Lights Out: The Best of Nova Scotia In 1 Week

This tour takes in lighthouses, quaint villages, a surprisingly vibrant city, and dramatic headlands plunging to the ocean. Begin in Yarmouth, landing point for fast ferries from Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine.

Day 1: The Southernmost Coast -- You could pass an hour in Yarmouth, the compact port city that receives ferries from Maine. It offers a few diversions, such as a Firefighters' Museum and a French-speaking region just a short drive to the west. It's not worth more than a half-day, though. Instead, I like to drive the coastline just west of the city, which harbors several relatively unknown (and thus nearly always empty) beaches, at the edge of the Acadian Coast.

Drive about 100km (62 miles) east along Route 103, exiting the main highway to reach Shelburne. This compact little town has a fine historic complex with water views, a cooper, boatbuilders, and a few small museums. There's also a more commercial main street and one of my favorite fish-and-chips stands in the province, the aptly named Mr. Fish.

Continue another 120km (75 miles) east along Route 103 to the exit for Route 324; exit and continue about 10km (6 1/4 miles) east to

Days 2-4: Mahone Bay and Lunenburg -- These cute twin harbor towns, separated by just a 15-minute drive, are easily worth 2 to 3 nights to explore together. (You'll probably arrive late on the first day, anyway.) You can explore remote peninsulas -- preferably by bike -- hit the links, visit a great museum, or book a kayak tour. Some wonderful bed-and-breakfasts are tucked into these towns, too. I like to time my visit to coincide with one of the summertime fisherman's, arts, or music festivals.

While here, also be sure to follow Route 3 about 10km (6 1/4 miles) northeast of Mahone Bay to Chester. This little port town is also New England-cute, with a scenic, first-rate golf course or two, a little summer theater company, a clutch of restaurants, and a ferry service to nearby Tancook Island. (Get a schedule so you don't miss the last boat back.) It's worth a couple hours, for sure.

From Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, or Chester, head northeast along Route 3 or Route 103 about 24km (15 miles) to the turnoff for Route 333.

Days 5-7: The Halifax Region -- Down Route 333 about 24km (15 miles) lies Peggy's Cove. This famously picturesque village features a lighthouse, surf crashing on rocks, a somber memorial to a plane crash, and more cute souvenirs than you can shake a stick at. Sure, you can take a tour bus from Halifax, but why not just visit it yourself on the drive up? It's worth an hour or two; bring cameras.

From Peggy's Cove, backtrack 24km (15 miles) to the main highway, then continue north about 24km (15 miles) along Route 103 to Halifax. This is Nova Scotia's crown jewel, a place where live bands play nightly, buskers sing in the streets, and there's plenty of grog and museum-going to be had. It's not a huge place, and you'll quickly cover all of it, but the lodging and dining are good enough that it's worth several nights. Be sure to explore the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, especially for the Titanic artifacts, and Pier 21, for a look at the immigrant experience in eastern Canada. Or just wander up and down Spring Garden Road and back and forth along Barrington Street, hunting for brewpubs, record shops, and old buildings. You will eat well at night.

Bored with the bright lights? Head for a remote beach down a nearby peninsula, such as Crystal Crescent Beach; there are plenty, but you'll need a map to find the way. And roads are a bit rough on the suspension.

From here, rise early and you can speed back down the highway south to Yarmouth in time to catch your ferry back to Maine. Be sure not to dally, though -- the 338km (210-mile) drive takes more than 3 hours.

High Times, High Tides: The Best Of New Brunswick In 1 Week

New Brunswick is spread out; to see it quickly and compactly, this tour takes in the highlights of the southernmost New Brunswick coast, from the province's largest city to its biggest tidal drops. Begin at St. Andrews, the first significant destination beyond the Maine state line. (I'm assuming you've driven north from Maine. If you've flown into Saint John, see it first or last and tinker with the order below a bit.)

Days 1 & 2: St. Andrews -- This compact seaside town is the perfect stopping point after driving miles and miles of empty downeast Maine roads. It's worth at least a night for shopping and walking, another day and a night if you're intent on taking a whale-watching trip or other excursion from the harbor -- or playing the Algonquin Hotel's golf course, one of the top courses in eastern Canada.

A day trip to the nearby islands, such as Deer Island or Campobello, is always nice in summer.

From St. Andrews, continue about 19km (12 miles) northeast (do not backtrack) along Route 127 to Route 1, the main road. Then continue 80km (50 miles) along Route 1 to

Days 3 & 4: Saint John -- Saint John (spelled out, please) isn't the capital of New Brunswick, but it is the province's chief economic engine. The central square downtown is lovely, and good for hanging out in; you can also wander downtown's grid of streets, choosing from gourmet and midpriced restaurants or pubs with ale and live music.

The city market, also within walking distance, is a must-visit if you like fresh produce and good food.

