Travel Nova Scotia: Halifax

Travel Nova Scotia: Halifax

Nestled along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of Nova Scotia, Halifax is a city of both seafaring history and a vibrant urban centre. Wrapped by the sea, Halifax’s history and tradition are on display for all to see in countless Maritime and historical museums in the city, while its modern flare is celebrated in pubs, the Seaport Farmers Market, and throughout the downtown core with its focus on entertainment, theatre, and festivals. Indulge in fresh seafood; where scallops, fish, and lobster are brought into the harbour and delivered directly to restaurants. Explore Halifax, where all corners of the city are never too far from the salt water, where everyday life revolves around the sea and where nature is always next door.

You’ll find shopping along Halifax’s Spring Garden Road, which borders the Halifax Public Gardens and tells a story of its own. If you’re seeking a traditional Nova Scotia experience, learn about Halifax’s history and celebrate the fishermen and immigrants that once flooded the city at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic or the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Choose from romantic, educational, active, or indulgent vacations with our list of tourist attractions in Halifax.

Travel Nova Scotia halifax

Halifax waterfront. Photo credit: Mark Tyler

Who should visit Halifax

Walk the streets where history was made in Atlantic Canada and explore Halifax, Nova Scotia’s largest city. Halifax is the perfect destination for a family vacation, with many options for activities both indoors and outdoors, year-round. Partnered with an east coast road trip, Halifax makes for a great destination to add modern flare to Canada’s Ocean Playground and seafaring history. For the healthy traveller, enjoy biking or walking Halifax’s downtown area through narrow streets and up hills to stay fit on vacation. History buffs will enjoy visiting sites like Halifax’s Citadel National Historic Site, the site of the Halifax Explosion, and the waterfront area. Never far from the rest of Nova Scotia, Halifax is a great entrance gateway to travel Nova Scotia: foodies will enjoy the province for its seafood and fresh fruit, while younger travellers will enjoy the 7 universities in the city and the restaurant and bar scene that follows, while older generations will enjoy museums, beautiful architecture, and the several parks that give the city it’s rich landscape.

Halifax is a great long-weekend trip from Toronto or Halifax, or a week-long vacation when partnered with renting a car and driving Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail or exploring the Annapolis Valley and southern parts of the province. With great dining and a range of activities, Halifax is also a popular destination for business travellers to stay and explore prior to or after meetings.

Tourist attractions in Halifax

Plan to spend much of your vacation walking between Halifax tourist attractions; the city is walk-able and is best seen by foot. Whether you’re looking to experience  museums and history, a casino, outdoor activities, great shopping, or to the lull of the Halifax harbour, the city has something for everyone. The stunning beauty of the south shore, Peggy’s Cove, and other oceanfront towns are just an hour away. We’ve rounded up the top – and best – tourist attractions in Halifax. Looking for more? Enjoy one of several day trips and coastal drives, a city walking tour to hit it all, or a wine tour to the Annapolis Valley to round out your Nova Scotia vacation.

Travel Nova Scotia halifax

Halifax Public Gardens. Photo credit: Wally Hayes

For the sporty traveller: Start your visit to Halifax with a stop at Lawrencetown Beach, just outside the city. A popular surf spot, walk the rocky shores and beach comb, or take in the many surfers that battle the waters year-round. Just 25-minutes from Halifax, Lawrencetown is home to boardwalks along the beach, and cold water surfing. Enjoy safe swimming in this area, or at other Halifax-area beaches like Crystal Crescent, in the summer months. For the slower paced, walk the Halifax Public Gardens, one of the best examples of a Victorian Garden in North America.  June through September, take a horticultural and historical garden tour, or walk the gardens, which stretch a city block, at your own pace and enjoy the flowers, groomed trails, and duck pond. Another great outside option is Point Pleasant Park on the southern tip of the Halifax Peninsula. Walk trails, take a picnic, or enjoy a theatre rendition by Halifax’s Shakespeare by the Sea summer theatre group. Visiting in the winter? Don’t miss the Emera Oval on the Halifax Commons and skate this outdoor skating rink (offering free skate and helmet rentals!) built for the Canada Games…you might even find a Beavertail trailer on site for a warm snack and hot chocolate to warm up after.

