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Nova Scotia - Travel and visas
One of the joys of touring the province is discovering what lies beyond the main roads: making side trips down virtually uninhabited peninsulas, trying to spot whales or stopping to pick your own strawberries.
This information is correct at the time of writing, but rules and practices change, so do check the current situation (www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/tourist.asp) before buying your ticket. As of 29 September 2016, most international visitors intending to fly to (or transit) Canada need an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). Exceptions include US citizens, and travellers with a valid Canadian visa. At the time of writing, if you are entering Canada by land or sea, aneTA is not required.
eTAs will allow the Canadian authorities to screen travellers before they arrive. The eTA is electronically linked to your passport and is valid for five years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. As it is passport-linked, you must travel using the passport with which you applied for your eTA.
Most European visitors arrive into Nova Scotia by air, flying into Halifax Robert L Stanfield International Airport. For those coming from (or going to) other parts of Canada, there are a few other options: one rail connection, and two road crossings from the neighbouring province of New Brunswick (itself connected by road to the Canadian province of Quebec, and to Maine in the United States). There is a ferry connection with Maine, USA, as well as ones with New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
Travellers from the USA have the choice of flying, taking the ferry from Portland, Maine, driving to Saint John, New Brunswick, and taking the ferry from there, driving through New Brunswick to take the land route in to Nova Scotia, or some combination of the above (eg: ferry one way, drive the other). By road, Portland to Saint John is just over 480km by road: Portland to the New Brunswick–Nova Scotia border, near Amherst, is 750km.
Air Canada is the only airline to offer non-stop year-round flights between the UK and Nova Scotia (London Heathrow to Halifax). Between spring and early autumn, Canadian airline Westjet offers direct flights between both Glasgow and Dublin and Halifax. Flying time from London to Halifax is around 6½ hours (the Gulf Stream winds mean that the return journey is usually about 45 minutes quicker). If you are having problems finding seats at a competitive fare, try looking beyond direct flights – more options exist if you are prepared to change planes. Westjet, for example, often offers good deals from London Gatwick to Halifax changing planes in St John’s (Newfoundland) or Toronto. However, it’s worth comparing any savings in cost against the extra time and inconvenience the stopovers will incur. The most expensive time to fly is in July and August.
If you’re coming from elsewhere in Canada, options also exist in the summer to fly direct to Sydney (on Cape Breton Island) from Toronto.
In addition to the daily (except where specified) direct flights between US airports and Halifax, if you are prepared to change planes, there are more possibilities. Incidentally, if you are flying directly to the USA, Halifax Airport has a US Customs pre-clearance facility allowing you to go through US Customs and Border Protection before your flight – saving quite a bit of time at the other end (note though that this is not offered 24/7).
There are no direct flights between Australia and Nova Scotia – you will have to change planes at least twice. A couple of airlines offer through fares, for example Air Canada and United. It is often cheaper to buy a ticket to (say) New York, and a separate ticket New York–Halifax.
Whether driving from the USA or Canada (unless you take a ferry; see opposite), you’ll pass through New Brunswick and cross in to Nova Scotia near Amherst. From there it is 215km/134 miles – about a 2½–3-hour drive – to Halifax. Montreal is about 1,250km/777 miles from Halifax by road, and (again if you don’t take a ferry) Boston is 1,120km/700 miles. For more on driving in Nova Scotia.
Maritime Bus took over long-distance coach services in December 2012. They usually operate three services daily in each direction between Halifax (calling at various places in Nova Scotia including Dartmouth, Halifax Airport, Truro and Amherst) and Sackville and Moncton (both in New Brunswick): Halifax to Moncton usually takes just over 4 hours. From Moncton there are connecting services through New Brunswick to Quebec. Those wishing to connect to/from Prince Edward Island should change buses in Amherst.
Advance Shuttle operates 11-passenger air-conditioned vans once daily in each direction between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (4–5hrs; CAN$69 one-way) via the Confederation Bridge (which connects New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). The route is Charlottetown–Summerside–Borden (all in Prince Edward Island), then Amherst–Oxford–Truro–Elmsdale–Enfi eld–Halifax Airport–Halifax City–Dartmouth.
VIA Rail operates an overnight train, The Ocean, three times a week between Montreal and Halifax. The train leaves Montreal in the evening, travels via Moncton and New Brunswick, arriving in Halifax mid afternoon. In the other direction, afternoon departures from Halifax reach Montreal the next morning.
