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15 Must-Do Shore Activities in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Tucked away on the northeast shore of Cape Breton Island, the small seaside town of Sydney is one of the hidden gems of Canada's Atlantic Coast. Rich in history and beautiful landscapes, this charming urban area provides a variety of activities for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and culture seekers. Some of your many options include attending Celtic events, strolling through world-class museums, and exploring windswept cliffside hikes.

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01 Explore the historic Sydney Waterfront

Sydney, Nova Scotia PaulMcKinnon / Getty Images

Thanks to its strategic access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean, Sydney has played a pivotal role in world history. From here, ships transported raw materials as part of the area's booming steel industry in the early 1900s and fought off German U-boats in World War II. Today, you can imagine these historic moments while walking down the scenic 0.75-mile Sydney Waterfront Boardwalk.

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02 Visit the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design

Pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. Located a few blocks from the Sydney port, this sprawling gallery and studio space hosts artists from around Cape Breton. Whether you prefer handcrafted jewelry, colorful Celtic art, or blown glass, there's something for every taste. Check out the center's schedule of courses, ranging from pottery and painting to crocheting and weaving.

03 Take a scenic drive along the Cabot Trail

Foliage in Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada Lisa-Blue / Getty Images

The Cabot Trail is a 185-mile scenic route around the northern end of Cape Breton Island. Rent a car in Sydney and explore at your own pace. There are many attractions within a two-hour drive. Hike to Indian Brook Falls or marvel at the serene coastal scenes near St. Ann's Bay. If you're dreaming of additional breathtaking views, head straight to Cape Breton Highlands National Park to see mountains, seaside cliffs, and wild waterfalls.

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04 Discover the Fortress of Louisbourg

Main Parade Ground in a Historical Fortress Wildnerdpix / Getty Images

Find out what life was like for 18th-century colonists and First Nations people at the Fortress of Louisbourg. It's the largest reconstructed historic site in North America and a living museum. Actors in period dress recreate the vibe of the 1700s as you wander through the French colonial town. After you pop into the beautiful homes and explore the military fort, learn about the local Mi'kmaq heritage and culture. Feeling hungry? Try freshly prepared soldier's bread at the bakery and taste the rum that's aged on-site.

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05 Hike the Skyline Trail for panoramic views

Woman walking, hiking, Skyline, Cabot trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia pchoui / Getty Images

If you have time for just one hike during your time in Sydney, make it the Skyline Trail. Located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, this 4-mile path boasts some of the most dramatic scenery on the island. From your vantage point high on the headland cliffs, an awe-inspiring view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence stretches as far as the eye can see. Keep watch for bears and moose. You might even spot whales swimming offshore from spring through fall.

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06 Go whale watching in the Atlantic Ocean

Whale Watching and diving Humpback along the Coast of Hawaii KenCanning / Getty Images

Cape Breton is one of the best places in Nova Scotia to see blue whales, minke whales, and humpbacks. You'll love waiting to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Several tour options require a (well-worth) drive, including Keltic Express Zodiac Adventures (KEZA). Many captains use small Zodiac boats, so you can get surprisingly close to the whales as they glide through the water. Depending on the season, you might also see dolphins and seals.

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07 Immerse yourself in culture at the Gaelic College

Discover the rich Scottish heritage culture of Cape Breton Island at The Gaelic College. Start at the Great Hall of the Clans museum, which is open from June through October. You'll learn the stories of Scottish immigrants and discover how their ancestors are keeping tradition alive today. If the museum happens to be hosting a cultural demonstration, you can witness Scottish storytelling, see how a great kilt is made, or get a quick Gaelic lesson. Join local musicians in person to witness a traditional céilidh performance on Wednesdays from April through December.

08 Cycle the scenic routes around Sydney

two friends laugh and enjoy a day with mountain bikes in nature while walking with the bike pushed by hand jose carlos cerdeno martinez / Getty Images

In the mood for a challenge? Rent a bike from a local business like FrameWork Cycle & Fitness and cycle through the rugged coastal landscapes. The Cabot Trail is a popular scenic route for cyclists, but if you would like to explore another, try biking along the Sydney River south of town. To the north, you'll find seaside routes along the open ocean. Pedal the waterfront if you want a more relaxing ride.

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09 Learn about innovation at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site DoraDalton / Getty Images

A short drive from Sydney, the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck provides a glimpse into the famous inventor. This peaceful park commemorates the life and achievements of the Scottish-born Bell, who emigrated to Canada in 1870 and summered in Baddeck. Plan to spend a few hours exploring models, mementos, and numerous photos or participate in the experiment program. You can also take a behind-the-scenes White Glove Tour to get an up-close look at personal artifacts.

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10 Camp under the stars in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Mary Ann Falls Raymond Gehman / Getty Images

A camping trip is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the wilderness of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Ingonish Beach and Broad Cove campgrounds are the closest to the port and are first-come, first-serve. You can also hike into the backcountry and sleep under the stars. Don't have camping gear? Rent an oTENTik unit, but keep in mind you'll need to bring several items, including bedding and cooking equipment.

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11 Savor local seafood at Sydney’s best restaurants

Stroll down Charlotte Street in Sydney to find exceptional restaurants serving incredible food. From relaxed gastropubs to elegant eateries, there's something for every taste. Some of the many restaurants include 7 by 7 Restaurant, Burrito Jax, Fushimi Sushi, Daniel's Alehouse and Eatery, and The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse. Dig into everything from seafood to burgers and – of course – poutine.

12 Attend a Celtic Music Festival in the area

Celtic music is an important part of life in Sydney. The giant 60-foot "World's Largest Fiddle" is an indication of that. Experience Cape Breton Island's Scottish traditions at one of the local Celtic music festivals. The biggest is the Celtic Colours International Festival, which features dozens of concerts at venues around the island in October. Keep an eye out for smaller local festivals and Celtic concerts during the rest of the year.

13 Experience Mi’kmaq Culture at Membertou Heritage Park

The Mi'kmaq people made their home on Cape Breton Island for thousands of years before European settlers arrived in the Atlantic provinces. Explore this ancient culture at the Membertou Heritage Park. For the full experience, take a guided tour or participate in hands-on workshops in beading, basket-making, or drumming.

14 Uncover mining history at the Cape Breton Miners Museum

The Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay traces the origins of the island's coal-mining industry. Learn about the geology of the local coalfield and read the stories of the brave miners, then bundle up and descend into the earth for an underground tour. The retired miner guides bring the history of the mine to life with heartbreaking stories and personal insights.

15 Tour the Glenora Distillery for a taste of local whisky

When the Scots emigrated to Cape Breton Island, they brought with them the whisky-making methods of their homeland. Guided tours are available throughout much of the year to see this single-malt tradition in action. You may even be able to taste a sample (as long as you're of legal drinking age). A VIP Single Malt Experience is available, consisting of a private tour, a sample from the barrel, a private whisky tasting at the on-site pub, and much more.

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