There is something inherently lively, endearing, and magical about Halifax.
It may probably be the bustling and throbbing energy that comes alive, especially during the summer as youngsters pour out of the many bars lined up along Argyle Street or just the simple fact that Halifax is soaked in culture and history in every nook and corner.
It can’t be explained in simple words, but there are so many fun things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that it is almost impossible to stay away from this city.
Ready? Let’s go…
Brief History of Halifax
Halifax, also known in full as the Halifax Regional Municipality is the capital of Nova Scotia, Canada. The original Halifax Regional Municipality was merged with the city of Dartmouth Nova Scotia, Bedford Town, and the Halifax County Municipality in 1996, to become today’s Halifax City.
Halifax originally is a creation of the Navy. It rose to prominence due to its location and the fact that it is one of the largest and deepest ice-free natural harbors in the world. Due to this, Halifax is one of the most important commercial seaports on the Atlantic coast.
Halifax is also infamous to an extent, because of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the Halifax explosion of 1917.
21 Crazy Things to Do in Halifax
Now that you are aware of the specialties of Halifax City, let’s find out the best things to do in Halifax –
1. Take a walk along the Halifax Waterfront
Usually the #1 on the list of awesome things to do, this is often the best way to explore downtown Halifax. You can easily take a stroll along the nearly 4-kilometer Halifax waterfront boardwalk.
Ideally, you can start at the Historic Properties where you can see 3-blocks worth of warehouses and buildings of the Victorian era, dating back to the 1700s. They have been restored and maintained beautifully, even after so many centuries. These historic properties also host some of the most popular dining spots like the Lower Deck, Salty’s, Gahan House, and COWS Creamery.
Moving ahead, you’ll reach Halifax Harbour where you can opt for boat tours and whaling expeditions that leave from the harbor. The harbor also has the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has a wide collection of artifacts from the Titanic. As Halifax was the closest major port to the spot where the Titanic sank, all of the bodies, artifacts, and wreckage from the Titanic disaster eventually ended up in Halifax.
As most of these attractions are lined up near the coast, you can enjoy most of downtown Halifax without losing sight of the water at any point in time!!
2. Book a tour of Alexander Keith’s brewery
Alexander Keith’s brewery was founded in 1820, by Alexander Keith, a 3-time mayor of Halifax. The brewery is located on Lower Street, just off the waterfront. It is also one of the top tourist sites in Halifax.
While actual production has now moved to another larger location inland, here, in Alexander Keith’s brewery, staff in period costumes keep guests engaged and entertained. The staff also takes you around the magnificent historical property, while explaining to you the history of the company, the process of brewing alcohol, and of course plying guests with beer!
And if all of this is not enough, there are also musical entertainment shows and other similar entertainment programs running all day in the brewery. Alexander Keith’s brewery tour is surely one for memoirs.
3. Gobble up a Halifax Donair
A spicy, saucy, and juicy wrap, the Halifax Donair is the official food of Halifax. It is a middle-eastern import into Halifax. It is garnished with lots of tomatoes and onions slathered in a spicy sauce.
It is one of the most famous of the many Halifax attractions and is available at the famous Pizza Corner, which is a group of take-out restaurants on the Grafton Street corner.
4. Soak in the nightlife in downtown Halifax
This one is surely amongst the best “to-do” things in Halifax. The entertainment hub of Halifax City is the busy and commercial Argyle Street. Here stands The Carleton – one of Halifax’s oldest buildings. After dusk, The Carleton is transformed into an upmarket destination for great food and drinks.
For the musically inclined, head over to the waterfront to the Old Triangle Alehouse or the Split Crow to hear some great Celtic music, live bands, and jam sessions that run several times a week.
You can also land at Bearly’s House of Blues and Ribs or Lower Deck for some wild late-night dancing. Check out the vibes at Gus’ Pub on Agricola Street at the northern end of Halifax.
5. Take a stroll along the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk
Strolling along the Halifax Boardwalk is among the best ways to get a feel of Halifax City, and among the top things to do in Halifaz. Halifax Harbour is amongst the oldest and most important ports on the East Coast of the Atlantic.
While walking down, you can take halts at the Historic Properties, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Bishop’s Landing, and the Stubborn Goat Beer Garden.
By the time you reach the end of the Boardwalk, you’ll find more places to drop in, like Garrison Brewing, Halifax Seaport farmers market, The Discovery Centre, and Pier 21 Canadian Museum of Immigration.
6. Ride the Halifax – Dartmouth ferry
The Halifax-Dartmouth ferry is the oldest saltwater ferry in North America and the second oldest in the world. It’s the cheapest and best way to cross over to Dartmouth, often called “Halifax’s Twin”.
A ticket for the ferry costs the same as a bus ticket. The harbor hopper tour takes about 15 minutes, and you get spectacular views of Halifax, Dartmouth, the Bedford basin, two bridges, and the nearby islands surrounding the harbor.
