As the largest city in Atlantic Canada, Halifax has loads to offer the visitor, especially with its location adjacent to one of the largest and deepest ice-free harbours in the world. What that means for water lovers is that you can easily access the Atlantic Ocean and beaches galore, along with loads of interesting attractions, activities, amazing food, and nightlife. There are so many things to do in Halifax, I think you’ll find you need at least two to three days in the city.
Described are 25 things to do in Halifax, including the tunnel tour on Georges Island National Historic Site and a Citadel Spirit Tour with alcohol that has been aged onsite.
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Location map of things to do in Halifax
Walk the Halifax Waterfront
One of the top things to do in Halifax at any time of the year, but particularly in summer, is to walk along the Halifax Waterfront. If you miss out on this, I feel like you’d miss out on the beating heart of the city. This is where everyone comes and for good reason. It’s colourful, there’s an energy to it and there’s lots to do along its 4 kilometre plus length.
The Harbourwalk stretches between the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Halifax Casino. Not only is it a great place for people watching, but you can also visit museums, shop in boutique stores, hop on the ferry to Dartmouth, marvel at the constant water traffic, and enjoy a meal or drink at one of the numerous waterfront restaurants. In fact, you can even snap up one of the hammocks pictured below and relax, just enjoying the salty, Maritime breezes.
Do the Tunnel Tour on Georges Island and enjoy a Parks Canada Perfect Picnic
Sitting in the middle of Halifax Harbour is Georges Island National Historic Site, a place the Mi’kmaq called home for thousands of years. The island is now one of five sites that make up the Halifax Defence Complex, forts and batteries constructed to protect Halifax from attack. The others, all national historic sites, include Fort McNab, York Redoubt, Prince of Wales Tower, and the Halifax Citadel.
Today visitors can do a self-guided tour of the island with the help of an interpretive map, but in addition I would recommend that you join a free, 15-minute tunnel tour. It’s offered every 20 minutes on a seasonal basis. You’ll get access to a maze of brick tunnels in an underground complex below Fort Charlotte. These tunnels once housed ammunition for the powerful cannons you see on the tour.
Be sure to order the Parks Canada Perfect Picnic before you go so you can savour a lobster roll, ploughman’s lunch or caprese focaccia while enjoying the view of downtown Halifax from one of the Parks Canada red chairs.
Note: To get to Georges Island take a private boat, kayak or canoe or book a trip with Murphy’s On the Water.
Take a Halifax Harbour Hopper Tour
If you want a fun, fast paced one-hour tour of the Halifax Harbour (and part of the downtown), sign up for the popular Halifax Hopper Tour. It’s a little different than most harbour tours as its on an amphibious vehicle. Start off on the streets of Halifax – and finish with a giant splash into the Halifax Harbour. See some of the famous city sights by bus and by boat – expertly narrated with a dose of humour.
Climb aboard Canada’s oldest warship: HMCS Sackville
When you’re exploring the Halifax Waterfront, look for the HMCS Sackville, Canada’s oldest warship. This boat played an important role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II – and because of that, the warship holds an important place in naval history.
The location of the warship changes twice a year. From November to mid-June, it is berthed in the Naval Dockyard. But from late June until late October, the boat is moved to Sackville Landing, near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Tours are offered from 10 AM to 4:45 PM seven days a week. Admission is by donation only.
Explore the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Not only do you get glorious views of the Halifax Harbour from the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, but you’ll find plenty of interactive experiences and places to walk and explore – like the fort walls. Look for re-enactment interpreters, the 78th Highlanders and the Royal Artillery, dressed in uniforms that their regiments sported in the mid-1800’s.
You can find marching and band drills on the parade grounds, the changing of the guard every hour at the entrance, and a daily demonstration of cannons firing at noon – a practice that dates to 1856. You can also take a tour led by a costumed guide from May through to October.
If you’re in need of some refreshments, head to the Citadel Coffee Bar and Soldiers Library in the Cavalier Building. It was the library the soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment used that has been turned into a cozy space with a 19th century vibe.
Sign up for one of the Citadel Distilled Experiences
One of the fun things to do in Halifax, especially if you’re with a group you know, is to sign up for one of the Citadel Distilled Experiences. There are three to choose from – the Toast & Tasting, Raise Your Spirits and the Proof is in the Barrel.
I participated in the Raise Your Spirits tour. It started with a quick tour of the Halifax Citadel where we learned about how alcohol was used to rally the troops. Cue the Daily Ration Rum. We also tried Noon Gun Gin and Fort George Genever – with all spirits made by local Halifax company – Compass Distillers and aged onsite at the Halifax Citadel! Along with the liquor, we enjoyed a locally prepared charcuterie board. The tasting came with a guide on how to taste spirits along with the flavour profiles one should expect. Truly great fun!
Go for a ghost walk at the Halifax Citadel
Pick up a glowing lantern and meet your tour guide dressed in a full period uniform. Follow him across the drawbridge as you melt into the darkness, exploring dimly lit passageways and dark tunnels. Here the haunted stories of the Halifax Citadel come alive over a 70-minute tour.
