The capital city of Nova Scotia, Halifax has a rich maritime history, beautiful architecture and a magnificent coastline. It is home to one of the greatest natural harbours in the world, which today is still a busy seaport and a massive economic hub for all of Eastern Canada.
Halifax is a fantastic tourist destination, what with its natural scenery, landmarks and historic sites. It also has a lovely waterfront, great shopping districts and cultural enclaves. Foodies, nature lovers, city dwellers and shopaholics will all enjoy visiting the city. If you are planning on visiting Halifax, be sure to check this list of the 15 best things to do in Halifax.
1. Step into the shoes of a soldier
Originally built as a military fortification, today Halifax Citadel is one of the city’s most visited attractions. It is a place where you can step back in time, and can even become a soldier for a day.
You can fully emerge yourself into the history of Halifax and this National Historic Site by being dressed in an authentic military uniform. You can even learn how to fire a Snider-Enfield rifle.
If you would rather not be a soldier, you can still just walk around the fort and admire its history. Guided and self-guided tours are available for exploring the fort.
2. Learn about Canadian immigration
Pier 21 is Canada’s equivalent to Ellis Island. Over one million immigrants passed through the terminal between 1928 and 1971, which is now a national museum.
There are a number of permanent exhibits at the museum that tell the story of how people immigrated to the country by sea. Some of them are specifically designed for kids, making it interesting for the whole family.
Pier 21 also has an area dedicated to the 500,000 + Canadians that departed from the port to fight in WWII. There are also temporary exhibitions held here, as well as citizenship ceremonies and other events.
3. Stroll along the harbour
A walk along the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk is one of the best city walks in Canada. The public footpath is open 24-hours a day and is dotted with shops, attractions and landmarks.
Start at the Halifax Seaport at the very southern end of the footpath and walk north for three kilometres to the Casino Nova Scotia. You can also, of course, do this walk heading in the other direction; from north to south.
Along the way stop and visit attractions like the Historic Properties (Halifax) buildings, the Cable Wharf, Halifax Farmers’ Market and Garrison Brewery. You can also shop in an artisan shop, have a snack at a café or try your luck at the casino.
4. Visit an iconic landmark
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is one of Nova Scotia’s most visited attractions. The red and white lighthouse is still in operation today and used by the Canadian Coast Guard.
Although the iconic image is not actually in Halifax, it is well-wroth making the 43 kilometre journey to the lighthouse and the community it sits in. In fact, the drive from the city to the community of Peggy’s Cove is along the scenic Lighthouse Route.
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is one of Atlantic Canada’s most photographed structures. It is also one of the most famous lighthouses in the world.
5. Stroll through Victorian gardens
One of North America’s finest Victorian gardens is the 6.5 hectare Halifax Public Gardens. The stunning gardens are enclosed by a wrought-iron fence right in the heart of the city.
The Halifax Public Gardens were first established in 1867 and were designated as a National Historic Site in 1984. The gardens were originally two separate smaller gardens, though they became one in 1874.
Stroll through the magnificent gardens and look at the many trees, shrubs and flowers that are set amongst fountains and statues. Visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer and listen to a free afternoon concert.
6. Go ice skating
This can only be done in the winter, as the Emera Oval is an outdoor skating rink. The public ice rink is the size of three NHL hockey rinks!
Skate around the rink or come to watch a speed-skating competition, which is something you won’t see every day. It is also possible to take skating lessons here.
Over 2,000 people come to the rink for a free skate every day. When the weather is nicer, the rink is open to the public for biking, rollerblading and roller-skating.
7. Explore a historic village
Fisherman’s Cove is a restored 200-year-old fishing village that is located around 20 minutes from downtown Halifax. The charming village is a great way to get a glimpse of the city’s past.
Walk along the boardwalk and visit the shops of local artists. Dine on some fabulously fresh seafood, or enjoy a coffee with a slice of cake.
The fishing village is still active today, with boats parked along its docks. Shops are set up in old boat houses and wood cabins that are lined along the shoreline.
