With the world’s second-largest natural harbor and being the lively hub of Atlantic Canada, Halifax is best known for its historical charm, community spirit, fresh seafood and incredible natural landscapes. Make the most of your visit with these must-visit attractions.
Particularly popular during the summer months, there’s always something happening along Halifax’s waterfront. Lined with bars, restaurants, food stalls, souvenir shops and adirondack chairs, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on a leisurely stroll along its 2.5-mi (4-km) boardwalk. This area is also home to two of the city’s must-visit museums – the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Popular dining spots include The Bicycle Thief – serving up Italian cuisine, and the Lower Deck Pub – the perfect spot for a casual afternoon beer.
A calm oasis in the heart of the city, the Halifax Public Gardens is a great spot to relax, people-watch and enjoy a treat from the on-site cafe, Uncommon Grounds. Having been open to the public since Canada achieved confederation in 1867, it’s one of the oldest Victorian gardens in North America and its immaculately manicured lawns and gardens frequently act as backdrops for weddings and photo shoots. Flowers and plants from a range of climates line the walkways here. Expect to see a variety of flora, including sweet-smelling roses, towering trees and desert cactus.
Take a day trip out to McNabs Island and discover the wildlife, nature and history of Halifax Harbour’s largest island, which is part of the McNabs and Lawlor Islands Provincial Park. After being settled by Peter McNab in the 1780s, the island has been abandoned since World War II and is now home to the likes of three abandoned military forts and a soda pop factory that ran bootleg booze during prohibition. From Downtown Halifax, the trip takes about 25 minutes. Tours are available through Friends of McNabs Island.
Originally built for the Canada Games in 2011, Haligonians were so in love with their new ice-skating rink at the Halifax Commons that they voted to make it permanent. In the winter, you can enjoy the rink while listening to music, before warming up with a hot chocolate and famous Beaver Tail. In summer, take to the rink on roller skates or rent a bike. The Oval is open year-round. Free public skating is offered at specific times of the day and evening, so it’s recommended you check online before visiting.
Situated in Halifax’s south end, Point Pleasant is always buzzing with locals walking their dogs, having picnics and enjoying the ocean views. Visitors can experience a variety of coastal ecosystems, take a self-guided cultural walking tour, go for a swim at the beach or watch a performance by the Shakespeare by the Sea theater group. The park stretches over 190 acres (77ha) and is home to 24mi (39km) of winding trails and wide paths, many of which are wheelchair accessible. Those biking can ride designated cycle trails on weekends and during holidays. Washroom facilities are available.
St. Paul’s Church, founded in 1749, was the first building in Halifax. While it’s still a place of weekly worship, it’s most frequently visited by outsiders for its famous Face in the Window – a ghost-like silhouette caused by the Halifax Explosion in 1917. Legend has it that as a result of the intense light and heat generated by the explosion, the profile of one of the church’s deacons was etched into one of the windows forever. The church is also home to an impressive archive and welcomes history buffs keen to do more research to make an appointment.
With a history dating back to 1915, Neptune Theatre is the largest professional theater in Atlantic Canada. Boasting two stages, the theater hosts a variety of productions, including local and Canadian-made plays and musical-theater favorites. The season runs from mid-September to the end of May, but often carries on well into July. Previous productions include Cats, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and Mary Poppins. Ticket prices vary, with the theater often offering a ‘pay what you can’ scheme to make performances more widely available to the community.
For a quick escape from the city, hop across the harbor to Dartmouth onboard the Halifax Harbour Ferry. Known as the City of Lakes, this vibrant community is bursting with attractions, such as the Harbourfront Trail and the popular Alderney Landing Farmers’ Market. Be sure to head to the Two If By Sea Cafe for giant croissants and locally roasted coffee. The Crobster Rolls at The Canteen and the cider at Lake City Cider on Portland Street also come highly recommended. The ferry service runs every 30 minutes.
Discover the city’s extensive maritime history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, situated in the heart of Halifax Waterfront. During your visit, you’ll have the chance to learn about the 1917 Halifax Explosion, the city’s ship-building past and its role in the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic exhibition, in particular, is highly regarded and home to over 200 artefacts including the ship’s only surviving deck chair. Visitors can also admire Canada’s longest-serving hydrographic vessel, CSS Acadia, which dates back over 100 years and lives at the museum’s wharf.
