Last Updated on February 13, 2024 by Pamela MacNaughtan
I travelled to Nova Scotia’s south shore in search of my lobster and left with a full belly, butter-soaked memories, and a longing to return. Who knew Nova Scotia is such a delight in winter? It feels wrong to ask that now. Of course, there are things to see and do and eat in Nova Scotia in winter! People don’t hide in their houses when it gets cold.
Every February they celebrate my favourite crustacean, lobster, with the Lobster Crawl Festival. It is, quite possibly, the best winter festival idea outside of Carnaval de Québec. Well, if you love all things lobster – which I do.
It’s also the only place in Canada where a lobster named Lucy searches for her shadow. Groundhogs are so dépassé.
Lucy the Lobster
It’s a little after 8:00 am on Ground Hog Day on Cape Sable Island, and a crowd of locals is awaiting Lucy the Lobster. It’s her sixth year as a prognosticator and while the humans are busy she’s chilling on the beach, a tiny yellow rain hat resting on her head.
Lucy is the local celebrity you didn’t know you needed in your life. She’s too bougie and aloof to give autographs, but she will pose for photographs. Only for a short time though, then she needs the peace of her “spa” at Captain Kat’s Lobster Shack.
This year, Lucy’s celebrity grew, appearing on the weather network, and then making it onto CNN, much to the disbelief of an anchor or two (heh, anchor). She is the perfect mascot, not only for the festival but for the South Shore and Nova Scotia as a whole.
Lobster Crawl Festival
“Developed and evolving as a community event, it brings together artists, makers, chefs, museums and attractions, hotels and outfitters, and more, all working together to build a winter product, supporting and sustaining our tourism industry,” says Donna Hachey-Hatt, one of the Lobster Crawl Festival organizers.
In its 6th year, the Lobster Crawl Festival is a delicious gateway to Nova Scotia’s south shore. A succulent way to escape the February humdrum, and learn more about one of Nova Scotia’s biggest exports, lobster. Restaurants offer a variety of special lobster-themed dishes for February, museums open, and lobster-themed crafts abound. There is also an impressive selection of lobster products created by local artisans.
This year the festival introduced a passport book where participants can fill squares and win prizes. Another fun way for the communities and visitors to engage and have fun.
It’s a perfect reason to visit Nova Scotia in winter, especially since a lot of the province’s top tourist attractions are practically empty. Hello, Peggy’s Cove!
Also, Nova Scotia is only a 10-hour drive from Quebec City or a short flight.
Lobster Roll Off
I LOVE the Lobster Roll-Off event, where local restaurants compete to prove they serve the best lobster roll on the South Shore. As someone who is obsessed with lobster rolls (Chez Mag here in Quebec is my local favourite), I was over the moon when I was invited to be one of this year’s judges. It is one of the highlights of my life, and harder than it sounds. Mostly because I had to keep a poker face while tasting 8 different lobster rolls (a snowstorm kept a few entrants from attending, so it could have been a lot more).
We (there were four of us in total) had a tally sheet to score the rolls based on presentation, taste and the wow factor. While some judges wrote several comments (practically novellas), I was brief. My focus was on the lobster roll in front of me. I was tough, asking myself “Would I drive two hours for this lobster roll?”, with each sampling. Because let’s be honest, if something is really tasty I WILL drive two hours to eat it.
A Shell-tastic Route
It takes around 3 hours to drive from Halifax to Cape Sable Island, the southernmost point in Nova Scotia. Once you’re in and around Cape Sable Island, take your time making your way back to Halifax. There are so many charming towns and municipalities to see, even in winter. It’s also a winter fishing district, which means there’s lots of fresh lobster, too! Miam…
Here are some route highlights to help you plan a lobsterrific stay in Nova Scotia.
Barrington – It may be small, but Barrington is a great place to base yourself. It’s super close to Cape Sable Island, with its busy wharves, lobster pounds, and pretty coastal scenery. There are some yummy restaurants, too (more on those below). It’s known as the lobster capital of Canada, and nearby Barrington Head and Barrington Passage are equally charming.
Shelburne – The coastal drive on the 309 and then Shore Road takes about an hour from Barrington Passage to Shelburne. In Birchtown, stop at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society to learn about Nova Scotia’s Black history. There is a lot to learn here, so plan to spend a couple of hours in the museum and surrounding grounds. The town of Shelburne is a great place to learn about fishing history and traditions, hit up Dock Street first and see if you can guess which 1995 movie was filmed here.
Bridgewater – The drive from Shelburne to Bridgewater is peaceful and pretty. Stop at Sandy Point for a frigid view of the Sandy Point Lighthouse in winter. If you love driving, take the smaller coastal roads. In Bridgewater, visit the DesBrisay Museum, and stop at Shipyards Landing for pretty views of the LaHave River.
