The 8 best tours in Cape Breton in 2023

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There’s so many things to do on Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia that there’s no way you can do them all in one trip. 

We proved that to ourselves last year when we spent three days on a long weekend to see the island and barely scratched the surface. We drove around the world-famous Cabot Trail, mouths agape at the fall colours and the beautiful scenery around every new turn. But we had no idea where to stop, what to see, what to do.

So when we went back, we chose from a list of the best tours in Cape Breton to help us explore Cape Breton sights we’d missed the first time.

Guided Cape Breton Island tours, really? Yes — a group tour is a great way to explore this stunning part of Nova Scotia. With a guided tour you get knowledgeable local guides that can point out the best sights, tell you some history and local stories, and the best part…? They do all the driving!

But there are a ton of different guided tours to choose from — how do you know which ones will suit you best?  In this list of the best tours in Cape Breton, you’ll find all the details you’ll need to consider when planning your 2023 Nova Scotia vacation. 

Our pick for the top-rated guided tour in Cape Breton

best tours in Cape Breton

Don’t have time to read about all the tours on the list? No worries — our pick for the best tour in Cape Breton is the Cabot Trail Discovery Tour. You’ll see mountains, fishing villages, and rugged coastlines and spend at least six hours touring the Cabot Trail. This guided tour has a massive amount of favourable reviews compared to other tours.

Choosing the best tours in Cape Breton

To get on our list, tours needed to have customer review scores between 4.9 and 5.0 (or 9.8 and 10). The order was determined by the number of reviews each site had; the one with the most reviews was awarded the #1 position, and then it went in a descending order from there. (Review numbers often change — these ratings are current at the time of writing.)

Keep in mind that some tours will have less reviews because they’re newer than others — yet they’ve managed to get excellent customer satisfaction ratings right out of the starting gate.

Bottom line: pick a tour with favourable ratings that takes you to where you want to go. Just sayin’…

OK, with all that out of the way, let’s get to our list of the best tours in Cape Breton: 

#1 – Cabot Trail Discovery Tour

best tours in Cape Breton

▶︎ BOOK Cabot Trail discovery tour

  • RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars — With 63 positive reviews.
  • TOUR LENGTH: between 8 & 10 hours
  • Starts and ends at: Baddeck, Cape Breton (leaves at 9 am)

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  You’ll spend three hours in the Highlands National Park seeing mountains, fishing villages, and rugged coastlines. AND about six hours touring the world famous Cabot Trail. The jaw-dropping coastal scenery will leave you breathless and the unspoiled nature along the Cabot Trail will show you new dramatic scenery at practically every turn.

The Cabot Trail is one of the world’s most scenic road trips, with colourful old-growth forests, rugged and picturesque coastlines, access to quaint towns and parks, and beautiful vistas of whale-inhabited waters in the Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Guides often offer personal stories that bring the region to life. Although the tour is scheduled for between 8 and 10 hours, some travellers report that the tour has gone on longer. You will need to get yourself to Baddeck, where the tour starts and ends.

The Cabot Trail discovery tour includes: 

  • Round-trip tour from Baddeck in an air-conditioned vehicle.
  • Small group tour with a maximum of 10 people.
  • A knowledgeable guide to relate stories about the region and its history.
  • A tour of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park with stops at look-off points.

What past guests have said:

“Beautiful sceneries! Amazed how green everything was! Frank went above and beyond to show interest in everyone taking the tour and sharing his knowledge.”

— June_G (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!


#2 – UTV/Side-by-Side Trail Tour to Cape Clear Look-off

best tours in Cape Breton

▶︎ BOOK Six-hour UTV/Side-by-Side Trail Tour to Cape Clear Look-off

  • RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars — With 7 positive reviews.
  • TOUR LENGTH: 4 hours
  • Starts and ends at: 1072 Cabot Trail, Hunters Mountain, (starts at 9 am, but check prior to the tour)

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  This is a different kind of tour in which you get up and close with nature in a six-seater side-by-side ATV/UTV. Turk, the TNT Adventures guide, is Canadian Safety Council qualified and you’ll enjoy a fun trek as he runs you up to the top of the mountains to one of Cape Breton’s best views, Cape Clear.

