As alluring as Nova Scotia's scenic routes are, you might also consider visiting Cape Breton Island's only city. Along with a boardwalk-edged waterfront, Sydney has numerous historic buildings, including Cossit House Museum. Believed to be the oldest residence in the city, it was erected by the town's first Anglican minister, Ranna Cossit, in 1787. Other heritage buildings are St. George's Church (where Cossit preached); St. Patrick's Church (the island's oldest Roman Catholic church); and Jost House (a 1700s home containing exhibits and special collections).
All can be seen on Can$10 Ghost Walks organized by the Old Sydney Society on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in summer (phone 902-539-1572; http://www.oldsydney.com/tours.html). If you're interested in a different kind of nightlife, check out Casino Nova Scotia's Sydney location on George Street, or simply kick back with the locals (and some live music) at a harborfront pub.
Note that Sydney also makes a good base for touring, as it offers easy access to less-developed neighboring communities on the so-called Marconi Trail, such as Sydney Mines (on the north side of Sydney Harbour) and Glace Bay (11 mi/18 km northeast). The former is home to the small but interesting Heritage Museum and Fossil Centre. The latter is where you'll find the Marconi National Historic Site: Dedicated to the Italian radio pioneer, it has a replica of the wireless station that broadcast the first transatlantic message to Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Another Glace Bay highlight is the Cape Breton Miners' Museum. Be sure to take the tour: After you're issued a hard hat and a protective cape, a retired miner leads you down to a damp, cramped mine typical of the 1930s.
As an added bonus, the Marconi Trail's marquee site, Fortress of Louisbourg, is only 18 mi/28 km southeast of Sydney, and Baddeck is 50 mi/81 km west.
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