Scenic Nova Scotia is the perfect destination for a road trip. No matter which route you choose, you’ll be met with rich history and diverse culture at every turn. You can embrace the laid-back maritime vibe of “Canada’s Ocean Playground,” and really take your time passing through postcard-perfect fishing villages and quaint coastal towns.
In just 10 days, my husband and I hit the road to experience the best of everything this corner of the world has to offer: the peaceful beauty of Kejimkujik, the vibrant city of Halifax, the untouched splendor of Cape Breton Island, and the beautiful beaches of PEI. We left knowing that we had only scratched the surface and vowed to return as often as we could.
Read on for our jam-packed 10-day itinerary exploring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
DAY 1: Portland & Yarmouth
We departed from Portland, Maine on the overnight ferry to Yarmouth. Sadly, I’ve learned that this overnight option is no longer offered (I’d like to start a petition to bring it back!), but this ferry is still a great option. The beautiful journey up the East Coast takes just five and a half hours. With restaurants, bars, and even a casino on board, it feels like a mini cruise before your vacation has even begun.
DAY 2: Yarmouth & Kejimkujik National Park
We arrived the next morning in Yarmouth, a quiet fishing village that serves as the Southern gateway to Nova Scotia. We first headed to the richly historic port town of Annapolis Royal, where we stopped for lunch and a quick tour of the Fort Anne National Historic Site. I’d recommend setting aside a quiet moment to sit in the iconic red Adirondack chairs, take in the views, and reflect on the historical significance of this now peaceful place.
We continued on to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, where we checked into our campsite at Jeremy’s Cove. This was actually our first time ever camping, so nature mocked us as we attempted to pitch our tent and build a fire in the middle of a heavy downpour. After getting camp set up, we biked to Jake’s Landing to rent a canoe, not letting the rain deter us from exploring the intricate waterways that were the canoe routes of the Mi’kmaw people for thousands of years. In the end, the rain only added to the quiet calm and mystique of this special place.
DAY 3: Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove & Halifax
The next morning, we hit the road for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg. A coastal town packed with history, it is most well-known for its distinctive waterfront and for being the home of the Bluenose II. A replica of the original fishing boat that found fame as a racing schooner, it now welcomes visitors aboard to learn all about its storied past and pay tribute to Nova Scotia’s rich shipbuilding heritage. Afterwards, we had lunch at the Savvy Sailor on their outdoor deck overlooking the harbor.
We continued on to Peggy’s Cove, a popular destination just a few miles outside of Halifax. After fighting crowds of fellow tourists for the must-have shot of the lighthouse, we scrambled along the rocks for the most incredible views of the sea.
At last we arrived in Halifax. We didn’t think we needed much time here, but ended up being wowed by the city’s energy and charm. We checked into Hollis Halifax, which offered spectacular views of the waterfront, then stopped for a pint at Alexander Keith’s Brewery. Founded in 1820, it is among the oldest commercial breweries in North America.
That evening, we enjoyed dinner at The Bicycle Thief, a romantic, waterfront bistro, before slipping into The Drawing Room, a secret bar upstairs at The Henry House. Intimate and elegant with a crackling fireplace, dark wood paneling, and comfy leather chairs, it’s the perfect spot to end the night.
Day 4: Halifax & Cape Breton Island
The next morning, we did a whirlwind tour of Halifax, starting with the Citadel National Historic Site. Sitting high atop a hill overlooking the city and harbor, you could spend hours wandering the grounds learning all about Halifax’s rich history or just a reverential pause to take in the stunning views and imagine how the surrounding landscape has changed over the years. We opted for the latter given our far-too-fleeting time frame.
Halifax also boasts a bustling waterfront boardwalk, lined with shops, museums, and restaurants. We explored the length of it before popping into The Lower Deck for a cold brew and fresh seafood lunch al fresco.
From there, we once again hit the road headed for the Cabot Trail, a scenic roadway that loops Cape Breton Island. Skirting the coastline and passing through Cape Breton Highlands National Park at its northernmost point, you’ll want to allow extra time to pull over for the numerous scenic overlooks and even the occasional moose spotting.
Cape Breton Island has a wild and untamed feel to it, evoking the highlands of Scotland for which Nova Scotia was named. We arrived at Broad Cove Campground near Ingonish after sunset, where we set up camp and marveled at the utter peace and quiet of the place.
