I always enjoying visiting new-to-me UNESCO World Heritage sites and while in Nova Scotia I had my pick of several. The highlight though was undoubtedly the colorful town of Lunenburg, the entire 48-block downtown designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 1972 the UN, through the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, began recognizing important sites around the world that they consider vital in order to maintain the cultural and natural heritage we have all inherited. For me, it’s been a fun way to discover places I would never have otherwise visited and not once have I had a bad experience. Lunenburg is something special though and almost immediately I began to fall in love with this small town. I know my first visit won’t be my last, but I thought today I would share some experiences that helped me fall so deeply in love with this small town in Nova Scotia.
Explore the Town on a Tour
Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 for its remarkably preserved Old Town; the best surviving example of a British Colonial grid layout anywhere. That’s a fairly cold fact though and behind it are countless stories and anecdotes about the founding of the town through to the modern era. To see the best areas of town and to learn these stories, there’s no better option than joining a Lunenburg Walking Tour. This hour-long stroll through the best of Lunenburg is the ideal way to start your time in town to better understand not only its layout, but the history upon which it is built.
Established in 1759, Lunenburg was part of the British attempt to establish hegemony in the region through settlement, a tactic that eventually proved successful. The name may not sound British and it’s not, but that was intentional. Most of the early settlers to the province came from the Upper Rhine area of present-day Germany, and Lunenburg was an attempt to make them feel more comfortable. I learned that and more during my remarkable tour around town, a must-do experience for anyone who visits this fascinating place.
Fantastic Food and Drink Options
Throughout my time in Nova Scotia I was regularly impressed by the culinary side of the trip. Honestly, food wasn’t a big reason why I wanted to visit the province, but it quickly became one of my favorite aspects of the journey. That was certainly the case in Lunenburg and thanks to its popularity among tourists, scores of great restaurants and cafes have emerged. My personal favorite place to enjoy dinner was at the Grand Banker Bar & Grill. While the Grand Banker is a long established presence in Lunenburg, it was in 2014 when new owners took over and made some impressive changes to the restaurant. Featuring incredible views of the water, the food is just as impressive and complemented by a wide range of Nova Scotia wines and beers makes for a fun evening. For breakfast, there’s no better place than the Savvy Sailor Cafe. While they’re open all day, it’s their incredible breakfast and brunch menu that has made them famous. With dishes such as a classic Bennie and raisin apple bread French Toast, it’s impossible to go wrong. For something fun to do, walk down the street to visit the town’s distillery.
The Ironworks Distillery was founded in 2009 and features a wide range of spirits most of which use ingredients locally sourced. It’s a fun way to learn more about the craft spirits movement in the province while also supporting a local business. No matter where you decide to experience the foodie side of Lunenburg though, it’s impossible to make a wrong choice.
Spend the Night
If you enjoyed your dinner at the Grand Banker then you’ll love spending the night at the Brigantine Inn since they’re owned by the same person! The Inn itself offers refined and comfortable rooms but my favorite part of spending the night was staying at the Annex across the street. This historical building features two bedrooms and a comfortable living space and since I had it all to myself, it felt like I was a member of the local community, if only briefly.
Hit the Water
Located on the Fairhaven Peninsula at the western side of Mahone Bay, experiencing life on the water is necessarily an important aspect of visiting Lunenburg. The town is the homeport of Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II. The graceful ship is a replica of the original fishing boat that found fame as a racing schooner.
Just down the waterfront from the Bluenose is the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, a fantastic way to learn about what was long the lifeblood of the town. The best though is to join any of the boat tours offered along the Lunenburg waterfront not only to experience the city from the water, but to just enjoy a fun afternoon of sailing.
Thankfully, Lunenburg is very easy to reach and makes a great part of any Nova Scotia itinerary. For me, it came after a day of driving along the province’s Lighthouse Route, starting in Halifax, visiting Peggy’s Cove and many other small coastal towns before reaching Lunenburg in the afternoon. It was a relaxed and fun way to get there. If you want a more direct route though, it’s only an hour drive from Halifax and is equally easy to reach from the South Shore markets. No matter how you decide to get there, get there you must because from my experience there are few small towns as special as the colorful town of Lunenburg.