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Head out on one of these top day trips from Halifax, Nova Scotia
Read time: 6 mins
While Halifax offers lots when it comes to things to see and do, there are a wealth of experiences that can be enjoyed outside the city limits. While visiting Nova Scotia’s provincial capital you won’t want to miss the opportunity to make at least a day trip or two.
The small fishing village Peggy’s Cove is less than an hour’s drive from Halifax and is on just about everyone’s itinerary when visiting Nova Scotia, with good reason: it’s home to one of Canada’s most photographed lighthouses. The classic red and white light marks the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay and was first lit over a century ago in 1915, Its image, set atop a mound of giant rocks as the powerful waves of the sea crash against it, has been a striking sight ever since as one of the most recognized lighthouses in the world. If you want to learn more, be sure to visit author, photographer and storyteller Ivan Fraser who opened up his childhood home as the Peggy of the Cove Museum, which also includes an art gallery with his colourful murals.
Just a short walk away is the deGarthe Gallery and Museum which focuses on the Finish artist William deGarthe, an accomplished sculptor who emigrated to Canada in 1926. Next to the museum is his monument to Nova Scotia fishermen, carved into a wall of rock. Though deGarthe passed away before he was able to finish it, it’s still impressive, depicting 32 fishermen and their families, the patron saint of sailors and Peggy of the Cove. You may want to stop by the Sou'Wester Restaurant & Gift Shop for a bowl of creamy chowder or a lobster roll and perhaps a few souvenirs.
About an hour and 15 minutes from Halifax, Lunenburg sits on a harbour on the Fairhaven Peninsula. A fabulous place to spend the day, it’s often noted as one of the most beautiful towns in Canada. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preservation of local culture in 1995, it’s characterized by pastel-painted 18th- and 19th-century buildings and is home to a replica of the famous ship that’s pictured on the Canadian dime. Built for the International Fisherman’s Trophy competition, the original Bluenose Schooner won her first race in 1921 before going on to defeat all her contenders in the next 17. The pride of the province, the Bluenose II is an authentic replica that offers the chance to sail out of this French harbour town in the summertime. By signing up well before you go, you can even play Deckhand for a Day. You’ll get an orientation on safety, lessons on how to anchor, knots and the ship’s history, with the best part a turn at the wheel.
After an unforgettable sail, walk the waterfront and the historic streets, searching for the ‘Lunenburg bump’ on the surrounding buildings, a dormer window which extends beyond the first floor. If you have time, check out the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and stop by the Ironworks Distillery, located in a renovated 1893 marine blacksmith’s shop. You can taste the spirits that are made using locally-grown produce, including vodka gin, rum and fruit liquors, blended into refreshing cocktails.
Secret Beach and the Gaff Point Trail
If you don’t spend the whole day in Lunenburg, you might combine a hike on the Gaff Point Trail with your trip there, as it’s just 25 minutes south in the small community of Kingsburg. Or, make it a separate trip - either way it’s worth the journey. The just over 4.3-mile round trip hike will bring you to what’s often called the ‘Secret Beach.’ It begins at Hirtles Beach and offers a mix of rugged coastline, estuary, forest and beach as well as unique geology and wildlife. It follows the west side of Gaff Point, and by staying on the trail that hugs the edge of the cliff, it will bring you to the hidden beach that’s accessed by descending a steep rock face using the ropes that are there. Don’t go at high tide as, the beach will be under water.
Oak Island is only an hour from Halifax and is known across the globe for its Money Pit, considered one of the world’s most elusive treasures. It’s been spotlighted on the History Channel’s ‘Curse of Oak Island’ reality TV show which first aired in 2014 – both the show and the treasure hunt continue today. As this is a privately-owned island, if you hope to visit, you’ll need to pre-book a guided tour, led by series’ cast member and production consultant Charles Barkhouse who delves into the intrigue and mystery that surrounds the island. You’ll be able to learn even more at the free onsite interpretive centre.
Port Royal National Historic Site, Port Royal
The site of Canada’s first permanent European Settlement, founded in the 1600s by the French, Port Royal is a seaside town about two-and-a-half hours from Halifax. At Port Royal National Historic Site, watch history come to life with a reconstruction of the settlements early buildings that include the closed-in quadrangle known as the Habitation. Step back into time while getting a good look at how the setters lived, and in the summer, you can learn about Mi’kmaw culture in the wigwam, hearing the songs, tales and legends of the Mi'kmaq, a First Nations people indigenous to Canada's Atlantic Provinces.
