Wind your way along Cape Breton's Cabot Trail

12 FUN Things to Do in CAPE BRETON Nova Scotia

Planning a trip to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia? You likely have some epic things you want to do. But get ready to add a few more with this list of the most FUN things to do in Cape Breton! I pack a TON of information in this post. Plus, a MAP for your Nova Scotia road trip!

Cape Breton Island is enchanting. Its splendid mountain peaks, jaw-dropping coastlines and inland sea … draped in glorious colors in fall. But you already know this!

What else is there to do in Cape Breton? Here’s a taste. Discovering your favorite craft drink, in breath-taking surroundings. World-class golf, in breath-taking surroundings. Cutie puffins, epic fishing, and museums that’ll change your life. All with the charm of Cape Bretoners’ witty hospitality. 

Also check out the coolest things to do in and near Halifax and on the Bay of Fundy (my favorite!). 

And find the perfect place to stay in Best Hotels for Romantic Getaways in Eastern Canada.

Coolest things to do in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island

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5 TIPS for Things to Do in Cape Breton

Here are 5 tips for exploring the coolest things to do on Cape Breton Island:

  1. Rent a car: Unless you have a health condition that prevents you from driving, I strongly recommend renting a car in Nova Scotia rather than joining a tour group. Slow down your pace to take in the many scenic spots, cute villages and fun hangouts along the way.
  2. Prepare for rural, remote driving: Driving in Cape Breton is generally easy, although the famous Cabot Trail is mountainous. It’s a mostly rural, remote island with lots of distance between communities, so top up your fuel tank before leaving for the day. Also, use a GPS, because cell coverage is iffy outside of the main towns. If you’re looking for a good one, we love our Garmin.
  3. Pick your best time to visit: The best weather in Cape Breton is obviously between June and August, although this is also the busiest. We came in early October because I wanted to see the fall colors; the leaves were just starting to change, so the best time to see them would be mid-October … as long as it doesn’t snow by then. It was already very quiet tourist-wise and some activities were no longer available. So, pick a time that allows you to enjoy the activities most important to you.
  4. Slow down your pace: Cape Breton is about slooowing down and enjoying the peace and quiet along the way. It’s a “stop and smell the roses” kind of place. This was kinda tough for me, which is why I’m adding this in.
  5. Meet the locals: There are many hidden gems scattered across Cape Breton Island, virtually untapped by tourists. Meeting the locals is the best way to find them! The best advice you can get is from the host where you’re staying, the pub’s bartender or the local sitting next to you. Just ask!

WHERE TO STAY in Cape Breton

Lighthouse view from Baddeck on Cape Breton Island

Bras d’Or Lake lighthouse view from Dunlop Inn in Baddeck

We stayed in two different places in Cape Breton, and I highly recommend both. That said, more fun options are listed below as FUN things to do in Cape Breton!

Here’s where we stayed in Cape Breton:

  • Dunlop Inn (552 Chebucto St, B0E 1E0 Baddeck): Baddeck is a great central area for exploring Cape Breton Island, being only 10 minutes from the turnoff onto the Cabot Trail and 1.5 hours from Louisbourg. It’s also right on the lovely Bras d’Or Lake with all the amenities you need. This pretty little inn has a sitting room, deck and beach to gaze longingly at the charming lighthouse across the water. It includes a simple breakfast. I recommend booking the Lighthouse Room, which is the only one with that wonderful view. It’s small, but that view is awesome!
  • Glenora Inn (13727 Route 19, Glenville; GPS: N46 09.163 | W61 19.425): Staying at the Glenora Inn is super convenient for exploring the Ceilidh Trail. It’s central between Inverness (i.e. world-class golfing) and Mabou (i.e. ceilidh-central), and near some beautiful hikes like Egypt Falls and Lake Ainslie. But the best part of staying here is being steps away from the restaurant and its evening ceilidhs. Be sure to make reservations! The inn rooms are simple but comfortable.