From the Cape Clear look-off (lookout for you non-Nova Scotians) you’ll get an amazing view of Highland plateaus and the Margarees below (the Margarees are all of the communities collected along the Margaree River). You may see some wildlife along the way and make a few stops for trail-side snacks and photo ops.

The rate for this tour is a group rate, meaning that the price is the same whether you are alone or have up to five travellers in your group.

What’s a ATV/UTV?

Side-by-sides or UTVs are simply off-road vehicles in which two people sit beside each other. The seating configuration is the same as in a car or truck. The UTV is larger than an ATV and typically costs a little bit more

The UTV/Side-by-Side Trail Tour to Cape Clear Look-off includes: 

  • A different and adventurous way to connect with nature in a UTV.
  • A private tour/activity — only your group will participate.
  • Lunch is provided.
  • Helmets and safety glasses.
  • Snacks, coffee, and/or tea

What past guests have said:

“I’m so glad I booked this trip for my family. Turk was a great guide and my kids learned a lot about the land. Turk’s calm demeanour and love of the woods made for a great afternoon. Spending the afternoon with a proud Cape Breton local was a good way to get a deeper understanding of the island.”

— Dagmar (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

#3 – Highland Village, Baddeck, and Alexander Graham Bell Museum

best tours in Cape Breton - Alexander Graham Bell museum

▶︎ BOOK Highland Village, Baddeck, and Alexander Graham Bell Museum

  • RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars — With 6 positive reviews.
  • TOUR LENGTH: approximately 6 hours, which includes travel time.
  • Starts and ends at: Sydney, Cape Breton (leaves at 9 am from the cruise ship docks).

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  We went on this one last October and had a thoroughly good time. It seems like several Cape Breton guided tours rolled into one! We saw vistas of the Bras d’Or Lake (a Unesco-designated biosphere) as well as a number of significant places on its shores, including:

  • The 17th-century Highland Village, where you’ll find characters simulating the 17th century life of Scottish immigrants, dressed in period clothing and speaking the Gaelic language. 
  • A short ride on one of the few remaining Nova Scotia cable ferries at the “Little Narrows”.
  • The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Museum. Bell lived part of his life in Baddeck where he worked on innovations that are lesser known than his famous telephone invention. He helped hearing impaired people, worked on the original Silver Dart that achieved the first controlled powered flight in Canada, and hydroplaned watercraft. In the museum, there are remarkable artifacts, photos, and full-scale replicas. 
  • St. Anns look-off where you can see the Englishtown Ferry marking the entry to the Cabot Trail circular route, and the Seal Island bridge look-off you can see where the Atlantic’s salt water meets with the brackish/fresh water of Bras d’Or Lake.

Since Nova Scotia weather can change quickly, bring layered clothing, a rain jacket, and some comfortable walking shoes. You’ll also need some cash for your lunch and souvenirs in Baddeck.

The Highland Village, Baddeck, and Alexander Graham Bell Museum includes: 

  • All entry fees and taxes (but we still spent some money on souvenirs and snacks).

What past guests have said:

“Excellent guide and wonderful tour to enjoy a look at the culture of the area and the countryside. The Highland Village is an excellent “living” museum of life for the early settlers. The Bell Museum is incredibly informative and intriguing.”

— Catherine B. (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

#4 (tie) – Best of Cape Breton Small Group Tour from Sydney

(A tie with the next listed tour)

best tours in Cape Breton - the big fiddle in Sydney

▶︎ BOOK Best of Cape Breton Small Group Tour from Sydney

  • RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars — With 1 positive reviews.
  • TOUR LENGTH: approximately 5 hours
  • Starts and ends at: The lobby of Holiday Inn Waterfront (leaves at 10 am). You can also request pick up from your Sydney location.

