The things that makes Nova Scotia special are its nooks and crannies, and our main mission at Alternative Routes is to help you to find them. Some of these places you will find on ALL of the lists, but some of them are select for the person who wants to get down and dirty (or be pampered, polished and primed) with this place. We wanted to make this exploring thing as easy as possible, so we've tried to narrow it down to some don't miss spots. They are pretty much in the order as you would see them on the route. Some are directly on the route, and some are what we like to call "off route." We've worked time into our schedule so that we can get someone where they need to go and still be on time, and most people don't seem to mind the in-depth Nova Scotia exploration. We like to be open-minded in the way we travel with respect to everyone's itinerary that way everyone gets the most out of their travels! First stop...
Peggy’s Cove is home to one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the world. With the almost unbelievable population of around 600 people (of which 565 of them must live permanent hiding), Peggy’s Cove will take you to another time. A glacier carved the landscape in this area out over 2000 years ago, making it unique and a bit magical. Alternative Routes stops here every morning for at least half an hour. Which usually gives people enough time to get a picture of the lighthouse and take a little tour of the village. If you choose to stay longer, we highly recommend staying with the gang at the Breakwater Inn, not only do they have the best guard dog on duty, it is run by a local lobster fisherman who can fill your mind and hopefully your belly with all that Peggy’s Cove has to offer. If we got you up too early and you need a jolt of caffeine Beale’s Bailiwick serves our favourite Java Blend Coffee. Oh! And don’t forget to get your passport stamped because that’s a thing you can do at Peggy’s Cove!
The thing no one wants to tell you about our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches is that they are cold! However! The cats now out of the bag; Queensland Beach is the place to be if you want not to freeze your toes off. This beach looks like it belongs in the Caribbean somewhere and ALMOST feels that way too. Sheltered in the bay, these waters heat up so nicely in the summer and they give way to the most powdery white sands. Because of this local secret, you often find a few of your newest closest friends nearby, but, if you are looking for something a little more peaceful, there are lots of little almost private nooks along this shore. This is a great place to hop off, especially with a bike. The communities are a bit spread out from one another, but some of the best bike trails are in this area. So, rent a bike in the city at I Heart Bicycles, and travel them all to see which one fits best. You can stay overnight at Halifax Backpackers new Beachside Hostel and bike yourself down to Sheila’s Too, where some people say the best Fish an’ Chips in Nova Scotia is served. If you want to read a bit more about this area, we wrote an even longer more specific blog about it- here!
Chester used to be the playground to some of Maritime’s wealthiest summer stayers, and ever remains one of Nova Scotia’s wealthiest communities, and is filled with some of the prettiest houses and rose gardens you’ll see in the east. But don’t let that convince you that it isn’t filled with Nova Scotia’s inclusiveness and charm, because they’re full of it (Chester also happens to be home to the Alternative Routes fan club- inquire for more info). You can also find one of best theatres in Nova Scotia here, the Chester Playhouse. Chester is very close to Oak Island, where there is an active search for a treasure believed to be buried, well, really there are so many theories about what is buried, that’s part of the mystery. If you’re looking for something more exotic that you can’t do many other places, Chester is the place where you catch the ferry to Tancook Island. Tancook is home to approximately 200 people, and one of the last remaining one-room school houses in Canada. We highly recommend staying at the Mecklenburgh Inn, everyone leaves here singing their high praises. And don’t forget to check out Black Market Boutique who is full of exotic treasures. And the chowder, don’t even get me started about the chowder at the Kiwi Café.
What can I say about Mahone Bay? See what I did there? Mahone Bay is the first corner you’ll turn and see all those colours of Nova Scotia you’ve been waiting for. Also around that corner, is the iconic photo seen in many of your guidebooks of the three churches- so Nova Scotia famous Emma Fitzgerald ‘ painted it’ on the side of our rig. We don’t mind stopping here for a picture, so just ask. Mahone Bay has all the amenities you need for a longer stay if you so choose. They have shops, and restaurants, the wonderful Salt Box Brewery, and so many bakeries I can’t count. To take the full advantage of the bay, we suggest staying at one of their ever-charming B&Bs. And don’t forget: we don’t mind going a little off route to get you where you need to go. Be adventurous. . And our favourite things about Mahone Bay? They are one of the places you can find Cape LaHave Adventures. These guys can take your trip up a notch, and offer the fullest of adventures. Kayak to an Island? They got you covered. Yoga on your paddleboard? Yeah, they do that too. Your go-to for all things glamping and exploring on the south shore.
