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Cape Breton Island

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Cape Breton Island is a large island comprising the northeastern portion of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. It supports a vibrant, but seasonal tourist industry with a mix of cultural and historical attractions.


View of Cabot Trail
  • Sydney - largest city on the island
  • Baddeck - summer resort area and convenient starting/finishing point for the Cabot Trail
  • Chéticamp - center of Acadian culture on the Cabot Trail
  • Louisbourg - one-time French colonial town best known for its reconstructed fortress
  • North Sydney - end of the Trans-Canada Highway with ferry connections to Newfoundland

Other destinations[edit]


Cape Breton Island was a separate colony until 1820 when it was merged into Nova Scotia against its will. It is the only place in North America where Gaelic is still spoken, a legacy of the large immigration (about 50,000) from the highlands of Scotland in the first half of the 19th century. There are also pockets of French, remnants of the Acadian history described in the Longfellow epic poem "Evangeline", in towns such as Arichat and Chéticamp. There is a strong island identity and sense of community, which increasingly unifies the Mikmaq population of the island.

The island has consistently lost industrial investment and jobs in the past 25 years. However, the closing of the coal and steel industry coupled with the presence of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which buffers the pristine northern half of the island from its more commercialized southern half, have no doubt contributed to the island's very positive ratings for ecological stewardship and spectacular scenery. An excellent reference site for the incredibly beautiful northern tip of Cape Breton can be found at the "Top of the Island" site. [7]

Get in[edit]

By car[edit]

The most common way to get into Cape Breton is by car via the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 104) at the Canso Causeway from mainland Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is approximately 12 1/2 driving hours from Boston, 14 from Hartford and 16 from New York City.

By bus[edit]

There is bus service from mainland Nova Scotia offered by Maritime Bus [8].

Shuttle Service is provided between Halifax and Sydney and environs by several companies who travel at various times throughout the day. Excellent value.

By plane[edit]

Cape Breton Island is serviced by Sydney Airport. Most flights to and from Sydney go to Halifax and then to major destinations such as Toronto, Boston and Montreal.

Get around[edit]

Cape Breton is most accessible by car. The main road is the Trans-Canada highway (Hwy 105), which connects Sydney on the east coast with the causeway to the mainland on the west. You can rent a car in Sydney if necessary. Like any place, you see more if you get off the main road, and the Nova Scotia government has been helpful in this regard by creating a number of scenic drives. These include the:

  • Cabot Trail - Mountainous, windy and sometimes foggy, this drive alternates between hugging the ocean and crossing the rugged Cape Breton Highlands. Considered one of the top drives in North America, it should be considered more a destination than a drive for the variety of activities available around this 190 mile loop.
  • Fleur-de-Lis Trail - Covers the southern French-influenced part of the island.
  • Ceilidh Trail - Covers the western part the island with its strong Scottish influence.
  • Bras d'Or Lake Scenic Drive - follows the shoreline of Bras d'Or Lake.

Road maps and additional information on the island is readily available at any tourism information center (located at entry points and any major towns and cities) and a number of private operators offer trip planning services.

Cable Ferry

A more adventurous option to get around the island is to cycle. The roads tend to be narrow and windy, so prior experience is recommended. Bike rental and trip planning are available through Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures [9]

Hiking trails abound in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and the above-mentioned Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures [10] offers guided hikes to little-known remote areas north of the national park.

Regardless of your mode of travel, watch out for moose on the roads.

There are many small cable ferries between the islands. They usually go every few minutes and charge $5.

Salty Bear Adventure Travel - [11]] An excellent alternative to renting a car, Salty Bear offers budget adventure tours around the Cabot Trail. Run by passionate travelers who aim to provide a true Cape Breton experience, their trips include roundtrip transportation, accommodation, guide with full commentary, guided hikes, National & Provincial Park access, ferry passes, wildlife encounters, BBQ's, bonfires! Discounted optional activities of kayaking, sailing, and whale watching!

See[edit][add listing]

Moose on the Cabot Trail

Cape Breton is noted for its unique and vibrant traditional Scottish violin music incubated by its relative isolation over the years- so much so that music lovers from Scotland come here for a taste of their own past. Typically a duo of violin and piano play hearty dance music that can be seen at community halls throughout the island. The early-evening tourist-targeted concerts are well advertised; later at night you can find ones that draw the entire local community. Some of the most important musical centers are Judique, Margaree Valley and Chéticamp.

