Let me start by saying this: people in Halifax know how to have a good time. A visit to Halifax will be filled with a lot of eating and drinking, probably a lot of laughing, and days spent enjoy the history and natural beauty of this waterfront capital.
We’ve put together a little guide to exploring Halifax, so you can make the most of your time in Nova Scotia’s big city.
Best explored on foot
Halifax is one of those cities where nothing ever feels out of walking distance. Pack a comfortable pair of trainers and take to the streets on foot to experience the city as the locals do.
First, stroll to the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk, one of the world’s longest downtown boardwalks. The two-mile stretch is home to lots of little shops and boutiques, and makes for a great day of shopping. It’s also home to some of the best culinary and cultural experiences in Halifax, from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to the Alexander Keith’s Brewery (we’ll explore these in more detail below). Take in the street performers, stop for something to eat, and just have fun exploring the waterfront.
And while we’re on the topic of street performers, you might want to try and time your visit for the Halifax International Busker Festival—the largest outdoor festival in Canada. For six days every year, you can walk through the city streets alongside musicians, puppeteers, fire dancers, and pavement artists. You might bump into the next Cirque du Soleil superstar or a world-record holder as you sip your morning coffee.
One final experience you’re going to want to tackle by foot is the Halifax Public Gardens' 16-acres of colourful trees, exotic floral displays, statues, and fountains, dating back to the mid-19th century.
For those times when you’re not in a walking mood, you’re probably going to want to pay a visit to I Heart Bikes. Not only will they rent you a bike—including a tandem or electric bike—you can also join them on a two or four-hour bike tour of Halifax, as guides teach you about the city’s history and culture.
Wine and dine
After a day spent walking around, you’re probably going to be pretty hungry. Thankfully, you’ll have no shortage of food options to choose from.
As a waterfront town, it isn’t very hard to find high quality seafood in Halifax. You can dive into fresh fish and chips while walking the boardwalk, or head into a fine dining restaurant for a more refined take on the catch of the day. You can also take a local tasting tour to experience a wider variety of eats.
The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market is another fantastic food option. Established in 1750, it’s the longest continuously operating market in North America. At the market you can stroll from stall to stall, enjoying the ready-made meals that span African to Lebanese, Indian to Italian, and of course, local Canadian cuisine. Or you can pick up the fresh meats and seafood, piles of produce, or locally made cheeses and prepare your own meal fit for a king.
In terms of restaurants, it’s really tough to single out a few from the pack. The American-Italian cuisine at the Bicycle Thief scored a coveted ‘50 best restaurants in Canada’ nomination from Canada’s Maclean’s magazine. A fresh spin on local ingredients earned both Morris East and 2 Doors Down a spot on the Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here!’ In general, you may just want to explore downtown and see if any tempting aromas draw you to one door over another.
If you’re after a drink, Halifax has one of the largest ratios of bars and clubs per capita in Canada. There are dozens of pubs with live music and a popular craft brewery scene, featuring breweries with fun names like Propeller, Garrison, and Granite.
Or, you can embark on a classic Nova Scotia experience and pay a visit to the Alexander Keith’s Brewery. Built in 1820 by Mr. Keith himself, a legendary brewer and three-time Halifax mayor, the brewery is an essential stop for any beer lover. Take a tour, peek into the Keiths’ home, and learn how hops become this popular Canadian brew. Finish up at the Stag's Head Tavern—Mr. Keith's private Victorian tavern—and play bar games while sampling a flight of Alexander Keith’s beers.
Rich in history
If you can make time in between all the restaurants, pubs, and breweries, Halifax has a rich history that has been preserved for people to enjoy.
One of the best examples of this is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada. The Citadel allows you to experience military life in the 19th century. Watch the changing of the sentry guard, listen for the Noon Gun or don a full battle uniform on the fields where clashes took place. As a ‘Soldier for a Day’ you’ll fire their rifles, eat their food, and live their life—if only for a few hours.
Nova Scotia’s military history is strongly related to its maritime history, which is put on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. You’ll find small crafts and sailboats, discover war convoys and cruise ships, explore Halifax’s link to the Titanic, and learn about the 1917 Halifax Explosion that would shape the future of the city.
A final must-visit piece of Halifax’s history is the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. A million people passed through Pier 21 on their way in or out of Canada, and a fifth of Canadians have some family connection to this National Historic Site. Search ship rosters in the Immigration Database, see the mix of hope and fear in the eyes in photos of refugees and soldiers leaving for war or coming home, and learn how a nation of immigrants came to be.
For more information on Halifax, visit the Nova Scotia Tourism website.