Old Town Lunenburg

By Julia Bocchese

What is Old Town Lunenburg?

Lunenburg is a town in Nova Scotia, Canada, and it’s one of only two places that has the entire city designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It dates back to 1753 and was one of the first places in Canada where English Protestants settled. It’s known for its brightly colored, picturesque buildings along the water. Many date back to the 1800s when the fishing industry in the town flourished.

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Text: Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Images: above, a view of the town from across the bay; below; the bright red fisheries museum.
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Why is Old Town Lunenburg a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Lunenburg became a UNESCO World Heritage site because it’s the best example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. The town still has its original layout in a grid pattern, planned in the mother country, and many original wooden buildings from the 1800s. Other buildings represent, according to UNESCO, a “diversified and well-preserved vernacular architectural tradition, which spans over 250 years.”

Another reason for Lunenburg to qualify as a UNESCO site is that it grew around the fishing industry in the north Atlantic, “which is undergoing irreversible change and is evolving in a form that cannot yet be fully defined.”

A green, a blue and a pink building.

What can you expect on a visit to Lunenburg?

I absolutely loved the colorful, historic buildings and the views of the water. There are lots of shops and restaurants you can check out, and it’s a small area so you can easily walk around and cover downtown in under an hour. After you explore downtown, you can drive a few minutes to the other side of the harbor to get the best views of the colorful buildings on the water.

Some of the historic buildings are open to the public:

  • The building housing the Ironworks Distillery was once a blacksmith shop.
  • The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is in the old fish processing plant.
  • St. John’s Anglican Church dates to the 18th century.
  • The Knaut-Rhuland House Museum also dates to the 18th-century and illustrates how people in Lunenburg lived between 1753 and 1910.
  • And many shops operate from historic wooden buildings as well.
Several bright red wooden buildings in a row, one of which reads "Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic."

To learn about a very different side of the early years of Nova Scotia’s colonial era – the story of the French settlers in Nova Scotia – visit Landscape of Grand Pré, which is less than an hour and a half away by car.

If you’re short on time, try this half-day small-group tour from Halifax.

If you have plenty of time and plan to rent a car, compare rental car prices here.

Is Old Town Lunenburg worth visiting?

I personally love small, historic towns, so I would visit again. It isn’t far from Halifax, so it’s an easy day trip if you’re in the area (and I liked it more than Halifax). Since it’s small, you only need a few hours to see everything and get a bite to eat.

What sorts of travelers would like Lunenburg?

Travelers who like quaint, small towns would enjoy Lunenburg the most. There isn’t a lot you can do there like you can in bigger cities, so the main thing to see is the town itself.

View of the colorful buildings of Old Town Lunenburg, seen across the water.

Tips for visiting Old Town Lunenburg

Since the town is walkable, wear good walking shoes. There are some hills, so you can get a bit of a workout in. We went on a weekday in June and there weren’t many people, so avoid going on the weekends if you prefer to avoid crowds. Peggy’s Cove is also not too far, so we were able to easily add that into our day trip from Halifax.

It was surprisingly pretty empty while we were there, but a shopkeeper I chatted with said it gets packed on weekends so I would recommend going on a weekday if you can.

Book your accommodations here, or use the map below to find a place to stay:

Where is Lunenburg?

Lunenburg is in Nova Scotia, Canada. Halifax is the closest major city: a little over an hour away. There is some free street parking, and we didn’t have a hard time finding a spot. There is a train from Halifax to Lunenburg that takes about 2 hours, and you will need to walk from the station to the main part of the town.

For more information about Lunenburg, visit the Nova Scotia tourism website.

Have you been to Lunenburg? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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