For some of the most beautiful outdoor experiences in Canada coupled with unparalleled hospitality, here are some amazing things to do in Atlantic Canada.
What is Atlantic Canada known for?
The Atlantic provinces have some of the most beautiful parts of Canada. Full of stunning coastal hiking trails, dazzling lighthouses, epic whale watching, fresh seafood, and some of the friendliest folks you will meet, travelling in Atlantic Canada is an unforgettable experience. It was an amazing experience to be able to re-discover what’s in my own backyard.
I grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador and after years of living away, I found myself back there during the pandemic. Once travel restrictions lifted along with the opening of the Atlantic travel bubble in summer 2020, I decided to take advantage of the situation and spend the Canadian summer exploring places closer to home.
Wondering where to travel in the Maritimes? Each of the four Maritime provinces has its own unique charm that make them special. In this post, I’ll walk you through all of the highlights and best things to see and do in eastern Canada.
Please note: Always make sure to check the local government guidance before heading to a new destination, and stay up-to-date with the latest health and safety rules for COVID-19.
Newfoundland and Labrador
There’s no place in the world like Newfoundland and Labrador. Known for its world-class hospitality, gorgeous coastal scenery, wildlife and remote destinations, you’ll be sure to love it here.
A trip to Newfoundland usually starts in St. John’s, the capital city where the main international airport is. Although the population is much smaller compared to other Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal, it has a lively nightlife with lots to see and do. George Street, which is the main street for nightlife, has more bars per capita than anywhere else in North America! The city is also home to an incredible dining scene including two of Canada’s top 100 restaurants. For a delicious brunch, go to Mallard’s Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village.
But it’s just about the nightlife; St. John’s is a perfect destination to enjoy during the day. A network of trails surrounds the city called the East Coast Trail, which I hiked in entirety this summer. It’s full of gorgeous coastal views where you can often see whales and icebergs during the spring.
Don’t discount visiting Newfoundland during the winter, either! On the west coast of the island in Corner Brook, which is home to Marble Mountain ski and snowboard resort. This area is also perfect for hiking and snowshoeing. The west coast of Newfoundland is also home to Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site which looks stunning in the winter with the mountains covered in snow.
If you’re planning a trip to Atlantic Canada for next spring, Newfoundland may be the perfect destination as during that time of year, it’s one of the best places in the world to see icebergs. These magnificent giants come down from Greenland ever year, often getting stuck in the bays of communities around the island. They start showing up in April and last until June, although large ones in the past have stayed as long as July.
Home to the biggest city in Atlantic Canada, Halifax is a great place to start your East Coast itinerary. It’s got a wonderful atmosphere and choice of restaurants and craft breweries throughout the city. If you’re planning a visit during the winter months, be sure to go skating at the Emera Oval in the heart of the city. And no trip to Halifax is complete without trying a donair, the city’s favourite late-night snack.
Halifax is also a great base for day trips along the southern coast of Nova Scotia, where you can explore some of Canada’s best small towns. Lunenberg and Mahone Bay are both known for their colourful and quaint buildings, while Peggy’s Cove is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. Just 45 minutes outside of Halifax is the beach town of Lawrencetown, where hardcore surfers ride the winter waves.
Cape Breton Island is my favourite part of Nova Scotia. It’s home to the world-famous Cabot Trail, one of the most scenic road trips in Canada. The drive takes you through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which offers plenty of hiking trails to impress any explorer out there. During the winter months, it becomes even more of a wonderland to play in. Snowshoeing the Franey Trail is one of the best things to do in the winter in Nova Scotia, where you can get 360-views of the Clyburn Brook Canyon and Atlantic coastline.
New Brunswick is often looked over, but it’s worth adding a few days here to your Atlantic Canada itinerary. This beautiful Maritime province has some of the best places in Atlantic Canada for nature escapes. It’s here where you can fully experience the power of the Bay of Fundy, which creates the highest tides in the world. Twice daily, they rise and fall 40 feet or so, and it’s no surprise that its named one of Canada’s most impressive natural wonders! One of the best ways to appreciate this is at Hopewell Rocks. During the low tide, you can walk around the rocks on the ground, and at high tide, you can kayak by them.
Fundy National Park is another place you must visit while in New Brunswick. Located in the south of the province, Fundy National Park is a paradise for hiking trails and chasing waterfalls. But it’s just as good during the winter, where can explore the many trails snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or on a fat bike.
After appreciating the natural beauty of New Brunswick take some time to explore one of the three main cities here: Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John. Each of these cities in Atlantic Canada has its own charm and wonderful restaurants to try. If you’re looking for fun things to do in the Maritimes in winter, be sure to check out the Midland Ice Caves which are between Saint John and Moncton.
Prince Edward Island
Just 224 km long and 64 KM wide, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the smallest province in Canada. But don’t look it over, this tiny Maritime island has some of the best beaches in Atlantic Canada. You could drive the entire island in one day if you wanted to, but spend a couple of nights exploring all it has to offer.
Head to Cavendish to check out the beautiful sandy beaches and red stone cliffs, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Cavendish is also home to Green Gables Heritage Place, the site which inspired the setting for Anne of Green Gables. A trip to this famed landmark has become one of the top things to do out east in recent years. Another fun thing to do in PEI is to check out the lighthouses. The province has 63 different lighthouses, each one with its own unique history!
After a day of exploring, be sure to fuel up with a lobster roll – you won’t find them fresher then here. The capital city, Charlottetown, is a great place to experience the food scene of PEI. They even have a special annual event during January and February called Winterdine, where you can try amazing three-course meals designed by some of the city’s most talented and creative chefs.
PEI has plenty to of outdoor winter activities to offer too. As these island gets covered in a blanket of snow it becomes a winter paradise and hub for outdoor activities like skiing, fat biking, tubing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. And the culinary scene is there year-round.
Getting around Atlantic Canada
The easiest way to get around Atlantic Canada is by car, although there are also international airports in each of the East Coast provinces if you’re short on time and want to fly. If you’re planning a road trip, be sure to follow these road trip planning tips. Whether you are flying or driving, check points are set up between each province and you will need to show proof of your residence when going through.
Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are both islands, but PEI is easy to reach thanks to the Confederation Bridge. This impressive example of engineering goes over the Atlantic Ocean, taking you from New Brunswick to PEI in just 10 minutes.
You can take a ferry to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia. There are two ferries run by Marine Atlantic that both leave from Sydney, Cape Breton Island. The shorter ferry (about 7 hours) goes to Port Aux Basques on the west coast of Newfoundland, and the longer ferry (16 hours) goes to Argentia on the East Coast. Due to COVID-19, only the shorter ferry is running. If you plan to visit during the winter it’s better to fly into Newfoundland, as the weather can significantly delay the ferry crossings during the winter season.
I hope this post could inspire you to plan a trip to Atlantic Canada once it’s safe to travel again. We’ve got much to see in our own backyard and now is the perfect time to plan a staycation. Remember to check local government guidelines before booking any travel.
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