YOUR INTRODUCTORY GUIDE TO VISITING HALIFAX
Nova Scotia’s capital has never had so much going for it. Its world-class restaurants, stylish hotels, funky wine bars, and surf schools are luring a wider set of travelers than ever before.
NATURAL BEAUTY, YEAR-ROUND
A popular gateway to Canada’s maritime provinces, Halifax is steeped in coastal charm, naval history, and natural beauty. You can take in many of Canada’s East Coast highlights within the city and its surrounds. Following the Fraserville scenic route, past the lashing Atlantic, you can spot the picturesque lighthouses that dot the dramatic black rock.
While the city is most alive in the summer, with terraces overflowing onto pedestrian-only streets and sailboats gliding along the harbor, there’s never a bad time to visit. In the fall, the leaves of Point Pleasant Park change, making for photogenic strolls along the peninsula. If you’re ready to brave the cold come February, you’ll have to bring your bib because it’s the peak of the lobster season.
AN EASYGOING CITY LIFE
In recent years, a wave of new hotels and restaurants has emerged onto the scene, giving travelers new reasons to check out Nova Scotia’s capital. Although most visitors dedicate a weekend to sightseeing, we recommend taking your time and getting swept up in the city’s relaxed, slow-paced lifestyle.
However you prefer to spend your days, you’ll always find that your best option in Halifax is to mix with the local crowd. Take a tour of a city brewery, or stop off at a historic market for bundles of fresh, seasonal produce. Mingle with the students in the local pubs, or indulge in a fine dining experience in one of the city’s new high-end restaurants. Visitors love the easygoing pace of life in this Canadian hub, away from the crowds of its big-city neighbors. We’ve got a few insider recommendations to get you started.
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Since its founding in 1749, Halifax has served as an important naval and military base, owing to its strategic location on one of the world’s largest harbors. It’s also infamous for its shipwrecks: no fewer than 10,000 vessels have sunk along its rocky coast. You can learn about the city’s rich seafaring history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic — the oldest and largest of its kind in Canada — which houses an extensive collection of artifacts retrieved from the ocean floor, including a preserved deck chair from the Titanic. Lording over the city is the Halifax Citadel, a star-shaped fort built by the British on the town’s highest hill. It’s worth visiting the landmark — a National Historic Site of Canada — if only to witness the daily cannon firing and drumming performance. Afterward, venture down to the harbor to sail on board Bluenose II. This replica of the fishing and racing schooner that’s featured on the Canadian dime has a towering 4,150-square-foot mainsail.
FOOD AND DRINK
Halifax’s dining scene has grown up a lot in recent years. The city’s culinary coming-of-age started with restaurants including The Bicycle Thief and A Mano, both upscale eateries on the scenic waterfront serving Italian fare. These days, you can’t turn a city corner without stumbling upon a stylish venue. Haligonians, as the locals are called, love their brunch; a favorite way to kick-start the weekend is by enjoying a coffee and croissant at Two If By Sea. Alternatively, grab a “diner breakfast” — with andouille sausage, toasted focaccia, and blueberry lavender jam — at Black Sheep.
For dinner, head to Bar Kismet, a family-owned restaurant in the city’s boho North End. Here, award-winning cocktails are paired with seafood dishes such as raw scallops with snap peas and black sesame, or fresh cod poached in beef broth and served with buttery chanterelles. End the night at Peacock Wine Bar, a see-and-be-seen spot specializing in natural and low-intervention wines from Nova Scotia and beyond.
This being a student town, daytime drinking is a beloved pastime. Tour one of the oldest breweries in Canada at Alexander Keith’s to try its original 200-year-old recipe for pale ale, then head over to The Lower Deck to continue the revelry with a side of live music. Pro tip: You’ll want to refresh your knowledge of classic sea shanty songs, such as “Barrett’s Privateers” by Canadian musician Stan Rogers, before joining in. If you do decide to indulge in some of the local brews, you might find yourself indulging in a favorite late-night treat. The Halifax donair gives revelers a taste of the Mediterranean, with a Canadian twist.
Consisting of spit-roasted meat shaved and piled into a Lebanese pita and loaded with fresh tomatoes, it’s clearly reminiscent of Greek gyros or Turkish doner kebabs. Except here the lamb is swapped for beef and topped with a unique, sweet garlic sauce. The street snack is so popular that it was named the official food of Halifax in 2015. Try one at Snappy Tomato, a local favorite spot.
HOTELS When it comes to accommodations, Halifax has it all: grand landmark hotels, edgy boutique properties, and charming bed-and-breakfasts. History buffs will want to stay at the Lord Nelson, a 1928 redbrick hotel overlooking Halifax Public Gardens. It’s the preferred base for visiting dignitaries, celebrities, and rock stars (everyone from Paul McCartney to The Rolling Stones). These days, however, the Muir Hotel is the coolest kid in town, with a sprawling waterfront address in the buzzy new Queen’s Marque area. Nova Scotian architect Brian MacKay-Lyons drew on a rich seafaring history when designing the hotel, the 109 guest rooms styled like staterooms on private yachts, with water views, glass lantern-like fixtures, leather headboards and pops of sea-foam green. For ocean views in a more intimate setting, stay at The Pebble, one of the city’s highest-rated bed and breakfasts, which looks out on the placid waters of the Northwest Arm. GETTING AROUND TOWN Although it’s possible to explore the city on foot, you can also opt for some alternative modes of transport. You could even take to the river — kayaking through the city is a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike. Paddling out toward the harbor, you can explore the rocky islands of the Bedford Basin independently, or simply stare up at the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline from the Sackville River. Another popular way to explore is on a Segway tour, running daily around the city. Halifax Segway City Spin offers tours that are easy, fast and fun, filling in the gaps in your local knowledge with little-known facts about your favorite spots. Alternatively, grab an e-bike and explore solo or join a guided tour. Rent one from I Heart Bikes Halifax, which also runs three-hour trips around the city, allowing you to cycle at a leisurely pace and enjoy Halifax’s many sights in the rushing wind.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Shop Seasonal Goods – The Seaport farmers market was first held in Halifax in 1750. Since then, vendors have gathered from Tuesday through Sunday to sell fresh produce and artisanal goods.
Step Back in Time – The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 tells the story of the nation. Filled with tales of resilience and courage, the museum is the perfect place for Canadians and Americans alike to learn about their shared heritage.
Remember the Titanic’s Victims – After the tragic sinking of the Titanic, the survivors were taken to Halifax, the nearest port. The bodies of the victims were also brought to rest here, and visitors can travel to Fairview Lawn Cemetery to pay their respects.
An ideal way to visit Halifax is with my trusted expertise. Not only will you have plenty of time to experience the sights and flavors listed above, but you’ll also enjoy a healthy helping of exclusive perks and amenities from the leading names in travel — plus scores of expert recommendations. I don’t just know Halifax well, I know travel well, so I can help you choose, plan and book your vacation to perfection.
By Guest Contributor