Travel and vacations can be expensive. Soooo expensive.
The costs of meals alone can put a serious hole in your wallet. And the longer you’re away from home and the bigger your family is, the larger that hole becomes.
While there’s not much you can do about the cost of food, you can find locations to visit, events to attend, and activities for your family to enjoy that won’t cost you a single penny – er, nickel.
The Canadian Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) are known for their sea shanties, beautiful landscapes, and Maritime hospitality – not for their costs. That’s what makes them the ideal place to visit for the traveller on a budget.
If you use a little imagination and a lot of Google searching, you’ll find there are more free things to do on your vacation than you ever thought possible. Canada’s Maritimes will surprise you, for although they’re only a small area, they’re packed with tons of fun and free things to do and see. So, without further ado, let’s learn more about traveling in the Canadian Maritime provinces.
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Art galleries offer a glimpse into the souls of artists, into the minds of people, and into the lives and loves of the cities, countries, and cultures around us.
And yet so many of us are too cheap to go and view these masterpieces! What’s wrong with us?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then free admission to these incredible institutions should be worth… everything.
- The Rooms in St. John’s can be accessed for free on the 1st Wednesday evening of the month. It’s also free on Fridays for students.
- The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia offers free admission every Thursday, thanks to a partnership with BMO.
- The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island runs admission by donation, so your family can be enriched through one of their Canadian visual arts exhibits without breaking the bank
Sand, waves, wind, and sun – there’s nothing like a summer day at the beach. Canada is home to over 243,000 km of coastline, so obviously, swimming is a big thing for us.
Get out that beach bag, find some towels and water bottles, and head to a shoreline near you.
- Ask a handful of islanders which is the best beach in P.E.I. and you’ll get a handful of different answers. But Basin Head Beach is a beautiful choice that offers nearly 15 kilometers of pristine white sand.
- New Brunswick is said to have the warmest ocean waters in the country. Located along New Brunswick’s stunning Acadian Coastal Drive, the shallow waters at Murray Beach are part of Northumberland Strait and warm up “like a bathtub,” as they say.
- Nova Scotia has many beach options, but the #1 spot has to go to Carter’s Beach in Port Mouton. Its gorgeous white sand and crystal clear waters will make you think you’ve been dropped into the Caribbean!
Editor: For a very different beach experience visit the Joggins Fossil Cliffs in western Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy. Here you can find (but not keep) fossils from 300 million years ago just lying on the beach. Visiting the beach is free, but I do recommend the guided tour and museum which cost extra.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site because this is one of the best places to visit in Canada.
A big part of Canadian history is also a religious history, and churches are some of our most glorious and well-preserved historical monuments.
Whether or not you’re a spiritual person yourself, walking through and experiencing these old, reverent buildings will inspire an awe like nothing else.
- St. Paul’s Anglican church was established in Halifax NS back in 1750. Guided tours are available for free – and this includes a viewing and explanation of how the church survived the Halifax Explosion of 1917 without any major damage.
- Check out the incredible architecture and informative plaques at St Dunstan’s Basilica Cathedral in Charlottetown, P.E.I
Melanie’s fun fact:
For history junkies, a visit to the Partridge Island Quarantine Site in New Brunswick is a must. It was established in 1785 as a quarantine station for immigrants arriving in Canada by ship, including those thousands of Irish who arrived on its shores in 1847, fleeing the potato famine. Diseases were common on overcrowded ships, so a period of quarantine was necessary to prevent massive outbreaks on the mainland. New Brunswick’s first lighthouse station was built on the island in 1791, and the world’s first steam-operated fog horn was invented and installed here.
It’s impossible to experience a quintessential Canadian summer without visiting at least one farmer’s market.
While it might cost a few dollars to purchase some of the goodies the vendors offer, you’ll always find delicious samples, perfect opportunities for people watching, and cool local entertainment for free.
- In Halifax, the Brewery Market is located in the historic Brewery Square where Alexander Keith famously began his brewing. The walls of the building are made of 200- year-old granite and ironstone, making you feel like you’re walking through time.
- The Bouctouche Farmers’ Market in New Brunswick will give you a fun, local farmers’ market experience alongside a beautiful view of the coastal vistas along the bay in downtown Bouctouche.
- A summer in P.E.I wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Downtown Farmers’ Market on Queen Street in Charlottetown. You can amble down the length of the picturesque street, sample some tasty goodies, and maybe purchase some local wares to take home.
Who doesn’t like a good fireworks show? And man oh man, does Canada ever have some incredible displays to offer.
Whether your travels are taking you to Nova Scotia, P.E.I, or New Brunswick, there are sure to be a few local celebrations that create the perfect opportunity for you and your family to take in some free entertainment.
- Of course, the best day to watch fireworks is Canada Day. So, if you happen to be in the Maritimes on July 1st, be sure to drive out to Quidi Vidi, near St. John’s, Newfoundland.
- You can also check out the city of Charlottetown’s official fireworks display, or Fredericton’s annual show. In the summer of 2021, both of these shows were virtual, but the hope is to return to a regular fireworks display in 2022.
Public gardens are another interesting, outside-of-the-box way to understand our country’s heritage and multicultural society.
