In this series, Katie Goldstein from Travelingpanties and Smartypanties is breaking down the best honeymoon destinations, one at a time, to help you narrow down the dizzying array of options so you can choose the one that reflects your interests, budget and style. Up today? Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Destination: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
You’re an outdoorsy, nature-loving couple, looking to experience natural beauty, world-class seafood, heartfelt hospitality and a rich and eclectic culture.
To get to Cape Breton, fly into the small, retro airport of Sydney/J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport (YQY). Most flights, including those from New York, require a quick layover in Toronto before reaching their final destination.
To explore the entire island, you must rent a car.
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When to go
The best time to visit Cape Breton is from May through October.
About Cape Breton
The fact that Prince William and Princess Kate chose to honeymoon in Nova Scotia is a testament to its wonderment — after all, they could have chosen anywhere in the world. Although the royal couple chose to visit Prince Edward Island, our top honeymoon pick goes to its neighbor, Cape Breton, recently named by National Geographic as one of the best trips to take in 2013. Travel + Leisure, similarly impressed with the island, named it the number three island in the world, just behind Santorini and Bali! Not bad company, eh?
This picturesque island has breathtaking scenic beauty everywhere you turn — there are deep valleys, lush green forests, coastal mountains, meadows, lakes and ocean views aplenty. Did we mention the ultra-affordable prices? What you’ll discover in Cape Breton will have you planning your next trip back before your honeymoon ends!
Where to stay
Cabot Links Resort is our top hotel pick if you’re looking for over-the-top luxury. This low-key yet modern resort features two famous golf courses and several “hole-in-one” dining options on site. The hotel’s decor draws inspiration from its surroundings and features maritime and golf-themed flourishes throughout the property. Rooms are appointed with plenty of luxury amenities such as Nespresso machines, marble rain showers, over-sized, standalone tubs, L’Occitane toiletries and Frette linens. The hotel is conveniently located and is just a quick walk from Inverness Beach.
Our other choice for top honeymoon hotel goes to The Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, a historic property located in the heart of Highlands National Park. We recommend renting one of their cottages, which is each appointed with verandas and fireplaces — perfect for snuggling up to! There are tons of recreational facilities here to choose from such as a heated pool, hiking trails, lawn games, boat cruises and even an Aveda Spa. Keltic Lodge also features Highland Links Golf Course, which is ranked as one of the best golf courses in Canada. The hotel is conveniently located near Ingonish Beach. The dining options here are phenomenal as well.
What to do
Cape Breton is a truly intriguing vacation spot filled with wilderness trails, stunning beaches, pastoral landscapes, outdoor adventure and tons of romance. To see the island best, we recommend a drive along the Cabot Trail, one of the most scenic drives in the world, according to travel heavyweights like Frommer’s. A drive along the Cabot Trail will bring you to many of the highlights of the island. Here are some of our favorite stops along the way.
For outdoorsy types
- Couples looking to enjoy the great outdoors in Cape Breton are in luck as there are so many neat activities to partake in outside that we lost count. One absolute must is a hike along the Skyline Trail. You will be rewarded with some of the most picturesque views the island has to offer. A dramatic cliff overlooking a rugged coastline and unobstructed views of the ocean make for a marvelous Kodak moment. Keep your eyes peeled on your hike as it’s not uncommon to see moose along the way!
- Step outside your comfort zone and try your hand at fly fishing on the Margaree River. It’s surprisingly relaxing and extremely picturesque. Book a lesson with John Hart at the Margaree Salmon Foundation for a lesson you won’t forget.
For sun junkies
- For couples looking to sun themselves and get a little R&R, there are plenty of beaches in Cape Breton. If you’re looking for the warmest water north of the Carolinas, then Inverness Beach is a fabulous place to take a dip. The beach is staffed with lifeguards during the summer and is home to the Inverness Beach Cafe, which is a great place to grab a snack.
- Another great destination to soak up some sun is Kidston Island Beach, which is located in Baddeck.
- Climb aboard a Zodiac Whale Watching cruise to witness the intrigue of marine life up close. Whales, dolphins, seals and even leather back turtles are often spotted on these tours. Don’t forget to look up, as you may see some puffins along the way.
- Enjoy a unique experience when you sign up for an Amoeba Sailing Tour in Baddeck. Sit back and relax as the Captain regales you with an entertaining narrative of the area. You will see Alexander Graham Bell’s former mansion along the way and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a bald eagle circling your ship.
- Meet real “rock stars” at the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum. An underground tour led by retired miners about the area’s rich coal mining history as well as their own personal experiences is a must.
- Learn about the Mi’kmaq people, the original inhabitants of the island and their spirituality, strength and culture at The Heritage Park Centre. Delve into the history of the Membertou people, one of five Mi’kmaq communities that still exist in Cape Breton. Find out about their traditions as well as their keys to successful modern living today.
- Meet real life “hookers” at the Museum of Hooked Rugs and Home Life. The museum showcases hundreds of antiquities, which are a reflection of daily life during the settlement of Chéticamp. The real treat though is the exhibit of some of the finest works by Elizabeth LeFort, arguably the best rug-hooker of all time. Trust us, we know this sounds underwhelming but we guarantee you’ll be blown away!
For history buffs
- The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site pays tribute to one of the most fascinating and influential figures in history. This comprehensive exhibit is filled with interesting films, artifacts and photo displays. But for a more hands-on experience, we recommend upgrading to the White Glove Tour. This exclusive experience gives you a behind-the-scenes tour of Bell’s personal belongings and even allows you to hold them (while wearing white gloves of course).
- A visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historical site, a village that has been recreated in exacting detail, is a trip back in time that allows visitors to experience life just as it was in the 18th century. Visitors can watch soldiers fire cannons, learn how to bake fresh bread in a brick oven or enjoy upper-class activities like lace-making or dance.
- If you’re a fan of music, you must visit Cape Breton during Celtic Colours in October. It’s a celebration of all things Celtic — from singing to dancing to Celtic culture.
- Glenora Distillery is Canada’s only Single Malt Whiskey Distillery and North America’s first. Come enjoy a guided tour followed by a tasting of Glen Breton Rare.
Where to eat
If you’re looking for romance, be sure to check out Panorama Restaurant, which offers stunning panoramic views served alongside delectable cuisine. This is one of Cape Breton’s premier restaurants, so it’s worth the indulgence. Order the lobster ravioli appetizer — but trust us, don’t agree to share — you’ll be sorry if you do.
The Dancing Goat is an iconic spot in Cape Breton for gourmet coffees and homemade pastries. Be sure to try the fabulous bags of cookies that go for only $4 a pop!
The Purple Thistle boasts some of the best maritime staples of Nova Scotia like lobster, scallops and fish cakes. For some of the best seafood on the island coupled with gorgeous views, a stop here is a must!
The Glenora Distillery Pub offers local fare using local ingredients and often live music.
For the best lobster rolls, don’t miss the Rusty Anchor. Grab a table outside for expansive views of the ocean. For the best lobster sandwiches, Bell Buoy serves our favorite. We recommend grabbing one before you head to an Amoeba sailing tour.
If you’re looking for a great place to kick back, listen to some live music and have a couple of local beers with the residents, we recommend The Highland Sitting Room at Keltic Lodge as well as the Cabot Public House at Cabot Links Resort. Both spots serve up casual pub fare and a good time!
The salmon at the Normaway Inn restaurant can’t be beat. And ask about their creative cocktails like the rhubarb martini!
What to watch out for
In the Margaree River Valley, there are lots of black flies that will eat you alive if you’re not wearing bug spray. Be sure to spray yourself down and cover up if you plan to spend time outside in the evening.