The island as a whole ranked second in the world in a National Geographic study of ecotourism, which was conducted in 2002 and 2003.

  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You need an entry permit at $7 a day per person (there are group and family discounts). The Cabot Trail runs through the national park. There are many short hiking trails starting along the Cabot Trail.

Scenery is a major reason to visit Cape Breton. Plan to stop along the many spectacular lookoffs on the Cabot Trail - this will lengthen your travel time between destinations. Since the Cabot Trail is more a destination than a drive, visitors seeking to truly experience this environmental masterpiece should plan on staying a minimum of two days in the villages around the Trail. A number of private operators offer trip planning services to assist visitors in taking advantage of the best attractions both on and off the Trail, some offering all-inclusive multi-day packages.

  • Fortress of Louisbourg, 259 Park Service Rd, Louisbourg, +1 902 733-2280, [12]. This is a reconstruction of the 18th century fortified French town whose presence plagued the British colonies of New England. Its busy harbor was once one of France's most signifiant economic and military assets in North America. If you enjoy the colonial restoration at Williamsburg in the United States, don't miss Louisbourg. 1 May-30 Jun 9:30AM-5PM, 1 Jul-31 Aug 9AM-5PM, 1 Sep-15 Oct 9:30AM-5PM. Closed 1 Nov-3 Apr.
  • The Bras D'Or is a unique brackish lake with its own unique ecological characteristics, and some islands in that lake are sacred to the Mikmaq.
Bay St. Lawrence
  • Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove. Two scenic fishing villages featuring whale tours, fresh seafood and unique accommodations along the rugged cliffs north of the Cabot trail. Turn north at Cape North.
  • Joe's Scarecrows at Chéticamp on the Cabot Trail. Scary gallery of scarecrows with Halloween masks. Entrance is free, but they ask for a small donation.
  • Les Trois Pignons, 15584 Cabot Trail Hwy, Chéticamp, +1 902 224-2612. Museum of Acadian culture based on collection of antiques started by Marguerite Gallant.
  • Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada, Chebucto St (Route 205), Baddeck, [13]. 1-30 Jun 9AM-6PM, 1 Jul-15 Oct 8:30AM-6PM. $6.50.
Joes Scarecrows
  • Tartan Tours, Sydney, +1 902 578-4501, [1]. Offering Daily Tours of The Cabot Trail, Baddeck Louisbourg, The Highland Village & The Miners Museum. We offer Airport & Hotel Pick ups As well as we offer shuttle service for Cape Breton Island. Sit Down Relax and enjoy Cape Breton Hospitality.. Cruiseship excursions a speciality.....  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Celtic Colours International Festival [14]. Celtic Colours is a unique celebration of Cape Breton Island's living traditional culture. For nine days each October the Island-wide festival offers hundreds of events and activities, and dozens of concerts featuring world class musicians alongside some of Cape Breton's finest performers.
  • Whale watching tour. There are boat tours along the coast from Cheticamp north and around to Englishtown. Sighting of whales is almost guaranteed, especially at the northern tip of the island. Tours takes two hours or more, and the scenery alone is worth the price. Oshan Whale Cruises [15] and Captain Cox's Whale Tour [16] operate at the northern tip of the island.
  • Biking the Cabot Trail. [17] Many people think that biking the Cabot Trail is the best way to see it. Featured in the September 07 issue of Bicycling magazine, as North America's Best Ride. Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures [18] will rent bikes, provide one-way shuttles if necessary and plan your itinerary to maximize cycling opportunities.
  • Hiking tours Lots of self-guided hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Guided hikes to spectacularly remote areas north of the national park can be arranged with Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures [19].
  • Kayak tours Eagle North and Sea Spray [20]both offer guided kayak tours, in the large tranquil harbors at the top of the island as well as in the whale-rich Atlantic.
  • The Top Of The Island, (North and Northeast of Cape Breton Highlands National Park), [2]. The most spectacularly scenic region of Cape Breton, the region boasts a combination of historic, cultural and environmental activities. Featuring whale watching, guided hiking, cycling, and paddling tours, museums, artists' studios and galleries and seven miles of the most significant beaches north of the Carolinas, the region is home to Cabot's Landing provincial park, the site of John Cabot's landing in 1497.  edit
  • Arts North, Cabot Trail at Cape North (Drive to the northern tip of the Cabot Trail. Arts North is 3 km SW of Cape North Village), +1 902 383-2911, [3]. 9AM-7PM. A retail gallery featuring the works of over two dozen juried Cape Breton resident artisans. Pottery, jewelry, weaving, quilts, wood, prints, basketry, canvas and other media are all displayed in an architecturally pleasing space. Of interest, the gallery ships purchases world wide for its customers.  edit

