Nova Scotians like to boast that their province is the friendliest place in Canada. They might just be right because you’ll feel welcome the minute you step foot in this gorgeous Maritime province.
That welcoming atmosphere combined with over 100 beaches, picturesque lighthouses, fresh seafood, and endless rugged coastline makes visiting Nova Scotia an exciting (and underrated) destination in Eastern Canada.
Outside the capital city of Halifax, Nova Scotia is dotted with tiny fishing villages and coastal towns. Drive further north, and you’ll hit scenic Cape Breton Island which comes alive with vivid fall foliage each year along its Cabot Trail. In short, Nova Scotia is a province perfect for road trips.
Another bonus: Nova Scotia doesn’t see nearly as many tourists as the country’s larger cities, making it a somewhat off-the-beaten-trail destination that’s much more affordable than many of the more popular cities in Canada.
This travel guide to Nova Scotia can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your visit to this beautiful east coast province.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Nova Scotia
1. Hike the Skyline Trail
2. Tour the Alexander Keith’s Brewery
3. Hang out in Halifax
4. Visit Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
5. Drive the Cabot Trail
Other Things to See and Do in Nova Scotia
1. Go tidal bore rafting in Shubenacadie
The Shubenacadie River’s rapids in the Bay of Fundy are powered by the highest tides in the world. One minute you’re floating down a peaceful river keeping an eye out for bald eagles and other wildlife and the next minute the river turns into a raging, foaming mass of rapids. When the tide changes twice a day, the tidal bore temporarily reverses the flow of the river, resulting in this wild river ride. It’s crazy to see the river transform like this! A four-hour rafting trip starts at 95 CAD.
2. Go whale watching
In the summer and fall, 12 species of whales visit the waters around Nova Scotia, including pilot whales, mike whales, giant humpbacks, and the endangered North Atlantic right whale. There are tons of whale watching tours to choose from in the area, with most operating outside of Halifax. Ocean Explorations can take you out in a small Zodiac for 75 CAD (reduced pandemic pricing), while larger groups like Lunenburg Whale Watching Tours start at 70 CAD.
3. Enjoy summer on the water
Summer is short in Nova Scotia, so when the weather is nice and the sun comes out, Nova Scotians hit the water to go sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing. Surfing is also big here, with Lawrencetown Beach being one of the more popular areas to find the biggest waves. Go swimming at Melmerby Beach or take a kayak around Kejimkujik National Park. Kayak rentals cost around 25 CAD for 2 hours or 32 CAD for the entire day.
4. Visit the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
Spanning 17 acres of greenery, these historical gardens overlook a tidal river valley and include an enormous rose collection (best seen in July) as well as an 18th-century Governor’s Garden and a 19th-century Victorian Garden. You can check out the reconstructed 1671 Acadian House or grab a coffee and light lunch at The Elm Tree Café (seasonal). It’s 10 CAD to visit (temporarily reduced pandemic pricing).
5. Visit the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site
This museum in Cape Breton is host to a rich collection of artifacts and documents chronicling the life and career of Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The collection was accumulated by his family during their time here in Baddeck, Cape Breton. In the parlor, you can see Bell’s personal effects, like his favorite jacket, notebook, and walking stick. You can also take a behind-the-scenes “White Glove Tour” of the artifact storage facilities. Admission is 7.90 CAD (12.27 CAD for the white glove tour).
6. Explore the Highland Village Museum
Over the centuries, the Canadian Maritimes have been heavily influenced by Scottish and Irish immigration. This outdoor pioneer museum and Gaelic culture experience highlights that history. The 43-acre site overlooking Bras d’Or Lake includes historic buildings like three frame houses, a mill, and a forge. You can take part in a traditional céilidh dance, hear Gaelic singing, and even practice a little of the language yourself. It’s open from June to October and costs 11 CAD.
7. Tour the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
This museum depicts Nova Scotia’s maritime history with exhibits on boatbuilding, World War II convoys, the Titanic, and the Halifax Explosion (a huge disaster that happened in 1917, when two ships carrying ammunition ran into each other and destroyed much of the city). It’s a very comprehensive overview of the region’s history. Admission is 5.15 CAD.
8. Visit nearby New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island
These two provinces are close to Nova Scotia and can be visited as day trips (or multi-day trips) if you have your own vehicle. Don’t miss New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park to see the world’s highest tides. In P.E.I., you can soak up some tranquility on the sea (and eat lots of seafood) and visit the Anne of Green Gables house.
