Finding a sandy strand in Nova Scotia is as easy as taking a drive along the coast. Some 200 stretches of silver, coffee or brick-colored beach punctuate the 7500km (4660 miles) of its coastline.

The Atlantic coast on either side of Halifax has a particularly dense concentration of stunning shores. Building sandcastles, reading a book or just strolling aimlessly along the fine sands are favorite pastimes, but in a place where crowding is seldom an issue, beaches are just as enticing for their ecosystems – over 50 are protected in provincial or national parks.

Visitors usually find beaches on the Atlantic coast too cold for swimming, but those on other coasts or beside rivers are exceptions. Here are 15 of our favorite beaches to enjoy in Nova Scotia.

1. Rissers Beach

Best beach for camping

The beach at this provincial park is adjacent to a campground – a perfect option if you'd like to spend a little more time exploring the area. Though the beach sustained hurricane damage in September 2023, it’s still well worth a visit to enjoy a stroll along the white sandy stretch. Some campsite facilities that sustained damage during the hurricane will fully reopen later in 2024 after renovations.

Detour: Check out the artisan shops like Westcote Bell Pottery and stop for lunch or a rustic loaf at the LaHave Bakery in nearby LaHave.

2. Summerville Beach

Best beach for Atlantic swimming 

Summerville Beach stretches away from beachside accommodations at one end and bends around the opposite end into the mouth of Broad River. Its warm, fresh water makes for a great swimming hole. Dunes separate the beach from a salt marsh that is teeming with birdlife.

Local tip: Try the Quarterdeck, an excellent restaurant in a new building that honors colloquial architecture with floor-to-ceiling windows and a deck overlooking the beach.

3. St. Catherine’s River Beach

Best beach for wildlife

Seals, shorebirds and even bears are spotted regularly at this seaside extension to the inland Kejimkujik National Park. The walk from the parking lot to the beach can take an hour, but the wild place at the end is worth every step. Camping options are available if you'd like to stay a little longer and explore the park and its excellent hiking trails.

The clear water off Carters Beach in Nova Scotia
The crystal clear waters off Carters Beach bring huge numbers of visitors to the area © Getty Images

4. Carters Beach

Best beach for photos

The contrast between the fine, white sand and the Caribbean turquoise waters studded by rugged spruce outcrops makes Carters an incredibly photogenic option. Many consider this the prettiest beach in Nova Scotia. Tucked away at the end of the sleepy village of Port Mouton, this once little-known beach is now often overburdened with visitors. The tiny parking lot regularly overflows, and residents find the crowds tiresome, so go with courtesy and restraint in mind.

5. Crescent Beach, Lockeport

Best beach for events

The band is rocking, and the waves are rolling at the annual Crescent Beach Bash in Lockeport. The beach and its dunes link to the town, so residents simply stroll over to the big parties when they feel like it. Otherwise, the beautifully designed Beach Centre with washrooms and changing rooms serves one of the prettiest beaches in Nova Scotia – it once graced the back of the 50-dollar bill.

Local tip: The beachside cottages are incredibly popular – book many months in advance to avoid disappointment.

6. Mavillette Beach

Best beach to discover Acadian culture

A provincial park beach, Mavillette sits at the south end of Nova Scotia’s French Acadian coast. Backed by high dunes and a sprawling salt marsh, Mavillette is flanked on the north by the one-street village of Cape Saint Marys.

Detour: Explore the fishing wharf and promontory crowned by a lighthouse where interpretive signs and monuments tell the story of Acadian settlement and lost mariners.

Red cliffs covered in trees behind Blomidon Beach in Nova Scotia
Blomidon Beach's red cliffs and high tides make for a unique landscape © Getty Images / 500px Plus

7. Blomidon Beach

Best beach for experiencing the world’s highest tides

Beneath red, crumbling cliffs, Blomidon Beach seems to run forever in either direction from the provincial park campground. Small waterfalls tumble onto the shore, and when the Bay of Fundy world record tides ebb, vast mudflats are exposed.

Detour: This seascape influences the wines grown and sold at nearby Blomidon Estate Winery.

8. Scots Bay Beach

Best beach for rockhounding

Over a narrow ridge from Blomidon is a yawning arc of gravel. Rather than sand, it’s the sheer variety of pebbles of agate, amethyst and quartz worn smooth by the constant tumbling of the tides that draws people to Scot’s Bay. If rockhounding isn’t your thing, there’s just as much driftwood to sort through.

Detour: At the end of the Scots Bay road is Cape Split, one of Nova Scotia’s great hiking trails.

9. Lawrencetown Beach

Best beach for surfing

Surfers hit the waves at Lawrencetown Beach year-round, almost always in wetsuits. Sandwiched between grassy headlands, the beach is washed by waves that roll in from the open Atlantic. Surfing trainers and outfitters near the beach such as East Coast Surf School lead group sessions for first-timers.

10. Clam Harbour Beach

Best beach for sandcastles

August is the most anticipated month at Clam Harbour Beach. That’s when the annual sandcastle competition takes place and thousands arrive to both participate and admire the skills of the sculptors. Pros and talented enthusiasts vie for prizes, as do kids in their own categories. Beyond the competition, the fine art of granular architecture is practiced here regularly.

11. Melmerby Beach

Best beach for warm waters and families

Warm waters and small waves make Mermerby Nova Scotia’s most swimmable beach. It’s the location on the protected Northumberland Strait facing Prince Edward Island that warms the waters. Showers, changing rooms, flush toilets and supervision make this provincial park one of Nova Scotia’s most family-friendly beaches.

12. Arisaig Beach

Best beach for fossil hunting

The cliff behind this short beach next to a little fishing wharf and lighthouse is chock full of fossils. Creatures common on Earth over 400 million years ago are exposed and scattered on the beach just waiting to be discovered.

Detour: A short walk up the steep hill, stop at Steinhart Distillery to sample the German-inspired menu and cocktails made with award-winning spirits.

Skyline Trail, Cape Breton Coast, Nova Scotia
Inverness on Cape Breton Island is popular with walkers © Alexander Howard / Lonely Planet

13. Inverness Beach

Best beach for golf and beer

One of Canada’s epic small-town recovery stories, Inverness transformed from a former coal mining settlement to one that attracts tourists from around the world. One of its greatest assets is its beach, just down the hill from the main street past moored lobster fishing boats.

Detour: Golfers, pick up your jaws. This beach fronts two of the world’s top 50 golf courses – Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. Craft beer enthusiasts settle into Route 19 Brewing, a busy taproom across the street.

14. Black Brook Cove Beach

Best beach for contrasting experiences

This little beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is cut through by a brook that winds its way out of the back woods. After a cold dip in the ocean, head inland along Black Brook to Mary Ann Falls, one of Nova Scotia’s finest swimming holes, where you can swim right up to the falls.

15. Winging Point

Best beach for a remote hike

Winging Point is the wildest beach in Nova Scotia. Named for its shape, twin beaches extend like bird wings in graceful arcs from a rocky point. Eagles cruise the skies for prey while seals bask on the sand. A 4km (2.5-mile) hike through the Gabarus Wilderness Area gets you to this spectacular place.

Detour: A must-see for any visitor to this Cape Breton coast, 18th-century Fortress Louisbourg is the largest historical reconstruction in North America.

This article was first published Sep 1, 2021 and updated May 25, 2024.

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