Located on the southern shore of Nova Scotia, Halifax is the largest city in Canada's Atlantic Ocean region and one of the country's most popular destinations. Halifax boasts one of the world's largest harbours, which played a critical role in the country's economic and military history. The star-shaped citadel, built to protect the city, still sits high on a hilltop, commanding a striking presence over the city.
But Halifax's battle fuelled past is a mere backdrop to the lively, educated and friendly population that lives there today. Halifax has a distinct local culture that can be experienced through its wide variety of restaurants, galleries, performance venues and shops.
A wealth of natural delights awaits you as well. The oceanside city has many nautical excursions and walks to enjoy as well as easy access to miles of trails and camping locations. The relatively moderate winters with not much snow allow for easy access year-long.
Halifax's rich population history includes the original Mi'kmaq settlers and subsequent European immigrants. The city's diversity is fun and easy to discover through the many museums and tours throughout the city.
This roundup of the best things to do in Halifax should satisfy a wide range of interests.
Taking the ferry from Halifax to Dartmouth and back is a great little excursion that only costs a few bucks but gives an excellent perspective of both cities and the surrounding region from the water.
Most Halifax tourists stay on land, but the harbour has played such a huge role in the city's history that it's nice to get a full view of this vital feature in greater context.
Today, the Harbour Ferry service, as it is known, is part of the Halifax transit system and stands as the oldest, continuous, salt-water passenger ferry service in North America.
If you're lucky, you'll have a sunny day and can catch some rays on the outside deck and if you're really lucky, you'll see a seal or one of the massive freighter ships traversing the Halifax Gateway.
The ride is only about 15 minutes each way and costs less than three bucks for adults (as of 2017).
Halifax is an oceanside city and though it is home to one of the world's largest working harbours, the waterfront is also pedestrian friendly and offers much to the casual visitor.
A day can easily be filled strolling the 3.8 km boardwalk as there are many draws along the way, including restaurants, museums, a farmers market, live music and more.
The boardwalk is open all year long, but of course summer is when it really bustles.
In summer, you can enjoy not only the warm weather and sunshine but the Tall Ships that sail in to the harbour and the famous Cow's Ice Cream stand that is open seasonally.
Since the early 1990s, audiences have been entertained by the unique brand of theatre performed each summer by the Shakespeare by the Sea troupe.
The simple outdoor venue in Point Pleasant Park and pay-what-you-want admission betrays the professionalism and high quality of the performances.
The fun and energetic productions highlight works by Shakespeare but also include other classics and even some pieces penned by members themselves.
The theatre troupe suggests a donation of $20 and chairs are available to rent for a small fee.
Go Zen in the Halifax Public Gardens
It is always good to know where to find green space in a city, whether to run the sillies out of kids or settle into a quiet corner to read or enjoy a picnic lunch. The Halifax Public Gardens features a mature and well curated selection of shrubs, perennials and flowers amongst a network of bench-lined walking paths. A pond is home to ducks and geese and a bandstand in the centre hosts live music throughout the summer months. A small canteen serving refreshments, including ice cream, is open seasonally.
Immerse yourself in Halifax's military and colonial history with a visit to Citadel Hill. Standing high over the city and overlooking the wide open waters, it's easy to understand why Citadel Hill was chosen as a military post site back in 1749 when Halifax was home to a few thousand British colonists. The existence of this hill is why Halifax is where it is.
As the years went on, though never attacked, the citadel required rebuilding several times, beginning as a wooden garrison and eventually becoming the star-shaped fortification it is today (similar to the one in Quebec City).
Halifax has had a revolving roster of threats, from the French during the citadel's earliest incarnation to the United States at the time of the American Revolution. During the World Wars, Citadel Hill served as soldier barracks and a command centre for Halifax Harbour defences
Today, visitors can explore the ground alone or with a guide, see a changing of the guard, watch the cannons go off at noon daily or tour the on-site museum. The Halifax Citadel is open between May and October and requires a paid admission for entry.
A fascinating exploration of the naval history of Canada's Atlantic provinces and the country as a whole, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was founded by a group of Royal Canadian Navy officers in 1948.
The museum's mission is to collect and interpret elements of Nova Scotia’s marine history. Visitors are introduced to the age of steamships, local small craft, the Royal Canadian and Merchant Navies, World War II convoys and The Battle of the Atlantic, the Halifax Explosion of 1917, and Nova Scotia’s role following the Titanic disaster.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is located on the Halifax waterfront and is open daily.
Canada has a long and fascinating immigration history of which it is fiercely proud. The Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21 tells how people from all over the world have come to shape what Canada is today and how immigration will continue to be a part of the country's future. Through first account stories, photographs and artifacts, visitors engage in the journeys of immigrant Canadians. See what people brought in their suitcase from Denmark or what the journey was like across the Atlantic ocean in the late 19th century. And don't miss the chance to research your own ancestral background.
Getting to know a city through its local farmers market is not only a great way to forego at least one expensive restaurant bill, but also a surefire way of finding the friendliest people in town. Seems no one is miserable at a farmers market. Colourful, aromatic, and full of characters, the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market is the longest continuously running market in North America and hosts over 250 vendors selling a range of stuff, from craft beer to local fish to handmade jewellery and baked goods.
The market is open every day, all year long. Go early, especially on weekends, to avoid the crowds.
Very similar to Central Park in New York City or Stanley Park in Vancouver, Point Pleasant Park is a Halifax urban oasis in the south end of the Halifax peninsula that gives visitors ready access to a largely wooded 75-hectare area (180+ acres), comprising trails and waterfront. Throughout the park you will find cannons and fortress remains, dating back to the 1700's when the park was a battery designed to protect the city.
This is a great place to go for a run or leisurely stroll on the wide gravel paths or you can seek out some more challenging, hilly trails. Dogs are allowed to run off leash in certain spots.
The British government actually owns Point Pleasant Park and as part of a unique 999-year rental agreement, receives a shilling (about 10 cents) each year for its use.
The park is open year-round, has bathroom facilities and plentiful free parking.
Walk the City
This oceanside city is best appreciated on foot, so don your best walking shoes and hit the streets. Whether you download an audio guide to the city or hook up with a local tour focused on your interests, whether they be culinary, historical, architectural or general interest.
Trek Exchange offers excellent city guides (at a cost) that you can download to your phone, including one on Halifax.
Hard to argue the value of a free Halifax guide by Nova Scotia tourism.