Tours start at 8:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, weather permitting in the summer – after the gates have closed to the public. And that helps set the mood. More information here – including how to buy tickets. You can arrange a private ghost tour year-round!
Stroll through the Halifax Public Gardens
When I was in Grade 2, I lived in Halifax, a block away from the Halifax Public Gardens. Even in those days a visit to the gardens was one of the top things to do in Halifax. Back then, it usually revolved around feeding the ducks – though that is no longer allowed.
The 16-acre gardens are “one of the finest examples of a Victorian garden in North America.” The gardens take up a full block, including a section along Spring Garden Road. In summer there’s a concert series, bird walks, story time, and something called Young Singer Outside the Gate. Check the monthly calendar ahead of your visit. If you’re in need of sustenance, ice cream is available in the summer.
Take a hike in Point Pleasant Park
Point Pleasant Park, located at the south end of the Halifax Peninsula, is a great spot for a dog walk, a jog, or taking the time to contemplate the meaning of life as you stare out to the ocean. Within the park are 39 km of trails and the Prince of Wales Tower National Historic Site. You can also cycle through the park and in summer enjoy one of the plays put on by Shakespeare by the Sea Theatre Company, called the longest and largest-running outdoor theatre festival in Atlantic Canada.
Fun fact: There is a 999-year lease on the park held by the British Government. Halifax rents the site from the Brits for 10 cents per year.
Check out the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market
The Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market began in 1750. It holds the record for operating longer than any other farmer’s market in North America!
You’ll find everything from lunch options to locally farmed produce, fresh meat and fish, crafts, flowers, maple syrup, honey, and even locally produced wine and spirits. A visit here on a Saturday morning between 8 AM and 2 PM or on Sunday between 10 AM and 2 PM is always one of the fun and delicious things to do in Halifax.
Visit historic St. Paul’s Church – a true Halifax Oddity
St. Paul’s Church, dating back to 1750, is both the oldest Protestant church in Canada and the oldest building in Halifax. On a tour I did of Halifax, we stopped here to look for the face that is forever etched in one of the church’s windows.
The story goes that the deacon was standing in front of the window at the time of the 1917 Halifax explosion. The legend suggests that the extreme heat left the deacons’ profile etched into the glass – just like you see it today. Whether that is truth or fiction, I don’t know but it is a cool story and a Halifax only oddity.
Get a black history lesson at Africville
Africville was an African – Canadian village, founded in the mid-18th century on the southern shore of the Bedford Basin. The community prospered at times – basically when there wasn’t interference by the whites of Halifax – but in the 1960’s after a dump was located within a short distance of their settlement, it was labeled a slum. Residents were forcibly removed and located to public housing, something we now call a violation of human rights. Read this account for insight into how Halifax treated the Black people in Africville.
Today you can visit the Africville Museum which is in a replica of the community church that was destroyed.
Visit the Hydrostone District in Halifax
The Hydrostone District in Halifax, built after the horrific Halifax Explosion in 1917, is one of Canada’s National Historic Sites and just a 30-minute walk from downtown Halifax. It’s called a splendid example of an English-style garden suburb. The area features 325 fire-proof homes, all built in the same architectural theme using hydrostone which looks like concrete blocks – and basically is. The district is also home to boutique shops, galleries, and excellent dining options.
Sip coffee with a view at the Halifax Central Library
The Halifax Central Library opened on December 13, 2014. The library was awarded the Governor General’s Medal for outstanding new civic building design. And WIRED recently called it “one of the 10 most beautiful libraries on earth” – so with that kind of accolade you really must visit.
It’s the perfect place to go if you’re a fan of architecture or you really need a coffee to pick you up because your energy is flagging after a round of shopping on Spring Garden Road. Head to the café on the fifth floor for a panoramic view of the downtown and harbour.
Admire the Old Town Clock
The Old Town Clock or Citadel Clock Tower is just that – a clock in a three-story tower at the base of the Citadel that started keeping time on October 20, 1803. It’s one of the iconic landmarks in Halifax.
A couple of cool facts about the clock include the fact that the clock mechanism must be wound twice weekly and the number 4 is represented as IIII and not IV for symmetry and aesthetics.
Pay your respects at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax
The Fairview Lawn Cemetery is best known as the final resting place for 121 Titanic victims. There are more Titanic victims interred here than in any other cemetery in the world. It’s a very moving place to visit – especially when you read the headstones and think about how these people met their end.
About a third of the headstones have no information – just a marker number and the date of death though in 1991 six of the previously unknown victims were identified with the help of the Titanic International Society. One of the graves is of William Denton Cox, called a “heroic steward who died while escorting third class passengers to the lifeboats.” You’ll see some poignant writing on several other gravestones.
Wander through the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax waterfront
Located on the Halifax waterfront, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic ranks as the city’s most popular museum. Look for a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits like the Sea in Her Blood which highlights the lives of 17 Maritime women who “redefine traditional ways of living with the sea.”
