I’ve always been fascinated with transportation. While my wife views the actual travel process as a means to an end (namely, getting to a destination), I love the journey itself. I could sit in an airport and plane watch for hours, and it’s a key reason why I opted to take an overnight train to Washington, D.C., with my daughter a couple of years ago.
On a recent trip to Canada, it led us to one of the most unique properties we’ve ever visited: the Train Station Inn in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia.
Fleeing from the summer heat of Florida to Canada for a week in early July has become an Ewen family tradition. We enroll our daughter in an interesting camp, rent an Airbnb, work remotely and explore a new city with (hopefully) mild temperatures. Last year was a culinary camp in Toronto, and this year was an aerial circus camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We loved our weeklong stay in Halifax, with an easily walkable downtown and fantastic restaurants. We also enjoyed the gorgeous countryside on the wine tour we did on July 4.
However, the real highlight of the trip was yet to come, as we drove north to spend two nights in a caboose.
Spoiler alert: It was awesome.
Here’s why every train enthusiast should consider a trip to this fantastic property.
As noted above, the Train Station Inn is in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia (Tata for short), less than two hours by car from downtown Halifax — though it’s only about an hour and 20 minutes from Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ).
As you pull off Main Street and make your way down to the inn, the roadside decor makes it clear you’re heading in the right direction.
The main building occupies the former train station in Tatamagouche, originally built around 1887.
Inside is a quirky gift shop (where you check in and out) along with a casual coffee bar and cafe.
Just outside the station is a patio with several tables and chairs to enjoy alfresco snacks and drinks, but alongside it is the main attraction: a series of rail cars that occupy several hundred feet of tracks.
All 10 rooms at the Train Station Inn are reimagined rail cars — eight of which are cabooses and two of which are boxcars. Most are lined up end to end, running east from the main building, though three of them (Boxcar Jane and Cabooses Nos. 9 and 10) are across the road.
We were booked in Caboose No. 8, the last one on the main line running from the station. A good friend traveling with us had booked Boxcar Jimmie, the lowest-priced room (which technically only occupied half of the car).
It’s worth pointing out that the property is only open for guests roughly half of the year. In 2023, those opening dates were from May 1 through Oct. 7. Rates for each room are fixed and start at just 149.50 Canadian dollars (around $110) per night, with weekend nights carrying a per-night premium of CA$20 (around $14.72). Our two-night stay came in at CA$481.84 (or $363.30 based on exchange rates at the time).
While I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve at check-in, it was swiped at the inn’s gift shop register. As a result, the charge posted as “Business services” and thus only earned me 1 point per dollar.
Comfortable, spacious rooms
Caboose No. 8 wound up being the perfect room for our family of three. You “boarded” from the rear, climbing up the car’s original stairs and entering through what would’ve been the back of the caboose.
The door opened into a compact room that occupied roughly a third of the caboose and included a small kitchenette, a dining table for two and a comfortable loveseat.
The kitchenette included a microwave, a minifridge, a sink, a two-burner cooktop and a small coffee maker. We were provided with dishes, glassware, silverware, a small jar of ground coffee and even some minimal cookware.
The coolest aspect of this part of the car was the swiveling conductor’s chair, mounted to the floor next to a small counter that could function as a desk.
As we walked toward the front of the car, the bathroom was off to the right, which was small but perfectly serviceable. The shower was comparable to one on a cruise ship, though families with smaller children would be better off with Caboose No. 4 or Caboose No. 5, both of which feature bathtubs.
At the front of the car was the bedroom with a comfortable queen-size bed, a dresser and another conductor’s chair mounted in the corner. This chair wound up being more decorative than functional, as we never really used it during our stay. However, it was a fun reminder that we were (in fact) sleeping in a train car that used to traverse the country for the Canadian National Railway.
The absolute best part of Caboose No. 8 was the cupola, situated above the bathroom and outfitted with a double mattress. This was our daughter’s room during our stay, and she could barely contain her excitement about climbing the (steep) stairs up there.
Note that the cupola did get quite warm during the heat of the day, though there was a fan installed up there. We also found that opening the windows helped circulate the air, and by the time the sun set at night, it had returned to a manageable temperature.
Our friend’s room (Boxcar Jimmie) was also quite comfortable. It was notably smaller but featured a loft of its own.
Both rooms had wall-mounted air conditioners, and despite high temperatures well into the 80s during our stay, we found that they kept things quite cool. Even though we were sleeping in rail cars, we found adequate power outlets to keep our phones and tablets charged — though travelers with several devices might need to spread them out around the room.
The property offers Wi-Fi with the disclaimer that it only has access points in the cafe and lounge car. We found the service to be intermittent at the end of the line, so if internet access is a must during your stay, go with Boxcar Jimmie or Cabooses Carole, No. 4 or No. 5.
We did receive housekeeping service on Sunday while we were out for the day, which was impressive given the trend we’ve seen to remove daily housekeeping at bigger hotels.
Little touches with big impacts
The accommodations alone were enough for any train lover to geek out over, but the Train Station Inn went even further with its rail-themed elements.
The first was the baggage room bar, which was essentially just a wooden bar set up outside the luggage room of the former train station. It served a variety of drinks from 10 a.m. through midafternoon, and while it wasn’t always staffed, you could press a button to ring for service if an attendant wasn’t immediately available.
There was also the lounge car, situated between the dining car and Caboose No. 5. There was no specific service offered in the car, but it featured nostalgic displays of old-time Canadian railroad items along with comfortable chairs, a collection of games and blasting air conditioning, making it a lovely spot to relax during the heat of the day.
I wasn’t the only one who geeked out over the notion of sleeping in a retrofitted train car parked next to an old train station. Other guests were snapping photos and enjoying the warm summer evening on the platform. In fact, on my way from the station to our caboose, I was stopped by an older couple who weren’t even guests. They were driving through Tatamagouche and were intrigued by the inn, so they drove down the hill to check it out.
(It turns out they were fellow Floridians and read The Points Guy — a small-world interaction made possible by the inn’s unique character.)
The cafe at the inn serves a variety of baked goods and beverages for breakfast, but we opted to eat in our room with some of the leftover food from our Halifax stay. There is also a casual eatery (Platform Kitchen) that serves a limited food menu on the patio on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to accompany live music. Since we arrived on Saturday afternoon and left on Monday morning, we weren’t able to experience those amenities.
One thing we couldn’t miss was a visit to the dining car, which serves daily lunch and dinner. Reservations aren’t required for lunch, but they’re recommended for dinner. In fact, our first night was booked solid when we inquired about a reservation, so we made sure to grab a table for our last night.
And wow, we were glad we did.
Delicious food in a vintage dining car
Our dinner at the Train Station Inn wasn’t just about the ambience of eating in a hundred-year-old dining car. The meal itself was absolutely spectacular (check out a PDF of the menu for yourself here).
We started with a basket of freshly made biscuits served with molasses butter, which set a pretty high bar for the rest of the meal — one that was easily surpassed.
All of our entrees were delicious and surprisingly affordable. My daughter went with the Caesar salad with shrimp and scallops (CA$25 or $18), while my wife ordered the salmon served with roasted potatoes and fresh vegetables (CA$35 or $25). I opted for the pasta diavolo with lobster (CA$39 or $29), and our friend ordered the lamb ragout (CA$34 or $25). Despite being overwhelmingly satiated at the end, we topped it all off with strawberry shortcake and an ice cream sundae (much to the delight of our 8-year-old dinner guest).
Every single dish was outstanding, as was the service. In fact, I caught myself randomly smiling throughout the meal. Here we were, sitting in a vintage dining car, enjoying a fabulous meal on our final night in Canada. It truly was the perfect end to a magical stay.
A great jumping-off point to explore the area
Despite the magnetic pull of the Train Station Inn, it’s also a wonderful jumping-off spot to explore the northernmost part of Nova Scotia.
Jost Vineyards, the province’s oldest winery, is less than 20 minutes by car through idyllic rolling hills. We had a lovely lunch on the shaded patio, washed down by a bottle of Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia’s signature white wine blend. Intended to go with the area’s outstanding seafood, the wine was a perfect accompaniment to my lobster sliders.
After lunch, we ventured farther out on Malagash Point to explore the rocky shoreline of Blue Sea Beach, overlooking the Northumberland Strait.
We then meandered back to the inn with a quick pit stop at Tatamagouche Brewery to sample the local beers because, you know, research.
The inn is down a gentle hill from the main street in Tata, but it’s still a relatively easy walk to the main drag of shops and dining spots. Aside from the brewery, we enjoyed dinner our first night at Big Al’s Family Restaurant & Lounge. You can also take a short stroll down the Trans Canada Trail (which runs along the side of the rail cars) to reach the town’s farmers’ market and museum.
Just up the road, there’s a local shop that rents bikes, but given the short duration of our stay, we opted to stick to walking and driving around the area.
Nova Scotia is wonderful
Beyond our awesome stay at the Train Station Inn, we loved our time in Nova Scotia. This was our first visit to Atlantic Canada, which consists of the four provinces along the water in the eastern part of the country: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. And we don’t expect it to be our last.
On July 4, while our daughter was in camp and we were off work, my wife and I enjoyed a wine tour booked through Grape Escapes. Our tour guide (Colleen) was awesome, and we had a blast exploring Nova Scotia’s wine region.
We also really enjoyed the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, particularly the Titanic exhibition that detailed the role Halifax played in the recovery efforts after the infamous ocean liner sank over 100 years ago.
Also, the restaurants in Halifax were awesome. We indulged in Italian food at The Bicycle Thief, seafood at 5 Fisherman, pub grub at Henry House and The Brown Hound Public House, dessert at Dee Dee’s Ice Cream and comfort food at aFrite. All were fantastic.
However, none of them held a candle to the chef’s tasting menu (complete with wine pairings) that we did at The Press Gang Restaurant and Oyster Bar on our final night in town. For a memorable dining experience, you can’t go wrong here.
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The Train Station Inn in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, is an incredible property that should be on every train enthusiast’s shortlist to visit. With a wide range of comfortable (and affordable) accommodations along with a fantastic restaurant and a terrific location, the inn has a lot going for it.
But then again, so does the entire province of Nova Scotia.
If you’re in the market for an off-the-beaten-path destination for your next vacation, look no further than Atlantic Canada — and the chance to spend a couple of nights in a caboose.
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