6 Not to Miss Historic Sites and Gardens in Annapolis Royal

One of Canada’s most charming communities, Annapolis Royal is a waterfront town situated in the fertile land of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Historic Sites and gardens are reason enough to visit, but its setting – overlooking a tidal river valley makes Annapolis Royal a pretty perfect picturesque spot. Here’s a look at all the region’s must visit historic and scenic sites. 

public garden annapolis royal
Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens is not to be missed!
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Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens

Though Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens is comprised of 17 luscious acres, it’s not an all day affair. I mean it can be, but for most of us, budgeting an hour or so will ensure you hit all the highlights.

Following the main pathway to the right, you’ll soon come upon the rose garden, home to hundreds of rose cultivators and thousands of fragrant blooms. Keep your eye out for the series of roses developed at Ottawa’s experimental Farm, named after Canadian explorers and bred for disease resistance, continuous bloom and hardiness.

annapolis royal historic gardens
No matter the time of year, there’s always something to see.

Moving on, the winter garden contains plants that are both interesting and attractive and can last throughout the year – particularly in the winter months. Colourful berries popping against evergreen leaves makes for a lovely backdrop. (Not that I was smart enough to snag that shot…) The garden is also a great spot for bird watching – kind of.

fake bird in tree
Fortunately the birds are brightly coloured, though I could only find 5!

The garden sports an outdoor exhibit with over 40 small ceramic birds. If you walk through to a little grove, you can try and find them. Needless to say, this is an excellent diversion for small children.

A little over a quarter of the way along the path brings you to the Dyke Walk, which (as I just looked up), means an embankment for controlling or holding back the waters of a sea or river. In this case, the Acadians built dykes along the tidal river and that kept the area from being flooded by sea waters. Go ahead and breeze through the gate to explore this historic dyke area. It’s allowed!

annapolis royal historic garden
So wish I brought a picnic with me on the Dyke Walk.

As much as I like following rules and pathways, you’re going to have to make a slight diversion to find La Maison Acadienne. This cutesy looking thatched roof reconstruction was designed using evidence from local archaeological excavations. Now you know first-hand what a typical Acadian house would’ve looked like circa 1650.

La Maison Acadienne
Veer off the outer pathway to explore La Maison Acadienne.

If you’re visiting with children, be sure to swing by the butterfly garden that contains plants that attract different types of butterflies. Swamp milkweed has been planted here, the only plant on which the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs.

Next to the butterfly garden is the native plant garden, a collection of native Nova Scotia plants that are a great habitat for birds and pollinators like bees and butterflies.

historic gardens annapolis royal
Even in fall there are plenty of blooms to enjoy!

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens Hours and Info

  • The Garden and Garden Shop are open all year long from 9am-5pm, including on Sundays and holidays.
  • Elm Tree Cafe is only open during the summer season (mid-June until the end of August), typically from 11am-4pm.
  • Regular admission fees (under $20 for adults, free for kids under 18) apply from June to September.
  • From November to April admission is by donation. There’s discounts in May and October.

Historic Sites in Annapolis Royal

There are so many historic sites in Annapolis Royal it’ll make your head spin. Home to one of the first European settlements in North America, the community is rife with historic homes, inns, forts and trading posts.

historic sites annpolis royal
It’s free to wander around the grounds of Fort Anne National Historic Site.

Fort Anne National Historic Site

There’s good reason why Fort Anne was designated as Canada’s first National Historic Site over 100 years ago. This region, often referred to as the cradle of Canadian civilization, has been home to the Mi’kmaq for thousands of years. Then in the early 1600s the Scots and French colonists arrived.

It’s free to explore the outdoor site that’s a Vauban AKA a star shaped fort. Built in the same style as the Halifax Citadel, there’s a parade square, bastions built on each corner and an Officers’ Quarters. Fun fact: Queen Victoria’s father (the then Duke of Kent) oversaw the construction of the Officers’ Quarters from 1703-1708.

Fort anne national historic site
The upper right corner is the South Powder Magazine where gun powder was stored by the French and English forces.

Another interesting building is the South Powder Magazine, where they used to store gunpowder back in the day – from 1709 on. It’s the oldest Parks Canada building in existence (according to my guide).

Would you believe this fort was the most fought over piece of land in North America? It’s true! Ownership changed 7x between the French and English over a 100 year period, and 13 battles were fought here. And don’t forget there was also the Mi’kmaq, who defended their homeland (though they did usually ally with the French).

historic graveyard
The Garrison Graveyard contains the oldest gravestone (with English etchings) in all of Canada.

After strolling the outdoor pathways (and garrison graveyard!), head into the Officers’ Quarters Museum for an in-depth explanation of the region’s history and how all those nations coexisted.

If you can, take one of the guided tours on offer from Parks Canada. There’s the Exploration of a Vauban Fortification Tour, one on the evolution of the Acadians who inhabited and were eventually expelled from this land, plus a while glove tour which lets you go through the archives and handle the artifacts in storage – just like a legit museum curator! 

fort anne art
You don’t have to be a crafter to admire the skill and detail in this tapestry, depicting 4 centuries of life in the region. Made by over 100 volunteers, it was unveiled on Canada Day in 1995.

