Looking for something you can't see anywhere else (almost)? Thirty minutes west of Sydney (just off the Trans-Canada Hwy. en route to St. Ann's or Baddeck) is the home port of Bird Island Boat Tours (tel. 800/661-6680; www.birdisland.net). On a 2 3/4-hour narrated cruise you'll head out to the Bird Islands, home to a colony of around 300 nesting puffins. You'll get within 18m (60 feet) of the colorful endangered birds (which nest in grassy burrows above rocky cliffs); you may also see razorbills, seals, guillemots, and the occasional eagle. Three tours are offered daily from mid-May through August, though the timing varies by day; cost of the tours is C$37 for adults, C$15 for children 7 to 12, and reservations are suggested.
The same outfit also maintains a campground and some rental cottages in the area. To find directions to the landing, check the website.
An Underground Tour
Northeast of Sydney is the town of Glace Bay, a former coal-mining center. The mines have slipped into an economic twilight, but the province made lemonade from lemons by creating the surprisingly intriguing Cape Breton Miners' Museum at 42 Birkley St. (tel. 902/849-4522; www.minersmuseum.com). The museum provides some background on the geology of the area, and offers insight into the region's sometimes-rough labor history. But the highlight of the trip is the 20-minute descent into the mine itself (for an extra charge), with damp walls and cool, constant temperatures. Retired miners lead the tours, because they can tell you what it was like to work here better than anyone else. One reader reported two teenaged sons were all groans and eye rolls when she announced this destination -- but came away in awe of the place afterward. Plan to spend at least an hour here.
Admission is C$6 adults, C$5 children for the museum, and then an additional C$6 adults or C$5 children if you want to take the mine tour. The museum is open daily from June through October, 10am to 6pm (Tues until 7pm Jul-Aug), but weekdays only the rest of the year from 9am to 4pm. There's also a restaurant on premises.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.