Lunenburg is just plain lovable, compressing everything you came to see in Nova Scotia into one tidy package: ocean tides, fishing boats, terrain, architecture, museums, and fish. It's one of Nova Scotia's most historic and most appealing villages, a fact recognized in 1995 when UNESCO declared the old downtown a World Heritage Site.
The town was first settled in 1753, primarily by German, Swiss, and French colonists. It was laid out on the "model town" plan then in vogue. (Savannah, Georgia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are also laid out using similar plans.) The plan consists of seven north-south streets, intersected by nine east-west streets. Lunenburg is located on a harbor and flanked by steep hills -- yet the town's planners decided not to bend the rules for geography. As a result, some of the town's streets go straight uphill, and can be exhausting to walk.
Still, it's worth trying. About three-quarters of the buildings in the compact downtown date from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of them are possessed of a distinctive style and are painted in bright pastel colors. Looming over all is the architecturally unique, red-and-white painted Lunenburg Academy with its exaggerated mansard roof, pointy towers, and extravagant use of ornamental brackets. The school sets a tone for the town the same way the Citadel fort does for Halifax. (The Academy's first two floors are still used as a public school -- the top floor was deemed a fire hazard years ago -- so the building is open to the public only on special occasions.)
What makes Lunenburg so appealing is its vibrancy. Yes, it's historic, but this is no village stuck in the 19th century. There's life, including a subtle countercultural tang that dates from the 1960s. Look and you'll see evidence of the tie-dye-and-organic crowd in the scattering of natural food shops and funky boutiques. A growing number of art galleries, crafts shops, and souvenir vendors are moving in, making for rewarding browsing.