Cape Breton Island is Nova Scotia’s northernmost land mass, and a place of unsurpassed natural beauty. One of its main attractions is wildly scenic Cape Breton Highlands National Park, located at the far north edge of the island’s western tip. Others are the authentically restored fort at Louisbourg and scenic Bras d’Or Lake, the inland saltwater lake that almost bisects the island.
By air, road, rail or sea, Cape Breton Island is easily accessible. The visitor is immediately swept up in the striking beauty of the landscape and the warmth and welcome of the people living there.
Cape Breton Island is linked to mainland Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway, a mile-long road and railway system that is part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Metropolitan Cape Breton is just the right size to make visitors feel at home. Fine hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions make it one of the island’s favorite stopping places. Always popular are the historic villages, world-class golf courses, and Celtic music festivals in the island’s stunning setting.
The history of Cape Breton Island is a multicultural one. Its settlers have included the Mi’kmaq, French, British, and later, predominantly Scottish people. In the early 1800s, as many as 40,000 Gaels from Scotland came to Cape Breton Island. For the next 150 years Gaelic was the predominant language in rural Cape Breton. Songs and stories collected then still delight audiences of today, continuing to reveal a rich cultural heritage.
When Europeans arrived, they found a green land covered in lush forests, streams and rivers full of salmon and trout, the forests home to caribou, cougars, moose and other wildlife. This has not changed. The Southern Gulf of St Lawrence is so rich in sea life that whale cruise operators guarantee sightings. Sea turtles are also present. Whether your preference is for historic sites, cultural events, outdoor adventure or relaxation in a phenomenally beautiful setting, Cape Breton Island is the perfect place to visit. The island features five Scenic Trails. Pack a picnic and travel to the Bras d’Or Lakes to watch a spectacular sunset, or photograph the breathtaking scenery while hiking or bicycle riding along the rugged eastern coast. The beaches on the western “Sunset Side of the Island” are perfect for whale watching, sailing, kayaking and scuba diving.
Residents and visitors join in the old-time dances as bagpipers and fiddlers celebrate Gaelic culture amidst the quiet beauty of the Ceilidh Trail. The Keltic Lodge, Cabot Trail, and the Cape Breton highlands make up Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Uplands. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is located at the north end of the island, where the highest point in the province rises to over 15,000 feet.
Although seasonal hunting continues in this area, tourism and recreational activities predominate because of the impressive scenery and wildlife attractions along the Cabot Trail and in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Cabot Trail is the official designation for the 185-mile roadway around the northwest part of the island, which encompasses the national park. It’s named after John Cabot, who many believe first set foot on North American soil near Cape North.
The Margaree Valley on the west coast, south of Inverness, is a beautiful farming region. Livestock raising and dairying, the most valuable agricultural activities, are carried out in the farmlands of this area. Sydney, the largest city on the island, is a steel-manufacturing center.
The Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee) Trail lines the west coast of Cape Breton Island. The images of blue ocean, green mountains, and jutting capes define the perimeter of Cape Breton Island, but inland there are serene river valleys, placid lakes and waterfalls.
Baddeck, (much like a New England village) offers fine accommodations and restaurants, and is centrally positioned for day excursions to many of the island’s attractions: the national park and the reconstructed historic settlement of Louisbourg. Visitors can tour the Fortress at Louisbourg, wander through centuries-old Acadian villages, and descend to a coal mine beneath the ocean floor.
For a vacation that is never to be forgotten, consider Cape Breton. When you arrive, listen for the words of the Gaelic greeting you are sure to hear: ‘Ciad Mille Failt’ (OneHundred Thousand Welcomes!)
B- City Information:
Time Zone: Atlantic Time Zone. When it is noon in New York City, it is 1:00 PM in Cape Breton
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Good Friday (varies)
Easter Monday (varies)
Victoria Day (closest Monday to May 24)
Canada Day (July 1)
Labour Day (September 4)
Thanksgiving (2nd Monday in October)
Remembrance Day (November 11)
Christmas (December 25)
Boxing Day (December 26).
Cape Breton is connected to the mainland via the Canso Causeway, an 80-foot-wide, 217-foot-deep, 4,300-foot-long stone causeway built in 1955 with 10 million tons of rock hewn from an adjoining mountain (half of which remains). The causeway is 163 miles from the New Brunswick border at Amherst and 169 miles from Halifax.
Follow the Trans-Canada Highway #2 to the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, then follow the Trans-Canada Highway #104 to Cape Breton Island.
