There’s nothing like spending a relaxing day on a boat tour — especially when you’re in a maritime location that’s full of natural wonders, expansive lakes and oceans, and a rugged coastline — and where many people really know their way around a sailing boat (or even a ship!).
With a history that includes schooners like the Bluenose and Bluenose II (check the backside of the Canada dime), you can be sure that Nova Scotia tours include some of the best maritime adventures in North America.
Scenic boat tours in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia boat tours offer you such experiences as breathtaking ocean and coastline views, beautiful sunsets, exciting views of maritime wildlife, top-rated Nova Scotia wines, or sailing instructions in some of the most sailed waters in the world. And all of these are day cruises — that is, you can enjoy these day tours in a single day or less.
You can find lots of water tours to add some maritime excitement to your Nova Scotia vacation. So to help you cut through all the noise, here’s a look at the eight Nova Scotia boat tours with the top traveler ratings, plus a few unrated extras — just because they’re neat!
The best of Nova Scotia boat tours
Don’t have time to read about all the tours on the list? No worries — our pick for the best Nova Scotia boat tour is the Sunset Wine and Cheese Yacht Sailing tour.
It combines a fantastic sailing experience with a fabulous sunset and wine and cheese! And it has 39+ stellar reviews, so you can’t go wrong.
To get on our list, these Nova Scotia boat tours needed to have perfect customer review scores (e.g. 5-out-of-5 or 10-out-of-10) — for this story, those reviews came from Viator travel group. Then, the list’s order was determined by the number of reviews each tour 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.)
So every tour on our list is a winner with perfect customer satisfaction scores – it’s just that some have more reviews than others.
One important thing to note: Nova Scotia boat tours are very popular — these tour operators are telling us that tour bookings for 2023 are already coming in. So if you’re interested, book early to have the best chance of getting the dates you want.
So, without further delay let’s set sail on this list of the best Nova Scotia boat tours so you can make a choice and book your 2023 vacation!
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? sail from the Halifax Boardwalk, cruise out of Halifax Harbour, past George’s Island and McNab’s Island, and down the Northwest Arm narrows to watch the sun set over the coastline. Make new friends and learn about Nova Scotia wines and grapes as you enjoy four sampling glasses of wine and perfectly-paired local cheese boards. There are additional drinks that you can buy.
One of the more popular Nova Scotia boat tours, the sunset wine & cheese sail books a few weeks in advance, but 2023 dates are already being booked – so it might be wise to book early to get the dates you want.
The Sunset Wine and Cheese Yacht Sailing tour includes:
- Motor sail out of Halifax Harbour under the setting sun with beautiful sea views.
- Nova Scotia wine samplers and an excellent charcuterie are included.
- A friendly and knowledgeable crew can tell you all about the local area.
- Maximum of 10 people for a more personalized experience.
What past guests have said:
“What an awesome tour. Was very exclusive and private. Wine & food was great! Views were amazing. Highly recommended.”
— Daniel (see more reviews)
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? This tour is unique in that it uses the power of the wind exclusively to sail (no noisy motors). You also have the option of helping the crew and learning a bit about sailing in the process. Or, you can just sit back and enjoy the experience – put on a PFD (a life preserver for those of us who’ve been around for a while) and sit at the bow to enjoy the views of Halifax Harbour. You’ll may also enjoy the beer and spirits available on board.
The Adventure Yacht Sailing in the Halifax Harbour includes:
- The only wind-powered sailing experience in Halifax.
- Unique views of Halifax harbour.
- Opportunities for hands-on sailing experience with the crew (your choice).
- 12 guests maximum for a more personal experience.
What past guests have said:
“Our sailing trip was thoroughly enjoyable. We got to enjoy the Halifax harbour while also learning about how a sailboat works/operates. The staff were very friendly and helpful and answered any questions that we had. It was a wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon.”
— Erin (see more reviews)
▶︎ BOOK Sunset Cruise – Pictou NS
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? On this two-hour leisurely cruise on the luxurious Avalon Pontoon Boat, you’ll travel up the East River, departing from Pictou Harbour (about 1 hr and 45 minutes from Halifax) around dinnertime. Weather permitting, you’ll see a spectacular sunset while enjoying a charcuterie board made from local Nova Scotia foods. There’s only a small group of passengers (10 maximum) for a personalized evening. You get private, comfortable seating and there’s drinks and sparkling beverages.
The Sunset Cruise – Pictou NS includes:
- An evening start at the Hector Quay where there’s an ongoing project to build a replica of a 1700s sailing ship.
- The flavors of Nova Scotia: a charcuterie board with local Nova Scotia cheese, breads, and meats.
- A scenic tour of Nova Scotia’s East River up to the Town of New Glasgow and back to the Town of Pictou under a setting sun.
- Colourful stories about the region’s history from your guide.
What past guests have said:
“We had a beautiful night for this cruise! Chris was awesome, very friendly and hospitable. Started the night with a drink and a lovely charcuterie board filled with a generous selection of local cheese, crackers and meats. We learned a lot about the local history, but also had time to just enjoy the view. I highly recommend this lovely way to spend a summer evening!”
— no name given (see more reviews)
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? This is a family-friendly hands-on tour. The crew will get you focused on sailing and you’ll be actively involved and learning about gybing, tacking, setting the course, turning the winches, and more. The kids who participate in sailing the ship will take home their very own official Crew Member certificates. Although the tour name indicates a morning sail, the tour actually begins at noon — so, yes, there’s time to sleep in before sailing. 🙂
The Morning Family Sailing Experience in Halifax includes:
- 1.5 hour tour on a 45-foot sailing yacht.
- Lifejackets/PFDs for everyone on board.
- A hands-on experience for adults and kids – you’re alongside the captain and deckhand on the trip and you’re encouraged to participate.
What past guests have said:
“So glad we booked this excursion when we visited Halifax, N.S. during our cruise on Adventure of Seas! Brandon, the captain, and Frankie were not only professional and friendly, but were fun and we all had a great time! Learning about the sails and boat were so interesting— participation in raising and lowering totally up to you! Views of Halifax were gorgeous and we even saw a seal playing in the Harbor!!”
— Tracie (see more reviews)
▶︎ BOOK Seal Watch Boat Tours
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? Well, … seals! This family-friendly afternoon tour aboard the luxurious Avalon Pontoon Boat takes you to Pictou Harbour’s local seal colony so you can see wildlife in its natural habitat. You also learn about the history of the region from your guide (Chris) and cruise along the picturesque shore. The small group size (10 maximum) makes for a more relaxed and focused experience. You get private, comfortable seating and snacks are included. Kids must be 6 years or older.
The Seal Watch Boat Tours includes:
- A start at the Hector Quay, where there’s an ongoing project to build a replica of a 1700s sailing ship.
- A visit to the local seal colony on an Atlantic seal ledge.
- A scenic return journey to the starting point.
- Be sure to ask about the discounts for families.
What past guests have said:
“Great experience, worth the price. Captain Chris was fantastic, very nice an knowledgeable about the area. Would definitely recommend this tour.”
— Justin (see more reviews)
Why choose this boat and sailing tour? Experience elevated, laid back nightlife in Halifax. Whether you’re gathered at the stern with the Captain and passengers for a social sail – or laying on the bow relaxing under the stars, this moonlight sail is ultimate freedom! Enjoy drinks, music, and a laid back cruise with friends and family. As wind is typically minimal in the evenings, this departure offers more of a comfortable yacht cruise experience than sailing – however the crew will always set sails!
The Moonlight Yacht Cruise from the Halifax Waterfront also includes:
Why choose this Nova Scotia boat tour? All great wines are not only found at wineries… how about on a sailing ship?
Sail on board this yacht from Halifax Harbour for a two-hour wine and cheese cruise. Out on the high seas, you’ll enjoy a guided tasting of three award-winning Tidal Bay wines, and learn about the Nova Scotians that make them.
What’s a Tidal Bay wine?
Tidal Bay is a kind of white wine produced in Nova Scotia, similar to the way that proper Champagne is only produced in France. The Wine Growers Nova Scotia (formerly the Winery Association of Nova Scotia) created this designation in 2011.
To be considered a Tidal Bay, wines must be made from specific grape varieties, all of which must be grown in Nova Scotia. Producers have to follow a strict set of standards and be approved every year by an independent blind tasting.
The tour group tells me that typically the Tidal Bay tour books a week in advance, but they also told me that their 2023 tour dates are already being booked – so it might be wise to book early to get the dates you want.
The Afternoon Tidal Bay Wine & Cheese Yacht Sail tour also includes:
- Wine and charcuterie.
Other unrated but interesting Nova Scotia boat tours
Although all the boat and sailing tours above are top rated (5 out of 5), we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention these un-rated tours, just because they are really interesting.
First, in addition to the seal-spotting tour mentioned above, there’s several tours for whale watching throughout the province as well as a specific one for seeing everyone’s favourite, Puffins, in Cape Breton:
Whale watching Nova Scotia boat tours:
There’s something about seeing your first whale that turns a boatful of adults into a bunch of kids! They’re fascinating animals and truly awe-inspiring. In Nova Scotia, whale watching tour operators work together to locate whales to ensure a better tour experience as well as the safety of tourists and whales alike.
Even though there’s a number of whale-watching tours around the province (particularly in Cape Breton and on the Bay of Fundy) they’re very popular and once you know your travel dates, it’d be best to book right away to be sure to get a spot. There are some tours in larger boats (smoother ride and on-board facilities) and some in zodiac dingys (faster and you see the whales at water level).
Where to see Puffins in Nova Scotia:
There are a few spots to see puffins in Nova Scotia and the best time to see them is from mid-May to mid-August when they come ashore to be parents to their growing chicks.
The Bird Islands in Cape Breton is an official bird sanctuary in Cape Breton and Bird Island Tours have been offering their two-and-three-quarter-hour tours since 1972. Also in Cape Breton is Donelda’s Bird Island Puffin Tour group in Englishtown; they offer two-and-a-half-hour tours two or three times a day.
Further south, Peggy’s Cove of all places has puffins and the morning two-and-a-half-hour boat tour there runs between Peggy’s Cove and Pearl Island and back. It has the added benefit of also sailing past a seal colony. In the summer, there’s also a local naturalist on board on Saturdays to give you all the interesting details about the local wildlife.
An exclusive tour of Bra d’Or Lake on an amazing catamaran:
For a special treat, this exclusive catamaran tour of Cape Breton’s Bra d’Or Lake is an amazing premium sailing and boat tour. Charters ranging between two hours and six days are available on the Cape Bretoner I, a spacious 42′ Alpha Catamaran that comfortably sleeps six overnight passengers and has two full washrooms with showers, a spacious kitchen, and an ample food prep area. The main deck has plenty indoor and outdoor space for lounging, entertaining, sightseeing, or stargazing on the vast Bras d’Or Lake system.
The popular Halifax Harbour Hopper tour:
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the very popular Halifax Harbour Hopper tour. Although it didn’t achieve a 5-star rating and didn’t make our list, it DOES have 428 reviews with 307 five-star ratings. Tourists enjoy an hour-long historical tour of downtown Halifax AND the cruise around the Halifax Harbour in a unique amphibious (water and land) vehicle.
Conclusion: best group Nova Scotia boat tours
When planning your 2023 vacation, these Nova Scotia boat tours will give you a maritime experience to remember. Our pick for the best Nova Scotia boat tour is the Sunset Wine and Cheese Yacht Sailing tour, which combines a fantastic sailing experience with a fabulous sunset and wine and cheese.
Whether you just have an hour or several days to devote to sailing, there’s a tour here for you.
Here’s a few things to remember to make your tour a success:
- Nova Scotia weather is changeable and temperatures can vary significantly between your hotel and on the water (sometimes 10-20 degrees F cooler on the water), so bring layered clothing you can add or remove as the weather demands.
- Bring sunscreen and sunglasses even on an overcast day.
- While many tours have food/snacks and drinks for you, some will not. Check with your operator when you book and bring snacks and water if necessary.
- Nova Scotia’s natural beauty is second-to-none, so definitely bring your camera, and don’t forget to charge your batteries and bring the memory card.
- Finally, as mentioned above, some of these tours are very popular, so as soon as you have your travel dates, book early to ensure you get the date and booking you want.
Most of all, enjoy your Nova Scotia boat tour. Group touring is a great way to make some new friends!