Day 5: Cape Breton Island
It was time to lace up our hiking boots and explore the wilderness afoot. One of the more popular trails on the east side of the Cabot Trail, Franey offers a stunning view of the valley below. After a steep climb, the rewarding large, rocky clearing and iconic red Adirondack chair at the top was well worth it. We made it a loop by taking Forest Road back, and it took us a little over 3 hours, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way.
We hit the road again, following the Cabot Trail north to Jumping Mouse Eco-Camping. This small, family-owned campsite located in the remote village of Bay Saint Lawrence was the highlight of our trip. It offered us a rare glimpse into the every day rhythm of this small, rural fishing community. One of the northernmost points of Nova Scotia, we truly felt like we had arrived at the edge of the world.
Our visit to the sleepy village happened to coincide with one of the most festive days of the year, Canada Day, and the community welcomed us to join their celebrations with open arms. Fishermen and their families gathered at the docks sharing Tupperware filled with homemade baked goods. Kids zipped by on scooters on their way to The Hut for lobster rolls and deep fried Mars bars. Fireworks sparkled over the water as the sun started to dip below the horizon.
We were devastated to learn recently that Jumping Mouse was driven out of business by heightened government regulation. We count ourselves lucky to have been among the lucky few to visit this special place, and would love to one day return to Bay Saint Lawrence to see the effect that time does (or doesn’t) have on its magic.
Day 6: Cape Breton Island
Our hike to Pollett’s Cove the next day was another highlight of our trip. I’m almost reluctant to share it, because it’s such an untouched, hidden gem, but the secret is too good to keep to myself. The land is owned by a local lottery winner who generously makes it available for public use. Starting near Gampo Abbey, a Buddist monastery in Pleasant Bay, the 18km trail follows the coastline and offers epic views of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Not for the faint of heart, the hike includes a steep climb, rugged sections of thick brush, and a river crossing. We only passed a handful of people on the trail, and were rewarded at the end with the entire cove to ourselves – except for the herd of wild horses peacefully grazing on the valley floor.
We managed it as a day hike, but if we did it again, we would love to make it a backpacking trip so that we could take more time to explore the magical cove.
That night we checked into Glenora Inn & Distillery near Inverness. We booked here because we were hoping to experience a classic ceilidh dinner and dance, one of the Celtic cultural treasures of Cape Breton. Although the inn offered live music, there was no dancing and you could likely find a more authentic experience elsewhere.
Day 7: PEI
It was time to say goodbye to Nova Scotia and set our sights on Prince Edward Island. We drove to Twin Shores Camping Area via coastal route and bridge, and spent the day exploring camp and relaxing on the beach. Be wary what time of year you visit. We went in July and the camp was packed with families with kids, so we didn’t quite find the peace and quiet we were after. But it was still nice to set up our chairs on a little sand bar and enjoy the sunset. Bonus: the water was so cold, we didn’t need a cooler for our beers!
Day 8: PEI
The next morning, we set out to bike the Cabot Loop (not to be confused with the Cabot Trail!) PEI has a very flat landscape, so biking was relatively leisurely, and we stopped along the way for a picnic lunch and swimming.
That night we drove to Charlottetown, the capitol of PEI, for boardwalk dining at Peakes Quay. This wasn’t originally part of our agenda, but no visit to the province would be complete without trying famed PEI mussels and clams, fresh from the water!
Overall, we were not as impressed with our visit to PEI. Maybe it was because we were coming off of the high of Cape Breton Island, but if we could have done this trip differently, we would have skipped this province altogether to allow more time there. I think it depends: if you’re into more adventurous hiking, you’ll have more to gain from Cape Breton Island. If you’re looking for a low-key, family-friendly beach vacation, PEI is more for you. You’ll just have to visit to see for yourself!
Day 9: New Brunswick
We broke up our drive through New Brunswick the next day by stopping at the Fundy National Park, as it was impossible to pass through this region without getting a glimpse of the famous tides. We didn’t have enough time to see the drastic change in water level, but we did hike the Fundy Trail to Hopewell Rocks.
We spent the night at Kiwanis Oceanfront Camping, which was mostly an RV park not ideal for tent camping. We chose simply because it got us as close to the border crossing as possible, so we could zip through customs first thing the next morning.
Day 10: Home
Our final day was entirely a travel day; we drove over 9 hours from the border of Canada to Astoria, NY. We arrived home exhausted but happy, already planning our return trip to this beloved corner of the world.
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