Buy[edit][add listing]

Many of the smaller communities have only a general store that sells groceries, sundries, acts as a post office, etc. These small general stores have a very limited selection of groceries - better to stop in a bigger center like Baddeck, Chéticamp, or Port Hawkesbury for groceries, although the Top of the Island area has two Co-Op grocery stores (somewhat smaller than the Co-Ops in Baddeck and Chéticamp) as well as a couple of independents that, taken together, do a reasonable job.

general store
  • Floras, Point Cross, +1 902 224-3139, [21]. Handcrafts. Especially traditional Acadian rug-hooking made by locals. Demonstrations.
  • Local pottery and other juried Cape Breton Only crafts sold along the Cabot Trail at Arts North,[22] outside Cape North, at the northern tip of the Trail.
  • St. Ann's Artisans

St. Ann's, an area to the south of Ingonish along the Cabot Trail, has a large concentration of artisans who work and sell out of their shops. Leather, glass, woodworking, iron art, photography, pottery, pewter and sewing are all found, made by skilled artists, within an hour's drive north of Baddeck.

Smelt Brook Pottery Studio at the Top of the Island in Smelt Brook features two production potters. The studio is open to the public and is a popular rainy-day stop for family learning experiences.

  • Nest (Patti Millet-owner), 11352 Route 19, Mabou, +1 902 945-2414. 10AM-6PM. Nature themed shop featuring jewelry, gifts and home decor. Emphasis on artisan crafts. Local music CDs. All price points, kids welcome, bathroom always available.  edit
  • Traditional Cape Breton square dancing. This form af dancing is a genuine folk dance, since it is performed to local music by local people in the villages. Every village or region on the island has its own version of a square dance and only that version is danced all night. Public dances are announced in local news papers for nearly every night during the busy summer months, especially in Inverness County (Glencoe Mills, West Mabou, Normaway Inn, Judique). But also in the eastern part there is plenty of opportunities (Baddeck, St.Anns College, Cape North, Sydney). The music is the Cape Breton style of traditional Scottish Music. Tourists are welcome to the dances and in many places there are a ½ hour introductory instructions ahead of the dance. Descriptions of the dances can be found in Right to the Helm,Cape Breton Square Sets by Jørn Borggreen, to be purchased at several book- and giftshops across the island, or from the author, [email protected]  edit

Eat[edit][add listing]

Lobster and Crab plate at Rusty Anchor

Seafood, especially lobster, is the thing to eat on Cape Breton. The Aspy Bay oysters are also good. As mentioned in the "Buy" section, if you plan to save money by getting groceries, do so at larger centers such as Chéticamp, Baddeck or Port Hawkesbury. Small convenience stores tend to be more sparsely stocked than convenience stores you would find in cities.

  • Rusty Anchor, Pleasant Bay, +1 902 224-1313. Great seafood, fantastic seaside patio. If you are lucky you can spot a bald eagle hovering above you. Sandwiches $C10, special seafood plates $C20.
  • Cedar House, TCH 105m Boulebarderie Centre, at the Seal Island Bridge between Baddeck and Sydney, +1 902 674-2929. Bakery and restaurant. Good seafood chowder at reasonable prices. May-Oct 10AM-8PM.