** Local Tip – When boarding the ferry, ask for a “Transfer”. This is a small slip of paper that guarantees you a free return journey if you return within an hour. So probably, you can see a couple of interesting sites in Dartmouth within an hour, and hop back on to the ferry for the return trip to Halifax.
7. Take a trip to Halifax’s twin – Dartmouth
Dartmouth is located across the harbor from Halifax. It is popularly called “Halifax’s Brooklyn” and it sure deserves the tag!
Although Dartmouth is perfect for a day trip, if you have landed in Dartmouth over a weekend, the Alderney Landing Market is where you should ideally begin your exploration of Dartmouth. From here, you can move inland, away from the harbor where you’ll find a bunch of local restaurants and bars including the newest one – the Town’s End Tavern.
From the Alderney Market, all the way up to the Eastern passage is the Dartmouth Harbourwalk Trail. This is the perfect trail for a small cycling trip or a long-ish walk.
** Inside Scoop – In olden times, Halifax and Dartmouth were two completely independent cities with their mayors, police forces, independent education systems et al. But now, both cities are popularly considered Halifax, much to the chagrin and consternation of poor Dartmouth residents.
8. Visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
At this museum, you get to learn about the rich history of immigration into Canada. For local Canadians that means going back through their family roots through records of immigrants maintained by the Canadian Museum of Immigration.
It is said that one in every 5 Canadians currently living in Canada, is related to somebody who has entered the nation through Pier 21!
If you know of somebody who has emigrated to Canada between 1865 and 1935, there is a very high probability that you’ll find their arrival records at the Scotiabank Family History Centre, at the Canadian Museum of Immigration.
Oh, and when you’re here, don’t miss the documentary “In Canada” that shares truly inspiring stories of migrants who moved into Canada, over the last couple of centuries. It is a moving and heart-touching story, and many have been moved to tears after watching the documentary.
9. Go back in history with a trip to the Fairview Lawn Cemetery
Halifax has a very close relationship with the Titanic disaster, as it was the closest major port to the site of the sinking of the fabled ocean liner. The ships that recovered both the bodies of the Titanic victims, as well as the survivors came to Halifax.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a permanent collection of all artifacts recovered from the Titanic. Apart from this, the Fairview Lawn Cemetery and the Mount Olivet Cemetery are also the final resting place of the Titanic victims.
10. Roam around and explore Halifax’s weekend markets
Located between the Halifax Boardwalk and Pier 21, the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market is one of the oldest weekend markets in Canada. No matter whether you are a local or a tourist, shopping here is an absolute must-do.
The weekend market has been completely revamped now and is housed in a modern steel and glass building with stunning views of the Halifax Harbour.
For a more upmarket shopping experience, you can head over to the old Brewery Market on a Saturday morning. It’s a smaller but slightly premium shopping area, much preferred by the locals.
11. Take a trip to the Halifax Town Clock
The Town Clock, also called the Old Town Clock, towers above Halifax, and is one of its oldest monuments. It is a 3-storeyed octagonal clock tower built upon a flat building in the center of Halifax city.
The Town Clock is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Halifax. It was originally gifted by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, way back in 1800! It is said that the prince was a stickler for punctuality, and he felt that Haligonians (citizens of Halifax are called Haligonians) needed some help with time management. That’s the reason for his gift.
More amazing things to do in Halifax
The above-mentioned locations and activities are just the tip of the iceberg, for anyone visiting Halifax. There are many other lovely things to do in Halifax. Here we go again…
1. Introduce yourself to Gus, the Tortoise at the Museum of Natural History
Just next to the Oval Skating Rink, the Halifax Museum of Natural History is a small and wonderful little museum that the local kids love to go to. But the real showstopper of this museum is a tortoise named Gus, that turns 99 this year, making him one of the finest surviving examples of Gopher Tortoises in the world!
2. Kayak through the sunset at Fisherman’s Cove
The best way to explore this part of Halifax, Fisherman’s Cove is where colorful shacks and ice cream shops share the docks with hardworking lobster fishermen and fish distribution factories. If you walk along the Boardwalk, you’ll discover the smallest park in Nova Scotia – McCormack’s Beach.
** Insider tip – You can reach Fisherman’s Cove by bus #60 that leaves from Dartmouth Terminal, but it is better to hire a taxi, or rent a car and make this a stop on your road trip.
3. Gorge on a delicious lobster roll at Peggy’s Cove
Peggy’s Cove is considered the most photographed lighthouse in Canada, by popular opinion. And that’s not without reason. You get to see some stunning scenery and crashing waves here. You can spend many blissful hours here, just listening to the ocean talk!
Oh, and while you’re at Peggy’s Cove, don’t miss devouring a mouthwatering lobster roll. The U-Cook-Lobster here is the most recommended outlet for lobster rolls.
