Quaint and charming, the Annapolis Valley is a popular place to visit during the summer months in Nova Scotia. Known as Nova Scotia’s wine country, not to mention home to some of Canada’s oldest historical sites, the Annapolis Valley is a great place to do a road trip, taking time to learn about history, taste some wine, tantalize your tastebuds with a delicious food scene, and even get into some adventure, such as whale watching, canoeing, hiking, and more.
The Annapolis Valley is a region located in the western part of the Nova Scotia peninsula, formed by a trough between two parallel mountain ranges along the shore of the Bay of Fundy. The valley measures approximately 126 kilometres (78 miles) in length from Digby and the Annapolis Basin in the west to Wolfville and the Minas Basin in the east, spanning the counties of Digby, Annapolis and Kings. The small towns, scenic views, and historic sites make for an excellent Nova Scotia road trip.
In this travel guide to the Annapolis Valley, we’ll fill you in on things to do, where to stay, where to eat, and more.
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How to Get to the Annapolis Valley
Although there are tours that explore the Annapolis Valley from Halifax, the best way to truly see it is by doing a road trip. It is easily accessible from Halifax, Truro, Yarmouth, and even New Brunswick.
Annapolis Valley to Halifax: The closest part of the Annapolis Valley to Halifax is Wolfville, which is only 90 kilometres away. The drive takes one hour and is very straightforward.
Saint John to Annapolis Valley: If you happen to be over in Saint John, New Brunswick, you can actually visit Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley by taking the ferry from Saint John to Digby. This is a scenic ferry that crossed the Bay of Fundy and lands you at the western edge, the perfect place to start exploring the region.
What is the Annapolis Valley?
The Annapolis Valley is a valley and region in the western part of the Nova Scotia peninsula. Formed by a trough between two parallel mountain ranges along the shore of the Bay of Fundy, the valley measures approximately 126 kilometres (78 miles) in length from Digby and the Annapolis Basin in the west to Wolfville and the Minas Basin in the east, spanning the counties of Digby, Annapolis and Kings. The entire area could easily be visited in a day but if you want to actually explore the historic sites, visit some wineries, or enjoy the natural surroundings, we definitely recommend spending at least three nights. This is also a great place to visit Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, which offers wonderful camping, hiking, and canoeing opportunities.
What makes this area unique is the steep face of the basaltic North Mountain, which roses over 260-metres in elevation and shelters the valley from the adjacent Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. This shelter produces a “micro-climate” with relatively mild temperatures for this region. Coupled with fertile glacial sedimentary soils on the valley floor, this area is great for growing vegetables, fruit, and of course, grapes. This is why the region produced excellent wines. However, the valley is actually most famous for its apple crops, with more than 1,000 farms growing various types of apples.
This area is also extremely historically significant for Canada and North America. Long settled by the Mi’kmaq Nation, the valley experienced French settlement at the Habitation at Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal) beginning in 1605. From there, the Acadians spread throughout the Valley, building dykes to claim the tidal lands along the Annapolis and Cornwallis Rivers. This lasted for more than a century until the British came over and ordered the expulsion of Acadians in 1755, which is memorialized at Grand Pré in the eastern part of the valley. New England Planters moved in to occupy the abandoned Acadian farming areas and the region also saw subsequent settlement by Loyalist refugees of the American Revolutionary War, as well as foreign Protestants. These were followed by significant numbers of freed Africans in the War of 1812, Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century and Dutch immigrants after World War II. Agriculture in the Annapolis valley boomed in the late 19th century with the arrival of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway, which developed large export markets for Annapolis Valley apples. All this history makes for some great historic sites, which you’ll find throughout the Annapolis Valley.
The three main areas found in the valley include Wolfville, Annapolis Royal, and Digby. You can easily stay in one location and explore the others or stay a night or two in each place to truly take it all in. This article will give you a broad view of the three areas and what to do while you’re there.
Annapolis Valley Weather
The Annapolis Valley is home to a unique climate that helps it become a popular region for vineyards and other farming. The best time to visit is during the spring when the city is full of blossoms but the summer, such as June, July, and August, is the busiest time of year thanks to the hotter temperatures. The fall is also beautiful, especially with the fall colours in Kejimkujik National Park but all of the historic sites close by early October.
Like all of the Maritimes, the humidity makes for some cold temperatures throughout the winter and early spring. The area is less temperate than some — in the 21st percentile for pleasant weather — compared to tourist destinations worldwide. Weeks with ideal weather are listed above. In general, if you’re visiting in the spring, summer, or fall, we definitely recommend packing layers, as well as a raincoat, umbrella, and a warm sweater for the evenings.