And remember to check out Best Hotels for Romantic Getaways in Eastern Canada!

ROAD TRIP MAP of Fun Things to Do in Cape Breton

The map below includes ALL of the coolest things to do in Nova Scotia. Things to do in Cape Breton, in and near Halifax, and on the Bay of Fundy. This makes it easier to plan your own Nova Scotia road trip.

If you only want to see fun things to do in Cape Breton, use the buttons at the top to hide the other areas.

To use the map below: Use the buttons at the top to access map details, to share it (i.e. with yourself to modify it for your own trip) or view a larger version.

12 FUN Things to Do in CAPE BRETON Nova Scotia

Here we go! Below you’ll find a list of 12 FUN things to do in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I have NO doubt you’ll find a few things to add to your trip to Cape Breton Island.

Cape Breton Island is connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway bridge. It’s 3,981-sq miles (10,311-sq kms) of rolling farmland and forested mountains and valleys. Plus, Cape Breton has Canada’s largest inland sea. Its coasts are barren headlands with dramatic drops to the ocean, with both rocky and sandy beaches.

Cape Breton Island is shaped like a butterfly, split down the middle by Bras d’Or Lake. Keep this in mind as you plan your road trip with these fun things to do in Cape Breton.

You may also like EAST COAST Road Trip: Toronto to Nova Scotia

1. Take an epic road trip through Cape Breton – or FIVE

When you think about driving around Cape Breton Island, I bet you think of the Cabot Trail. Which makes sense, since it’s world-famous for spectacular scenery – especially in the fall when leaves change to glorious yellows, oranges and reds.

But, Cape Breton Island actually has five scenic drives that take you along the coast and the inland sea. Then there’s also the informal Artisan Trail, with many cute stops along these five routes.

Use the summaries below to orientate yourself and to plan how you want to experience Cape Breton’s fun things to do.

Here are Cape Breton Island’s 5 epic road trips:

  1. Cabot Trail (northwest corner; 185 miles/298 km): Known for its stunning coastal views and ups-and-downs through splendid mountains and valleys, the Cabot Trail is a must-do for visitors to Cape Breton. It runs through the Cape Breton Highlands, the largest park in the Maritimes. But do you drive clockwise or counter-clockwise? Note that clockwise has more gradual climbs and descents, so it’s easier for large vehicles and cyclists. It’s also busier and slower. Counter-clockwise is more fun for those who want to hug the cliffs and have easy access to pull-outs along the coast. Give yourself 5 hours to complete the loop, plus stops. (Keep reading for stop ideas!)
  2. Ceilidh Trail (southwest corner; 62 miles/100 km): This lovely drive offers views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But what makes this trail extra special is its rich musical heritage, plenty of places to experience it, and warm hospitality that makes you feel like a local. Stop ideas are included in this list of fun things to do in Cape Breton.
  3. Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive (central; 168 miles/270 km): This trail generally starts where you exit off of Highway 105 onto Highway 223. You can follow Highway 223 north along Bras d’Or Lake to Sydney. Or, at Christmas Island, turn onto Highway 216 to follow the lake to Highway 4. At Highway 4, you can either head north towards Sydney, Glace Bay and Louisbourg. Or head back towards mainland Nova Scotia following Bras d’Or Lake’s south shore. The loop takes about 3.5 hours.
  4. Marconi Trail (northeast corner; 43 miles/70 km): A short coastal route along Highway 255 between Glace Bay and Louisbourg. In Glace Bay, visit the Marconi National Historic Site (15 Timmerman St, Glace Bay) to learn about Guglielmo Marconi’s first official transatlantic radio message in 1902 that forever changed global communications, and about his first permanent wireless station.
  5. Fleur-De-Lis Trail (southeast corner; 163 miles/263 km): Highways 247 and 327 run along the southeast corner of Cape Breton, linking Louisbourg with the Canso Causeway. However, many travelers have said that it’s a boring stretch through the woods without coastal views or particularly interesting stops. Road maintenance is sketchy and there are long stretches without services. Sooo … since it’s not particularly epic, a better option is to take Highway 4 along the south side of Bras d’Or Lake.