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Citadel Hill National Historic Site. Photo credit: Wally Hayes

For the history buff: Don’t leave Halifax without visiting Citadel National Historic Site. Citadel Hill, standing proud in the midst of downtown, is a British fort that once protected the Halifax Harbour (starting in 1749). Step into the fort and its unique 15 walls making a star-shape and see historical re-enactments and the noon gun. Before leaving “the Hill,” snap a photo of the Old Town Clock that looks out towards the Harbour.  Other historic stops on your Halifax vacation should include the Alexander Keith’s Brewery, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, or one of the city’s museums. Two of our favourites are the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. At Pier 21, learn about the one million immigrants that entered Canada through this pier between 1928 and 1971, the Second World War, and the military personnel who said goodbye to their families at this pier. In the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, find small craft boats and World War convoys. Immerse yourself in the city’s maritime heritage: learn about the Titanic, Halifax’s naval role in the wars, and the tragic Halifax Explosion. Interested in your own itinerary? Wander the downtown streets of Halifax, or the Hydrostone District: now full of quaint cafes, restaurants, and shops, and see history unfold before you. Walk Upper Water St. and see historic properties built between 1800 and 1905, or take a trip to McNabs Island, in the middle of the harbour, and see abandoned military forts. Halifax has a wealth of history waiting to be uncovered. How much time do you have?

For the foodie: Halifax is the perfect entry point to travel Nova Scotia for the foodie: get fresh produce, local meat, and more, at the Halifax Seaport Market located at the south end of the Halifax waterfront. For the foodie looking to try some of Halifax’s best restaurants, we recommend wandering the downtown area and Spring Garden Road. Our favourites are Your Father’s Moustache (5686 Spring Garden Road), The Old Triangle (5136 Prince Street), and The Wooden Monkey (1707 Grafton Street). Looking for a taste of Nova Scotia wine and brews? Take a wine and beer tour and sample drinks from across the Halifax and Annapolis Valley region, which is a growing area for wineries and wine tour destination. The Alexander Keith’s Brewery is also a popular foodie destination: take a step back into history and enjoy samples of the famed Nova Scotia beer, and learn about the brewing process and Alexander’s start.

For travellers looking to find a great overview of the city, try the Harbour Hopper: this truck is for land and sea. You’ll explore Halifax’s history along Lower Water Street, around Citadel Hill, and more, and then dive into the harbour for a view from the water of Halifax’s navy yard and harbourfront. This narrated tour is a great option for the tourist that doesn’t have time to explore everything but wants to see the main sights.

Other popular waterfront attractions include NovaScotian Crystal for a special souvenir to bring home and learn about the art of making crystal. This shop is North America’s only mouth-blown, hand-cut crystal maker. Your piece will be authentic Nova Scotian (not to mention beautiful!). Don’t miss a fresh fish dinner at Murphy’s on the Wharf or catch your daily tour here, or simply enjoy the views of the Halifax harbour.

Walk a little further along the harbour and find Casino Nova Scotia for some of the best gambling in the Maritimes, and excellent entertainment, concerts, and views of Dartmouth.

Travel Nova scotia halifax

Old Town Clock, Halifax. Photo credit: Wally Hayes

Still have time to spare? Walk the Halifax Boardwalk along the waterfront and enjoy an up-close view of Theodore Tugboat, or see the international Tall Ships during their visits, among other boats docked along the waterfront. Other popular Halifax tourist attractions include the HMCS Sackville, the historical Black Cultural Centre, a Halifax Mooseheads hockey game, Neptune Theatre, or visiting Alderney Landing, just across the harbour in Dartmouth (running every 15 minutes to half hour).

Tip: For visitors to Halifax in July, don’t miss the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, a military spectacular with pipe and drum bands, dancers, choirs, military traditions, and more. Celebrate all that is Nova Scotia in their Scottish and military (naval) heritage. For a full list of festivals in Halifax – like Natal Day Celebrations and the Halifax International Busker Festival – visit Destination Halifax’s event calendar.

Travel style

Visitors to Halifax normally book flights and hotels separately, and rent a car once in the city. Another popular option for seeing Halifax is as part of an east coast road trip, or staying in the downtown core and travelling by foot and public transportation. Halifax is a perfect gateway to travel Nova Scotia, with the Annapolis Valley, south shore and Peggy’s Cove, and the Acadian regions of southern Nova Scotia just a short drive away.

People also visit Halifax by cruise with many major cruise lines visiting the Port of Halifax each year. Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard Cruise Line, and others have North American itineraries which include visits to travel Nova Scotia and Halifax as a popular destination.

A visit to Halifax can also easily be partnered with a visit to Prince Edward Island, for more seafood tasting and beautiful coastline, or purchased alone as a vacation package.

Travel Nova Scotia halifax

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Photo credit: Izzy Dempsey

Downtown Halifax hotels

Stay where the action is! The countless downtown Halifax hotels range from hostels to kid-friendly hotels for your family vacation and romantic getaways. Find hotels in the city close to the Halifax tourist attractions you’re looking to visit, or ask one of our travel agents for recommendations. We’ve highlighted some hotel options in downtown Halifax as a starting point:

Lord Nelson Hotel & Suites, 4-star
Look out from your hotel room to views of the Halifax Public Gardens, Citadel Hill, or the busy shopping district of Spring Garden Road with a stay at the Lord Nelson. This hotel, Halifax’s most historic, features a range of guest rooms and suites, a fitness centre, English dining, and business centre. A perfect option for a romantic getaway or business trip where you’ll be in the middle of the city.

Westin Nova Scotian, 4-star
Overlooking the Halifax harbour, the Westin offers luxurious stays in the historic hotel downtown. With an on-site spa and Yuk Yuk’s Comedy club, the Westin is great for an adults-only getaway or for older children ready to get going and explore Halifax’s downtown.

Atlantica Hotel Halifax, 3+-star
A little removed from the downtown core, the Atlantica is opposite the Halifax Commons and Emera Oval. With excellent dining, four guest room options, an on-site pool and fitness centre, the Atlantica is ready to see you and your family arrive to relax.

Best Western Plus Chocolate Lake, 4.5-star
Welcome to your family-friendly home away from home. Get the kids out of the downtown core by just a 10-minute drive and stay at this fantastic hotel, featuring an outdoor open restaurant and lounge, and excellent view of Chocolate Lake and neighbouring city-operated beach. Your stay here will be comfortable and perfect for the little ones.

Getting There

Flying into Halifax will bring you through the Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ) from most Canadian gateways. Toronto and St. John’s offer daily non-stop flights on Air Canada, WestJet and Porter Airlines, while Calgary offers non-stop service on Air Canada and WestJet. Other gateways offer connecting or stop-over flights to Halifax. We recommend renting a car once you fly into Halifax: the city is easy to drive, car rentals are cheap, and to partner your Halifax vacation with day trips out of the city, a car is a necessity.

Getting into Halifax from the airport:
By public transit:

Regular public transportation service on the Metro Transit MetroX travels between downtown Halifax and the airport every half hour during peak times (6a.m. – 9a.m. and 3p.m. – 6p.m.) and every 60 minutes through the remainder of the day. Only $3.50 for adults/students and $2.75 for children/seniors, this is the most economical way of getting into the city after your flight.

For $22 one-way, a shuttle bus service during summer travel months (May 1 – October 31) is also available on the Airport Express.

By car:
Driving from the airport into downtown Halifax will take approximately 40 minutes. Car rentals are available at the airport, in the lower level of the airport parkade in the arrivals terminal. Those looking to travel by taxi to downtown Halifax should expect to pay approximately $60.

Travel Nova Scotia halifax

Theodore Tugboat in Halifax Harbour

Getting Around

A visit to Halifax involves lots of walking, if you’re planning on staying in the downtown core area. Downtown Halifax is hilly; bring comfortable walking shoes. Another easy method of transportation is the Halifax bus system: Metro Transit. With several regular routes through downtown, and buses reaching all parts of the city – including Dartmouth and Bayer’s Lake – the bus is an easy, economic way to get around. For those looking to rent a car, much of downtown is street parking. Car rentals for a weekend in Halifax is approximately $50/day and can be retrieved from both airport and city locations. For travellers looking to see more of the city than just downtown, or those looking to partner Halifax with other things to do in Nova Scotia, a car rental may be an easy, affordable option.

When should I go?

Halifax is located on the water, with the downtown area on a peninsula that stretches out into the Halifax harbour. Average temperatures in the summer months reach 23C with lows of 14C, while the fall sees daytime highs of between 7C and 14C, and winter months range from -7C to 0C. Colder, rainy weather in winter and spring makes summer and fall the best times to visit. Visiting during these times will also be the best bang for your buck as Halifax lights up in the summer months with festivals throughout the city.

A Halifax vacation is perfect for just a weekend, or up to 5 days, depending on your itinerary. Partnered with exploring the South Shore or the Annapolis Valley, a full week is perfect. For a family vacation, we recommend a 5-7 day vacation to see lots of attractions, and to enjoy the area’s beaches and harbourfront.

Price range

  • Flights: Approximately $450 per person from Toronto during high season (August); $380 during shoulder season (September); $500 during winter months
  • Hotel: Approximately $120-180 downtown
  • Package: $500-$800 depending on departure destination
  • Dartmouth ferry ticket: $2.50 (adult) one way; $1.75 (child/senior) one way
  • Metro Transit bus fare: $2.50 (adult) one way, $20 for 10 tickets; $1.75 (child/senior) one way, $14.50 for 10 tickets

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