Touring Nova Scotia: Halifax, Lunenburg and Digby

Touring Nova Scotia Halifax, Lunenburg and Digby

After a delicious and beautiful 48 hours touring each Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island, our travels took us to the hip metro port of Halifax, and the start of four scant days in Nova Scotia.  We headed for a downtown stay at The Residence Inn on Grafton Street, located a few blocks below The Citadel National Historic Site.  Maintained by Parks Canada (another opportunity for the Xplorer Program for kids), The Citadel is perched atop a hill overlooking the harbor allowing protection of the early Halifax settlers in the mid 1700’s.

Nova Scotia Map
Nova Scotia map courtesy

When driving in to Halifax one sees evidence of the shipbuilding focus across the industrial landscape.  Indescribably large warehouses where the ships are built; companies lining the waterway which are related to the sea industry.  The downtown is on a hill with only a few blocks between The Citadel and the harbor, lending an intimate feel to the vibrant university town.

Nova Scotia, Halifax,maritime museum -

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Harbor -

Our dining investigation uncovered a dense availability of eclectic restaurants all within blocks, making the decision of where to eat challenging.  We set our sights on a French bistro, Bistro le Coq, with excellent reviews and only a block below our hotel on closed to traffic Argyle Street (which can’t be missed thanks to the argyle pattern painted on the street itself.)

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Bistro le Coq on Argyle Street

Bistro le Coq was an exceptional dining experience.  The wait staff speak French as well as English and we enjoyed a lengthy chat with our server who was in Halifax to attend Dalhousie University.  Our meal started with an appetizer of Bone Marrow, broiled in the half bone served with Shallot & Blackberry Jam as well as Duck Prosciutto, house cured with berry compote and in house pickles.  We began to turn our attention from the mussels and oysters of PEI toward scallops which are a signature local ingredient.  A main dish of Pan seared Scallops on Ratatouille with Choron Sauce crowned a fantastic dinner.  As mentioned in a prior travel segment, dining gluten-free in the Canadian Maritimes is almost effortless.  We found our meals on Nova Scotia to be the same, with easy adjustments to gluten dishes still leaving them impressive and special.

Nova Scotia, Halifax Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

With the role of ship building and the sea faring life being central to Halifax, a visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic seemed apropos to kick off of the following day.  A short four block walk from the hotel lands one at the harbor and the waterside museum.  The museum is small only taking 1-2 hours to see.  Our prime interest was the Titanic exhibit which contained a number of artifacts from the luxury liner’s shipwreck with an iceberg a mere 600 miles from Halifax.  The proximity left Halifax as the first responders as well as orchestrators of the follow on investigations, caring for the rescued and dispositioning the deceased passengers.  The museum also has a beautiful collection of ship models and full size vessels illustrating different shipbuilding techniques.

Nova Scotia, Peggys Cove Lighthouse -

Being on a tight timeframe we mounted up and drove west to Lunenburg for our next adventure.  Driving along the Atlantic Ocean on the southern shore about 25 miles from Halifax, we made a stop to see the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, which bears the distinction of the most photographed lighthouse in Canada.  It’s easy to see why with its fresh white and red paint standing primly on the rocky coastline.  At high tide the violent waves create a striking backdrop for photos but unfortunately also a deadly one for hapless selfie-takers on the slippery rocks.  If visiting please heed the warnings and do not put yourself in harm’s way.

The picturesque town of Peggy’s Cove is an active fishing village, with small clapboard cottages dotting the grassy hills.  Its current day main attraction, however, is tourism and the day we visited the parking was miles away to get to the lighthouse as tourists had filled all parking lots and were parked on the sides of the road.  We opted to do a drive by instead, thinking on a less crowded day it would be a fun place for a meander.

Nova Scotia, Lunenburg, The Lunenburg Inn -

We arrived in the charming town of Lunenburg but not before passing through Mahone Bay which looks like the quintessential seaside town with colorful cottages, small businesses and beautiful scenery.  I recommend a stop if in the area.  Once in Lunenburg we went directly to our Victorian Bed and Breakfast for the night: The Lunenburg Inn.  The inn was originally built in 1893 as a private home and was opened to traveling visitors in 1924.  Joseph Kennedy, the father of President John Kennedy, was apparently a frequent guest at the Inn back in his alleged bootlegger days.  It still bears the ambiance of the bygone era with many special touches such as a rooftop terrace with tables to enjoy the view and a reading room with books to borrow and a computer.  The heart of the inn is most certainly Donna, the proprietor (along with her husband), who is an endless wealth of information with boundless energy.  She tipped us off that we could leave our car and walk into town, about 15 minutes, which saved us trolling the streets for the ever elusive parking during the summer season.  The breakfast at The Lunenburg Inn is hearty and homemade, and with advanced notice most allergies can be accommodated.  We had a delicious meal complete with gluten-free bread made fresh.

