When you think about holidaying in Canada, you’ll probably think of a few days spent shopping along Toronto’s Yonge Street, or perhaps a week admiring the beautiful natural scenery of Vancouver – the attractions of Nova Scotia are often overlooked, primarily due to the province’s small size and its isolation from the mainland. However, Nova Scotia is actually one of the most fascinating and culturally diverse destinations in Canada, and its location along the Atlantic coast makes it a perfect stop for cruise ships. You’ll find many Canada and New England itineraries include a Nova Scotia port of call, and many ships sailing across the Atlantic from Europe also call into Nova Scotia before reaching their final destination of Boston or New York.
Nova Scotia offers something for every type of traveller, but it particularly appeals to those who enjoy a quieter, more laid back holiday destination, and those who enjoy the beauty of coastal landscapes. The name ‘Nova Scotia’ can be translated to ‘New Scotland’, but the region’s vast history means that the historic Scottish influences are greatly mixed with Canadian and American ways of life, French cultures, and native Mi’kmaq beliefs. Despite this eclectic blend of cultures, Scottish is still the 2nd largest ethnic group in Nova Scotia, beaten only by Canadian.
Where You’ll Dock
There are two ports in Nova Scotia that mainstream cruise lines use as a port of call on Canada and New England cruises – Halifax and Sydney. Halifax is the province’s capital, and while it’s quite small and compact, it offers everything you’d expect from a big city, including shopping opportunities, parks, family-oriented attractions, and photo-worthy architecture. When arriving into Halifax, your ship will dock at the Port of Halifax, located just one mile from the main Downtown district. The port is so close to the heart of the city that you can get a magnificent view of your ship from the Halifax Citadel, which offers a breathtaking scene across the entire harbour.
Sydney, located on Cape Breton Island, is much smaller and quieter. While there’s not the same level of attractions and shopping as there is in Halifax, Sydney is known for its museums and its history, and is one of the best places to learn more about the culture and diversity of Canada’s maritime provinces. Your ship will dock at the Port of Sydney, which is just a 5 minute walk from the town centre. There’s even plenty to do in immediate port area itself, with a whole host of shops selling handcrafted Cape Breton souvenirs.
Things to See and Do
You’ll find very different points of interest, and very different cruise excursions, in both Halifax and Sydney. While one is a typical capital, with a busy and bustling atmosphere, the other is much more intimate and secluded. Here are some attractions and sights you shouldn’t miss out on in both destinations:
Halifax – Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
If you’re a keen cruiser with a true passion for the cruise industry, including its history, then the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a must-do. A large section of this museum is dedicated to the Titanic, and rather than focusing upon the loss of the vessel, it hones in more on the construction of the ship and the on board facilities, looking at how the Titanic really was revolutionary, and the grandest ship of its day. Visitors are offered opportunities to sit on replica deck chairs, imagining what it would have been like to travel during such a golden era of cruising.
Halifax – Halifax Common
If you’re travelling with kids who are keen to really stretch their legs after a few days at sea, then Halifax Common is a great place. There are tennis courts, football pitches, playgrounds, a swimming pool, and a pavillion where, if you’re lucky, you may catch a live music event. History lovers will also appreciate Halifax Common – its Canada’s oldest park, created as a rural retreat for horses amongst the urban centre back in 1749.
Sydney – North Sydney Museum
Mining played a huge role in Sydney’s economy in the past, and the numerous opportunities here attracted manual labourers from all over the world, which helped to create Nova Scotia’s culturally diverse environment. You can learn more about immigration in Sydney at the North Sydney Museum, which offers ferry passenger lists, shows the changing demographics, and demonstrates how Nova Scotia became what it is today. This is an ideal place to visit for anyone with an interest in Nova Scotia’s origins, and those who can trace their family tree back to the region.
Sydney – Old Town Walking Tour
Many cruise lines offer walking tour excursions of Sydney, and that’s because a simple stroll around the area is one of the best ways to really experience Cape Breton Island. Much of the architecture here stems from the 18th century, there are unbelievable views over the Atlantic and the Gulf of St Lawrence, and you may even find the world’s largest fiddle on your travels, which is located within the port area.
What to Eat and Drink
The type of cuisine you’ll find in Nova Scotia is very similar in style to the sorts of foods you’ll find across Canada, but there is one major difference. Due to Nova Scotia’s coastal location, seafood is rife, and much of the current economy relies upon the fishing of cod and lobster. This means that you can expect to find Canadian cuisine with a fresh seafood twist around every corner – it’s delicious. There is one food, however, that is considered native to Nova Scotia, and that’s the ‘donair’ – a maritime province alternative to the traditional doner kebab we may reach for in the UK after one too many! It’s largely the same as what you’d get back home, but the sauce is much sweeter, often made with condensed milk. The donair is so loved in Nova Scotia that some pizzerias even offer donair toppings on their pies!
When to Travel
Spring, summer, and autumn are the best times to travel to Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is a place of extremes weather-wise as it’s influenced by the surrounding waters, so expect very warm summers, and adverse conditions in the winter.
If you’re planning to experience Nova Scotia’s natural scenery, spring and summer provide the best opportunities, with lower rainfall and safer hiking conditions. If, however, you’re keen to see the world famous ‘fall foliage’ which is a major tourist attraction along the east coast of North America, then autumn is a great time to hop on board. Nova Scotia’s ‘fall foliage season’ peaks around mid-October. Take an excursion along Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail (an easy day trip from Sydney) for the best scenery.