Port Royal National Historic Site

A 15-minute drive from Fort Anne lies Port Royal, another National Historic Site, that’s just as interesting, if not more so.

What you’ll find at Port Royal National Historic Site is a replica of the original habitation from 1605. This was one of the earliest French settlements in North America. Exploring the site gives you a taste for what French colonial life would’ve been like in the early 1600s. Port Royal is also the home of the Order of Good Cheer founded by famed explorer Samuel de Champlain, but more on that later.

Governor port royal
Take a tour with the Governor! The tour is available in English and French a few times a week when they’re open from mid-May to early October.

Originally the Mi’kmaq lived on the shores for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. They welcomed the French when they arrive to settle at Port Royal. Today, many Acadians throughout the world can trace their roots to the settlement here that returned in 1636.

To get the most out of your visit, take the fun and informative interactive tour: A meeting with the Governor. A costumed interpreter plays the role of the first Governor Pierre Dugua De Mons.

You’ll journey through the habitation (not settlement because families and women didn’t live here, it was like a work camp) learning what life would’ve been like for those gentlemen and workers who started this fur trading post.

There’s lots to examine, touch and explore – even some of the original iron blacksmith tools are here. Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s hard not to be in awe of how these Europeans were able to successfully winter in Canada. Port Royal also offers a good glimpse into the relationship between the French and Indigenous Peoples.

fur trading canada
Those infamous beaver pelts made the very hat the Governor wears.

Order of Good Cheer

Created in face of a stark, grim reality, wintering here was incredibly tough. Morale was low and it didn’t take long for the leaders to figure out food alone is not enough to sustain a person. (Though many did die from starvation.) They noticed that those with elevated spirit vs those who were depressed had a better chance of survival.

And so, in what’s surely Canada’s first mental health initiative, the Order of Good Cheer was founded. North America’s first European style social club was established during the winters  1606.

What did it entail? The men each had two weeks to prepare and present the best feast they could muster. This turned out to be a good way to pass the long winter evenings and to occupy your mind during the days of preparation.

The rotating chief steward would lead a procession from the kitchen to the common room followed by large platters of foods. The Mi’kmaq often attended these events with the Chiefs sitting at the main table with the gentleman. Naturally, the evening feast was complemented by untold quantities of drink, singing and storytelling.

Nova Scotia has recently established the Order of Good Cheer Trail. There’s a passport book to point you in the right direction to sample the fine spirits, wineries, craft beer and cider produced around the province.

Melanson Settlement National Historic Site

Situated a few minutes drive away from Port Royal, you won’t find any remaining buildings a Melanson, but it’s worth the quick stop. What you will find is a walking trail through the area where there was an Acadian settlement of several families. The amount of historical and archaeological evidence uncovered here makes the area quite significant, and all that is revealed in the information panels dotting the property.

acadian historic site
Once a thriving settlement, now a field with untold stories upon it.

In a nutshell, the deportation of Acadians from Nova Scotia began in the summer of 1755. Some left at their liberty, but by December 1755, 1660 Acadians including everyone from this village were deported and placed on ships bound for the US. Interestingly, some residents of the Melanson settlement were on the ship that overpowered their captors and made their way to Quebec instead of the US. The majority of Acadians never returned from exile.

Things To Do in Annapolis Royal

In addition to stepping back in time and wandering through lush gardens, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Annapolis Royal. For starters, the Annapolis Valley is brimming with produce and those apples and grains are put to good use in the form of spirits.

downtown annapolis royal
There are so many cute cafes and boutiques in Annapolis Royal you’ll want to have time to wander downtown.

Still Fired Distilleries

If you like flavoured spirits, this unique craft distillery has tons of product on tap for complimentary tastings.

Their moonshine, made from un-aged corn whisky, takes on flavours really well. Standouts (in my books) include Granny’s Apple Pie Moonshine, Root Beer Moonshine (just like A&W), and Big Buck Cinnamon Moonshine that tastes like Red Hots candy.

Also notable is their gin, which has racked up a few international awards. Funny Gin is triple distilled and made from 8 botanicals including citrus, rosemary and locally foraged Fundy Dulse.

nova scotia moonshine
I’m still kicking myself for not bringing any moonshine back home with me.

Saturday Farmers Market

If you visit from May to October, you must check out the vibrant Farmer’s Market. In addition to so much fresh produce, you’ll find local distilleries and wineries showing off their products and offering samples.

There’s delicacies from the German bakery, lots of artisanal products, and on the fringe of the market, inside the historic homes, are antiques and other second hand goods being sold by locals.

The market runs from 9am-1pm and also Wednesday from 10am-1pm in July and August.

craft distillery annapolis royal
There’s no shortage of craft distilleries to hit up in the Annapolis Valley!

Sinclair Inn Museum

Originally an inn in the 1700s, Sinclair Inn Museum is now the second oldest wooden building in Canada. If you’re an architecture buff, this is where you can soak up 300 years of construction and design. Indoors its layers have been peeled away to expose original details, such as water and daub construction – a medieval construction technique used until the early 1700s.

historic society annapolis royal
Peeling back the layers of building (all 300-years of them) is way more interesting than I initially thought.

