Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia is one of the most iconic places in Canada and one of the most famous lighthouses in the world.
The legends of Peggy’s Cove run rampant among the local fishing villages in Nova Scotia. No one seems to agree on the history of Canada’s most iconic lighthouse. But with every mystery, there are stories to tell.
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, is an idyllic fishing town perched on a bed of ocean-polished granite along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean just an hour from the capital of Halifax. This tiny town, with a population of just 40 residents, attracts over 700,00 visitors each and every year. In fact, there are rarely, if ever, more locals in town than there are tourists.
Home to dramatic crashing waves and windswept shores, there is, perhaps, no town in the Canadian maritime that can invoke the solitude of fishing life and reverence for the ocean’s power that Peggy’s Cove has managed to capture.
In fact, of all of the things to do in Nova Scotia, there is perhaps no place more awe-inspiring than Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse.
The History of Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
There are two stories behind how Peggy’s Cove was named.
The official story is that the cove, which sits next to St. Marguerite’s Bay, was originally named Margaret’s Cove. This name was laid out by famed explorer Samuel de Champlain in honor of his mother, Marguerite. As Nova Scotia was taken over by the British, the name was anglicized to Margaret.
The locals often abbreviated Maragaret to “Peggy” and thus, Peggy’s Cove received its name. However, there is another, far more dramatic story behind the naming of Peggy’s Cove. And if you ask a local, this is likely the one that you’ll hear.
That is the story of an ill-fated schooner who ran aground thanks to high waves, sleet, and fog in the early 1800s.
Here deck was washed and all on board were lost with the exception of a young woman. Fighting the bitterly cold Atlantic waves and tempestuous weather, she managed to swim ashore and was rescued by local fishermen.
The young woman, whose name was Margaret, fell in love with a local and made a home in the village. And as her story spread, people would come to visit “Peggy of the Cove,” and the region was eventually known as Peggy’s Cove.
Just up the road from Peggy’s Cove, in Glen Margaret, sits a small family-run museum called Peggy of the Cove, where you can meet the curator, Ivan Fraser, and hear some of the fascinating stories and legends of the town’s history.
The Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
The Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is among the most recognizable landmarks in Canada. And it also stands out as one of the most famous lighthouses in the world.
Its dramatic placement on the notoriously temperamental waters of the North Atlantic means that it can be both idyllic and restful, and raging with anger, sometimes both on the same day.
The story of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse dates back to 1868. The original structure was a simple wooden house with a beacon mounted on its roof. The kerosene lamp was lit at night marking the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay.
In 1914 the original Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse was replaced by the current lighthouse that stands at over 15-metres in height. The original wooden cabin became the lighthouse keeper’s home until it was damaged by a hurricane in 1954.
Despite its iconic status, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse has never been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Canadian Heritage Site, nor included in the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.
Things To Do In Peggy’s Cove
Peggy’s Cove is one of the most amazing places to visit in Canada. This tiny location offers some of the most dramatic landscapes on the East Coast, and it’s an absolute delight to explore.
If you are visiting Peggy’s Cove for the first time or the tenth time, there’s always a new angle to discover.
Drive The Lighthouse Route
Peggy’s Cove is situated at the end of the 339-km Nova Scotia Lighthouse Route. Lined with charming fishing villages, stunning beaches, and adorable lighthouses, the Lighthouse Route is among the most beautiful road trips in Nova Scotia.
The route runs from the town of Yarmouth on the Acadian Shores along the winding along the Atlantic shoreline through tiny villages and iconic towns such as Lunenburg. The route takes about four hours to drive and features 12 lighthouses.
Photograph The Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
Although you’ll find some wonderful souvenirs in the village of Peggy’s Cove, the best souvenir is a photo of the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse itself. Perched on rolling granite mounts created by molten lava frozen in time by the Atlantic Waters and then carved into its current state by billions of pounds of retreating glaciers
There is simply no bad angle for Peggy’s Cove photos. Wander the rocks, find reflections in the mirror-like tidepools, or wander right up to the lighthouse door. And if you can, try to visit Peggy’s Cove at sunset, it’s magical.
