These are a few of my favourite things
You could spend weeks in Cape Breton Island – it’s highly recommended, actually – and still not see everything this ruggedly beautiful island has to offer. It’s less than three hours away from Halifax by car, but its soaring, tree-covered highlands and winding coastal roads with secrets around every bend will make you feel like you’ve journeyed to another continent. If you are like us, you don’t have the luxury of spending a couple of weeks here; it’s entirely possible to make the circuit around Cape Breton in a few days and to hit many of its highlights. Think of it as an appetizer – you’ll definitely want to return for a more extended trip to do this stunning isle justice!
Here are a few of our favourite things on Cape Breton Island.
Where to Stay in Cape Breton Island
Four Mile Beach Inn
Located near the northern tip of the island, Four Mile Beach Inn is a 122-year-old former general store that has been lovingly converted into this charming bed and breakfast. Activities abound here, whether you want to explore the private beach, hop in a kayak, play a game of chess or borrow a book from one of the historical rooms. The owners are experts on the area and can help with trip planning. The Celtic music and fresh Scottish scones we were treated to for breakfast were magical!
Point of View Suites
This is the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg; it’s right on the water, and our room had a fantastic view of the fort. There’s a restaurant on-site that features nightly music by 18th-century style musicians, and breakfast is also provided.
Keltic Lodge at the Highlands
Full disclosure: we haven’t yet had the pleasure of staying here. But we were given a tour of the impressive property (including a luxurious suite once stayed in by Nova Scotia’s premier), and it was love at first sight! Keltic Lodge features spectacular views of North Bay, South Bay and Cape Smokey, with a wide arrange of rooms and cottages – plus its own spa and golf course. We’ll be back….next time to stay.
Where to Eat
Our only moose encounter so far in Cape Breton, the Dancing Moose Café in Birch Plain serves breakfast, lunch and snacks. It specializes in Dutch Pannekoek, basically a pancake available in sweet and savoury options – yum! My partner was lucky enough to see what we think was a pilot whale as we dined – maybe you’ll be as fortunate!
Clucking Hen Café & Bakery
We stumbled upon this delightful café in Englishtown accidentally and were glad we did. The hot chocolate and butter tarts were to die for; there are also sandwiches in addition to the scrumptious baked goods. Throw a great ocean view into the mix, and you have the perfect spot for a break!
Some of the best baked goods I’ve ever eaten (and that’s saying something) came from the Aucoin Bakery just outside of Cheticamp. We came here initially on the recommendation of the friend, and it’s now one of our Cape Breton staples. You seriously can’t go wrong here, whether you choose bread, Acadian-style meat pies, or one of their many fabulous pastries or bars. Just go – your taste buds will thank you.
Le Gabriel Restaurant and Lounge
You can’t miss this Acadian restaurant in Cheticamp; after all, it is shaped like a lighthouse. Le Gabriel offers everything from local seafood to steaks to salads – but the dessert selection, which they bring right to you so you can see it in person, is for me reason enough to visit. Dessert selections change daily, but they’re all equally tempting. I opted for the orange creamsicle pie, and regret nothing.
Ever wondered what life was like for the people who worked in Nova Scotia’s mines? At Glace Bay’s Miners Museum, you can explore reconstructed homes and a general store that tell the stories of miners and their families. You can descend into a coal mine beneath the museum, on a tour led by a retired miner. Then enjoy a meal at the Miners Village Restaurant, and a concert by the famed group The Men of the Deeps. This is one of the most poignant stops in Cape Breton, and shouldn’t be missed!
Fortress of Louisbourg
Another experience not to be missed is the magnificent reconstruction (often from original building foundations) of an 18th-century French colonial town, the Fortress of Louisbourg. This site will take your breath away, and it deserves the better part of a day if you can spare it. Explore the meticulously recreated buildings, speak with servants, sailors and fishermen in costume, taste freshly baked bread, and even fire a musket (well worth the extra fee, trust me).
Highland Village Museum
Celebrate Nova Scotia’s Gaelic culture and history with a visit to the Highland Village Museum in Iona. Perched above the stunning Bras d’Or Lake, the village is comprised of 11 historic buildings – and 40 acres – in which the lives of the province’s Gaelic settlers are brought to life. Learn how to spin wool, marvel at a blacksmith’s skill, visit the adorable farm animals, and even learn a phrase or two of Gaelic while you’re here.
Groovy Goat Farm
Handcrafted soaps and lotions abound at the Groovy Goat Farm & Soap Company in Ingonish. After you have stopped at the lovely shop, meander back to the barn and meet the goats, turkeys, horses, cows, and rabbits that call the farm home. If you are lucky, you’ll be in time for baby goat bottle feeding time!
Learn about Cape Breton Island’s Giant – Angus MacAskill, by visiting the Giant MacAskill Museum and cemetery in Englishtown.
What To See on Cape Breton Island
Cabot Trail / Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Driving along the island’s coast on the famed Cabot Trail, you’ll weave in and out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park along the way. There are plenty of look-off points where you can pull over and take pictures of the jaw-dropping scenery: lush forests as far as the eye can see, magnificent ocean views, steep valleys and towering mountains. If you have the time, consider camping or at least a hike – you won’t regret it (especially if you see a moose)!
Gypsum Mine Lake
If you’re looking for a short hike with a big reward, Gypsum Mine Lake trail is for you! A fifteen-minute walk from the parking lot will take you to an old gypsum quarry, a perfect – and picturesque – swimming hole in the middle of the forest. You can also climb up a steep hill, aided by the provided rope, to get an aerial view of the lake – breathtaking! Just a warning – anyone with a fear of heights will find this climb terrifying, even with the rope, and may want to stick with ground-level views!
Planning a hiking trip? Check out our great tips on hiking.
Cape Breton Island is full of gorgeous beaches, and you’ll no doubt discover your own favourites as you travel. One place to start is Inverness Beach, where you’ll find soft sand, an extensive boardwalk, and views for days. This beach was one of our very first stops ever on the island, and it left quite an impression.
If your travels take you to Sydney (and they should!), take a stroll along the waterfront to visit the Big Fiddle. The biggest fiddle in the world. Towering 60 feet above you, the fiddle is an homage to the folk music of Cape Breton Island’s Celtic community, and you’ll hear strains of these toe-tapping tunes as you approach. Go ahead, dance a jig, no one will judge (I speak from experience)!
From the warmth of its people to its fascinating culture and history to those oh-so-breathtaking highland views, Cape Breton Island delivers everything you want in a getaway- and so much more. It truly is Nova Scotia’s crowning jewel.