Exploring Cape Breton Island, Canada

Regarding natural beauty, few places can compare to Cape Breton Island. Located off the coast of Nova Scotia, this island is home to stunning landscapes, friendly people, and rich culture.

With its rolling highlands, peppered with sparkling streams and great white-sand beaches, the Cabot Trail is a scenic adventure that can’t be missed. But beyond this 300-km (200-mile) loop lies Cape Breton’s beautiful country roads. Take a scenic drive to the other side of the island and enjoy the beauty of Mabou Hills, Lake Ainslee, and Cheticamp village.

Whether you’re looking for a place to relax or an adventure, Cape Breton Island has something for everyone. This blog post will explore some of the best things to see and do on the island. Cape Breton Island is sure to please, from hiking and biking trails to world-famous golf courses.

Location of Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is located on the east coast of Canada, in the province of Nova Scotia. The island is separated from mainland Nova Scotia by the Strait of Canso. Cape Breton Island is approximately 2,600 square miles (6,700 km2) in size and has a population of just over 137,000 people.

Cape Breton Island image
Cape Breton Island

The island’s coastline is dotted with rocky beaches, sheltered coves, and towering cliffs. There are also many inland lakes and rivers. The largest city on the island is Sydney, which is also the provincial capital of Nova Scotia. Other significant towns include Glace Bay, New Waterford, and Port Hawkesbury.

History of Cape Breton Island

The history of Cape Breton Island is one marked by settlement and annexation. First inhabited by the Mi’kmaq people, the island was later settled by French Acadians and British immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. It became a separate colony from Nova Scotia in 1784 but was eventually annexed to Canada as part of Nova Scotia’s entry into Confederation in 1848.

  • The Mi’kmaq people originally inhabited Cape Breton Island. The first European settlers to arrive on the island were French Acadians, who settled in the area in the 17th century.
  • In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht resulted in the island being transferred from France to Great Britain. The British began settling Cape Breton with immigrants from Scotland and Ireland and later with English settlers.
  • Cape Breton Island became a separate colony from Nova Scotia in 1784.
  • In 1820, it was merged back into Nova Scotia, only to become a separate colony again in 1829.
  • In 1848, Cape Breton Island was annexed to Canada as part of the Nova Scotia entry into the Confederation. However, it remained a separate colony until 1865, when it was finally amalgamated into Nova Scotia.

How to get to Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is located off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. The island can be reached by plane or ferry.

The closest airport to Cape Breton Island is the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, you can take a connecting flight to the Sydney Airport, located on the island.

Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Pictou, Nova Scotia, or North Sydney, Nova Scotia. The ferry ride takes approximately 2 hours.

Google maps of Cape Breton Island

What to do on Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is a beautiful place to visit, with plenty to see and do. Here are some ideas of things to do while on the island:

The Canadian Government set aside the 959 sq km (367 sq miles) of Cape Breton Highlands National Park in 1936 to preserve its scenery for future generations. It is one of Canada’s most famous national parks, with its mountains, wilds, and coastal beauty. The park’s best-known feature is the breathtaking 106-km (66- mile) section of the Cabot Trail highway that traces its boundary from Cheticamp to Ingonish. The park offers 24 look-out points and exhibits explaining rare fogbound ecosystems with beautiful orchids budding amidst a wetland ecosystem. People may even catch a glimpse of moose grazing in this region’s natural wetland habitat. Crossing these mountains, it enters Pleasant Bay and reenters the barren highlands before descending into the Aspy River Valley due to scenic Beulach Ban Falls at 30 m (100 feet). Near Cape North along Scenic Loop, an alternative route branches off and follows coastlines until rejoining Cabot Trail near Ingonish. This town holds a top golf course among 25 landscape courses worldwide and ocean views extending all way to Iceland.

  • Visit the Cabot Trail: The Cabot Trail is one of the most scenic drives in North America, and it winds its way through Cape Breton Island. Make sure to take your time and enjoy the views!
  • Check out the Fortress of Louisbourg: This 18th-century fortress is a must-see for history buffs. Spend a day exploring the fortification, learning about its past, and imagining what life was like back then.
  • Hike along the Skyline Trail: If you love nature, then make sure to hike along Cape Breton Island’s Skyline Trail. With stunning ocean views, this trail is not to be missed.
  • Take a whale-watching tour: Cape Breton Island is home to many different species of whales, and you can see them up close on a whale-watching tour. It’s an unforgettable experience!

The Margaree River Valley

The Margaree River Valley is a beautiful place, and it’s also a favorite among experienced hikers, antique hunters, and anyone who loves sightseeing. Located in the town of North East Margaree, the Margaree Salmon Museum is a small but elegant museum that will fascinate even those who don’t fish. This area has attracted fishermen in large numbers since the mid-19th century. With its breathtaking scenery and exciting history, this region has everything your hiking group or family could want. We recommend following the Ceilidh Trail to Glenora Distillery, Canada’s first single malt distillery, for the best views and a taste of Gaelic culture.

Glenora Distillery

Glenora Distillery is the world’s first single-malt whisky distillery outside of Scotland. It was located on Cape Breton Island, Canada, in 1990 by Charles MacDonald. The distillery is situated on a picturesque site overlooking Lochaber Lake. It is here that the pure spring water used to make the whisky flows from. The climate in Cape Breton is similar to that of Scotland, which helps create the perfect environment for producing high-quality single-malt whisky.

