With it’s unique lore-filled history and absolutely breathtaking one of a kind waterfront, Halifax, Nova Scotia has become one of Canada’s top cities to visit. There’s a ton of stuff to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia, so I figured I’d put together a list of some of my favorite spots and experiences so that you get to experience the best of the best if you decide to come here.
So without further ado, here are the 10 best places to see in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
1. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
I’ll be honest in the fact that a visit to Halifax would not be complete without a visit to this museum. All visitors to Halifax with even a small interest in local history owe themselves a visit, especially since it’s located on the beautiful Halifax waterfront. The exhibits are extremely well presented, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fast a couple hours can fly by.
Upon arriving visitors are greeted by the amazing 10-ft. Sambro lighthouse lens from 1906, a friendly parrot named “Merlin” and the original set of Theodore Tugboat! The 1st floor is famous for it’s exhibits on Canada’s involvement in the World Wars as well as the location of it’s seasonal changing exhibit and wonderful high-ceiling small craft gallery which contains numerous full sail boats in front of an enormous window overlooking the beautiful harbor.
Also located on the 1st floor is the shocking and humbling exhibit on the Halifax explosion of 1917, when two warships collided in the harbor not too far from this museum, detonating tons of explosives; more than 1,700 people died, windows were shattered 60 miles away and much of the city was destroyed.
Being a deep lover of archeology and history the artifact which intrigues me the most is an actual deck chair from the Titanic, one of only a few remaining in the world — it is a blunt reminder of the 150 victims of the disaster that are buried here in Halifax, where the rescue efforts were centered.
The list of things to see in this museum are too many to name, but very important to see would be the “Days of Sail Gallery” as well as the “Robertson Store” original location ship chandlery.
2. The Lower Deck Bar and Grill
Since it’s opening in 1974, the Lower Deck has had the right ingredients if you’re looking for a Maritime good time, with live music and great food seven nights a week. The extremely well-worn wooden and stone floors are chipped and scuffed with the marked with the footprints of thousands of students, tourists and fish-and-chips eaters. As well the long old style benches in front of worn tables will make you feel more like you are in an old inn from the 19th century. A rough and tumble true maritime tradition, go here if you like good beer, Irish music and a good time.
3. Halifax Public Gardens
The Halifax Public Gardens are a very special thing to the locals, they are a step back in time to the Victorian era and the founding of the city. Visitors are also very surprised that when they reach the center of the park, the noise and confusion of the city streets melt away and you have your own little piece of paradise.
Founded in 1867, this two-acre sprawling public space — whose entrance is a pair of giant ornamental cast-iron gates — is home to well-tended flower beds, trees from all around the world, quiet walkways, a beautiful gazebo which occasionally house musical bands and plenty of romantic and peaceful picnic spots.
Following the same severe beating that it’s sister park Point Pleasant took, the people of Halifax banded together to raise enough funds to repair the park back to it’s previous beauty. The Halifax Public Gardens are open every day from 8 a.m. until dusk during the spring, summer and are closed between December and around mid-April. Admission is free.
4. Halifax waterfront boardwalk
Going all the way from Casino Nova Scotia to the Farmers Market on Marginal Road, this scenic 1-km (.6-mi) footpath offers access to the Historic Properties and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The boardwalk is very easily accessible from multiple places throughout downtown and contains many tourist-friendly shops and places to grab a snack or even dinner.
During the summer, bagpipers, ice-cream carts, and street performers fill the boardwalk with songs and smells of delicious edibles. The water, however, remains the real attraction. With it’s fantastic views of the shores of Dartmouth, Georges and McNabs island and the twin suspension bridges. To get out on it, simply take one of the many boat tours that depart from one of the many boat tour shops located on the walk.
5. Citadel Hill National Historic Site
Canada’s most visited national historic site, the huge and sometimes (especially at night) extremely eerie Citadel, is a star-shaped fort atop Halifax’ central hill in the center of the city. Construction began in 1749 with the founding of Halifax; this version of the Citadel is the fourth, built from 1818 to 1861. With it’s very deep (and dangerous, be careful!) moat surrounding the fort and it’s daily noon cannon fire, the hill has more then a few surprises.
