Sydney, Nova Scotia
Where is the ship/how to get to the sights?
Spring/summer May-September, cruise ship season, the temperature is around 12-25 degrees Celsius. The weather can be very unpredictable and changeable throughout the spring and summer season, and can be sunny, windy, rainy, cold, cloudy and hot, all within a couple of hours. The key to the weather is to wear layers. Never leave the ship without an umbrella and rain jacket, and have two or three layers you can take on or off to be prepared for whatever the weather brings.
Sights & Sites
- The Fiddle – As you leave the ship, you can’t miss the giant fiddle statue just to the right when you leave. It is the world’s largest and is an essential photo op stop.
- St Patrick’s Museum – Only around 5 minutes walk from the ship terminal is this church-turned-museum, is free to look around (donations are welcome). It has changing exhibitions in it per season, and features things like art works telling the tale of the main nautical historical events in Sydney, or religious friezes. http://www.oldsydneysociety.org/st-patricks-church-museum/
- Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion – The terminal right by the ship has lots of stalls with local sellers peddling their wares in it. You can find home knitted sweaters and toys, jewelry, artwork, as well as the pre-requisite t-shirts, hoodies, and local candies. The terminal has free Wi-Fi, which is a pretty decent signal speed (except when the terminal is very full), and there’s a special room reserved for crew tucked in the back, with separate crew network, which has a password, which is in the crew room. There is a café upstairs too, which has adequate coffee and snacks. http://www.sydneyport.ca/
- Boardwalk – The boardwalk is Sydney is a pleasant walk, and situated just to the right of where we dock. The walk follows on for about 30 minutes, and is a pretty way to see Sydney’s waterfront area, with some snack, coffee, and ice cream vans and stalls along the way if you feel peckish.
Out of Sydney:
- Breton Brewing Co – A 15-minute bus ride (12 minute cab) outside Sydney, takes you to the Breton Brewing Company. This local brewery is situated in a large barn, and all the brewing is done onsite. There’s a tasting room with wooden benches, and 8 beers to choose from. You can try four 20cl glasses, choosing four of the types of beer for $7.50 or pick a pint of your favorite ($7, or $5.60 for a half pint). They also have local canned cider, and soft drinks if beer isn’t your thing. Fast free Wi-Fi, no entry fee, and a terrace beer garden complete it’s appeal. To get there, you can take the local Bus from Dorchester Street at 12 noon, for $1, stopping at Wal-Mart on the way, or grab a local cab for $10. http://bretonbrewing.ca/
- Mi’kmaq Reservation – One of my favorite tours in Sydney goes to the Mi’kmaq reservation (along with the Highland Village, mentioned next). Here, the local native people show you around their village and teach you about their traditions, customs, and way of life. You will take part in a ‘smudge’ ceremony, where your soul is cleansed through a smoke and charcoal smudging of your face. They demonstrate, fishing techniques, weaving, basket making, teach you the welcome dance and even give you local bread and cake to sample. The people are friendly, warm, and very informative. (You can rent a car and make your own way here too). http://www.eskasoniculturaljourneys.ca/
- Highland Village – This Highland Celtic Village is set up as a Gaelic speaking village from years gone by. As you walk through the fully restored village, in to various cottages, and businesses, everyone you meet is a “resident” from various eras. Information is given to which year you are in before entering and actors play the parts of local people from those times and tell you about their lives, and livelihoods. You meet fishermen, local shopkeepers, farmers, musicians, and end up at a demonstration of Scottish Gaelic singing. From June on, there should also be Highland cows in the field. Word of warning – the “season” apparently doesn’t start until June 1st each year. I went on a tour on May 31st, and the Highland cows “hadn’t arrived yet”, the Gaelic psalm singers in the church were being temporarily filled in for by a CD, and the Gaelic party at the end was just a short sing-along. So, if you can wait until after June 1st to see this place, a lot more will be available. (It is possible to rent a car and drive yourself here too). https://highlandvillage.novascotia.ca/
- Louisbourg Fortress – Tours to this 18th century French fortress are available and very interesting. (Or rent a car and drive yourself). The fortress itself is an impressive array of structures that was once a thriving seaport. Its story is brought to live by actors in costumes, teaching you about Canadian, British, French and American history in the area. As you wander, keep an eye out for the bakery, where you can purchase bread as it was made then, and you can make friend with the sheep in the field behind it. There is a lovely small café, which has warming hot chocolate and scrumptious homemade gingerbread – everything on offer, is made, as it would have been 200 years ago. Word of warning – Like the Highland village, the full array of historical characters isn’t available in the fortress until June. Also, it is always very windy and colder at the Fortress than in town, so bring an extra layer, and something waterproof. http://louisbourg.ca/
- Baddeck – This charming town is less than an hour’s drive from Sydney, and is very charming. Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish immigrant to the area, made this his home for the latter part of his life, and there’s a museum dedicated to the man who invented the telephone and hydrofoil, among many other useful things. Along with the museum, the towns itself is picturesque and worth visiting to just stroll around and enjoy the slow pace of life, cafes and artisan shops here. http://visitbaddeck.com/
Sydney has a lot of souvenirs based on its Scottish roots. There are kilts, clan information, as well as Celtic style jewelry from companies like Amos Pewter, as well as tartan clothes, hoodies and T-Shirts of Cape Breton Island.