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  You’ll see multiple sites of interest including the Fortress of Louisbourg, the Alexander Graham Bell museum, and several key sites in Sydney, Cape Breton’s biggest town. In between, you’ll driving through the scenic Cape Breton highlands.

Louisbourg is a remarkably well-preserved French fortress that played a key role in the Anglo-French struggle for what is modern-day Canada. Folks there are dressed in period costumes and act the parts of 18th century residents, which gives you a glimpse into what life what like back then.

At the Alexander Graham Bell museum you’ll discover what innovations (as well as the telephone) Bell had a hand in during his life in Baddeck: he helped hearing impaired people, worked on the original Silver Dart that achieved the first controlled powered flight in Canada, and hydroplaned watercraft. You’ll have free time to explore the exhibits that feature artifacts donated by the Bell family’s personal estate.

Back in Sydney, you’ll get a drive-by look at the Cossit House Museum, The Big Fiddle, the Jost Heritage House, and St. Patrick’s Church with lots of enlightening dialog from your guide.

The Best of Cape Breton Small Group Tour from Sydney includes: 

  • Transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • All entry fees

What past guests have said:

“The Baddeck and Bras D’Or Lakes are a stunningly beautiful in the fall. Our guide let us stop for photo ops at will, took us to a sweet waterside restaurant with a variety of pub and seafood offerings. The rural village was fun to walk and explore.”

— TripAdvisor traveller (see reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

#4 (tie) – The Fortress of Louisbourg

(A tie with the previously listed tour)

best tours in Cape Breton - Fortress of Louisbourg from the air

▶︎ BOOK The Fortress of Louisbourg

  • RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars — With 1 positive review.
  • TOUR LENGTH: approximately 6 hours
  • Starts and ends at: Port of Sydney (You can also request pick up from your Sydney location.)

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  Step back in time in a way that few other national historic sites can offer. The highly rated reconstruction and restoration of the fortress and the French colonial town features people in costume living as the original French settlers did in the 1700s. You’ll get a glimpse of what life was like in the Nova Scotia of the time and learn about the struggle between the British and the French for dominance in the new world of North America and their relationships with indigenous peoples.

The attractions include the bakery, stables, gardens, and the first lighthouse erected in Canada. You’ll also learn about First Nations peoples by spending time on the Membertou First Nations reserve and visiting the Mi’kmaw Interpretive Centre.

** Note that some parts of the grounds remain closed due to Hurricane Fiona (as of May/2023)

The The Fortress of Louisbourg tour includes: 

  • All entry fees 

What past guests have said:

“Our tour guides were wonderful: Gastone & Marsal were very knowledgeable and made the trip fun. I’ve never been a history buff but they made it interesting.”

— Susan A. (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

#6 – Shared Cruise Excursion – “Mini” Cabot Trail

best tours in Cape Breton - the Cabot Trail

▶︎ BOOK Shared Cruise Excursion – “Mini” Cabot Trail

  • RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars — With 11 positive reviews.
  • TOUR LENGTH: between 5 & 8 hours
  • Starts and ends at: Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion, Sydney, Cape Breton.
  • Tour Start: This tour is primarily geared towards making the most of the time cruise ship passengers have on shore, so the tour starts within 1/2 hour of the ship docking. So, if you’re not a cruise ship passenger, it would be wise to be at the Pavilion early and double check with the tour operator for departure time on any given day.

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  This is one of the most comprehensive Cabot Trail road trip tours and it happens in a quick 5-8 hours. Although the time doesn’t allow for a tour around the entire 300km trail, this shows off some of the trail’s highlights with stops along the way at scenic lookouts. You’ll see picturesque fishing villages, spectacular coastlines, and endless mountains with unspoiled natural beauty, with stops for photos along the way.

Please note that because the tour is attempting to pack a lot into just a few hours, there’s a fair bit of time in the vehicle — so make your bring some water or other drink to stay hydrated.

