Best Things To Do in Halifax
Halifax is steeped in history, much of which centers around the sea. For an in-depth look at the city's watery past, reserve a few hours for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Another must-see historic site is the towering Citadel, a fortress used as a naval station during the reign of the British Empire. If your history quota still isn't filled, take a tour of Alexander Keith's Brewery, one of the oldest breweries in North America. Halifax is also bursting with outdoor activities: take a stroll through the Public Gardens, enjoy a leisurely ferry ride to nearby Dartmouth or enjoy the harbor views from the vibrant Historic Properties Wharf.
Updated August 25, 2015
- #1View all Photos#1 in HalifaxShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
To sample historic Halifax, spend a few hours perusing the Historic Properties. Overlooking the harbor from its city-center locale, this neighborhood retains much of its original fin-de-siècle architecture. The historic buildings that once acted as shipping warehouses and privateers' headquarters now house the lively Harbourside Market, numerous boutiques, souvenir shops and several rowdy brewpubs.
The majority of Halifax visitors and residents say that this quaint neighborhood is a must-see for first-time tourists. As one Yelp.com user (a Halifax resident) says: "It's a total tourist draw, and one of the places that is absolutely required visiting … whether you're 'from here' or 'from away.'"
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Towering over downtown Halifax, the Citadel is a testament to the city's military past. Four forts have occupied this hilltop since 1749, when British Colonel Edward Cornwallis governed the region; the fort that stands today dates back to 1856. Visitors can wander the Citadel's corridors and learn about Halifax's involvement in major wars, such as the American Revolution, the American Civil War and both World Wars. The on-site Army Museum offers a closer look at the fortress' history. And to truly feel what it was like to be on the hill back in its heyday, make sure to come at lunchtime, when re-enactors of the Royal Artillery fire the traditional noon gun.
You can also interact with members of the 78th Highland Regiment. During the summer months, these kilted re-enactors offer free guided tours of the fort and provide insight on what it was like to be a soldier there. According to one TripAdvisor user, "Visitors can ask questions, inspect military kit, and see short enactments of the firing of canons and military parades."
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The Public Gardens are a living testament to the Victorian era. And visitors welcome the respite from the urban atmosphere. Established in 1867, this two-acre public space -- marked by an ornate metal entryway -- houses manicured flower beds, quiet walkways, a picturesque gazebo and plenty of perfect picnic spots. As one TripAdvisor user describes them: "The Public Gardens is simply gorgeous, colorful, peaceful and beautiful … Oddly when you enter, it is peaceful and blocks all the noise from outside."
The Halifax Public Gardens are open every day from 8 a.m. to dusk during the spring, summer and fall; the gardens close between December and mid-April. Admission is free. You can learn more about the Public Gardens by perusing the park's website.
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It makes sense that Canada's oldest and most substantial maritime museum is located in Halifax: The city's history drips with stories from the sea. By displaying artifacts and providing interactive exhibits, this specialty museum recounts the city's days as a pirate haven, a commercial shipping hub and a military player in World Wars I and II. But the exhibit detailing Halifax's response to the 1912 sinking of the Titanic is, for many, the highlight of the museum. The display includes artifacts from the "Unsinkable Ship" and recounts local efforts to recover lost passengers and any remaining parts of the ship. In fact, it was at this museum that director James Cameron saw the carved panel that inspired Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's raft in the 1997 film, Titanic. (You can also find many Titanic victims buried in Halifax's cemeteries.)
While examining the Titanic artifacts is the biggest draw, previous visitors say that you should make time for the other displays. "We went in primarily to see the Titanic artifacts and ended up looking at so much more," says one TripAdvisor user. "There were an amazing variety of very complete exhibits."
- #5View all PhotosfreeDartmouth#5 in HalifaxFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Sitting across the harbor from Halifax is Dartmouth, a small town that has been around since 1750. There are two primary reasons to visit this Nova Scotia town (aside from the scenic ferry ride across the harbor): First, to enjoy its natural landscape; and second, to take in its history. Known as "The City of Lakes," Dartmouth is peppered with 23 individual ponds, many of which are surrounded by public parkland and ideal for a picnic. Another scenic stomping ground is the Shubenacadie Canal, which was created in the early 1800s to connect Halifax Harbor to Shubenacadie Grand Lake and ultimately the Bay of Fundy near Nova Scotia's interior.
You should can spend an hour or two exploring Dartmouth's harbor, where you'll find a cluster of historic buildings that now house cute shops and cozy restaurants.
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Founded in 1749 by Britain's King George II, St. Paul's is Canada's oldest Protestant church. The building may look simple at first, but architecture buffs and historians alike will appreciate its construction. The church was modeled after London's St. Peter's Church (designed in 1722), and the heavy wooden beams were brought north from Boston when Massachusetts was still a British colony. However, according to one TripAdvisor user, "The most interesting parts were a piece of metal embedded in the wall … and the spooky broken window in the shape of a silhouette -- both remnants of the famous Halifax explosion."
St. Paul's is located just around the corner from the Province House in downtown Halifax. The church is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and free guided tours are available (though you should call ahead to determine the tour times). Admission is free. To learn more about St. Paul's, visit the church's website.
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Between 1928 and 1971, one million immigrants passed through the doors of Pier 21 and became full-fledged members of the Canadian community. This large ocean liner terminal -- often referred to as the Ellis Island of Canada -- has since become a National Historic Site of Canada and the country's National Museum of Immigration. Visitors can wander the halls that once led immigrants to a new life. And they'll also learn the stories of some of the million immigrants who passed through. And who knows: You might learn a little more about yourself while here. As one TripAdvisor user writes: "I was the only one of our group not searching for when my ancestors arrived and was the only one to find them!"
Pier 21 overlooks Halifax Harbor from its seat just a few blocks south of Alexander Keith's Brewery. During the summer, the museum is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; hours are more limited between December and April. Admission is roughly $9 CAD for adults (about $9 USD) and $5 CAD for children ages six to 16. To learn more about the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, visit its website.
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Founded in 1820, Alexander Keith's Brewery is one of the oldest commercial breweries in North America. The brewery is named for a Scottish immigrant who devoted his life to brewing his beer. Today, the brewery still runs on Keith's values, creating flavorful ales and generously providing visitors with a relaxed, social experience.
The brewery offers booze-enthusiasts hour-long guided tours of the facility, led by actors decked out in 19th-century garb. Once the tour is over, you're welcome to sample some of Keith's most popular brews, such as the India Pale Ale at the Stag's Head Tavern. Keep in mind that there are non-alcoholic beverages available, too. One TripAdvisor user describes the experience: "We were entertained with song and merriment … and we all felt that it was a great tour and well worth the visit."
- #9View all PhotosfreeProvince House#9 in HalifaxSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
This three-story Palladian building in the heart of Halifax has provided a meeting ground for the Nova Scotia House of Assembly since 1819, making it the oldest house of government in Canada and a National Historic Site. Although it still functions as a legislative building, visitors are welcome to take a guided tour. One TripAdvisor user strongly recommends this because "It's free and doesn't take long, they do a good job explaining the customs and history of the government in the region." You can also obtain a visitors pass, which will allow you to sit in on assembly gatherings (when they're in session).
The Province House is sandwiched between the Citadel and the Maritime Museum. Visitors are welcome every weekday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (hours are extended to include weekends between July and August), and admission is free. For more information, check out the Nova Scotia Legislature's website.
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