Around 100km (62mi) from Nova Scotia’s capital, Halifax, you’ll find the charming town of Lunenburg – one of the Atlantic Coast’s most popular destinations, which was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995. Best-known for the brightly colored buildings lining its streets and its postcard-perfect harbor, there’s no shortage of things to do in this little fishing village. Here are 12 of our top recommendations.
Housed in a bright red building on Lunenburg’s waterfront, you can’t miss the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Inside, you’ll find an extensive aquarium with hands-on activities, as well as numerous exhibits and the Ice House Theatre. Located on the third floor of the museum, it was once the ice house for the fish processing plant and now shows educational films throughout the day. Outside, climb aboard Theresa E. Connor, Canada’s oldest dory schooner, and Cape Sable, a steel-hulled side trawler. Retired fishermen and captains act as historic interpreters on board the vessels.
It may be small, but Lunenburg hosts some amazing festivals throughout the year. The Boxwood Festival has a worldwide presence and embraces all types of traditional music, while The Folk Harbour Festival is Nova Scotia’s longest-running festival and one of the oldest in Canada. Music, dance, workshops and conferences over the course of four days in early August offer something for everyone. Other annual festivals include the Festival of Crafts and the Lunenburg Doc Fest (documentary film festival).
One of the most popular stops in Lunenburg is Ironworks Distillery, which gets its name from the 1893 heritage building it calls home (formerly a marine blacksmith’s shop that produced ironworks for the shipbuilding trade). The owners make all of their products from scratch, using mainly local ingredients and produce delicious liqueurs, brandy, rum, gin and vodka. Pop by the distillery for a tour and have a taste, or pick up a bottle of one of their premium spirits to take home.
A designated National Historic Site built in 1793, Knaut-Rhuland House is a free museum managed by the Lunenburg Heritage Society that illuminates the lives of Lunenburg’s earliest settlers and their descendants. Costumed guides take you on a tour of Lunenburg life during the turn of the 19th century, pointing out the property’s many Georgian architectural elements, including the ‘Lunenburg Bump’ – a large overhanging dormer at the center of the front entrance, which is unique to the area. You’ll also be invited to witness a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Built in 1921, the Bluenose was once the world’s fastest racing schooner and remained undefeated for 17 years. A national icon, it’s now a part of the country’s identity, appearing on the Canadian dime. A replica of the schooner, Bluenose II was later produced and now acts as Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador. Relive its glory days by going on a 2-hour sail and exploring the vessel when docked in Lunenburg. You can even have a go at becoming a deckhand for the day.
Soak up Lunenburg’s harbor views in this casual setting as you indulge in some seriously good food. The award-winning chef of Salt Shaker Deli loves cooking with fresh seafood and prides himself on a menu full of local produce. Popular items include the seafood chowder, lobster roll and Greasy Marty’s thin-crust pizzas. There’s also a great selection of local wines and craft beers on the drinks menu to enjoy on the restaurant’s deck on warm summer nights. The owners also run the South Shore Fish Shack and Fleur de Sel Restaurant.
Lunenburg’s Old Town is one of only two North American urban communities designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also considered to be the best surviving planned British colonial town in North America. Admire the area’s colorful historic buildings – most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and house many of Lunenburg’s restaurants and shops. Alternatively, take a Lunenburg walking tour, where you’ll learn more about the Old Town’s 260 years of history, including the original geometrical street grid the area retains.
With Lunenburg being best known for its ocean adventures and seaside location, it’s no wonder taking to the water is one of the best ways to experience this tiny port town. Options include sailing tours, offered by the likes of Star Charters, as well as deep-sea fishing for adventurous seafarers or kayak rentals. The south shore’s longest operating whale watching business, Lunenburg Whale Watching Tours, also gives you the chance to spot minke, pilot, finback and humpback whales as well as seals, porpoises and dolphins during a fun excursion.
For a small town, Lunenburg is positively brimming with buildings from the Canadian Register of Historic Places as well as with National Historic Sites. In addition to the Knaut-Rhuland House, you can explore the town’s history at places like the Lunenburg Academy – the only 19th-century academy building still intact in Nova Scotia, which sits on top of Gallows Hill. St. John’s Anglican Church, built in 1754 and the first to be established in the town, is also recognized as one of the best examples of Carpenter Gothic architecture.
Lincoln Street Food is a popular Lunenburg establishment where bookings are essential if you want to grab a table. The menu of this contemporary bistro is ingredient-driven, which means it changes regularly, depending on the local produce available at the Lunenburg Farmers Market. Diners can opt for the à la carte, three-course prix fixe or chef’s choice tasting menu, which includes a ‘little bit of everything’. The drinks menu includes an all-natural wine list as well as local beers.
The streets of this small town have long attracted creative types, making the arts scene here much bigger than you’d expect. Lunenburg is home to numerous studios, galleries (including the popular Quartet Gallery and the Laurie Swim Gallery) and even a tattoo parlor. Those visiting during the summer months can take advantage of the art events on offer here, like the Lunenburg Festival of Crafts and the Lunenburg Street Art Festival. You can also visit the Nova Scotia Folk Art Festival here in August, featuring artists’ talks, a buffet dinner and an art show and sale.
Outdoors enthusiasts can take advantage of over 90km (56mi) of hiking and biking trails in Lunenburg, including the Back Harbour Trail, stretching 4km(2.5mi) through the town with nice lookout areas and benches along the way. The Bay to Bay Trail is a slightly longer route, spanning approximately 10km (6mi) from Mahone Bay to Lunenburg. The nearby Indian Falls Municipal Park is also a popular hiking region where you’ll find beautiful waterfalls, rocky beaches, a picnic area and ample lookout stations. It’s also known for having some of the area’s best salmon fishing.