The Shared Cruise Excursion – “Mini” Cabot Trail tour includes: 

  • Pick-up and drop-off at the cruise pavilion in an air-conditioned vehicle.
  • Guided scenic tour to Ingonish or Cheticamp
  • Photo opportunities at St. Ann’s Bay and Kelly’s Mountain and more

What past guests have said:

“Perfect for a day trip, stunning views! The guide was new but a long time local and knew a lot about the area. Do not miss this trip in Sydney!”

— TravelAdvisor reviewer (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

#7 – Cabot Trail: a Smartphone Audio Driving Tour

best tours in Cape Breton - the Cabot Trail

▶︎ BOOK Cabot Trail: a Smartphone Audio Driving Tour

  • RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
  • TOUR LENGTH: between 4 & 5 hours, but you can enjoy it at your leisure.
  • Starts and ends at: Start the audio at Buckwheat Corner (intersection of Cabot Trail Road and the Trans Canada Highway). You can stop or pause the tour anywhere, but the full tour will return you to this spot.

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton?  This is certainly the most economical way to get an extensive guided tour (although virtual) through the Cabot Trail and you’re not confined by the tour company’s schedule — you can use it in a timeframe that best suits you. 

Hear about the huge Bras d’Or Lake, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, the history of Plaister Mines, Saint Anns and the impact of the Scots in Cape Breton, Goose Cove and the waterfalls long the brook, the 12,000-acre North River Wilderness Area, Cape Smokey and it’s cable cars, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and it’s beaches, the Keltic Lodge, the Skyline Trail, and much more (46 in all)!

Just download the app/file to your smartphone through a good network connection. Once it’s downloaded, you won’t need a cell signal and the app won’t use any of your data plan during the tour. You own the touring app forever and can use it whenever you want.

As you drive around the Cabot Trail, it will play you the audio tour tailored to where you are on the trail using the location services on your phone (so this feature must be turned on). Some cars will let you connect your phone to its audio system. If yours doesn’t, you can bring a bluetooth speaker for better sound.

Bring your charged smartphone, your charger, and a vehicle – either yours or a rented one.

The Cabot Trail: a Smartphone Audio Driving Tour includes: 

  • Downloadable tour app for Android and Apple
  • Lifetime access
  • Hands-free audio (audio plays automatically)

What past guests have said:

“The basic idea of the app is great, the voice of the moderator/narrator was very pleasant and the information about the individual stations is extensive and interesting. I also think it’s great that you can select the stations individually and read or listen to them. As a result, I also used the app to prepare for the Cabot Trail. Unfortunately, despite previous downloads, it does not work stably and hangs up again and again. It’s a shame, especially because the app is designed to be played while driving. Although I had a passenger who could use the app while driving, as foreign tourists we needed free wifi to restart, which is rare on the Cabot Trail.”

— GetYourGuide reviewer (see more reviews)

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!


Unrated tours

As well as tours on our “rated” list, there are also a few interesting ones that have, as yet, no ratings.

#8 – UTV Golden Leaf Evening Tour to Cape Clear

best tours in Cape Breton - UTV tour to Cape Clear

▶︎ BOOK UTV Golden Leaf Evening Tour to Cape Clear

  • RATING: no ratings for this tour yet.
  • TOUR LENGTH: approximately 4 hours.
  • Starts and ends at: 1072 Cabot Trail, Hunters Mountain, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. (starts at 4:00 pm)

Why is this tour on the list of best tours in Cape Breton? We covered another top-rated tour from this company earlier in the list, so I feel safe adding this one even though there are no ratings for it yet. The tour is very similar to the earlier UTV tour discussed above except that its in the evening, starting at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Turk, the TNT Adventures guide, is Canadian Safety Council qualified and you’ll enjoy a fun trek as he runs you up to the top of the mountains to one of Cape Breton’s best views, Cape Clear.

From the Cape Clear look-off (lookout for you non-Nova Scotians) you’ll get an amazing view of Highland plateaus and the Margarees below (the Margarees are all of the communities collected along the Margaree River).

