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The Annapolis Valley, in Nova Scotia’s charming countryside, stretches northward from Digby and Annapolis Royal and runs parallel to the coastline of the Bay of Fundy. Sieur de Monts founded Habitation Port-Royal here in 1605, and although the British later destroyed Port-Royal, this region is still rich in tourist attractions that reflect this mixed Acadian and British past.
The valley is known for its orchards and farms, so be sure to stop at some of the farm stands and farmers’ markets along with your sightseeing. In May, when the apple trees are in blossom, the valley is a wonderful sight. Historical sites aren’t the only places to go: the Bay of Fundy and its world-record tides provide plenty of natural attractions and things to do, from walking on the sea floor to discovering fossils and taking whale watch cruises.
Discover the best things to do as you plan your visit with our list of the top attractions in the Annapolis Valley.
See also: Where to Stay in the Annapolis Valley
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Port-Royal National Historic Site
About 10 kilometers north of Annapolis Royal stands Port-Royal National Historic Site–the faithfully restored settlement of Sieur des Monts. The plain wooden buildings are in early 17th-century style. There is a Governor’s Residence, a Priest’s House, a smithy, and a room in which First Nations people used to barter their furs for European goods. Costumed interpreters give a sense of the daily lives of the settlers and their interactions with the local Mi’kmaq people.
Especially interesting is the house of the apothecary Louis Hébert, the first European farmer in North America who later settled in Québec. It was here, in 1606, that Samuel de Champlain founded “L’Ordre de Bon Temps,” the first society in North America based on the doctrine of love for one’s fellow man.
Address: 53 Historic Lane, Port Royal, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/portroyal/index.aspx
2. Grand-Pré National Historic Site
Grand-Pré was one of the main Acadian settlements in the early 18th century. By means of an ingenious system of dams and canals, the Acadians reclaimed fertile land from the sea and laid out large and productive fields for some 200 farms. But in 1755, the English drove out the Acadians, destroying their homes, taking cattle, and parceling the land out to colonists from New England and elsewhere.
The Grand Pré National Historic Site is in memory of the deported Acadian settlers. In the gardens stands a memorial to Henry Longfellow, who in 1847 immortalized the tragic fate of the Acadians in his poem “Evangéline.” There is also a statue of his fictional heroine Evangéline. Acadian artist Philippe Hébert sculpted both memorials.
Address: 2205 Grand Pré Rd, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/grandpre/index.aspx
3. Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
Thousands of roses, representing more than 270 cultivars, perfume the air of the Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal, but these are only the beginning of its attractions. Named among the five finest show gardens in Canada, the 17-acre horticultural showcase represents the plants, designs, and methods used in the region for the past four centuries.
La Maison Acadienne, a reconstructed 17th-century Acadian house, is the only archeologically authenticated replica of a pre-1755 Acadian dwelling in the Maritime region. Its potager is based on original diaries, and the orchard was grown from heritage cultivars from the 17th century.
The Governor’s Garden shows herbs, flowers, and 18th-century apple trees growing in the style of the early 18th century, when Annapolis Royal was under British rule, and the Victorian Garden represents the tastes of a later era with more than 3,000 colorful and elegantly arranged annuals and exotic plants.
Paths lead through a rock garden, past the hydrangea and day lily collections, azaleas and rhododendrons, the heather collection, evergreens, and ornamental grasses. Trees range from local natives to exotics like the blossoming Paulownia and ginkgo biloba. Amid all this abundance of flowers and plants, be sure to take time to smell the roses!
Address: 441 St. George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.historicgardens.com/
4. Fort Anne National Historic Site
Fort Anne, the scene of so many battles in the past, is today preserved as Fort Anne National Historic Site. When the French ceded control of the region to the British, this former French fort on the Annapolis River became their stronghold. The only buildings remaining from that time are a 1700s gunpowder magazine and officers’ barracks, but the impressive walls and ramparts are substantially intact and open for visitors to explore.
Tall chimneys mark the officers’ quarters and there are memorials to Sieur de Monts; Samuel Vetch, Acadia’s first governor; and Jean Paul Mascarene. On the fort flies a flag showing the English St. George’s Cross and the Scottish St. Andrew’s Cross.
Address: St. George St., Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/fortanne/index.aspx
5. Whale Watching from Brier Island
A long peninsula and string of islands extend south from Digby, a fishing town near Annapolis Royal, and at its farthest end is Brier Island, Nova Scotia’s westernmost point, known to birders for its abundant seabirds; in the fall it is a stopover for hundreds of migrating warblers, shorebirds, and raptors. Because of its position in the Bay of Fundy, it is also an important feeding area for whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals, making it one of the best places to embark on a whale watching cruise.
The first to arrive are finback and minke whales and the porpoises, followed in June by humpbacks and white-sided dolphins; in July you might see right and perhaps even pilot, beluga, sei, and sperm whales. Leaving from Westport, Mariner Cruises offers whale watching and birding tours narrated by local naturalists.