Nova Scotia, Lunenburg, ship -

Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding example of British colonial settlement in North America. The town has unending charm with brightly colored homes and businesses, standing extraordinarily tall on the rolling hills of the town.  The stature of the building immediately caught our attention as their scale seemed unnaturally grand.  I expect the height gave an advantage with the fishing industry and keeping an eye to the sea.

Nova Scotia, Lunenburg, -

The town is brimming in historical lore which can be explored at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic as well as the tall ships on the pier.  The museum unfolds local history of the fishing industry, maritime artifacts of the area, stories of history-making tragic storms, an aquarium of Atlantic species and the history of the Bluenose, a fishing and racing schooner reputed to be the fastest sailing ship of the time (an image of the ship is featured on the Canadian dime).  A modern replica, the Bluenose II can be toured (free) at the docks and it also goes out for sailing tours (information and reservations may be made on the pier).  Cute shops in Lunenburg offer a step up from typical tourist fare though souvenirs and t-shirts are available as well.

Nova Scotia, Lunenburg, Bluenose II -

A dining gem came to our attention just as we began our trip with enough time to secure a dinner reservation.  The Fleur de Sel is a 5 star French restaurant serving innovative dishes with local ingredients housed in a cozy house near the water front.   We found the food to be immaculately presented and creatively prepared in a charming setting without pretense.  A first course of In House Smoked Salmon, house cured Jamon, Sea Asparagus, Crème Fraiche, Smoked Ham and Sea Parsley Vinaigrette set the tone for the meal accompanied by a Summer Bourbon cocktail (watermelon, strawberries, lime juice, simple syrup, bourbon, vermouth, sparkling water and lavender garnish).  Followed by Lunenburg Scallops (pan seared Adams & Knickle scallops, chanterelle mushrooms, broad beans, shallots and broad bean emulsion) and a dessert simply titles ‘Chocolate’ (dark chocolate and cassis pot de crème, white chocolate and currant Chantilly, macarons, red currant ice cream, fresh currants) earned our memory of a spectacular dining experience.  The owners have two additional, more casual restaurants in Lunenburg, The Salt Shaker Deli and the Fish Shack.  I’d put them on your list!  As with many businesses in the Canadian Maritimes, Fleur de Sel is seasonal open from late April through October and reservations are suggested.

Nova Scotia, Lunenburg Fleur de Sel

Our last stop in Nova Scotia was Digby on the northwest coast bordering the Bay of Fundy.  Our choice was based on catching one of the twice daily ferries to New Brunswick and for the scallops that put Digby on the map as the ‘scallop capital of the world’.  Our travel took us on a brief stop at Kejimukujik National Park which has a very large lake perfect for canoeing and then on to Annapolis Valley for a dip into history at Port-Royal and Fort Anne.  Both sites are managed by Parks Canada and offer a peek into the events and history shaping the beginning of Canada.

Nova Scotia, Annapolis, Fort Anne -

Nova Scotia, Annapolis, Fort Anne -

Nova Scotia, Annapolis Fort Anne

Fort Anne is located in Annapolis Royal and is Canada’s oldest national historic site.  A star shaped earthen fort provided protection for the harbor of Annapolis Royal and was a hotly contested domain passing between Scottish, French, Native American (‘First People’) and English settlers.  Gunpowder caches where prisoners were held, and officer’s quarters can be toured as well as an onsite graveyard offering glimpses into the past.

Nova Scotia, Annapolis,Port-Royal -

Nova Scotia, Port Royal

Nova Scotia, Annapolis, Port Royal -
On of the most interesting things we learned at Port-Royal was that these wooden shoes are called ‘sabots’. During the Industrial Revolution occasionally a shoe would get thrown into a textile machine to break it, fearing machines would render human workers obsolete, which became known as committing an act of ‘sabot-age’!

To reach Port-Royal one drives out of town past North America’s only tidal powered electric generation plant, then down a country road ending at the ‘Habitation’, a reconstructed fur trading post, formerly occupied by Samuel de Champlain and the French.  Originally the first successful settlement of the French in North America, the British destroyed it in 1613.  The French moved the settlement to the current location however, in a chilly November when they were upriver trapping, a group of rogue colonists from Jamestown, paddled up and lit the post on fire leaving all-too-surprised trappers to return to nothing.  With winter coming they could not rebuild and they spent the cold months with the Mi’kmaq, Canada’s First People, before returning to France in the spring. Docents in period costume help Port-Royal visitors travel back in time as well as demonstrate hand crafts of the time such as making shingles.

