"Halifax’s history, industry, and energy all stem from the harbor," says Gillian Wesley, editor of The Local Traveler NS blog. "The boardwalk is my favorite spot for a picnic, a cold craft beer, and a scenic run; it’s always buzzing." From the waterfront, it’s an easy walk to two museums that bring Nova Scotia's seafaring history to life. Among the artifacts at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a deck chair from the Titanic recovered, along with the wreckage and dead, by ships sent from the city. Exhibits at the Pier 21 National Historic Site commemorate the million-plus Canadian immigrants who arrived here. For 360-degree water and city views, walk uphill from the harbor to the Halifax Citadel, a restored British and Canadian naval base and the city’s highest point. And to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s connection to the sea, watch the fort’s 15-minute introductory film, A Harbour Worth Defending.
When to Go: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo kicks off with a huge Canada Day parade July 1, with 2,000-plus military and civilian pipers, drummers, acrobats, and highland dancers who then take the stage for daily, two-and-a-half-hour performances during the week-long event. Throughout the summer and into October, visit outdoor cafés and listen to live music at the Halifax Seaport, located at the south end of the waterfront between Piers 19 and 23. In November, Dalhousie University hosts the Dalplex Christmas Craft Market, featuring juried crafts from more than a hundred Canadian artisans.
Where to Stay: The 29-room Halliburton Hotel clusters three 1809 downtown townhouses that back onto a courtyard garden; breakfast and parking are included. Walk to the waterfront and to the year-round Historic Farmers' Market at the Brewery Square. The boutique hotel’s historic charm means lots of stairs and no elevator.
How to Get Around: Downtown parking is limited, particularly in summer, so consider taking the historic Harbour Ferries from Dartmouth or Woodside, or riding the Metro Transit bus. A ten-ticket book is only $18 and good for boat or bus. "Everyone should ride the ferry at least once," Wesley says. "It gives visitors a great view of the bustling Halifax Harbour, and it is only $2.25 to ride." Once downtown, it’s easy to explore historic sites, SoMo (South of Morris Street) shops and restaurants, and the waterfront on foot. At the harbor, I Heart Bikes rents two-wheelers and leads two-hour guided city tours. A four-hour option includes tasting stops at local eateries. Download the Visit Halifax mobile app for GPS maps and weather updates.
Where to Eat or Drink: For breakfast, Wesley says it’s worth the wait at The Coastal in the North End, with hearty selections like the McCoastal (two fried eggs, maple or Montreal bacon, and red wine onion compote on an English muffin) and Durtiest South (three fried eggs with bourbon-and-cola barbecue brisket and pork belly with molasses drizzle). Make time for a tour—and tasting—at Alexander Keith's brewery, a Halifax landmark since 1820. Halifax is home to a new and growing craft beer scene, with seven local breweries accessible by public bus. Originally built in 1817 as a schoolhouse, The Five Fishermen Restaurant & Grill was a funeral home in 1912 when the Titanic sank off the Newfoundland coast, inspiring dozens of ghost stories. It’s now known for its butter-poached lobster. Chives Canadian Bistro’s building isn’t as storied, but the one-time bank’s vault can be reserved as a private dining room for a table of two to four. Try the bacon and scallops served with ricotta ravioli or check the chalkboard for the day’s fresh catch.
What to Buy: The Amos Pewter waterfront studio is part of the international Économusée network, which showcases traditional trades and skills. Watch artisans work and learn how to personalize your own pewter ornament. Shop for fresh picnic provisions like local honey crisp apples, beer, and cheese buns made with hometown-brewed Garrison’s Irish Red Ale and Fox Hill Cheese smoked gouda at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market, a bustling, 250-vendor bazaar established in 1750.
What to Read Before You Go: The Museum Guard (Picador, 1999) is a quirky novel set in a Halifax art museum in 1938 by award-winning author Howard Norman.
Fun Fact: Halifax’s Robert L. Stanfield International Airport was on call as an emergency landing site for NASA space shuttles.
Jackie Middleton is an award-winning freelance writer based in Toronto.