In Westport, be sure to see the outcrops of large hexagonal columns of basalt crystals found in the rock formations at Green Head, reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. On the way to Westport–you’ll need to use two ferries to connect this string of islands–stop to see Balancing Rock, a huge piece of columnar basalt balanced over the sea on the edge of another cliff, where it has been poised for at least two centuries.
6. Tidal Generating Station
Located at the Annapolis River Causeway, about 10 kilometers north of Annapolis Royal, this is the first and only saltwater generating station in North America. It started up in 1984 in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s and utilizes hydro-energy released by the tidal rise, which is the highest in the world. The station harnesses as much as 80 to 100 megawatt hours each day, depending on the tides. It is also a pilot scheme for a much larger power station based on the same principle.
The Annapolis Tidal Generating Station Interpretive Centre is open and free, from May until October. Interpreters here explain the development of tidal power in the bay and around the world; a tour of the plant is sometimes available to those over age 16.
Address: 236 Prince Albert Road, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
7. Blue Beach Fossil Museum
Fossils found along the Nova Scotia shores of the Bay of Fundy have unlocked the secrets of evolution, with evidence of the world’s oldest four-legged creatures. These fossils provided scientists with the link between sea creatures and the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals of today.
Many of these were discovered at Blue Beach, and the museum at the top of its cliffs displays the world’s oldest collection of fossil footprints and the bones of the creatures that left them behind. Here, too are the fossilized bones of a five-meter sea creature that could crawl on its fins.
Visit the museum first, then explore the beach below to discover more fossils (collecting these is forbidden). The best way to understand the site is on one of the three tours offered with one of the specialists who work here and who will explain how these fossils unlocked the mystery that had puzzled generations of scientists. This is an especially good thing to do for families, a chance for kids to find fossilized foot prints, amphibians, plants, fish, horseshoe crabs, and plants, including trees.
Address: 127 Blue Beach Road, Hantsport, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.bluebeachfossilmuseum.com/
8. Burntcoat Head Park
Every 13 hours, 160 billion tons of water flow daily in and out of the Minas Basin, a long arm of the Bay of Fundy. Burntcoat Head has an average tide of 14.5 meters (47.5 feet) with an extreme range of 16.4 meters (53.6 feet). At Burntcoat Head Park, you can walk for miles on the ocean floor when the tide is out and discover a whole world of ocean life, small creatures left behind in the pools as the tide sweeps out.
A replica lighthouse houses an interpretive center, where you can learn more about the world’s highest tides and the area’s history. Explore the three-acre park on its walking trails and stay for the spectacular sunset that makes this park one of the favorite places to go in the evening. Try to visit at both high and low tides, six hours apart.
Address: 627 Burntcoat Head Road, Noel, Nova Scotia
Official site: https://www.burntcoatheadpark.ca/
9. North Hills Museum
One of the free things to do in the Annapolis Valley, North Hills Museum is also one of the most fascinating for those interested in antiques. The 1764 farmhouse has been restored as home to a collection of exquisite Regency and Georgian furniture and decorative art. Rooms are arranged for living, so you get a real sense of what life would have been like for a prosperous family able to afford the latest to decorate and furnish their home.
This outstanding collection of Georgian antiques features oak, mahogany, and walnut furniture in Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheridan, as well as English porcelain and period paintings. The guided tour is excellent. Although admission to the museum is free, donations for its maintenance are always welcome.
Address: 5065 Granville Road, Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia
Official site: https://northhills.novascotia.ca/
10. Fort Edward National Historic Site
Overlooking the point where the Avon and St. Croix rivers join, Fort Edward played a key role in the British struggle for North America in the 1700s. Built in 1750 by the English to defend the route between Halifax and the Bay of Fundy, the fort only five years later became a principal staging area for the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia.
Inside the original wooden blockhouse–one of the oldest existing buildings of its kind in Canada–you can see graffiti left by soldiers stationed here in the 18th century, and the musket slits through which they fired their rifles.
From the earth-wall surrounding the fort there is a beautiful view of the Avon River valley and the Bay of Fundy.
Address: 67 Fort Edward Street, Windsor, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/edward/index.aspx
11. Sinclair Inn Museum
The earliest surviving Acadian building and the second oldest wooden structure in Canada, Sinclair Inn is a unique museum in that it literally strips away layers of history to show how the house was constructed and how its residents changed it since the 1700s. Beginning as a single house, it was enlarged to create an inn, and the walls and floor have been cut back so that the visitor can see the construction and subsequent alterations. It’s especially interesting to see how the architectural features and finishing became more refined over time.
In the mid-1990s, murals painted in the 1840s were discovered under layers of wallpaper, and today the “Painted Room” and its story are the highlights for many visitors. An innovative interpretive technique encourages visitors to interact with the “ghosts” of 10 people who lived or worked at the Sinclair Inn at various points in its history.
Address: 230 Saint George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Official site: http://annapolisheritagesociety.com/sinclair-inn-museum