9. Explore Lunenburg
This is one of the most colorful towns you’ll ever come across. With its narrow streets and colonial 18th- and 19th-century buildings painted in bright hues of pinks, oranges, and greens, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into the past. There are still tall ships in the harbor and even an operational blacksmith hammering away on the waterfront. The harbor is home to the famous Bluenose II, a replica schooner of the original Bluenose boat that’s featured on the Canadian dime (ten-cent coin). The Bluenose was a famous fishing/racing schooner that went undefeated in her 18-year run and is an iconic part of Canadian history.
10. Tour the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
If there’s just one museum you visit in Halifax, make it this one. Pier 21 was the immigration point for one million newcomers to Canada between 1928 and 1971. You’ll learn about 400 years of Canadian immigration history through first-person stories, archival photos, artifacts (including trunks and personal treasures), and digital documentation. Exhibits are incredibly interactive and you can even research your family’s pre-1935 immigration records from all ports of entry in North America. Admission is 12.60 CAD.
11. Relax in Kejimkujik National Park
For a taste of Maritime nature, come to this national park to paddle, hike, camp, and relax. Here you’ll find ancient rock carvings (petroglyphs), canoe routes, and coastal wilderness punctuated with sandy beaches and wildlife. To learn more about the Mi’kmaw people who traditionally have called the region home, join a storytelling session, take a guided petroglyph tour, or participate in a canoe building workshop. Admission to the park is 5.90 CAD.
For more information on other cities in Canada, check out these guides:
Nova Scotia Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostels are virtually none existent in Nova Scotia, save in Halifax. A bed in a 4-6-person dorm costs 30-35 CAD per night. A private room costs about 65-85 CAD per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available around the province starting at 27 CAD per night. This gets you a basic plot without electricity for two people.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start around 105 CAD per night for a place outside of Halifax. Within Halifax, most budget hotels start at around 130 CAD per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, AC, and a coffee/tea maker.
Airbnb is available all around Nova Scotia. Private rooms start around 90 CAD per night while an entire home/apartment averages closer to 160 CAD per night (200 CAD in Halifax). You can find cheaper places if you book early.
Food – Like the United States, food culture and cuisine varies widely from region to region in Canada. Overall, the food here is a collage of dishes from other cultures, owing to the country’s diverse history of immigration. In Nova Scotia, seafood is king. Be sure to try scallops and oysters, wild blueberries, lobster, and donair (thinly sliced beef in a pita with sauce that’s similar to kebab; it’s the official food of Halifax). Also, be sure to sample more general Canadian staples like poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds), beaver tails (fried dough with maple syrup), Canadian bacon, and the oddly tasty ketchup chips.
You can find cheap street food eats like donair for around 7 CAD (go to Johnny K’s), or a small pizza on Halifax’s “Pizza Corner” (an intersection at Blowers Street and Grafton Street full of pizza places) for less than 10 CAD.
A meal at McDonald’s costs about 12 CAD for a combo. A lobster roll at an inexpensive restaurant is about 20 CAD, while lobster poutine is closer to 18 CAD. A bowl of pasta (like scallop carbonara) costs around 20 CAD. A beer to go with it is about 7 CAD while a glass of wine starts at 9 CAD.
A meal at a higher-end restaurant costs about 40 CAD for a steak or duck entree without a drink, while lobster is closer to 55 CAD.
If you cook for yourself, expect to spend 55-65 CAD on groceries per week. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat or fish.
Some recommended places to eat include No. 9 Coffee Bar (Lunenburg), The Barn Coffee & Social House (Mahone Bay), The Economy Shoe Shop (Halifax), McKelvie’s Restaurant (Halifax), and The Wooden Monkey (Halifax).
Backpacking Nova Scotia Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Halifax, expect to spend about 70 CAD per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, and doing mostly free activities like swimming and hiking. If you plan on drinking, add another 10-15 CAD to your daily budget. If you camp, you can lower this by around 10 CAD per day.
On a mid-range budget of 155 CAD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb room, cook some meals and eat a few fast-food meals, have a couple of drinks, rent a car to get around, and do more paid activities like rent a kayak, visit museums, and day trips to a nearby province.
On a “luxury” budget of 270 CAD per day or more, you can stay in a hotel, rent a car, drink more, eat out for most meals, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CAD.
