In this blog post, I’ll share my experience about going on a road trip across Nova Scotia discovering the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton on a coastal drive across Atlantic Canada.
The trip consisted of first travelling around the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia before heading over to New Brunswick, then returning to Nova Scotia by ferry to complete a loop route around these two provinces across Atlantic Canada.
I’ve split this road trip into two blog posts, one of them covering the New Brunswick road trip leg and this blog post covering the Nova Scotia road trip section.
On this road trip adventure around Atlantic Canada, I teamed up with Scott Tisson from Intrepid Escape. Together we visited the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
First, we started our adventure in the city of Halifax before making our way up to Cape Breton and then down to Hopewell Rocks, travelling across the Fundy Coastal Drive.
Then we took a ferry crossing over to Digby to return to Nova Scotia and drove back to Halifax to complete our journey.
Here is my travel guide to visiting the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton in the Atlantic Canada province of Nova Scotia.
First arrive at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, Nova Scotia
Did you know that you can fly on a direct flight from London Heathrow, UK to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada with Air Canada and the flight time is only just under six hours?
This makes it an extremely easy and quick hop over the pond to reach the start of your Atlantic Canada road trip adventure.
For this reason, I suggest first arriving at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, Nova Scotia before making your way up to Cape Breton, and using the city of Halifax as your road trip starting and ending point.
It’s also a perfect location to pick up and drop off your rental car for the road trip.
Once you’ve collected your bags and sorted out your car rental, head for downtown Halifax and check into your hotel (I would suggest the Westin Nova Scotian) for the night.
Then you can explore Halifax for the evening, get some rest and be ready to hit the road towards Cape Breton in the morning.
Halifax is a perfect city to explore on foot, make your way to the Halifax Waterfront which is a 4km long boardwalk and is one of the most popular and busiest attractions in Nova Scotia.
If you’re looking for a spot to grab something to eat, head to The BG Halifax Beer Garden, which does wonderful fish and chips with a large selection of craft beer and offers amazing outdoor dining with views of the waterfront.
One of the best ways to get an overview of the city before exploring on your own is to grab the amphibian Harbour Hopper guided tour which departs from outside the Salter Street parking lot.
This tour of Halifax by land and sea will take around an hour in length to explore all the different corners of Halifax. It’s also a great way to capture the boardwalk from the water.
Halifax offers a lot to visitors with treelined streets, restaurants, galleries, libraries and museums, inviting sidewalk cafés, waterfront and its historic settings in the busy downtown.
There’s loads to see and explore around Halifax which is the historical and cultural capital of Atlantic Canada.
If you can, I would highly recommend extending your stay in the city of Halifax either at the start or end of your trip as one day simply doesn’t do the place justice.
With more time in Halifax, you can also explore the town of Lunenburg and the village of Peggy’s Cove which are two other great options to add to an extended trip.
I have a whole guide on what to do in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia if you would like to take up this option.
As this is a road trip guide focusing on the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton, I wanted to keep the guide suggestions to around a week, so feel free to add on the suggestions above if you wish to extend your time in Nova Scotia.
Depart from the city of Halifax and make your way up to Cape Breton Island
Now that you’ve recovered from your flight, picked up your rental car and explored Halifax the night before, it’s time to head towards Cape Breton Island.
Alive with vibrant culture and bound by its rugged coastline, Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island calls out to be explored for all adventure seekers.
Before we reach the start of the Cabot Trail, I have a few suggestions of spots worth visiting on Cape Breton.
Charlene’s Restaurant for the multi-award-winning famous seafood chowder
The first stop on the agenda once you reach Cape Breton is Charlene’s Restaurant for a much-needed lunch stop.
Here you will be able to try the multi-award-winning famous seafood chowder which can’t be missed!
It comes in a bowl or cup portion size (cup size was enough of a lunch portion for me) and is accompanied by a biscuit and butter which go hand in hand.
This is a great family dining experience with a wonderful local atmosphere enjoyed by many visitors lucky to pass by.
I loved the seafood chowder and the hearty chunky portions of lobster that they didn’t hold back on; it was delicious.
What a wonderful introduction and first meal to try in Cape Breton! It’s a tough chowder to beat and one of my all-time favourites. You simply have to stop by and try it for yourself.
Next stop: travel to the charming village of Baddeck
Travel to the charming village of Baddeck, located on the shoreline of the Bras d’Or Lake.
This was the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell, who built his estate here called Beinn Bhreagh, which is Scottish Gaelic for Beautiful Mountain.
Alexander Graham Bell is credited with being the inventor of the telephone, and he worked on many other inventions whilst in Baddeck.
Be sure to stop off and visit the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, a unique exhibition building containing models and replicas of his inventions.
Here you can find many displays of photos, artefacts and old film footage, describing the fascinating life and work of Alexander Graham Bell.
Stay overnight at the Inverary Resort which is across the road from the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.
Located in Baddeck, the heart of beautiful Cape Breton Island, this lovely lakeside resort is an 11-acre waterfront property.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent a kayak from the waterfront location and Lakeside Adventure Centre to explore Baddeck from the water.
Behold! The world’s largest fiddle in Sydney
Sydney is commonly known as Steel City, a major industrial hub for Atlantic Canada.
Located on the shores of the vast Sydney Harbour, Sydney is a popular stopover point for cruise ships on the Atlantic Shore.
Don’t forget to sort out a quick stopover photo opportunity at the world’s largest fiddle located in Sydney, built in recognition of Cape Breton’s musical talent.
It’s on the way to Louisbourg so be sure to not miss out on a selfie with the world’s largest fiddle!
Explore the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
Less than an hour from Sydney is the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, the largest reconstruction project in North America.
The original settlement was founded in 1713 by the French and developed over several decades into a thriving centre for fishing and trade.
Fortified against the threat of British invasion during the turbulent time of empire-building, Louisbourg was besieged twice before finally being destroyed in the 1760s.
The site lay untouched until well into modern times when archaeologists began to reconstruct the 18th-century fortress to create its present-day state.
Arrive at the fortress and imagine you’ve gone back to live in the year 1744!
I would highly recommend having lunch on-site at the Restaurant de la Marine which is a unique dining experience based on what would have been served in 1744.
Then if you’re feeling thirsty, head in over to the tasting experience at La Taverne Storehouse which serves Fortress Rum, local beer and cider produced in the local area.
Stop at the Mi’kmaw Interpretive Centre for a cultural demonstration, and check the daily program for exact times.
Then top off your experience at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site by booking a Fire a Musket experience.
Learn about a soldier’s life in the 18th century and then step into the role yourself as you learn to fire a musket.
Each day, a cannon firing will take place at 4:45 pm and you can watch a public demonstration take place.
All in all, it’s a wonderful re-enactment experience which brings history to life!
The world-famous Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
Depart Louisbourg and head to Ingonish via the world-famous Cabot Trail, a coastal highway described as one of the most spectacular drives in North America.
The Cabot Trail winds around the rocky splendour of Cape Breton’s northern shore, ascending to the incredible plateaus of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
This magnificent highway is carved into the sides of mountains that rise high above the shimmering waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Look-offs offer unforgettable vistas of Cape Breton’s rugged coastline, where pods of whales can often be seen just offshore.
Continue along the Cabot Trail to Ingonish Beach and stop off at Cape Smokey.
Take your time to explore the Cabot Trail, and enjoy the endless scenic photo stop-off points and amazing hiking opportunities around every curvy corner.
Take the gondola up to the top of Cape Smokey
Ride to the top of Cape Smokey on Atlantic Canada’s first and only gondola.
Once at the top, experience three viewing platforms showcasing amazing panoramic world-famous views of the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breton Highlands, and the Ingonish.
Once at the top, you can find an easy-to-follow sign-posted hiking trail to enjoy in the summertime.
The hike will take you to a viewing point and then onwards to the Ski Lodge Lake located 1.6km from exiting the gondola.
Then once you’ve reached the lake you can turn back and return to the gondola. The hike can easily be done in under an hour.
Once back to the Gondola, enjoy the spectacular views from the top viewpoint and enjoy a refreshing locally brewed cold beer called Cape Smokey Bohemian Pilsner which went down a treat after a long trek.
So be sure to stop off at the mountain-top snack shop, before taking the gondola back down to the base of the mountain.
They also do incredible fish and chips if you’re looking for a lunch spot.
Hiking along the Cabot Trail – Skyline trail
Here are six recommended trails in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park that can be found along the Cabot Trail: Skyline trail, Franey trail, Acadian trail, Fishing Cove trail, Aspy trail and Middle Head trail.
For this article, I will focus on the most popular and must-see hike, the Skyline trail.
The Skyline trail has two options. The first one is a complete loop which is 8.2km in length and will take you around three hours to complete.
The second option is a 6.5km return hike from the Skyline base, so you reverse your direction and walk back the way you came. It will take you two hours to finish this. The altitude is 290-405 metres.
Both options are suitable for most abilities and are rated as easy-level hikes.
I would opt for the loop walk as you can keep the pace up a bit and complete the walk in less time.
When reaching the base of the viewing deck, there’s an incredible selection of viewing platforms along the way looking out at the surrounding coastline. If you can time your hike with a sunset, even better!
If you only have time for one hike on your trip, make sure it’s this one, you won’t be left disappointed.
Stay at the guest house close to the exit to get a full day of hiking in.
Stop off in the area known as Ingonish
As you enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, remember to stop at the Ingonish Visitor Centre to pick up your park pass and additional hiking information such as weather reports and suggested routes.
Ingonish is home to rugged headlands, sandy beaches and lush green valleys. It’s a destination spot to enjoy amongst all seasons.
The area known as Ingonish is a cluster of five small communities on the Cabot Trail, nestled between the National Park, Highlands and the Atlantic Ocean.
From start to finish the area covers 16km, so no matter where you stay in Ingonish, you are only minutes away from all action.
Stop off in the French Acadian fishing community of Chéticamp
Continue along the Cabot Trail passing by communities such as the French Acadian fishing community of Chéticamp.
Visit Le Centre de la Mi-Carême. Mi-Carême, or Mid-Lent, is a celebration involving masks and disguises.
The Mi-Carême Centre explores this ancient tradition and includes interactive exhibits.
Short theatre pieces permit glimpses of aspects of this rich cultural celebration.
Visit the Elizabeth LeFort Gallery & Museum at Les Trois Pignons.
Dr Elizabeth LeFort was the first person in the world to hook portraits in wool and is known internationally as Canada’s artist in wool.
A visit to her gallery will reveal photographs of her “portraits” of John F. Kennedy and Prince Charles and 20 of her other most popular works.
Next along the route is the picturesque town of Inverness, surrounded by a magnificent valley, leading out to the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Visitors to this small Cape Breton coastal village truly enjoy the region’s splendour.
A community rich in history and culture, Inverness is a one-of-a-kind place full of hometown pride and is also home to Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs.
Enjoy whisky tasting at Glenora Inn & Distillery
Stop for a spot of whisky tasting and a tour of Glenora Inn & Distillery.
Guided distillery tours are available on the hour and last approximately 20 minutes with samples given at the end of the tour.
This distillery has been recognised as the first single-malt whisky distillery in North America.
The copper pot stills and distillery traditions mean the whisky they produce on-site can be compared with some of the greatest single malts in Scotland.
Explore the Wolfville area of Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
There are lots of things to see and do in and around the Wolfville area of Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.
Spend the day exploring Nova Scotia’s Wine Country in Wolfville which is perfectly nestled amongst the majority of Nova Scotia wineries in the Annapolis Valley.
Visit the Grand Pré National Historic Site, another UNESCO Heritage Site in Nova Scotia.
Take in the amazing smells of unique herbs and fruits at the Tangled Garden. The property features an extensive herb garden, a labyrinth, an art gallery and a shop.
Be sure to stop off at Hall’s Harbour for a lobster feast
Visit the charming little village of Hall’s Harbour, home to the one and only Lobster dining experience at Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound and Restaurant.
Here you can visit the Pound and select and have prepared your very own world-renowned Bay of Fundy lobster experience.
I always opt for the Lobster poutine dish which is done rather well here.
A full cup of lobster loaded onto a plate of fries and covered in white hollandaise sauce, it’s a delightful dish that goes extremely well together.
Enjoy your lobster eating experience seated in the waterfront dining room, at the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound and Restaurant where you can observe the highest tides in the world from your seat.
After your visit to Hall’s Harbour, check out the popular Blomidon Look-Off located here on top of the North Mountain, a small roadside stop with a beautiful panoramic view of the Annapolis Valley.
Sample the world-famous scallops of Digby, Nova Scotia
By taking the ferry crossing with Bay Ferries from Saint John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia, you can easily connect the two Canadian provinces on a road trip.
This means that you can return to Halifax to end your road trip around Atlantic Canada and can drop your rental car back at Halifax Stanfield International Airport before flying home.
The airport also has a hotel called Alt Hotel Halifax that connects to the airport terminals via a bridge making it easy to grab a flight the next day. You can even get a room overlooking the runway and watch the flights take off from the comfort of your room.
Before you head back to the airport, why not stop off for lunch at Digby?
Digby is known as the scallop capital of the world, and a visit to Digby wouldn’t be complete without sampling these famous scallops.
You’ll find these fresh and delicate morsels served in a variety of recipes and styles throughout the town’s restaurants and pubs.
I went for the Scallops on Ceasar salad at Fundy Restaurant and Bar which offers an outdoor decking with views overlooking the trawler dock across the water.
Be sure to stop off in Digby town before heading home for one last seafood feast.
Thank you for reading about my road trip across the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada
Thank you for reading about my road trip across the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada.
I hope you found all the above information useful towards your road trip planning.
Be sure to also read my connecting guide about New Brunswick road trip as the route can easily be done in a loop around the two provinces.
Have an amazing time exploring Atlantic Canada and its many scenic landscapes!