Some road trip destinations are so much fun, they’re well worth driving the same road twice for! Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, is just such a place. It’s located roughly 30 minutes from the community of Sydney on Cape Breton Island’s Atlantic coast. When you take a Louisbourg road trip, you’ll be greeted by ocean breezes, unique accommodations, and some of the richest history anywhere in Nova Scotia.

Here are seven sensational reasons to add Louisbourg to your itinerary on your next road trip to Cape Breton.

You can visit one of Parks Canada’s top national historic sites…

The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site is one of Parks Canada’s crown jewels. Even if you’ve never traveled to a historic destination before, this is a great place to start! This fascinating site is built directly atop a portion of the original 18th-century fortified French town of Louisbourg. It features authentic reconstructions of a colony buzzing with the activity of everyday life.

Witness the daily cannon firing, observe French military drills, visit the bakery and blacksmith, tour the heritage gardens, dance along with fiddlers playing 18th-century folk songs in the streets, and try your hand at firing a musket. You can even book in advance to take part in the cannon firing or play the role of a prisoner being dragged through town!

If you have young explorers along, ask for the Parks Canada Xplorers activity booklet. You can pick one up at the visitor centre when you arrive. Once your intrepid littles have completed the activities, they’ll receive a collectible souvenir to take home.

It’s also a great idea to set aside some time to explore the Ruins Walk. It’s not far from the main village. You can see the type of archaeological excavation Parks Canada started with and extrapolated into the site that exists today. In its way, the Fortress of Louisbourg is a historic site that itself commemorates an era of Parks Canada history. This style of reconstruction that was common in the 1950s and 1960s might not happen so readily today. Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site offers an interesting look into a bygone era of Canadian heritage conservation.

There’s so much to see and do at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site that it deserves a full day on your itinerary. Fortunately, this is easy to do since there are several lunch options on site. One of them is Grandchamp House, an 18th-century style dining room. Costumed waitstaff serve period-correct dishes like rabbit ragu, pain perdu, barley risotto, and French onion soup.

…And stay overnight in one of its unique camping options

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even stay overnight at the Fortress of Louisbourg. Once the site’s gates close to the public, you’ll have the town’s historic streets all to yourself. Tuck yourself in inside an 18th-century home, set up camp inside the guardhouse, or, if you dare, spend the night inside the prison in the King’s Bastion!

Note these accommodations are not bookable through Parks Canada’s online portal. Instead, you can make a reservation by contacting the site directly. More information is available here.

Take a Louisbourg road trip to the site of Canada’s first lighthouse

Did you know? The first lighthouse in Canada was built in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. The Louisbourg Lighthouse is preserved as part of the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. It was constructed by the French in 1734 on the opposite side of the harbour from the fortress to help guide ships into the town. The lighthouse that stands today is the fourth one to be erected on this site, and it sits right beside the still-visible ruins of the original. Although the surrounding trail remains closed due to damage from Hurricane Fiona, you can still drive right up to the lighthouse to take a closer look.

Stay in the beautiful North Star* hotel on your Louisbourg road trip…

Louisbourg is also home to North Star*, formerly Point of View Suites. This property was purchased and renovated by Scottish celebrity interior designers Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan, a process documented in the TV series “Colin and Justin’s Hotel Hell,” before reopening in 2022. Today, the town’s only seaside hotel is home to 22 beautifully designed guest suites, many of which have ocean views, as well as two restaurants, a cocktail bar, and a private shingle-rock beach. It’s quickly become one of Nova Scotia’s signature overnight stays.

…And maybe even meet Colin and Justin themselves

It’s never a guarantee you’ll run into celebrities when staying at properties they own. But since Colin and Justin are both very hands-on at North Star*, your odds of meeting them in person are better than average. During our stay, both Colin and Justin were working in the restaurant and mixing drinks at the bar. In fact, they’ve become such honorary Cape Bretoners that Justin hopped on stage to join the night’s musician in a rendition of Working Man, a classic by beloved Cape Breton folk singer Rita MacNeil.

A Louisbourg road trip is an easy drive from the Newfoundland ferry

If you head toward Louisbourg after disembarking the Newfoundland ferry in North Sydney, the drive takes less than 45 minutes. Most of the traffic off the boat will either head straight for the Trans-Canada Highway or north toward the Cabot Trail. If you head for Louisbourg instead, you’re likely find the drive is a little more tranquil and less crowded.

Driving the Cabot Trail as well? Check out our top tips for planning your visit >

Your Louisbourg road trip can trace the path of early French settlers

And if you’re heading on a Louisbourg road trip from Newfoundland on the Marine Atlantic ferry from Argentia, you can take an extra step to connect the dots of history. The Argentia ferry typically boards in the afternoon, so while you’re waiting, spend the morning at Castle Hill National Historic Site in Placentia.

There, you’ll learn about how the town there, formerly Plaisance, was the capital of France’s territories in the new world. This lasted until 1713, when the French were forced by the British to abandon Placentia. They resettled on Cape Breton Island and established the Fortress of Louisbourg that same year. Take the ferry from Argentia to North Sydney and then head to Louisbourg, and you’ll follow a similar path to those original settlers. It goes a long way toward bringing this fascinating period of history into focus!

Start planning more Nova Scotia adventures by clicking here >

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