Sydney / Cape Breton - Sights

Sydney / Cape Breton Landmarks

The 10.311 square kilometer island of Cape Breton is located southwest of Newfoundland between the North Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Its southern shoreline is rough and rugged, and inland, two notable landforms define the island's appearance: the 1.100 square kilometer and 80 kilometer long Bras d'Or Lake and the hilly landscape of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The lake landscape is connected to the Atlantic by two natural entrances.

Cape Breton - View of Bras d'Or LakeCape Breton - View of Bras d'Or Lake

In 2023, 111 cruise ships are scheduled to visit the island's capital, Sydney. Approximately 220.000 passengers will explore the site or the island's attractions via organized tour or on their own.

Sydney - Joan Harris Cruise Pavilion

Sydney - Joan Harris Cruise Papvilion 

City tour of historic Sydney

Different to Bar Harbor / Maine, Halifax on Nova Scotia or Charlottetown On neighboring Prince Edward Island, the former industrial site of Sydney offers only a few attractions with the 17 meter high, world's largest fiddle positioned on the harbor, attractive, historic streets near the cruise terminal and a successful waterfront promenade connecting to the cruise terminal.

Sydney - Houses on Charlotte Street

Sydney - Waterfront Boardwalk 

If you are interested in Sydney, book a 90-minute city tour. Historically dressed guides present their guests with six buildings from the late 18th century and two buildings that were built in the 19th century. Visits in Sydney's historic district include St. Patrick's, the island's oldest Roman Catholic church, the Cossit House Museum, which was created from one of the city's oldest houses, and the more than 225-year-old Jost House, originally the home of a wealthy merchant. Another destination is the Sydney Museum, the former Cape Breton Center for Heritage and Science.

Sydney - Cossit House Museum
Cossite House Museum
Jost house

Sights outside of Sydney

The actual sights of the island lie away from the city. The breathtaking landscape fascinates visitors, and the following places steeped in history command respect for day visitors.

Fortress of Louisbourg

The island has been inhabited by Native Americans of the Mi'kmaq tribe since time immemorial. French settlers were the first Europeans to take possession of Cape Breton in the 17th century. To protect their fishing on the Newfoundland Bank, from 1719 onwards the colonizers built the fortified city of Louisbourg, named after King Louis XV. In addition, the French Navy needed a port in the North Atlantic.

Fortress of Louisbourg

Fortress of Louisbourg

Fortress of Louisbourg - original harbor view

Fortress of Louisbourg - original harbor view 

Thanks to fishing and fish processing, but also thanks to its favorable location between France, Canada and the French possessions in the Caribbean, Louisbourg thrived as a trading center and became a prosperous community.

That was enough to arouse the envy of the British. In 1745, British troops launched a first attack on the fortified city, which surrendered after a 46-day siege. The British were able to celebrate their success for three years before Cape Breton fell back to France as a result of the Second Peace of Aachen. Thirteen years later, in 1758, Louisbourg was occupied by the Kingdom of Great Britain. The French were unable to counter an assault by British troops with 39 ships and 14.000 soldiers. In the years that followed, the fortress was razed by the British. After that, nothing should be reminiscent of the French colonizers.

Times and assessments change. In 1961, at the initiative of Parks Canada, work began on rebuilding a quarter of the original fort. Today, the National Historic Sites of Canada manages the Louisbourg open-air museum. During the tourist season, hundreds of people find employment as extras in the historic complex. The fort is located 40 kilometers south of Sydney.

Fortress of Louisbourg - Buildings within the fortress

Fortress of Louisbourg - Buildings within the fortress

Fortress of Louisbourg - two extras

Fortress of Louisbourg - two extras 

Highland Village Museum

Around 65 kilometers west of Sydney, the Highland Village Museum invites you to visit. The open-air museum informs visitors about the customs and way of life of the Gaelic Scots. They left their homes in the 1770s and thereafter to find a new home on Cape Breton. They settled above the Bras d'Or Lake near today's town of Iona.

Visitors at the Highland Village Museum

In a lovely location, guests get to know the buildings of a village typical of that time in a museum village covering more than 16 hectares: residential buildings, stable buildings, a general store, a spinning mill, a forge, the school and much more. Historically clad guides answer visitors' questions. Farm animals, gardening and farm techniques do the rest.

Highland Village Museum
Highland Village Museum - Malagawatch Church
Highland Village Museum - in the Scottish Home

Alexander Graham Bell Museum

West of Sydney, 80 kilometers away, is the town of Baddeck, which has around 1.000 inhabitants. With the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, the town has another National Historic Site of Canada. The Scottish inventor and entrepreneur is to thank for the further development of the telephone, among other groundbreaking inventions. He settled with his family in Baddeck in 1885. Alexander Graham Bell lived mostly in the village for more than 30 years. Models, replicas, photos and films describe the career and lifetime achievements of the inventor.

Cruise ship guests are spoiled for choice

Visitors arriving on cruise ships who are inclined towards self-organized activities are forced to choose one of the destinations presented due to the distances involved. On our first visit to Sydney we visit the Highland Village Museum in Iona. We describe how we get there and what we can see in the museum village below One day in Sydney / Cape Breton. On our second visit to Cape Breton we went to the Fortress of Louisbourg. Under Shore excursion to Louisbourg Fortress Let's report on our impressions there.

Update November 2023