Nova Scotians like to boast about how their province is the friendliest place in Canada. They might be right, because people in this province are overly nice. Nice like “we still don’t lock our doors when we go out” nice. You’ll feel welcome the minute you step foot in Nova Scotia.
That welcoming atmosphere combined with over 100 beaches, picturesque lighthouses, the freshest of fresh seafood, and endless rugged coastline makes visiting Nova Scotia an exciting 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 — an island that comes alive with vivid fall foliage each year along its Cabot Trail.
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.
This travel guide to Nova Scotia will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money.
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. Hit the Cabot Trail
Other Things to See and Do in Halifax
1. Go tidal bore rafting in Shubenacadie
The Shubenacadie River’s rapids are powered by the highest tides in the world, in the Bay of Fundy. 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 Shubenacadie transform! A four-hour trip starts from about $85 CAD ($64 USD).
2. Go whale watching
In the summer and fall, 12 species of whales visit the waters around Nova Scotia, including giant humpbacks. There are tons of whale watching tours in the area, with most operating outside of Halifax. Ocean Explorations will take you out in a small Zodiac for $85 CAD ($64 USD), while larger groups like Lunenburg Whale Watching Tours start from $60 CAD ($45 USD).
3. Enjoy summer on the water
When the weather is nice and the sun comes out, Nova Scotians hit the water to go sailing, kayaking, 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 to one of the inland kayaking routes, including at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site.
4. Visit the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
Spanning 17 acres of greenery, these historical gardens overlook a tidal river valley and includes an enormous rose collection (best seen in July) as well as an 8th-century Governor’s Garden and a 19th-century Victorian Garden. You can check out the reconstructed 1671 Acadian House as well. It’s $14.50 CAD ($11 USD) to visit.
5. Visit the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site
This museum is host to a rich collection of artifacts and documents chronicling the life and career of Bell, 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. Admission is $8 CAD ($6 USD).
6. Explore the Highland Village Museum
This is an outdoor pioneer museum and a Gaelic language and culture learning experience. 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 ($8.30 USD).
7. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
This museum depicts Nova Scotia’s maritime history with exhibits on boatbuilding, WWII convoys, the Titanic, and the Halifax Explosion (a huge disaster that happened when two ships carrying ammunition ran into each other that destroyed much of the city in 1917). It’s a very comprehensive overview of the region’s history! Admission is $5.15-9.55 CAD ($3.90-7.20 USD), depending on the season.
8. Visit 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 (and depending on where you are in Nova Scotia). New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park is worth it to see the world’s highest tides, and P.E.I. is the place to go to soak up some tranquility on the sea (and to eat lots of seafood).
9. Go to Lunenburg
This is one of the most colorful towns you’ll ever come across! With its narrow streets and colonial 18th to 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. Plus this is the harbor for the famous Bluenose II, a replica schooner of the original Bluenose which is featured on the Canadian dime. The Bluenose was a famous fishing/racing schooner that went undefeated in her 18-year run!
10. 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, and 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 $13 CAD ($9.80 USD).
11. Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
If you want to experience Mi’kmaw culture, come to this national park to paddle, hike, camp, and connect with nature. You’ll find rock carvings (petroglyphs), canoe routes, and coastal wilderness punctuated with sandy beaches and wildlife. If you want to learn more about the Mi’kmaw people, join a storytelling session, take a guided petroglyph tour, or participate in a canoe building workshop. Admission to the park is $5.80 CAD ($4.35 USD).
For more information on specific cities, check out these guides!
Halifax Travel Costs
Hostel prices – You will spend about $26 CAD ($20 USD) per night for a bed in a four-eight person dorm. A dorm with ten beds or more costs about $23 CAD ($17 USD) per night.
A standard twin private room starts from about $60 CAD ($45 USD) per night for two one person or but averages about $131 CAD ($98 USD) for two people.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about $62 CAD ($47 USD) for a place outside of Halifax. Within Halifax, most two or three-star hotels start at around $90 CAD ($68 USD) per night.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Nova Scotia, with shared accommodation (like a shared bedroom) starting at $33 CAD ($25 USD) both in Halifax and outside the city. For a private room expect to pay about $36 CAD ($27 USD) per night, or $42 CAD ($32 USD) in Halifax. A full home or apartment averages about $134 CAD ($100 USD) per night, or about $165 CAD ($124 USD) in Halifax.
Food – You can find cheap street food eats like donairs (a kebab with a unique sweet sauce specific to the region) for $7 CAD ($5.25 USD), 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 ($7.50 USD) each. For donair, go to Johnny K’s.