Year-round, the train offers standard economy class and sleeper class; the latter affords you a bed in private accommodation. Between mid June and mid October, you can also travel in sleeper touring class. Extra benefits, instead of standard sleeper class, include on-train presentations with cultural and historical insights to the Maritimes, exclusive access to the train’s lounges and panoramic section of the luxurious Park Car, breakfast, lunch and a three-course dinner. Regular fares are CAN$218 each way in economy class, but a limited number of no change, no refund ‘Economy Saver’ tickets are sold for each journey at just CAN$135. Look out, too, for special sales.
Bay Ferries operates The CAT, a highspeed catamaran ferry, daily (each way) between Portland, Maine, and Yarmouth. The 2016 season ran from 15 June to 1 October with a morning departure from Yarmouth and an afternoon departure from Portland (5½hrs; US$107 one-way per passenger, from US$199 one-way per vehicle excluding driver).
The company also operates Digby–Saint John (New Brunswick) on the Fundy Rose year-round (1–2 times daily; 3hrs; passenger fares from CAN$46 one-way, vehicle cost from CAN$112); and Caribou (near Pictou)–Wood Island (Prince Edward Island) on NFL Ferries MV Confederation and MV Holiday Island from May to mid December (3–8 times daily; 75mins; fares from CAN$19 round-trip for passengers, from CAN$81 round-trip – including passengers – for a vehicle).
Marine Atlantic offers two connections between Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island and the Canadian province of Newfoundland: North Sydney–Port aux Basques (Newfoundland) year-round (6–8hrs; passenger fares from CAN$43, vehicle from CAN$113); and North Sydney–Argentia (Newfoundland) three sailings a week from late June to late September (16hrs; passenger fares from CAN$115, vehicle from CAN$232). Fares shown are one-way. Note that the vehicle rate does not include driver or passengers.
It is easy to travel around Nova Scotia – if you have a vehicle. Sadly, public transport is quite limited, and virtually non-existent in many areas.
For the freedom it gives you, the (generally) good roads, and – compared with much of Europe and urban North America – the (generally) very light traffic, driving is by far the best way to get around the province. British motorists, used to driving on the left, will quickly adapt to driving on the right. Most drivers in Nova Scotia are courteous, patient and observant of speed limits. Outside downtown Halifax, parking is rarely a problem.
Traffic jams are not unheard of, particularly during rush hour on the approaches to and from Halifax and Dartmouth, and the motorway (Hwy 102) which links them with the airport.
Everywhere is well within a day’s drive of Halifax. You could easily reach Yarmouth in three–four hours, and Sydney (on the east coast of Cape Breton Island) in four–five hours. But Nova Scotia is not about rushing from A to B: in fact, quite the opposite. Where possible, try to avoid the motorways and aim instead for the smaller, often much more scenic – albeit slower – alternatives. Try to allow far more time than distances on the map might suggest. One of the joys of touring the province is discovering what lies beyond the main roads: making side trips down virtually uninhabited peninsulas, trying to spot whales from a headland, stopping to pick your own strawberries, to wander deserted beaches, take in the view from a look-out, or to watch boats bobbing in the harbour at tiny fishing villages.
With the exceptions of one section of railway line (serving just four stations thrice-weekly), a few local public bus services and private shuttle companies, Nova Scotia’s primary public transport network consists of coach services off ered by Maritime Bus. The network includes a daily (or more frequent) service in each direction between Halifax and Kentville stopping at Dartmouth, Lower Sackville, Falmouth (for Windsor), Wolfville and New Minas. Halifax is also connected a few times daily with Dartmouth, Halifax Airport, Truro, Amherst and Moncton, New Brunswick.
Passenger rail travel is very limited, but possible: three days a week, VIA Rail runs a service between Montreal, Quebec and Halifax, and this stops at Amherst, Springhill Junction and Truro.
Cyclists are permitted on all Nova Scotia’s roads, including motorways. Helmets must be worn. When riding at night you must use a white front light and a red rear reflector (a rear-facing, flashing red light is acceptable). Reflectors and reflective clothing are also advisable. Most airlines allow bikes as checked baggage, but will have rules as to how the bike should be packed: a handling fee may apply. Check and re-check before booking your ticket.
Hitchhiking is not allowed on 100-series major (controlled-access) motorways. Whilst chances are that all will go well and that you’ll meet some interesting people, climbing into a stranger’s vehicle always carries some degree of risk. Police may also pull over and chat to hitchers to check that they are not missing persons or runaways. As in much of the world, hitching isn’t as easy (or as safe) as it used to be – and the release in 2007 of a remake of a 1986 film, The Hitcher, hasn’t helped. Storylines of psychopathic, murderous hitchhikers don’t exactly encourage drivers to pick up strangers.