Cape Breton is an island at the tip of Nova Scotia - one of the Maritime provinces in Eastern Canada. Although Cape Breton is part of Nova Scotia, it has a distinct identity. Today, Cape Breton is an island famous for its Celtic heritage, which visitors may enjoy through the music, food and charm of the people. Cape Breton is also home to one of the world's most beautiful drives: the Cabot Trail.
Getting to Cape Breton
Most travelers to Cape Breton arrive via Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital. If flying into Halifax International Airport, you can rent a car and drive three hours to the island of Cape Breton. Access to the island is via the Causeway, which is a short bridge from mainland Nova Scotia to the island of Cape Breton.
Sydney, a city on the island's southeast side, also has a small airport.
Cape Breton Weather and Climate / When to Visit
The most popular time to visit is July, August and September; however, spring and late fall still see tourist activity - especially the week in October when the Celtic Colours Festival takes place.
Weather can be unpredictable at any time and it's best to pack clothes that can be layered and suitable for different conditions. It can also change quickly; one Cape Bretoner joked to me that it's possible to experience four seasons in a day. Summers tend to be hot and humid, but fog, high winds and cold spells are also common. Fall is a gorgeous time to visit because of the fall foliage, which is vivid and expansive, especially along the Cabot Trail. Spring and winter are less popular, and thus offer travelers the potential for budget travel.
Cape Breton Highlights
Cape Breton has a lot more than just the Cabot Trail and Louisbourg to offer visitors; however, these two are probably the most famous. Nature lovers can whale watch and explore the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Foodies can gorge on fresh seafood like lobster and crab and other local fare. Music lovers will be surprised at the high quality of entertainment at even the smallest venue. There's also golf, shopping and more. Read more in Top 10 Things to Do in Cape Breton.
The Cabot Trail
Named for explorer John Cabot, the Cabot Trail winds around the northern end of Cape Breton island. Drivers or hardy cyclists begin and end at many points in the circuit, but typically tourists do so at the town of Baddeck. The 300 km (185 mi.) long Cabot Trail is famous for the vistas it offers of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean and lush landscapes, particularly spectacular in fall. The Cape Breton National Highlands Park is at the trail's most northern points and where the trail reaches its highest elevation. The trail takes a few hours to drive, but tourists generally spend a day or two, stopping in at one or two of the towns along the way.
Accommodation in Cape Breton
The only hotel chains on Cape Breton are in Sydney, which, outside of Halifax, is Nova Scotia's only other city: everyplace else is deemed a town or village. So, visitors for the most part stay at Bed and Breakfasts or local hotels, mostly small to mid-size and privately run. Some accommodation may strike you as on the rustic side and you may find clunky pipes or thin walls, but generally the charm of the proprietor will let you overlook the shortcomings. Visitors will also encounter elegant resorts, like the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish Beach just off the Cabot Trail.
Another recommendation is the Normaway Inn in the beautiful Margaree River Valley. Set on 250 acres of land, visitors may stay in the inn or one of the chalets or cottages. All are within stumbling distance from the Barn, where musicians take to the stage frequently from June through October.
Eating in Cape Breton
If you like lobster, you can eat it morning, noon and night in Cape Breton. McDonalds even serves up a McLobster sandwich, which is a cold, real-lobster sandwich. Other local favorites include crab cakes, seafood chowder (try the Glenora Distillery's), and oat cakes at breakfast or tea. Try a Nova Scotia wine, such as L'Acadie with dinner.
Cape Breton Maps, Pictures and Guidebooks
- Map locating Nova Scotia and Cape Breton
- Cape Breton and Cabot Trail Map
- The Cabot Trail Companion is a CD that gives insider information on the area and its real-life inhabitants.
Cape Breton Events and Festivals
Cape Breton's biggest festival is the Celtic Colours Festival where folks gather to play music and enjoy Celtic culture as well as the fall foliage.
Lopsterpalooza is a month-long seafood and lobster extravaganza along the Cabot Trail.
The Stan Rogers Festival, also known as Stanfest, celebrates the Maritime-loving musician with a lineup of folk, rock, Celtic and other musical acts.