Depending on the time of year, you may arrive at the top of the highlands at the Cape Clear look-off in time to see the start of a sunset, or at least of the golden hour before sunset. You may see some wildlife along the way and make a few stops for trail-side snacks and photo ops.

As with the previous tour, the rate for this is a group rate, meaning that the price is the same whether you are alone or have up to five travellers in your group.

The UTV Golden Leaf Evening Tour to Cape Clear includes: 

  • A different and adventurous way to connect with nature in a UTV.
  • A private tour/activity — only your group will participate.
  • Helmets and safety glasses
  • Water & snacks

What past guests have said:

No reviews for this tour yet.

▶︎ Check availability and prices now!

Other tours to watch:

Best whale watching in Cape Breton 

There’s nothing like seeing whales in their natural setting. It’s funny when the whales appear that all the adults on the boat suddenly turn into little excited children! There are two companies offering Cape Breton guided tours for whale watching:

Pleasant Bay Whale watching: These folks run 1.5 to 2-hour tours four times a day and are open form June 1 to October 15.

Capt Mark’s Whale and Seal Cruise: While Cape Mark’s provide full service whale watching, their program schedule is a bit shorter, from July 10 till September 15.

Puffins and other wildlife

Two companies offer Puffin tours, but they are also closed by the time the fall colours season arrives. They are Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours (May 21 to August 24) and Bird Island Boat Tours (also starts on May 21). The schedules are based on when the Puffins are roosting and feeding in Cape Breton — at other times, they’ve migrated away for the colder months. 

Which Cape Breton guided tours leave from where?

This table might be able to help you organize several tours during your vacation depending on where you are staying:

(One question often asked is whether there are Cape Breton tours from Halifax or any day tours from Halifax to Cape Breton. As far as I can find at the moment, there are no tours to Cape Breton from Halifax — it’s just too far for a tour company to effectively operate.  Sydney is the next biggest town in Nova Scotia, and there are definitly Cape Breton tours from Sydney.)

Places to stay in Cape Breton

Here’s a map that can help you to see what accommodations are available on the dates you want to travel:

  • Hover over the hotel icons to see info. Click on it to book.
  • Use the blue buttons to filter to the price range and dates you’re looking for.
  • Use the pull-down list at the top of the map to see restaurants and experiences in additional to accommodations.

When is the best time to visit Cape Breton for fall colours?

People always ask about the timing of the fall colours. There’s a lot of factors involved and it’s an imprecise answer, but the leaves have already started to change and usually peak around mid-October.

For the past two years, we’ve chosen the weekend AFTER Canadian thanksgiving, surmising that there wouldn’t be as many cars on the road and that amenities might be more available. At least in that instance, we were correct — the colours were bright and saturated and we had an amazing, but all-too-short trip.

Tips for your Cape Breton guided tours

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when booking Cape Breton guided tours in the fall:

  • Some attractions are seasonal and may not operate in the fall, and some of the places cited in the tour descriptions may be closed. Please check with the tour company when booking.
  • The weather is unpredictable in the fall; we recommend a rain jacket and a warm fleecy or other jacket.
  • Bring your camera – you won’t regret it!
  • Note that tours starting in Sydney usually cater to cruise line arrivals, so make sure you arrive at the prescribed start time.
  • Be sure to check current details with your tour company when booking as weather and other unpredictable elements may affect they can offer.

Conclusion: that’s it for my picks of Cape Breton guided tours 

There’s tons to see and do in Cape Breton, and this list simply scrapes the top of the heap for your vacation enjoyment. Your mileage may vary, as they say, depending on what you want to see, how long you have to enjoy Cape Breton, and many other factors.

Our top pick for the best tours in Cape Breton is the Cabot Trail Discovery Tour because of the range of scenery you’d see: mountains, fishing villages, and rugged coastlines and about six hours touring the Cabot Trail. The massive amount of favourable reviews compared to other tours was a big factor too!

Review the information and choose the ones that speak to you the most to make the right selection for you. And enjoy your trip!

Thanks for joining us on this new adventure! Got a question or a comment? Go to the comments page and send a message using the form.

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