If Alternative Routes didn’t live in Halifax, we may just live in Lunenburg. This town once had me convinced it was a bustling metropolis of 20 000, but in fact the yearlong population on Lunenburg is 2000! But those 2000 people are as big as any 20 000 and they will make you feel that welcome. Lunenburg is the first of two UNESCO world heritage sites along our route, and is known for it’s particularly unique architecture and for being a good example of a planned British settlement, which is only one part of this town’s long history. As with a lot of Nova Scotia, Lunenburg can be best enjoyed with a bicycle, which, if you haven’t picked one up already, you can do at Rhumbline Bicycles, and if you didn’t stay a night in Blue Rocks, we suggests you take a cycle there, another option is bike to LaHave, especially the bakery! But you’ll need to take a ferry to get there, yes(!), another ferry! But don’t worry, the schedule is frequent, and the views are stunning. Don’t’ be afraid to ask the locals here about beaches in the area, if you pry hard enough- they may even tell you the good ones. And because I know you are going to ask, and one of my favourite things to do is eat, I will tell you where. Go to the Fish Shack for your classic fish and chips. If you are only stopping for lunch, this is one of the best options for a seafood as they are used to feeding in a hurry, and if you want to class it up a notch, you can eat at their oyster bar right next door. My favourite place to get coffee in all of Nova Scotia is found here No 9 Coffee Bar. But don’t let their daytime guise fool you, this place swanks it up at night, and offers some of the most creatively tasty food by the very talented Amy Funk (who also paints). If you are looking for the locals and can’t seem to find them the way you want them- Check out The Knot Pub, or just the Knot-if you want them to think you’re in the know.
Everyone’s favourite Nova Scotia (sorta) secret. The small but mighty Blue Rocks is a quick bike ride away from Lunenburg, but don’t let that fool you into not staying here, because you can, and you can do it on your very own island in a yurt! I like to call this place the Peggy’s Cove without all the tourist. It’s a small fishing village tucked in these rocks that everyone says are blue. You can find one of the most charming shops on the planet here, The Point General, which is perfectly curated with all the Nova Scotia handmade favourites. Blue Rocks is another launching spot for adventure, where Pleasant Paddling, will take you to see what this cove has to explore and more. Blue Rocks is so authentic, even you might be Nova Scotian when you leave.
Okay, so this one is a little off the route. But usually if you want to stop here, it isn’t hard to convince a group of people (or your driver) to see this Fundy Bay marvel. So small, Hall’s isn’t even a town or a village—it’s a hamlet. And it’s one of the best stops along the bay to see both extreme sides of the world’s largests tides. Though, you’ll have to stay overnight if you want to see both sides of the natural wonder, usually it’s a funny thing to see boats either sitting on the ground or trying to imagine. The accommodations in this area are a little harder to find, but with a little bit of Google sleuthing or a chat with us, we will be sure to find you a place to stay. We may even have one of the hottest insider tips.
Wolfville is your Annapolis Valley hub on the route, if you stay in this area for more than a few days, you may find yourself wandering to New Minas for some of the amenities, but you’ll want to stay in and around Wolfville. It’s our token university town on the tour and where you’ll find all the best grown foods and wine Nova Scotia offers. Speaking of Universities, Wolfville is home to Acadia University, one of the many many universities in Nova Scotia and one of the oldest in Canada, and it’s worth a visit. Explore the outside of the campus, but do not miss the Environmental Science building along with the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, both of which offer an old time feeling of beauty and ornament that doesn’t quite exist in many places anymore. If the sun is shining and you want to get outside, we highly recommend visiting the surrounding areas of Port Williams and Canning, and especially Cape Blomidon, like a lot of places in Nova Scotia, this area is lacking in public transportation, but it does exist, so check out Kings Transit. From here you can easily take day trips to other places worth visiting in the Annapolis Valley.
The second UNESCO world heritage site on our route, Grand Pre is so dense with Nova Scotia history, we recommend taking a day for it. However, sometimes we like to stop here at the end of the day before head back to explore the gardens. So, if you haven’t had an overnight stop here, let us know that you would like to visit and we will try to squeeze it in. Grand Pre is a step out of time, and you get to go back to the 1700s to learn about the Acadian History of Nova Scotia, and how they worked with the mig maw people to carve out the dykes and changes this vast landscape, and how they fought wars to protect the land they all loved so much. The views here are stunning as well as the gardens. Grand Pre is so close to Wolfville, it didn’t really need it’s own listing, but here also exists the Domaine de Grand Pre one of Nova Scotia’s finest and most beautiful wineries. If you are looking for gourmet eats, here is the place to find it at Caveau. For such a small place, Grand Pre is also home to one of Nova Scotia’s favourite and only unionized coffee roasters Just Us, and the Tangled Garden, that produces some of the most delicate of preserves and opens up their beautiful back yard garden to visitors.