Things to Do in Wolfville
Wolfville has become a popular place to visit and to live. Located on the eastern edge of the Annapolis Valley in Kings County, it’s typically the first place people explore, especially for those coming from Halifax. It’s known for its wineries, cafes, and Grand-Pré National Historic Site.
The town is a popular tourist destination due to its views of Cape Blomidon, the Bay of Fundy and Gaspereau Valley, as well as its wine industry. The downtown portion of Wolfville is home to pubs, bars, cafes, and shops, as well as the Acadia Cinema Cooperative, a non-profit organization that runs the local movie/performance house.
The Wolfville area has a long and storied history, with nearby Grand-Pré being a historically significant site marking the Deportation of Acadians from Nova Scotia. Wolfville is also at the epicentre of Nova Scotia’s burgeoning wine scene, with eight wineries located within 10 km of the town’s centre.
Perhaps the #1 reason people love Wolfville is because of its proximity to the many wineries in the Annapolis Valley. There’s something alluring about walking around vineyards before tasting the wine right at its source. One of them, the Grand Pré Winery, even has accommodation. This is the only winery we visited during our short tour and is where we spent our first night of the trip. It’s one of the more popular stops thanks to its close proximity to Wolfville, but the accommodations are also beautiful and spacious, and their on-site restaurant, Le Caveau, is known to be one of the best in the province.
However, there’s no reason to visit just one winery during your time in the Annapolis Valley. There are more than ten other wineries that are well worth the visit, including Luckett Vineyards, Planter’s Ridge, which is an artisanal winery housed in a renovated timber frame barn, and Benjamin Bridge winery, which produces one of the most widely known wines from Nova Scotia – Nova 7.
Today there are twelve wineries including Lightfoot & Wolfville, Luckett Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge Winery that produces the most widely known wine from Nova Scotia, Nova 7.
Grand-Pre National Historic Site
Located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand-Pré National Historic Site is an excellent place to learn about the Acadian culture and the long-gone battles between France and England to claim this territory. The site commemorates the Grand Pré area as a centre of Acadian settlement from 1682 to 1755 and the Deportation of the Acadians, which began in 1755 and continued until 1762. For many Acadians throughout the world, the site remains the heart of their ancestral homeland and the symbol of the ties that unite them to this day.
We recommend about two hours here, although it can be seen in an hour if you’re tight on time. We highly recommend watching the short film in the visitor centre before embarking on your tour around the site, as it really brings the history to life. The site itself is quite small but is very beautiful, and there’s even an option to stay in an oTENTik.
Harvest Moon Trail
We didn’t have time to do any bike rides during our visit, but if biking is your thing, you don’t want to miss the chance to peddle the 110-kilometre (68 miles) Harvest Moon Trailway, which traverses the Annapolis Valley through beautiful towns along the former railbed, connecting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grand Pré to the historic seaside town of Annapolis Royal. Even if you’re not into biking, you can also hike the trail, passing by local farm markets, award-winning wineries, craft producers, and more. It’s a scenic area without a lot of elevation, so this trail would be a really great way to take it all in. The Trailway is part of the Blue Route provincial cycling network.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
The Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens and K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre are located on the beautiful campus of Acadia University and provide a unique look at the indigenous flora of the Acadian Forest Region. The gardens feature plants from nine different forest habitats as well as a formal walled garden, herbaceous bank and a pleached linden hedge, flanked by a medicinal and food garden. Visitors will also find carved sandstone lily pools, experimental gardens, and benches for resting and contemplation. In addition to the Botanical Garden, there’s also the K.C Irving Environmental Centre, which has laboratories, greenhouses, and controlled environmental facilities, which occasionally hold seminars for the public.
Acadia University Art Gallery
Another popular attraction for Wolfville is the Acadia University Art Gallery, which offers a year-round exhibition programme of contemporary and historical work. The exhibitions and outreach programming of the Acadia University Art Gallery promote visual literacy and enhance the intellectual and cultural experience of the University and the wider community.
In addition to the exhibits formed locally, there’s also visiting exhibitions and curated projects from places like the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the National Gallery of Canada, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and international organizations.
Where to Stay – Wolfville Hotels
The Inn at Grand Pré Winery: When in wine country, why not spend the night in a winery? Fairly new to the area, you’ll find the Inn at Grand Pré Winery to be quite beautiful and convenient. We spent one night here and our room was incredibly spacious and beautiful. The house, which was built in 1828, has undergone quite a transformation while retaining its heritage look. The Inn at Grand Pré Winery offers 6 suites, each with its own unique ensuite bathroom.
