There are so many things to do in Shelburne, a charming harbourfront town located roughly two hours’ drive from Halifax, and home to the world’s only Whirligig and Weathervane Festival, held annually in September. Family attractions in the Shelburne region include beautiful white-sand beaches, important museums and cultural experiences – and a few outdoor activities that might surprise you!
“I find that we have a lot of young families coming into Shelburne looking for that wide-open space kind of adventure,” says Val Keane, community development co-ordinator for the Municipality of Shelburne, “Our accommodations and cottages offer that wide-open backyard feel.”
The town of Liverpool is a natural stopping point on the way to Shelburne. On your way down the 103, take a detour to Beach Meadows, arguably the best family-friendly beach on the South Shore. If you have any skateboarders in the family, they can burn off steam at the Mersey Skate Park.
Also in Liverpool, check out the Rossignol Cultural Centre, including the small but hilarious Outhouse Museum. And of course, no South Shore road trip would be complete without a browse through everyone’s favourite thrift shop: Guy’s Frenchy’s.
By the time you arrive in Shelburne, your family will feel be well and truly in “road trip” mode, ready to enjoy the best things to do in Shelburne:
Visit Shelburne’s Historic Waterfront
Shelburne is called a “Loyalist Town” because of its importance in British history following the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In its heyday, Shelburne’s population was double the size of Halifax, and it was the fourth largest community in British North America.
Although some of the buildings along Dock Street and its 10-block grid of narrow historic lanes are original, others have been built, altered or enhanced to cater to the modern film industry. Several Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed here (The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, and the miniseries, The Book of Negroes, based on the Canadian book by the same name.)
The latest Hollywood buzz says that Disney plans to film parts of the upcoming 9-episode Hulu miniseries, Washington Black in Shelburne in the spring of 2022, bringing cast of at least 150 people to the region, including actor and executive producer Sterling K. Brown. The bestselling novel, Washington Black follows an 11-year-old boy who flees a Barbados sugar plantation and finds himself on a journey along the eastern coast of America.
Steps away from the water you will find Shelburne’s Museums by the Sea. Within this complex, The Shelburne County Museum is a small, old-fashioned museum highlighting local history. Across the road, the Dory Shop Museum celebrates Shelburne’s seafaring and shipbuilding soul through the history of wooden dory-making. Children can enter the workshop, and help make a genuine wooden dory.
A visit to the Ross Thompson House and Store Museum is one of the best things to do in Shelburne due to the wonderful interpreters who guide children through hands-on activities. If you are visiting only one place along the Shelburne waterfront – go here!
Other attractions at the Shelburne waterfront are the Barrel Shop, and the Guild Hall – an outdoor covered stage area for summer musical performances. Before you travel check to see what’s on at the Shelburne Guild Hall. The waterfront is a lovely area to enjoy a picnic.
Explore History at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
Many people know the story of the Book of Negroes, popularized by the award-winning novel by Lawrence Hill and the subsequent CBC mini-series, but there’s more to it than just the book! The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, just outside of Shelburne, is the launching point for one of the most fascinating chapters in Nova Scotian and African history.
After enduring poor conditions compared to their fellow Loyalists in Nova Scotia, nearly 1200 Black British subjects (about half of whom were from Birchtown) voluntarily sailed in 15 ships from Nova Scotia to a place in Africa they had only heard of, Sierra Leone, where they established Freetown, the first permanent ex-slave colony in West Africa.
Freetown is now Sierra Leone’s bustling capital city, with a population of over 1 million people – and just like the small town of Shelburne, it is home to one of the world’s largest natural harbours. It’s interesting to think that across the oceans, there are people living in Freetown today who are distantly related to Nova Scotians through this incredible story.
If you have African Nova Scotian heritage, you may be able to trace your own family roots at the Black Heritage Centre, through the Book of Negroes, recorded in 1783, or the Muster Book, created one year later.
Have a Blast on the Water with Borrow my Boards
Borrow my Boards is an innovative and affordable mobile SUP rental service that brings the boards to you! Call ahead to book paddleboards, water mats, or sea tubes, and owner, Jody Dyer will meet you at any suitable waterfront location: the harbour, your favourite beach or lake, or even your beachfront cottage or Air BnB! Boards can be rented for several hours, or the whole day.
