The largest city on Cape Breton Island, Sydney is home to the island’s main port, making it the hub of the entire island. The former steel and coal mining city is now a major tourist destination, with remnants f its industrial past still being seen today.
Sydney has some very unique shops and services that are found nowhere else on the island. It is also filled with historic sites and some stunning scenery.
It wasn’t until the fall of the steel industry that Sydney became a tourist destination and is an exceptionally fantastic base for exploring the entire Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Here are the 15 best things to do in Sydney and its surrounding communities.
1. See the world’s largest fiddle
Sitting in front of the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion on the Sydney waterfront is the largest fiddle in the world! The fiddle stands tall at 18-metres and is hard to miss.
Day or night, the fiddle can be seen with lights keeping it well lit in the evenings. You will definitely want to take photos of the fiddle and even take a typical souvenir photo of yourself standing next to it.
The pavilion itself is also quite a unique site, as it is a lovely modern curved buildings. It is multi-purpose venue that is used for concert performances, tradeshows and conventions.
2. Learn about the history of the community
The Cape Breton Centre for Heritage & Science focuses on the social and natural history of Cape Breton. Visit the museum and learn all about the history of the community.
The museum features exhibitions that demonstrate the heritage, culture and science of the area with permanent and travelling collections. It also offers special programs and events throughout the year.
Kids can also enjoy visiting the museum, as it features an area just for them in its Discovery Corner. The museum is located on George Street right in the heart of downtown Sydney.
3. Live in the 18th century
Cossit House is one of the city’s oldest houses and also happens to be one of the oldest buildings on the entire island! It was built in 1787 and today depicts what life was like in the 18th century.
The house is now a living museum that celebrates the Gaelic culture and history in Nova Scotia. This is shown through the homes furniture and furnishings, as well as its costumed interpreters.
If you really want the full experience, take part in hands-on activities like lace-making, candle-making, butter-churning and weaving.
4. Walk along the coast
The scenic Cabot Trail is a must for anyone visiting Sydney. The trail is not in the city itself, but just a mere 45 minute drive away.
This is one of the most famous trails in the country, and all-in-all takes around 5 days to hike. Portions of it can be enjoyed on a day trip.
The trail in the Baddeck area will take you along the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes where you can enjoy some spectacular scenery. Then hike along the coast of St. Anns Harbour and follow the trail as far as you can.
5. Explore Baddeck
If you are visiting Sydney you should definitely take a side trip to Baddeck, which is home to some great attractions. Tourism is strong here, especially because of the Cabot Trail, but there is much to see beyond that.
Explore the village and visit the famous Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site; former home to scientist and telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The village is also home to plenty of small shops and a nice lakeside area.
If you are a golfer, the award-winning Bell Bay Golf Club is located here. Finish the day off by dining on amazing fresh lobster or mussels.
6. Have a picnic
Overlooking the Sydney Harbour just opposite the city is the Petersfield Provincial Park. This is a picnic park with picnic areas overlooking the water.
Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the stunning views of the water and downtown Sydney. The park also features traces of four cultural periods that date back from the late 18th to the mid-20th century.
After lunch enjoy walking or cycling along its extensive trail network. There are seven kilometres of trails at the Petersfield Provincial Park, which vary in difficulty.
7. Visit artisan studios
The best way to immerse yourself in the lives of local artisans is to visit them right in their studios or workshops. The Cape Breton Artisan Trail Map is the best guide for doing this.
Grab a map or download one from the internet and follow the trail to meet and learn about local artisans. Meet the artists and talk to them about their craft and maybe even purchase an item to bring home.
There are painters, pottery designers, quilt makers, wood workers, jewellers and more. You can even visit chocolatiers, soap makers and jam makers.
8. Take a workshop
Speaking of arts and crafts, it is also possible to take a workshop. The Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design offers workshops for both adults and kids.
Learn how to paint, cast silver jewellery or the technique of mocha diffusion. Workshops can last half a day or a full day.
You can also sign up to learn from a local artisan right in their workshop. Learn how to dye fabric, experience the art of glass blowing or go on a kayak ride to paint some incredible landscapes.
9. Hit the casino
Since opening its doors in 1995, Casino Nova Scotia – Sydney has been a major hit for both tourists and residents. The casino has over 250 slot machines as well as gaming tables like blackjack, roulette and Let it Ride.
The casino also has poker tables for those that want to test their poker skills. To join the poker room you must sign up in advance.
Take a break from gambling and enjoy a meal at the onsite Celtic Junction restaurant. Come on a Thursday for a barbeque buffet, Friday for all you can eat lobster and ribs, or Monday for half price Fish and Chips.
10. Learn about religion
Not only is the St Patrick’s Church the oldest Roman Catholic Church on the island, but today it is a museum. The museum’s main goal is to represent the religious history of the city.
The church was built between 1828 and 1830 in the Gothic Revival style. It was established as a museum in 1966, housing artefacts of religious importance.
The church itself is quite magnificent and worth visiting even if you are not interested in religion. It features original hand-hewn beams, Gothic windows, cut stone around the windows and doors, a tower with cupola and dominating door openings.
11. Wander around a fortress
Around 30 minutes to the southeast of Sydney is town of Louisbourg and the world-renowned Fortress of Louisbourg. The French fortress was seized not once, but twice, which helped create today’s Canada.
The National Historic Site is made up of ruins together with a reconstruction of one quarter of the fortress as it was at the height in the 1740s. Wander around the fortress either on a guided or self-guided tour and learn about its history.
There are demonstrations that explain the weaponry at the time, in addition to puppet shows that are great for the kids. Walk along Main Street Louisbourg, visit the Fortress Chapel and take photos of the King’s Bastion Barracks.
12. Tour a mine
The Cape Breton Miners’ Museum sits along the coast of Glace Bay, just to the east of Sydney. It plays tribute to the region’s coal mining history, complete with a tour of the underground mines.
Tour the mine with a retired miner who is now a guide for the underground Ocean Deeps Colliery. Tour times vary, though if this is a must for you, you can book a tour of the mine online.
Exhibits in the museum itself focus on the geological development of the island’s coal field. This is done through tools, equipment and stories of the miners.
13. Honour Sydney’s immigrants
The Whitney Pier Historical Society Museum is a community museum that honours the people who came to Sydney from all over the world to work here. The area became home to many immigrants, most of whom worked in the steel industry.
The museum demonstrates the rich, multi-cultural heritage of Sydney, which is still strong today. The museum’s collection includes scrapbooks, photographs and newspaper clippings from both the Sydney Steel Corporation and the war years.
There is also a gift shop in the museum that sells unique gifts. Visit the Whitney Pier Historical Society Museum from June 1st to August 29th.
14. Go to the market
For nearly 30 years the community has been running the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market. The market started as a seasonal outdoor market, but today it is a year-round indoor market that sees thousands of visitors every week.
There are around 50 vendors at the market selling not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but also prepared foods like crepes, breads, sausages and pastries. There are also foods to take home, like jams, honey and beer nuts.
If you want to shop for local crafts, the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market also features booths run by local artisans. Walk away with handmade jewellery, body scrubs, cutting boards and quilts.
15. Discover the Membertou Community
The two hectare Membertou Heritage Park lets you discover the history of the Membertou people. The site has both indoor and outdoor exhibits and gives you first-hand experience of the rich-culture of the community.
A tour guide will walk you through the park and tell you about the unique history and culture of the community. The park does its best to honour the spirituality and strength of the Membertou people.
Once you finish the tour, head to the gift shop to purchase some unique Aboriginal art and crafts. The shop also carries contemporary Mi’kmaq arts and crafts.