The port city of Halifax is one of Nova Scotia’s most underrated gems. With a gorgeous hilltop citadel overlooking the city, a spectacular waterfront and beautiful parks, Halifax is a true slice of heaven on Earth.
The city also has a rich history concerning art, immigration and ships. It is home to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the Canadian Immigration Museum and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, all of which are some of the most highly regarded museums in this part of Canada.
Whether you’re looking to admire the nature, explore the Titanic-related city of the city or hit up Nova Scotia’s best museums, you’ll find some excellent options here. And don’t forget Halifax makes a great starting point for a road trip around Nova Scotia too.
But for now, here are the top things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia!
Nova Scotia has a lot of coves, but few are as famous as Peggy’s Cove. This area is very popular with tourists, mostly due to idyllic views and an interesting lighthouse.
The lighthouse is quite far away from downtown Halifax, so I’d recommend you look into organized tours. There’s tonnes of options that will pick you up and drop you off in Halifax, and include trips to some other famous landmarks in the area. The main downside of going to Peggy’s Cove on a tour is that you have no say in how much time you get to spend in the area. And, considering there’s lots of other interesting sights nearby, that is a shame.
If you decide to make the trip on your own, I’d recommend you also stop by Polly Cove. There’s roadside parking and a short hiking trail will take you to the shore. The area is quite peaceful, with beautiful nature and gorgeous views along the way. You can even see the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse from the shore of Polly Cove!
The Halifax Citadel is probably the best known spot in this city and the most popular tourist attraction. The hilltop fort has stood proud overlooking the downtown area for more than 250 years, and it’s impressive how well-maintained it is. Since it sits on elevated terrain, you can get some great views of Halifax harbor from here, and you can even spot Georges Island.
A tour of the citadel ground is an absolute must in Halifax. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about the military history of the city, and you get to see some really cool canons. It’s also possible to go for a walk around the entire complex, for spectacular 360 views of the city. It’s about a kilometer loop, and it will take you less than 30 minutes to go around the fortress.
There’s also a café on the premises, and a gift shops if you want to pick up some Halifax memorabilia. And most of the staff are in costume, so you can see how the guards and soldiers dressed all those years ago. It’s worth noting that most of the citadel is under the open sky, so it’s best to visit on a clear, sunny day for the most enjoyable experience.
Nova Scotia is the easiest province to get permanent residence in Canada. It is extremely open to immigrants – in Halifax, immigrants make up for 10% of the entire population. And it’s been like that for a while, mostly because of the importance of the harbor. In the decade after WWII, Canada received more than 1,25 million immigrants just from Europe. Most of those people arrived by boat, and Halifax was their entry point into the country.
The city is proud of this heritage and the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is a living testament to that. There are lots of old artifacts that defined the live of immigrants back in the day, from old suitcases to cans of spam.
There are even replicas of boat cabins in which people arrived to the country, which is pretty cool. And in case you have an ancestor who arrived to Canada at Pier 21, staff at the museum can help you track their records!
The Halifax port is the one closest to Europe in entire mainland North America. I’m pretty sure you can imagine just how important that makes it for the country. And it’s an impressive sight, as there’s always some sort of massive ship docked that will just blow you away. Whether it’s a cruise ship or just a giant ferry, the Halifax port rarely fails to impress.
Also, the city’s historic waterfront is kind of iconic, and it’s something you have to see and enjoy in order to fully experience Halifax. Apart from a myriad of different shops and eateries, you’ll also find a farmer’s market at the waterfront. You can shop all sorts of organic produce here, as well as homemade snacks and all sorts of unique crafted items. It’s a true gem for shopaholics, especially those who prefer to shop locally.
Halifax is home to one of the largest art galleries in the area, which spans over a whooping 6,200 square meters. The gallery boasts more than 17,000 different works of art, including stuff from both modern and classic artists. It’s an enjoyable experience that is fun for both children and adults, so it’s a great spot for families!
Some of the most interesting works of art in the gallery are by Canadian native Maud Lewis, who unfortunately spent most of her life living in poverty, only to achieve national recognition just a few years before her death. Nowadays she is celebrated as one of the best folk artists from Nova Scotia, and quite a lot of her art can be observed at the AGNS. There’s even a replica of her painted home at the museum, which is just mesmerizing to observe.
The permanent collection is quite impressive, and there’s always some sort of temporary collection you can view additionally. You can get more info on the temporary collections on the AGNS’s website, if you want to know what to expect. The main focus of their permanent collection are works from native Canadian artists, particularly those who have strong ties to Nova Scotia.
The art gallery also holds various workshops sometimes, depending on the exact season. There’s usually something on Sundays and Wednesdays, and it’s a great experience if you’re looking to have some fun and attempt to create your own art.
Point Pleasant park is one of the few green destinations on the Halifax peninsula. The serene park area features some gorgeous landscape views and quite a few interesting monuments. There’s even a beach in the area, but it’s not recommended for swimming due to high bacteria levels.
The park has several enjoyable hiking trails, which are suitable even for total newbies. It’s a great spot if you want to spend some time in nature but remain close to the city center area.
One of the most interesting spots in the park is the Prince of Wales Tower. The historic site is absolutely charming, but there’s not much to see inside the actual tower. There are lots of interesting signs near the tower that will tell you about its role in Halifax’s defense system, and just provide more general info about its history. Plus this area of the park is gorgeous and a great spot to get some stunning photos.
Other notable landmarks in the area include the Naval Memorial, Bonaventure Anchor and ruins of the Northwest Arm Battery.
Georges Island is a tiny island just opposite Halifax’s iconic waterfront, and it offers spectacular views of the tall skyscrapers and the harbor. It features a small but very well-maintained fortress with tunnels underneath. You can tour the tunnels and I’d highly recommend you do that – it’s a short but informative tour, unlike anything else you can do in Halifax.
Fort Charlotte ruins are also an impressive sight, especially considering that they’re largely subterranean. There’s also a beautiful lighthouse, but it’s unfortunately not open to the public.
In fact, the entire island is only open to the public on special occasions, so you will definitely need to plan to visit it. You can get more info about tour dates on their website as well as reserve tickets. The upside is that their tickets are open-ended, so you can roam around the island for however you long you like.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is in the heart of Halifax’s waterfront, and it’s the perfect place to learn about the area’s rich maritime history. The museum covers pretty much everything from the Halifax explosion to World War Convoys, and it’s a great experience if you have any interest in ships.
Apart from seeing actual sailboats in the museum, you can also see replicas of all sorts of ships. There’s even a replica of the Titanic, which looks absolutely amazing. The entire incident is described in detail, so you might just get to learn something new about the tragic event. Throughout the museum you can also see lots of other monuments, including a massive octopus and the actual lens from the Sambro lighthouse.
Perhaps the best part of the museum is that you’ll be greeted by Merlin the talking parrot once you enter. He’s been with the museum since 2006, and they even have a live camera that lets you see what he’s doing at all times.
Halifax Public Gardens are another must in this city. They’ve been around for more than 150 years, and they are truly an important piece of Halifax history. The wrought iron gate at the entrance of the gardens has been around since 1890, and the concrete bridges were built way back in 1911 to replace the even older wooden bridges.
There are also lots of fountains and various monuments throughout the gardens, which are well worth your time. The bandstand that was originally built in 1887 is the centerpiece of the place, and it’s been the focus of many social events over the decades. But by far the best thing about the Halifax Public Gardens are all the wonderful flowers you wouldn’t expect to see in Canada.
There’s a tropical display bed with cacti and Agave, which is quite impressive. These plants have to be moved to greenhouses during the winter, otherwise they wouldn’t survive the harsh Canada colds. Throughout the gardens you will also notice lots of geometrical flower beds, which are some of the oldest parts of the gardens. And in the summer they really make the area come to life with all the wonderful colors.
Frog Pond Park is less than a 15-minute drive from downtown Halifax, and it’s a must if you want to enjoy some beautiful Canadian nature. It’s a great spot to do some light hiking while enjoying beautiful views. The pond is also a great spot for birdwatching and you can usually see ducks, frogs, turtles and other waterfowl.
The main hiking trail is a circuit around the pond, and it’s only about 1.4 kilometers long. That’s an easy walk you can cover in some 30 minutes, even if you stop every now and then to admire the scenery and take photos. And there are lots of benches along the trail where you can sit down and rest or just take in the views.
Once you’ve completed the pond loop, you can head to the Dingle Playground for even more beautiful sights. The playground is a great spot for children since they can roam around in the nature and have lots of fun. And adults can admire the nearby Sir Sandford Fleming Memorial Tower, or even go fishing at the Dingle Park Fishing Pier.
I rarely ever include cemetery visits in these guides, but the Fairview Lawn Cemetery of Halifax is rather special. It is the burial place to more than 150 passengers of Titanic, so it definitely has the iconic status. And honestly, seeing all the names of the buried people is a sobering experience.
Almost everyone on the planet knows about the Titanic and the horrible fate that the met the passengers of the ship, but we mostly identify it with the cult movie. People forget that actual human beings died during that crash, and seeing all those tombstones next to one another will open up your eyes for good.
There are several organized tours in Halifax that will take you to this cemetery and give you a detailed account of the involvement of the city of Halifax in the recovery of the bodies. It’s certainly an educational experience, and a must for Titanic buffs.
McNabs Island is the third largest island in the city of Halifax’s harbor. Nowadays it’s a provincial park, but decades ago the island played a big role in the defense of Halifax Harbor. This island is an excellent combination of historic and natural features, so it’s the perfect destination if you want to spend some time outside while learning a lot about the history of Nova Scotia.
You can tour remains of Fort Ives and Fort McNab – two military forts that were established ages ago, as part of Halifax Defense Complex. And there are dozens of great hiking trails across the island, which connect most of the top sights in the area. You can also see wildlife and flora native to this island, which is pretty cool.
It’s worth noting that McNabs Island is home to many other historic sights that are not open to the public. I would recommend booking a tour if you want to focus on the historic aspect of the island – that way you can avoid going to places where you’re not allowed and you will have an experienced guide to walk you through the top sights.
If you have more days to spare and want to explore more of Nova Scotia, another island worth visiting is Cape Breton Island which is around 3 hours away from Halifax. Admire the beauty of the Cabot trail, visit some of the historical sites, and hike one of the trails in the Highlands National Park. These are just some of the things you can do on the island. If you are looking for a place to stay where you can relax, camp and sleep under the stars, the domes in Cape Breton would be perfect for you.
To no one’s surprise, winter sports are huge in Canada. Ice skating is perhaps the most accessible option for people who aren’t that sporty, as it’s easy to learn even without any previous experience whatsoever.
Halifax has a bunch of different ice skating rinks, but one of the best ones is easily near the iconic citadel. The Emera Oval rink is that size of three NFL hockey rinks – an absolute dream for anyone who loves gliding on the ice. It is just massive, so quite a lot of people can ice skate under the starry sky without constantly bumping into one another.
You can even try your hand at curling in Halifax. The sport is pretty big in Canada, and it’s heaps of fun! There are ample curling opportunities around Halifax, but the Mayflower Curling Club stands out as one of the best option for total newbies. You can take a class and learn to curl, and there’s even a decent restaurant on-site.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.