The Best Things to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifaxs historic Pier 21 is where many immigrants first set foot in Canada
Halifax's historic Pier 21 is where many immigrants first set foot in Canada | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Doug ONeill

A city built by seafarers, Halifax is the cultural hub of Atlantic Canada. Whether you wine and dine on the waterfront, immerse yourself in the city’s naval history or kayak Halifax Harbour, there are plenty of wonderful ways to fill your time, so let us help you decide.

Tour Halifax Harbour by kayak

Halifax Harbour is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. Explore by kayak with Harbour Watercraft Tours & Adventures. Options include the 90-minute Sea Kayak Tour, which includes a visit to historic Georges Island, or the two-hour Sunset Kayak, which takes guests along the waterfront, under Macdonald Bridge and around Georges Island. Training sessions are included but you must be at least 10 years old to take to the water.

Hoist a pint of Keith’s

Keith’s is to Canada what Guinness is to Ireland. Ordering a pint is a rite of passage, especially in Halifax where Alexander Keith’s Brewery was founded in 1820. Now, costumed guides lead tours of the brewery, revealing the origins of the iconic drink along the way. To finish, pull up a stool and enjoy a pint (or two.) Expect to hear some lively maritime music during your visit.

Become a soldier for the day at the historic Citadel

The Citadel, officially named Fort George, features a distinctive star shape formation of centuries-old forts that overlook Halifax. Walk the ramparts as you learn about the important role Halifax played in the American Revolution, as well as during WWI and WWII. Parks Canada also operates a popular Soldier for a Day program during which guests dress in uniform, practice the marching drill and fire a rifle. The Citadel at night is truly Instagram-worthy.

Discover Canada’s roots at Pier 21

Tap into personal records (such as photographs and diaries) to learn about the experiences of immigrants and refugees at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The interactive museum sits in the former ocean liner terminal and immigration shed through which refugees and new Canadians arrived from 1928 to 1971. Allow time to listen to some of the museum’s 500 oral history interviews.

Listen to live Celtic music at Durty Nelly’s

Live music in Halifax pubs springs from the tradition of cèilidh, informal social events (often in family kitchens) with Scottish or Irish folk music, singing and storytelling. Numerous taverns and pubs in the center of Halifax offer such live music. One of the most popular is Durty Nelly’s Authentic Irish Pub on Argyle Street. But there’s also the Split Crow Pub on Granville and the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse on Prince Street. Grab a seat before 8pm to beat the rush.

Do a deep dive at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – conceived by Royal Canadian Navy officers to preserve the nation’s naval past – is Canada’s oldest and largest maritime museum. Here visitors learn about dramatic events that affected the city, such as the Halifax Explosion of 1917 (which killed 2,000 citizens) and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Other exhibits investigate sunken treasures, the Golden Age of Sail and there’s even one for the kids – Theodore Tugboat.

Visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

If you enjoyed the 2016 movie Maudie, based on the life of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis, then plan a visit to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia where her small house sits. The gallery also exhibits more than 17,000 works by artists from the Atlantic Provinces and the rest of Canada, plus classic and contemporary works by international visual artists.

Learn about Black Heritage at Africville Museum

Africville Museum chronicles the African Nova Scotian community that once thrived on the northern shore of Halifax Harbour before the enclave was destroyed in the 1960s. Africville was where Black Loyalists (who backed the British during the American Revolution) were moved at the end of the war. The museum operates in a replica of the church that was once the focal point of the settlement. Exhibits and presentations from former residents tell the story of Africville and Black heritage in Nova Scotia.

Flowers and films at Halifax Public Gardens

Located in the heart of downtown Halifax, the 16-acre (6.5ha) urban paradise offers a formal Victorian garden (bridges, ponds and fountains) and a bandstand that’s used in the summer months for live entertainment. Students of history will enjoy reading the commemorative plaques throughout the park. One of the most visited plaques commemorates Suffragist Frances Willard. Those interested in botany will be keen to visit an elm tree that was planted in the 1860s.

Chow down on a donair sandwich

The late food icon Anthony Bourdain raved about the meaty donair sandwich – a signature dish of Halifax. There are slight variations but diehards claim the real Halifax donair consists of thin slices of spiced beef on a warm Lebanese pita, sprinkled with onion, tomato and a slightly sweet garlic sauce. Enjoying one as a takeout is one of the best things to do in Halifax. Donair shops are ubiquitous but one of the most popular is King of Donair, which has several locations.

Visit the graves of Titanic victims

Long before Kate and Leo’s love scene dazzled movie-goers, history buffs were visiting three Halifax cemeteries to honor the victims of the Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic in 1912. Fairview Lawn Cemetery became the final resting place for 121 passengers, while 10 are buried at Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery and 19 at the Roman Catholic cemetery of Mount Olivet. Some remain unidentified.

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