10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Halifax
Despite the skyscrapers of more recent times, Halifax is still dominated by a star-shaped, hilltop citadel. The city is not just the capital of Nova Scotia, it is also the commercial hub of Canada's Maritime provinces, as well as being an important center for research with no fewer than six universities and colleges. Its fine natural harbor cuts deeply into the Atlantic coastline, with docks, piers, parks, and industry along its entire length.
During both world wars, Halifax was a collection point for convoys - a strategy for ships to cross the Atlantic in greater safety and protect themselves against attack from German U-boats. In 1917, the French munitions ship, "Mont-Blanc," which had arrived to join one such convoy, collided with the Belgian "Imo," causing the world's worst explosion prior to the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The whole of the northern end of Halifax was razed to the ground killing 1,400 people outright and injuring about 9,000. Windows were shattered as far away as Truro, some 100 kilometers away.
See also: Where to Stay in Halifax
1 Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, which was built in 1856, stands above the city's downtown. It never actually saw battle, but is an excellent example of a 19th-century British fort. During summer months, interpreters wear red British uniforms.
A road cuts up the hillside to the fortress, and viewpoints have excellent views of the city, the harbor, Dartmouth, little Georges Island, and the Angus L Macdonald bridge. The Old Town Clock, which has become the symbol of Halifax, also sits on the hillside. Prince Edward originally commissioned it in 1803. It has four clock-faces and chimes and is an enduring memorial to the punctuality of a strict disciplinarian.
Address: 5425 Sackville Street, Halifax
2 Halifax Harborfront
Much of the downtown waterfront in Halifax has a boardwalk along its length where heritage vessels, small sail boats, tugs, and ferries come and go. The "Historic Properties" area has been refurbished as an attractive pedestrian precinct of 19th-century stone warehouses and old wharf buildings, now serving as bright shops, artists' studios, and restaurants with terraces overlooking the harbor. The roads are closed to normal traffic. The square between two warehouses has been roofed over to make an equally attractive mall. From the docks, harbor sightseeing cruises regularly depart on a range of sailing ships and motor vessels.
3 Pier 21 National Historic Site
Pier 21 saw more than one million immigrants gain entry to Canada from 1928 to 1971. The interpretive centre has exhibits that explore the immigration experience from the homeland departure to being assimilated in a new country. There are views out to the lighthouse on Georges Island.
Just a short walk away, the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market is loaded with local goodies. It's open daily, and there's a rooftop picnic area.
Address: 1055 Marginal Road, Halifax
4 Peggy's Cove
Peggy's Cove is a particularly delightful little bay on the rugged Atlantic coast, 43 kilometers southwest of Halifax. The area is generally regarded as a must see in this region, and in summer, this little community is largely overrun with tourists. Colorful houses, rolling granite bluffs, and an old lighthouse give the pretty spot a special atmosphere. Peggy's Cove achieved sad notoriety in September 1998, when a Swissair plane crashed into the sea killing 229 people. A memorial marks the event.
5 Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a view over Halifax harbor and brings the sea indoors with its collection of small craft, model ships, photographs, and curiosities of maritime history. Exhibits are devoted to sea life and historic vessels, plus historic events like the monumental Halifax Explosion in 1917.
The survey vessel "CSS Acadia ", berthed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, was built for the Canadian hydrographic service in 1913.
Address: 1675 Lower Water Street, Halifax
6 Halifax Public Gardens
The Halifax Public Gardens, in a seven hectare park, was opened to the public in 1867. It is a good example of Victorian horticulture, with an ornamental bandstand, fountains, statues, and formal flower-beds. Ducks and other waterfowl make a home in the garden ponds.
Heavy iron gates mark the entrance on Spring Garden Road. The garden is gradually undergoing restoration work to maintain some of the key features.
Address: 5665 Spring Garden Road, Halifax
7 Province House
This Georgian sandstone building known as Province House, completed in 1819, is the seat of Nova Scotia's Parliament, in existence since 1758. The guided tour includes the "Red Chamber" where the Council used to meet, as well as the parliament chamber and the library that, with its two grand staircases, was once the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. This is where, in 1835, Joseph Howe defended himself against the charge of defamation. His acquittal is regarded as the beginning of a free press in Nova Scotia. He later went into politics and led the campaign against confederation, but ultimately joined the dominion government in Ottawa.
Address: 1726 Hollis Street, Halifax
8 Point Pleasant Park
One of the most splendid places to stroll in Halifax is Point Pleasant Park, on the southernmost point of the city peninsula. This natural area features towering trees, winding footpaths, and great views out over Halifax harbor and the North West Arm. It is closed to vehicles.
Within the park are many historical monuments and remnants of wartime. The Prince of Wales Tower is a round stone tower that was built by Prince Edward in 1796. It was the first of its kind in North America, the prototype "Martello Tower." The basic idea was to combine soldiers' accommodation, a store-house, and cannon mountings in a unit capable of defending itself, surrounded by immensely thick stone walls, with access only by a retractable ladder to the first floor.
Address: 5718 Point Pleasant Drive, Halifax
9 Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
In downtown Halifax, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum is the Atlantic provinces. The museum features a permanent collection of visual arts from the Maritimes and around the world, numbering more than 13,000 pieces. There is a particular emphasis on the work of Nova Scotian folk artist, Maud Lewis, and part of the gallery's collection includes her shed-sized house that is decorated with vibrant paintings. The gallery also features excellent temporary exhibitions.
Address: 1723 Hollis Street, Halifax
10 McNabs and Lawlor Island Provincial Park
McNabs and Lawlor Island Provincial Park is located at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. Ferry boats take visitors to this natural area to enjoy bird watching, hiking, or a little history. While Lawlor Island is not open to the public, McNab Island features 400 acres of woodland area along with Fort McNab, a national historic site. Other heritage buildings include summer homes, Maugers Beach Lighthouse, and a long-closed teahouse.
Where to Stay in Halifax for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Halifax is right downtown near the stunning harbor and historical district. The area is compact and easily walkable to key attractions, including the Maritime Museum, Province House, and Pier 21 National Historic Site. Just behind is the famous Citadel Hill. The following are some highly-rated hotels in great locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Downtown, just one block from the stairs to Citadel Hill, the posh Prince George Hotel offers exceptional service and well-appointed rooms, some with views of the harbor. The only hotel directly on Halifax's waterfront is the Marriott Hotel. This property has rooms with amazing views out over the harbor and is directly on the harbor walk. Next to the train station and close to the waterfront is the recently renovated, charming Westin Nova Scotian, originally built in the 1930s.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Homewood Suites by Hilton Halifax-Downtown features suites with full kitchens, separate sitting areas, good views, and a complimentary breakfast. The Hollis Halifax - a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton is one block off the waterfront and has oversized suites and a large indoor pool. For a boutique hotel, the Halliburton is an excellent choice. The hotel consists of three heritage townhouses that have been converted into 29 charming rooms, some with fireplaces.
- Budget Hotels: The best budget options are just outside the city center. About 10 minutes from downtown, in the Bayer's Lake area, is the Coastal Inn, with large, bright rooms and a good variety of restaurants in the nearby area. Also a short drive out of downtown is the Comfort Inn. This hotel offers a great view out over Bedford Basin and has an indoor pool. A hiking trail leaves from the back of the hotel and winds its way through Hemlock Ravine Park.