Borrow my boards is the only company in Nova Scotia to rent the Hobie Eclipse –a cool-looking pedal-powered SUPs with handlebars. Pedalling a Hobie Eclipse is a great workout and a thrill.
Another way to explore Shelburne from the water is with Candlebox Kayaking, on their Shelburne Harbour History and Family Fun Tour. This 3-4hr guided kayak tour, explores the history of Shelburne, including a visit to some grey seals – and plenty of pirate lore!
Discover the Hidden Beach at Sandy Point Lighthouse
About 10 minutes’ drive from Shelburne’s historic town centre, at the mouth of Shelburne Harbour, the charming, red-topped Sandy Point Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1999, but still has a flashing red light that remains a familiar navigation point for local fishing boats. When the tide is high, the beautiful beach in front of the lighthouse disappears underwater, but as low tide approaches, it slowly reveals itself, exposing tiny schools of fish, small sea creatures stuck in the tide pools, and rich red-brown sand dollars which cover the ocean floor.
Check tide times before you go, and aim to arrive about an hour before low tide. The beach is shallow – perfect for toddlers. While you’re waiting for the tide to do out, you can search for sea glass in the tiny coves along the shore.
Go Beach-Hopping in Shelburne County
Sandy Point is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to beaches in Shelburne. Check out this directory of beaches in Shelburne County to discover some of Nova Scotia’s best beaches, including Roseway Beach, Louis Point beach at Sable River, Crescent Beach in Lockeport, and The Hawk Beach, where a 1500-year-old “drowned forest” pokes out of the sand.
If freshwater is your thing, Welkum Park is a small day-use park and beach on Welshtown Lake, while The Islands Provincial Park is a great place to go boating, fishing or camping, not least because of its magnificent view of Shelburne Town, across the water.
Where to Eat in Shelburne
One of the best places to eat in Shelburne is Boxing Rock Brewery Tap Room, where locally sourced ingredients are transformed into healthy, satisfying pub food, paired with local beer, or for the kids – Seaport Sodas, “imported” from Garrison Brewery in Halifax, with flavours such as Root Beer, Blueberry, and Ginger n’ Lime.
If you’re craving bacon and eggs, then Scotia Lunch is the place to go for no-frills diner-style fare served by friendly staff in a casual setting. And when I say casual… the chairs at Scotia Lunch are old high school chairs. (Don’t worry, no one will send you to the Principal’s office!) Added bonus: there is another Guy’s Frenchy’s next door to Scotia Lunch, for more thrift shopping fun!
Head to Moe’s Shake Shack for delicious ice cream and other cool treats. Fun fact: the “coin-operated” kiddie ride outside Moe’s isn’t coin-operated at all! You just press the red button on the wall and away you go! Tip: Moe’s is cash only.
Although we haven’t checked it out for ourselves, locals rave about Luong’s Restaurant on Water Street, which serves Canadian-Chinese Food. Other places to try are Mr. Fish (fish n’ chips), and The Ship’s Galley Pub and Eatery for hearty pub food. If you’re self-catering, there’s a Sobey’s on the way into town.
Where to Stay in Shelburne
There are plenty of places to stay in Shelburne. The Islands Provincial Park is the best place for tent or RV camping. For cottages, you are spoiled for choice in this region, but Roseway Cottages come highly recommended, as do the beachside Whispering Waves Cottages in nearby Ingomar.
In the town itself, try the historic Cooper’s Inn for traditional B&B accommodation. For a clean, historic Air BnB, a stone’s throw from the water, try The Bruce House, or sister property, Steps to Shelburne. In nearby Lockeport, the Seaside Cottages at Ginger Hill are perfect for families who love to spend time together on the beach.
“The Best Things to do in Shelburne with Your Family” was written with the assistance of Tourism Nova Scotia, which did not review or approve this article. Thank you to the town of Shelburne for your warmth and hospitality during our stay.