Halifax Things to Do
Ultimate Guide for Halifax
Discover the top 18 things to do while in Halifax on a budget trip. Halifax is on the Atlantic Ocean and the air masses overhead are very unsettled. It can be windy and rainy anytime of the year. June and September are the two best months to go to Halifax to visit based on weather, price, and crowds. Halifax is a safe city with a very low crime rate. In our week we spent time in all the areas of Halifax and did not feel uncomfortable anywhere.
Top 18 Things To Do In Halifax
1. Halifax City Centre
The City Centre has an abundance of retail shops, restaurants, bars, the Public Library, the Public Garden and historic sites like the Citadel.
It is a small area and you can easily browse through most of the stores in an afternoon.
Our favourite water hole is the Niche Lounge where Spring Garden Road ends. That is how we found it. We walked down the Spring Garden Road from our condo and the road ends right at the lounge. Happy Hour is daily from 4 pm to 6:30 pm.
At the bottom of the hill is a quiet shady cemetery with the only monument in Canada to the Crimean War of 1855. We like to wander through cemeteries as they are peaceful and they tell a story of the people who lived and died here.
2. Citadel National Historic Site
The large hill overlooking Halifax’s natural harbour is called the Citadel. At the top is the star shaped fort named after King George II. The entrances are guarded by the 78th Highlanders who perform a changing of the guards on the hour.
Throughout the day the Highlanders carry out marching and band drills on the parade grounds. The daily Noon Gun is fired by the Royal Artillery and they have been at it since 1856. Be there by 11:45 am to see the action.
There is 3-hour Soldier-for-a-Day program. You will be outfitted in an authentic uniform after which you take drill lessons and learn to fire a musket loading rifle. Or, you may want to take part in a spirits tasting experience. For $15 you get to taste 3 historic spirits that are made especially for the Citadel and aged in oak barrels onsite.
The Citadel National Historic Site is opened daily from 10 am to 5 pm with admission about $12. If you have a Canada Parks Pass, make sure you bring it and you will get in free.
3. Halifax Public Library
A cantilevered glass wonder, the Halifax Central Library opened December 2014 at the cost of $56 million. It truly is an amazing building that must be seen even if you are not a regular library goer. The outside book return is all glass and you can watch the books being fed onto a belt that then takes the book up a maze of belts to the collections desk.
The LEED certified library was a great civic project that spanned several years. Part of the guiding principles was for the library to be a central meeting place that will help make Halifax be a successful and liveable city.
4. Port of Halifax
The Port of Halifax was the first North American naval shipyard when it opened in 1758. It became a free port in 1818 to allow ships from around the world to bring marketable goods to Canada. By 1889 the Port was the largest dry dock repair facility in North America.
The Port of Halifax employees 13,500 people and responsible for $2.5 billion in economic activity for the province on Nova Scotia. It is one of the largest ice free ports in the world and is the world’s deepest natural port.
In addition to all the commercial freighters the port receives over 170 cruise ships a year bringing over 300,000 passengers. The Halifax Seaport where you will find Pier 21 and the Harbour Walk is a part of the port.
5. Titanic Graveyard
The final resting place for 121 victims of the Titanic disaster is in Fairview Lawn Cemetery. Their graves are laid in the shape of the hull of a ship.
Halifax, at 700 nautical miles, was the closest port to the Titanic when it hit the iceberg and sunk on April 12, 1912. Three ships were dispatched to pick up the 300 bodies recovered. One hundred were buried at sea, 59 were transported by rail to be buried elsewhere and 139 were buried in Halifax in three cemeteries.
The graveyard is so popular with Titanic devotees that the hudreds of people from tour buses began overrunning the cemetery. So, they put a stop to tour buses parking at the cemetery. Fortunately, you can still walk into the cemetery and it is located a short walk from the Citadel.
6. Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market
The Halifax Farmers’ Market was created in 1750 by Royal Proclamation making it the longest running Farmers’ Market in North America. In 2010 it found a new home in a large open building in the Seaport.
There is a wonderful display of local Halifax and Nova Scotian food, beverages and crafts from the 250 vendors. There is fresh produce, meat, bakery and other mouth watering foods. Local artisans make all kinds of crafts that make perfect souvenirs.
We had lunch here and bought our daily produce, seafood, meat, cheese, and bakery goods here. You will also find the best lobster roll (as determined by a tasting contest) in Nova Scotia here.
7. Halifax Habourwalk
The Halifax Habourwalk is one of the longest continuous boardwalks in the world. Stretching 4.4 km along the Halifax Harbour the boardwalk is home to many interesting things to see and do. Along the entire boardwalk there are plenty of photo ops.
Starting at the Halifax Seaport continue along the boardwalk to NovaScotian Crystal where you can watch beautiful crystal being blown and made.
Walking further you can book a harbour tour or catch the ferry to Dartmouth for $2.75 return. Stop and have a refreshment or bite to eat in one of the many restaurants along the way.
The boardwalk ends up at Casino Nova Scotia. We went several times during our week.
Budget Tip: Once a week they have all-you-can-eat lobster dinner. Make sure you get there early to get a ticket. Call for information.
8. Alexander Keith's Brewery
Alexander Keith started the brewery at 1496 Water Street in 1822, the year after he emigrated from Scotland. It is one of the oldest breweries in North America. Rum was the drink of choice back then, but the popularity of Keith’s beer grew in the 1830s and 1840s when there was shortage of sugar from the West Indies as a result of the abolition of slavery in 1833.
We didn’t go on the tour of the brewery for two reasons: we owned a brewery and have spend hundreds of hours brewing plus the $16 admission was more than we wanted to spend on a brewery tour. But, we did have a fantastic dinner in their restaurant. We hit the Happy Hour Special which was half price fish and chips. They were delicious. And the beer was great too.
9. Canadian Museum of Immigration
10. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Located on the waterfront the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic contains a variety of exhibits incorporating artifacts of the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion that occurred December 6, 1917. A ship containing war time explosives was struck by another ship.
The resulting fire caused the ship to explode with the force of a 3 kiloton bomb destroying 325 acres of downtown Halifax, killing over 1700 people and injuring over 9000.
One of the survivors, Barbara Orr was running down the slope of Mulgrave Park to have a closer look at the burning ship. Suddenly, the roar of the fire and the shouts were silenced. She stood still. A great wind swept her off the ground. She rose and fell, twisting and turning as she went. She was thrown over half a kilometre back on top of a hill. Down where she lived, she saw only a wall of smoke and flame where her parents and five brothers and sisters had perished in the explosion.
11. Grafton Dinner Theatre
Open since 1987, the Grafton Street Dinner Theatre has been putting on wonderful shows nightly. Tickets are $58 for adults and $53 for Seniors. It includes a 3-act play, and a 3-course dinner with coffee and tea.
We had a fantastic experience the night we went. We arrived 30 minutes early to collect our tickets and have a pre theatre cocktail in the lounge. At opening time we were ushered in and escorted to our table. We sat with two other couples and we had a few minutes to chat before the staff came and took our food and drink orders.
Our drinks came and the play began right away. From the opening lines the actors had the audience laughing in hysterics. It was so funny and so well acted that we were enthralled the whole time. At the end of the 1st Act, the actors become our servers and brought out our 1st course, remained in character through out the entire service. This continued through the 2nd and 3rd course. During the coffee at the end of the play the actors mingled with the guests.
We highly recommend the evening.
12. Live Music Venues
We love live music and search it wherever we go. Halifax is a treasure trove of live music found in great bars. A lot of the bars have live music every night. A few steps from where we stayed is a Family bar called, Your Father’s Moustache . With a name like that we had to explore it.
It was Saturday afternoon and Joe Murphy and The Water Street Blues Band was playing like they have every Saturday from 4 pm to 8 pm for the past 25 years. It was awesome!
There were young families with kids, there was a group of women and men in their 80s dancing every song. Everyone was friendly and having fun. Regulars were coming up and chatting with us. One was a tiny 86 year old Italian lady wearing a racy black outfit and 3 inch stilletos. She danced like an angel.
If you like live music, you will find all you want in Halifax.
6 Daytrips Outside of Halifax
Driving any part of the 13,300 km of shoreline in Nova Scotia is breathtaking. Driving along the old road to Lunenburg we saw many spectacular views. Driving north of Halifax along the coast also gives you many great spots to view the ocean and go to the many beaches along the way.
