Sydney, Nova Scotia is an undiscovered gem of a harbor town. Once a coal-mining community running on back-breaking industrial labor, the town has gradually shifted its focus to a burgeoning tourism industry. For a number of Canada and New England cruises, let Sydney be your introduction to Nova Scotia’s history, stunning coasts, and charming culture.
Cruises to Sydney, Nova Scotia are perfect for the laid-back cruiser who loves taking walking tours of scenic Nova Scotia, or hopping along Sydney’s many preserved sights like the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum or the Cossit House Museum. Sydney is lined with tributes to earlier times, reenactments honoring its rich Celtic heritage, and its signature foods range from fresh seafood to all your pub favorites.
Beyond the port town of Sydney, venture out to find hikes and natural excursions for every level of nature lover—from scenic drives along the Cabot Trail where you can take in 185 miles of Cape Breton Island to challenging hikes at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Take an underground mine tour and experience first-hand the impact the coal-mining industry brought to Sydney and the whole of Nova Scotia. You’ll see how coal-mining shaped the town, changed the lives of workers and families, and tells their previously untold stories. The museum is located on 15-acres of green space, where you’ll find a recreation of the coal-mining community. Remnants of coal-mining equipment juxtaposed with seasonal roses blooming on the property.
The world’s largest fiddle welcomes you to Nova Scotia. Just footsteps from the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion is the world’s largest fiddle. At sixty-feet tall, it’s one of the first things you’ll see when you exit the port while on taking a cruise to Sydney, Nova Scotia. The Big Fiddle pays tribute to the Celtic community of Sydney and built in honor of the town’s culture and folk influence. A perfect chance for a photo op with this unique attraction.
Learn everything there is to know about the Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the first working telephone, and founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). Bell’s legacy is lasting, and the museum is dedicated to his curiosity, filled to the brim with replicas, photos, and prototypes. Marvel at how far technology has progressed while you’re there.
Take a five minute walk from the cruise port and you’ll walk into the oldest Roman Catholic Church in all of Cape Breton. The St. Patrick’s Church Museum was built in 1828. Outside, the Pioneer Gothic architecture will strike you, and inside the church is sparsely decorated, with simplistic, wooden furniture. Admission is donation based, and a quick visit to the church gives you a glimpse into life in Nova Scotia.
Exploring Sydney on foot is easy with this many historic sites just blocks from the cruise pavilion. After you exit the cruise port, take a walking tour of Sydney. Start at the St. Patrick’s Church Museum. Alongside the multi-colored homes on Charlotte Street, you’ll find the Cossit House Museum, a preserved home from 1787 featuring tours from guides dressed up in the era’s traditional apparel. Then, walk on to the Jost Heritage House, which has an apothecary and pays tribute to Sydney’s maritime legacy.
For a driving tour of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, rent a car and take the Cabot Trail, which is 185 miles of scenic highways and cliffside roads. Stop to go whale-watching along the Atlantic Ocean, or come in autumn to experience epic views of the changing leaves and landscape. If you have time, multi-day tours are available too for even more hiking, whale-watching, and stops in small coastal towns along the way.
About an hour and a half drive away from Sydney is Cape Breton Island, one of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful destinations. Hikers come from all over the world to backpack the trails, where you’ll stumble upon waterfalls, rolling hills, and landscapes that only Nova Scotia can provide. Hikes are available for all skills levels, and guided experiences can be arranged too.
This National Historic Site is one of Sydney’s many attractions for history buffs to learn something completely new about Nova Scotia. The Fortress of Louisbourg is open for tours year round, and each season brings new activities to the fortress, including the chance to try bread from a stone bakery or hike the trails nearby the Fortress. This reconstruction of the original French fortifications is a perfect excursion for families, where you can experience life like an 18th century soldier.
Governors Pub & Eatery
Address: 233 Esplanade Street, Sydney, NS B1P 5Y8, Canada
This eatery features fresh lobster rolls, fish and chips, seafood chowder, and more in a cozy yet upscale setting. Walls are colorfully painted and the Irish-style pub is unfussy. Take a seat outside under an umbrella and enjoy a drink on the upstairs deck.
Address: 16 Pitt St, Sydney, Nova Scotia B1P 5X3, Canada
Flavor has brought, well, flavor to Sydney for ten years. There are three locations throughout Sydney, and each has a different menu. Flavor Downtown is their bistro setting, and the restaurant makes the most of their 30-seat venue. Try the Italian meatballs or curry options for a hearty lunch or dinner, or come for a classic two-eggs and toast breakfast.
Address: 50 Maillard St, Membertou, Nova Scotia
Kiju’s offers locally sourced ingredients and seafood dishes from Moroccan-style mussels to lobster bread pudding. Find traditional Canadian and pub food here, including poutine or liver and onions.
The Bite House
Address: 1471 West Side Baddeck Road, Baddeck, Nova Scotia B0E 1B0, Canada
If you’re venturing outside of Sydney toward Cape Breton Island, it’ll take you about an hour to get to The Bite House, a restaurant with just 12 seats located in a century-old farmhouse. Rave reviews abound for The Bite House, where chef Bryan Picard sources ingredients locally from independent farmers in the area, and the menu changes monthly. Be sure to make a reservation; spaces fill up months in advance.
Sydney’s convenient harbor location meant that the area was open to a variety of industry and trade, from aluminum to concrete, or fishing and ship-reparation. Sydney is a city that isn’t a stranger to hard work, and it’s in the process of catching up to 21st century sensibilities while retaining its rough edges.
The British founded Sydney in 1785, and was the capital of Cape Breton Island until 1820, when the island became part of what we now know as Nova Scotia. Today, the capital of Nova Scotia is Halifax, four or so hours from Sydney in the center of Nova Scotia. During the 19th century, Scottish immigrants began migrating to Sydney for work in its growing industries, particularly coal mining and working in steel plants. Over time, the population grew, and today nearly 32,000 call Sydney home.
Cruises to Sydney only depart from Boston, primarily focused on excursions you can get to from Sydney, like exploring the greater Cape Breton Island or the town of Baddeck. Now, however, the town is shifting its focus. Today tourism to Sydney itself is growing due to the area’s quaint, small-town feel and lovingly maintained historic sites.
The Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion is a popular event space for locals, so there just might be events happening while you’re stopped there on your cruise to Sydney, Nova Scotia from Boston. The Pavilion also has a Visitor Information Center to answer questions you have about Sydney or give you ideas on what to do while you’re there. The Big Fiddle Market is located inside, and you’ll get a sense for Sydney’s warm hospitality just from entering the cruise pavilion.
Walk from Sydney’s port to sights downtown, or wait outside the cruise terminal to hail a taxi. You can also get a guided tour from the cruise port, or look into renting a car. Avis, Alamo, and Budget are three car rental services available in Sydney. Reserve a car in advance, and the rental car company will pick you up from the cruise terminal. They’ll then take you to their office, where you can secure your rental car from there.
The Big Fiddle Market within the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion houses nearly 50 vendors and artisans. Whether for shopping, galleries, or enjoying a bite to eat, there’s something for everyone at Big Fiddle Market.
Try Hattie’s Heirlooms for vintage fabrics or the Cape Breton Curiosity Shop for souvenirs. Craving ice cream? Head into The Kilted Moose Trading Company to experience a locally owned ice cream parlor, complete with fudge and candies.
You’ll use the Canadian dollar (CAD) while on your stop in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Some shops will take U.S. currency (USD) as well, but be sure to ask. There is also an ATM conveniently located at the cruise pavilion. You’ll get the best exchange rate at a bank rather than a local ATM, which tend to charge withdrawal fees.