Fun fact, a local ancient law prohibits buildings from building any higher then the tallest point on the hill. Although government officials are trying to get this law removed. The price of progress! 🙁 Guided tours explain the fort’s shape and history. It is quite a sight to see upon arrival and is sure to leave an impression!
6. Pier 21
In the 20th century, for more then 50 years, more than one million immigrants arrived in Canada at Pier 21 in Halifax, and became Canada’s version of America’s Ellis Island, famous for the immigration of countless Americans. In 1999, the pier was restored and reopened, filled with engaging interpretive exhibits that evoke the confusion and anxiety of the immigration experience.
The museum is divided into three sections: the process of boarding the ship with the problems of so many languages, the crossing of the Atlantic itself (presented via a half-hour multimedia show that recaptures the voyage in a shiplike theater), and the processing of recent arrivals throughout Canada by regional passenger trains.
For those seeking a bit more in-depth information (they say one in five Canadians today can trace a link back to Pier 21), there’s also a great reference library and excellent computer resources area located on the 2nd floor. Plan to spend about an hour here, but really only if you’re into immigration history or looking to extend your family tree.
7. Hydrostone Market
The Hydrostone Market in Halifax’s north end, entices shoppers to the city’s North End with all sorts of one-of-a kind shops and restaurants that sell everything from antiques to gourmet flat bread pizza. Absolutely devastated by the Halifax Explosion in 1917, the area was rebuilt as a quaint terraced garden-style neighborhood using hydrostone, which at the time was built to be strong and withstand another blast in case it ever happened. Hydrostone is actually just an early word for what we call concrete today!
8. Sir Sanford Fleming Park (The Dingle)
The Sir Sanford Flemming Park offers two fantastic hiking trails with great views of the Northwest Arm in Halifax. The park is most known for the Dingle, a tower built by Sir Sanford Fleming in 1908, and dedicated in 1912 to commemorate 150 years of representative government in Nova Scotia. Legend has it that during some nights you can hear the voice of a nun who apparently committed suicide by jumping out of the tower after being caught with a lover in the early 1900′s.
9. Point Pleasant Park
Many of the city’s former war forts have over the years been turned into public parks, including this one, which is located in over 186 wooded acres with walking trails and seafront paths. The largest military installation here is a massive round tower dating from the late 18th century, but unfortunately the greatest threat the park ever faced actually came from Mother Nature.
In September 2003, Hurricane Juan ravaged the once beautiful park, uprooting or damaging 75,000 trees (about 75% of the entire park) in a matter of hours, in the process leaving present-day visitors the same harbor views that people building the forts in the 18th century must have seen.
Having been looked after extremely well since the storm, Point Pleasant is once again very popular with bike riders, joggers, and dog walkers. It’s also offers a great point from which to watch ships entering the harbor and is also a summertime stage for Shakespeare by the Sea theater performances.
10. Pizza Corner (corner of Grafton and Blowers St.), Halifax
I debated adding this one as with the unfortunate closing of one of the famous pizza shops, it’s not quite a “corner” any more. I felt that nostalgia would still remain though and people really should see all the restaurants and shops this corner has to offer.
Besides, another pizza shop could very well move in to the abandoned shop and we’ll have our corner back! Pizza corner is an institution in Halifax. Located at the intersection of Blowers and Grafton Streets, it got its name because there are inexpensive pizza places on three two of the four corners, the fourth one being occupied by the Presbyterian Church of Saint David. You go there for the pizza, mostly very late at night after enjoying many beverages at the many many bars and clubs nearby.
It is also a great spot to try out a donair, one of Halifax’s local inventions consisting of Spiced meat with onions and tomatoes on a pita bread with a tangy garlicky sauce. It’s one of the greatest foods in the world and you have to try one if you come here, if your stomach is solid and you are going home alone. Onions, garlic and spicy meat tend to do some beating on weaker tummys. So be safe but enjoy!
So hopefully, this has given you all a taste of what Halifax has to offer. There’s honestly thousands of things to see and do. I hope that if you have a chance to come to east coast Canada, that you include it in your list. As always, if you have any questions about Halifax or anything in general feel free to give me an email and I’ll help out as best I can! Safe travels!