Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Nova Scotia
Overlooking Downtown Halifax, this strategically set hilltop fortification has presided over the capital of Nova Scotia since 1856, with earlier versions of the fort having stood here since 1749. Today, the former British citadel remembers the military history of Halifax, with exhibits focusing on life within the 19th-century fort.
Open to the public since 1867—the year Canada achieved confederation—the Halifax Public Gardens is one of the oldest Victorian gardens in North America. This National Historic Site of Canada was built on two formerly adjacent gardens, and today the idyllic urban green space is home to a variety of trees, flowers, and even tropical plants.
Now the Canadian Museum of Immigration, Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia served as the first glimpse of Canada for many people who came to make this country their home. Interactive exhibits offer visitors the chance to learn what these new residents faced as they left where they came from in hopes of finding something better.
Appearance-wise, little has changed in this picturesque Nova Scotia fishing village over the past century. Colorful, salt-weathered fishermen’s houses and the town’s iconic red-and-white lighthouse stand strong along the sea-splashed shore of St. Margaret’s Bay, and lobster traps, jetties, and fishing boats are still all over the place.
As one of the most recognizable landmarks in Halifax’s historic core, the Old Town Clock gets its fair share of visitors. Ordered by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and then commander-in-chief of all military forces in British North America, the tower was built as a way to potentially resolve the unpunctuality of the local garrison. Completed in 1803, the three-tiered tower is built in the utmost classic Palladian style, with an irregular octagon tower built atop a one storey white clapboard building.
The clock –which, in true Roman fashion, shows the 4 as IIII and not IV for aesthetic symmetry- was constructed by House of Vulliamy, a respected Royal Clockmakers based in London. Although ancient, the clock is in excellent shape, having undergone several renovation works throughout the years, and is still in use to this day. In fact, it could be said that the Old Town Clock has been keeping the people of Halifax on time for the last two centuries! Because of its historical associations, the Halifax Town Clock is a Classified Federal Heritage Building.
Fairview Lawn Cemetery is a fascinating place to encounter some of the tragedies that have befallen Halifax, Nova Scotia. Most notably, Fairview is the final resting place of more than 100 people who were lost in the sinking of theTitanic, as well as many others who died in the 1917 Halifax Explosion that devastated the provincial capital.
Dating back to 1749, St. Paul’s Anglican Church is the oldest building in Halifax and the oldest standing Protestant church in Canada. As a National Historic Site of Canada, the church is noteworthy for its stained glass windows, pipe organ, subterranean crypt, and adjacent cemetery.
Officially known as the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, Province House is yet another one of the many National Historic Sites of Canada in the capital city. This is where the Nova Scotia Legislature has met every year since 1819, making it Province House the longest serving legislative building in Canada. It was also the first form of responsible government in the British Empire outside the United Kingdom, and it therefore played a significant role in the development of responsible government, parliamentary democracy and freedom of the press in Canada.
An imposing three-story building, Province House is often regarded as being the finest example of Georgian-Palladian architecture on this side of the pond – famed writer Charles Dickens even called Province House “a gem of Georgian architecture” upon his visit in 1842. Province House consists of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly room, home to the Nova Scotia's elected legislature, the Library, which is the former Supreme Court, the Red Chamber, formerly the meeting place of the Nova Scotia Council and later the Legislative Council, and of course, the court yard.
One of the oldest breweries in Canada, Alexander Keith’s Halifax brewery still operates from its original location, which dates back to 1820. A visit here will show you how the company’s popular beers are made—and give you the chance to have a taste.
Halifax City Hall stands at the north end of the city’s historical Grand Parade, which dates back to when Halifax was founded in 1749. The building itself was constructed between 1887 and 1890, and it’s now one of the oldest public buildings in Nova Scotia. It’s also a National Historic Site of Canada.
Using a combination of sandstone and granite, the building’s architecture stands out from other nearby buildings. The defining feature, a seven-story clock tower, adds another connection to local history. While the south facing is set to the current time, the north-facing clock rests on 9:04 to commemorate the devastating 1917 Halifax Explosion. On December 6, 1917, the French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc was loaded with wartime explosives when it collided with a Norwegian vessel in Halifax Harbour. When fire ignited the explosive cargo, it created what was then the largest man-made explosion in history and completely destroyed the Richmond District of the city.
More Things to Do in Nova Scotia
Welcome to the Queen’s official residence in Halifax – and also that of her Lieutenant Governor in Nova Scotia. As one of the few official residences to be located in an urban setting, Government House definitely stands out from other similar properties elsewhere in the country.
Built in 1800, it has welcomed hundreds of foreign dignitaries and royal families from around the world since its opening, and has recently become a National Historic Site of Canada. Its sophisticated Adamesque Georgian style was imagined by Scottish architect George Richardson and ordered by Sir John Wentworth, who intensely rebuffed at the foul conditions and lack of luxury of what was then the Government House. He felt that the basic materials and poor upkeep of the building did not match the sophistication of the guests it was supposed to host, like royal families and worldly entrepreneurs. The governor insisted that the new building be erected by Nova Scotians and for Nova Scotians using locally sourced materials only. Because the building’s mission has only very slightly changed since its construction, Nova Scotia's Government House is presently the oldest vice-regal residence in North America.
Cabot Trail comprises 185 miles (298 kilometers) of cliff-edge roadway weaving around the northern half of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. It offers epic views of the whale-inhabited waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and access to quaint towns and Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
This Nova Scotia fishing town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts well-preserved wooden architecture. Visit the boat-filled harbor to take in its brightly painted clapboard homes and heritage buildings. Lunenburg is also the birthplace of the boat featured on the Canadian dime.