4. Enjoy coffee with a view at the Halifax Central Library
Located on Spring Garden Road, the Halifax Central Library has already won numerous awards for its architecture and construction.
For locals and tourists alike, the best-suggested activity when you’re here is to have coffee on the top of the library building, where there’s an outdoor café where you get wonderful views of Spring Garden Road and the South end of Halifax.
** Local Fact – The Halifax Central Library is quite famous for offering shelter to homeless individuals who are helpless out in the cold. It even has its social worker to help build relationships with the so-called “vulnerable customers”!
5. Become a soldier for a day at the Halifax Citadel
If you want to experience the life of a soldier in the 19th century, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is where you should visit.
Here, you have the option to enroll yourself in the Canadian Army through their “Soldier for a Day” program. This is a 3-hour program that is part of the Canadian Signature Experience where you get to experience and live the life of a typical 19th Century soldier of the Canadian Army. This program is open even to kids where they can sign up for the “Soldier’s Life” program.
After the “Soldier for a Day” program, you can wander through the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. It is a live museum with its galleries, live re-enactments, and many other interactive experiences. The Citadel even has a café serving coffee and snacks.
6. Enjoy a unique shopping experience at the historic Hydrostone area
To enjoy a boutique shopping experience when you’re in Halifax, head right over to the Hydrostone District. The place can be reached by walking down from downtown Halifax, or a short ride on Bus #7.
The Hydrostone, built in the style of a Garden City, was constructed after the infamous Halifax explosion of 1917. This place is a popular stop on the hop-on-hop-off double-decker Halifax bus tour.
** Insider Tip – Hydrostone has a free art gallery that very few people (even locals!!) are aware of. The 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery has an excellent collection of affordable paintings made by local artists.
7. Treat yourself to delicious ice cream at the Halifax Public Gardens
One of downtown Halifax’s hidden gems, the Halifax Public Gardens is a 16-acre Victorian garden with a diverse and bountiful variety of trees and plants, a beautiful cast-iron bandstand, and many open and vibrant zones to relax. It even has a place to buy some mouth-watering ice creams!
The best time for visiting the Public Gardens is during the time of music concerts. The Halifax Public Gardens is very famous for musical events that happen every Sunday at 2:00 PM.
8. Skate at The Halifax Oval
The beautiful Halifax Oval is a Skating Rink that was originally built for the 2011 Winter Olympics. It was originally designed as a temporary skating rink, but the residents loved it so much that it stayed! The Oval remains one of the main Halifax attractions for both locals and tourists. Skating here in winter remains one of the most wonderful things to do.
When you’re at the Halifax Oval, you’ll get ice skates if it’s the winter season. In summer you can borrow roller skates, bikes, and scooters for free. You just need to show any Government ID for borrowing them. Skating at the Halifax Oval is definitely among the best things to do.
9. Take a walk down the Point Pleasant Park
Located at the southern end of the Halifax peninsula, Point Pleasant Park is a historic 75-acre wooded park full of winding trails, and easy wide paths, many of which are also wheelchair-accessible. For anyone visiting Halifax, taking a trip to this park is always recommended.
Visitors here can see preserved ruins of many very early forts, coastal ecosystems, and cultural resources. At the western end of the park, a huge map shows all of the park’s walkways and points of interest. Other major facilities in Point Pleasant Park include a beach for swimming, special dog-walking areas, and washrooms.
** Fun Fact – Do you know that Point Pleasant Park is rented by Halifax, from the British Government for 1 shilling (10 cents) per year? Yes, it’s true! And it’s a 999-year lease!
10. Check out ancient forts and ruins on the Citadel Hill
One of the top National Historic sites in Canada, Citadel Hill is a large hill that has multiple forts constructed on its summit. From the time Halifax City was founded in 1749, four forts were constructed by the British military to keep watch on the Halifax harbor below. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the city of Halifax was founded because of Citadel Hill.
The modern Citadel Hill remains a mute spectator to a glorious past. Today, the hill is officially called Fort George, after Britain’s King George II. It is actually the fourth fort to sit atop Citadel Hill. Its unique star shape is quite common for forts built in the 19th Century by the British.
In addition to all the above lovely places, Halifax and Dartmouth offer many other such beautiful locations that are both quaint, for the discerning traveler, as well as urban and trendy for the Gen-Z crowd. You just need to walk, segway, cycle or take local bus trips to find these gems.
Tourists can also book their Halifax itinerary on the Tourism Nova Scotia website which contains plenty of valuable information for each of the popular spots mentioned above, and booking information for sightseeing tours.
So, in conclusion, when planning a trip to Halifax, your itinerary should ideally contain all of the above, plus a lot more other hidden gems for you to enjoy all the fun things to do in Halifax.