You can drink up the culture and natural beauty of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, by exploring some of its top destinations, restaurants, and events, but much of the charm of Cape Breton comes from its people. Just interacting with Cape Bretoners is a worthwhile event in itself. While this list will give you a glimpse of the best “spots” in Cape Breton, from a local’s perspective, to truly enjoy a Cape Breton visit, you need to mingle with the locals and join in the fun.
1. Do the Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail winds around the northern end of Cape Breton Island. The 300 km trail is famous for the vistas it offers of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean, and the lush landscapes, particularly scenic in fall. My favorite spot on the Cabot Trail is Ingonish and Black Brook Beach. Growing up in Cape Breton, we spent many summers frolicking in the water at Black Brook Beach or hiking through the trails of Ingonish. On top of Ol’ Smokey, it’s easy to see why the trail constantly remains in the Top Ten Best Scenic Trails in the World.
2. Go to the Celtic Colours Festival
If you visit Cape Breton in October, you can partake in one of Nova Scotia’s biggest festivals. Celtic Colours celebrates Cape Breton’s Celtic heritage through music, food, and culture. You can find articles about this year’s Celtic Colours at:
3. Check Out a Ceilidh
One of the most authentic experiences for a visitor is to attend a ceilidh. These casual musical get-togethers take place in halls, pubs, and homes across the island on any given night. My favorite ceilidh spot is at Highland Heights Inn in Iona. They have local talent regularly and you never know who will have a fiddle or a guitar just waiting to be played. Most times, all you need to do is ask and you will have an army list of locals ready to play you a tune. Dancing isn’t optional; it’s required.
4. Order Pizza at Kenny’s in North Sydney
You haven’t truly enjoyed pizza until you’ve had Kenny’s Pizza in North Sydney. I’ve eaten pizza, my favorite food, in dozens of countries, including Italy, and nothing compares to the deliciousness of a Cape Breton pep and cheese.
5. Explore the Wildlife Park
Bears, and moose, and wolves oh my! At Two Rivers Wildlife Park, there are over 40 varieties of native and exotic wildlife and birds housed along a 1 kilometer Wildlife Trail, and more than 12 varieties of domestic and wild animals are housed in Two River’s Petting Zoo. The wildlife at the park have either been born in captivity or rehabilitated after an injury but cannot now survive in the wild. Families love it; couples love it; and tour groups love it! Who can resist a petting zoo and native wildlife?
6. Step Back in Time at the Highland Village
Experience Nova Scotia’s Gaelic culture, heritage, and hospitality at this living history museum and folk-life centre in Iona. You can be certain to pick up a Gaelic word or two as you spend a few hours immersed in Gaelic culture on their 40 acre site dotted with 11 historic buildings depicting life for Gaelic settlers in Nova Scotia.
7. Search for Wildlife
Whether it be a bald eagle, a moose, whales, or dolphins, there is plenty of wildlife to spot in Cape Breton. It’s often the most scenic, remote locations where you can find the most beautiful wildlife. Join a tour or scout out the animals yourself.
Travel and Leisure magazine’s 2011 World’s Best Awards voted Cape Breton Island as one of the best islands to visit, beating out the Great Barrier Reef Islands and Sicily. It was also granted the prestigious honor of being ranked #3 in the world! To me, it’s just home but I still marvel at its beauty every time I step foot on the island and I still don’t think nicer, more friendly people exist in the world. So come join me for a ceilidh at Highland Heights Inn or we’ll order a slice of pep and cheese from Kenny’s and chat about the weather, eh? We’re claiming tourists from around the globe because once they see what we have to offer, they keep coming back for more.
Céad Míle Fáilte!