Things to Do in Annapolis Royal
Annapolis Royal, formerly known as Port Royal, is another popular tourist town located in the western part of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s a beautiful waterfront community with many well-preserved heritage buildings and is one of the earliest European settlements in North America. The Annapolis Royal area has gained a reputation as a vibrant centre for cultural activity, and over the years it has become a magnet for visual artists, craftspeople, performers, and writers.
Today’s Annapolis Royal is the second French settlement known by the same name and should not be confused with the 1605 French settlement of Port-Royal National Historic Site. This new French settlement was renamed in honour of Queen Anne following the siege of Port Royal in 1710 by Britain. The town was the capital of Acadia and later Nova Scotia for almost 150 years, until the founding of Halifax in 1749. It was attacked by the British six times before permanently changing hands after the siege of Port Royal in 1710. Over the next fifty years, the French and their allies made six unsuccessful military attempts to regain the capital. Including a raid during the American Revolution, Annapolis Royal faced a total of thirteen attacks, more than any other place in North America. As the site of several pivotal events during the early years of the colonization of Canada, the historic core of Annapolis Royal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1994
Port-Royal National Historic Site
Port-Royal National Historic Site features a reconstruction of the Habitation, an enclosed wooden compound, on what was one of the earliest European settlements in North America. It was here in 1605 that Samuel de Champlain helped settle the area on land that is the traditional homeland of the Mi’kmaq.
With costumed interpreters, you’ll be able to understand the challenges faced by the French as they carved out a new settlement. It’s also right next to the beautiful Annapolis Basin, so it’s a great place to go for a short walk and admire the landscapes that have been experienced by the Mi’kmaq over thousands of years.
Do note, however, that this site closes in early September. Unfounrtately, we arrived two days after they closed but we still wandered around the outside of the settlement, read through all the informative displays, and enjoyed the lovely views.
Fort Anne National Historic Site
Located right in the heart of Annapolis Royal, this is a great chance to learn about why this was one of the most hotly contested pieces of land on the entire continent. In fact, this site became Canada’s first administered National Historic Site in 1917. Fort Anne, which was originally established by the Scots, then the French, and then taken over and re-built by the English, is surrounded by cannons and stunning views of the Annapolis Basin. Since we arrived a couple of days after the site had closed for the season, we mostly enjoyed the grounds and the incredible sunset views.
When open, however, visitors will be able to step inside the Officers’ Quarters Museum to explore the exhibits and discover the relationships between the Mi’kmaq, French, British, Acadians, and African Nova Scotians who have called this place home. There’s also a stunning tapestry (2.4 m x 5.5 m / 8 ft x 18 ft) that depicts 400 years of history in the area.
One of the things that surprised me the most was learning that this area was the site of thirteen attacks, seven changes of hands, and the ratification of the Treaty of Boston. No other place has been attacked more than this area in the entire country. Don’t worry though. It’s very peaceful today.
Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
Gardens are always a great place to visit and the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens are no different. Here you’ll be able to experience a fusion of heritage and gardens as you walk around the lovely 17-acre Historic Gardens, which were rates Canada’s Garden of the Year back in 2015. We loved walking around these gardens and also exploring the Dyke system, which is a great way to get an idea of how the Acadians cultivated this unique area hundreds of years ago.
It’s a very tranquil setting with tidal river views and showcases gardening methods, designs and materials representing more than four hundred years of Canadian history. Some of the highlights include the largest rose collection in Eastern Canada, a reconstructed 1671 Acadian House and the Dyke system we mentioned. The garden is also within walking distance from many local guesthouses.
North Hills Museum
Built back in the 1760s, this small farmhouse boasts a collection of fine art and furnishings that create an air of Georgian elegance. Purchased by Robert Patterson in 1964, he made it a showplace for his impressive collection of antiques, including English porcelain and oak, mahogany and walnut furniture. Today, it’s open for your enjoyment, allowing you to be charmed by the history in culture in what is one of North America’s most historic regions.
Where to Stay – Annapolis Royal Hotels
Hillsdale House Inn: Located within walking distance of the Historical Garden is the lovely heritage home guesthouse called the Hillsdale House Inn. Built back in 1859, This place felt like a museum when we stayed there and in fact, the bed frame we slept in was originally made for King George V before he became king. This house has been an Inn ever since it was built and offers 13 well-appointed guestrooms combining a refreshing mix of Victorian charm, timeless hospitality and many of the comforts of modern lifestyle. The breakfast is also very good.
Things to Do in Digby
Located on the western shore of the Annapolis Basin near the entrance to the Digby Gut, which connects the basin to the Bay of Fundy, Digby is a great place to go for admiring the ocean views, eating scallops, and as a base for whale watching.
