Nova Scotia’s South Shore is a perfect summer vacation destination. Following the Lighthouse Route, the winding roads that meander their way along the sea front from Halifax right down to Shag Harbour (on the far west tip of the province), you are greeted by postcard pretty fishing villages and rocky coastline around every corner. There is tons of interesting stuff to see and do along the South Shore.

The first stop for most visitors is the iconic red and white lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, just an hours drive from Halifax. Mounted on the rocks overlooking the crashing Atlantic Ocean, the lighthouse is impressive, but the village itself is very quaint and hence very popular with photographers. You can get a great espresso from luxury gift store Beales Bailiwick (go sit in one of the brightly painted wooden chairs on their deck and admire the views), and there are some lovely little art galleries to browse. The huge Sou’ Wester gift shop and restaurant up by the lighthouse is a great place to pick up a postcard or grab a quick bite to eat.

On from Peggy’s Cove are the communities of Hubbards, Head of St Margaret’s Bay and Blandford. En route, you’ll pass the Train Station Bike and Bean, a neat café/ bike store/ bike rental shop where you can hire bikes and trailers to make use of the various coastal cycling routes in the area.

If you’re looking for beaches, then you’ll find plenty to choose from here (including local’s favourite Queensland Beach), and a wide range of accommodations, from cottages to campsites.

Next is Chester, a seaside town and sailing hotspot with lots of neat places to shop and eat (don’t miss Julien’s French Bakery for delicious croissants and pastries, or the Kiwi Café for a satisfying and healthy lunch).

The next town you hit is a real beauty; Mahone Bay is famous for having three churches right next to each other, overlooking the bay. Along the main drag, there are lots of brightly painted old buildings that house restaurants, antique stores and specialty shops (including the charming Amos Pewter, where you can watch artisans creating collectibles and jewelry). There’s enough in Mahone Bay to keep you busy all day, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore.

Lunenburg is a short drive along the coast, and offers even more shopping and restaurants (it is very much a foodie town, the Salt Shaker Deli is fab, and there are some great high-end restaurants, like the Fleur de Sel). There are also lots of art galleries, including the awe-inspiring Laurie Swim Gallery that showcases the artist’s exquisitely embroidered quilts (they are more like paintings than quilts). Lunenburg is home to famed tall-ship the Bluenose II, located in the Lunenburg Shipyard (check out the red wooden warehouses lining the waterfront, one of which houses the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic). If you drive through town but heading away from the harbor, you’ll see many more adorable old cottages and historic homes, and some impressive gingerbread house style churches.

If you like a drink, or are looking for something unique to take home as a souvenir, then Ironworks Distillery is not to be missed. This artisan small batch distiller makes smooth vodka, tasty rum and a variety of fruit based spirits right on the premises, which happen to be located in an old blacksmiths forge. The new craft store Dots and Loops is a fabulous source of high-end handmade items from around Nova Scotia and beyond (think hip rather than folksy).

Just past Lunenburg, in Riverport, you’ll find the Ovens Natural Park, a 77 hectare coastal forest preserve that it just beautiful. It gets its name from the sea caves that have been pounded into the cliffs, nicknamed “the ovens” and there are a number of self-guided walks and organized tours that let you explore them. There is great camping and cabins in the park, as well as a restaurant, store and museum. Another stunning park not far from the Ovens is Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site, which has an old growth hemlock forest, great hiking, historic canoe routes and Mikmaw petroglyphs (you can also camp there).

Carrying on along the Lighthouse Route, you hit Bridgewater, which has lots of bigger stores and an excellent Guy’s Frechys Family Clothing Outlet (a Nova Scotia and New Brunswick institution, these second hand stores/ rummage sales are surprising an excellent, Coach purses and other designer togs are often found in the bins there, and prices are ridiculously low).

After Bridgewater, the towns get smaller and decidedly more low key, but the coastline only gets more beautiful as you are treated to mile upon mile of sandy beaches.

Be sure to take the tiny ferry across the mouth of the LaHave River and stop for lunch at the gorgeous LaHave Bakery, a century old store turned gourmet bakery, where you can also pick up locally made honey, jams and other food items (there is also an attached craft store and a skateboard shop complete with half-pipe upstairs).

As you get close to Liverpool, you’ll see signs for a wide range of accommodations, and this is a great place to make a base for exploring the South Shore as you are halfway along the Lighthouse Route at this point. Liverpool itself is lovely, with lots of quaint old buildings and plenty to entertain visitors for a day. There’s the Astor Theatre, which was built in 1902 and is the oldest performing arts venue in the province (you can catch new movies there as well as all sorts of live performances), and the Sherman Hines Museum of Photography has galleries full of historical photographs and a display of holograms.

Then its beaches all the way as you drive further down the coast. The mile long white sands of Crescent Beach in Lockeport are well worth a stop, and there are some pretty buildings in the town (but not an awful lot else). Next stop is Shelbourne, a delightfully well-preserved town with a historic waterfront with 33 Loyalist homes dating back from 1783, many of which have been turned into galleries, coffee shops, stores and a museum. The Sea Dog Saloon sits right over the water, has a great deck, and serves up tasty pub food. 

From there, you drive from one quaint little town to another until you hit Barrington, which has the Barrington Woolen Mill Museum, where you can see demonstrations of how the wool industry used to be, and the final destination on the Lighthouse Route, Shag Harbour, a vibrant little lobster fishing community. All along this coastline are opportunities to take fishing trips, rent kayaks, hike, and then gorge yourself on seafood. If you’re looking for a low-key vacation, then driving all the way along the Lighthouse Route will be just the ticket. If, however, you like a little more action, then you may only want to plan a trip as far as Liverpool. Either way, you’ll love exploring Nova Scotia’s South Shore.