Peggy’s Cove is 45 km south of Halifax. It has become a very popular spot because of its famous lighthouse built in 1915. Peggy’s Cove is a working fishing village and is very picturesque with its East Coast houses perched on the rocks of a narrow inlet.
We spent a few hours walking around on the granite rocks and following the trails. Be careful not to go too close to the ocean. Do not turn your back to the ocean. Many people have died from being swept off the rocks by rogue waves.
The day we were there the weather was clear and cool with the fresh breeze of the Atlantic carrying the salt smell of the ocean.
Take time to walk around the village and pick up a souvenir. Just south of Peggy’s Cove we found a great lobster shack were we had lunch.
Lunenburg began as an off-shore fishing community and has the second largest fish processing plant in Canada. It is also known for ship building and later rum running. The famous Bluenose schooner, that can be seen on the back of the Canadian dime, was built here in 1921.
Lunenburg was founded in 1753 and named after Duke Braunschweig-Lünburg (Hanover) who was King George II of Great Britain. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 as an exemplary example of British Colonial settlement in North America. It has won the Communities in Bloom most beautiful small town in Canada.
Only 100 km from Halifax we drove the scenic old road there and the faster new highway back to Halifax. We spent the day walking around, poking in art galleries, shops, museums and eating in one of the funky restaurants. It really is a gorgeous town and not to be missed.
Grand-Pré National Historic Site
An hours drive from Halifax across the Nova Scotia peninsula is the Grand-Pré (Great Meadow) National Historic Site that is also a UNESCO Heritage Site. This area was the centre of Acadian life from 1682-1755.
Acadians were descendants of French settlers living on land that was controlled by the British. Britain and France were in conflict with each other and although the Acadians saw themselves as self sufficient and independent from France they refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain. Fearing that the Acadians would join forces with France if they attacked, the British military decided to forcibly deport them and burned down their homes and barns.
Over 10,000 of the Acadians were sent to the Carolinas and other areas where they were not welcomed. As a result, the Acadians wandered through the wilderness with many of them settling in Louisiana who are the Cajuns of today.
Harbourville is the best kept secret on the Bay of Fundy. We drove here to see the spectacular tide at Hall Harbour- the highest in the world. It is remarkable to see boats sitting on the ocean floor 12 feet below the height of the dock attached by taunt ropes. You can watch the tide come in sweeping under the boats and raising them 12 feet is a short time.
This is a lobster fishing village. The lobster season runs from May to October. We went for lobster. You pay for your lobster in the gift store, then you take your receipt over to the counter where they give you a live lobster in a plastic dish bin.
You carry your lobster outside to another building where they take it and cook it up for you in a shed full of boiling pots. The cook gives you a number and directs you to the restaurant overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Your number fits into a table stand so they can find you when your lobster is cooked.
It was a fun experience. The lobster was delicious!
Tidal Bore Rafting on the Schubenacadie River
An hour drive from Halifax you can ride a Zodiac raft on the 13 foot tidal bore up the Schubenacadie River. Over 160 billion tonnes of tidal ocean water is forced up the river causing the river to reverse its flow. The ocean water moving up the river hitting the fresh water coming down creates turbulent rapids making for a heart pounding 45 minute roller coaster ride.
On the way back from the rafting experience you can go mud sliding on the steep river banks. Prepare to be covered in mud and have a fantastic experience. Wear old clothes and footwear for this adventure as the red clay mud will stain your clothes. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes and footwear as well as a towel and shower items.
The cost is $70 for a 2 hour tour and $95 for a 4 hour tour. Click here for more information.
Is Halifax Worth Visiting?
Yes! Halifax is definitely worth visiting. We spent a week there and had an awesome time. We had a lot of fun taking part in cultural activities and sightseeing. It is a fun city full of young people and young people energy. There are 5 universities and a dozen colleges along with the Royal Canadian Navy depot.
There is nothing like the smell of the ocean and the cool crispness of the breeze coming in from the Atlantic. The waterfront is a lively place to spend a day or two because there is so much to see. Walking on the boardwalk along the ocean and listening to the creaking of the wooden boardwalk is so much fun. We had a rental car for the week but we did not use it at all within Halifax. We were able to walk everywhere that we went and we went to a lot of places during the week.
