things to do in nova scotia

Catch sunrise at Cape Spear. (Photo: Getty Images)


From Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada Is a Year-Round Wonderland

Atlantic Canada is an epicenter of outdoor adventure. But it’s also rich in history and historical sites.

Across the region, a variety of National Historic Sites have been preserved for their historic and geographic significance. The sites — which include sacred spaces, battlefields, historic houses and more — enable visitors to learn more about Canadian history. In short, the sites help tell the tale of Canada.

These five sites present perfect day-trip options from five of Atlantic Canada’s largest cities.

St. John’s, Newfoundland: Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site

Newfoundland is Canada’s rugged, easternmost province. The capital, St. John’s, is a colorful fishing village that has evolved into a 21st-century city, complete with a bustling university, third-wave coffeeshops and inventive microbreweries.

A short drive from downtown St. John’s, the province’s oldest surviving lighthouse, known formally as Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site, is perched upon a rugged cliff that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

At a longitude of 52°37′ W, this location is the easternmost point in all of North America. (Next stop, Ireland!) The lighthouse was constructed in 1836 and has had a long history of helping mariners navigate the often-tumultuous ocean waters.

During the Second World War, barracks and underground passages leading to the bunkers were built for stationed troops. Visitors will see evidence of military presence: Massive, decommissioned gun barrels remain in place.

For lovers of the ocean, Cape Spear provides an ideal vista to see crashing waves, whales surfacing for air and, in the spring months, house-sized icebergs. The entire site is an icon of Newfoundland’s marine history.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: Citadel National Historic Site

The largest city in Atlantic Canada, Halifax is often the entry and exit point for people visiting the Maritime Provinces. The rugged coastline offers ample opportunities for hiking, but visitors don’t have to wander far to sample local lore.

Both historically and architecturally, the star of Halifax is the Citadel National Historic Site. The star-shaped Citadel was constructed in the 1800s to protect Protestant settlers. The structure took 28 years to build, making it one of the most ambitious architectural projects in Atlantic Canada.

Restorations have returned the fort to its Victorian-era glory, and visitors can wander the grounds — guided and self-guided tours are available — to get a sense of the Citadel’s role in the history of Halifax and North America.

The Army Museum, located in the Citadel’s Cavalier Block, displays a rare collection of weapons, medals and uniforms that attest to Nova Scotia’s army history. At noon each day, soldiers dressed in 1869-style costumes fire a tributary cannon. If you hear a boom, don’t be alarmed. It’s the sound of history.

Fredericton, New Brunswick: Kings Landing

As the capital of New Brunswick, Fredericton is rich in history. The city contains a dozen historic sites, including City Hall — the oldest municipal hall in Atlantic Canada. (It’s still used for civic administration.) Twenty minutes west of Fredericton, Kings Landing is a representation of rural New Brunswick during the 19th century.

This living history museum offers visitors a chance to interact with costumed characters depicting real people from New Brunswick’s colorful past. Peek into refabricated homes, lend a hand to the farmers, see the friendly animals, visit the local store and more.

The site offers a collection of salvaged or recreated buildings from locations around New Brunswick, all moved and remodeled to match the period of 1820 to 1920. At various points during the year, you can see live music, participate in organized tours or indulge in a Christmas dinner. Finally, don’t miss the ice cream onsite at the Axe & Plough Café.

Moncton, New Brunswick: Fundy National Park

Moncton has earned the nickname “Hub City” due to its central location in Atlantic Canada. The big attraction in the region is Fundy National Park, specifically the tidal changes.

The funnel-shaped Fundy Bay creates the conditions for the world’s most dramatic tides. In one 12-hour tidal cycle, about 100 billion tons of water flow in and out of the bay — twice as much as the combined total flow of all the rivers of the world in the same duration.

atlantic canada
Paddle the Bay. (Photo: Getty Images)

During low tide, vast mud flats are exposed, enabling visitors an opportunity to witness a thriving ecosystem of crustaceans and barnacles. Explore on your own or with a trained park naturalist. To up the adventure ante, sign up for a kayak tour. Popular kayaking spots include the nearby Hopewell Rocks, which are towering red-sandstone “flowerpot” formations left behind by millennia of erosion.

Overshadowed by the tides (but still worth your time) are the pristine forests and majestic waterfalls of the national park, which are accessed by a wide variety of trails. Some trail sections are accessible for folks with limited mobility.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Canada’s smallest province is marked by red sand beaches, lighthouses and fertile farmland. The island is also home to one of the nation’s biggest literary landmarks: L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site. Written for all ages, “Anne of Green Gables” has been considered a classic children’s novel since the mid-20th century.

Designated in 1985, the site includes a few important locations: the Green Gables house, Montgomery’s Cavendish home and several landscape features, such as the Haunted Wood Trail, Balsam Hollow Trail and Lover’s Lane, which was dear to Montgomery and familiar to her readers. This is indubitably a dream destination for everyone with an appreciation for literature and/or fiery gingers.

While you’re staying in Charlottetown, don’t miss the stage production of “Anne of Green Gables — The Musical.” It’s the Guinness World Record holder of the longest running annual musical theater production.