The fortress on Citadel Hill was created to defend the city from attack, but today, it stands as a lively national site and museum. Tour guides dressed in historical costumes will take you on a fascinating journey through this crucial site in Halifax’s history as you learn about the city’s first settlers, watch the sentry change and even become a soldier for the day. You can also hear ghost stories and bizarre legends on one of the citadel’s popular ghost tours which run from mid-July to late October.
The newly opened Seven Bays is part bouldering gym, part hip cafe. Whether you’re a first-timer or an expert, climbers of all skill levels are invited to tackle the 120ft (36.5m) long bouldering wall. Get in a fun workout at the gym, before taking your pick from a selection of great coffees, local draught beers, smoothies and tasty treats listed on the cafe’s vegan-friendly menu. Climbing shoes are required and are available for rental. Children under 14 are welcome but must be closely supervised by an adult.
Nova Scotia is home to over 160 historic lighthouses, but Peggy’s Point Lighthouse – built in 1915 – is without a doubt its most famous. Located a short drive from Halifax, the lighthouse can be found on Peggy’s Cove, a pretty fishing village along the south shore. Watch as huge waves cover granite rocks surrounding the lighthouse, before wandering along the boardwalk and grabbing a souvenir to commemorate your visit. Peggy’s Cove Boat Tours also offer opportunities for puffin and seal watching, along with the chance to indulge in fresh seafood on a Lobster Dinner Cruise.
Walk, Segway, ride, kayak or sail around Halifax with one of the city’s many tour companies. Popular choices include the Harbour Hopper, an amphibious tour bus that drives you around downtown and then into the harbor; Taste Halifax Tours invite you to sample the best food in the city; and the ghost tours take you to the city’s most haunted spots. Theodore Tugboat is a popular tour choice for families in particular. Kids will learn about Halifax’s harbor before having the chance to meet Theo’s friends, Dispatcher, Tugboat Crew and Benjamin Bridge.
Halifax’s first burial ground, founded in 1749, also happens to be a National Heritage site. Wander around and you’ll find yourself transported to Halifax’s early history as you pass notable headstones, including that of Major General Robert Ross, who fought in the War of 1812 and was buried with full military honors. At the entrance to the burial ground, you can also see the Welsford-Parker Monument which was built in 1870 to commemorate two Haligonians killed in the Crimean War.
Halifax has a thriving street art scene, with the city’s walls colored in impressive public murals for visitors to discover. Many of the street artists here stay true to the cities maritime theme, but the murals you’ll come across are ever-changing, with new creations frequently sprouting up overnight. One of the best and most photographed is sprawled on the back of candy store, Freak Lunchbox, located in Downtown Halifax. Created by street artist, Jason Botkin (@robotkin), it depicts a vibrant water world, featuring a tangled heron, fish and octopus. Mulgrave Park housing development is also home to several murals reflecting the community’s spirit.
For an insightful experience, climb aboard Canada’s oldest warship and the last of its 123 corvettes, HMCS Sackville. The ship was used during World War II and played a crucial role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic. It has served as a naval memorial since 1983 and invites visitors to learn about its history while exploring its gun deck, engine room and other features. HMCS Sackville is berthed in the Naval Dockyard, about one mile from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic between November to mid-June, before being moved to Sackville Landing from late June to October.
Situated in Sambro Creek, approximately 17mi (28km) south of Halifax, you’ll find a peaceful sanctuary away from the city. Boasting three white-sand beaches in separate coves, Crystal Crescent Beach Park is known for its peaceful, clear waters, accessible hiking trails and ample wildlife viewing opportunities. Venture to Pennant Point on a 5.3mi (8.5km) hiking trail, which starts inland and takes you through barrens, boulders and bogland. You can also see the historic Sambro Island Lighthouse in the distance during your visit, built in 1759. Two of the beaches have boardwalks and toilet facilities.
Take a peek into Halifax’s maritime history at this quaint restored 200-year-old fishing village. Stroll along the picturesque boardwalk and admire the fishing boats lining the canal, or browse the area’s artsy boutiques and gallery, showcasing local artists’ paintings, prints and cards. Restaurants and seafood shacks here take great pride in the fish dishes prepared using daily catches. Situated around 20 minutes from Downtown Halifax across from its harbor, this waterfront community makes for a relaxing day trip from the city. It can be reached by car, ferry and bus.
Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins