Nova Scotia

This province is the undisputed star of Canada's Atlantic coast: Its capital, Halifax, is a relative financial and cultural powerhouse compared with the rest of the hamlets scattered through eastern Canada. Halifax is also the surest bet for an outstanding meal, a world-class musical performance, or a great museum. The city is home to a number of colleges and universities, which gives it a youthful, edgy air -- skateboards and bicycles often seem to be the vehicles of choice.

But there's far more to Nova Scotia than just one city, including the South Shore (an especially photogenic stretch of fishing villages); the hardscrabble Acadian Coast, with its spruce-topped basalt cliffs and miles of sandy beaches; and astonishing Cape Breton, an enormous northerly island dominated by one of Canada's finest national parks and a tradition of Celtic music.

New Brunswick

Overlooked New Brunswick is a strangely shaped province that's often passed over in the rush to elsewhere. Glimpsed from up close, though, it turns out to possess some of Canada's quaintest villages. Fishing villages like St. Andrews and Caraquet cry out to be photographed; Fredericton and Moncton offer more than expected; and the city of Saint John contains more culture per square inch than any place in this book save Halifax.

Culturally, too, New Brunswick is Canada in microcosm. It's seemingly split between Anglophone and Francophone populations (a third of the province's residents speak French), and its heritage is both proudly Acadian and proudly British -- in fact, New Brunswick is sometimes called the Loyalist Province, since so many Loyalists fleeing the United States after the American Revolution settled here.

Despite this, the cultural divide is much less contentious here than in Québec; it's a sort of détente zone between the two cultures. Maybe that's because French-speaking residents of New Brunswick share very few cultural roots with French-speaking Québecois: New Brunswick's French settlers came mostly from central and western France -- farm country -- while the Québecois trace their ancestry to the seaside départments of Brittany and Normandy. As a result, Acadians in New Brunswick celebrate a Feast of the Assumption in mid-August as their big national holiday instead of St. Jean Baptiste Day (in late June), which is the must-party day in Québec City and Montréal.

New Brunswick even likes to think of itself as a potential model for Québec, though Québeckers more or less ignore their quiet next-door neighbors. That's too bad; they're missing out on an unsung national treasure.

Prince Edward Island

This island leaves the razzle-dazzle to cities on the mainland, choosing instead to soothe visitors' souls by offering places for quiet relaxation. A flat island of red sands, potato farms, and purple lupine fields -- plus healthy doses of fishing boats, golf, Acadian culture, and children's literature (you'll see what I mean) -- PEI is the sort of place best explored by bicycle and then pondered later over a good book. The province's harborside capital city of Charlottetown is genuinely attractive, historic, and diverse; this was the place where the deal consolidating Canada into one nation ("the Confederation") was sealed, and it's still a little gem of a town.

The island has, somewhat remarkably, managed to retain the bucolic flavor of a century ago, and pockets of sprawl are still few and far apart. But the handwriting may be on the wall, especially in the central part of the island. The old cottage lots have been gradually sold off for years; FOR SALE signs spring up in increasing numbers in the alfalfa and potato fields, and as time goes on it's possible more and more of the lush interior of PEI will be claimed by subdivisions, luxe resorts, and malls. You can already see signs of this unfortunate trend in the suburbs outside Charlottetown, and in the southeast of the island. My advice? The sooner you can visit, the better.

Newfoundland & Labrador

These two distinct geographic areas are administered as a single province; thus, the phrase "Newfoundland and Labrador" sometimes refers to that province, sometimes to the two physically separate places.

In any case, this is the part of eastern Canada you need to work hardest to reach -- but it's also the most rewarding in some ways. People here make a serious run for the title of "friendliest in all of Canada," and that's saying something given Canadians' natural geniality. The natural wonders in Newfoundland are spectacular, including (to list just a few) shimmering icebergs, migrating whales, fish everywhere, and Viking settlement sites. For good measure, there's a major city here (St. John's) with a salty, pubby pulse. The harder-to-reach adjacent territory of Labrador has even more authentic culture, fishermen, and wilderness -- and absolutely zero crowds.

You're most likely to land in St. John's, and while the city is trying hard to capture the hearts of the ecotourist crowd, it is still very much a working harbor today; as such, don't expect the place to be quaint. Across the way are charmless oil-tank farms and offloading facilities for tankers, a major container-ship wharf occupies the head of the harbor, and along the water's edge on Harbour Street downtown you'll often find hulking ships tied up. Pedestrians can stroll and gawk -- but wholesale commerce remains the focus here, not yet boutiques or fine dining.

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.