New England and Canada cruises offer a cornucopia of attractions. It’s why people like my husband, Humberto, and I can never get enough of them. We have sailed this region five times with Holland America, Silversea and Seabourn, including a voyage this summer on Holland America’s Veendam.
Here are four of our favorite ports, which we call the Gems of New England and Canada cruises: Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax and Quebec City.
There is so much to see in Bean Town. When we set sail from Boston, we always opt for a pre-cruise stay in one of its many fine hotels, such as the Hilton Garden Inn Devens Commons. Boston has convenient Hop-on Hop-off bus tours on the Old Town Trolley—including a stop at the Falcon Cruise Terminal when a ship is in port—making it easy to get around the city.
Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile trail marked by a red line on the city’s streets and leads to historic churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, and the USS Constitution. A good starting point for the Freedom Trail is the Boston Common at 139 Tremont Street, the nation’s oldest public park dating all the way back to 1634. Among the Freedom Trail’s many highlights are Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church, famed for its signal, “One if by land, two if by sea,” to warn Paul Revere that the British were coming. The Paul Revere House was built approximately in 1680 and is the oldest structure in downtown Boston. Today, the home is a museum featuring historic exhibits. Another point of interest is the Old State House Museum at 206 Washington Street, looking tiny next to towering modern skyscrapers. The Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony and admission is free with an Old Town Trolley ticket.
Other attractions include the New England Aquarium with its frolicking California sea lions, endangered green turtles, mysterious-looking moon jellyfish, playful Southern rockhopper penguins and more. The exhibits include the Blue Planet Action Center, an Atlantic Harbor Seal exhibit and an Amazon exhibit. The daily schedule features penguin feedings, harbor seal and fur seal training sessions and more. There is an IMAX Theater featuring a variety of films to round out your visit.
Lastly, we never leave Boston without going to Faneuil Hall—the home of Quincy Market—at 4 South Market Building. The market is filled with restaurants and other eateries, so it’s a good place to sample famous Boston baked beans and clam chowder. Be sure to spend time at the market’s shops to buy some souvenirs.
Bar Harbor, Maine
On lovely Mount Desert Island, this pretty-as-a-picture New England harbor town is a gateway to beautiful Acadia National Park with the impressive Cadillac Mountain and historic carriage roads. We explored the park via the convenient Oli’s Trolley taking in highlights like Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and Otter Cliffs. We also made one of three stops on the summit of Cadillac Mountain. As New England’s premier vacation spot in the 19th century, some of America’s wealthiest families built mansions in Bar Harbor, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Fords. Many of their estates burned down in 1947, but you can still see the neighborhood’s impressive homes by taking a leisurely stroll along West Street.
Our favorite activities in Bar Harbor include enjoying lobster bakes and the delight of a lobster ice cream cone (vanilla ice cream flavored with bits of crustacean), whale-watching tours and lobster boat tours. The town has many noteworthy museums as well, including the Abbe Museum with displays about the Wabanaki Indians, the Dorr Museum of Natural History and the Bar Harbor Historical Society Museum. Of course, you cannot leave without taking a sightseeing boat tour to watch for whales, dolphins and seals. I recommend the boat tours offered by Acadian Boat Tours and from Lobster Fishing and Seal Watching.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
This top destination of New England and Canada cruises offers a mix of historic and modern attractions. It encompasses nine regions in Nova Scotia, from the bustling downtown of Halifax to iconic Peggy’s Cove on the coast. An eminently walkable city with lots of attractions close to the pier, Halifax also has a convenient Hop-on Hop-off bus tour operated by Gray Line.
One of our favorite stops is the star-shaped Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, one of Britain’s greatest 19thcentury forts. Located in the heart of downtown Halifax at 5425 Sackville Street, its many highlights include the pageantry of tartan-clad 78th Highlanders, the firing of the Noon Gun (a tradition since 1856), bagpipes and drums, interactive exhibits and films. Before you leave, snap a photo of the Old Town Clock on Citadel Hill. It overlooks the city atop Citadel Hill with beautiful views of the harbor.
Other attractions include the Halifax Boardwalk, one of the world’s longest downtown boardwalks filled with restaurants and seaside snack shacks, shops, farmers’ markets, and whimsical “drunken lampposts” — three twisted and bent light posts. Peggy’s Cove is another must-visit attraction. This picturesque fishing village on the eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay boasts the most photographed lighthouse in North America, Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. This 1868 lighthouse is a vision in marshmallow white and red on a rocky outcrop by the sea. In this working fishing village, lobster traps and fishing nets decorate the wharves and roadside, and fishing boats come and go from the local wharf. Halifax also has a collection of top museums, including the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic at 1675 Lower Water Street featuring a permanent collection of Titanic artifacts.
Québec City, Québec
I highly recommend a walking tour of the Historic District of Old Québec. During a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors can walk along the city’s fortified walls on some of North America’s oldest streets. Snap photos of castle-like Chateau Frontenac Hotel, reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world. On our last visit, we enjoyed a wonderful tea ceremony with delicious sandwiches, homemade jams and scones, Devonshire cream and other delights at this elegant property.
A good way to orient yourself and get to attractions is to take the city’s convenient Hop-on Hop-off tour. The double-decker, open-top bus has 14 stops, including one at the city’s Museum of Civilization, a block away from the port. Another great activity is touring gorgeous Montmorency Falls, a waterfall 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls, located only 15 minutes away from Quebec City.
Are you ready to see these wonderful sights?