Halifax is a great place for budget travel. Many of the things to do are free or low cost. Like most cities with a large young population there is an abundance of low cost bars and lounges with great happy hour discounts on food and drinks. There is also a lot of free live music throughout the city. We spent several evenings and an afternoon listening to great Nova Scotia music.
In our week visiting Halifax we went to a dinner theatre, attended a number of live music venues, watched the firing of the noon day cannon, dressed up like a Red Coat soldier and shot a musket, ate the best lobster roll in Nova Scotia, went for a boat ride, ate lobster at a lobster shack, visited many historic sites, ate all you can eat lobster at the local casino, looked up our immigrant ancestors, and did day trips to Peggy’s Cove, Luneneburg, Wolfville and Harbourville.
I would definitely go back to Halifax and relive all the fun that we had during our week long visit.
Our Budget for 7 Days in Halifax
How to Have a Cheap Vacation in Halifax
Find a cheap flightStart looking 6-12 months before you are thinking of going. Be flexible in your dates. Give yourself a 4-6 week window to find that lowest price for your flight.
Walk everywhere and do not take taxis.Halifax has a small downtown area. We walked everywhere and did not use a taxi or Uber once. When we travel we normally do a lot of walking every day. Halifax has a Walkability rating of 70 and it also great for stamina building as most of the sights are either on the bottom of the hill or the top of the hill so either way you are walking up a hill at some point.
Happy Hour prices for food and beverages when eating out.We like to a find great Happy Hour bar where we travel. Food and drinks are generally half price. We like a place that feels friendly, has cheap appetizers and drinks and where we can rest at the end of the sightseeing day and watch people come and go. It is wonderful to have a rapport with one or two servers so that we can quickly order drinks and appetizers each day when we arrive. It also makes us feel comfortable while in a strange land especially when they recognize you and call you by name.
Eat at the Nova Scotia CasinoMost casinos have restaurants with daily specials for their customers in order to keep them in the casino gambling. The Halifax casino has an all you can eat lobster night for $20 once a week when lobster is in season. Other times they have weekly specials like Prime Rib for $20 or a shrimp basket for $10.
Make sure your accommodation has a kitchen, kitchenette or at least a fridge so that you can buy groceries and make your own food.We generally eat most of our meals at our accommodation. If we are staying in a hotel room we bring along our travel bag that has a little crockpot, dishes, cutlery, coffee, tea, sugar, and spices. We will buy a quart of soup, chili, stew, or other heatable deli dish and a bag salad for dinner.
Go to museums when they have free admissionMost museums have a free time period once a week or once a month. Check out the museums before you go. The Maritime Museum is free on Tuesdays after 5 pm.
Take the Harbour Ferry for $2.75 instead of the Harbour Tour for $100.There are 2 ferries from the Halifax Seaport over to Dartmouth. Both give a fantastic view of the Halifax Skyline. If it is a nice day, go to the top deck and enjoy the view.
Do all the free things to do in HalifaxThis includes the Seaport, the Immigration Museum, the Harbour Walk, crystal glass blowing, the changing of the guards at the Citadel, walk around the Public Gardens, see the Titanic victims graves, walk along the waterside parks and the old part of town, and watch live bands play at a variety of venues.
Our Week In Halifax
We arrived in the evening aboard an Air Canada flight. Our Budget car was waiting for us. As Budget RapidCar members we only had to pick up our contract and the keys. All the paperwork was already completed and within a few minutes I was packing our bags into the new grey Nissan Rogue with 7000 km on the odometer. Our destination was already mapped on my iPhone and the voice navigated us out and onto the highway to Halifax which is 40 km. Entering Halifax over the MacDonald toll bridge I tossed a $1 looney coin into the basket and we drove straight to our home base for the next week.
We had arranged a home exchange with Debbie and Bruce, a local couple, that lived on the tenth floor in the Martello, a futuristic glass high-rise condo in the heart of downtown Halifax. They had stayed home to show us around their place and filled us in on all the particulars of the condo, the building and parking.
Our two bedroom, two bathroom condo was nicely furnished. The kitchen had stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and white cupboards. There was grey laminate flooring throughout the condo and tan berber carpet in the main bedroom. The open living room had a gas fireplace and a glass dining table for four.
After showing us the guest binder with detailed information on everything about the condo from the location of the electrical box to how to turn on the fireplace, our hosts left for a week of travel around Cape Breton.
