Cape Breton Island

View of Cabot Trail

Cape Breton Island is the northernmost island in Nova Scotia.

Cities and Towns

Other destinations


Cape Breton Island was a separate colony until 1820 when it was merged into Nova Scotia against its will. It is the only place in North America where Gaelic is still spoken, a legacy of the large immigration (about 50,000) from the highlands of Scotland in the first half of the 19th century. There are also pockets of French, remnants of the Acadian history described in the Longfellow epic poem "Evangeline", in towns such as Margaree and Chéticamp and on Isle Madame. With 5 Mi'kmaq communities in Cape Breton (4 are situated around the Bras d'Or Lake) there is a strong island identity and sense of community, which increasingly unifies the Mikmaq population of the island.

The island has consistently lost industrial investment and jobs in the past ten years. However, the closing of the coal and steel industry coupled with the presence of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which buffers the pristine northern half of the island from its more commercialized southern half, have no doubt contributed to the island's very positive ratings for ecological stewardship and spectacular scenery. An excellent reference site for the incredibly beautiful northern tip of Cape Breton can be found at the "Top of the Island" site.

Get in

By car

The most common way to get into Cape Breton is by car via the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 104) at the Canso Causeway from mainland Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is approximately 12 1/2 driving hours from Boston, 14 from Hartford and 16 from New York City.

By bus

Maritime Bus runs between Truro and Sydney with onward connections to much of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Shuttle Service is provided between Halifax and Sydney and environs by several companies who travel at various times throughout the day. Excellent value.

By plane

Cape Breton Island is serviced by Sydney Airport. Most flights to and from Sydney go to Halifax and then to major destinations such as Toronto, Boston and Montreal.

Get around

Cape Breton is most accessible by car. The main road is the Trans-Canada highway (Hwy 105), which connects Sydney on the east coast with the causeway to the mainland on the west. You can rent a car in Sydney if necessary. Like any place, you see more if you get off the main road, and the Nova Scotia government has been helpful in this regard by creating a number of scenic drives. These include the:

Road maps and additional information on the island is readily available at any tourism information center (located at entry points and any major towns and cities) and a number of private operators offer trip planning services.

Cable Ferry

A more adventurous option to get around the island is to cycle. The roads tend to be narrow and windy, so prior experience is recommended. Bike rental and trip planning are available through Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures

Hiking trails abound in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and the above-mentioned Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures offers guided hikes to little-known remote areas north of the national park.

Regardless of your mode of travel, watch out for moose on the roads.

There are many small cable ferries between the islands. They usually go every few minutes and charge $5.

Salty Bear Adventure Travel - An excellent alternative to renting a car, Salty Bear offers budget adventure tours around the Cabot Trail. Run by passionate travelers who aim to provide a true Cape Breton experience, their trips include roundtrip transportation, accommodation, guide with full commentary, guided hikes, National & Provincial Park access, ferry passes, wildlife encounters, BBQ's, bonfires! Discounted optional activities of kayaking, sailing, and whale watching!


Moose on the Cabot Trail

Cape Breton is noted for its unique and vibrant traditional Scottish violin music incubated by its relative isolation over the years- so much so that music lovers from Scotland come here for a taste of their own past. Typically a duo of violin and piano play hearty dance music that can be seen at community halls throughout the island. The early-evening tourist-targeted concerts are well advertised; later at night you can find ones that draw the entire local community. Some of the most important musical centres are Judique, Margaree Valley and Chéticamp.

The island as a whole ranked second in the world in a National Geographic study of ecotourism, which was conducted in 2002 and 2003.

Scenery is a major reason to visit Cape Breton. Plan to stop along the many spectacular lookoffs on the Cabot Trail - this will lengthen your travel time between destinations. Since the Cabot Trail is more a destination than a drive, visitors seeking to truly experience this environmental masterpiece should plan on staying a minimum of two days in the villages around the Trail. A number of private operators offer trip planning services to assist visitors in taking advantage of the best attractions both on and off the Trail, some offering all-inclusive multi-day packages.

Bay St. Lawrence
Joes Scarecrows



Many of the smaller communities have only a general store that sells a very limited selection of groceries and sundries, often also operating as a local post office. Better to stop in a bigger centre like Baddeck or Cheticamp for groceries, although the Top of the Island area has two Co-Op grocery stores (somewhat smaller than the Co-Ops in Baddeck and Cheticamp) as well as a couple of independents that, taken together, do a reasonable job.

general store

The Wreck Cove General Store (pictured) is open year round and sells everything a traveller might need, from fuel to weather-appropriate clothing to snacks. Their "World Famous Lobster Sandwich" is highly recommended and can be bought during the summer season. Located on the Cabot Trail between Baddeck and Ingonish.

Leather, glass, woodworking, iron art, photography, pottery, pewter and sewing are all found, made by skilled artists, within an hour's drive north of Baddeck.

Smelt Brook Pottery Studio at the Top of the Island in Smelt Brook features two production potters. The studio is open to the public and is a popular rainy-day stop for family learning experiences.


Lobster and Crab plate at Rusty Anchor

Seafood, especially lobster, is the thing to eat on Cape Breton. The Aspy Bay oysters are also good. As mentioned in the "Buy" section, if you plan to save money by getting groceries, do so at larger centres such as Chéticamp and Baddeck. Small convenience stores tend to be more sparsely stocked than convenience stores you would find in cities.


Middle Head

A good number of Bed & Breakfasts and hostels are dotted throughout the island. A few examples follow:

Wreck Cove Wilderness Cabins (902)929-2800 Open year round, these cosy cabins are tucked into the forests of the Cabot Trail. Only a few hundred meters from the wild Atlantic cliffs, a perfect getaway. Located between the two top golf courses "Baddeck Bay" and "Highland Links" in Ingonish.

Go next

If you want to do a bit of island-hopping Atlantic Canada-style, you can take one of two ferries from North Sydney to Newfoundland. The ferry to Port aux Basques on Newfoundland's south-west coast is the shorter of two and runs daily throughout the year. The ferry to Argentia is much longer (about 14 hours) and only runs in the summer, three times a week. Ferry services are provided by Marine Atlantic.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, July 16, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.