Halifax is the capital city of Nova Scotia and the largest city in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. The city’s origins and rich maritime history derive from a strategic location and one of the world’s great natural harbours. In the 19th and early 20th century, Halifax was the entry point for European immigration to Canada. Today, Halifax is a busy Atlantic seaport and the economic and cultural hub of Eastern Canada Understand : Halifax is the provincial and regional hub of Nova Scotia. It is still, however, a smaller city by North American standards (2010 pop. 412,012). Rather than feeling relegated to ‘second-fiddle’ status, this dichotomy is celebrated by residents who take pride in their slower pace and warm hospitality.
History : While the area around Halifax has been inhabited by native Mi’kmaq for millennia, modern Halifax was founded on June 21, 1749 as a British military outpost. Easily defended and featuring the world’s second largest natural harbour, Halifax proved its worth during the Seven Years’ War against the French and later in the American Revolutionary War, and as the base grew in size and importance, a significant population of merchants and other civilians sprung up in its wake. On December 6, 1917, the collision of a Norwegian cargo ship with a French munitions ship loaded with 2,500 tons of explosives resulted in the Halifax Explosion, which killed over 2,000 people and leveled the northern half of the city. The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the advent of nuclear weaponry.
The city was quickly rebuilt and World War II saw Halifax busier than ever, with British supply convoys assembling to start their perilous journey across the Atlantic as German U-boats lurked offshore. After the war, over a million immigrants to Canada passed through Halifax.
Orientation : The city of Halifax is on Halifax Peninsula, on the west side of the harbour, with Dartmouth to the east. The main landmark is the Halifax Citadel, on a high hill above the city, and it conveniently divides the city into three districts: the South End, representing the older, wealthier urban core south of the Citadel the North End, the grittier northern suburbs destroyed by the Explosion; and the largely residential West End. The downtown core is sandwiched between the Citadel and the harbour, making navigation a snap. The suburban areas of Halifax extending beyond the Peninsula are referred to as Mainland Halifax, and include neighbourhoods such as Spryfield and Clayton Park. North of the Peninsula is the Bedford Basin, an inland body of water that once served as a marshalling point for convoys of ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. At the head of the Basin is the community of Bedford.
Access : Coordinates: 44.647778, -63.571389 / By plane : The modern Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport (IATA: YHZ) is located 35 km north of Halifax. It is the biggest airport in the maritime provinces, with direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, New York, Chicago, Ottawa, Calgary, Boston, Philadelphia, London, and limited service to a number of regional and holiday destinations. Direct connections to Europe are provided by Air Canada (London-Heathrow), Thomas Cook Airlines (London-Gatwick), Condor (Frankfurt/Main, May-October only), Canadian Affair, WestJet (Paris and London-Gatwick May-October only) and Icelandair (short stopover in Reykjavik).
Driving from the airport to downtown Halifax takes about 35 to 40 minutes, longer in the morning rush hour. Not far after leaving the airport (heading south on Highway #102), drivers have a choice to continue on Highway #102 (use the right lanes) and take the longer route to the city via Bedford and Mainland Halifax, or take Highway #118 (left lanes) and travel the shorter route via Dartmouth and over one of the two tolled harbour bridges into Halifax. Note that the expressway portions of both highways end at the edge of the city, leaving the balance of either trip to be made on local streets.
An express bus service (route #320) to downtown Halifax — making intermediate stops in Fall River and Dartmouth — takes 55 minutes and costs $3.50 one-way, or $1.00 extra with a transfer from another route. It runs on 30 minute frequencies on-peak and 60 minutes off-peak, with the first departure from the airport at 5:45AM and the last 12:15AM. Upon boarding you should ask the driver for a transfer so you can continue your trip on a connecting bus . The bus can be found at the lower level of the airport, on the Arrivals Road (Passenger Pickup). Once outside you will see the parking garage and to its left the “Alt Hotel”. The bus stop is located directly across the street from the Alt Hotel (there is a small bus shelter at the stop). Taxis charge a flat rate of $53.00, limousines $56.00, to Halifax City centre and may be pre-booked at no extra charge . The Airporter shuttle bus no longer operates. Sunshine Cabs (1-800-565-8669 or 902-429-5555, ) is a reasonable compromise, with door-to-door service for $26.00 per person going out and $28.00 coming in, but you have to book one day in advance
By train : The VIA Rail train station located in the south end of Halifax on 1161 Hollis Street, directly next to the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel has trains to to Moncton, Quebec City, Montreal, and numerous stations en route. Note: As of 2012 this service no longer operates daily, and runs only three days a week. The trip to Montreal takes 22 hours. By car : Halifax is connected to the rest of Canada by provincial highways 101, 102, 103, and 104. Highway 102 runs between Halifax and Truro, where it connects to Highway 104 (the Trans-Canada Highway). Going west on 104 takes one to the New Brunswick border, and then onto Maine, Quebec, or Prince Edward Island. It’s about 2 hours from Halifax to the New Brunswick border; there is a $4.00 toll at the Cobequid pass. Going east on 104 takes one to Cape Breton.
A ferry service in North Sydney, Nova Scotia connects Nova Scotia with Newfoundland. Highway 103 connects Halifax with the South Shore. Highway 101 connects Halifax with the Annapolis valley. A ferry service connects Digby (about 2.5 hours from Halifax) with Saint John, New Brunswick. By bus : Maritime Bus service operates buses throughout the Maritimes. Visitors to Halifax will be dropped at the VIA Rail Station on Hollis Street. By boat : Although Halifax is a major East Coast port, no scheduled passenger ferries serve the city, other than the local ferry crossing the harbour to Dartmouth. Numerous cruise ship lines do make stops in Halifax, however
Attractions : The Halifax Citadel (Fort George) . This classic star fort is a Canadian National Heritage Site. Situated on top of Citadel Hill, it provided a perfect strategic view of the Halifax Harbour when it was constructed. Today it offers the opportune tourist that same view. Presently, the site itself has daily reenactements from guides/interpreters in period dress. It is also home to a museum and a small ceremonial garrison. A must see, especially during Canada day (July 1st) celebrations. The museum is open only May-Oct, but the grounds are open all year around. The ceremonial cannon fired at noon, locally known as the “Noon Gun”, is fired every single day, with the exception of Christmas day. Visitors can see a more formal display during the season (May-October), but may also see it free of charge in the off season.
Pier 21 , recently named as the National Immigration Museum. Canada’s equivalent of New York’s Ellis Island, this historic waterfront building processed over a million immigrants. Now converted into a modern museum with extensive exhibits related to Canadian immigration.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic : located on the downtown waterfront. The collection includes exhibits and artifacts related to the sinking of the Titanic and the devastating 1917 Halifax explosion. The CSS Acadia , a hydrographic survey ship built in 1913, is an ongoing conservation project. The Acadia is moored a few meters from the museum building; tours are available during the summer. Also, located behind the museum is the HMCS Sackville, the last remaining Flower Class escort Corvettes from the convoys of WW2 (also open for guided and non guided tours)
Old Burial Grounds, Located at Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road. This historic graveyard was in use from 1749 to 1843 during which time some 12,000 people were buried there, even though you will only find a modest 1200 headstones. In 1749, when Halifax was founded, this graveyard would have marked the outer limits of the settlement that stretched up from the harbour. As such, to the keen observer, it is still possible to imagine where the walls that once fortified Halifax would have run along this site. there are moderately informative plaques and signs throughout the graveyard that can add more information as you explore.
Right across the street from the Old Burial Grounds is St. Matthew’s Church, the oldest United Church in Canada. The building was opened in 1859, but the congregation dates back to 1749. St. Paul’s Church , built in 1750, is the oldest Anglican church in Canada, located at 1749 Argyle St. (a.k.a. “The Grand Parade” square).
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia , moderate in size, but does a fine job of highlighting the works of famous local artists such as Maud Lewis (folk) and Alex Colville (hyperrealist), in addition to Mik’maq (aboriginal) art. Check the Web site for traveling exhibitions.
Province House, 1726 Hollis St. Home to Canada’s oldest provincial legislature and of Britain’s first overseas self-government. A fine example of Georgian architecture, the building first opened in 1842. Visitors can learn about the history of the site and the current Legislative Assembly through guided tours, displays and an audio-visual presentation. Province House is open year-round.
Parks : Public Gardens, Spring Garden and South Park St.. A beautiful Victorian-era garden occupying a large city block, open May to October. There are ponds, fountains, flowers, ducks, geese, a cafe and ice cream shop and sometimes live music in the gazebo. Free. edit
Point Pleasant Park, (Most southerly point of the peninsula; short ride on bus #9 from downtown) . Dawn to dusk. A large peaceful park that serves as a vantage point to see the mouth of the harbour and into the Atlantic ocean. Was once a dense woods has since been left with patches of devastation and clear-cut from Hurricane Juan in 2003. It still remains a popular place to walk dogs and stroll. The park contains some preserved historic military fortifications such the 18th century Martello tower, as well as ruins of several other fortification. Free.
Fort York Redoubt, Purcell’s Cove Rd (Bus #15 from Halifax Shopping Centre) . A sprawling complex of forts from 1790s to 1940s. Plan to spend hours exploring tunnels, caves, cliffs, cannons, bunkers, trails, and views of the harbour. Free.
Halifax Common, Quinpool and Robie. A large public space open to everyone. In the summer, you can find residents and visitors playing sports, picnicking, and exercising. The Emera Oval, a speedskating rink installed for the 2011 Canada Winter Games, is open for public use during the winter months. It is also open for in-line skating during the summer months.
Hemlock Ravine, Kent Avenue . A large nature park full of old growth forest, large ravine, heart shaped duck pond, music rotunda and a history dating back to the 1700s.
Activities : Waterfront, A boardwalk with a great variety of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and other entertainment. Theodore Tugboat, a WWII era Corvette, and other ships line the harbour. During the summer months, there are many harbour boat tours that launch from here.
Harbour Hopper , Guided tour of Halifax and harbour in an amphibious vehicle. Very informative and highlights major points of interest in the city in fun-filled hour.
Boat Tours Murphy’s the Cable Wharf is in the heart of the Halifax waterfront and offers a variety of boat tours including nature and whale watching, tall ship sailing, deep sea fishing, historical harbour tours and dinner cruises. Open seven days a week May-October, 902-420-1015.
Canoe the Northwest Arm, Head down to the St. Mary’s Boat Club, 1641 Fairfield Road (off Jubilee) 902 490-4688, on Saturdays and Sundays (11AM-7PM) and rent a canoe for $8/hour. Take a trip up the beautiful Northwest Arm to see the historic Dingle tower in Flemming Park, watch the numerous sailboats out for a weekend cruise or catch a regatta if you’re lucky. Gawk at some of the mansions that line the water or for the ambitious, head all the way up to Point Pleasant Park, where the Northwest Arm meets Halifax Harbour. While swimming in parts of the harbour was briefly possible due to the installation of sewage treatment plants, they are down for repair and swimming is again not recommended unless a trip to hospital after is desired.
The Halifax Mooseheads Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team plays from October to April at the Halifax Metro Centre. Rough, highly skilled games are combined with a near-NHL level of presentation. Tickets are $8-15, and are available at the Metro Centre box office.
The Halifax Rainmen Halifax’s National Basketball League of Canada team plays from November to March at the Halifax Metro Centre. With many of the players coming from NBA teams or from division one colleges and universities in Canada and the United States, the Halifax Rainmen are Nova Scotia’s only professional sports team. Tickets are available at the Metro Centre box office.
Alexander Keith’s Brewery Tour . Immersive tour of Alexander Keith’s original brewery as it supposedly was in 1863, complete with tour guide actors in period garb singing songs, dancing jigs and relaying a bit of the history of the brewery and Keith himself, as well as promoting Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale. You do get the chance to sample two mugs of the stuff at the end. Tours on the hour and half-hour but limited opening hours outside summer, check the website for details. If you are an Air Miles collector, you can redeem your miles here for free tickets.
The Spring Garden Road Memorial Public Library, 5381 Spring Garden Road. A convenient place to sit, relax, and watch kids duck between the legs of the pensive Winston Churchill statue out front. As a sliver of scarce downtown green space, the front lawn of the building is well-used by Haligonians as a meeting spot, a reading spot, and most importantly as a place to eat french fries on lunch breaks.
Dartmouth Ferry. The Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry dates back to 1752. For the same cost as bus fare, one can take the ferry back and forth between Dartmouth and Halifax. Make sure to get a transfer (valid for 90 minutes), so you can return on the same ticket. A second ferry operates Monday to Fridays (except holidays) serving the Woodside ferry terminal, providing a slightly different view of the harbour. $2.50.
Outdoor Winter Activities, . There are lots of great free outdoor activities throughout Nova Scotia. Outdoor skating, snowshoeing, skiing and sledding to name a few. Free. edit
Explore The Outdoors, . Halifax has plenty of parks, trails and wilderness areas within city limits. An eco tourist’s dream. Get out and explore popular parks, coastlines wilderness areas and hidden gems.
Busker Festival, Visit in August for the festival of street performers along the waterfront. It’s a must see, with amazing acts, some grand and awe-inspiring, some quaint, others funny (both intentionally and unintentionally). A very lively time of year along the harbourfront, with music and stalls selling food and the standard run of touristy souvenirs.
Nova Scotia International Air Show, . A yearly event, taking place in early September. This is a great chance to see the the aerobatic teams from a number of national air forces. The Canadian Snowbirds perform every year. In past years, the show was held at the Shearwater airforce base, but was moved to the civilian airport in 2005, and subsequently to Yarmouth (3 hours southwest of the city) in 2009.
The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo . Happening every July, the Tattoo is the world’s largest annual indoor show. Its unique combination of music, dance, drama, gymnastics, comedy, military displays, competitions and much more.
Tall Ships Festival . Every few years, Halifax hosts up to 30 historic and unique (and usually massive) maritime sailing vessels from around the world. The festival was last held in summer 2012.
Stay safe : With the exception of a few instances of swarming – groups of people harassing, robbing or assaulting persons – and robberies, most crime appears to be drug-related and therefore should not cause much concern to the average traveller. However, crime can be a problem in the Halifax area, and some dangers are worth mentioning. Be especially careful at night in certain areas of the North End (Gottingen Street, Uniacke Square) and the Halifax Commons. Be vigilant around drunken folks late at night in the downtown bar scene. Certain areas in North Dartmouth, Spryfield and Fairview are known for their crime problems but are generally safe during the day.
Pedestrian crosswalks are highly respected by drivers in Halifax, and crossings can occur just about anywhere. This provides a double danger: For drivers to keep on the ball watching out for pedestrians; and for pedestrians to not be lulled into a false sense of security while crossing. However, be careful at night, as the crosswalks are at times poorly lit. Rapidly changing weather means that black ice abounds in winter, and it’s particularly nasty when combined with the city’s hilly topography. Choose your steps and drive carefully.
Contact : Internet Space, 5675 Spring Garden Road. A reasonably priced internet cafe in Nelson Place in downtown Halifax. Cope : Direction 180, 2158 Gottingen Street. The main resource drug addiction treatment. They operate a needle exchange, but you may need to register.
Go Next : St. Margaret’s Bay is only half an hour away a gorgeous bay, almost as big as the harbour itself, but without the cities. Instead, it is dotted with islands and small towns.
There are beautiful beaches, such as Queensland, Cleveland, Black Point and others, just before the town of Hubbards.
The drive along highway 3 (2 lane, coastal) is well worth the twists and turns, for it is beautifully scenic, especially on nice summer days.
Peggy’s Cove: stunning bare granite rocks and cliffs with its historic and still-used lighthouse. While sunsets are gorgeous and peaceful on clear summer evenings the best times to see Peggy’s Cove are the stormier days, when the waves crashing against the cliffs send salt spray high into the air. Better to get out there early in the day to avoid tour buses.
Hiking/Outdoor Recreation . There are plenty of hiking, biking, paddling and other outdoor recreation destinations in and around Halifax. Their short distance from the urban center are perhaps Halifax’s most unique aspect.
If you have a car, there are plenty of historical towns within an couple of hour’s drive of Halifax that are worth visiting, such as Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, and Wolfville.
If you are not traveling by car, there is at least one service that can take you to some of the more famous spots around Halifax — Alternative Routes . Prices are reasonable and it’s either a one day loop or a multi-day excursion.