Nova Scotia’s capital city is a hub of business, education, and government services for the Atlantic provinces. It has seen tragedy and triumph and is home to incredible history, and as I found, East Coast good times. From boats to beer here are my Halifax highlights in just three days.
Day One – Halifax’s History in a Day…or Two
Being one of the oldest cities in Canada, Halifax has seen some things. From the harbour explosion that devastated the city to a pier that one in five Canadians can trace their roots to, there is much to see in historic Halifax. Thankfully, Halifax is incredibly walkable and you can cover many of its historical highlights in a day or two.
Pier 21 and the Museum of Canadian Immigration
No Halifax highlight is more significant to the nation than Pier 21. This historic immigration shed processed 1 million new Canadians between 1928 and 1971. It was also the departure point for half a million Canadians heading to Europe during World War II, many of which never returned.
Today the pier is home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration and is a place to better understand the struggles of those fleeing war, prejudice, and discrimination for a better life.
For my full review and experience at Pier 21 and the Canadian Museum of Immigration click here!
Continue your Halifax highlights tour with a walk along the city’s historic waterfront. Browse the shops of North America’s oldest continuously operating farmers market before sampling of flight at Garrison Brewery, one of Halifax’s many craft breweries.
Continue on along the waterfront where you will find unique shops and plenty of waterfront patios, restaurants, and even a beer garden. You will also find the HMCS Sackville, a World War II corvette turned floating museum.
Another notable floating Halifax highlight is the adorable Theodore Too. This tugboat is modelled after the once-popular Canadian children’ show Theodore Tugboat. Think Thomas the Tank Engine but on water. This life-sized replica is fully functioning and can be booked for harbour cruises during summer months.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Speaking of historic boats, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a great Halifax highlight showcasing plenty of nautical history. From replicas of the ships that once docked at Pier 21 to the city’s role in the Titanic disaster, this museum is not to be missed.
Now is a specially significant time to visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic as the city is marking the 100 year anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. On December 6th, 1917 a ship carrying explosives collided with a steamship and created the largest manmade explosion before the use of nuclear bombs. In the process, much of Halifax was lost, including 2000 of its people. There is a great exhibit running at the museum covering this significant event in touching detail.
Although the name is a little too literal, the Historic Properties is another Halifax highlight worth a visit along the waterfront. This 3-block stretch of surviving buildings that date back to the late 1700’s have been designated a National Historic Site and feature a mix of shops and restaurants and offer a peek into Halifax’s interesting past.
Historic Houses and Resting Places
Make your way up the hill to St. Paul’s Anglican church, Halifax’s oldest building, and on to the Old Burying Grounds. This graveyard in the middle of downtown Halifax is the resting place for many however none more notable, to me at least, then that of Robert Ross, the man credited with burning down the White House during the war of 1812.
Overlooking Halifax is a massive fortification to which the city owes its existence. With Halifax being such an important port town it was necessary to watch over and protect the harbour. To ensure safety in all directions Fort George was constructed and kept the city safe during its most formative years. Today Citadel Hill is run by Parks Canada as a National Historic site of Canada. Walking tours are recommended and be sure to check out the cannon firing demonstration as well as the mock-up of a World War I trench between the fort walls.
At the base of the hill is the historic Town Clock. Built to keep troops from being tardy, today it is one of Halifax’s most recognized structures and has become an iconic image representing the city.
Alexander Keith’s Brewery
Halifax is also home to some of the countries oldest breweries, none of which are more loved and well known as Alexander Keith’s. Head behind the walls of the original brewery for an interesting and entertaining tour. There you also get to sample several brews including ones not available beyond the local market.
What Is There to See Beyond Halifax?
As noted, Halifax’s downtown core is incredibly walkable. You can cover much of its tourist highlights in a couple of days leaving the third free to explore its nearby gems.
A short 50-minute drive south-west of Halifax is the photogenic fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Although its lighthouse is the most photographed in the province, there is much to see beyond this beacon of light. Take in the crashing waves from the smooth boulders on the shoreline and explore the docks of this functioning fishing village. Do not miss Maritime Pastry Co. for one great lobster roll and Dee Dee’s for handcrafted ice cream!
Full up on lobster rolls and Instagram friendly photos, hug the coastline on your way to the historic town of Lunenburg. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture and civic design, visiting Lunenburg is like stepping back in time. Much of the town’s wood buildings and churches remain the same as they were when they were constructed including the massive Lunenburg Academy.
Beyond all the historic buildings and charm, Lunenburg is also home to the Bluenose II. The original Bluenose was a Canadian schooner and is immortalized on the Canadian dime. The Bluenose II is a replica and it is stunning. You can board for free and tour the ship or become a deckhand for a day and set sail!
Halifax Highlights – Where to Eat & Sleep?
With a record number of visitors year-after-year in Halifax and Nova Scotia, it should be no surprise that there are plenty of great accommodation and dining options in and around town. Here are a few of my Halifax highlights when it comes to eating, drinking, and sleeping it all off.
What Should I Eat & Drink in Halifax?
Patio culture is alive and well in Halifax. With harsh winters locals make the most of the summer months. Along the waterfront, you will find plenty of great options. I ended up at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront bar patio more than once for its great views and cheap happy hour featuring plenty of local craft beer.
Speaking of local craft beer, sampling a flight at Tidehouse Brewing is well worth it. Although the beer is good, it is the small and intimate setting of the bar that lands it on this Halifax highlights list. It reminded me of the small bars of the Golden Gai district in Tokyo, except with fewer Japanese people.
As for eats, you can not visit Halifax without having a Halifax donair. This after bar snack is easy to find and is on every pizza shop menu. I tried Johnny K’s and it did not disappoint. It’s sweet and spicy sauce sets it apart and they don’t skimp. Don’t forget the napkins!
And of course, no visit to the East Coast is complete without some seafood. Although the lobster roll in Peggy’s Cove was better, you can’t beat the patio view at Salty’s.
Where Should I Stay in Halifax?
During my time discovering these Halifax highlights, I made the Halliburton Hotel my home base. This historic property is actually a collection of 3 heritage homes. Best of all, it is within walking distance for all the Halifax highlights noted above. For the out of town excursions to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg, there is parking available for your rental car. It comes with a great breakfast spread and there is coffee available 24-7 in the cosy living room.
Alternatively, check out the latest hotel deals below for your Halifax stay!
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Although my time discovering Halifax highlights was sponsored by Destination Halifax,
the experience, opinions, and history lessons are my own.