While most visitors to Canada stick to the touristy areas such as Niagara Falls, Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains, Halifax has been slowly making its way into travel blogs and magazines as one of Canada’s undiscovered hotspots. While the iconic drama of the Canadian landscape is generally limited to the Western parts of the country, this charming East Coast city is known for its friendly people, bustling waterfront, fantastic beaches, and the fact that it contains the highest number of bars per person in the whole country.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about this secret Canadian paradise.
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How to Get to Halifax
Located on the peninsula of Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada (think North of New York City, but further east), the most efficient way to get here is to fly. Halifax Stanfield International Airport (airport code YHZ) is about a 30-minute drive out of Halifax proper, and being the biggest flight hub of the eastern provinces, is served by many international airlines such as and national airlines such as Porter and WestJet.
There are several options for getting from the airport to downtown Halifax. The city runs normal bus services every 30-60 minutes, which cost $3.50 CDN for adults and $2.75 for children and the elderly. Just remember that you need exact change. Or, check with your hotel for shuttle services, as many hotels run shuttle buses to and from the airport. On the other hand, if you feel like splurging on a taxi, it costs $50-60 and will take you right to your destination.
Halifax is also the last stop on the iconic Trans-Canada Railway. Train travel in this part of Canada is considered a luxury rather than a basic form of transportation, so be prepared to pay accordingly. Prices will vary depending on where you are coming from.
If you have your own car or camper van, be prepared for a long drive. Halifax is about a 12-hour drive from Montreal or 10 hours from Boston (if you are visiting from the US, be sure to carry your passport as there are border controls between the two countries). There are plenty of cute towns and rest stops on the way, but the drive can be slightly hair-raising if it’s snowing.
What to expect in Halifax
The currency of Halifax is the Canadian dollar, or CAD. The $1 coin is commonly referred to as a loonie, because it features a picture of Canada’s national bird, the loon. The $2 coin is called a toonie, well, because it rhymes with loonie. Canada does not use 1 cent coins, but prices are still given in their exact numbers, so your cashier will round the cost up or down to the nearest 5 cents.
As far as tipping goes, in restaurants it is expected that diners tip 15% or more of their bill. Conveniently, tax in Nova Scotia is also 15%, so just take a look at the bottom of your bill to calculate the tip, instead of getting involved in mental mathematics. Otherwise, it is common to tip your taxi driver a couple of dollars extra and throw your spare change in the tip jar at a coffee shop, but this rule is not quite as stringent as when dining in restaurants. When ordering drinks at a bar, make sure to tip at least a dollar extra per drink, or 2-3 dollars when ordering a round. Most bartenders will make sure to give you your change in dollar coins for exactly this purpose, and those who don’t leave a tip may struggle to be served again!
Visitors to Halifax are always impressed by the friendliness of the people there. It is completely normal to have a little chat at the bus stop or bank queue, or for the server in your restaurant to explain every detail about the menu you are looking at.
Although most people think of Canada as the “French part” and the “English part”, Nova Scotia contains people who speak both languages. Everyone here speaks English, but not necessarily as a first language, and visitors will notice many French surnames and even hear a few French accents.
Things to do in Halifax
Looking for a list of Halifax things to do? Look no further!
If the weather is fine, your first port of call should be the Halifax Waterfront. The Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk makes a perfect stroll for tourists as well as a hangout and running spot for locals. Grab yourself an ice cream and stroll along the boardwalk, keeping an eye out for art installations such as the peculiar melting streetlights or The Wave, a sculpture that has stood in the same spot for decades.
Getting hungry? Pop into one of the waterfront restaurants serving excellent fresh-caught seafood and local craft beers, or stop at a food truck for an order of poutine, a delicious French-Canadian dish made of French fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. No matter where you go, be sure to try the lobster at some point in your visit to Halifax. Nova Scotia is famous for its lobster fishery, and most restaurants serve it in some form, from the lobster roll (a white roll filled with lobster and mayonnaise salad), to the lobster chowder (a milk-based soup famous in Eastern Canada), and even lobster mac and cheese!
As you stroll, keep an eye out for boat tours of the Halifax Harbour. Halifax has one of the deepest harbours in the world, and contains working dockyards, berths for cruise ships, and moorings for private boats, as well as the waterfront boardwalk. The harbour is also home to seals and porpoises, who you might be able to spot from dry land, although you’d have a much better chance on a boat tour.
If you walk far enough, you will eventually come to the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, a huge warehouse-style building which offers space to local farmers, artists and craftsmen to sell their wares. Pick up some local produce or look for some handmade souvenirs, jams and jellies, or even locally-produced wine or spirits. Go upstairs in the market for homemade food cooked by local chefs.
But what is there to do in the evenings in Halifax, you ask? The answer is: everything. Head to the downtown area, especially from Spring Garden Road down to the waterfront, for great restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, and bars where you can hear live music and try craft beers until the early hours of the morning. Due to the small size of the city, you can take a taxi or bus to this area and wander around until you find somewhere that you like the look of.
