Situated on the northeastern edge of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island boasts spectacular ocean views and has maintained its rugged wilderness appeal since Portuguese explorers established a fishing village there. The island was a separate colony until 1820,when it was merged with Nova Scotia, amidst much grumbling from its independent, strong-willed residents. Today, those who live on Cape Breton still carry that pioneer spirit, creating a distinctive community that celebrates its amazing natural resources and long history.
When looking for things to do in Cape Breton, kick off an exploration at Highlands National Park. The most expansive park in the Maritime provinces, established in 1936, this major Cape Breton attraction features trails that weave around stunning waterfalls, through flat stretches of wildflowers and bunchberries, and near the craggy coastline. A particular favorite is Skyline trail, especially around sunset when views of the ocean and the nearby bluffs are at their peak of beauty.
For those who want to cover more scenic ground, take one of several popular sightseeing drives, some of the top things to do in Cape Breton. Cabot Trail is a highway that wends along the ocean before crossing the Cape Breton Highlands, giving drivers ample vistas of mountains and shoreline. Celidh Trail, a roadway through the western portion of the island, hugs the Gulf of St. Lawrence, running from Canso Causeway to Margaree Harbor, where it intersects with Cabot Trail. While on that side of the isle, stop into The Glenora Inn & Distillery, producer of Canada's only single-malt whisky.
Another gorgeous route is Bras d'Or Scenic Drive, circling the large inland sea of Bras d'Or Lake, a top Cape Breton sight. Situated just south the town, the lake is a must-see for boaters, with several marinas and summertime sailboat races. Surrounding the lake are picturesque farms and villages, and the region is a major nesting area for bald eagles. For a leisurely tour around the lake, consider Loch Bhreagh Boat Tours, located in the charming village of Baddeck, itself a quaint Cape Breton attraction.
While in Baddeck, stop into another popular spot, Baddeck Lobster Suppers. The rustic restaurant specialises in just-caught lobster but also features a planked salmon grilled over hardwood coals. Also poised on the edge of Bras d'Or Lake is Rita's Tea Room, housed in a converted 1939 schoolhouse. Opened by local singer and songwriter Rita MacNeil, the restaurant boasts a large selection of teas, naturally, but also an array of sandwiches, soups and pastries. In addition to freestanding restaurants, the area's inns and hotels have dining rooms worth exploring, such as cosy McCurdy's, located inside Silver Dart Lodge, near the lake.
Wild, beautiful Cape Breton Island seems to offer fresh views around every corner. Whether hiking along highland bluffs or ambling by the rugged coastline, travellers will find plenty of spectacular sights. Best of all, the sweet little villages and warm communities are just as memorable as the natural vistas.