Located on the city’s waterfront, Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is where you go to get schooled on Nova Scotia’s maritime heritage.
The ocean has shaped the lives of those living in the Maritimes for centuries, whether it’s through the fishery, boatbuilding, or the navy. Here there’s an emphasis placed on boats themselves, from small crafts to World War Convoys. Various exhibits will take you through the sailing days of the early explorers to the age of steam.
You’ll also learn about the catastrophic Halifax Explosion, which occurred in 1917. A French cargo ship filled with wartime explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel not far from the Halifax Harbour. An onboard fire caused an explosion that flattened the Richmond District, killing 2000 people and injuring another 9000. At the time, it was the largest man-made explosion recorded in history.
The museum’s biggest draw, however, is its Titanic connection. While the survivors of the sunken ship went to New York City, the deceased were brought to Halifax. Many belongings of the deceased are now on display inside the museum, including the heart wrenching tiny shoes of the “Unknown Child.” Crews working at the site also brought back pieces of the wreckage, including woodwork flotsam.
The vast green space and wooded trails of Point Pleasant Park, on the southern tip of the Halifax peninsula, contains 185 acres (75 hectares) of oceanside parkland. Bustling with walkers, joggers, and visitors to the seaside city, this park is home to statues, events, and memorials including the Halifax Monument erected in 1969.
Head to the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market for a great selection of local food and fresh produce. Foodie travelers will be in their element here as the market features 250 vendors selling everything from fresh seafood to local cheeses and handmade desserts.
This privately owned island is one of several hundred forested islands scattered around Nova Scotia’s Mahone Bay. According to local legend, Oak Island is the site of buried treasure—some speculate that loot was hidden by plundering pirates such as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard. Treasure hunters are still drawn here in search of booty.
An engineering feat if there ever was one, the curved, 12.9 kilometer-long (8 miles) Confederation Bridge is the longest in the world to cross ice-covered water. It carries the Trans-Canadian Highway, joining the eastern Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick by crossing the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Straight.
The Confederation Bridge’s construction spanned over four years and necessitated crews of more than 5,000 local workers; it opened to traffic on May 31, 1997, at a total construction cost of one billion dollars – to this day, it remains one of Canada’s most ambitious realisations. The 40 meters high (131 feet) and 11 meters wide (36 feet) bridge was built using multi–span, post-tensioned concrete box girder, reinforcing steel and 62 piers.
Set along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada, the vast natural harbor in Halifax has welcomed boats for centuries. Still a shipping hot spot, the harbor contains several islands, among them Georges Island, the former site of a British naval station, and the hiking trail–threaded McNabs Island. A bustling boardwalk lines the waterfront.
The gateway to and capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax Cruise Port is spacious enough to accommodate even the largest cruise liners and has direct ship-to-shore access via covered gangways. Passengers docking here can reach Halifax’s downtown on foot, head out to Peggy’s Cove, or tour the Nova Scotian wineries.
Nestled in the rolling hills of the luxuriant Annapolis Valley, Avondale Sky Winery is by Stewart Creaser and Lorraine Vassalo, two wine lovers who traded stressful careers in the city for the demanding but rewarding life as winemaker. The duo has kept a very local approach to their endeavour, producing wine from their own grapes only and sourcing construction materials from local forlorn chapels and barns (including one that was transported across the Bay of Fundy, where the highest tides in the world occur), giving the whole winery a very wholesome feel. Avondale Sky Winery is often regarded as the quaintest and most picturesque one around, thanks to gentle slopes, expansive nurtured vines, an ever changing tidal landscape and the legendary panoramic Avondale sky.
Although the vineyard itself is one of the oldest in the province, the infrastructures are quite recent. The chief winemaker, Ben Swetnam, has studied in the Niagara Valley and worked in Germany before relocating to Nova Scotia, bringing invaluable expertise with him in the process. Avondale Sky Winery offers several white wines (L’Acadie Blanc, Pinot noir, Geisenheim, Gewürztraminer and Muscat), red wines (Maréchal Foch, Leon Millot and DeChaunac) as well as rosé and ice wines.
Running along the south shore of the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia’s fertile Annapolis Valley produces some of Canada’s finest fruit and vegetables. Apple orchards and vineyards carpet the verdant valley, U-pick farms and farmers markets abound, and several historic sites recount the history of early Acadian settlers.
Did anyone say picture-perfect? Postcard-worthy Mahone Bay is a historic and charming village steeped in nautical history –so much so, in fact, that its name comes from the French word for the barge used by local privateers, “mahonne.” Indeed, Mahone Bay once was a safe haven for pirates and privateers back in the 18th century! The seaside town has since become famous for its wooden-boat building industry and its tourist attractions, as its waterfront has been heavily featured in travel magazines and has become nothing short of iconic thanks to the presence of three prominent churches: St James' Anglican, St John's Evangelical Lutheran and Trinity United. A popular tourist destination, Mahone Bay has plenty of both affordable and upscale dining, lodging and shopping options, including B&Bs, inns, specialty shops, art galleries and seafood-oriented, locally-sourced restaurants.
The bay itself, which faces the Atlantic Ocean, is marked by the presence of numerous picturesque working fishing communities and is spotted by the presence of 365 islands, including the prominent Big Tancook and Little Tancook islands and tree-covered Oak Island, famous for its buried treasures. Being so intricately linked to water, it therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that Mahone Bay would offer spectacular sailing and kayaking opportunities for water sports enthusiasts, as well as plentiful hiking, cycling and fauna observation options for visitors who would rather remain on firm ground.
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