First Meal Out
Once we were settled in our condo we looked up a place to have lobster for our first meal in Halifax, The first place to show up on our food app was the Five Fishermen Grill and Bar. It had 4 out of 5 stars and lots of good reviews so off we went down the hill to have dinner. It was busy so we grabbed seats at the bar. Seafood chowder, mussels and lobster appetizers fit the bill and filled our stomachs. But, it was way too pricey at $80 for three appetizers and two drinks.
First Night Out
Excited for our first night in Halifax we searched out a live music spot. With all the young people in the city, numerous tourists and the Nova Scotians love of music it was not hard to find a place that played authentic down-east music. Further down the hill we went to the Old Triangle Irish Pub. A fixture in Halifax that has been around for more than 50 years. It was full on a Sunday night with a mixture of locals and tourists.
We were lucky to get a table for two close to the musicians. The two guys playing are fixtures themselves. Pictures of them playing in the 70s show a much younger duo with dark hair. Now in their 70s the dark hair has been replaced with white hair, and the hair is even longer than 40 years ago. Their music was the foot stomping, knee jiggling kind as they played traditional down-east songs on the fiddle and guitar. No lyrics here, just 6-8 minute reels with a brief break between songs to let their hands relax and get ready for the next song.
Walking back to our condo we certainly felt our leg muscles and lung capacities walking back up the hill. We had to take a breather half way up and looked across the street and saw other people taking a breather as well. We laughed and waved to them. They laughed and waved back. It took us three walks up the hill to build our stamina before we could walk all the way without stopping.
Touring Halifax and Area
We spent the rest of the week touring Halifax and the surrounding area. We loved the waterfront with the Seaport and the activities on the Harbour Walk. Often there are foreign navy personnel walking around their white dress uniforms. While we were in Halifax a tall ship from Italy was in port. The young sailors were easy to spot in their dress whites and their Italian language filling the air. I noticed on several occasions my wife looking and commenting at how attractive they looked.
Halifax is one of those cities that has great Happy Hour places. There are literally dozens of them and they are mostly staffed with attractive coeds who usually attend one of the five universities or dozen colleges. Between students, military and navy personnel the streets are filled with young people coming and going at all times of the day and night.
The ride on the harbour ferry for $2.75 was great. You get a perfect view of Halifax. We learned a lot going through the various museums and historical places. The Halifax Public Garden is one of the only remaining Victorian gardens in Canada located right behind us and we strolled through it several times . We like the variety of restaurants and bars that Halifax has to offer. The live theatre and music are top notch. Halifax has a nice feel to it, especially in the downtown area where we stayed.
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Cheap Flights to Halifax International Airport
Check out the link below to for car rental pricing. Budget Tip: We paid $180 for the week.
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Accommodations in Halifax
Halifax has an abundance of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from. It is best to stay in the downtown area so that you can walk everywhere. The downtown area is small so the location of your accommodation does not matter that much.
Our accommodations for 7 nights was a beautiful condo in downtown Halifax. The floor to ceiling windows overlooked the Halifax Harbour. To the West we could see Fort George on top of the Citadel and to the East the remarkable Halifax Central Public Library.
I find that accommodations are a critical component of travelling. Considering that you spend up to 12 hours a day where you stay, it can make or break a travel experience. Always get the best accommodations that you can. It doesn’t mean that it has to be expensive or even large. One of the nicest places we have stayed in for a week was a small cabin in a coffee plantation complete with chickens and cats.
Our accommodations were a 4+ Star and if it was a hotel the nightly cost would be over $400 a night. We were able to do a home exchange with the owners so our accommodations for the week were free. This is the budget slow travel way of seeing the world. Check out our place if you would like to do a Home Exchange.
When we can’t arrange a home exchange, we often use Hotwire. We have used them for years and have saved thousands of dollars. You can also book flights and car rentals through Hotwire. If you can not find suitable accommodations through Hotwire then try Hotellook which searches all the online hotel booking sites for the best rates.
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Travel Gear You May Need For Your Trip To Halifax
Halifax is a coastal city and you may experience all types of weather. We went in summer and I made sure that I had a light rain jacket, hat and umbrella and I am glad that I did because we did walk in the rain. Of course I couldn’t forget my insulated metal water bottle for those long days of sightseeing.
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