The Titanic exhibit will strike a chord with many, especially the personal stories. Learn about life aboard the ship including what it was like to be an immigrant in third class. Sit in a reproduction Titanic deck chair and check out over 50 artifacts collected as flotsam.
The museum is open from Tuesday until Saturday from 10 AM until 4 PM and on Sunday from 1 – 4 PM. Admission in 2021 is just $5.15 per adult.
Become a part of the feel-good Peace by Chocolate story in Halifax
If you need an excuse to eat chocolate or buy some as a gift, Peace by Chocolate ought to fit the bill. The Nova Scotia company is owned by Syrian refugees who were forced to flee their homeland in 2012 – after making and selling chocolate across the Middle East for close to 30 years. They spent three years in limbo in refugee camps in Lebanon before being invited to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. With the help of their community, they have rebuilt their company, and I can tell you that what they’re making is delicious. I love their motto – one piece won’t hurt.
When you stroll the waterfront be sure to look out for their new boutique store, located at 1741 Lower Water Street, Suite 166.
Explore vibrant Spring Garden Road in downtown Halifax
If it shopping you’re after – especially the upscale variety, head to Spring Garden Road. It’s also home to two malls – Park Lane and Spring Garden Place. It’s not my idea of fun but I might be an outlier.
Check out the hopping pub scene in Halifax
Halifax is known for its vibrant pub scene – partially on account of the six universities in the city and the sheer number of students around. The action is in the downtown, particularly on Argyle Street.
The top five pubs to visit according to Discover Halifax are Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub (with live music on weekends and some weeknights), Split Crowe Pub (also with a live music lineup), The Loose Cannon, The Arms Public House inside the Lord Nelson Hotel, and the Rockbottom Brew Pub.
Visit the Halifax Brewery Farmers Market
On a Saturday morning join locals from 8 AM to 1 PM for a farmers market experience that deals with small scale growers and artisans. This place is a local favourite. You’ll find the Saturday Market at 312-1496 Lower Water Street.
Get a history lesson at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
It’s easy to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 if you’re waking the Halifax Waterfront. This is the place to learn about Canada’s amazing immigrant history. Some visitors may even be able to trace their family roots with the help of the Scotiabank Family History Centre.
Between 1928 and 1971 almost one million immigrants passed through Pier 21. That might help explain why reportedly one in five Canadians is related to someone who was processed through Pier 21.
Ride the Halifax – Dartmouth ferry
The oldest saltwater ferry in the world is the one that runs between Halifax and Dartmouth. It’s also the second oldest in the world. The price of a ferry is the same as a bus ticket but with it you get some stunning vistas. On the Alderney Ferry, enjoy views of two bridges, harbour islands, the Bedford Basin, downtown Halifax, and Dartmouth. If you transfer back within the hour, you can just use your transfer and avoid paying again.
For more information about schedules, and fees visit the Halifax Transit website.
Visit Fisherman’s Cove in Eastern Passage near Halifax
Fisherman’s Cove, just a 25-minute drive from downtown Halifax, is a restored 200-year-old fishing village. On a short visit you can enjoy a picturesque ramble along the boardwalk with stops to check out folk art, Maritime crafts, ice cream and old-time candy along with other food – alongside a backdrop of working lobster fishermen.
Go a short distance past the village to reach McCormack’s Beach Provincial Park, one of the smallest in the province. Stroll the 1.2 km boardwalk with beach access points and look for birds including the black guillemot and piping plover.
Be awed by the beauty of Peggy’s Cove
One of the best things to do when you’re in Halifax is to make the 50-minute drive to Peggy’s Cove. The authentic, colourful fishing village never disappoints, no matter what the weather throws your way. I have always come away awed both by the beauty of the village and the power of the ocean.
As of October 18, 2021, a new viewing deck has been added to make the visit safer. You can still wander around the rocks but be vigilant about where you’re stepping and avoid the black rock. A warning on the lighthouse states: “Injury and death have rewarded careless sight-seers here. The ocean and rocks are treacherous. Savour the sea from a distance.”
Local Halifax travel tips
Buy a Best of Halifax Tour with Peggy’s Cove. It last 4 – 5 hours and will cover off some of the most iconic sites in the city – and you won’t need a rental car to get to Peggy’s Cove.
If its a lobster dinner you’re after on a visit, check out one of these 9 restaurants.
Need to stretch your legs? Then try one of these top 10 Halifax area hikes.
Where to stay in Halifax
On a couple of visits to Halifax in the last few years I have stayed at the Westin Nova Scotian. I love its location close to the waterfront.
Another great downtown hotel is the Sutton Place Hotel Halifax.
A giant thank you to Parks Canada and Tourism Nova Scotia for hosting my visit – but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Further reading about Nova Scotia
- Best Things to Do in and Near Shelburne, Nova Scotia
- Cycling the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island
- 12 of the Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia
- Hirtles Beach Gaff Point Trail Hike
- Cape Forchu Lighthouse & Leif Ericson Walk
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