Halifax, Nova Scotia

8 Things to do in Halifax, Canada

In a huge and gorgeous country with so many vibrant cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, Halifax, Nova Scotia often gets overlooked. Perched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast, Halifax is has a distinctively different feel. It’s a small city, with incredibly friendly people – even for Canada. Halifax offers a diverse range of things to see and do, from historic sites to live music, with plenty to eat and drink along the way. Here are eight ways to spend your time exploring this beautiful and underrated city.

Stroll Along The Waterfront

Halifax’s downtown waterfront has come a long way over the years. Twenty years ago, it was a grey and seedy place with not much going for it. These days though, the Halifax waterfront is a fantastic place to stroll along the boardwalk and take in the view of the Harbor, George’s Island, and the Macdonald Bridge.

George's Island Lighthouse
George’s Island Lighthouse by archer10 (Dennis)

It’s also a great spot to have a meal or a drink in the sunshine, or for a tasty snack, try a Beaver Tail – a flat piece of deep-fried dough with a variety of sweet toppings. You can board the HMS Sackville, a World War Two naval corvette, and can often find Tall Ships docked here as well – you can even sail on one.

If you don’t have the budget or time for that, ride the local transit ferry that runs between Halifax and Dartmouth for a cheap way to experience the Harbor. In August, the Halifax Waterfront hosts the International Busker Festival, and you can see hundreds of street performances from around the world, costing only what you choose to contribute.

Spring Garden Road and Argyle Street

Spring Garden Road is Halifax’s most popular street, bustling with shops, restaurants, and pubs. It’s a great place to be on a sunny day or a night out. You can find a host of shops suiting a range of budgets, and a variety of cuisines, from a chip truck to fine dining restaurants.

Spring Garden Road, Halifax, N.S.
Spring Garden Road, Halifax, N.S. by microbe

For something in between, Your Father’s Moustache Pub has a great rooftop patio, and arguably the best wings in the city. Argyle Street is also a fantastic spot to eat and drink – the narrow end closest to Spring Garden is especially lively and gets taken over by wooden patios during the summer. Here you can find Japanese, French, Portuguese and more, and along with lots of nice bars. The Economy Shoe Shop and The Foggy Goggle are great places for a drink and some grub, and The Bitter End is famous for its martinis.

You can catch live music at the upscale Carlton or the grittier Seahorse Tavern.

Relax in the Public Gardens

The Halifax Public Gardens are one of the best Victorian-era gardens in North America, and they are free to enter. Established in 1867 and declared a National Historic Site in 1984, the Gardens cover 16 acres and are home to a variety of flowers and trees. From May 1st to November 1st every year, locals and tourists alike flock here to enjoy a taste of nature in the city. It’s a perfect place to sit and relax or walk the pathways while enjoying an ice cream.

Halifax Public Gardens
Halifax Public Gardens by archer10 (Dennis)

Entering through the massive wrought-iron gates, you can stroll around the large duck pond, admire the statues and fountains, and take in a bit of history by reading the many commemorative plaques located around the Gardens. There is also a photogenic bandstand, which hosts free concerts every Sunday afternoon during the summer.

Visit the Maritime Museum & Titanic Cemeteries

Nova Scotia has a rich Maritime history, and the Museum has some fascinating nautical artifacts, as well as a permanent exhibit about the tragic Halifax Explosion of 1917. Halifax also has a connection to the sinking of the Titanic – its victims were brought here after the disaster, and the Museum houses over 50 related artifacts collected by rescue and recovery crews from the scene of the sinking, from a dinner menu to one of the only surviving deck chairs.

titanic halifax maritime museum
Titanic Halifax Maritime Museum by Maasmondmaritime

The bodies of many of the passengers and crew members brought to Halifax were buried here, as their families could not afford to have them shipped home. Most of these graves can be found a short bus ride away in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, including that of the Unknown Child, who was finally identified in 2007. The pianist from the ship’s heroic band can be found in nearby Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Shop at the Farmer’s Market

Halifax is home to the longest continuously operating Farmer’s Market in North America, which has been running since 1750.  The market moved into a purpose-built building in 2010, becoming the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market. It is located at the end of the boardwalk right on the waterfront and hosts 250 vendors.

Halifax Farmer's Market
Halifax Farmer’s Market by michael*choi

You can pick up everything from farm-fresh cheeses, artisan chocolate, and local wines, to handcrafted jewelry, pewter, and soaps. It’s also a great place to have an affordable lunch on the go, with stalls offering a range of cuisines from wraps and soups to gourmet street food to African dishes.

Discover History at The Citadel & Pier 21

Citadel Hill sits squarely in the center of downtown Halifax, overlooking the Harbor, and is topped by Fort George, built in 1856. Here you can take a guided tour or explore on your own, visiting barracks, casemates, ramparts, and more, as well as the Army Museum. You can see history come to life, as the daily lives of the soldiers and their wives are re-created. Re-enactors in full historic costume from the 1869 parade in their kilts, playing the drums and bagpipes, hold firing demonstrations and set off the cannon each day at noon.

Canada Day parade at Citadel Hill, Halifax
Canada Day parade at Citadel Hill, Halifax by ^ Johnny

For another taste of Halifax history, visit Pier 21 which was once a key entry point for immigrants entering the country, often called the Ellis Island of Canada. The Immigration Museum located there provides a glimpse into the lives of the 1.5 million immigrants who entered Canada there between 1928 and 1971, including hundreds of War Brides.

Eat Fresh Seafood

The Maritime provinces are known for their incredibly fresh seafood, and Halifax is no exception. It’s a must-try when visiting the area, with lobster dinner, grilled haddock and salmon, and fresh mussels being the most popular choices, with fish and chips and lobster rolls offering a more casual and affordable option.

Seafood lunch in Halifax
Seafood lunch in Halifax by Ian A Gratton

The Five Fisherman on the previously-mentioned Argyle Street is perhaps the most highly-regarded seafood restaurant in the city, offering fine dining upstairs, and a more casual spot called The Grill downstairs. There are also several great places right on the waterfront, including Salty’s and Murphy’s which both have outdoor seating right on the boardwalk, and McKelvies Delishes Fishes Dishes which truly lives up to its name.

Take a Road Trip to Peggy’s Cove and the South Shore

To get a taste of more of what Nova Scotia has to offer without straying too far out of Halifax, take a road trip down the coast. The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove is perhaps the most recognizable site in Eastern Canada and is less than an hour away from the city. The famous lighthouse is set in a tiny, picturesque fishing village that is home to only about 60 residents and offers some great photo opportunities.

If you’d like to explore further, take Highway 103 for another 90 minutes (or the scenic route along St Margaret’s Bay Road) to Lunenburg, a quaint seaside fishing town on the South Shore. Here you can enjoy the coastline, marvel at the historic homes’ unique features (known as a Lunenburg bump), browse the locally-owned shops, and visit the Atlantic Fisheries Museum where the Bluenose II (the Tall Ship found on the back of the dime) is often berthed.

There are also some great places to eat here – the highly rated fine dining restaurant Fleur de Sel can be found on the main street, or for a more casual meal, the Salt Shaker Deli has the most incredible fresh steamed mussels.

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