Planning a trip to Cape Breton Island? In this post by Lauren Nowack (bio), you'll learn about 8 things to do on Cape Breton Island.
8 Things to Do on Cape Breton Island
At the tip of Nova Scotia is the stunningly beautiful Cape Breton Island.
Attached to the mainland only by a rock-filled causeway, Cape Breton is a spectacular destination for any traveler. Whether a honeymoon, anniversary trip, college road trip, or simply to get away, the culture, history, seascapes, and countryside will sweep you off your feet.
So, let’s go through the best things to do on Cape Breton Island as well as all the good places to eat.
5 Things to Do in Cape Breton
With such a vast natural landscape to explore, there is a plethora of things to do on Cape Breton Island. Our favorite excursion is spending a few days to drive the Cabot Trail.
1. Cabot Trail
A winding, seaside drive, it is widely remarked as one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. So, take it by motorcycle, RV, or convertible to fully take in all it has to offer. You will drive through Cape Breton National Park and have the opportunity to go on a whale watching tour.
If you need to get active, you can hike numerous seaside trails or go kayaking offshore.
Depending on the time of year you visit, there are also spectacular cross-country ski trails in the winter and award-winning fishing in the other seasons.
2. Learn About the Mi’kmaq Culture
Part of the wonders of Cape Breton Island is the culture which thrived here and has been preserved. The Mi’kmaq people lived on Cape Breton before anyone else and are an incredibly open culture.
You can learn to make drums or go on a medicine walk from their village. Taking in this part of Cape Breton heritage will give you a fuller understanding of the majesty of the island.
3. Fortress of Louisbourg (Acadian Culture)
The other two major groups who thrive here are the Acadian or French and the Gaelic or Celtic.
With the former, you can tour where the first European settlers made camp on the island. The Fortress of Louisbourg was founded by the French in 1713. It was the largest un-iced seaport in Nova Scotia for quite some time and became a bustling seaside city.
Being reconstructed today, you can explore what the Acadian town would have been like back in the day. Being the largest and best example of this in North America, this is truly one of our favorite things to do on Cape Breton Island.
For the other side of Acadian culture, visit the Museum of the Hooked Rug and Home Life. You will be able to see first hand many of the crafts that sustained this community and see a glimpse into the lives of these people.
4. Learn About Celtic Culture
Cape Breton Island is also known as the Celtic Heart of North America, and this is not a title they hold lightly. Home to the Gaelic College, this community is filled with a whole myriad of Celtic culture.
You can choose to see a show at the Strathspey Performing Arts Centre or become a part of living history at the Highland Village. Here, you’ll be able to live on the 43-acre site including seeing the local store, a carding mill, the church and a forge.
Through this, you’ll learn Gaelic phrases and traditions. This is just one of the many ways that Cape Breton Island draws you in and makes you feel at home.
Some of the attractions include: Celtic Colours International Festival, Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, Colaisde Na Gàidhlig (Gaelic College), Highland Village / An Clachan Gàidhealach, Glenora Inn & Distillery, and the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design.
5. Visit Some Local Beaches (They're Amazing)
Being an island, there are so many beaches to choose from. If your idea of a vacation involves many days in the sun, Cape Breton can supply that.
One of the best beach hubs is Port Hood, where there are five beaches to choose from. One has a delightful boardwalk while one has the only lifeguarded beach if you have little.
Check out our guide to Cape Breton beaches.
If you want to watch fishing boats or fly kites, there will be ample opportunity for that here as well. The favorite secret local beach is Chimney Corner beach. It provides plenty of privacy from the road and a vast amount of space.
There is a small stream that empties into the Gulf, creating a natural playground for the kids while you sit on the soft sand. With long meadow grass framing the sandy beach against the rock further up the bay, you can’t help but let your cares run away here.
Where to Dine in Cape Breton: 3 Top Choices
Here are my three favorite places to eat in Cape Breton. Have one to add? Join me in the comments.
1. The Bite House
If you can reserve a spot, The Bite House is truly the best place to eat on Cape Breton Island. An unassuming twelve seat farmhouse is home to this delectable restaurant. Their food is all handmade and handpicked from local markets or grown in their own garden.
Supporting independent farmers and local wineries, breweries, and cideries is all a part of their mission to provide you with phenomenal food.
Chef Bryan Picard will deliver a menu which changes monthly to keep the freshest and spectacular items on the menu. So, if you can snag a spot and are ready to have your taste buds rocked, reserve a spot at The Bite House.
2. Black Spoon Bistro
For another delightful spot, check out Black Spoon Bistro. Located close to the North Sydney Ferry Terminal, this is quite the convenient little spot. They don't take reservations, but I promise it will be well worth the wait.
The cozy atmosphere provides the perfect backdrop for the delectable food. With soups, salads, and sandwiches, each will be made to order and dazzle you. The handmade desserts and more sophisticated dinner options, like crispy coconut chicken, are made for all.
While the menu may seem a bit of a stretch if you have kids along, the chefs will be more than happy to simplify a sandwich if needed. So, grab a spot here if you need a bite before traveling more around Cape Breton Island. See Black Spoon Bistro on Facebook.
3. Herring Choker Deli
Lastly, for a great deli not to miss during your time on the island, choose Herring Choker Deli, Cafe, & Bakery.
Whether you need your morning fair-trade organic coffee fix or a freshly baked pastry, this is your stop. For lunch, try out a fresh salad or sandwich to tempt the taste buds.
Wherever you end up on Cape Breton, the fresh seafood will always be your best bet. The colder waters of the north provide unparalleled lobster, so make sure to grab some while you’re here.
Interested in lighthouses? Here are 7 Cape Breton lighthouses, including the first lighthouse in Canada.
Planning Your Visit to Cape Breton
When figuring out the time to come, know that most restaurants will be open during the summer, many closing for the rest of the year. But, that doesn’t mean winter isn’t a magical wonderland here.
Depending on the season, there may be different cultural festivities happening as well. In late summer, there will be a Mi’kmaq event known as Unama’ki Mawiomi. This is a great time to enjoy the dancing, food, culture and joy of the island, straight from the source.
July is a spectacular month to visit as well. With music festivals galore, you can easily spend weeks here. Whether it’s the unticketed Granville Green or the Makin’ Waves Music Festival, each clearly celebrates the island’s joy and culture.
Lastly, there is an annual Ribfest in July in Sydney, which frankly just sounds amazing. So, if you’re available to visit Cape Breton Island in summer, that’s your best bet for having a packed time of activities.
From the stunning natural beauty to the wonderful food, Cape Breton Island will steal a piece of your heart. If you have a love of seafood, unique cultures, unforgettable history, or outdoor adventure, this is the place for you. So, escape on up to wondrous Nova Scotia for an unparalleled getaway with your family.
See the best waterfalls in Cape Breton – they are all on trail systems.
Lauren is a trekbible writer and story maker from Pine Valley, California. She and her husband work in the recreation department at a camp. In their free time, they enjoy mountain biking, building out their Sprinter van, and adventuring with their new puppy, Shadow.