For the Artisan Trail, visit capebretoncraft.com. This site also has the best map I’ve found yet, with all five trails marked out.

Keep in mind that all of these trails are quite remote and have long stretches between towns and services. Before heading out, remember to top up your fuel. I also suggest packing snacks and a picnic lunch.

2. Fly a kite at the Bell museum in Cape Breton

One of the plane displays at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Cape Breton

One of many cool displays at the Bell Museum

When we visited Baddeck, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the Bell Museum. 

First, about Baddeck. Baddeck is a pretty little village in central Cape Breton, located right on Bras d’Or Lake. It was perfect for exploring the Island’s north, about 10 minutes to the Cabot Trail turnoff and a 1.5-hour drive to the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Now, the Alexander Graham Bell museum is much larger and more impressive than what we expected. Easily expect to spend a few hours here. And it’s very family-friendly, too. Alexander Graham Bell is best known for inventing the telephone. But he also invented the first plane to actually fly and did a lot to help the deaf and mute. The museum does a really good job at presenting its artifacts, photos and full-scale replicas in very interesting ways. You can even fly a kite here!

Also, the coffee shop is really good (I loved the cupcakes), as is the small gift shop. Perfect for picking up trinkets, especially for kids back home. Find out more on TripAdvisor.

3. Drink rum like an 18th-Century soldier

You may already be thinking about a drive out to the historic Fortress of Louisbourg (which is the largest reconstruction in North America). This will seal the deal: sampling the same rum punch that the soldiers drank back in the 1700s, in the same taverns (well, reconstructed) where they drank it. Apparently they enjoyed it a lot.

Book this half-hour guided sampling to discover the historic Fortress™ Rum recipe and also learn about sugar cane’s influence on trade, shipping and slavery in North America. This rum is maturing in oak barrels right at the Fortress as you read this! Definitely a top thing to do in Cape Breton.

The Fortress of Louisbourg sits at the northeast corner of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Once a fortified town with great strategic importance for conquering Canada, it was the site of two major military sieges between the French and the British. This was where the French made their last stand in Acadia before being defeated by the British. The fall of Louisbourg in 1763 led to the fall of the French in Quebec and the end of French rule in North America.

Now a national historic site, the Fortress of Louisbourg is a world-class reconstruction of what would have stood in 1744. These buildings include part of the fortifications, the citadel buildings, the town quay, and many streets with houses, shops and taverns. Costumed guides help bring it to life and make it worth the trek. Visit year-round (though the winter can be quite inhospitable … apparently the soldiers spent a LOT of their winters in the taverns … drinking rum).

Fortress™ Rum is available at the Fortress’ restaurants and at many liquor retailers throughout Nova Scotia (so you can pick up a few bottles to take home!). Learn more about the Fortress at tripadvisor.com and the rum/tours at fortressrum.com.

4. Go in deep at a Cape Breton mine 

On your return to Baddeck, detour up to Glace Bay for another experience of a lifetime. It only adds a half-hour of driving and visitor reviews describe this coal miner’s museum as a life-changing experience. My brother would LOVE this.

The Cape Breton Miners Museum has many modern exhibits and a miner’s village that will intrigue you. But the top things to do are descending into the mine underneath the museum with a retired miner as a guide, and then staying for the famous Men of the Deep choir of working and retired coal miners. Before leaving, enjoy dinner at the well-rated miner’s village restaurant next to a large brick fireplace and kerosene lamps.

To get to Glace Bay from Louisbourg, take the scenic Marconi Trail along Highway 255 (it only adds 10 minutes compared to the fastest route on Morrison Rd). The fastest return to Baddeck is Highway 4 at one hour; to continue along the coast on Highway 28 will add a half hour.