As Port Royal is located in the Annapolis Valley, one of Nova Scotia’s wine-growing regions, if you’re a wine enthusiast you might want to do some tasting while you’re here. Nova Scotia’s wine is becoming increasing popular with the province’s offerings said to rival even that of Champagne, France, despite the challenging conditions that include cool temperatures and rocky, acidic soil. Nearby Bear River Winery located in the village of Bear River, is where Nova Scotia’s first vines were planted back in 1611 by French settlers. The winery sits within a renovated 1883 barn atop the vineyard and features a tasting bar and wine shop. Other notable wineries in the area include Annapolis Highland Vineyards and Beavercreek Winery.
An hour inland from Halifax, the small town of Truro is known as the ‘hub of Nova Scotia’ due to its centralized location and historical significance. It hosts a significant, distinctive collection of pretty 19th- and early 20th-century Victorian-style buildings in its urban core along Victoria, King, Duke and Dominion streets as well as the 130-year-old Victoria Park. The 3,000-acre oasis in the heart of town offers beautiful scenery that includes a winding river, waterfalls, old-growth Eastern hemlock forest and a dramatic gorge. Recreational opportunities are practically endless, with everything from hiking and biking to picnicking, birdwatching, and even swimming in the heated outdoor pool. The park hosts frequent live usic and cultural events too.
Another popular spot in Truro is Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. It’s home to some 90 bird and mammal species, many of which were brought here after being injured or orphaned and are rehabbed before returning them to the wild whenever possible. Enjoy close encounters with multiple exotic and native species, including Sable Island horses, black bears, Canada lynx, Arctic wolf, big horn sheep and reindeer.
If you’re looking for big thrills, you might want to squeeze in a rafting trip that departs from Goose Bridge in Green Oaks nearby. Fundy Tidal Bore Adventures offers a rafting trip like no other - tidal bore rafting, powered by the world-famous tidal bore on the Bay of Fundy. Passengers hop aboard a Zodiac boat, riding the massive waves of the highest tides in the world, something that’s been compared to a roller coaster ride. One minute you’ll enjoy a tranquil float on the calm waters, then suddenly the water is churned into raging rapids.
If a wild ride isn’t what you’re after, you can witness those high tides with some 100 billion tons of water rising and falling twice each day in the community of Parrsboro, a two-hour drive from Halifax. The tides sculpt the coastline that’s dotted with deserted beaches and towering sea cliffs, uncovering semi-precious stones and fossils. Geology buffs can also visit the Fundy Geological Museum which offers a more in-depth look at the geology, fossils and minerals of the Bay of Fundy, along with well as some of the oldest dinosaur skeletons in Canada.
There are lots of hiking opportunities near Parrsboro as well, including the short 1-mile hike across Partridge Island that offers magnificent views of Cape Split, Spencer’s Island and Cape Blomidon. If you’re looking for something longer, you can search for the local legend known as Maiden’s Cave on a three-mile round trip trek. The legend, described in a 1930s book Down in Nova Scotia, tells the story of a British maiden that was captured by pirates and hidden here in a sea cave. The entrance was filled in, and when the local Mi’kmaqs heard a cry in the cliff, they opened it up and discovered her skeleton. The locals say that at certain times of the year you can still hear the girl’s cries.
Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve, Scots Bay
An hour and 40 minutes from Halifax, this 447-hectare park in Scots Bay overlooks the Bay of Fundy and is a great place to enjoy a day of hiking, view wildlife and picnic. The Cape Split Trail is a little over 3.7 miles each way and takes about four to five hours to complete. One of Nova Scotia’s best, this fishhook-shaped headland offers stunning views of the Bay of Fundy, having separated itself from the mainland due to the powerful tides. The route leads to a grassy meadow that overlooks the changing tides, providing impressive views down to the volcano sea stacks known as the 3 Sisters.
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
About two hours from Halifax, this beautiful park is filled with lush forest, island-dotted lakes and meandering rivers offer the chance to immerse yourself in the province’s scenic natural beauty. It’s named for the Mi’kmaq word believed to mean “land where fairies abound." The canoe routes were used by native inhabitants for thousands of years for traveling between the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Coast. They made their mark as they travelled through petroglyphs that depict images of traditional Mi’kmaq life, including fishing and hunting, on slate outcroppings that can be seen along the shore by taking a guided tour.
There are 15 hiking trails suitable for day hikes passing through the forest brining opportunities to spot wildlife like fox, deer and the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. The seaside area offers hikers a wealth of landscapes and wildlife to watch along a 5.4-mile trail, including lagoons, white sandy beaches and harbour seals.
Two hours from Halifax, Shelburne is a charming fishing town and Canada’s lobster capital. It offers a wealth of things to do, including boat tours where you can spot harbour porpoises and even whales. Just strolling historic Dock Street makes for a pleasant afternoon. It retains the feel and look of an 18-century port and is lined by over 30 original United Empire loyalist homes that date all the way back to the 1780s. The Ross-Thomson House & Store Museum offers the chance to step into the 18th-century with an authentic living experience – you can even don 18th-century clothing and carry out tasks families like Ross’ did so many years ago.