Visit Amherst Nova Scotia
And see why we love it, too!
Amherst, Nova Scotia is located in the geographic centre of the Maritime provinces, and it is Cumberland County’s largest town. It’s full of beautiful sandstone buildings, unique artwork, museums, galleries and exciting dining and shopping opportunities. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the Bay of Fundy; within easy access of waterfalls, beaches, wineries and lighthouses. We recently spent two days in Amherst, and here are a few of our favourite discoveries.
Birkinshaw’s Tea Room
We’ve been hearing friends rave about Birkinshaw’s Tea Room for months, so of course, this was the first stop on our Amherst list, and ended up being the highlight as well! This delightful, award-winning gem (featured in Chatelaine’s Top 10 Places for Afternoon Tea in Canada) wears a lot of hats. It’s a restaurant, serving tantalizing global dishes including what my partner tells me is one of the best sandwiches he’s ever eaten. It is a coffee house, serving fair-trade coffee roasted in nearby Truro. It is a tea room, serving a variety of afternoon teas (don’t be fooled by the name – these are all complete meals!) and cream tea, served with scones, preserves and homemade clotted cream.
This visit was my first experience with cream tea and clotted cream, and let’s say I’ve developed a bit of an obsession, both with the irresistibly sweet taste clotted cream-smothered scones and with the ritual itself. There’s something incredibly appealing about drinking tea out of a vintage china cup and saucer. Choosing your next freshly-made scone from an exquisite 3-tiered tray, and learning all about British afternoon tea etiquette. All in a relaxed, friendly environment where it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember which knife to use!
Co-owner Adrian told us about the real-world Downton Abbey life he led vicariously through his grandfather, who was a butler to aristocratic families in England. His grandfather’s impeccable standards have been passed down, and are evident everywhere at Birkinshaw’s. This place is pure perfection, but don’t take our word for it – make a reservation and find out!
Oh, and if you want to sample the most fabulously tricked out milkshake in the world, order a Freakshake. We dare you to finish it all yourself.
Mural Walking Tour
If you want to work off some of those scone calories after tea, we have the perfect solution. Embark on a mural walking tour around town! The Amherst Mural Project began back in 1996, and consisted of a dozen murals – eleven remain to this day – by different artists, intending to beautify downtown Amherst. (Mission accomplished.) The impressively detailed murals cover subjects as varied as hockey heroes, the role of women in Amherst, the history of transportation, and even poltergeists.
While you’re hunting for murals, keep your eyes peeled for a handful of tree sculptures scattered throughout the downtown area. The first tree sculpture, Acadian Settler, was commissioned in 2004 to commemorate the World Acadian Congress. Since then, plenty of other “tree people” have joined the Acadian Settler, including the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Piper, and Four Fathers of Confederation. All meticulously carved by a local artist.
We love learning about the history of the places we visit. So often, a historic house or museum is one of our first stops. Lucky for us, Amherst’s Cumberland County Museum and Archives is a treasure trove of natural and human history, in the form of curated displays and extensive archives. The museum; housed in beautiful Grove Cottage, dating back to 1838, was once the home of one of Amherst’s four Fathers of Canadian Confederation. Come here to explore your own genealogy. Marvel at the collection of 19th-century artefacts, or wander through the lovely gardens.
Fort Lawrence and Beaubassin
Looking out across these beautifully idyllic fields today, you’d never guess that this bucolic scene was the site of a clash between empires hundreds of years ago. Long used by the local Mi’kmaq people, this land was the site of an Acadian settlement from the 1670s on. As the heart of a critical trading network, it was also a site of strategic importance to both the British and French. General Cornwallis, the Governor of Nova Scotia, arrived in 1750, forcing the Acadians to burn their village and flee into nearby French territory. The British later established Fort Lawrence here, at the disputed border between Acadia and Nova Scotia. Today, no structures remain. However, the site has yielded an abundance of archaeological artefacts and is a poignant reminder of the area’s tragic and contentious history.
Want more Nova Scotia travel ideas? Please read about our Cape Breton Island road trip.
Dayle’s Grand Market
A pillar of the Amherst community for over a century, 129 Victoria St has seen a lot throughout its history as a retail space. It’s now home to Dayle’s Grand Market, housing a growing list of vendors catering to every whim, and it’s one of the most delightfully eclectic and charmingly unusual spaces in town. Have an old coin you want to sell? Are you looking for the perfect east coast gift for friends or family from away? In search of an autographed photo of your favourite sports star? Forgot to pack a bathing suit for your weekend away? Dayle’s Grand Market has you covered.
Mrs Pugsley’s Emporium
Visitors with a fondness for quilting, sewing or crafting will want to make a stop at Mrs Pugsley’s Emporium, stocked full of fabric and other supplies. Even if you have no quilting ambitions, the majestic 130-year-old building that houses this charming shop is worth a visit! It was designed by the architect of Ottawa’s original Parliament Buildings Centre Block, and it’s fabulous! You’ll see lots of vintage furniture and artefacts throughout the shop, along with the quilting handiwork of talented locals.
Amy’s Used Books
We would never have seen this Amherst gem if we hadn’t come across it online, and made a point to visit it. The entrance to Amy’s Used Books is around the back of the nondescript building. Once inside, you’ll be treated to a delightful, seemingly endless labyrinth of used books. We’re talking rows and rows and rows of towering tomes, more than I thought the building could even hold. (Picture the TARDIS, if it was a bookstore.) It’s a bibliophile’s dream! Wander to your heart’s content, or, if you have a specific request, ask staff for help unless you have time for a fun game of hide-and-seek! The gentleman working when we visited was able to find both of the books we wanted, in under a minute. We have no idea how, but we’re pretty sure he’s a wizard.
Amherst Point Bird Sanctuary
Get lost at Amherst Point Bird Sanctuary, and feel like you’re a million miles away from civilization. This protected area consists of forest and marsh ecosystems. It covers a thousand hectares, including 8 kilometres of trails where, in addition to the 228 species of birds that live here, you can also spot muskrats, squirrels and snowshoe hares. Hike, ski, bird-watch, or even enjoy a picnic overlooking Layton’s Lake – you won’t regret it.
Amherst trivia: Did you know that Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson’s father, wrestler Rocky Johnson, was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia?
Though technically not located in Amherst, Oxford is an easy 20-minute drive away, and worth seeing if you’re in the area. Dubbed the Blueberry Capital of Canada, we are told that Oxford processes up to three million pounds of blueberries a day here during blueberry season. Oxford is also home to the world’s largest blueberry statue. An adorable, smiling half-human, a half-blueberry concrete icon who greets visitors as they enter the town. Go ahead, pull over and take a selfie with this local mascot – and maybe pick up some wild blueberries while you’re in town!
For more Nova Scotia travel ideas, check out our 48-hours in Halifax itinerary.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs
Less than half an hour away from Amherst, a visit to Joggins Fossil Cliffs make for an excellent day trip. A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a chance to step back millions of years into the past. You won’t even need a time-travelling DeLorean. Millions of years ago, this area was covered with swampy forests that created coal deposits. Today, you have the opportunity to explore the vast quantities of fossils that were left behind and are revealed every time the tide goes out. The site is always changing, as more fossils are exposed and wash away. We saw a 300-million-year-old fossilized tree when we visited. Who knows what you’ll discover! Book a tour to benefit from your guide’s expert knowledge, and take a spin through the fascinating museum and gift shop.
But don’t stop here! This list is just a taste of some of Amherst’s gems. There are many more treasures in and around the town just waiting to be discovered, including art galleries, spas, museums, boutique shops and tempting eateries. Why not add Amherst to your itinerary, and see what you’ll discover?