Check it out at tripadvisor.com.

5. Meet some puffins

Close-up of two adorable Atlantic Puffins

Adorable Atlantic Puffins. Photo credit: Annie Spratt from Unsplash.

I’m not really into birding tours, but my kids introduced me to these cuties on the Netflix series, Puffin Rock. Aren’t they adorable?!

Take a 3-hour ecologically-sensitive tour to Bird Islands to see these puffin beauties. Plus, bald eagles, seabirds and grey seals. The tour leaves from the northern part of the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve, which is a half-hour drive from Baddeck. The boat is described as roomy and “very stable,” with removable windows for photography. Guests give this three-generation, family-run tour company very strong reviews. For details, visit TripAdvisor.

6. Sail Cape Breton’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

We can’t have a list of fun things to do in Cape Breton without getting out on Bras d’Or Lake!

Bras d’Or Lake is Canada’s largest inland sea and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s surrounded by Cape Breton’s rolling hills and low mountains, with natural channels to the north and North America’s oldest operating tidal lock canal to the south (completed in 1869). The Bras d’Or Lake area is 425-sq miles (1100-sq km) and a popular spot for sailing and paddling.

The most popular areas to get out onto Bras d’Or Lake are in the south near St. Peter’s Canal and in Baddeck along the northwest shore. Choose from sailing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding and jet-skiing. Rent, charter or join a tour.

Trip Advisor has a good list of providers to consider, most with very strong reviews. Check out boating options on Cape Breton!

7. Tackle some fish … on the ocean, river or lake

Love fishing? Then you’ll love this fun thing to do in Cape Breton! Cape Breton Island is an idyllic place to get your fishing on. This is definitely more up my husband’s alley. But where there’s fish, there’s usually some pretty fantastic scenery!

Deep-sea fishing on the ocean. Fly-fishing along river rapids. Casting from a yacht on the lake. You have many adventures to choose from. Take on the giant Bluefin tuna out on the ocean or slow down your pace along Margaree River as you lure in wild Atlantic salmon. Or go for the lobster!

If you bring your own rod, you’ll still need to get a fishing license to fish in Nova Scotia. Visit the licensing and permits page on novascotia.ca.

Or, find a tour guide to take you to the best spots. Check out the fishing charters and tours on TripAdvisor.

8. Practice your swing on world-class, cliff-side courses

Forbes Magazine called Cape Breton Island “the hottest island in golf.” With breathtaking coastal views and rolling green hills, the island’s golf courses make for an incredibly fun thing to do in Cape Breton. Even if you’re not an avid golfer! Cape Breton golf courses are inspired by its Scottish heritage and complement its beautiful terrain.

Cape Breton Island has seven 18-hole golf courses open to the public. Among them are world-class Highlands Links and Cabot Cliffs, and Canada’s only authentic links course, Cabot Links. A links style golf course is the oldest style of course, originating in Scotland where coastal dunes and little vegetation made it poor for farming … but great for golf! 

Want to stay at a golf resort? Cabot Links Golf Resort is on our list of Best Hotels for Romantic Getaways in Eastern Canada.

Cape Breton’s seven 18-hole public golf courses:

  • Dundee Golf Club (2750 W Bay Hwy, Louisdale): At the south tip of Bras d’Or Lake in West Bay is this 18-hole championship golf course. It takes you up South Mountain, with beautiful, peaceful views of the lake. Designed by Robert Moote and opened in 1977.
  • Cabot Links (18 Cabot Lane): Cabot Links is ranked among the Top 100 in the world and is Canada’s first true links golf course. Cabot Links is nestled between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Inverness, with six holes right alongside the ocean and the remaining with ocean views. It’s a walking-only course (exceptions made for those with medical conditions). Designed by Rod Whitman and opened in 2012.
  • Cabot Cliffs (18 Cabot Lane): This linksland golf course is ranked 9th in the world by Golf Digest. It’s just north of its sister course, Cabot Links, and is also a walking-only course. Designed by Coore-Crenshaw and opened in 2015.
  • Le Portage (15580 Cabot Trail): Le Portage is considered a unique gem of public courses. It sits atop a forested plateau with the ocean to one side and the Cheticamp Mountains to the other. Located just outside the Acadian village of Cheticamp. Designed by Robert and David Moote and opened in 1987.
  • Highlands Links (247 Keltic In Road): Ranked among the Top 10 Best Courses in Canada and Top 100 in the world, this 18-hole course will make you feel like you’re in Scotland with its topography and Gaelic-named holes. It’s inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, just outside of Ingonish. Designed by Stanley Thompson and opened in 1941.
  • Bell Bay (761 Highway 205): Bell Bay is a championship course overlooking the village of Baddeck and Bras d’Or Lake beyond. Golf Digest awarded it Best New Course in Canada in 1998. Designed by Thomas McBroom and opened in 1997.
  • The Lakes (5101 E Bay Hwy 4, Ben Eoin): Located along the southeast shore of Bras d’Or Lake, this 18-hole course has dramatic elevation changes and fantastic lakeviews. It’s only 15 minutes from Sydney. Designed by Graham Cooke and opened in 2010.

For more information, visit TripAdvisor or golfcapebreton.com. Inspired? Shop for top-rated golf gear on Amazon!

9. Take a hike on the Cabot Trail

The world-famous Cabot Trail is a must-do for your visit to Cape Breton Island. THIS was the reason we came in fall … oh, the COLORS!

The Cabot Trail is a windy, up-and-down, picturesque 185 mile driving loop on Cape Breton Island’s northwest coast. And the hikes in Cape Breton Highlands are incredible! Whether you choose a short, easy hike or a challenging overnight experience, do at least one. There’s nothing like it. It’s definitely a top thing to do in Cape Breton.

There’s a fee to drive through the national park, so know in advance how many days you want to spend here. Grab a map at the visitor’s center – you’ll need it!

Need a new backpack? Check out my favorite multi-use day hiking packs for occasional hikers.

Skyline Trail: A short, iconic hike in Cape Breton

Skyline Trail viewing point over the Gulf of St. Lawrence

There are 26 hiking trails along the Cabot Trail. We hiked the popular Skyline Trail. But in early October, we nearly had it to ourselves. And the wildlife! The Skyline Trail is a fantastic, fairly flat 7.5 km there-and-back hike that took us about 2 hours. It takes you to a stunning headland cliff right above the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This trail satisfied my inner hiker and didn’t make my husband miserable. Win, win!

  • GPS coordinates for the trailhead: Lat: 46.737691 Long: -60.880377.
  • Note: dogs are not allowed on the trail, because of lots of wildlife sightings. We saw a moose, quite close up; be careful with them!

For more information on the Cabot Trail and other hikes, visit TripAdvisor and Parks Canada.

10. Glamp it up in Cape Breton

coolest places to stay in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island

Blue Bayou Resort. Photo credit: Booking.com.

I’m always looking for a fun place to stay on a trip – a place I want to come back to after a great day of sight-seeing. Want a place that takes the adventure up a notch, and is a fun thing to do in Cape Breton in its own right? These are it!

Try out this Romantic Tiny House near Inverness, in southwest Cape Breton (i.e. ceilidh country). It’s really cute, with a pretty view of Lake Ainslie and nearby hiking. It’s very private without anything in the immediate area. Keep this in mind if too much privacy creeps you out.

Or how about staying in a dome with a skylight for star-gazing? The best options I found are Blue Bayou Resort near the northwest tip of the Island (25 Old Rd Loop, Dingwall) and Archer’s Edge along the southwest shore (1660 Shore Rd, Judique). Both have strong reviews, heating, electricity AND a private washroom with a hot shower.

And this Mongolian yurt is SO pretty, located at the start of the Cabot Trail about 40 minutes north of Baddeck. The property is on a lake with the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, home to moose and eagles. You can hike, kayak or canoe right here. The yurt has heating and electricity, but the washrooms are shared. The onsite restaurant has strong reviews.

Each of these options are FUN things to do in Cape Breton! You could try all of them, making them your base for exploring different areas of the Island.

You may also like Best Hotels for Romantic Getaways in Eastern Canada.

11. Enjoy North America’s first single-malt distillery

The iconic white-and-black Glenora Distillery on Cape Breton

North America’s first single-malt whisky distillery

This was a top thing to do in Cape Breton for us, given my Scotch-loving husband. With Scottish ancestry, you KNOW Cape Bretoners know how to make good whisky.

Glenora Distillery is the first single-malt distillery in North America. It’s nestled in Cape Breton’s southwest corner between Inverness and Mabou (i.e. golfing and music!), surrounded by lovely glens and mountains. If you’re lucky enough to have visited distilleries in Scotland, you’ll feel right at home here.

At Glenora Distillery, you’ll find the distillery itself, a restaurant and pub with delicious food and daily ceilidhs, and a simple but comfortable inn. Plus, private chalets and a lodge up the hill. Be sure to make reservations at both the restaurant and lodgings.

Glenora whisky is produced from authentic Scottish copper pot stills and mash tun using the traditional method of only three ingredients: barley, yeast and water. Every distillery chooses its water source very carefully, and here, Glenora chose MacLellan’s Brook from the Mabou Highlands – “the purest and cleanest source of water in Cape Breton.” Among its offerings are two 25-year whiskies and the Glen Breton Ice line that uses oak barrels from Jost Vineyards’ Ortega Ice Wine.

20-minute tours are available during the day and leave on the hour. Or, opt for a private backstage pass tour with samples directly from the barrel and a tutored tasting from a variety of Glenora’s offerings. Check it out on TripAdvisor.

Love Scotch whisky? Plan your whisky distillery tours in Islay or Speyside Scotland.

12. Take in at least one ceilidh in Cape Breton

Wrap up your FUN things to do in Cape Breton Nova Scotia with this quintessential experience: a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).

Nova Scotia’s Scottish roots come alive through ceilidhs, and Cape Breton’s Mabou area is the BEST place to experience them. Ceilidhs usually refer to live folk music and singing, but can also include traditional dancing and storytelling.

It’s actually pretty hard not to take in at least one ceilidh while in Nova Scotia. But if you’re looking for recommendations, here are two solid options in southwest Cape Breton:

  • Glenora Distillery Restaurant & Pub (13727 Nova Scotia Trunk 19, Mabou): Now that you’ve been introduced to Glenora whisky in experience #11, I strongly recommend getting acquainted with their pub! The food here is delicious and their ceilidhs feature really good live music, daily at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Recommendations are a good idea, especially for dinner.
  • Red Shoe Pub (11573 Nova Scotia Trunk 19, Mabou): The food is also very good here, and they have traditional live music most evenings. Check their website, though, as times aren’t always the same and sometimes there’s a cover charge. This pub is owned by the Rankin sisters, who are members of the Canadian musical family, the Rankin Family.

Summary and Resources

So, which of these FUN things to do in Cape Breton will you add to your Nova Scotia road trip? Were you surprised by any of these ideas?

I hope you found a few new gems to make your trip to Cape Breton Island truly incredible.

Here are the other posts in this series of best things to do in Nova Scotia:

And take a look at the Best Hotels for Romantic Getaways in Eastern Canada for beautiful places to stay.

Here are my favorite resources for planning a trip to Cape Breton Island:

I also highly recommend a GPS for your Cape Breton road trip. It saved us so many headaches. Rural driving is generally peaceful and relaxing, except when you can’t find a road sign! We love our Garmin GPS.

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Coolest things to do in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island

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