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.