Nova Scotia, Annapolis, Wild Blueberries at road side stand -
Wild Blueberries sold on the road side on route to Port-Royal

Digby is a small active fishing town, with the world’s largest scallop fleet, which also caters to tourism in the summer months.  We arrived in time for dinner and ate on the outdoor patio of the Fundy Restaurant, one of a number of restaurants on the harbor where one can watch the scallop boats return from a day of fishing.  Starting with a Fundy Seafood Sampler (steamed mussels, bacon wrapped scallops, and sautéed shrimp) we were once again reminded of the fantastic seafood of the area.  Following up with an entree of Fresh Digby Scallops we could not get over their large size and sweet, delicate texture.

Nova Scotia, Digby, Scallop fleet - 3501

Nova Scotia, Digby, Scallop fleet - 3504

Nova Scotia, Digby, Scallops -

Had we not had the late, multi-course dinner the night prior at Fleur de Sel, I would have loved to dine at the Churchill’s Restaurant and Lounge at the Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa.  The casual nature of Digby proper would not leave one thinking that a country club and upscale eatery was part of the dining landscape.  The reviews are great, the menu impressive with local ingredients starring in made to order inspired dishes.

Nova Scotia, Digby, Lobsters -

Before retiring for the night, we took a dusk drive to the Point Prim Lighthouse.  Standing guard at the Digby Gut (a small channel connecting the Bay of Fundy with the Annapolis Basin), the current lighthouse is the fourth in a lineage beginning in 1804.  About a 10 minute drive from Digby, Point Prim is open to the public and a perfect spot to watch the sunset.  Arrive early to explore the rocks and tide pools.

Nova Scotia, Digby, Point Prim -

Nova Scotia, Digby, Point Prim -

Nova Scotia, Digby, Salmon farming -
Most Atlantic Salmon is farmed. These enclosures house the salmon outside of Digby.

Nova Scotia, Digby, Salmon farming -

Our last two stops really turned out to be full of surprises and scenic beauty, both rural and urban!  Our 6,000 mile road trip through the Canadian Maritimes will resume next weekend.  Please check back!


  1. says

    Gorgeous! I have been to Canada a few times since crossing the bridges in various locations are not that far from where I live. But, I haven’t gone that far north to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. Both are on my wish list to travel to some day.

    • says

      You couldn’t pay me a better compliment Jennifer. When taking a fast paced trip like this one risks not fully grasping all they are seeing and doing. I loved the whole trip and hope to offer some ideas for those visiting there in the future!

  2. says

    We are thinking about traveling to NS next September. We love the NE coast – the seafood is delicious! We have been to Maine but never traveled more north – next year that is our plan.

    • says

      I think it would be beautiful there in September Debbie. Many of the seasonal businesses would still be open and you’d miss the summer tourism. I guess ‘leaf peeping’ brings in another flock of visitors but my impression is not nearly as many as summer. There are so many fun places to visit there and the seafood is phenomenal.

    • says

      We planned this with such little lead time Sue (literally made lodging reservations 10 days before we’d arrive) I hadn’t thought about that but several people have said the same thing. We are fortunate that we really appreciate our time together and all get on well for the days in the car to and from! Many things lined up for this to be possible and I’m unsure it would again. Certainly a rich, beautiful place to visit. So much to see, do and eat!

  3. says

    you’re killing me Toni! Those scallops look to die for!! And lobsters, how I do love lobster! Your pictorial was spectacular and could have well been in National Geographic.

    Keep sharing your travels with us, until I can get there it’s the next best thing.

  4. says

    Nova Scotia looks so amazing and so beautiful. My brother and sister in law went there last fall and had a great time -especially checking out the wildlife. I’m a fan because of all those lobsters you showed, I’d eat them morning, noon & night!

    • says

      They were certainly good too Debra! We were there in the lobster off season but most places have facilities to keep them in between fishing seasons so they are still fresh and fabulous. There are some lobster dinners coming up at our next stop.

  5. says

    I also just got back from a road trip around the Maritimes! Loved loved loved every minute of it. What a special place. (Though, as a vegetarian who can’t stand the smell of seafood, the culinary scene was totally wasted on me, LOL!) Thanks for sharing your photos and allowing me to re-live the memories 🙂

  6. says

    Some of my favorite, most beautiful places to spend a weekend with my family. So much to do and see, you never have enough time to do it all so going back is an adventure each and every time!

    • says

      I am sure of that. Our quick trip skimmed only the surface, if that even, and there was so much to take in. It’s beautiful country with fantastic local food and a rich, fascinating history!

  7. Colleen Cayes says

    I echo the sentiments of everyone above and am eager to go myself. I especially thank you for including the maps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *