The city of Halifax, nestled on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, is the undisputed capital of Canada’s Maritime region. In an independent nation only a little over 150 years old, Halifax brims with history as it faces across the ocean to the old world which first brought white settlers and colonial culture to Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia) in the early 17th century.
Modern Halifax is a blend of past and future, business, and pleasure. Discover all the best parts and top things to do in Halifax, a captivating city in a perfect 48-hour visit!
A Guest Post by Jill Bowdery from Reading The Book Travel
Getting Around in Halifax
On foot: Halifax’s city center is compact and very walkable, although the hill up from the harbor may be more challenging for those with limited mobility. Fortunately the streets, on a grid pattern, follow the line of the hill, meaning that for each uphill street there is a level one to catch your breath!
By ferry: For travel between Halifax and Dartmouth, the Halifax Transit ferry (mentioned above) is convenient, affordable and a great way to see the harbor.
By car: Vehicle rental is a popular choice in Nova Scotia, and roads are wide and relatively free of traffic (except during peak hours). Drive on the right; those from left-driving countries needn’t worry as all vehicles have an automatic transmission and driving conditions are easy. Stop signs are important in Canada; found at every intersection, you must come to a complete stop before driving on. Note that turning right on a red traffic light is legal and commonplace; always check the road is clear before proceeding.
Things to do in Halifax – Day 1
Start Your Day with a Coffee at Tim Hortons
Tim’s is a Canadian institution. A chain of coffee shops not unlike certain other big names, it is unique to Canada and can be found on what seems like every street corner. To really start your Canadian adventure off like a local, pop in for a coffee and breakfast snack – prices are very reasonable compared to other brands.
If you’re not a chain coffee lover or the novelty has worn off, there are plenty of local independent coffee shops to start your day the right way before setting out to explore!
Visit Historic Pier 21
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is the perfect place to start your exploration of the city. Located at the southern end of the boardwalk close to the cruise terminal that still brings immigrants (albeit temporary ones) to Halifax, the museum offers a glimpse into the Canadian immigrant experience.
A large permanent exhibit examines what it has been like to arrive at a new life in Canada over the centuries, as well as the impact of immigration on what it means to be Canadian. Downstairs, an excellent temporary exhibition of refugeeism examines enforced migration with a sensitive, balanced viewpoint.
The museum is open 7 days a week from 09:30 to 17:30. Tickets cost $12.61+tax for adults (discounts for children and seniors); children under 5 go free. The Refuge Canada exhibition runs until 11 November 2018.
Check Out the Goods on Sale at Pier 22
Next door to the Canadian Museum of Immigration is Pier 22, a large indoor Farmers Market is the perfect place to soak up the local atmosphere or stock up on fresh food and local handicrafts.
Halifax Waterfront and Stop for Lunch
Extending north from the cruise terminal for approximately 2 kilometers, Halifax Waterfront on a sunny day is the jewel in the city’s crown. A wide boardwalk runs the length of the shoreline, and it is here that you will find many of the city’s best restaurants, museums and street entertainment. Stock up on snacks and souvenirs (the local saltwater taffy is not to be missed!), or try out the floating bridges which allow you to step out onto the water itself.
The waterfront is an excellent place to stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants serving seafood, steak, and another local fare. If you are looking for something quintessentially Canadian with a maritime twist, check out lobster poutine: a variant on a Canadian classic, this poutine substitutes the original beef and gravy for fresh-as-you-like lobster and hollandaise sauce over the traditional french fries and cheese curds. Healthy it is not, but delicious and filling it most certainly is! Try Murphy’s Restaurant for the delicious local fare as you gaze out over the bay.
Take the Halifax Transit Ferry to Pretty Dartmouth
Close by Murphy’s restaurant you will find the Halifax Transit ferry terminal. The ferries ply the waters between Halifax and the city of Dartmouth on the opposite shore of the Narrows every half hour at weekends, more often during busier periods.
Tickets cost just $2 each way for adults, and the ferry is an excellent opportunity to view the harbor, the two bridges that span the Narrows, and the modern Halifax skyline from the water itself.
Dartmouth has a pretty town center of quiet streets and small local shops. Take a wander before catching the ferry back across to the city proper.
Round off your day with a climb up the hill from the harbor to Halifax Citadel. Built on top of the highest hill in the city, this star-shaped fortress still flies the British flag and was home to the forces protecting the city and its harbor for centuries. Inside you will find a wide, windswept parade ground with barracks, a small museum and many different rooms to explore, including a munitions store, schoolroom, offices, and tailors. Each is manned by a curator in traditional costume who will bring the area to life before your eyes.
Climb to the battlements for spectacular views over the city, and listen to the bagpipe player, dressed in the traditional Nova Scotian kilt (there is a proud link between Scotland and Canada’s eastern seaboard). Entry to the Citadel costs $11.70 for adults in peak season, $7.80 in shoulder season (discounts for seniors). As of 2018, entrance is free for children and youths under 18 years of age.
Citadel Clock Tower
On the way up or down from the Citadel do not miss to stop by at the Town Clock or the Citadel Clock Tower. The Clock Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city of Halifax. The three-story octagon clock tower is set atop a Palladian-style building and dates back to the early 19th century.
The Citadel Clock Tower has been featured in many fictional and non-fictional stories, the popular one being the character of Chimey in the children’s television show Theodore Tugboat. A climb to the top of the tower offers great views of the city.
Brewery Tour and Dinner
Round off your first day in Halifax with dinner and a chance to sample the local craft beers. Craft brewing is big business in Nova Scotia, with everything from cider to fruit liquors manufactured locally, but in the city center, it is the beer that reigns supreme.
The Garrison Brewing Company and Alexander Keith’s both offer tours; Garrison’s being a short tour with a half-hour all-you-can-drink taste session at the end, while Keith’s is heavier on the tour and lighter on the tasting! Or just head straight for the waterfront and restaurants such as Gahan’s, where you can enjoy a leisurely dinner on the water’s edge accompanied by a taster slab of 4 small glasses of different local beers to help you find your favorite!
Halifax Map – Day 1
Things to do in Halifax – Day 2
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Start your second day in Halifax with a little seafaring history. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located about halfway along the waterfront, offers a fascinating glimpse into seafaring life in Nova Scotia. But visitors are primarily here for its two main exhibits: the Halifax Explosion of 1917 (in which two ships collided in the narrows, causing an explosion which wiped out most of the city and finally destroyed the last remaining First Nations settlement on the opposite shore), and an excellent exhibition on the final hours of Titanic.
The iceberg that sunk this legendary liner was comparatively close to the Canadian shoreline (at least, closer to Canada than anywhere else), and so it was the ships of Halifax which set out to recover the bodies and anything which could be salvaged from the wreckage. The exhibition skips over the building and launching of the ship (there is an excellent museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Titanic was built, that covers this part of its history), and looks instead at life on board, the disaster itself, and the salvage efforts of the Canadian volunteers.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is open 7 days a week from 09:30 to 17:30 (20:00 on Tuesdays). Closed on Saturdays and Sunday mornings from November to April. Entry costs $9.55 for adults, reductions for children and seniors.
Stroll the Historic Downtown and Grab a Bite to Eat
Halifax’s downtown area is a mass of contradiction. Modern, glass-and-chrome skyscrapers bearing the logos of banks and multinationals skim the skyline; but look a little lower and you will find old clapboard buildings from another era.
St Paul’s Church in the heart of downtown looks like it was lifted straight from a New England village, and indeed this is the oldest building in the city, dating from 1750. Standing between the skyscrapers in white clapboard perfection, inside you will find memorials to those who died in the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars.
Strolling the downtown streets will reveal quirky jewels around every bend. Look out for a witch’s shop; shops selling traditional Nova Scotian donair, and even a massive statue of Winston Churchill, the British prime minister. Admire Dalhousie University, one of the best in the state, or wander the paths of the Halifax Public Gardens, where pretty flower beds abound and a grandstand plays host to outdoor concerts in the summer months.
As you stroll, pick up lunch: perhaps that authentic donair, where meat sliced from a traditional rotisserie is layered up with vegetables and sweet sauce on flatbread. Donair is similar to the Greek gyros or British doner kebab, but with a very Canadian twist!
Fairview Lawn Cemetery
To the north of the city center is a location which can really only be reached by car or taxi, but is well worth the effort: Fairview Lawn Cemetery. Better known as the final resting place of many of Titanic’s victims, a cemetery is a place of leafy tranquillity which is still in use today. The Titanic section is well marked and easily identifiable by its rows of uniform headstones. The most arresting thing is the date on every one of the stones, which all bear the same legend: “Died April 15, 1912”. Those that have been identified also bear the name of the victim; those that don’t still have space left in the hopes that one day they will be named.
Also in the cemetery is the grave of what was once the unknown child, an infant just 18 months of age who was one of Titanic’s youngest victims. Now known to be a young boy, Sidney Goodwin, the grave is often bedecked with flowers and soft toys by those who come to pay their respects.
The cemetery is free to enter, but please note that this is a working cemetery and not a tourist attraction, and appropriate respect should be shown.
Attend a Hockey Game at the Scotiabank Centre
Round off your 48 hours in Halifax with an iconic Canadian experience – a hockey game at the Scotiabank center, located between the citadel and the waterfront. Home to the revered Halifax Mooseheads, hockey takes place over the winter months; out of season, check out other sporting events and concerts. There really is no more Canadian way to round out your visit!
Halifax Map Day 2
More Days to Spare? Take One of the Amazing Day Trips from Halifax!
If you have a little longer to discover central Nova Scotia, it is easy to take a day trip out of the city either on an organized tour or a self-drive excursion. Try stunning Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg to the south of the city to experience Nova Scotia’s beautiful rocky coastline and picture-perfect villages; or take a trip to the shores of the Bay of Fundy and discover historic Wolfville with its many breweries, wineries and craft food and drink. Both destinations are within easy reach of the city for a leisurely day out.
Where to Stay in Halifax?
I stayed with a friend when I visited Halifax, however, she recommended the following local hotels:
Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel
1919 Upper Water St, Halifax, NS B3J 3J5, Canada
Phone: +1 902-421-1700
The Lord Nelson Hotel & Suites
1515 South Park St, Halifax, NS B3J 2L2, Canada
Phone: +1 902-423-6331
Delta Hotels Dartmouth
240 Brownlow Avenue, Dartmouth B3B 1X6 Canada
Phone: +1 902-468-8888
If your budget is a little tighter, Airbnb is popular in the Halifax area and offers a range of properties to suit all wallets. If it is your first time using Airbnb you get a FREE $40 Airbnb Coupon by using our code when you book!
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