Halifax isn’t just a city. It’s my city; the first city I ever went to. As a child growing up in Nova Scotia, Halifax was the ultimate food and shopping-filled getaway in my young eyes. This east coast Canadian destination was also the place that broadened my horizons, introducing me to a world of art, culture, and history.
As you can imagine, I have some pretty strong opinions about what everyone should see when they visit! I love being able to share my Halifax recommendations and, this time around, I also asked some colleagues and friends who know the city well for their suggestions. These are the experiences that Haligonians love to recommend to visitors.
1. Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
This star-shaped defensive fortress has been a symbol of Halifax since the early 1800s. The citadel offers a robust visitor program that includes guided tours, the changing of the guard ceremony, and additional activities in the busy summer months. However, the best thing about this historic property isn’t what you see — it’s what you hear! Every day at noon, a cannon fires and trust me, you’ll hear it no matter where you are in the city. While locals say you get used to the sound, I’ve seen plenty of them jump at the noise when they’ve lost track of time!
2. Halifax Waterfront
When I’ve returned to Nova Scotia in recent months, there’s one question that everyone always asks: “Have you seen the new Halifax Waterfront?” Over the past 5 years or so, there has been a remarkable change in the area. This busy boardwalk stretch of just under 2 miles is now filled with new eateries, pieces of public art, cute shops, and a phenomenal new hotel — the Muir. But the best thing of all is the energy. It just makes the city feel absolutely alive. My advice is to grab an ice cream cone from Cows (a Prince Edward Island shop that has a strong presence in Halifax) and spend some time people watching.
3. The Art Gallery Of Nova Scotia
Maud Lewis was Canada’s most prolific folk artist and the most prominent to live in Nova Scotia. You can admire her colorful creations (and that of many other talented Maritimers) at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The tiny house she lived in, worked in, and adorned with art has been installed in its own exhibit within the gallery. I personally love her portraits of cats and always pick up a few feline-themed souvenirs at the gift shop.
4. A Drink And Brewery Tour
If your love of history goes hand-in-hand with a fondness for a good drink, Halifax is your city.
Alexander Keith’s Brewery
Alexander Keith’s Brewery should be at the top of your list. It’s one of the oldest and most famous breweries in Canada and their guided tour gives you a bit of insight into what Halifax was like during its early days. Tours include tastings and lemonade is available as an alternative for those who don’t love beer.
Good Robot Brewing Company
Looking for something a little different and less tourist-focused? You’ll want to check out the Good Robot Brewing Company. A local Halifax resident and friend of the community says that it has “fun community vibes with great events (my fav is silent reading night once a month).” That’s right — books and beer together at last! Their pub-grub menu is pretty awesome too.
The region also has a growing craft distillery scene. Two notable distilleries to keep an eye out for are the Halifax Distilling Company (I may have more than a passing familiarity with their cream rum) and Compass Distillers (whose pretty labels make their products perfect for gift-giving).
5. Maritime Museum Of The Atlantic
Despite its remarkable growth and development in recent years, Halifax is and will always be a Maritime city; a working port with strong links to fishing, shipbuilding, and trading. A visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a wonderful way to explore the region’s history in this regard. Plus, there are fascinating artifacts from the sinking of the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion of 1917: Two ships — one packed with munitions — collided in Halifax Harbour, resulting in widespread devastation.
6. St. Paul’s Church
As the oldest Anglican church in the country and a National Historic Site, St. Paul’s is the ultimate “if these walls could talk” destination. It was built in 1750 and it has been an important community gathering place and, at times, even a hospital. It served as a medical center during both the American Revolution and in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. The church offers free guided tours in the summer and free self-guided tours throughout the year (though you are encouraged to call first to arrange a time). It’s a lovely spot for a moment of reflection during your trip.
7. The Old Burying Ground
If you’re interested in history and spiritual matters, you might want to also visit the Old Burying Ground. This historic cemetery dates to 1749 and is the final resting place of some of the city’s earliest settlers and prominent military members. Guided tours are available seasonally.
The Old Burying Ground’s location in downtown Halifax means it’s surrounded by shops, cafés, markets, and more. Just around the corner is Cabin Coffee, a local favorite. Kayla O’Neill, who knows the city well, says “Cabin Coffee was one of my favorite places to visit when I was in Halifax. Has a cute story behind it and it was great.” That cute story she’s alluding to is that this is one of Halifax’s oldest family-run coffee shops and it was designed to replicate the cozy atmosphere of a family cabin. You’ll definitely feel at home here!
8. Province House
As the oldest legislative building in Canada and a National Historic Site, fans of political history will want to check out Province House. This is where Nova Scotia’s provincial government meets and the building dates back to 1819. Guided tours are available to showcase the building’s art, architecture, and political history, and you can also watch the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, or even relax with a book in the Legislature’s library.
9. Halifax Public Gardens
It’s true that Halifax has its share of damp and rainy days, but if you want proof that there’s plenty of sunshine in the seaside city, just head to the Halifax Public Gardens. This gorgeous park is the city’s pride and joy and is filled with remarkable old trees, wonderful flower beds, and plenty of family-friendly activities like concerts and plays. Halifax never feels too rushed or busy, but if you want to escape from the urban grind, you’ll want to come here.
10. Halifax Central Library
In 2014, Halifax’s new Central Library — the flagship location of the Halifax Public Library — opened. It’s been widely praised for its striking architecture, wide range of programming through its community rooms, and even for its coffee. Visitors are always welcome and tours are available.
My colleague Jen Schellinc shares my love of this space, saying “I always recommend that people go to the ‘new’ library (not so new anymore!) and have a coffee at the top floor coffee shop; great view!”
11. Neptune Theatre
Halifax has one of the finest arts scenes in all of Canada. Some notable venues include Neptune Theatre, the largest venue of its kind in Atlantic Canada. This playhouse’s history includes time spent as a vaudeville house and movie theater, and has been a year-round repertory theater since 1963. It also has a big role in my personal history and love of theater as I was there in September 1997 when the Neptune reopened after a huge renovation. I fell in love with the new space and after that, I was hooked! I love taking in a show whenever I’m in town.
Personal Recommendations From People Who Know And Love Halifax
I asked several Nova Scotians who know Halifax well what they’d suggest visitors check out. Many of these spots are new to me as well, which just proves that there’s always a reason to keep coming back to the city! Consider the following spots while you’re in town:
- Slowly, Slowly: A boutique whose focus is definitely not fast fashion but rather designers who make a positive impact on their community and environment.
- LF Bakery: An authentic French bakery serving up phenomenal bread, croissants, and sandwiches like ham and béchamel.
- Bar Kismet: Incredible small plates and cocktails with an emphasis on seafood; cod, pommes paillasson, and jalapeño salsa verde anyone?
- Edna: This cozy one-room restaurant offers great value (lunchtime soup and grilled sourdough is just $10) and luxury (like halibut cheeks with maple miso and sea truffle emulsion).