Gardens also offer a sense of peace and relaxation, making them the perfect addition to any community looking to offer a place of respite. They also make a lasting impact by displaying the stunning colors of Canada’s horticulture.
- Right in the middle of Halifax is where you’ll find the Public Gardens. Complimentary tours are available in English, French, German, Dutch and Chinese, covering both the history and the horticulture of the area.
- The ideal spot for a picnic with the family on Prince Edward Island is in the A.A. MacDonald Memorial Gardens. Make your way to Georgetown to enjoy this garden, which is also the largest municipal park on the island, the home of Canada’s largest ship’s wheel.
- One of the most peaceful places in New Brunswick has got to be the Kingsbrae Garden in Saint Andrews. This 27-acre public space offers over 50,000 perennials, many different streams and ponds, and even a massive Acadian forest.
Hiking – the sun, the sky, the earth, the trees, the flowers! What’s not to love? If there’s one thing Canada has an abundance of, it’s wilderness. And it’s free! So, get out there and walk.
- The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is a collection of different trails located mostly within the boundaries of the Highlands National Park. Some are outside the park, and all are completely breathtaking.
- Greenwich Dunes Trail in Prince Edward Island will make you forget that where you’re standing is covered in snow for one-third of the year. It’s an amazing coastal hike, across boardwalks and over sand dunes, ending at one of the nicest white sand beaches on the island.
- The more experienced hikers will want to check out Split Rock and Troy’s Trail in New Brunswick. It’s a hefty 12 km hike, but the coastal views, epic cliffs, and lighthouse sighting make it all worth it.
The library is the ultimate hub of free family activities. No matter where your travels take you, the local library is the perfect spot to go for a bit of relaxation while your kids entertain themselves in an educational setting.
Many of Canada’s libraries also have cafés within or nearby, and their history and architecture are often stunning.
- The Central Library in Halifax won the Governor General’s Medal for its architecture. Among its many features is an entire floor dedicated to kids. The kids can enjoy a huge Lego table, designated iPads and computers, a wall that resembles a Lite-Brite set, and lots of books, of course!
- The largest public library in P.E.I is in Charlottetown. The Confederation Centre Public Library truly has something for everyone, and the new building is a must-see in the city.
- The Newcastle Public Library in Miramichi, N.B, is a great place to stop on a road trip, whether it’s just for a quick pit stop or an entire afternoon. Nestled in the once-home of famed Lord Beaverbrook, this library offers cozy reading nooks with views of the Miramichi River.
Melanie’s fun fact:
The town of Cardigan, P.E.I., is home to less than 300 people (as of 2016), so it’s no surprise that they’d have a small library. Want to know HOW small? A measly 11.5 by 11.5 feet (3.5 x 3.5 meters). It isn’t officially actually the smallest library in the country, but it’s likely. In fact, the library’s founder, John A. Macdonald, is trying to have Guinness name it the smallest in the world! Despite its size, the building somehow manages to hold 1,800 books. Patrons can enjoy a lifetime membership for only $5, and since the library operates on an honor system, it’s probably safe to assume that you won’t be charged any late fees!
There’s just something about being in a park with a bunch of strangers, all watching the same giant screen, that seems so much more fun than being in a dark movie theater. Oh, and bonus points if popcorn and snacks are offered!
- During the month of July, Halifax hosts the FIN Festival and plays movies on an inflatable screen in various places around the city. Previous summer themes include Jim Henson movies, Johnny Depp films, and animation.
- An annual tradition in Charlottetown, P.E.I, is outdoor movies at the Victoria Park Cultural Pavillion over the final weekend in August. In the past, showings have included “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”
What could be more free than using your own feet to get you from place to place? Some walking tours are guided while others not, but either way, they’re a fantastic way to see a city, get a feel for its character, and hear stories of its history.
And if you’re feeling really adventurous, try a ghost tour!
- See the coastal beauty of Newfoundland with a self-guided walking tour of the aptly- named Heart’s Content on Trinity Bay. Pick up a pamphlet at the Baccalieu Gallery (or find one online) and explore where the world’s first transatlantic cable landed.
- Re-opening in 2022, there are free walking tours of historic downtown Halifax everyday at 10am and 3pm. Be prepared to hike up some hills!
- The City of Fredericton offers one-hour guided heritage walking tours, complete with historically costumed guides.
Melanie’s fun fact:
Again for the history buffs, Halifax, N.S., is the place to go. Remember the story of the Halifax Explosion? Well, the original clock on City Hall stopped ticking at the very second of the explosion: 9:04:35. Today, a replica exists in the exact same spot and it has two faces. One shows the current time and one is stuck on the exact second of the city’s historical explosion. If you go there at lunchtime, you’ll have the extra pleasure of being scared out of your wits as the noon cannon goes off at nearby Citadel Hill.
Did we miss anything?
Have these travel ideas inspired you to book a flight to the Canadian Maritimes and explore everything that these provinces have to offer? Be sure to keep these free activities in mind the next time you’re on the East Coast and reconnecting with Canadian culture.
And remember that having the right travel credit card can help make your travels even cheaper. Now, get out there and have fun!