Nova Scotia is a beautiful and friendly province steeped with culture and history along with incredible natural landscapes. There are UNESCO sites, Acadian culture and the Scotland of North America. Getting to Nova Scotia can be a bit challenging depending upon how you wish to travel.
One of the most popular ways to travel to Nova Scotia features The CAT Ferry service between Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Prior to 2018 the ferry departed from Portland, Maine. The ferry operator decided to move the ferry to Bar Harbor, Maine, home of Acadia National Park in 2019 but due to unforeseen issues and then a complete shutdown due to Covid-19, the ferry has not operated for three seasons. That all changed in 2022! The ferry operated in 2022 and the Nova Scotia Tourism authorities are confident it will run for years to come.
The good news is that the ferry is now located in Bar Harbor and the bad news is that the ferry is located in Bar Harbor. This shift can truly be turned into a positive experience. The key is to book early! Americans are still staying home and traveling to National Parks and coastal destinations in record numbers. Now that The CAT Ferry is back operating, this will only add to the high demand for Bar Harbor hotels, restaurants and attractions. Many Bar Harbor Hotels will not accept 1 night reservations during these high demand times, so be prepared to stay two-nights. High demand and not enough supply are also a recipe for higher prices.
The distance between Boston and Bar Harbor is about 5.5 hours drive with no or limited stops. A long drive if one wants to board the ferry by 2:00PM. It also makes for a very long day. The Amtrak Downeaster train will take travelers as far north as Brunswick before having to travel another 3 hours to Bar Harbor. The drive from Portland, ME is still three plus hours so we recommend taking your time and staying few nights in Bar Harbor.
The ferry will take 3.5 hours to cross over to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. This is 2 hours shorter than the crossing was from Portland, ME so this is a plus. The crossing is also a little more protected therefore a smoother journey and less chances for cancelation due to rough seas.
Once in Nova Scotia, you need to decide how to get around. Do you want to drive yourself or do you wish to be driven? Downeaster Travel Packages offers complete car-free travel packages where one does not have to think about where to go, what to see and who is driving. If you are the more adventurous traveler, you can pick up a rental car in Maine or Yarmouth, NS and follow the suggested itinerary. Blog articles are supposed to be all positive and cheery, but there are still some challenges due to supplier and staffing shortages. Rentals cars in Nova Scotia are still tough to come by. Rental cars will absolutely sell out during the season. Nova Scotia is a season behind their recovery from the United States and the US has not fully recovered from a supply chain perspective either. WE HIGHLY SUGGEST having a rental car reservation in Maine or Nova Scotia prior to arriving. Otherwise, you could find yourself taking a lot of long taxi rides! Our deluxe travel program eliminates the rental car issue.
Many folks wish to experience Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital. Yarmouth to Halifax is 3.5 hours drive in each direction and there are many sites in between. The day in most cases is 6 hours between Yarmouth and Halifax so that stops can be made in places like Historic Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Digby and Grand Pre along the Annapolis Valley. We take you up one coast and down another coast to maximize the sights you see.
Further along and deeper into Nova Scotia you will travel up towards Cape Breton Island home of Bras d’Or Lake, Sydney, Nova Scotia and the Cabot Trail, considered one of the prettiest drives in the entire world. Don’t let a quick look at a map give you the idea that Nova Scotia can be driven in 45 minutes! It takes time to get around and one should always factor in more days if possible so that you don’t experience the “Clark Griswald” tour of Nova Scotia. Great destinations are best savored not swallowed……
Although Nova Scotia can present some logistical challenges, it is absolutely worth the effort to visit and experience. Old school is a good way of describing Nova Scotia, everything is at a slower pace, people are friendly and proud of their province, the pretentiousness of big city life is non-existent and the costs to visit are quite attractive. Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada for that matter are definitely bucket list destinations that should be enjoyed by all.
How you plan your visit and how you get there is a big question. Working with a tour operator who can thoughtfully plan your visit is a great way to start.
About the writer: Steven Grasso has over 25 years experience developing travel programs for destinations throughout the USA and Canada. Steven believes that knowing how to get there and how to connect the dots while traveling is the most important aspect of travel planning. He also believes that the best value in travel is when you let others do the touring and driving while the traveler can soak in all the sites and sounds of a destination.