Best Canada and New England cruise excursions – The Points Guy

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The cruise season in Canada and New England may be brief — most ships visit between July and October — yet tour opportunities for everything from historical immersion to outdoor adventure abound. The best Canada and New England cruise excursions are as varied as the states and provinces you’ll visit.

Options include Revolutionary War landmarks in Boston, whale watches in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, “Anne of Green Gables” lore on Prince Edward Island and atmospheric old towns in French-speaking Quebec. And, of course, you’ll find plenty of scenic drives, walks and boat trips to admire the gorgeous fall foliage from late September to late October.

Whether you prefer vibrant cities, charming coastal hamlets or unspoiled natural landscapes, New England and Canada cruises offer access to all three. If your tour does not include snacks, make sure to save time to taste the region’s iconic treats — lobster rolls, clam chowder and all things maple. No matter which tour you choose, remember to dress for changeable weather and wear comfortable but sturdy shoes.

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Here are the best Canada and New England cruise excursions to introduce you to all the region has to offer.

  • $ Inexpensive (less than $70)
  • $$ Moderate ($70-$140)
  • $$$ Expensive ($140-$200)
  • $$$$ Very expensive (more than $200)

Newport, Rhode Island

PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF NEWPORT COUNTY/FACEBOOK

Grand Mansions and Newport highlights tour

Price: $$

The excesses of the Gilded Age live on in Newport’s magnificent landmark mansions, which were “summer cottages” built by the Astors, Vanderbilts, Morgans and other titans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Book a tour to step inside one of these impressive homes.

Most tours include a panoramic bus ride through the scenic Ocean Drive historic district, where sights include the Tennis Hall of Fame and Trinity Church. Next, along Bellevue Avenue, you’ll admire elegant mansions and the Gothic-style St. Mary’s Church, where John and Jacqueline Kennedy married in 1953.

You’ll finish your tour with a visit to a historic mansion. Examples include The Elms, modeled after an 18th-century French chateau and built in 1901, and Rosecliff, designed by architect Stanford White and completed in 1902.

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Important to know: Most mansion excursions last two and a half hours and combine easy sightseeing by bus with a walking tour of a mansion. Many mansion tours are self-guided and require you to download the Newport Mansions app to your smartphone and listen to the audio tour with earbuds.

Related: The best cruises to Canada and New England

Newport Cliff Walk and The Breakers

Price: $$

If you prefer to sightsee by foot and love oceanfront vistas, a Newport Cliff Walk and The Breakers excursion will put you center stage. You can admire Narragansett Bay on one side and the famed mansions of Newport on the other.

While the entire Cliff Walk spans 3.5 miles along the scenic coastline, this guided excursion typically covers just 1.25 miles as you pass the backyards of some of Bellevue Avenue’s most celebrated mansions. The walk ends with a tour of The Breakers, an Italian Renaissance palazzo built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It features 70 rooms, 27 fireplaces and a central Great Hall with a 50-foot ceiling.

Important to know: Most Cliff Walk and The Breakers excursions last three hours. The Cliff Walk is flat and paved in this section, but comfortable footwear is a must since this tour involves more than two hours of walking and standing.

Boston, Massachusetts

Statue of Paul Revere along Boston’s Freedom Trail. DARTHURBROWN/GETTY IMAGES

Freedom Trail walking tour

Price: $$

Do you love American history? Will you be cruising with school-age kids? A port call in Boston offers a chance to learn about major historic events, such as when the colonies battled for independence from England almost 250 years ago.

A guided walking tour along the city’s famed Freedom Trail lets you discover 16 historical sites. These include Boston Common, the Massachusetts State House, the Old South Meeting House (where a gathering sparked the Boston Tea Party in 1773) and the Old North Church. The latter is where Paul Revere placed two lanterns to signal that the British were approaching by sea during his midnight ride on April 18, 1775.

Important to know: Freedom Trail walking tours generally last three and a half hours and cover a distance of 2 to 2.5 miles at a moderate pace. The walk generally ends near Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, so you might have time to explore on your own before returning to your ship.

Related: The best time for a Canada and New England cruise

Fenway Park and Boston highlights tour

Price: $$$

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Boston Red Sox play in one of baseball’s most celebrated stadiums: Fenway Park. Book this popular New England cruise excursion, and you’ll find yourself among some of the sport’s most dedicated fans. All will be eager to step inside the oldest stadium in the major leagues, built in 1912.

You’ll see the dugouts, the press box, the manually operated scoreboard, Pesky’s Pole in right field and the 37-foot-tall left-field wall known as the Green Monster. On your way to and from Fenway, you’ll also take in some of Boston’s top historic sites from inside your bus with guided commentary.

Important to know: Family-friendly Fenway Park and Boston highlights tours are generally three and a half hours and involve some walking within the stadium. Tours do not include an actual game, and some areas may be off limits due to activity within the stadium.

Related: An insider’s guide to Boston’s top 16 attractions

Portland, Maine

Kennebunkport, Maine. SURA ARK/GETTY IMAGES

Portland Highlights and Lighthouse tour

Price: $$

Aside from its lobster, Maine is perhaps best known for the lighthouses that dot its rugged coastline. This sightseeing tour showcases a picturesque landmark that has long protected sailors from meeting a tragic end, along with several popular Portland neighborhoods.

After enjoying a bus tour through downtown Portland — home to Victorian houses and a modern Arts District — you’ll drive along the scenic coast to Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest lighthouse. Sitting in the onetime military outpost of Fort Williams, the Instagram-worthy landmark dates to 1791 and features beautiful grounds; there’s also a museum in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters.

Important to know: These scenic tours are generally two hours, and much of that time is spent on the bus. The museum entrance fee ($2) is not always included in the tour cost.

Kennebunkport

Price: $$-$$$

Exploring Kennebunkport is a popular daytrip from Portland. Cruise lines offer several shore excursions to this charming seaside village, perhaps best known as the summer residence of former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush.

Shorter excursions focus on the town’s 18th- and 19th-century sea captains’ mansions and offer free time to explore independently. They may also include a scenic sailing (the best way to have a look at the Bush compound at Walker’s Point).

Longer tours combine bus sightseeing with a scenic cruise, a clam chowder and lobster roll lunch, and free time to browse Kennebunkport’s shops and galleries.

Important to know: Kennebunkport is approximately a 45-minute drive from Portland, and excursions range from three to seven hours. If you plan to shop, ask the shore excursion desk how much free time will be allotted.

Related: Canada and New England cruise packing list: What to pack for every season

Bar Harbor, Maine

Somes Sound in Acadia National Park. SCOTT SMITH/GETTY IMAGES

Acadia National Park

Price: $$-$$$

Your cruise line is likely to offer a variety of excursions that explore Acadia National Park, the coastal preserve known for its 3,478 miles of shoreline and the 360-degree panoramic views from atop 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain.

The easiest excursions involve sightseeing from a bus (or an executive minicoach on a small-group tour) and generally cover the 27-mile Loop Road and/or coastal highlights. The most strenuous involve hikes or bike rides. Another option is an excursion that combines a Loop Tour in Acadia with an authentic lobster bake lunch.

Important to know: Acadia National Park tours range from two to four hours and the visibility from atop Cadillac Mountain depends on weather conditions. Additionally, the park regulates the number of buses allowed to stop atop the mountain, so in September and October (foliage season) tour buses are not always allowed there.

Kayaking in Frenchman Bay

Price: $$

Active, outdoors-loving cruisers can opt to paddle the waters surrounding Mount Desert Island, considered one of the top sea kayaking spots on the East Coast.

Local outfitters provide stable tandem (two-person) kayaks; you’ll be instructed on how to perfect a fluid stroke and glide past the scenic coastline off of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Keep your eyes open for local residents, such as harbor seals, porpoises and bald eagles.

Important to know: Kayaking tours typically last two and a half to three hours and are considered a strenuous excursion. Anyone in good physical condition (upper body strength is key) can participate, and beginners are welcome. You’ll hear instructions from a professional guide and get a dry bag.

Related: 5 best fall foliage cruises in New England, Canada and beyond

Saint John, New Brunswick

Minke whale on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada. GVICTORIA/GETTY IMAGES

Whale watching by Zodiac on the Bay of Fundy

Price: $$$

From June to October, the Bay of Fundy is home to hundreds of finback and minke whales; humpbacks arrive in late summer. So, a port call here offers an opportunity to view these magnificent creatures as they feed and play.

The Zodiacs (some tours also use larger vessels or catamarans) depart from Saint Andrews, about 75 minutes from Saint John. You have a 90% or greater chance of spotting whales as you zip around the bay for two hours. You might also see seals, porpoises and eagles. Most tours allow you free time to explore the picturesque seaside town of Saint Andrews, and some include a snack or lunch — typically seafood chowder.

Important to know: Whale watching by Zodiac tours are generally six or seven hours long, and the Zodiacs do have fixed chairs (some with shock absorption). This makes them suitable for most adults without major back or mobility issues and older children (generally ages 9 and above).

Reversing Falls, St Martins sea caves and the Bay of Fundy

Price: $$

Fallsview Park’s dynamic reversing rapids are a must-see when visiting Saint John. Your cruise line will likely offer a variety of Bay of Fundy tours, but look for one that combines a visit to the park with a drive to the small town of Saint Martins.

The Reversing Rapids is what happens when the Saint John River meets the strong and dramatic tides of the Bay of Fundy. The exchange of water flowing into the bay at low tide and back from the bay at high tide creates a series of rapids and whirlpools.

The highlight in Saint Martins is the Sea Caves, dramatic formations carved into the red-hued cliffs by the tides. You’ll walk along the pebble-strewn beach — and even into the cave entrances if your visit is at low tide — and afterward enjoy a hearty bowl of seafood chowder. Saint Martins is also home to several covered bridges and gift shops. Before returning to your ship, you’ll visit the circa-1876 Old City Market in Saint John.

Important to know: Saint Martins is about 70 minutes from Saint John and tours generally last five to six hours. The sights you’ll see are dependent on the daily tide schedules and the weather (fog is not uncommon). While this is a moderate activity, some walking is involved, especially to reach the sea caves from the rocky beach.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada. MARC GUITARD/GETTY IMAGES

Peggy’s Cove

Price: $$-$$$

Peggy’s Cove, a coastal village dating back to 1811, has inspired numerous painters and photographers. It’s also a popular Canadian cruise excursion destination.

Your ship will likely offer several different excursions here, from a scenic coastal drive and tour to a longer option that allows time to savor a delicious lobster lunch and explore the town’s shops and galleries on your own. A highlight is the circa-1914 lighthouse set atop an impressive rocky outcropping. Back in Halifax, some tours also do a drive-by of Province House, where the Nova Scotia House of Assembly has gathered every year since 1819.

Important to know: Excursions to Peggy’s Cove range from three to seven hours. The drive from Halifax is about an hour each way, which means shorter tours offer very little time to actually explore the town.

Halifax Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus tour

Price: $$

Prefer to sightsee at your own pace? If so, book a tour that lets you utilize Halifax’s hop-on, hop-off vintage double-decker buses to explore the sights on its 90-minute loop.

The bus will take you to the Public Gardens, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the fashionable North End shopping district and the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where 121 passengers who perished on the Titanic in April 1912 are laid to rest. Some cruise lines also add extras, such as fast-pass access to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic — home to some Titanic memorabilia — and Citadel Hill National Historic Site — a star-shaped fortress constructed in 1856.

Important to know: Buses run every 30 minutes, so plan your stays at the various sights carefully to avoid wasting precious port time.

Related: Best cruise destinations for every type of traveler

Sydney, Nova Scotia

FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE/FACEBOOK

Cape Breton Island

Price: $$$

Nova Scotia’s rich Scottish-Gaelic history and culture come to life during a visit to Cape Breton Island. The area is in eastern Nova Scotia and is encircled by a roadway called the Cabot Trail.

Tours from Sydney, the island’s largest city, vary by cruise line. Still, highlights include the Bras d’Or Lakes region, which is home to Highland Village — a cultural center and living history museum dedicated to early Gaelic settlement in Nova Scotia. You’ll also visit Baddeck village, the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, and can visit a museum that showcases his life and inventions.

Explore Baddeck’s shops and cafes on foot; then make a final stop at Seal Island for a photo-op atop Kelly’s Mountain overlooking Saint Ann’s Bay.

Important to know: Canada cruise excursions to Cape Breton last between four and seven hours, with a one-hour drive each way from and to the port in Sydney. A fair amount of walking is required, especially in Highland Village. Longer tours typically include lunch.

Fortress of Louisbourg

Price: $$

History buffs with a penchant for live reenactments can enjoy a guided excursion to the Fortress of Louisbourg, North America’s largest reconstructed 18th-century French fortified town.

The original fortress was built from 1720 to 1740 and once ranked as France’s most important military and trade center on the continent. The entire 12-acre complex, now a Canadian National Historic Site, is home to more than 50 period buildings. A wide range of characters dressed in mid-18th-century garb offer historical context as they reenact everyday life from almost 300 years ago.

Important to know: The Fortress of Louisbourg is about 45 minutes away from Sydney. Excursions less than four hours may not offer enough time (just 30 to 45 minutes) to explore the complex independently after the guided tour ends. This excursion involves a significant amount of walking.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. DBVIRAGO/GETTY IMAGES

Anne of Green Gables

Price: $$

There are many reasons to visit Prince Edward Island, including its beach-fringed national parks and fresh-from-the-sea cuisine. But perhaps the biggest tourist draw, especially for literary enthusiasts, is Anne of Green Gables — the character created by PEI native Lucy Maud Montgomery in her series of books for young readers.

Feisty Anne, with her red pigtails and straw bonnet, remains beloved more than a century after her literary debut. Most cruise lines offer a variety of excursions to the place that inspired Montgomery, a farm estate now known as Green Gables Heritage Place. In addition to a museum that chronicles Montgomery’s life and literary works, this Canada National Historic Site encompasses the farm and surrounding woodlands that inspired the author.

Important to know: Tours are generally four to seven hours. If you’re a tried-and-true Anne fan, ensure the tour you book allows enough time to explore both the museum and grounds at Green Gables Heritage Place, about 40 minutes from Charlottetown. If your port call is long enough, you might also be able to book separate tickets for “Anne & Gilbert, The Musical,” staged in Charlottetown from late May to early October.

Charlottetown culinary tour

Price: $$

Charlottetown is an atmospheric spot to take a foodie walking tour and sample a variety of local specialties. On the menu: oysters, mussels, lobster rolls, french fries made with local PEI potatoes, craft beer and more. Tip: If you’re not completely full, stop at Cows to sample the local ice cream — and buy a bag of Cow Chips (chocolate-covered potato chips) to savor later.

Important to know: Foodie tours generally last about three hours and require you to walk about two miles.

Quebec City, Quebec

Montmorency Falls, Quebec. NANTELA/GETTY IMAGES

A stroll through Old Town

Price: $$

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back hundreds of years and across the Atlantic to France as you explore the photogenic streets of Quebec City’s Old Town with your guide.

Founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, this UNESCO World Heritage Site charms visitors. Highlights include Lower Town’s Place Royale, the city’s first settlement, and Le Quartier Petit-Champlain, its first shopping street.

In Upper Town, you’ll explore sites that include the Place d’Armes, Dufferin Terrace and Place de l’Hotel de Ville, all while being mesmerized by the towering Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. On some tours, you’ll head inside this landmark hotel — constructed in 1893 and inspired by the castles of France — for afternoon tea and pastries. Other strolls conclude with a wine tasting.

Important to know: These walking tours are generally about three hours across hilly and cobblestoned streets.

Montmorency Falls

Price: $$-$$$

Just 20 minutes from Quebec City in the rural Island of Orleans, known for its photogenic villages, Montmorency Falls cascades 270 feet down a cliff face into the Saint Lawrence River. The drop is one and a half times that of Niagara Falls.

Some tours here visit the base of the falls for a photo op, while others include a tram ride to the top for spectacular close-up views from a suspension bridge. Some Montmorency excursions also combine a visit to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, a late-19th-century basilica considered one of the top Catholic shrines in North America. Others stop at a sugar shack where you can sample maple candy and other treats.

Important to know: Tours to Montmorency Falls are typically three to four hours long.

Related: Avoid these 10 mistakes when booking cruise shore excursions

Montreal

Montreal. CRISTIAN CIOATA/GETTY IMAGES

Old Montreal walking tour

Price: $$-$$$

Montreal, the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, is also home to an atmospheric cobblestoned Old Town. This must-see neighborhood is known as Vieux-Montreal and dates to the city’s founding in 1642.

Here, you’ll find the landmark Place d’Armes and the neo-Gothic Notre-Dame Basilica (its interior is awash in heavenly blue). There’s also the Place Jacques-Cartier, lined with cafes. The adjacent Old Port, which stretches along the Saint Lawrence River, is a vibrant mix of historic and modern buildings.

Some Old Montreal walking excursions combine top sites with a culinary tour that can include tastes of everything from French pate and cheese to smoked meats and Portuguese natas (puff pastry).

Important to know: Walking tours of Old Montreal are usually two and a half to three hours in length, with most of that time spent on your feet.

Montreal highlights city tour

Price: $$

If walking tours aren’t your thing, you can also get a great overview of Montreal via a bus excursion that visits many of the city’s architecturally dynamic neighborhoods.

Notable spots include Old Montreal and Notre-Dame Basilica, the city’s modern downtown business district, leafy 500-acre Mount Royal Park, Golden Square Mile with its historic Victorian and Renaissance homes, and the east side with its iconic Olympic Stadium.

Important to know: City tours by bus generally last three hours and are mostly panoramic, meaning you’ll spend as much as two-thirds of your time on the bus. There might be three or four stops for photos and a quick visit to Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.

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