The Glenora Distillery produces a range of different whiskies, all of which are aged in oak barrels. The distillery also offers tours and tastings, so you can learn more about making whisky and try some of the finished product for yourself!


This vibrant town is the largest Acadian community in Nova Scotia. Its beautiful Saint Pierre Church, which can be seen for miles at sea, dates back to 1857 and is still operational today. The Acadians of Cape Breton are skilled craftspeople, and the town’s seven cooperatives produce pottery and hooked rugs. In Cheticamp, the most well-known rug hooker is Elizabeth Le-Fort. She created large installations that depict different moments in history. You can see some of her finest creations at the Dr. Elizabeth LeFort Museum at Les Trois Pignons. While visiting Cheticamp, stop by for a whale-watching tour. There are varieties of whales to see!

St. Pierre Church at Cheticamp

St. Pierre Church at Cheticamp is one of Canada’s most beautiful and unique churches. The church was built in 1884 by Father Anselme Le Blond, a missionary from France. The church is designed in the Gothic Revival style with intricate carved wooden details. The church is on a hill overlooking the town of Cheticamp and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Visitors to the church can enjoy stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains.

Lake Ainslee

Nestled in the heart of Cape Breton Island, Lake Ainslee is a hidden gem. This serene lake is surrounded by towering evergreens, making it the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re looking to go for a swim, paddle in a canoe, or take in the stunning scenery, Lake Ainslee is sure to please.


With a population of less than 2000, Baddeck is very much the island’s main resort destination. Located near the estate of Alexander Graham Bell, who loved the town, it lies in rich farmland and is just across a lake from Cape Breton. On the northwest side of Bras d’Or Lake, Baddeck is still the small town that charmed visitors in the 19th century. All amenities are within walking distance. The main street follows the waterfront and is lined with shops, cafés, and restaurants. Boat cruises around the lake are available from several places on Water Street by the shore.

Cabot Trail Highway

The Cabot Trail Highway is one of Canada’s most scenic drives. The highway winds through the stunning Cape Breton Highlands, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, lakes, and forests. Visitors can enjoy many activities, such as hiking, camping, fishing, and whale watching. There are also many charming towns and villages to explore, each with its unique character.

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sydney is the third largest city in Nova Scotia and houses the largest steel plant in North America. Downtown, you’ll find lots of boutique shopping, restaurants, and stores with plenty of opportunity for some great culture. Sydney is a beautiful and historic city on Cape Breton Island. The city is home to several exciting attractions, including the Fortress of Louisbourg, the Cape Breton Museum, and the Sydney waterfront. Visitors to Sydney can also enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking in the nearby Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The Alexander Graham Bell Museum

The Alexander Graham Bell Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of telecommunications. The museum is located in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, the site of Bell’s famous experiments with the telephone.

The museum chronicles the life and work of Bell, who is credited with inventing the telephone. Visitors can see artifacts from Bell’s life and work, including original instruments and equipment used in his experiments. The museum also features interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience some of Bell’s groundbreaking inventions firsthand.

Pioneer cottages

Pioneer cottages are a type of historic cottage found on Cape Breton Island, Canada. They are typically one or 1 1/2 stories tall and made of wood with clapboard siding. Pioneer cottages often have a shed-roofed porch supported by simple posts. These cottages were built by the early settlers of Cape Breton and were used as both residences and farm buildings. Many of the original pioneer cottages still stand today and are protected as heritage buildings.

Fortress Louisbourg

Fortress Louisbourg is a National Historic Site of Canada and the location of a former French fortress. The fortress was built in the early 18th century and was an important stronghold for the French during the Seven Years’ War. The fortress was captured by the British in 1758 and was subsequently abandoned.

Where to stay on Cape Breton Island

There are plenty of great places to stay on Cape Breton Island, whether you’re looking for a luxurious resort, a cozy bed and breakfast or something in between.

In the heart of Cape Breton Island is the world-famous Cabot Trail, and there are several great lodging options along the route. The Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa is a popular choice for those looking for upscale accommodations, while the Inverary Resort is a great mid-range option. For those on a budget, the Highland Village Museum Campground is an excellent option with stunning views of the island’s highlands.

If you’re looking to stay in one of Cape Breton Island’s charming towns or villages, there are plenty of great B&Bs to choose from. Try the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site Bed & Breakfast in Baddeck or the Harbourview Bed & Breakfast. In Whycocomagh, the Riverview Lodge Bed & Breakfast offers stunning views of Bras d’Or Lake. And in Glace Bay, the Miners Memorial Manor Bed & Breakfast is a historic home that has been beautifully restored.

Did you know?

Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847 to deaf parents in Scotland. His interest in speech and communication led him to experimentation, eventually leading to his invention of the telephone. In 1876, he transmitted the world’s first telephone message, “Watson, come here, I want you.” With this phenomenal invention’s patent, Bell secured his place as one of the men who changed the world. In 1877, Bell married Mabel Hubbard, one of his deaf students. The couple often vacationed near Cape Breton, where Bell built his beloved summer estate at Beinn Bhreagh by Bras d’Or Lake. He willed this gift to Canada and donated a significant sum for its upkeep after his death in 1922. One of Bell’s most cherished achievements is commemorated at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, where visitors can explore all aspects of his life and varied work.


Cape Breton Island is a place like no other. With its stunning natural beauty, friendly people, and rich culture, it’s no wonder this Canadian island is a popular tourist destination. Cape Breton Island should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for an unforgettable vacation.