Halifax would probably have been the Canadian city where I would have gone to do my Working Holiday Visa if luck / fate hadn’t decided for me that I had to go back to Manitoba. So I was very curious to visit the capital city of Nova Scotia to see if I would have enjoyed living there. Halifax was an unmissable stop on my summer 2019 road-trip in the Maritime provinces.
When I landed in Halifax, I did not immediately fall in love with it. Fatigue and probably a certain lack of preparation were responsible (as well as an Airbnb whose photos only partially resembled reality). And yet, I really enjoyed my stay.
I spent two days visiting Halifax and was not able to see everything I wanted. Three days would have probably been better to add one more tourist attraction, either a museum or a walk but I got a good overview of the city, the places to go, the museums, the terraces and the waterfront.
My favourites things to do in Halifax
Here are my favorites and a selection of things to see and places to visit in Halifax, in no particular order!
Take a free walking tour of Halifax
Free walking tours are the perfect introduction to any city and I like to start my stay with a guided tour if the concept exists in the city I am in. In Halifax, it was possible before the pandemic to take a free walking tour every day in the summer (June to August) at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The initiative is managed only by students.
What did I learn during this walking tour? Lots of anecdotes on the Citadel, the history of Halifax, the story behind the haunted church, the disaster of the explosion in the port of 1917. Our attention was drawn to a whole bunch of small details that we would not necessarily notice, like the name of the street hidden in one of the photos below, which is popular at the end of the evening.
Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Immigration
Pier 21 is the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island in New York: it is the place where a million immigrants arrived between 1928 and its closure in 1971. It is the place where they disembarked after their Transatlantic crossing, where they passed a medical examination and a “civic test” before continuing on their journey.
The museum is extremely well done. Entirely bilingual, it mixes modern testimonies and historical scenes with period objects, always with this way of appealing to the visitor: and you? how would you have answered this question? what would you have put in your suitcase?
There are three parts to the museum, with guided tours in both official languages at no extra charge. If this is not necessarily necessary for the part on the history of immigration which is explored independently, it is quite beneficial for the historical part on Pier 21. The last room downstairs is devoted to exhibitions temporary. Check out the movie, which is pretty neat too, although a bit feel good around the edges (a bit Canadian actually). The museum also has a whole genealogical aspect which must be fascinating to explore. Pier 21 is definitely of the best Halifax tourist attractions.
Halifax reminded me of my three years in the UK! I felt like I was back in St-Helier in Jersey, between sloping streets and pub terraces annexing the sidewalk. Halifax has no shortage of red bricks or pubs precisely, which gives it a very British look.
I love the mix of old and new. And street art too.
The entire Halifax waterfront is landscaped. Red chairs, hammocks, restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors, there is everything, everywhere. I really liked the works of Maud Lewis, scattered all along and the view of the opposite island, a giant park where Shakespeare is played outdoors in summer (always this British note!)
Do not miss the Acadian memorial, which has very interesting quantified and mapped explanations of the Grand Dérangement – the deportation of thousands of French-speaking people when conflicts for ownership of the region were raging.
The Nova Scotia Province House
This is my little pleasure / personal challenge: I am trying to visit all the legislative assemblies of Canada. After those of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Parliament of Ottawa, I can add that of Nova Scotia to my list.
It’s not your average Halifax tourist attraction but I promise, it’s always interesting to learn more about the political intricacies of each Canadian province, between trends and anecdotes. And besides, these places are always free!
Province House is unfortunately closed to the public at this time. Their reopening will surely be announced on their site .
The Halifax Library
Opened in 2014, the Halifax Library has won numerous architectural awards. Its design is fascinating, somewhere between Hogwarts and an Apple Store.
The 5th floor terrace and café are a perfect stop between two visits. I wrote my postcards there, along with a coffee and a part of cake.
The ferry and the view of Halifax
If you are going to Halifax, you have to go to Dartmouth. Darmouth is the city on the other side of the bay, the one through which you are likely to arrive. The two cities are in constant rivalry. So why go to Dartmouth? There is a developing culinary scene that is probably worth a look but that’s mostly for… the view of Halifax.
To enjoy this view, nothing could be simpler, just take public transport. The ferry between Halifax and Dartmouth (Alderney) is regular (at the moment in modified schedules there is one every fifteen minutes in rush hour and thirty minutes the rest of the time, you will find the timetables on the site ) and cheap . A return trip costs only $ 2.75!
The Halifax Public Gardens
Another perfect place to visit in Halifax to take a break between sightseeing is the Halifax Public Gardens. Statues, benches, flower beds, small houses, there is something to spend a moment there. It was great to do people-watching, just watching people enjoy their summer day.
More places to visit in Halifax
The Citadel is perhaps the tourist attraction in Halifax that I liked the least. The heritage is nevertheless very interesting: Halifax and the whole region have been traded, exchanged, sold between England and France for decades. A defense system was necessary and the star architecture is reminiscent of Vauban.
The Citadel is the most visited historic site in all of Canada. There is a very large military museum there, which summarizes Canada’s participation in all the armed conflicts of the 20th century.
More Halifax ideas
With a little more time, I would have added to my list of visits to Halifax the Nova Scotia Art Gallery which houses works by Maud Lewis including the tiny house where she lived and created. I could also have followed a guided route all around the Titanic , with a visit to the Marine Museum (on the other hand I went to the nice souvenir shop) and the Fairview cemetery , which has 121 graves of victims of the Titanic sinking. including the one of a certain J Dawson… Does that remind you of something?
That’s it for Halifax! Did my entire trip to the Maritime provinces make me want to move there? Probably yes, a little …