Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Laura Cooper
The best way to experience the beautiful Maritime Provinces is on an east coast road trip. Discover winding back roads along the ocean blue, drive through the area’s beautiful forests and count wildflowers and wild animals along the way, and have the freedom to stop at seaside towns, markets, and take the road less travelled for amazing views.
We laid out the best route for an east coast road trip starting with attractions in New Brunswick in this blog, and are ready to tackle the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Join us on our trip and find the best attractions in Nova Scotia and PEI here.
After you visit to Moncton, continue on Trans-Canada Highway 2 through Sackville towards Nova Scotia, where you’ll land in Amherst, and switch to Highway 104. Heading to Halifax, exit onto Highway 102 which will take you by Truro, a town known as a business community and the “almost to Halifax” landmark. Start your Nova Scotia tourism adventure in Halifax before venturing south to Lunenburg, and then continue north to the Annapolis Valley, Cape Breton, and follow the Northumberland Strait home along the north shore through Tatamagouche and Pugwash to round out a tour of the province. With hidden gems throughout the whole province, we highlight our favourite attractions in Nova Scotia:
- Joggins Fossil Cliffs outside Amherst: Located along the Bay of Fundy, the Joggins Fossil Cliffs are only a 30-minute drive from Amherst, or 40 minutes from Sackville, N.B., and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Find rare ancient fossils embedded in 15km of coastal cliffs from 300 million years ago in the Coal Age. Visit the centre for exhibits and a fossil collection before venturing out to see what fossils you can spot on your own.
- Oxford: Welcome to the Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada. Stop in Oxford through August and September to buy fresh wild blueberries from countless stands around town, or pose for a photo next to the large blueberry just off the highway when gassing up at the local Irving and Tim Horton’s.
- Masstown: Make your final pit stop en route to Halifax at the Masstown Market, just an hour from the city, on exit 12 off Highway 104. Grab a bite to eat in the restaurant, known for their seafood chowder that overflows with meat, or grab something to go from the fresh produce section or bakery. In the fall, spend some time stretching your legs in Captain Cob’s Corn Maze which covers 6 acres. Masstown is a usual stop for most Maritimers travelling the highway to Halifax.
Travelling from Truro on Highway 102, you’ll enter into Halifax through Bayers Lake and into the downtown area, or the Peninsula (Entering the city is also possible on Highway 111 through Dartmouth though this route requires a toll to cross into Halifax).
Halifax accommodations are plentiful in the downtown core, but other options include family-friendly hotels throughout the city and in Dartmouth, bed and breakfasts, and more. Staying on the Peninsula will put you in the best location for exploring this seafaring city with a spectacular waterfront and history.
- Citadel Hill: On your list of Halifax attractions, Citadel National Historic Site should make the top. Start your Halifax vacation by learning about the city’s history: climb the hill in the middle of town that looks out over the downtown area and harbour and step back in time. This fort protected the Halifax Harbour starting in 1749, and historical reenactors will show you what life was like for a British soldier in Halifax. Listen for the noon gun during your visit, stop by the Old Town clock, or catch a special re-enactment at Christmastime.
- North End Halifax: Immerse yourself in the crafty atmosphere of Halifax in the city’s north end, featuring unique cafes, shops, and colourful neighbourhoods. Find the Halifax Explosion memorial, or follow Gottingen Street for numerous bars and clubs connecting the North End to downtown Halifax.
- Halifax Market: Walk the waterfront and find yourself at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market on any day of the week for fresh Nova Scotia produce, crafts, meats, cheeses, and eat-in foods. With many farmers travelling from the Annapolis Valley (also on our road trip must-see list!), the market is stocked full daily and located in a perfect cultural district at the south end of the waterfront amid other museums, galleries, and artisans. Walk from here to the main waterfront where you’ll be treated to fresh seafood restaurants, buskers, and more.
- Alexander Keith’s Brewery: In a beautiful stone building on Lower Water Street, along the Halifax waterfront, find the brewery that started it all: Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery (which opened in 1820). Take a tour from actors in period costumes and learn the history, technique, and backstory of the local brew and Alexander himself. Don’t forget to buy a case on your way out to remember your trip by!
- Downtown: Halifax is more than just the downtown core, but the waterfront area is best for exploration. Don’t miss the Pier 21 Canadian Museum of Immigration, Spring Garden Road shopping district, Casino Nova Scotia, and the beautiful Halifax Public Gardens, one of the first Victorian Gardens in North America. The downtown core is walk-able (though hilly) and for the more adventurous souls, we recommend a leisurely walk around Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College for a beautiful tour of architecture.
