We all know what the real magic of a Hallmark made-for-tv holiday movie is. It isn’t the anticipation of wondering if the bakery owner will realize that love has been right in front of her all along or the predictable path of romance as the sweet bookseller is swept off their feet by a stern lawyer. Rather, the real magic is in the power of community, from the volunteers who always rally to save the threatened candy cane factory to the loyal cafe patrons who’ll make sure the corporate takeover never happens. And nobody does community quite like Nova Scotia, something I know first hand from years of living and traveling there. Not only are all of these Nova Scotia towns so pretty and charming that you’ll swear you’re on a Hallmark holiday movie set, but they’re also incredibly warm and welcoming. No acting needed! These destinations will win you over, no matter when you visit.
The pretty south shore town of Chester doesn’t just look movie-worthy. It IS movie-worthy! Hallmark’s A November Christmas was filmed here, as well as in the communities of Wolfville and Windsor. As well, Chester was also the setting for Christmas with Holly. If that wasn’t enough, dozens of other movies have been shot in and around Chester (including Two If By Sea, which didn’t get the best of reviews but it starred Sandra Bullock and that’s pretty awesome by my standards.)
So what exactly makes Chester so appealing to filmmakers as well as travelers? The community looks and feels like a typical New England town, with houses clad in faded cedar shingles, lots of artist studios, and plenty of shorelines to explore.
Pro Tip: You can see lots of romance, along with drama, comedy, and more at the Chester Playhouse.
2. Mahone Bay
Just down the road from Chester is Mahone Bay and it ranks high on my all-time list of the prettiest spots in the province. It’s famous for its seaside trio of churches, which would be the loveliest background imaginable for filming a holiday wedding scene, but it was a more humble building that stole my heart. I will never forget spying an ordinary, oceanside, grey cedar-clad house with a bright marigold yellow door on my very first visit. So cute! Honestly, that cozy property alone should be enough to have Hallmark rolling into town for some romantic footage. And before long, it might just do that. Many of the same movies that were shot in Chester were also filmed in Mahone Bay. Hallmark’s Candles on Bay Street, a non-holiday film starring Alicia Silverstone, saw Mahone Bay stand-in for “Balmoral Cove,” a small town in Maine.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for the perfect project for a winter’s night, drop by Have A Yarn, a beautiful little yarn store with an absolute rainbow of colors on its walls.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of Lunenburg is another south shore sweet spot that’s so pretty, it belongs in the movies. And it has been! Alas, while it hasn’t had much screen time in holiday romances, it has been a shooting location for a number of dramas, including Haven, The Covenant, and Locke & Key. And romance has been filmed nearby. The community of Blue Rocks, just down the road, subbed in for Martha’s Vineyard during filming for the romantic comedy Jumping The Broom.
Lunenburg is famous for its picturesque harbor and its hills dotted with pastel-colored buildings. If you notice some distinct windows, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve spotted a Lunenburg Bump! These are five-sided dormer windows built over the front doors. Personally, I think this is exactly the kind of detail that lends itself to an imaginative script. Will sparks fly between the heritage architect and the corporate mogul hoping to build new modern buildings? Only time will tell. Other romance-worthy spots in the community include a wide range of local art galleries and craft shops plus delicious seafood restaurants.
Pro Tip: If you want your own dreamy, swoon-worthy piece of Lunenburg to take home with you, check out the ethereal works of local sculptor Chippie Kennedy.
Digby isn’t a household name in the world of filming locations but it absolutely should be. This beautiful fishing village is the gateway to southern New Brunswick (the ferry to Saint John leaves from here) and is world-famous for its seafood, especially scallops. Plus, there are pretty, colorful, old-fashioned houses everywhere.
While Digby itself isn’t often on the small or silver screens, its most notable resident has been. Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis lived most of her adult life in Digby and the adjacent community of Marshalltown. Her remarkable life and career were interpreted for the Hollywood film Maudie, starring Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins. Alas, this is no romance (Lewis’s life was a very hard one and her husband was not a kind man). Nor was it filmed in Digby. But I still think it’s worth an honorable mention on the list, as it showcases Lewis’ remarkable talent and does capture the spirit of life in a small fishing village.
Pro Tip: The Digby Pines, a seasonal resort, is the last word in luxury in the area. I’ve stayed there myself and can attest to its beautiful rooms, restaurant, and spa (be sure to check out the apple pedicure!)
This Annapolis Valley town has a bit of experience in the spotlight. A few scenes from A November Christmas were shot here. And I suspect that Wolfville’s beautiful Victorian architecture, tree-lined streets, and stately university buildings are only going to encourage more shoots. Plus, the heart of Nova Scotia’s wine country is nearby. Could a visiting professor teach a grumpy winemaker a thing or two about the spirit of Christmas? One look at Wolfville and you’ll believe it’s possible.
Pro Tip: A safe, easy, fun way to explore the local wineries is via the Magic Winery Bus, which leaves from downtown Wolfville and typically does a circuit with four winery stops.
Many a holiday movie includes a mysterious military man or a returning soldier becoming reacquainted with their hometown holiday spirit. As such, it seems only fitting that Louisbourg is one of Nova Scotia’s most Hallmark-esque towns. This small Cape Breton fishing village is home to Fortress Louisbourg, a former French military fort that was a pivotal point of defense for the warring factions in the early days of North America. Today, it’s an interactive living history museum, filled with gorgeous gardens, charming costumed interpreters, and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also some new excitement outside the Fortress. Celebrity designers Colin and Justin have taken over a large inn and are in the midst of transforming it, with the results set to be revealed in 2022.
Incidentally, Louisbourg is no stranger to the bright lights of the film industry. 2011’s Take This Waltz, a romantic comedy written, directed, and produced by Canadian Sarah Polley, was shot in the area.
Pro Tip: The Louisbourg Lighthouse was the very first lighthouse in Canada and the second in North America. You can hike there via a well-maintained trail and enjoy fantastic views along the way.
Not only is Shelburne movie-star-pretty, being IN a movie made it even nicer. Founded in the 1780s, there are still many pre-19th century homes in the area, making it the perfect backdrop for 1995’s The Scarlet Letter. That gorgeous scenery was even better after clever film crews buried the community’s modern powerlines. As far as movies go, The Scarlet Letter isn’t exactly feel-good fare but it does a superb job of showcasing Shelburne’s beauty. Off screen, the town is home to gorgeous beaches, more than a dozen museums, and it even hosts a lumberjack competition. If that doesn’t sound like a Hallmark-worthy meet-cute, I don’t know what does?
Pro Tip: You can try your hand at lumberjack activities like ax throwing at the Boxing Rock Brewery. Or, if you’re like me and terrified at the mere thought of handling an ax, there are awesome nachos in the taproom.
Forget about filming movies in Pugwash. There should be movies made about Pugwash! This small town along Nova Scotia’s north shore became world-famous in 1957 when it hosted scientists from around the world who were devoted to opposing nuclear weapons. Ever since it’s been known as a destination for scholars (town signs used to say “Home Of The Thinkers.”) Pugwash’s other claim to fame is for making pewter crafts and the destination is known as one of the best in the province for craft stores. Rounding out the list of noteworthy news is the fact that a hometown Pugwash boy, James Dewar, was the inventor of the Twinkie! I don’t know about you, but I think the script just writes itself. What happens when Dewar’s descendants try to open up a new bakery? Can true love exist between the metalsmith and the cozy craft shop? A visit to Pugwash’s beautiful beaches and sweet little cafes might be in order to find out.
Pro Tip: Pugwash is just 25 minutes or so from Jost Winery, one of the oldest and best-known wineries in Nova Scotia.