Lunenburg – It is one of the most colourful towns in Nova Scotia, and in winter when there is fresh snow on the ground, everything pops! It’s a perfect place to wander around on foot, shop for lobster-themed souvenirs, learn about lobster fishing and more. There are also quite a few delicious restaurants and cafés to enjoy. Of course, snapping a photo of the town from across Lunenburg Harbour is a must!
Peggy’s Cove – The drive from Lunenburg to Peggy’s Cove is one of my favourites. Stop in Mahone Bay and Chester for colourful photos, yummy snacks, and souvenirs. Then stop just outside Peggy’s Cove for a Nordic spa experience, and hit up the lighthouse in the morning or early evening. It’s fabulously quiet in winter. So dreamy.
Winter Fun during the Lobster Crawl Festival
The number of activities in winter goes down, but they are not obsolete. In Lunenburg, there is an amazing walking tour that is an absolute must, aptly named Lunenburg Walking Tours. During the Lobster Crawl Festival (February) there are a few fun activities, including the Lobster Roll Off, lobster food tours, and chowder competition.
Wander around the DesBrisay Museum and the Barrington Museum Complex. Spend a few hours learning about Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalist history in Bridgewater, and wander around the grounds and nearby church.
If you’re pressed for time or do not want to stop in Peggy’s Cove on your own there is a 3.5-hour tour from Halifax. It’s a great way to see this famous landmark and learn a little history as well. There is also a 6-hour tour from Halifax that includes Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, and Peggy’s Cove. Another good option if you prefer to break things up a bit and split your time between self-driving and guided tours.
Where to Eat During the Lobster Crawl Festival
As a lobster fanatic, eating lobster at every meal for an entire week is glorious. And during the Lobster Crawl Festival, restaurants go all out to create succulent dishes. While the festival creations are fun, trying local specialties is highly recommended. Here are some of my favourite places to eat and drink on the south shore.
The Kiwi Café – Chester, NS
Lobster is always on the menu at the Kiwi Cafe. The lobster roll has chunks of lobster with a hint of dill. It’s tasty. and not runny. Yay! They also have lobster scrambled eggs and lobster and haddock chowder.
The Salt Banker – Clark’s Harbour, NS
So. Much. Lobster. There is a baked lobster dip, lobster mac ‘n cheese, and a lobster roll on the menu. I opted for a local specialty, creamed lobster. Buttery and saucy and unforgettable.
Captain Kat’s Lobster Shack- Barrington Passage, NS
Captain Kat’s a local favourite, and home to Lucy the Lobster. Try the lobster fondue, steamed lobster dinner, lobster roll, or creamed lobster on fish cakes. They’re all so good.
Emerald Light- Shelburne, NS
The surf and turf lobster roll included braised beef steak and 1/2 lb of lobster. A crazy creation, which also won the Lobster Roll-Off competition. Truly unforgettable.
Boxing Rock Brewing- Shelburne, NS
There is so much to love at Boxing Rock Brewing. The beers are great, including the Shuck it Off (a lobster crawl special). During the festival, the menu includes delicious baked lobster dip and lobster chowder. If Jackie is working you’re sure to have a great time!
Shipwright Brewing & Taproom – Lunenburg, NS
Lunenburg is filled with delicious restaurants and taprooms, and many of them have specials for the Lobster Crawl Festival. The lobster pizza from Shipwright Brewing & Taproom is genius. It has fresh dill and ricotta, along with chunks of lobster. Miam!
Grand Banker- Lunenburg, NS
The Grand Banker is a cozy spot with a great view of Lunenburg Harbour. The lobster roll is good, and I loved the lobster linguini. The dish they are most known for is the Lunenburger which has a beef patty topped with lobster and hollandaise. Insane, but in a good way!
Where to Stay in Nova Scotia’s South Shore
Spending a few days exploring the south shore is now one of my favourite things to do in winter. There are quite a few accommodation options, from big-ish hotels to charming inns and bed and breakfasts.
During my visit, we stayed at the Starboard Inn in Barrington Passage, which has lovely little chalet rooms with a small kitchen and living area. In Shelburne, the newly opened Loyalist Inn & Suites has good-sized rooms with comfy beds. It’s close to Dock Street, and local restaurants and cafes.
The Lunenburg Arms Hotel in Lunenburg has beautiful views and rooms with antique charm. It’s a great base for walking around the town. If it’s full, try the Salt Inn B&B.
Near Peggy’s Cove, the Oceanstone Resort & Hydrothermal Spa was the perfect place to relax. The cottages and cottage rooms have coastal vibes with kitchens, great beds, and better showers. The thermal spa experience is superb as well.
Looking for a place in Halifax to begin or end your Lobster Crawl festival trip? I highly recommend The Westin Nova Scotian or Muir, Autograph Collection. They are higher end, located close to all of the action, and worth every dollar.
So, are you ready to check out the Lobster Crawl Festival and explore Nova Scotia in winter?