If you only have two hours
The town of Sydney and all its amenities are very close to the ship. You can walk to Sydney’s main street within 10 minutes, for shopping, and Wi-Fi in coffee shops such as Doctor Luke’s and Downtown Nutrition. There is free Wi-Fi in the terminal where we dock, with a special crew area in the back. If you need any practical things, such as toiletries, laundry detergent, or snacks, there is a Pharmasave on Charlotte Street; about 15 minutes walk from the Sydney dock. There is a larger Sobey’s about 30 minutes walk from the ship on Prince Street. The Sydney Harbor walk is just 5 minutes walk to the right from the ship, which is a pleasant and picturesque walk, with some snack, and ice cream stalls along the waterfront, as well as buskers playing music in the summer.
What is it known for?
Sydney is known for its Scottish roots, with most of the settlers here hailing from there, hence the name Nova Scotia – New Scotland. In this regard, there is a heavy Scottish influence here still, with many people speaking Scottish Gaelic, kilts a plenty to buy or wear, and most local tour guides wear kilts to show off the heritage. Sydney is known for inclement weather conditions, with some very heavy storms at any time of the year. Sydney isn’t know to be too exciting, so check out local or ship tours to see the best of the area.
Food & Drink
Sydney and Cape Breton is known for it’s seafood, and Cape Breton oatcakes are some of the most popular things to eat here. Cold water mollusks, such as scallops and mussels are tasty treats available in most restaurants. (My favorite of these – The Maple Leaf Restaurant on Charlotte Street sadly closed down during the winter season in early 2018). Cape Breton oatcakes can be found in pretty much every bakery and coffee shop, such as Doctor Luke’s. They have tasty local brew drip coffees for around $2.50 and their homemade oatcakes are worth coming in for on their own.
The ship terminal has free Wi-Fi, which usually has a decent signal, and they have a dedicated area for crew in the back, in a small room, with a separate network for crew, the password for which is available in the crew room in the back, and there are several long tables set up behind the market stalls area. Wi-Fi is available in most restaurants and bars in the town. My favorite spot is Doctor Luke’s coffee shop, run by friendly local owner James. http://www.doktorlukes.com/
Downtown Nutrition smoothie shop also has good free Wi-Fi (https://www.downtownnutrition.ca/) with a purchase, as does the Old Triangle Pub, (https://www.oldtriangle.com/) and El Jefe Mexican Restaurant (https://www.mexicanjefe.ca/) all on the main street, Charlotte Street.
US dollars are accepted in many businesses in the center of town, plus all the stalls in the market in the ship’s terminal, but the rate you will be given is often given as one to one, which is less favorable. (At the moment, the exchange rate is $1 US to $1.27 CAN, as of July 2018). Credit and debit cards are accepted everywhere, and major Canadian banks, including TD, is available in the city. Check with both of their rate that day though, as they often offer different rates, so check which one is better before exchanging, and crew, show your crew card. If you don’t receive fees for using foreign currency on your credit or debit card, you get the best exchange rate, but as always, cash is king.
Karen’s Top Tip
Sydney is a cute small town, but there isn’t that much to see in it. If you’re only there for one day, try to take one of the tours, out to Louisbourg Fortress, the Mi’kmaq Village, or even the Scottish Highland Village. If you’ve been to those already though, or you’re working on a ship that comes here many times, you can use this as a Wi-Fi day to get practical things done, while sampling a little of the city.
My experience here
I have been to Sydney many times, and been on almost every tour available here through the ships. I Enjoyed Louisbourg for it’s history. I’m personally drawn to castles and fortresses in general; I think it’s just in my blood, being Scottish. But wrap up warm if you go there.
I went on tour to the Mi’kmaq Village was very warm, and inviting and I loved visiting there and would like to return. This tour also took in the Highland Village, which didn’t have everything open when I visited, so it was difficult to assess it as it at its best, as it was disappointing having half the attractions not open just one day before the “season” began.
I have been to Baddeck twice on tour, once on the full tour taking in the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, which was fascinating, and once doing the Baddeck “on your own” option, which was great to stroll and take in the vibe of the village more.
The Mining Museum was very interesting, with a real coal miner guide who told stories of his many years underground that had everyone in tears.
Last week I took the cheap and easy local bus out to the Breton Brewery, which was a delightful little place to spend an afternoon.
Also, I use this port to get things done using the Wi-Fi available in the coffee shops, with Doctor Luke’s being my favorite haunt.
My Most Memorable Moment
My favorite experience in Sydney was visiting the Mi’kmaq community in Eskasoni on a tour. (www.eskasoniculturaljourneys.ca/) The people who lived there were warm, friendly, funny, and immediately likeable. They brought their culture and traditions to life in an authentic and respectful way, that taught visitors a lot about how they lived, and still live as one with nature.