Follow Interstate 95 north to the US/New Brunswick border. Follow the Trans-Canada Highway #2 to the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, then follow the Trans-Canada Highway #104 to Cape Breton Island.
From the US to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia:
At Yarmouth, follow Highway #103 to HIghway #102. Follow the #102 to the Trans-Canada Highway #104, which leads to Cape Breton Island.
From Bar Harbour, Maine:
For schedules and reservations, contact Bay Ferries Ltd., 1-888-249-7245. Tickets must be picked up one hour before sailing.
From Portland, Maine
Daily service, May through October. Reservations required. In the US or Canada, call Prince of Fundy Cruises, 1-800-341-7540. In Maine only, call 1-800-482-0955
The Sydney Airport on the island is serviced daily by regular Air Nova flights via Halifax and on to New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto and St. John’s. During high season, air service is supplemented with direct charter flights from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal to Sydney. Sydney Airport has several car rental kiosks.
VIA Rail Canada offers service weekly to and from Cape Breton Island on its Bras d’Or Line. The train departs once a week from Halifax or Sydney. The special luxury train winds through picturesque communities and rolls along the shores of the Bras d’Or Lakes. Regional cuisine is served on board. VIA Rail (800/561-3949 in the U.S., or 888/842-7245 in Canada).
C- Attractions/Things To Do:
Cape Cod Glass Works
845 Sandwich Rd, Sagamore, MA
Watching the artisans creating glass is sure to entertain the entire family. Open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Yesteryear’s Doll Museum
Main and River, Sandwich, MA
The museum has a collection of dolls, doll houses and toys from around the world. Open from mid-May to mid-October
Nobska Rd, Woods Hole, MA
This lighthouse was erected in 1876 and provides spectacular view of Vineyard Sound.
Dexter Grist Mill and Hoxie House
Town Hall Square, Sandwich, MA
Authentic mid-17th century mill built to grind corn. Take the tour of the mill and then see how the pilgrims really lived – no electricity, plumbing and heat. Ah, the simple life. Open daily the summer
Grove and Pine Streets, Sandwich, MA
76 acres of beautifully maintained grounds feature an antique car collection, a military museum, a folk art museum and a 1912 restored carousel. Open May through mid-October
Waterfront Park Rt. 28, West Dennis
Take a river cruise down the Bass River, Grand Cove and Weir Creek on a custom built flat bottom boat. You’ll see all types of wildlife, beautiful waterfront estates, lighthouses and windmills. Group rates available. Call for more information.
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises
The 110-foot vessel seats about 300 people and cruises at 35 mph. Travel across Cape Cod Bay to the Stellwagen Bank area. Naturalists provide the commentary. Whales usually spotted within an hour upon departure.
165 Ocean St Dock, Hyannis, MA
This Cape Cod catboat travels daily out of the Hyannis Harbor. Choose either the harbor cruise, starlight cruise or nature cruise. View the Kennedy compound and local lighthouses.
Cape Cod Scenic Railroad
252 Main Street, Hyannis, MA
For those who love trains and wish to see the less frequented areas of the Cape, come aboard. Narrated tour.
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum
397 Main Street, Hyannis, MA
This museum focuses on the years JFK spend on Cape Cod. Photos and a narrated video are some of the features.
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
Rt 6A, Brewster, MA
The museum offers four-hour bird-watching trips to North Monomoy Island. The museum also offers overnight cruises to the island. Guest sleep in the Keeper’s Cottage attached to an 1820 lighthouse. Other excursions available so call for more information.
Outermost Harbor Marine
83 Seagull Rd, Chatham
Seal cruises and shuttles to South Beach.
MacMillan Wharf, Provincetown, MA
A replica of the seaworthy schooners that sailed during the 19th and 20th century, the Hindu offers four two-hour sails a day during the summer.
Cape Cod Flying Circus
Chatham Municipal Airport
204 George Ryder Rd, Chatham
Take a 20-minute flight that includes loops, rolls and acrobatics. Or take a more sedate trip sightseeing along the coastline.
Rambling Rose Carriage Company
Commercial Street at Town Hall, Provincetown, MA
Enjoy a horse and buggy ride through the quaint town of Provincetown.
D- Family Fun Attractions:
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park
July-Aug daily 9am-6pm; May-June and Sept-Oct daily 9:30am-5pm
Closed Nov 1-Apr 30
You will wander through the impressive gatehouse preparing to be challenged by a costumed guard who may mistake you for an English spy. Visit the exhibits, the farm, and finally the bakery for freshly baked bread out of wood-fired ovens.
