ENJOY: The quaint town / St FX University / surrounding beaches
Head from mainland NS, whether it be the airport, the Annapolis Valley, or Halifax, to Antigonish. This small town is not on Cape Breton Island, but will serve as your home base to discover St. FX University campus, the cute town, and the surrounding beaches. Read more about that here. There are a number of inns right in town, and more motels and campgrounds within a ten minute drive.
STAY: Lake Ainslie
ENJOY: Inverness / The Red Shoe / Alexander Graham Bell Museum
After a serious Nova Scotian breakfast, cross the causeway onto the Island. Nothing is very far away, so spend the day driving the back roads around Lake Ainslie. Stop for lunch in Inverness and sunbathe on the gorgeous white sand beach. Head to Baddeck and make a call at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and enjoy appetizers at one of the many cafes in town. Have a late dinner at the Red Shoe, the Rankin family’s famous pub in Mabou, and take in some live Celtic music. This sounds like a big driving day, but in reality, the whole trip from Antigonish will take about 3 hours. Don’t miss these epic beaches while you’re at it. Take and leave the bits you want, and cover sections of the slower and scenic Cabot Trail as you go. Spend the night on Lake Ainslie so you can wake up by the water.
ENJOY: Cape Breton Highlands National Park
After yet another breakfast of more food than you can handle, put on your hiking boots and tackle one (or more) of the many trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Skyline Trail is a classic, but there are loads of other options, many suitable for children or people with mobility difficulties.
Adventurous detour: For those looking for the full Cape Breton experience, spend the night in Dingwall. Beautiful beaches, lovely people, awesome food at The Markland. If you’re not so much into winding roads and beautiful vistas, spend the night in the National Park, or skip the tip of the island and head straight to Ingonish.
ENJOY: Meat Cove, Ingonish
The optional detour for those feeling adventurous! After a night in Dingwall, drive up the winding road to Meat Cove, and peer off the side of the cliff – find out how here! Stop for fish and chips at the top or continue to Ingonish on the Cabot Trail. Don’t forget to visit the goats at Groovy Goat Soap. Spend this night in Dingwall, or at one of the many campsites right on the Cabot Trail.
ENJOY: A giant fiddle / Glace Bay Miners Museum
Take the scenic route down the shore toward Sydney, and after taking the very anti-climatic Englishtown ferry, spend the day exploring Sydney, the island’s historic capital. Visit the giant fiddle, the harbourfront, and eat your way through fresh seafood and international cuisine in the may restaurants. If possible, take a detour to Glace Bay to visit the Miners Museum. Opt for the full mine tour, led by miners, and then stop in New Waterford to pay tribute to lost miners at the memorial park. Spend the night here, or in Sydney.
ENJOY: Louisbourg Fortress
A whole day is needed to cover all there is to see and do at this massive historic site. Have an authentic lunch with the site’s actors, watch the cannon be fired, and participate in the many on site activities. This full Louisbourg day is made complete with supper in the sweet little town, and a night at one of the many gorgeous inns.
STAY: Isle Madame
ENJOY: A gorgeous island / beautiful French / kayaking extravaganzas
For your last day and night on the Island, head to Isle Madame, a fully French corner of Nova Scotia that produces funny looks from Islanders when you say you’re actually going there. The Isle takes less than an hour to fully circle, and is home to some of the best surfing and kayaking in the province. This may be both the most adventurous and relaxing portion of your whole vacation. You’re ideally located to make your way back to the mainland- and to reality.