The Cabot Trail is a 300-kilometre scenic drive north of the island, starting from Baddeck and looping around Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It is named for Italian seafarer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), who sailed to North America in 1497 and claimed land in Canada for England. The combination of cliffs dropping into the ocean, rounded mountains, highland moors, glacially scarred rocks, and old-growth forests make the Cabot Trail one of the most beautiful stretches of road in North America.
The Fortress of Louisbourg is Canada's most famous historical reconstruction, painstakingly recreated from ruins and contemporary records into French soldiers march down the streets of the town as ladies dance in formal parlours. Cannon fire shakes the ground as harpsichord tunes mingle with baking bread aromas wafting from the stone bakery. Step through Louisbourg’s fortress walls and time-warp back to the 1700s. Sip rum and watch lace-making as children play 300-year-old games and stew simmers on an open-hearth fire. It’s so real, it seems surreal.
Along with touring on the Cabot Trail, one of the most popular things to do in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is hiking its scenic trails and enjoying its natural attractions up close. This mountainous national park in the north of the island extends for more than 950 square kilometres that are home to moose, beaver, deer, wild cats, duck, boreal birds, and eagles.
At the summer home of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, you can enjoy a glimpse into the life and work of the man who brought us the telephone and put his genius to work in areas as diverse as flight and artificial respiration. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site houses personal effects and documents belonging to the famous inventor, as well as parts of two hydroplanes made by Bell and powered by aircraft engines. Special programs include a White Gloves Tour that lets visitors handle actual artifacts, and a Tetrahedral Kite Workshop, where you can build and test a kite based on his designs. The Bell home is on the shores of Bras d'Or Lake, in the beautiful town of Baddeck, a starting point for the Cabot Trail scenic drive.
Address: 559 Chebucto Street, Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/grahambell/index.aspx
Glace Bay has long been known for its coal. The hill on which the town was built contained vast coal deposits, mined by the French since 1720. The Cape Breton Miners' Museum shows how coal originated, as well as demonstrating old and new coal mining methods. Retired miners lead fascinating tours of an actual coal mine, relating real-life stories of the miners lives and experiences working the coal seams. Next to the museum is a reconstruction of miners' quarters from the second half of the 19th century.
Gaelic culture is the theme of this living history museum in the heart of the Bras d'or Lakes. Lives of the Scottish families who settled here are captured in the period homes, church, general store, and one-room schoolhouse. A blacksmith is busy at his anvil, farmers harvest crops, and women prepare meals in the kitchens, while other costumed interpreters demonstrate spinning, dyeing, and weaving. You'll hear the lilting rhythms of the Gaelic language as well as traditional music, or perhaps be able to join in a Gaelic milling frolic.
The Bras d'or Lakes and their many bays spread across more than 1,000 square kilometers of southern Cape Breton Island, with both fresh and salt waters that provide plenty of boating and sailing opportunities. The lakes have been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Les Trois Pignons in Chéticamp, a little Acadian fishing village on the edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, focuses on the art form perfected by Acadian women who settled here: rug hooking. It blends the area's history with the evolution of hooked rugs, preserving entire rooms of furniture and household items and opening a window into the lives of Acadian settlers in this part of the island. But what you'll remember most are the examples of antique and contemporary rug hooking, shown in gallery after gallery. These range from small scatter rugs to room-sized masterpieces and wall hangings, even hooked portraits by artist Élizabeth LeFort. Her portrait of President Dwight Eisenhower, which hung in the White House, was made up of 160,000 tiny loops of wool fabric.
Nova Scotia has the most lighthouses of any Canadian province, and some of the most photo-worthy are on Isle Madame. You'll hear stories of the lights, their keepers, and shipwrecks, and even learn why American Revolution Commander John Paul Jones' visited.