly worth the detour (180km, about two hours) from the Cabot Trail is the Fortress of Louisbourg (J).

This National Historic Site is a living museum portraying French colonial life in the 18th century featuring costumed actors and restored buildings (barracks, working bakery, blacksmith etc). If you have any interest in history, Louisbourg is a MUST!

Two Fortress of Louisbourg soldiers (in 18th century clothing) walk away from camera with fortress buildings behind
The Fortress of Louisbourg

Essential details

Total distance: 365km
Where to stay: True North Destinations in Pleasant Bay (or the Fortress of Louisbourg itself!)
Where to eat:
Aucoin Bakery in Petit Étang, Coastal Restaurant in Ingonish
Detours and extensions:
Consider attending a cèilidh in the Mabou area, southwest of the Cabot Trail. For a real off the beaten path adventure, head to Meat Cove, at the very tip of Cape Breton Island. The campground here has some of the best views anywhere in Nova Scotia

Bay of Fundy – 2 to 3 days

bay of fundy road trip Google Map nova scotia
Click here or above to view this Google Map

This Nova Scotia road trip showcases the Bay of Fundy’s world record breaking tides, from the power of the tidal bore created by them to the fossils revealed underneath the ocean floor.

Start your adventure at Burntcoat Head Park (A). If you time it right (check tides here), you’ll be able to walk on the ocean floor and marvel at the bright red ‘flowerpot rocks’ created by the receding ocean.

You can experience the power of the Bay of Fundy yourself on a tidal bore rafting adventure (B) in nearby South Maitland. When the tide comes in, the Shubenacadie River becomes a rollercoaster of standing waves and whirlpools. You’ll leave soaked, exhilarated and smiling ear to ear.

View from red raft looking at standing waves with other rafts tackling the rough water
Tidal bore rafting

On the other side of the Bay of Fundy, stop at Five Islands Provincial Park (C) to admire the 90m red cliffs. Continue on to Parrsboro (D), which is famous for fossils and minerals.

Admire the airy views and lighthouse from remote Cape D’or (E) before heading towards Cape Chignecto Provincial Park.

There are two hiking trailheads here, Red Rocks and Eatonville (F). The latter has a 2.6km loop that takes in the dramatic Three Sisters sea stacks.

The final stop on this route is Joggins Fossil Cliffs (G), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the museum or walk the beach. Keep your eyes peeled, there’s the chance to stumble across 310 million year fossils (like this visitor did in 2020!)

Backview of four colourful oversize beach chairs  on beach looking out to ocean
Parrsboro sunset

Essential details

Total distance: 300km
Where to stay: Cresthaven by the Sea in Maitland
Where to eat:
Harbour View Restaurant in Parrboro, Lightkeeper’s Kitchen at Cape D’or
Detours and extensions:
Looking for an adventure? The Cape Chignecto Trail is a 51km circular route offering spectacular panoramas of the Bay of Fundy. It takes three to our days to hike, with four cabins and seven campgrounds along the way. Click to read a full guide

Ultimate Nova Scotia Road Trip Itinerary – 2.5 weeks

Of course, you can combine all of these Nova Scotia road trip into one ‘ultimate’ route. It would look a little bit like this, when starting and ending in Halifax:

ultimate nova scotia road trip Google map with blue route plus orange stars marking major attractions
Click here or the above Google Map to view ‘Ultimate Nova Scotia Road Trip’ route with major attractions marked with orange stars

This ‘ultimate’ Nova Scotia road trip would be about 2.5 weeks in length (18 days), with the total distance around 2500km.

I would break that down as follows –

  • South Shore: 3 days
  • Yarmouth and Acadian Shore: 2 days
  • Digby Neck/Annapolis Royal/Kejimkujik National Park: 3 days
  • Annapolis Valley: 2 days
  • Bay of Fundy: 2 days
  • Antigonish and the Cape George Scenic Drive: 1 day
  • Cabot Trail: 3 days
  • Eastern Shore: 2 days

This would involve a pretty busy itinerary; expect to be ‘on the go’ every day. Please note that this itinerary does not account for any time in Halifax.

If you have more time available to you to explore this road trip route, all the better.

Nova Scotia is a place to slow down and take as many side roads as possible! I would personally add another day to the South Shore, Digby area, Cabot Trail and Eastern Shore.

As mentioned, we’ve spent more than four months road tripping Nova Scotia over the years and I’d happily go back tomorrow. There’s still so much more to see!

If you’re looking for even more recommendations to add to this road trip, consider:

  • Pictou – the “birthplace of New Scotland” with Hector Heritage Quay
  • Tatamagouche – charming small town with many local food producers
  • Melmerby Beach – stunning 2km long beach
  • Inverness – famous scenic golf course, great beach
  • StellartonMuseum of Industry with Canada’s oldest steam locomotives
Borgles Island white sand bar with ocean either side
Bogles sandbar in the 100 Wild Islands

North/South Spotlight – 8 days

If you are short on time, consider this condensed version I call the ‘North/South Spotlight.’

