Atlantic Canada is filled with exciting discoveries. Explore a 1,000-year-old Viking site, drive across the longest bridge in the world, and so much more.
Atlantic Canada officially comprises of four provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. It also has a few geographically linked islands (the Magdalen Islands) and a peninsula (Gaspésie), both of which belong to the French-speaking province of Québec. This easternmost part of Canada is overflowing with exquisite landscapes, incredible sunrises, friendly people, and fascinating history. It’s a place where you can overindulge in lobster rolls, explore a 100-year-old shipwreck, learn about the continent’s first Viking landing a thousand years ago, and so much more.
Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Eastern Canada boasts several UNESCO-designated sites to visit. Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland is an exceptional natural landscape with geological evidence that shows how Europe and North America were once joined some 600 million years ago. The newly appointed UNESCO site Geopark in the village of Percé, in Gaspésie, is a must-visit for its diverse activities like extensive hiking trails and zip-lining, and also for the exciting glass skywalk where you can stand and observe the impressive Percé Rock (“pierced rock”) and Bonaventure Island from 656 feet aboveground.
INSIDER TIPWhen in Gros Morne National Park, take a two-hour boat tour in Western Brook Pond Fjord to explore the remarkable glacier-carved scenery that includes many waterfalls and diverse wildlife.
Go Whale Watching in the Bay of Fundy
Whale-watching in the Bay of Fundy, in New Brunswick, is a thrilling experience. Many boat companies operate in the area from May to October and vary in size from small Zodiacs and mid-size fishing vessels to large sailboats. You can pick the level of excitement and adventure you’re up for, but no matter what, it’s a great way to spot some whales. The bay is a major feeding area for several species like the Humpback whale, the Finback whale, and the Minke whale along with other marine animals.
INSIDER TIPBefore or after your whale-watching excursion be sure to visit the Age of Sail Heritage Museum to learn all about the interesting history of shipbuilding in the area.
Sample Lobster Rolls
Lobster rolls are one of the culinary delights of Atlantic Canada. Many places vary the classic recipe by tossing a few extra ingredients in with the lobster, but the base recipe nearly always remains the same (fresh Atlantic lobster mixed in with some mayo on a buttered hot dog bun). Several restaurants in Halifax offer their own signature lobster rolls, from the very simple (think waterfront food carts) to the very fancy (think some of the city’s trendiest eateries).
INSIDER TIPWhile in Halifax, wash down your lobster rolls with a locally brewed beer from acclaimed brewmaster Alexander Keith. You can even take a tour of his award-winning brewery.
See Relics from the Titanic at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Located in Halifax’s beautiful historic waterfront, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is perfect for history buffs who want to learn all about Atlantic Canada’s maritime heritage. In one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, you can see several relics that were rescued from the wreck of the RMS Titanic, the famed luxury ship that sank in 1912 (after the sinking, all unidentified victims were brought to Halifax). You can even sit and relax on a deck chair that has been meticulously replicated from the original design.
Kite Surf in the Magdalen Islands
This small archipelago of islands in the middle of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is a kite surfer’s paradise thanks to its ideal summer wind conditions. Twelve different spots throughout the Îles-de-la-Madeleine let you try your hand at this activity that combines wakeboarding, surfing, paragliding, and sailing. Getting to the islands is easy thanks to the regular ferries, buses, and cruises heading out almost daily. You can also fly from a few major Canadian cities.
INSIDER TIPThis is mostly a French-speaking area so you may want to pack a French-English dictionary or download a translator app before heading out.
See the Highest Tides in the World in the Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick is where you will find the highest tides in the world; the bay is considered one of the seven wonders of North America and one of the natural wonders of the world. The unique shape of the bay makes the tides rise to as high as 56 feet; you can appreciate this impressive natural occurrence twice a day from several spots in the area. From May to October, you can visit the Annapolis Tidal Station and find out how sustainable power is generated from the tides. The guided tour of the interpretive center is free.
Spot Icebergs in Newfoundland
Ever wonder what it’s like to stand close to a 10,000-year old floating iceberg? Newfoundland is one of the best places on earth to have this experience. Every spring giant icebergs descend into the Atlantic from Greenland and the Arctic and can be seen from the province’s northern and eastern coasts. Several boat companies offer tours into Iceberg Alley; the best time to see these iced giants is in the spring and summer.
Get “Screeched In” and Become an Honorary Canadian in Newfoundland
Screech is what Canadians call the local rum used in the unique and amusing ceremony that can get you a certificate proclaiming honorary Canadian citizenship. You can find pubs and bars that perform this ceremony on George Street in Saint John’s, Newfoundland. Recite a few sentences, kiss a cod, drink a shot of screech, and welcome yourself to the Canadian way of life (not in any way legally binding, of course).
Explore North America’s Largest Gannet Colony on Bonaventure Island
Just off the coast of the Gaspésie, Bonaventure Island is home to the largest colony of gannets in North America. In the spring, some 115,000 of these birds migrate north to the protected island to nest. Many local boat companies offer tours to see the thousands of birds nesting on the cliff sides of the island. Many allow you to walk around the island and see the birds up-close.
Go Deep-Sea Fishing on Prince Edward Island
Set out into the deep blue sea with one of the local fishermen on Prince Edward Island to catch your very own mackerel or even a Bluefin tuna. From July through September, you can book an outing typically lasting three to four hours with one of the many boats in the area. They even clean your catch and send you off with fresh fish fillets to enjoy. Before or after fishing, you can relax on renowned Cavendish Beach with its miles of sand dunes, bordered by wetlands and forests.
See 380-Million-Year-Old Fossils at the Natural History Museum in Gaspésie
Within the town of Miguasha in Gaspésie you’ll find another UNESCO site, Miguasha National Park, which is home to the Natural History Museum and its impressive collection of 380-million-year-old fossils. Some of the oldest and best-preserved fossils from the Devonian Period (Age of Fishes) were found in this area and you can discover them as you walk through the site.
Dive and Explore a 100-Year-Old Shipwreck
The Titanic’s 1912 sinking is probably one of the most well-known nautical tragedies in modern history, but not many people have heard of the “Canadian Titanic.” In 1914, the Empress of Ireland collided with another ship and sank in the Saint Lawrence River, taking with it 1,012 lives. If you have your diving certificate and wish to visit the 570-foot-long shipwreck, you can contact the local dive shop to arrange an expedition. For the less adventurous, at the Maritime Museum in Pointe-au-Père, you can learn more about the tragedy and see the many relics that have been recovered from the wreck. The museum also offers the opportunity to climb aboard a real-life submarine and experience what life was like in the deep sea.
Take a Photograph of a Lighthouse (or Several)
Lighthouses are a staple all across Eastern Canada, with Nova Scotia boasting more than 160 of them. The most iconic and most photographed lighthouse in this region is undeniably Peggy’s Point Lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove. Built in 1915 and located about 25 miles from the city of Halifax, it sits atop a crop of massive rocks and can be visited year-round. You can head there by yourself or hire one of the many tour companies, like TayMac Tours, to take you on a guided experience to the shore.
Attend a Spectacular Night Light Show in Gaspésie
The small fishing village of Chandler hosts an innovative light show called Nova Lumina most nights between June and September. The mile-long seaside walk takes about one hour; you follow the stars as they lead you to pilgrims who narrate their fascinating stories. It’s a magical and immersive way to learn about the mysteries of the stars and the sea. If you enjoy camping, you can reserve a spot at the on-site campground.
Go Tidal Bore Rafting in the Bay of Fundy
Imagine slowly floating on a tranquil river one minute and then bobbing up and down on rapids the next. The phenomena that is the Bay of Fundy provides its nearby river with an amazing rafting experience twice a day as the highest tide in the world comes barreling into the river. Many tour operators in the area offer unforgettable rides in zodiac boats that are safe for the whole family. This can get messy and muddy, so remember to bring a change of clothes.
Go Sailing on the Atlantic Ocean
On Prince Edward Island, take a three-hour cruise on the open sea or a romantic sunset cruise aboard a 26-foot sailboat with Atlantic Sailing P.E.I. You can get up-close-and-personal with whales, dolphins, and other marine life on your silent, wind-blown vessel.
Ocean Kayak in New Brunswick
Take a half-day, full-day, or a complete week-long kayak adventure into the Bay of Fundy with Seascape Kayak Tours. The fully guided tours will teach you about the local marine ecosystem and the wildlife in the area while you explore the bay. You don’t have to be an experienced kayaker as the guides give basic instructions and lessons on how to paddle before heading out.
Hike, Ski, and Spot Caribou in Gaspésie
The Chic-Choc mountain range in Gaspésie National Park offers unique hiking and skiing experiences that will take you to tundra landscapes, alpine plants, and potentially packs of woodland caribous. Guided tours offer different experiences for different levels of adventurers. You can also give catch-and-release river salmon fishing a try.
Take a Road Trip on the Cabot Trail
On Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, you can drive the 186 miles of the winding Cabot Trail through amazing scenery and coastal views. Make sure to pack your camera and binoculars as you will be making many stops along the way to admire the beauty of the landscape. If biking is your thing, take one of the various tour opportunities with companies like Freewheeling Adventures.
Drive Across the Longest Bridge in the World
Opened in 1997, the 18-mile long Confederation Bridge is the longest bridge in the world, taking visitors from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island and towering over the ice-covered waters below. The bridge is both an award-winning engineering achievement and an exhilarating driving experience. Pedestrians and bicycles are not permitted on the bridge, but there is a shuttle service available to get you across if you don’t have a car.
The unique location and the 70-plus grape growers in the area make Nova Scotia an unexpected must-visit for wine lovers. When visiting one of the many wineries, you are never more than 12 miles away from the ocean. Try one of the many assorted wine tours with local tour companies like Grape Escapes and sample a variety of the wines.
Learn About Native Culture
Visit the Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia and learn about the Native American Mi’Kmaq people and their history. You can also learn how to build a traditional birch-bark canoe while you’re there.
Live Out ‘Anne of Green Gables’
Author L.M. Montgomery is famous for writing the beloved 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, which focuses on a red-headed orphan who is sent to live on Prince Edward Island. Montgomery based the novels on the house she wrote the books in, Silver Bush. Built in 1872, it now serves as a museum and gift shop where you can purchase plenty of Anne of Green Gables memorabilia. You can also take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the grounds.
Explore the First Viking Settlement in North America
UNESCO World Heritage Site L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site in Newfoundland is where you can find the earliest evidence of European settlement in North America. The remains of the 1,000-year-old Viking encampment were discovered here in the 1960s. Today, you can walk through the timber and peat moss buildings accompanied by in-character guides and see the original artifacts discovered on the archaeological site.
Visit the Birthplace of Canada in Prince Edward Island
In 1864, a group of elected officials and representatives took part in a historical meeting that would eventually lead to creating the country as we know it today. Canada was officially born in Charlottetown and you can now visit the exact historical location where in-costume guides and confederation players will explain the history and what it meant for Canadians.