Highland Village Museum
Free guided tours by costumed interpreters.
Hours Mid-May to mid-Oct daily 9am-6pm (mid-July to late Aug until 8pm)
Location Rte. 223, Iona
Closed mid-Oct to mid-May
The Highland Village is located near Iona, on a grassy hillside with sweeping views over the lake. The living history museum contains a 43 acre village featuring 10 buildings that reflect the region’s Gaelic heritage, including historic structures moved here from locations around the island and exacting replicas. These range from the Black House (ca. 1790), a stone and sod hut of the sort an immigrant would have lived in prior to departing Scotland, to a schoolhouse and general store from the 1920s. Staffers dressed in historical costume will answer any questions you may have about early island life.
E- Events & Entertainment:
Mabou Ceilidh Days
June 27 to July 1
Mabou Ceilidh Days. Mabou. Road race, boat parade, street parade, dances, buffet dinner, Scottish concert, children’s games and crafts, chicken barbeque, outdoor gala, beer garden, and softball tournament.
Glendale Ceilidh Days Glendale
Outdoor Scottish concert, family square dance held at Glendale Parish Hall & grounds. Adult dances
Inverness Crab Festival
Noon – 6pm
Inverness Crab Festival. Inverness Museum. Live entertainment on deck of Museum.
Judique On The Floor Days
July 11 to 13
Judique On The Floor Days. Judique Recreation Grounds. Outdoor dances, beer gardens, children’s games, games of chance, ball games, junior track meet, variety concert, road race, dinner and teen dance. This event is held out doors except for the teen dance at the Judique Recreation Grounds 20 miles north of the Canso Causeway on route #19 Judique
Whycocomagh Summer Festival
The 30th Anniversary of the Whycocomagh Summer Festival. Situated at the head of the Bras d’Or Lakes, it is ideal for water activities such as canoe racing and boat tours and Ceilidhs On The Waterfront featuring traditional Scottish and Mi’Kmaq talent. There are Maragh suppers, craft shows, dances, kiddie games and a wide variety of sporting events for all ages.
Third week in July
Inverness Gathering. Groups in the area have a day of activities- I.E.: K.C. Senior’s Party. Wednesday-Legion Day-Parade Of Vets, games of chance, bingo, BBQ, harness racing.Friday – Fireman’s Day – pie sale, fire-truck rides, BBQ, flea market, games, Brigade Beauties fashion show, dance. Saturday – arena & minor hockey – games of chance, kiddie parade & main float parade (many changes each year). Sunday – harness racing.
Belle Cote Days on the Cabot Trail
Last weekend each July – Ecumenical Service, outdoor concert. Sunset beach party. Corn & crab boil on Friday, breakfast brunch and adult dance on Saturday, Kid’s Day Saturday pm, Seniors Day Friday pm. Fireman’s chicken barbeque on Sunday.
Chestico Days Summer Festival July 28 to August 3
Port Hood Arena grounds. Week-long summer festival with events such as golf tournament, horse race, road race, dances, concerts, ceilidhs, BBQ, beer gardens, boat and street parades, boat rides, games, fireworks, stepdancing showcase, Celtic music, stepdancing workshops. Children’s parade, teen dances.
Festival de l’Escaouette
Festival de l’Escaouette. Annual Acadian Festival featuring 3 days of concerts. Live entertainment, dances, Acadian meals, parade, children’s activities and much more. A chance to relive the Acadian traditions. We invite all our visitors to join in with our community for a festive 3 days in the beautiful Acadian region of Cheticamp. Aug 1–3. Admission charged.
Creignish Ceilidh By The Sea
August 8 to 10
Children’s games, bbq, bicycle parade, concert and family square dance all concentrating on Celtic culture and community. Family fun.
Third week in August
Annual Cape Breton Exhibition
Held in North Sydney
Aug 30–Sep 1
Cabot Trail Bicycle Tour
Cape Breton Highlands. Largest cycling event in Cape Breton. Recreational cycling tour around the Cabot Trail. Admission fee.
Third weekend in August
Annual Kintyre Farm Scottish Outdoor Concert
Kintyre Farm Scottish Concert. Kintyre Farm. 2-7 pm – Outdoor family Scottish concert At Kintyre Farm, Judique featuring Judique’s and Inverness County’s famed fiddlers, singers, dancers, pipers and Celtic guitarists. Canteen, washrooms and fee parking. Pack a blanket or chairs & head for this scenic country farm setting. At the Centre, take in a ceilidh from 7-9 pm and adult square dance 9 pm . Always third Sunday in August..