This Nova Scotia road trip route also starts and ends in Halifax and breaks down like so:

  • South Shore – 2 days
  • Acadian Coast – 1 day
  • The Annapolis Valley/Bay of Fundy – 2 days
  • Cabot Trail – 3 days
north south spotlight nova scotia road trip Google Map
Click here or the above Google Map to view ‘North/South Spotlight’ route

This is fast but features most of Nova Scotia’s must visit places on a circular route. The total trip distance is just under 2000km.

Of course, I recommend you to stay longer in Nova Scotia (because it is incredible!) but if you simply can’t, this road trip features all of the highlights you’ve probably heard about – Lunenberg, Peggy’s Cove, Cabot Trail – as well as some beyond the beaten path gems such as la Baie Sainte-Marie and Burntcoat Head.

A humpback whale swims away from camera, with the dorsal fin and back of whale visible above the mostly calm ocean waves near Brier Island, Nova Scotia
Humpback whale in the Bay of Fundy

Road Trips in Nova Scotia: Top Tips

  • Drive carefully. While there are some high speed highways, many of Nova Scotia’s rural roads are twisty and narrow
  • Take the side roads. Slow down your trip by turning off the highway – you’re sure to find some hidden gems!
  • Look out for wildlife. Large animals (such as moose) may be on the road at any time, but more likely at dusk and dawn
  • For the most part, Nova Scotians are really, really friendly. Prepare to be stopped by people while exploring. We even had people invite us home for dinner!
  • Plan ahead. Make accommodation and camping reservations in advance to avoid disappointment
  • Don’t overcrowd your schedule. Rushing around is never fun and, besides, you’ll want to have a bit of flexibility to investigate recommendations from locals!
  • Here for the lobster? No problem! No matter what time of year you choose to road trip in Nova Scotia, there’s always lobster to be found. In a pinch, head to Sobey’s (local supermarket chain) and they will cook you a lobster while you shop!
The iconic lighthouse and granite rocks at Peggy’s Cove

Nova Scotia history and culture

The history of Nova Scotia is probably more varied than you may expect and that’s exactly why I want to give you a very quick overview before you dive into the nitty gritty of road trip planning!

The first residents of Nova Scotia were the Mi’kmaq, who called their home Mi’kma’ki. Some of the place names used today are Mi’kmaw (such as Shubenacadie).

A contingent of French explorers landed in 1605 and established Port Royal, one of the first European settlements in North America.

Soon, groups of French settlers arrived farm the land. They called it ‘Acadie’ (idyllic place) and themselves ‘Acadian‘ (read more about Acadians here).

Looking towards the lush landscape of Grand Pré with grassy fields, meadows and marshland, with Memorial Church
The beautiful fertile landscape of Grand Pré (UNESCO World Heritage Site) was cultivated by the Acadians in the 17th and 18th centuries

The French and British fought over Nova Scotia over a century. The Acadians wanted to stay neutral but the British wouldn’t allow that and consequently deported the Acadians in an act called the ‘Great Upheaval’ or ‘Expulsion’ (1755).

The revolution in America in the 18th century brought thousands of British Loyalists to the shores of Nova Scotia, including a large continent of former black slaves called Black Loyalists. They were promised freedom in exchange for fighting for the British. 

Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in huge numbers in the 19th century, attempting to escape famine, overcrowding and discrimination.

Bluenose II replica sailing on open ocean, with calm water and all sails up
The replica of the famed Bluenose II schooner, as featured on the Canadian 10 cent coin

Other posts you may find helpful with your trip planning:

East Coast Canada Road Trip | 2 and 4 Week Itineraries

13 of the Best Beaches in Nova Scotia, Canada

5 of the Best Day Trips from Halifax, Nova Scotia

Canoeing in Kejimkujik National Park: A Must Do in Nova Scotia

11 of the Best Nova Scotia Campgrounds

A Weekend in Wolfville – Nova Scotia’s Coolest Small Town

6 Fast and Fun Hikes in Nova Scotia, Canada

In Search of Different: 4 Unique Nova Scotia Wineries

Ultimate Two Week Coastal Quebec Road Trip Itinerary

Nova Scotia is an awesome road trip destination, with over 13,000km of coastline as well as as well as mountain plateaus, authentic fishing villages, lush valleys, 3000+ lakes and more! Click here to discover seven Nova Scotia road trips, with maps and tips!
The destination of your next road trip? Nova Scotia, Canada. At least, it should be! As well as the outstanding scenery, you'll find friendly locals, authentic small town charm and plenty of fresh, locally produced food. Click here to discover seven awesome Nova Scotia road trips!
The destination of your next road trip? Nova Scotia, Canada. At least, it should be! Click here to discover seven incredible road trip itineraries in this beautiful province, complete with maps and tips.

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Tuesday 12th of March 2024

Wondering what your “must sees” are in 2-3 days time visiting Nova Scotia. We have about a week to plan, but want to visit Acadia National Park as well. It will be early October.So trying to plan and split accordingly! Any advice is great appreciated. Thanks!


Sunday 17th of March 2024

Hi Rebecca,

With just a couple of days in Nova Scotia, I would visit Halifax, Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg. You'll get a taste of the fishing history/culture as well as beautiful coastal views. If you're not a city person, I'd still go to Peggy's Cove (preferably early or late in the day, as it is a busy place) and Lunenberg and then keep heading south. Gorgeous beaches and lots of seafood.

Rich Wood

Thursday 17th of August 2023

I just found your article and absolutely loved the information and your writing! My wife and I are headed to NS the 3rd week of September for 10 days and will be taking your advice on many of these locations! Quick question about whale watching. Are the tour companies still offering tours at this time of year? Any suggestions of where to take one out of?

Many thanks! Rich & Theresa Wood Virginia


Friday 18th of August 2023

Hi Rich,

Thanks so much for your kind comments! Yes, there are still tours running at that time of year so you may be able to fit it in! Did you see our whale watching in Nova Scotia post? Tours continue running on Brier Island until early October and on Cape Breton Island until mid October.

Marybeth Cantrell

Saturday 13th of May 2023

Hi Gemma- I am not seeing a lot of information in your blog on Cape Breton…am I missing something? I just finished my itinerary for Antigonish and the Cape George scenic drive and just started glancing at your information about Cape Breton. Can you direct me if I am missing it? Thank you, Marybeth


Sunday 21st of May 2023

Hi Marybeth,

Good spot! No, we don't much specific information on Cape Breton. Not for any particular reason, w3've just written about other places more :) Thanks for checking!

Marybeth Cantrell

Tuesday 18th of April 2023

Hello- We will be driving from Houston to Nova Scotia arriving in Amherst. We would like to follow your Ultimate Nova Scotia itinerary but not sure where to start following your itinerary coming from that direction. Any help you could provide would be very helpful. Love your itinerary and the detail!

Marybeth Cantrell

Wednesday 19th of April 2023

@Gemma, While researching Nova Scotia I read that we should drive counter clockwise so the ocean is always closer to us on the highway for better views. Any thoughts on that? And why do you suggest Cape Breton first? Of course it’s the place I’m most looking forward to seeing cause we are BIG on national parks. We have been to 62 of the 63 US National Parks so we only have one left. We have also been to several of Canada’s National Parks as well so we are looking forward to visiting Cape Breton. I love reading blogs when I get ready to travel and yours on Nova Scotia was by far the most informational and organized.


Wednesday 19th of April 2023

Hi Marybeth,

Thanks for the kind comments! That is a good question. Personally, I would head up to Cape Breton Island first. I would then go down to the Eastern Shore and/or Halifax and then to the South Shore. I hope that makes sense!


Tuesday 21st of February 2023

We're coming to Nova Scotia for 8 days in July with 2 small kids. We've also set aside a separate 5 days for Cape Breton, and 16 days for Newfoundland. I'm a bit overwhelmed with what we could see and do in NS and would like it to be a contrast to Newfoundland. Any suggestions on which of your short itineraries would be good to combine? And if we did the South Shore would it be worth basing ourselves in Lunenberg rather than Halifax? Thank you - your itineraries are really helpful!


Monday 6th of March 2023

Hi Hannah,

Completely understand why you must be overwhelmed! Apologies for the late reply - we have been on holiday in a remote area with limited internet. My partner and I have discussed your question at length. JR was previously a Maritimes tour guide and has also visited Newfoundland, so he has a good base of experience to compare the two.

Together, we came to the conclusion that completing a full circuit of southern Nova Scotia would provide a good contrast. That would include a loop to/from Halifax, taking in the South Shore, Yarmouth area, a side trip to Kejimkujik National Park and the Annapolis Valley.

The Acadian culture around Yarmouth and Wolfville is distinctly different to Newfoundland. Kejimkujik National Park, with its lakes and Indigenous culture, also offers something a little different. Yes, some of the coastal landscapes will be similar but on the Bay of Fundy side (Yarmouth and further north), the tides are the largest in the world so that is certainly unique!

If you'd prefer not to tour around, Lunenberg does offer a decent alternative to Halifax. It is, however, a lot smaller and dining/accommodation choice will be more limited. A few nights in Yarmouth may work well for you - there's a good selection of hotels and services here.

I would highly recommend driving some of the smaller coastal road sections along the South Shore, such as the 331, as they offer wonderful views and insights into local fishing village culture.