Cape Breton Island Travel Guide
Getting Here and Around
To reach Cape Breton Island, you can drive from mainland Nova Scotia via the Canso Causeway; take a Marine Atlantic ferry from Newfoundland; or fly into Sydney’s J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport. The island itself has five convenient, camera-ready driving routes—and since these collectively cover about 710 km (440 miles), you should allow five days to explore. Enter by way of the causeway on Highway 104. Turning left at the rotary, take Highway 19 (the Ceilidh Trail), which winds along the hillside through fields and glens for 107 km (67 miles) before meeting the west end of the fabled Cabot Trail. Alternately, from the causeway you could follow the Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive, which loops along lesser known roads of central Cape Breton and around the massive lake that lent the route its name; or veer east on the linked Fleur-de-Lis/Marconi Trail, which takes you to the must-see Fortress of Louisbourg and then onward to Sydney (Cape Breton’s main city). Note that driving in this direction also puts your vehicle on the waterside for most of the trail making it easier to pull over for photo ops.
Cruise Ship Travel
More than 70 cruise ships a year dock in Sydney, where the terminal building, the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion, contains tourist information, exhibitions, craft shops, a bar, and the Lighthouse Theatre, showing videos on local themes and hosting live entertainment for cruise passengers. Outside, the world’s largest fiddle, complete with piped music, provides a popular photo-op. Most cruise ships spend one short day here, docking at 9 am and sailing again at 5 pm, with shore excursions prearranged for passengers. Opportunities for independent exploration are limited, but for those who opt out of the organized tours several car-rental companies are represented at the kiosk in the terminal building, and taxi tours are available for about C$50 per hour.
Best Bets for Cruise Passengers
Alexander Graham Bell. Sites associated with the famous inventor of the telephone (and many other things) can be visited in his hometown of Baddeck.
Cabot Trail. If shore time allows, explore one of the most beautiful driving routes in the world.
Crafts Studios. The studios of Nova Scotian artisans dot the Cabot Trail along the way to Ingonish.
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Experience the lifestyle of the early pioneers at this reconstructed settlement.
Highland Village. This living-history museum on the shore of Bras d’Or Lake celebrates Cape Breton’s Scottish heritage.