There’s historic tools on display, some classic Georgian-style windows and even a few ghost stories milling about.

O’Dell House Museum

What’s interesting about this historic property is that it wasn’t the home of the richest dude in town. Nope, the O’Dell’s were staunchly middle class (though I’m guessing upper middle).

So what you see here is a pretty accurate depiction of what the homes of average folks living in Annapolis Royal in the Victorian era would’ve looked like. The ornate organ, the velvet chairs, those China plates, it was pretty similar to what a regular townie (non-farmer, non-fisher) would’ve had in their house.

If your ancestors hail from Yorkshire, you’re in luck! There’s several local history and genealogy books to purchase that can trace your roots back.

Open by appointment until May when it’s open full-time for the summer season.

O Dell House museum annapolis royal
This could’ve been your house in the Victorian era!

Annapolis Royal Restaurants

There’s plenty of cozy cafes and delicious eateries to continue your exploration – through your stomach.  Your BnB will probably offer breakfast, but if not, Annapolis Royal has some lovely coffee shops and bakeries to sort you out for breakfast and lunch. And of course, there’s plenty of options for dinner featuring that famous Nova Scotia seafood. Some favourite Annapolis Royal restaurants include:

Coffee Shops and Cafes

Arch & Po isn’t a patisserie as such (there’s a lot of freshly baked bread going on, too), but it has so much choice you simply must visit. Be prepared to walk away with more baked goods than you bargained for. All calories will be worth it.

If you’re a donut lover, make a beeline for DiValerios. Besides donuts, their brownies are pretty epic and the carton-style decor has Instagram in mind.

Sissiboo Coffee Roasters is a popular spot for locals with their freshly ground beans wafting down the street. They serve up all the latest barista drinks, plus baked goods. If you need a snack, the oat cakes are pretty fantastic, though more like a thick, chewy cookie than cracker. Not that I’m complaining.

Brunch, Lunch and Dinner

For a casual pub lunch or dinner, the Whisky Teller is a cozy spot with fun flatbreads, some fantastic cornbread and rotisserie chicken. Vegetarians will swoon over their coal roasted squash with whipped goat cheese.

As expected, they have a ton of whisky on offer. Canadian, American, Single Malt, Blended, Irish and Japanese are all featured prominently. A great way to find a few new favourites is through their themed flights.

Whisky Teller annapolis royal
Vendors set up right in front of the Whisky Teller during Saturday’s Farmers Market

Founder’s House

While Founder’s House isn’t fancy, it is one of the nicest places in town and offers what’s aptly described as elevated rural dining. It’s the sort of place where you can score a posh burger or go for the 5 course tasting menu, and not feel bad about wearing a golf shirt.

Dinners service only runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the off-season, but brunch happens every Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t opt for the eggs Benedict with your choice of peameal bacon, smoked trout or portobello mushroom, be sure to get a side order of their buttermilk biscuits with honey butter and whipped n’duja

Annapolis Royal restaurants
Treat yourself to brunch or dinner at Founders House, located a 5-minute drive from town.

Salads are so colourful and filled with the bounty of the valley, you won’t regret not ordering the fries.

Restaurant Compose

Cozy and kitschy is the vibe at this Austrian-inspired restaurant, with its chintz tablecloths, thick wooden tables and antler chandeliers. You can’t go wrong with Austrian classics like schnitzel, but the lobster risotto and linguine with pan seared scallops shouldn’t be ignored, either.

Just don’t skimp on dessert. This is the spot for traditional strudel, sacher torte or a coupe Denmark – vanilla ice cream with a fantastic warm chocolate sauce.

restaurant compose
Restaurant Compose is bright and fresh and their Austrian wine selection rivals the Nova Scotia options.

The Garrison

More than one local recommended The Garrison to me, and it was here that I sampled Coquille St. Jacques, a classic French dish of scallops in cream sauce. Typically it’s served with piped mashed potatoes, but The Garrison pairs it with rice, making the dish lighter and better in my opinion. And it’s not like you’ll be hard pressed to find mashed potatoes on a menu in Nova Scotia another time. 

the garrison annapolis royal
They use a 3-cheese blend on top of the scallops, hence the colour.

Annapolis Brewing Company

If you just want to pop into a place for a pint, Annapolis Brewing Company is it. There are several beers on tap and (lucky for me) over half a dozen ciders. They sport 4 popular IPAs, plus a nice light Pilsner and on the other end of the spectrum there’s a porter and vanilla stout at 6.3%.

Take the guesswork out of what to order by opting for a flight of 4, 5-ounce samples.

cider Annapolis Royal Brewing Company
I think the pear cider was my favourite.

You may eat your way around Annapolis Royal (as I did) or you may find your satisfaction wandering through its lush garden and all the historical sites within the vicinity. Whichever way you decide to spend your time, know it will be well spent.

Have you ever been to the  Annapolis Royal region? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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what to do in annapolis royal


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