Just be very careful. Make sure to stay on the light rocks and avoid the black rocks. The dark colour indicates an area where the tide and waves regularly splash onto the coast. Every year visitors are washed into the frigid waters of Peggy’s Cove.
Take A Peggy’s Cove Boat Tour
Boat Tours in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia offers a unique perspective on the village of Peggy’s Cove and the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse itself.
There is just one company that offers boat tours in Peggy’s Cove. Although they book up quickly, you can sometimes get lucky with a walk-on tour. The tours leave between two and five times per day during the high season in Peggy’s Cove.
The small boat allows you to reach some of the small coves and bays where adorable local homes dot the shores. You’ll even learn all about the local fishing industry and its importance to the local culture.
Explore Peggy’s Cove Village
Wandering around the familiar sites of Peggy’s Cove can make it hard to imagine that this is an actual town, with actual locals living their lives. Peggy’s Cove is home to forty inhabitants, and it’s important to respect them as you explore this beautiful town.
Wander the small streets, explore the shops, photograph the fishing boats, and if you have a chance, speak with some of the locals and learn their stories. You’ll find that they are truly the best thing about Peggy’s Cove.
Kayak Lower Prospect
The waters surrounding Peggy’s Cove are incredibly inviting for paddlers. But the open waters of the Atlantic can be rough and dangerous. Lower Prospect offers a safe and beautiful introduction to sea kayaking where you can paddle the protected coves and waters without worrying about the big open water unless you’d like to try it for yourself.
If you’d like to try kayaking Lower Prospect for yourself or even get a taste of the big water, you can connect with East Coast Outfitters for one of their four-hour tours.
Grab A Bite To Eat At Sou’ Wester
There is one restaurant in Peggy’s Cove, and it’s an iconic stop. Sou’ Wester has been a staple of the town’s shores for over 50 years. They serve up some all things lobster. You’ll find everything from lobster mac & cheese to lobster nachos.
You’ll find other dishes at the Sou’ Wester as well, including vegetarian and non-seafood dishes for those who are so inclined. And if you’re visiting Peggy’s Cove during the summer, they have a fantastic patio in the back.
Visit the Swiss Air Memorial
One tragic day in 1998, 229 people lost their lives in the bombing of Swiss Air Flight 211. The disaster occurred just 8 km off the coast of Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.
Just a 500m drive from Peggy’s Cove is the Swiss Air Flight 211 memorial dedicated to the victims and to the rescue workers who tirelessly searched for survivors and helped clean up the wreckage strewn across the ocean.
Tips For Visiting Peggy’s Cove
Visiting Peggy’s Cove is amazing. And like any incredible destination, there are a few things to know before you visit.
The Best Time To Visit Peggy’s Cove
Timing your visit to Peggy’s Cove can completely change the experience. You can enjoy the peaceful waters and low crowds of the early morning. Arriving before nine means having the place almost to yourself.
While most crowds pack Peggy’s Cove during the afternoon, those who stick around till sunset on a clear day will be treated to one of the best shows in Canada.
If you can time your visit to Peggy’s Cove on a weekday, you’ll have a far smaller crowd to worry about when trying to capture the perfect Peggy’s Cove lighthouse photo.
Stay Off the Black Rocks
Peggy’s Cove can be a notoriously dangerous destination for those who are not careful. Every year, careless visitors are swept from the rocks and washed out into the ice-cold Atlantic waters. In the past twenty years, four of those people perished.
The waves and waters surrounding Peggy’s cover can be very unpredictable. Rogue waves often rush upon the shore with little notice and splash over the rocks.
The black rocks near the water’s edge indicate areas that regularly see wave action. Steer clear of those rocks and stay on the white and pink coloured rocks in order to stay safe.
Parking at Peggy’s Cove
Parking at Peggy’s Cove is free of charge. However, it can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. If you arrive early, you’ll have the best chance to secure parking near the lighthouse.
The village is small, and Peggy’s Cove is walkable, so no matter where you park, you’ll have access to the town and the shores.
Bathrooms at Peggy’s Cove
There are bathrooms at the Peggy’s Cove visitor’s centre as well as a separate restroom near the lighthouse. There are also bathrooms in the village. These bathrooms are free to use.
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Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.