The greatest islands in Canada, according to readers, are where you should go if you have any preconceived beliefs that you need to have a pair of worn-in hiking boots or a love of the cold to fall in love with our neighbor to the north. Although there are tens of thousands of islands in the US, our readers often choose three because they provide exceptional eating opportunities, spectacular views, and a variety of year-round activities, both on land and in the sea.
Cape Breton Island, first
One reader commended Vancouver Island (No. 3) for being a “lovely wooded coastline island.” After trekking Mount Douglas, visitors may cool down in an ice bath before receiving a massage at Ritual Nordic Spa. Although both islands are beautiful, Cape Breton has maintained its position atop the list of the greatest islands in Canada for a fifth year running.
With a variety of pathways that go through farms and the stunning coastline, Prince Edward Island (No. 2) is an excellent place to explore by bicycle. Theater and music fans may attend one of the island’s festivals, while readers of the 1908 classic Anne of Green Gables can join driving directions a themed tour to view the location where the protagonist would have resided.
This wild Nova Scotia location, which Travel + Leisure readers also named one of the world’s greatest islands, is well-known for its Indigenous culture, whale-watching, world-famous lobster rolls, and the 185-mile Cabot Trail that surrounds the island. But the island’s renowned golf courses will be familiar to golf enthusiasts. “Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, & The Nest: The top courses in the world are here,” one admirer comments. Many fans choose to stay in one of the resort’s 72 rooms or 19 villas, which have contemporary, airy construction that highlights the ocean and surroundings.
Prince Edward Island, second
Every journey to Cape Breton Island is a journey. From my location in rural Nova Scotia, it is a beautiful two and a half-hour journey. There are more noticeable differences when moving from metropolitan Halifax, as many do, as the city streets give place to undulating hills. But when Canadians need a respite from it all, they go to Cape Breton, a quiet gem. Although these characteristics mostly kept in what residents and “come from afar” people offer visitors: charming cafés and B&Bs, boat cruises, and breweries, it still seems rural and secluded. Every time, particularly in the autumn when the summer rush has subsided, I learn something new.
The most noticeable change, regardless of where you started, occurs near the end of the mile-long Canso Causeway, which links the mainland to Cape Breton. I know I’ve arrived when I can see windswept coastlines and lush woodland in my field of vision.
The Cabot Trail, a two-lane road that circles the island’s north and links its wilderness regions and numerous of its ancient villages, is the traditional route to take to see the finest of the island. Road signs are usually in both Gaelic and English, with the exception of the Acadian region of the island, where they are in French. Live music is always accompanied by a violin and a drum. Indigenous and traditional Mi’kmaq fisherman reside in tiny communities, some of which are located close to luxury resorts.
In October 2021, I paid a visit to Big Spruce Brewing, the first organic craft brewery in Nova Scotia, as part of my most recent journey to Cape Breton Island. In 2009, Jeremy and Melanie White, who had spent their honeymoon on the island years previously, made an online, sight-unseen purchase of a dilapidated property close to Bras d’Or Lake. Since hops were a successful crop for the area, they figured why not attempt brewing beer? I tried their Kitchen Party Pale Ale, which was a local pub speciality and went well with deep-fried pepperoni.
When I reached Inverness, a former coal mining community that now serves as a popular vacation spot thanks to the 2011 development of the Cabot Links Golf Resort, I continued driving northwest along the winding Cabot Trail until turning onto Route 19. My aim was Inverness Beach, which is well-known for having a lot of sea glass, which I hid in all of my coat’s pockets.
The opulent private villas at Cabot Cape Breton, constructed by renowned Halifax architect Omar Gandhi (doubles from $190), overlook the shore. Possibly the most amazing place to stay on the island is this golf resort, which is home to Cabot Cliffs, the best course in Canada. I enjoyed the fattest lobster roll I’d ever seen at the laid-back brewery at Route 19 Brewing across the street (entrées $14–$32).
I eager to eat at L’abri (entrées $16-$35), even though it had only been open for business for 18 months, as it had been completely booked during my previous visit. Mr. Chicken (entrées $8-$11) in Chéticamp is a local fast food favorite for chicken poutine, but I was eager to eat at L’abri (entrées $16-$35). Jaron Felix and Basil Doucet are the owners of L’abri. The buddies returned to their homeland to open an expensive restaurant featuring Cape Breton cuisine after becoming sick of their hectic occupations in Toronto and Halifax. I enjoyed the delicious Cajun haddock cakes as lilting French music filled the room.
It provided excellent nourishment for my next hike along Cape Breton’s Skyline Trail, a five-mile loop through scrubland that ends at a boardwalk. After almost 15 years of residing in Nova Scotia, I finally saw a moose, majestically grazing on a bush. That evening, we had dinner at the Pleasant Bay establishment famed for its rich seafood and friendly service, the Rusty Anchor Restaurant (entrées $13–$30). I gorged myself on a delicious bacon cheeseburger and Northern Emerald oysters. Later, I checked into a roomy geodesic dome at True North Destinations just down the road (doubles from $200), where my hot tub with a view of the raging Atlantic was the ideal post-hike treat.