From Saint John, continue about 90km (56 miles) northeast along Route 1 to Route 114; turn south along Route 114 and continue 15km (9 1/3 miles) to its end, which puts you in

Days 5 & 6: Fundy National Park -- One of the most surprising things you can do in New Brunswick is hightail it to this park, where the world's highest tides are formed by the narrowing "V" of the Bay of Fundy. Any number of tour outfits can take you down to the waterside (tide schedules in hand, of course). The weirdly shaped Hopewell Rocks make a good trip, and there's also an excellent road/hiking path along the bay. This is worth a day or two with the family -- you'll have to stay in rustic accommodations, however, as there are no true resorts around here -- who can enjoy some time on the bike or on a hike, too.

From the park, continue north along Route 114 80km (50 miles) to

Day 7: Moncton -- This city at the crossroads of the Maritimes is showing new signs of life. Stay the night and use the city as a base for a day trip, or else press on to the big park an hour away.

Head 80km (50 miles) north, following routes 115 and 11, passing the big Dune of Bouctouche en route, to Kouchibouguac National Park, where you can canoe, bike, or kayak, and the flat land makes for easy walking (or picnicking on the beach). Return to Moncton at night, or just camp overnight in the park.

From Moncton, you're just 80km (50 miles) from the bridge to Prince Edward Island or a few hours from further coastal exploring. Or return south 266km (165 miles) along Highway 1 to the Maine border, about a 3 1/2-hour trip.

Reaching The Beach: Prince Edward Island For Families

This tour takes in a trifecta of the island's essential sights, giving each its due: Charlottetown, Anne's Land, and the lovely beaches of Prince Edward Island National Park. Kids will love all three places, and adults will feel a sense of tranquility they may not have known in years.

Days 1 & 2: Victoria and Charlottetown -- Little Victoria makes a cute stop en route to the province's "big city." An hour or two and a cup of tea ought to do it, unless you're in the mood for some theater.

Take the Trans-Canada Highway 32km (20 miles) farther east to Charlottetown. The island's capital city has excellent restaurants, inns, a lot of history, and a plain friendly feel. Stay the night, or for several nights. Family activities here include the Confederation Centre of the Arts, which offers a constantly changing program of plays and performances (including an annual run of an Anne of Green Gables play).

There's also excellent window-shopping and a surfeit of parks in which to push baby strollers or exercise a pet.

From Charlottetown, follow signs west along Route 2 to Route 13, then turn north and follow Route 13 to

Day 3: Anne's Land -- The village of New Glasgow makes a good stop while heading back to the center of the island. There's a championship golf course, nice views from the country roads looping over hillsides, and the Prince Edward Island Preserve factory, complete with a store and a good cafe. Kids might enjoy sampling the jams. Give this stop an hour or two if you like jelly or just need a break from driving the slow island roads.

Continue north along Route 13 to Cavendish, the island's most tourist-friendly and developed (many would say "overdeveloped") section. The fictional redheaded Anne of Green Gables is everywhere in this area, and some of the attractions related to her and the Anne books' authoress really are worth seeing -- especially for young girls and their mothers. Not interested in all that? There are plenty of other touristy attractions for kids in and around the village, including amusement parks like the Sandspit.

Where to stay? Numerous "bungalow courts" (small cottage compounds) dot the area, some with cooking facilities, good for frying up local fish, and little playgrounds, though my first choice might be to pitch a tent in the national park. This area is definitely worth a day or two with children.

From Cavendish, turn east on Route 6 and travel, through a series of tricky turns, to Prince Edward Island National Park.

Days 4-6: Prince Edward Island National Seashore & Souris -- Some of the best beaches in eastern Canada line the northern shores of Prince Edward Island. You'll surely want to spend a few days here with the family walking the beach, snapping photos of glorious sunsets and purple lupines against the red sand, camping among the dunes, hunting down obscure fish-and-chips shops, and just generally kicking back.

You'll find a wide range of accommodations in these parts, from Victorian resorts to B&Bs to well-maintained campgrounds both within Prince Edward Island National Park and just outside it. Any family traveling in the Maritimes should camp together for at least a night; the quiet and fresh air should do you a world of good. The placid surroundings and warm waters here invite relaxation. While staying in and around the park, remember to take some scenic drives as well.

From the park, continue east on Route 6 to Route 2, turning east and continuing about 60 scenic kilometers (37 miles) through the cute towns of Mount Stewart, Morell, and St. Peters.

Finally you come to Souris. Some outstanding inns, scenery, and beaches lie near the postage-stamp town. If you're an outdoors sort of family, rent yourselves a bike or three and go exploring. Stay in a campground or in your pick of two of the island's most luxurious inns in the area.

On your way back to Charlottetown, nick the southeastern corner of PEI: Drop in on Georgetown, Montague, or Murray Harbour, each of which is worth a drive through (or even an overnight).

Locals are unfailingly nice throughout this island, an added bonus.

Return 80km (50 miles) along routes 2, 4, and 5 to

Day 7: Charlottetown, Once More -- I like Charlottetown a lot, and believe it's worth a repeat visit while making a circuit of PEI. You probably didn't see everything on your first time through, anyway. Why not spend another night? Hit the Confederation Court Mall and wander the street snapping photos of the kids and look for souvenirs for friends.

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.