8. Look at artwork by famous local artists
Atlantic Canada’s largest art collection can be seen at the Art Gallery of Halifax. The gallery also happens to highlight work by famous local artists like Alex Colville and Maud Lewis.
The Art Gallery of Halifax is housed in two heritage buildings that are separated by Ondaatje Court. Most of the collection is in the historic Dominion Building, while several levels of the Provincial Building display the rest.
There are over 17,000 works of art in the gallery’s collection that range from oil paintings to Inuit stone carvings. Most artwork is done by Nova Scotians, although there are a few pieces by international artists in the collection.
9. Take a trip to an island
McNabs Island is the largest in the Halifax Harbour at 395 hectares. It is a great place to spend an afternoon hiking and enjoying the scenery.
There are over 22 kilometres of trails on the island, in addition to beautiful coastal and forest settings. The island is also home to the National Historic Site of Fort McNab.
In addition to hiking, McNabs Island is also a hot spot for bird watching. There are also picnic areas, although you should bring your own food and drinking water.
10. Admire the new library; inside and out
CNN voted the new Halifax Central Library as one of 2014’s most eye-popping buildings, and it is. The ultra-modern design of the library was chosen after holding an international design competition.
Since it opened its doors in December 2014 it has become quite the spectacle. Not only because of its eye catching exterior, but also for its striking interior.
The five level structure houses two cafés, a rooftop terrace and a 300-seat auditorium, in addition to its study space, play area and adult learning centre. It also, of course, is a library, with books, magazines and newspapers being found on the third, fourth and fifth floors.
11. Tour a brewery
Not just any brewery, but one of the oldest in all of North America. Alexander Keith’s was founded in 1820 and tours are done by guides dressed in period clothing.
India Pale Ale is the most popular beer brewed at Alexander Keith’s Brewery and you should definitely give it a taste. You can also try other brews while touring the brewery, like Red Amber Ale, Premium White and Original Cider.
Tours of the brewery last around one hour, including tastings (if you are of legal drinking age). After the tour, you can shop in its onsite store.
12. Visit a graveyard
This is fantastic for history buffs who don’t get spooked walking on graves. And there are two historic graveyards that can be visited in the city.
The Old Burial Grounds at Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road dates back to 1749. There are over 12,000 people buried there, although there are only around 1,200 headstones.
Fairview Cemetery is the more famous of the two, as it is the resting place for over 100 victims of the sinking of the Titanic. The graveyard is located on Windsor Street in Halifax’s North End neighbourhood.
13. Walk around a square
Located in Downtown Halifax, the Grande Parade is a historic military square that dates back to 1749. It is an important civic space that is used for festivals, political demonstrations and concerts.
The Grande Parade is also home to a few important landmarks, like the Halifax City Hall, St. Paul’s Church and the Cenotaph. Walk around the 0.6 hectare square and admire the gardens and statues, as well as paying a visit these landmarks.
The Halifax City Hall is one of Nova Scotia’s oldest public buildings, dating back to 1821. St. Paul’s Church was Canada’s first ever Protestant Church, while the Cenotaph was placed in the middle of the square in 1929.
14. Ride a historic ferry
Head to the harbour and take the Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry to Dartmouth. This is North America’s oldest saltwater ferry and the second oldest in the world!
The Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry started operating in 1752 to carry goods from one city to the other. Today, it is a passenger ferry that runs every 15 minutes.
There are two connections in Dartmouth; Alderney Landing and Woodside. The former is a convention centre, market, theatre and art gallery right in Downtown Dartmouth, while the latter is a residential area.
15. Sample the local food
This is a must, with seafood being the main staple in Halifax. This is thanks to its fishing industry, with seafood from here being shipped all over the country and beyond.
The quality of seafood in Halifax is top notch, and prices are extremely low compared to other cities around the world. Mussels and scallops are the top choices, though the lobster in Halifax is also extremely delicious.
There are also a few local dishes that any foodie should not go without tasting. A few favourites include blueberry grunt, Halifax donair and garlic fingers.