Canada‘s Maritime provinces offer rugged seascapes, fresh seafood and a proud Celtic heritage. Compared to the widely visited west, this region of Canada has remained firmly under the radar, allowing you to explore in relative solitude.
Whether you’re uncovering the history of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, whale watching in the Bay of Fundy or sampling lobster freshly caught that morning on Halifax’s waterfront, you’ll experience a side of Canada that’s rarely seen by most visitors to the country. Here are six ways our specialists suggest experiencing the region.
Drive the Cabot Trail
You’re presented with a different view at every turn as you pass dense forest where bears and moose roam, plunging cliffs with swirling clouds of seabirds, and fishing villages that have barely changed in a century.
You can drive it all in one go, which takes around four hours. To make the most of it, though, we recommend staying overnight at Chéticamp, which gives you a couple of days to explore the trail more thoroughly.
You could stop to follow walking trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, with seafood restaurants providing sustenance. Then, at sunset, pull over to watch the Atlantic Ocean tinged orange and pink.
Delve into Prince Edward Island’s history and literary heritage.
Known for its emerald hills and red-rock cliffs, Prince Edward Island seems like any other rural Maritime island. But, surprisingly, it was here that Canada first became the nation we know today.
The island’s capital, Charlottetown, is dubbed the ‘birthplace of Canada’ thanks to its hosting of the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. It saw provincial leaders gather in Province House to lay the foundations for a unified nation.
You can join a historical walking tour of the city for a better understanding of its role in Canada’s formation. As your guide leads you along leafy avenues lined with Victorian clapboard houses, you’ll pass Province House itself, as well as the 19th-century Bishop’s Palace and Saint Dunstan’s Basilica. Your guide tells you the background to each sight and can answer any questions you have about Charlottetown and the rest of the island.
For a taste of fictional history, head to Cavendish, in the north. Here, you can visit the 19th-century Green Gables Farm, the setting for L. M. Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables.
Touring the carefully preserved white-and-green farmhouse, you’ll enter rooms that still evoke the Victorian and Edwardian periods through patterned wallpaper, wooden furniture and everyday items from the era. One room even contains a nod to Anne’s beloved ‘dress with puffed sleeves.’
Follow the Lighthouse Route to Lunenburg
The 339-km (211-mile) Lighthouse Route sticks to Nova Scotia’s southern coastline exactly, linking Halifax and the 18th-century town of Lunenburg. As you drive around secluded bays and sheltered inlets, you’ll pass through tiny fishing villages that have remained untouched by the modern world.
We suggest making a stop at Peggy’s Cove to visit Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. Possibly the region’s most photographed lighthouse, its postbox-red lantern room is perched on top of a white, octagonal tower, looking out over wave-smoothed rocks to the ocean.
UNESCO-designated Lunenburg was one of the first British colonial settlements in Nova Scotia, and its history is still tangible. Here, you’ll see wooden buildings painted in pastel greens and pinks, and lobster reds, all clustered on a slope overlooking the harbour, where you can watch fishing boats come and go.
The town’s peaceful streets are filled with craft shops and art galleries, but the highlight is sitting down in one of the many seafood restaurants.
Whether you order a steaming bowl of seafood chowder, Lunenburg ‘pudding’ (which is, in fact, a type of pork-and-beef sausage, seasoned well with onion and mixed spices), or Solomon Grundy (marinated herrings accompanied by sour cream), each mouthful speaks of the area’s heritage.
Witness the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy
The Fundy Parkway winds along the Bay of Fundy’s coastline, and is one of the most scenic drives in Canada. It also gives you a chance to witness the world’s highest tides.
Every day at high tide, 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy. The best place to see this phenomenon in action is at Hopewell Rocks — a collection of large rock formations that have been eroded into flowerpot-like shapes by the shifting waters.
At low tide, the rocks are completely exposed and you can walk around them on the sand-and-shingle beach. However, once the tide comes in the water turns them into shallow islands that you can circumnavigate by kayak.
Other things to do in Fundy National Park include guided hikes through coniferous forest to some of the park’s 25 waterfalls, and whale-watching boat trips in the bay. The bay is a summer feeding ground and nursery for migratory humpback, minke and finback whales.
Discover Maritimes heritage and Celtic influences in Halifax
The capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax has retained the feel of a modest fishing town thanks to its compact size and strong sense of community. The city is steeped in Maritime history, still alive today in its busy harbour, where, as you stroll along the waterfront boardwalk, you can watch fishing vessels and ferries come and go.
Discover more about Halifax’s Maritime heritage at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The museum includes relics retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic, which sank just to the east of here.
The waterfront area is also lined with historic buildings housing shops and galleries, as well as seafood restaurants where you can tuck into lobster fresh from the fishermen’s daily haul. Then, in the evening, dip in and out of the city’s many pubs, which often ring to the sound of live Celtic music first brought over by British and Irish immigrants.
Explore Grand Manan Island’s wild corners
On tiny Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, you can spot puffins, whales, seals and seabirds, visit lighthouses that flicker along the rugged coastline, and stroll quiet beaches dotted around each corner of the island.
Rise early to watch the sunrise at Swallowtail Lighthouse on the island’s eastern coastline. Built in 1859, the lighthouse was the island’s first, and you can read more about its history on the interpretive signs surrounding it.
Close to the lighthouse is the Hole in the Wall rock arch, which you can get to by walking the Red Trail or driving along the Old Airport Road. From this area, you’re likely to see seals basking on the rocks below, and can keep a lookout for migratory finback, minke and humpback whales, which often pass close to the shoreline.
Meanwhile, in Anchorage Provincial Park on the island’s southeast coast, you can tread boardwalks through woodland, wetland and along the shoreline. All the while, you can look for seabirds such as plovers and Arctic terns, as well as passerines like common yellow throats, eventually reaching a wide sandy beach.
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