If you’re looking for something a little more hip, head to the Gottingen Street / Agricola Street area, often referred to as the North End. Until about 15 years ago, this area was very run-down but now thanks to recent development, features some of the most interesting bars, restaurants and boutiques in the city.
Places to visit in Halifax
Being a relatively small city, many Halifax attractions can be reached on foot, or within a short bus or taxi ride.
If you’re interested in history, the Halifax Citadel is the place for you. Built in a star shape on a large hill right in the centre of the city, the Citadel was originally a fort to defend the city from various enemies, but is now run as a national historic site with a museum and re-enactments. Wander through the rooms, some of which contain original artifacts, or learn about Canada’s role in the World Wars. You can even try your hand at shooting a vintage rifle.
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, on the waterfront, provides an important insight into the journeys and lives of people who have migrated to Canada. Visitors can explore exhibits, or even trace their own family trees.
When you’ve had your fill of history, head over to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which contains pieces by local and international artists, a café, and lots of activities for children. Keep an eye out for the work of Maud Lewis, the quintessential Nova Scotia folk artist. The gallery contains some of her pieces, as well as the tiny house where she lived and created most of her work.
If you find that you need a break, a coffee in the Halifax Public Gardens is the place to go. Located right at the top of Spring Garden Road, the Public Gardens is the oldest Victorian garden in North America and has been providing the people of Halifax with a respite from their busy lives since 1867. You can take a 1-hour tour or just have a wander by yourself, stopping to feed the ducks or smell the roses. The Public Gardens also hosts events such as concerts.
Another excellent spot for some peace and quiet is Point Pleasant Park. It’s located at the southern end of the city, and is much bigger. It contains multiple trails for hiking or dog walking, plus waterfront area which contains a small beach. The park is largely covered in forest. If you’re interested in military history, keep an eye out for the ruins of old artillery batteries and the Martello tower, the oldest in North America. If you visit Halifax in the summer, come here to catch an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play, via the theatre company Shakespeare by the Sea.
When you’re refreshed and ready to explore again, head down to the Hydrostone area. This part of the city was built to house working-class families after a huge explosion in the harbour flattened most of the city in 1917, and is now a national historic site, thanks to its distinctive houses made of gray “hydrostone,” otherwise known as concrete. The area is not big but is worth a wander around and possibly a coffee or a meal at one of its little restaurants.
If you’re inspired by all the water and would like to make a trip to a beach, there are many gorgeous beaches within an hour’s drive from the city. Conrad’s Beach is popular with locals, and Lawrencetown Beach is well known among surfers for its amazing waves.
Where to stay in Halifax
The best place for you to stay in Halifax really depends on your priorities. Hotels located right downtown are convenient but a little more expensive, while you can get better deals (and a great view of the Halifax skyline) from Dartmouth, a city right on the other side of the harbour.
If you want to stay right in downtown Halifax, try The Westin Nova Scotian. With 310 rooms, two restaurants, a swimming pool and a wellness centre, this hotel is well-known as one of the best around.
For a little more old-school glamour, The Lord Nelson Hotel & Suites is a luxury hotel located in the same building as the train station. It’s also very near Halifax Seaport Farmers Market and the Immigration Museum at Pier 21, making it an excellent base from which to explore the city on foot.
For views of Halifax Harbour, check out the Halifax Mariott Harbourfront Hotel, which is located right on the waterfront.
If you don’t mind being a little further away but still want a view of the water, the Holiday Inn Harbourview in Dartmouth still ticks all the boxes. Downtown Halifax is just a ferry ride away, and reservations at this hotel also include free passes to a local gym.
Tours to do in Halifax
Harbour Hopper Tours take place in an amphibious vehicle, which can give a Halifax city tour and then drive right into the water for a tour of Halifax Harbour! One of the most popular tours in the city, the distinctive green vehicles can be spotted at locations throughout Halifax.
Alexander Keiths Brewery Tour provides a tour of the home of one of Nova Scotia’s most popular beers. Visitors can check out the historic brewery, and sample the beers.
Segway tours, conveniently located right on the waterfront boardwalk, offers tours by Segway around the waterfront area. The tours by this company are rated 5 stars on Tripadvisor.
While not specifically a city tour, Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours take visitors on a day-trip tour of wineries in the local area, including lunch.
Another of Nova Scotia’s claim to fame is its association with the Titanic. Halifax Titanic Historical Tours will take you to visit all the important sites associated with the Titanic and other important historical sites.
I Heart Bikes, also located on the Halifax Waterfront, give city tours and green space tours, all by bicycle. Look for their distinctive store, made out of a bright yellow shipping container, or give them a call to book.
Recommend budget tours in Halifax
- Peggy’s Cove Day Trip from Halifax
- Halifax Harbour Hopper Tour
- Kayak – single
- Stand-Up Paddle Board
- Zombie Scavengers Game – Halifax, NS
- Murphy’s DJ Party Boat
- Lunenburg and Mahone Bay- Bus Tour
- Taste of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Multi-Day Tour
- Peggy’s Cove and Halifax Tour with Lobster Roll Lunch