Halifax, Nova Scotia
As the most visited of Canada’s cruise ports, Halifax has options both for independent exploration and for guided tours. During leaf season, the 17-acre Halifax Public Gardens are especially inviting and colorful. The formal Victorian gardens have flower-adorned lampposts, historic statues, a stately fountain commemorating the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s monarchy and beds of rare flowers and colorful trees.
With its strong connection to the Titanic tragedy - many of the victims are buried in Halifax’s cemeteries - the city’s Maritime Museum houses a moving memorial that includes such poignant artifacts as a pair of tiny shoes that belonged to an 18-month-old infant who was posthumously “adopted” and buried by the city because he could not be identified. (Thanks to the science of DNA, there’s more to this story, as museum visitors discover.)
Though the highlight of the popular Peggy’s Cove tour is one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses, there are also magnificent ancient boulders, soaring rock walls and panoramic seascapes.
Other tours feature outdoor activities (kayaking, biking, river rafting, etc.), food and wine and more.
Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island)
After being greeted by islanders in Celtic costumes step dancing to fiddle music, cruise passengers can explore the shops and restaurants on Peake’s Wharf or take a self-guided historic walk with a map provided by PEI Tourism.
Since the island’s greatest claim to fame relates to the 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables, a number of tours include visits to the Green Gables homestead (one, with lunch at well-known island restaurant).
Historic tours can be taken by double-decker bus, by bicycle, horse-drawn trolley or by amphibious “duck boat.” Nature lovers can experience the island’s eco-system and wildlife during a sea kayak excursion (a short class is given prior to the tour).
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Sydney is the cruise port of Cape Breton Island, a treasure trove of historical/cultural tours. The most famous is the 18th century Fortress of Louisbourg, the largest historic reconstruction in North America, operated by Parks Canada as a living history museum. As visitors stroll the streets, they can watch soldiers drill and chat with (and photograph) costumed townspeople as they bake bread, care for their animals, make lace (the only activity available to high-born ladies) and prepare meals.
Other options: the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site, the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum - or the drop-dead-gorgeous scenery along the Cabot Trail, one of Canada’s most photogenic drives.
The old town, the only walled city in North America, is a living museum, named a United Nations World Heritage site in 1985. There are many choices for walking tours and city tours. For a leisurely exploration after a funicular ride to Upper Town, passengers can take a horse and carriage at the Governor’s Garden for a scenic meander along the Grande-Allé, the city’s Champs-Élysées, passing quaint shops, sidewalk cafés, the Parliament Building, through the St. Louis Gate.
On foot, explore the iconic castle-like Chateau Frontenac (especially the gorgeous and expensive boutiques in the lobby), then strolled along Petit-Champlain Street for ice cream and
Sugar Shack Tours provide fun family experiences, with entertainment, music and an all-you-can-eat meal along with an education on how maple sugar is made (kids love the frozen syrup served at the end).
A top tour, with plenty of photo opportunities, is to the awe-inspiring Montmorency Falls (higher than Niagara Falls); this includes a drive through the scenic villages of the Beaupré Coast and a visit to the basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupré. It’s also possible to cycle across the St. Charles River and travel to the falls on a bike tour from the city.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s is the oldest city in North America, rich in history (including Signal Hill, where Marconi got his first radio transmission). It has an appealing bohemian air and walk-able downtown streets: George Street for clubs, restaurants and taverns and Water Street for shopping and fine dining.
During fall foliage season a trail hike in Salmonier Nature Park offers not only an abundance of color, but also habitats for bald eagles, caribou, Canada lynx and geese, arctic fox, otters and moose.
Outside the city, the oldest house in St. John’s is in the picturesque harbor village of Quidi Vidi, which can be explored on foot or by bike. Various boat companies outside the city offer whale-, puffin- and iceberg-watching experiences.
St. John New Brunswick
This charming harbor town, where cruise passengers are often greeted by local volunteers, is located where the Bay of Fundy meets the mouth of the St. John River and is known as “the Fundy City.” Renowned for its extreme tides (highest in the world, with seawater rising and then falling more than 50 feet twice daily), the town’s most popular tours and attractions are related to this phenomenon. A must-see is a look at the Reversing Falls, where the tide overcomes the current and the water flows “the wrong way.”
Other worthy attractions: The St. Martin sea caves, which have been carved out by centuries of waves crashing into the rocks; the Martello Tower, constructed for the war of 1812; the St. John City Market, the oldest working farmer’s market in Canada.
Hop-On/ Hop-Off tours are available, as are 75-minute Trolley Tours. A good-size shopping mall is located within walking distance from the cruise terminal.
If cruise ships approach this port in the pre-dawn hours, balcony passengers are treated to stunningly beautiful views, with sunrise painting the fjords and water in shades of gold and orange.
The modern cruise terminal houses a friendly tourism office, free Internet access, car rental and exceptional crafts and souvenirs. Hop-On/Hop-Off buses (with guides) leave from the terminal and make a circuit of the town and some tourist attractions.
Tour options include a bus tour of the national park (outdoor activities are centered here), a kayaking excursion and helicopter tours of the fjords.
French street signs, upscale boutiques, fine dining and a big-city energy greet cruise passengers, and the biggest problem here is choosing what to do - whether to wander happily, sampling the French-accented food and wine and browsing the temptations in shop windows or to take an organized tour.
During fall foliage season, Mount Royal offers plenty of color, along with such activities as bicycling (rentals), hiking trails and pedal boats.
City tours include Old Montreal, Olympia Park, Notre-Dame Basilica and St. Joseph’s Oratory. Passengers who have never taken a Bateau Mouche tour in Paris might enjoy one here; there are sunrise breakfast (weekends) and dinner options.
When time permits, a full-day tour of the stunning Laurentian Mountains is a terrific option; it includes stops in charming little towns, lakeside villages, perhaps a cruise on Lac des Sables and lots of photo ops and time to shop and eat.