Home to a large scallop and lobster fishing fleet and known worldwide for their famous Digby scallops, Digby has become a popular place for eating seafood and capturing photos of fishing boats and the harbour. The town also has a year-round ferry service that crosses the beautiful Bay of Fundy between Digby and Saint John, New Brunswick, which makes it a very convenient place to explore the Annapolis Valley and the Maritimes in general.
Fun fact: Since 2004, Digby has become the destination of the largest motorcycle rally in Atlantic Canada, which is known as the annual Wharf Rat Rally. It attracts many times the town’s population, often expanding its normal 2,000 residents to more than 50,000 people, including 25,000 motorcycles. The town becomes so busy that some schools and roads have to close. If you’re interested in going, the Wharf Rat Rally event is held the weekend of Labour Day in August/September each year.
The Bay of Fundy offers some of the world’s most spectacular whale watching in North America. There are many whale watching companies in the area to choose from and all of them explore the Bay of Fundy. The massive amount of untapped energy of the Bay of Fundy is the fuel for a fragile ecosystem that provides a nutritious food supply to numerous species of birds, fish, bottom-dwellers like lobsters and scallops, and of course whales. By late springtime, Finback Whales, Minke Whales and Harbour Porpoises are the first to arrive from their southern migration grounds. In June, the Humpback Whales return and by late June these whales are abundant in the Bay of Fundy. White-sided dolphins are also often seen, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, Pilot whales, Sperm whales, Blue whales, White Beaked Dolphins, Bluefin Tuna, Sea Turtles and Basking Sharks.
We actually arrived in mid-October when most whale watching operations have shut down, but luckily, Ocean Explorations Zodiac Whale Cruises was still taking people out, so we jumped in the car and headed to Tiverton, which includes a short ferry ride right in front of the office. It actually makes for a beautiful little road trip. We’re happy we went as well because the sun was out, the water was very calm, and we spotted about a dozen Humpbacks! We also saw a variety of birds, including the ever-so-cute Atlantic Puffins, piping glovers, and more.
There are other tours as well, including Brier Island Whale & Seabird Cruises, Mariner Cruises Whale & Seabird Tours, and Petit Passage Whale Watch.
Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa
This historic hotel is the biggest hotel in the area and is home to a wide variety of amenities, including a beautiful a spa, a number of restaurants, and an outdoor heated pool for those spending the night. However, it’s also home to a par 71, 18-hole picturesque Stanley Thompson designed golf course. So, if hitting the tees is your thing, this is the place to go in Digby.
Point Prim Lighthouse
Located just 10 minutes from Digby, visitors to the Point Prim Lighthouse will find multiple viewing points, benches, picnic tables, and of course, beautiful views of the Bay of Fundy from the Digby Gut. Built back in 1817, this lighthouse features vertical red and white stripes, interpretive panels, and walking trails. The lighthouse itself is not open to the public but the grounds are a popular place to hang out and people love taking photos with the lighthouse in the background.
During your visit, you’ll likely see waves crashing into the rocky shorelines, fishing boats coming in and going out, a variety of birds and wildlife, and even the Fundy Rose ferry that traversed between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Seals also like this place and if you’re lucky, you even spot a whale or a porpoise out in the water.
Balancing Rock Trail
If you’re looking for a cool little hike, consider Balancing Rock Trail, which is over in Tiverton. The star attraction of the trail is, of course, the 20-tonne volcanic rock that seems to balance precariously on a ledge above the waves of St. Mary’s Bay. The trail is only 1.7 km and leads through woods and bog before arriving at the southern shore of Long Island. Once at the end of the trail, a series of 253 wooden steps provide access to a cliffside viewing platform overlooking the 20-foot high finger of basalt.
Admiral Digby Museum
It’s always good and interesting to learn about the place you’re visiting, and the best place to do that here is at the Admiral Digby Museum. Housed in a mid-1800s Georgian home, the museum features period rooms containing artefacts and archives that relate to the interesting Maritime & Pioneer history of Digby and Digby County, its people, and industries.
Where to Stay – Digby Hotels
Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa: The most famous hotel in the area is the historic Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa. It’s very big and has a wide variety of amenities including a spa, a lovely grounds area, and a variety of restaurants.
Exploring Nova Scotia
While the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia is a great place to visit, there’s so much more as well. In fact, Kejimkujik National Park is only 30 minutes from Annapolis Royal and is a wonderful place to go hiking, canoeing, or camping. There’s also Yarmouth at the far western shores, Halifax and Lunenburg on the southern shore, and of course, Cape Breton Island to the far east. Then, there’s New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and even Newfoundland for those willing to jump on the 6-hour ferry to Newfoundland. For more ideas on what to do, check out our popular articles below: