At least sixteen different whale species, including the great humpback, migrate to Atlantic Canada's waters in the summertime. The pods often travel close enough to shore that they can be seen from the Cabot Trail, but the best way to get up close and personal is through one of the region's many whale-watching outfitters, reasonably priced at around $25 per person. Captain Cox's Whale Watch (888-346-5556, aco.ca/captcox) at the north end of Cape Breton Island is among the most popular.
There are more than ninety picturesque beaches on Prince Edward Island, with a color palette of sands ranging from white to brick red, and you'll sometimes have them to yourself. PEI boosters love pointing to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream on the local waters, but you'd still better be hardy if you're planning on a swim, as the water won't be much above seventy degrees. On the island's north shore, Thunder Cove, with its surreal red sandstone cliffs, is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Canada, while the south shore's Basin Head, well-known among locals, features "singing sands"—by a rare geological phenomenon, the beach emits a mysterious whistle when you walk on it.
With its Celtic flair and connection to maritime traditions, Halifax is a surefire spot to find some great watering holes. Consider hitting the Argyle Street strip, especially the trendy Economy Shoe Shop (902-423-7463, economyshoeshop.ca), a ten-year-old Halifax institution that is actually an eclectic complex of interconnected bars. Monday night jazz at the Shoe, as locals call it, is a highlight. Next door, rock bands are a regular feature at the Seahorse Tavern (902-423-7200, theseahorse.ca). On tap: Horsepower SS, the pub's "super secret" house brew.
Cape Breton Dancing
Ceilidhs (pronounced "kay-lees"), or gatherings, are the distilled essence of the region's Celtic culture. Expect to see everyone from eight to eighty dancing up a storm to the kinetic musical brew of fiddles, dulcimers, Irish flutes and bodhrans (Irish frame drums). Ceilidhs are frequent Saturday-night entertainment in the provinces and usually take shape from the grassroots. You can look in local newspapers or ask at your hotel for details, but you're just as likely—at least in a town like Baddeck—to see a pub sign stating there's a ceilidh here tonight.
Atlantic Canada is a region large enough to have its own time zone, so expect to take a week or more to cover its sporting and cultural highlights. Fly into Halifax International Airport (only ninety minutes from Boston); from there you can tackle the best eastern Canada has to offer by car. Starting at Glen Arbour just outside Halifax, take the unforgettable six-hour drive to Highlands Links, potentially broken up by a stop at Bell Bay Golf Club in the charming village of Baddeck. After Highlands Links, a multitude of possibilities exists, including driving west along the Trans-Canada Highway toward Fox Harb'r Golf Resort & Spa and Northumberland Links, or taking the ferry from Pictou, Nova Scotia, directly to Prince Edward Island. For drivers from New England, the Fairmont Algonquin should be the first stop—it's located in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which practically straddles the international border.
Golf is best played in Atlantic Canada from the middle of June until the end of October. The main consideration should be when Highlands Links opens, as shoulder-season visitors have been known to discover the course still blanketed by snow well into May. In summer months, only the occasional mosquito should keep you from wearing shorts. Fall golf in the region can be breathtaking, as the brilliant reds and yellows of the turning leaves present a cascade of color behind a well-struck shot. Just make sure to pack for crisp weather.