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Summering in Nova Scotia

With its rugged coastline, spectacular scenery and warm hospitality, Nova Scotia has long been a summer travel destination, attracting visitors from around the world. Growing up in neighboring New Brunswick, my memories of this picturesque Maritime province span from childhood clam-digging on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, to late-nights in Halifax pubs during my university days. Filled with Celtic and Acadian traditions, the simple beauty of this sea-swept land beckons for my return each year.

Many choose to begin their Nova Scotian journey in the port city of Halifax. Steeped in history, but with a dynamic, contemporary soul, Halifax is the largest city in Atlantic Canada and is known for its world-class universities, beautiful parks and friendly locals. In September, more 30,000 university students fill the classrooms, streets and pubs and bring a lively, youthful vibe to the city.

With a rich marine history -- it served as the British Empire's main naval centre for two centuries -- Halifax has an abundant of historical landmarks and attractions. Two must-sees are the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the fortress at Citadel Hill, which offers the best view of the city and where visitors will be brought back in time with military demonstrations, cannon firings and bagpipers.

On Saturday, Haligonians flock to the Seaport Market next to historic Pier 21 searching for homemade foods, local produce and fresh seafood. With warm sea breezes from the harbor, it’s a wonderful way to spend a weekend morning. Remember to arrive early as it becomes very crowded by 11 a.m. 

Halifax and seafood are synonymous. Fried, grilled, seared or even raw, there is no shortage of fresh fish in this coastal town. For mouthwatering lobster, mussels and other ocean-delicacies, visit Salty’s restaurant on the waterfront. Other gourmet fare can be found at The Bicycle Thief, Chives, A Mano and Gio. For delicious sushi, Hamachi House and Wasabi House are your best options.

No visit to Halifax is complete without an evening spent in one of the city’s many pubs (it has the second-most bars per capita of any city in Canada after St. John's). The Lower Deck and The Split Crow are my favourite places to enjoy a Maritime brew and find live Celtic bands singing Maritime sea shanties. To blend-in with the locals, be sure to know the lyrics to Stan Rogers' Barrett's Privateers, a Halifax-pub staple, and remember to raise a glass and shout “sociables” with your friends (old and new). 

Beyond the hustle and bustle of Halifax, Nova Scotia offers a wealth of opportunities for that quintessential sun-kissed vacation. With more than 13,300 kilometres of coastline, Canada’s Ocean Playground has a little something for everyone. A few of my favorites include:

  • Peggy’s Cove: Less than an hour drive from Halifax, the renowned lighthouse and dramatic, Atlantic coastline is not to be missed. A sweater can come in handy any time of the year.
  • Luckett Vineyards: Nestled in the hillsides of Gaspereau Valley, Luckett Vineyards is a perfect place to sample some wonderful local wines. Award-winning favourites include L'Acadie and Tidal Bay. The vineyard’s Crush Pad Bistro is also a lovely spot for lunch after a wine tour.
  • Crystal Crescent Beach: About a 30 minute drive south of Halifax, this beach is a favourite among locals. The white sand is fine and soft, and the warm Maritime breezes will keep beach-goers cool on hot mid-summer day.
  • Cape Breton Island: last but certainly not least is magnificent Cape Breton Island. Named one of National Geographic Traveler’s Top 20 Must-See Places of 2013, its scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The legendary Cabot Trail is entrancing in both summer and fall, and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park lies within its rolling hills, providing world class hiking trails. Fresh seafood is offered daily at most restaurants on the island and visitors can choose from many whale-watching or sailing tours that will never disappoint. With its strong Scottish roots, Celtic music is alive and well on Cape Breton and if you’re not already a fan of the talented Rankin Family, visit the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou -- their homestead -- and you will be.
  • Visitors to the island must also spend time at Fortress Louisbourg -- North America’s largest historical reconstruction. This year it celebrates its 300th anniversary, marking the founding of Île Royale -- known today as Cape Breton. The “grand fête” includes concert series and festivals all year long.

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Tips by
Jennifer

Deal Expert, Toronto
Monday, July 22, 2013
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Jennifer Zed