There’s more to Nova Scotia than just Halifax and the next leg of your trip is sure to use put your camera to good use and have you in awe of the beauty. Travel down Highway 333 towards Peggy’s Cove and spend the afternoon exploring the mountains of rocks worn smooth from crashing waves and the lighthouse looking out over the sea. Built in 1915, the lighthouse is one of the most photographed spots in Atlantic Canada and the village of Peggy’s Cove is a mecca for photographers and tourists looking to get the feel of seaside villages. Before leaving for the next leg of your sightseeing drive, grab a cone of Dee Dee’s homemade ice cream, made with all local or organic ingredients.
Continue along Highway 333 until you meet up with Highway 103. Continue south towards Lunenburg, passing small seaside towns that are quite simply picture perfect. You’ll pass through Hubbards, Chester, and Mahone Bay, and plenty of inlets perfect for seashell searching.
Famous for the Bluenose boat, Lunenburg is a quaint seaside town along the Mahone Bay. Wander through the streets of Old Town Lunenburg and discover colourful buildings, restaurants serving just-caught seafood, and architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. Try and catch a glimpse of the Bluenose II, a replica of the original Bluenose schooner, docked in town, or study your loose change: you’ll find her on the dime.
After travelling the south shore, head north on your east coast road trip to the Annapolis Valley and visit Grand Pre, Wolfville, Kentville, New Minas, and surrounding areas for a fresh prospective on Nova Scotia. Now that you’ve mastered the seafaring history and fishing culture of the province, drive through farmland and apple orchards in this region. Visit Grand Pre, the region founded by Acadian settlers in 1680 before the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, or try and visit during the Apple Blossom Festival in May which celebrates the regions livelihood of farming.
For the traveller with more time to spare before visiting Canada’s most picturesque province, Prince Edward Island, travel north again through Nova Scotia through Guysborough County, Antigonish, and onto Cape Breton Island. The island known for its coal mining is rich in Scottish heritage, music (and music festivals), and breathtaking views of the ocean. Drive the Cabot Trail (recommended 3-5 days for this portion of the trip) and enjoy lush forests, sparkling blue sea, and a scenic trail like no other. Explore the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and explore river canyons and jagged coastline, or enjoy festivals across the island, the Acadian area of Cheticamp, and great fishing.
Taking the scenic route along Highway 345 and Highway 6 once back on mainland Nova Scotia will put you back in Amherst to drive northeast to Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick, and access to the world famous Confederation Bridge connecting New Brunswick and PEI. For travellers looking for a shorter route, take the ferry from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, to eastern PEI (Wood Islands).
Travel to Prince Edward Island:
Crossing the Confederation Bridge (the only access to the island from New Brunswick) is excitement on its own. Though a toll of $45.50 is applied to vehicles (2-axles) leaving the island, the bridge is the longest bridge crossing ice-covered water. The bridge will bring you into Borden-Carleton, just 50 minutes from the capital of Charlottetown, also Canada’s birthplace. Start your Prince Edward Island tourism trip in the capital city with arts and culture and city living before exploring the northern parts of the island.
- Confederation Centre for the Arts: Enjoy the arts of the island in the city where Canada was born at this premium entertainment centre. With theatre shows focusing on Anne of Green Gables, the story of Confederation, and performances that change with each season, the centre also has an art gallery: a perfect stop to introduce yourself to the island.
- COWS ice cream: No Prince Edward Island road trip is complete without at least one visit to COWS. Find the ice cream shops throughout the island, and located at Queen Street and Capital Drive in Charlottetown. Choose from creamy, delicious ice cream, or hilarious cow cartoons, pop culture spoofs, and puns printed on memorabilia. Not going to COWS is a missed steak.
- Province House: Visit the site of the Charlottetown Conference, which resulted in the confederation of Canada. This building, now used as the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, is a National Historic Site of Canada and full of history.
Continue north following winding roads and red mud banks to Cavendish, PEI. A perfect family destination, Cavendish won’t leave you without options: go deep sea fishing, play mini-golf (or real golf), visit the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium, or visit Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace. Cavendish, along with the rest of the island, is known for its golf courses with stunning views. While in Cavendish, take the Anne of Green Gables lover in your family to Green Gables to explore the farmyard and site that inspired the story of red-headed Anne.
One of the top things to do on Prince Edward Island is golf: with views of the ocean blue and courses peppered across the island, take a swing at the game here.
Before leaving the island, visit Summerside, on the west side of PEI for some of the best beaches. Walk the downtown area with cute galleries and shops and find something to remember your trip by, in true Atlantic Canadian fashion: end your east coast road trip with a camping trip in one of the area’s many campgrounds. Fall asleep listening to waves lapping the red beaches, and wake up to sunrises as red as lobster.
An east coast road trip can be done over as much vacation time as you have, but we recommend a minimum of two weeks to visit everything we’ve mentioned, and give yourself time for exploring: that’s the best part of piling in the car and setting out on an adventure, isn’t it?
If you’ve visited the Maritimes, or have a hidden treasure that we missed, we want to hear about it in the comments below!