Drink[edit][add listing]

  • Club 418, 418 George Street. 10pm - 2am.  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Middle Head

A good number of Bed & Breakfasts and hostels are dotted throughout the island. A few examples follow:

  • Lingan Bayview A & B [23] +1 902 862-6127 or +1866-231-0643 On the beautiful island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. Located 20 minutes from the city of Sydney, in the small fishing village of Lingan, this Bed and Breakfast offers spectacular views, morning and evening, from each room. A quiet, beautiful area just steps from the ocean, this is one of the top 5 places recommended for bird watching. Nearby attractions include Two Rivers Wildlife park, Fortress Louisburg, Miners Museum, and the scenic Cabot Trail.
  • The Inlet B&B, Dingwall [24]
  • Two Tittle Inn B&B, White Point [25]
  • Oakwood Manor B&B, Cape North
  • Seymour Harbour B&B, Neil's Harbour,
  • Keltic Lodge [26], Middle Head Peninsula, Ingonish Beach, +1800-565-0444. This resort and spa is on the spectacular Middle Head peninsula. There are views of the sea to both sides. Just behind the main lodge is the start of the hiking trail to the tip of Middle Head. Double room $190 in high season, $290 including 2 X gourmet dinner and breakfast. The dress code is casual smart.
  • Glenora Inn & Distillery [27], Route 19, Ceilidh Trail, Glenville, +1800-839-0491, email: [email protected] Sleep at North America's only single malt distillery. Has restaurant and bar. Rooms from $120.
  • Silver Dart Lodge [28], 257 Shore Rd, Baddeck, +1 902 295-2340. email: [email protected] Open May-Oct. Rooms from $99-119.
  • Cabot Trail Hostel [29], Pleasant Bay, +1 902 224-1976. email: [email protected] Bed $27/night, private room $59/night (XP $10/night), All prices tax included. Clean establishment, friendly owners!
  • Castle Rock Country Inn, 39339 Cabot Trail, Ingonish, tel: +1 888 884-7625 (email: [email protected]) [30], Spacious, comfortable, non-smoking rooms with satellite TVs and queen-sized beds. Small licensed dining room and lounge with excellent food and Nova Scotian wines. Large patio in back has beautiful views of the bay - eagles and other wildlife can often be seen. Friendly hosts and cute-yet-inconspicuous pets. $89-$148. (Packages also available.)
  • Bear on the Lake Guest House // HI Cape Breton Island [31], 10705 HWY 105, Aberdeen (Between Whycocomagh and Baddeck), +1 902 756-2750. email: [email protected] Dorm Rooms $25-$30 / Private Rooms with private lounge from $65-75. Features include: 10 minutes from the start of the Cabot Trail! Overlooking the Bras D'Or Lakes, patio, BBQ, firepit, free internet/ WiFi, linens, laundry facilities, tours of the Cabot Trail can be arranged!
  • The Water's Edge Inn, 22 Water Street, Baddeck, 1-902-295-3600, [4]. Spacious king, queen rooms with private baths. Balconies overlooking the lighthouse and the beautiful Bras d'Or lakes. Breakfast.  edit
  • Big Hill Retreat, Big Hill Road, Baddeck, +1 902 295-2726, [5]. Lovely secluded cottages on a peaceful wilderness homestead with gardens, pond and pottery studio. $90-130/night.  edit
  • Bras d'Or Lakes Inn (Bras d'Or Lake Scenic Route), 10095 Grenville Street (Hwy 104 towards Sydney), (toll free: +1 800-818-5885), [6]. checkin: 2:00 PM; checkout: 11AM. Waterfront 4 star well kept inn with 5 star licensed restaurant and lounge. 20 rooms in cedar lodge right beside the St.Peter's Canal. All rooms have private bath, internet access, flat screen cable television, fridge, microwave and coffee machine. Waterfront activities available. Rooms from $110. (60N,45W) edit
  • Paul's Perch on the Sunset Coast. Beautiful Private house rental on 86 acres. Ocean and sunset views from whole house. Short dist from beaches, restaurants, world class golfing. Sleeps 7, luandry, free wifi and many amenities. Google Paul's Perch. $150-$176. (46.271054,-61.230184) edit

Get out[edit]

If you want to do a bit of island-hopping Atlantic Canada-style, you can take one of two ferries from North Sydney to Newfoundland. The ferry to Port aux Basques on Newfoundland's south-west coast is the shorter of two and runs daily throughout the year. The ferry to Argentia is much longer (about 14 hours) and only runs in the summer, three times a week. Ferry services are provided by Marine Atlantic [32].

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!