A meal at McDonald’s will cost about $10 CAD ($7.50 USD). A lobster roll at an inexpensive restaurant is about $20 CAD ($15 USD), while lobster poutine is from $18 CAD ($13.50 USD). A bowl of pasta (like scallop carbonera) is about $20 CAD ($15 USD). A beer to go along with it is about $6 CAD ($4.50 USD). A meal at a higher-end restaurant will cost you about $40 CAD ($30 USD) for a steak or duck entree without a drink, while lobster is about $55 CAD ($42 USD).
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as $65 CAD ($50 USD) on groceries per week which would include some meat, bread, eggs, rice/pasta, some veggies, and fruit.
Some recommended places to eat include No. 9 (Lunenburg), The Barn Coffee & Social House (Mahone Bay), The Economy Shoe Shop (Halifax), McKelvie’s Restaurant (Halifax), and The Wooden Monkey (Halifax).
Backpacking Halifax Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Halifax, expect to spend about $67 CAD ($50 USD) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating fast food and cooking most of your meals, using local transportation, limiting your drinking, and visiting about one paid attraction per day.
On a more mid-range budget of $153 CAD ($115 USD) per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb room or a two-star hotel, eat at mid-range restaurants, drink more, and visit more attractions.
On a luxury budget of $379 CAD ($285 USD) per day or more in Halifax, you’ll stay in a four-star hotel, eat at nicer restaurants, take taxis, do tours, and really anything else you want here! Go nuts on those lobster rolls!
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 USD.
Halifax 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:
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find a really nice Couchsurfing host in Halifax. This way, you not only have a free place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- 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 an informative walking tour through Halifax’s historic downtown. (Be sure to tip!)
- 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!
- Go camping – If you want to camp, use novascotia.goingtocamp.com to find available campsites around the province. A two-person site will cost from about $20 CAD ($15 USD).
- 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!
- Use coupon sites – If you know your stops ahead of time, monitor sites like Living Social and Groupon for local deals and saving. There are always good listings on some top restaurants and attractions.
- Get the Museum Pass – 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 ($35 USD).
Where To Stay in Halifax
Nova Scotia doesn’t have many hostels. most of them are located in Halifax. That being said, they’re all very comfortable and clean to stay in. These are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Nova Scotia:
How to Get Around Halifax
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 will get you all around the inner city and into the suburbs, but the downtown area is very walkable. One ticket is $2.50 CAD ($1.90 USD), or you can get a 10-ride pass for $20 CAD ($15 USD). You can take the MetroX bus from the airport to downtown St. John’s is $3.50 CAD ($2.65 USD). There’s also a ferry connecting downtown Halifax to Dartmouth for the same price.
Bus – Taking the bus is the best way to get around Nova Scotia. Maritime Bus connects most towns in the province. A two-hour drive from Halifax to Lunenburg is $26 CAD ($20 USD), while Halifax to Mahone Bay takes an hour and costs $20 CAD ($15 USD). Halifax to Sydney (Cape Breton) costs $75 CAD ($56 USD) and takes seven hours.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap here. Their base rate is $3.50 CAD ($2.65 USD), and it’s an additional $1.70 CAD ($1.30 USD) per kilometer afterward. A ten-kilometer drive shouldn’t cost more than $20 CAD ($15 USD). I’d avoid them if you can.
When to Go to Halifax
Nova Scotia is at its busiest in the summer months, with the best weather occuring between May and September. Temperatures often exceed 78°F (25°C) each day. Keep in mind that accommodation prices are higher during this time but tourist attractions are never overly crowded.
Winters in Nova Scotia are cold and wet, with temperatures ranging between from 0-32°F (-17-0°C) from December to March. If you come during this time be prepared for all weather types, and dress in layers. Keep in mind that many businesses shut down for the winter months (mostly outside of Halifax).
Both early fall and late spring are 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 yet. This is the best time to drive Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail!
How to Stay Safe in Halifax
You don’t have to worry much about crime Nova Scotia — it’s incredibly safe to visit. Your greatest risk is petty crime like pick-pocketing, but even that is super rare. I really wouldn’t about crime here. Getting hurt hiking is more likely to happen than any crime!
Nova Scotia has ticks with Lyme Disease. If you’re hiking, try to wear long sleeves or pants, or stick to well-trodden trails.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Remember to always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move somewhere else.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Halifax! Follow that rule, and you’ll avoid being the victim of petty crime.
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.
Halifax Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Nova Scotia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- 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).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
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:
Halifax 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, following 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 and you won’t be able to put it down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. He’s like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson. 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 (yes, there’s a place 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 some Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for the murders of her employer and his mistress (also the 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
This is a beautiful book (and a really great movie too). 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.
Halifax Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Canada and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 3 – Morgan