Nova Scotia Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Nova Scotia can be an affordable destination if you budget properly. It gets more expensive during peak summer season and early fall, but it doesn’t have to break the budget. Here are some of my ways to save money in Nova Scotia during your visit:
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host in Halifax. This way, you not only have a free place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that share their insider tips and advice.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Halifax Free Walking Tours offers daily informative walking tours in the summer. In the off-season, tours are available by request. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
- Look for free events – Many of Nova Scotia’s events and festivals are free, including Halifax’s Busker Festival in July. Many towns (like Pictou) also have free summer concerts in public spaces. Check the Tourism Nova Scotia website for more info!
- Go camping – If you want to camp, use novascotia.goingtocamp.com to find available campsites around the province. A two-person site costs around 25-35 CAD.
- Look for the happy hours – The Ultimate Happy Hours website lists all the happy hour drink and food specials around Halifax. They update with new info frequently!
- Get the Museum Pass – If you plan on visiting lots of museums, the Nova Scotia Museum Pass lets you pay one price to access any of the province’s museum sites. It’s valid for 12 months and costs 47 CAD.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia doesn’t have many hostels and most of the existing ones are in Halifax. Luckily, they’re all very comfortable and clean (though some are temporarily closed due to COVID). Here are my suggested places to stay in Nova Scotia:
How to Get Around Nova Scotia
Public Transportation – Halifax is the only major urban center in Nova Scotia and locals depend on a public bus system to get around. Halifax’s public buses can take you all around the inner city and into the suburbs, but the downtown area is very walkable. Fares are 2.75 CAD.
You can take the MetroX bus from the airport to downtown St. John’s is 4.25 CAD (exact change required). There’s also a ferry connecting downtown Halifax to Dartmouth for 2.75 CAD.
Bus – Taking the bus is the best way to get around Nova Scotia if you don’t have a car. Maritime Bus connects most towns in the province. A two-hour trip from Halifax to Lunenburg is 26 CAD, while Halifax to Mahone Bay takes an hour and costs 20 CAD. Halifax to Sydney (Cape Breton) costs 72 CAD and takes 6 hours.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap here. Their base rate is 3.50 CAD, and it’s an additional 1.70 CAD per kilometer afterward. Prices add up fast so I’d avoid them if you can.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Halifax, but the city is easily walkable so I’d skip the ridesharing if you can.
Car Rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 25 CAD per day for a multi-day rental. If you want to take advantage of all that Nova Scotia has to offer, this is your best option.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking isn’t super common here, but if you have the time and don’t mind waiting then you can definitely give it a go. For more information and advice, check out Hitchwiki.
When to Go to Halifax
Nova Scotia is at its busiest in the summer, with the best weather occurring between June and August. Temperatures often exceed 25°C (78°F). Keep in mind that accommodation prices are higher during this time, but tourist attractions are never overly crowded compared to elsewhere in Canada.
Both early fall and late spring are also excellent times to visit. The weather is warm, you can do all the outdoor exploration you want, and the tourist season isn’t in full swing. This is the best time to drive Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. The fall colors are particularly pretty.
Winters in Nova Scotia are cold and wet, with temperatures ranging between from -17-0°C (0-32°F) from December to March. If you come during this time, be prepared for all weather types and dress in layers because it is cold. Keep in mind that many businesses shut down for the winter (mostly outside of Halifax). In short, I’d avoid a winter visit unless you’re here for winter sports and activities.
How to Stay Safe in Halifax
You don’t have to worry much about crime in Nova Scotia — it’s incredibly safe to visit. Your greatest risk is petty crime like pickpocketing, but even that is super rare. Overall, I really wouldn’t about crime here. Getting hurt hiking is more likely to happen than any crime!
Like much of rural Canada, Nova Scotia has ticks that carry Lyme Disease. If you’re hiking, try to wear long sleeves or pants, or stick to well-trodden trails. Check yourself for ticks after spending time in nature.
As with anywhere, always keep an eye on your drink at the bar and never walk home alone if you’re intoxicated.
If you’re visiting in the winter, make sure you keep an eye on the weather — especially if you’re driving a car. Road conditions can change rapidly.
Hurricanes can occasionally make it up to the Maritimes, so keep an eye on them if you’re visiting during hurricane season (June-November).
There aren’t really any scams here, however, you can read about common travel scams to avoid if you want to play it safe.
Remember to always trust your gut instinct.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
In short, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Nova Scotia!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Nova Scotia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
Nova Scotia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Nova Scotia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries, its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada and follows the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois — but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read that you won’t be able to put down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson is like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far-flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (and yes, there’s actually a place in Canada called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s, where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted of the murders of her employer and his mistress (who is a housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful and although it’s fiction, it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
Nova Scotia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Canada and continue planning your trip: