There are so many things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia – a world-class Canadian city where you can go shopping, surfing and pub-crawling, all in one day.
With amazing outdoor adventures on land and sea, the city of Halifax is jam-packed with some of the best restaurants, pubs and vibrant live music venues on Canada’s east coast.
Halifax’s history is phenomenal too. If you are interested in military trivia, or are curious about one of Canada’s most important chapters in Black history, Halifax will leave a lasting impression through its world-class museums, galleries and historic sites. Whatever you do, you’ll soon understand why Halifax occupies several of the slots on our list of the best things to do in Nova Scotia.
And what about Haligonians themselves? Speaking as a local (I grew up here, traveled around the world, and returned 15 years later), I can tell you that Haligonians are a friendly bunch.
So … are you ready to explore one of the world’s most exciting emerging cities? Let’s dive in:
21 Incredible Things to Do in Halifax
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO READERS: Please note that this article was originally drafted before the pandemic, so not all activities mentioned may be open or safe to visit at the moment. Tourism Nova Scotia has a helpful resource page with the latest info on travel restrictions. Travel Lemming encourages you to avoid travel until such time as local public health authorities in both your country and your destination advise that travel is safe for you and the communities you will visit.
#1 – Devour a Halifax Donair
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Simply “going downtown” is of the one of the most underrated and best things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
At the infamous Pizza Corner (a group of late-night fast food take-out restaurants on the corner of Grafton and Blowers Streets), savour the Halifax donair: a spicy, gyro-style wrap, garnished with onions and tomatoes, slathered in a sweet, sticky sauce.
Fun Fact: In a city full of lobster, you might be surprised to learn that this spicy-sweet middle-eastern import is the official food of Halifax!
#2 – Enjoy the Nightlife in Downtown Halifax
Halifax’s entertainment district includes busy Argyle Street, where The Carleton – one of Halifax’s oldest buildings – is transformed into a cozy, upmarket venue for great food and drinks.
For incredible Celtic sounds, head towards the waterfront to the Old Triangle Alehouse or the Split Crow where you can hear live music, ceilidhs and jam sessions several nights a week.
Across the harbor in Dartmouth at New Scotland Brewing Company you’ll see big names on a small stage.
Back in Halifax, make your way to Bearly’s House of Blues and Ribs or the Lower Deck for some wild late night dancing, or for a taste of post-punk weirdness, check out the scene at Gus’ Pub on Agricola Street in Halifax’s hip North End.
Fun Fact: A statistic has been floating around for the past 20 years that says Halifax has the most bars per capita of any city in North America. We’re not sure how true this is… but we’re proud to wear it!
#3 – Stroll the Halifax Boardwalk
Halifax harbor is one of the oldest and most important connections for visitors, and strolling along its boardwalk is a great way to get a feel for the city. Places to stop along Halifax boardwalk include Historic Properties, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Bishop’s Landing, and The Stubborn Goat Beer Garden.
At the end of the walk, you will find even more places to stop including Garrison Brewing, Halifax Seaport Market, The Discovery Centre and Pier 21 Canadian Museum of Immigration.
A Quick Suggestion for Where to Stay in Halifax: For downtown visitors, I always recommend the newly renovated Westin Nova Scotian because it is just seconds away from the Seaport Market, the harbourwalk, a grocery store..and a bus stop.
# 4 – Segway, Cycle or Paddle your way around Halifax
To explore the city on wheels, Segway Nova Scotia has plenty of tours, including the popular 2-hour “Halifax City Spin.” Their office is on the waterfront just past Bishop’s Landing.
For some fun two-wheeling (with an electric assist), check out the 3-hour Best of Halifax e-bike tour, with I Heart Bikes Halifax, also located on the waterfront.
#5 – Ride the Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry
One of the first things Haligonians will tell their visitors is: “you must take ride on the ferry!” The Halifax-Dartmouth ferry is the oldest saltwater ferry in North America, and the second oldest in the world.
A ride on the ferry costs the price of a bus ticket and takes about 15 minutes to travel to Dartmouth, with views of Halifax, Dartmouth and the Bedford basin, the two bridges, and the harbor’s islands.
Local Tip: Ask for a transfer (a small slip of paper). This gets you a free return journey within an hour, so you can spend some time on the Alderney Landing waterfront (or just hop back on the ferry back to Halifax!)
#6 – Explore Halifax’s Twin: Dartmouth
Across the harbor from Halifax, Dartmouth is known as “Halifax’s Brooklyn” – and it’s definitely worth a stop on your Nova Scotia itinerary.
If you’re in Dartmouth on a weekend, the Alderney Landing Market is a good place to start. Then, heading uphill, away from the harbor, there is a mass of Dartmouth-proud restaurants and bars including the newest addition, the Town’s End Tavern.
Leading from Alderney Landing all the way to Eastern Passage is the Dartmouth Harbourwalk Trail – perfect for a short cycle or a long walk.
Local knowledge : In days gone by, Halifax and Dartmouth were separate cities each with their own mayor, police force, and school board. Now they are both in “Halifax”, much to the annoyance of proud Dartmouth residents!
#7 – Trace your Roots at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
At the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, you can learn about Canada’s rich immigrant history, and potentially trace your own family roots through the museum’s collection of immigration records. One in every five Canadians is related to someone who passed through Pier 21.
If you know anyone who emigrated to Canada between the years of 1865 and 1935, chances are, you will find record of their arrival at the Scotiabank Family History Centre.
Pier 21 is similar to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba in that it provides a meaningful examination of what it means to be a world citizen, through a Canadian lens.
#8 – Visit the Titanic Graves at Fairview Lawn Cemetery
Halifax is very closely connected to the tragic story of the Titanic since the ships that recovered both the survivors and the victims came to Halifax, the nearest port.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a permanent collection of Titanic Artifacts and graves of the victims of the Titanic are buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Local knowledge: Sadly, the Titanic is just one of the major disasters of the 20th century that fell upon Halifax’s shores. Other tragedies where Halifax provided assistance and recovery include the 1917 Halifax Explosion, the 1998 Swissair disaster, and the terror attack of September 11th, 2001.
# 9 – Sip Coffee with a View at the Halifax Central Library
The new Halifax Central Library, at the bottom of the popular shopping district of Spring Garden Road, has won awards for its architecture.
For visitors, one of the best things to do in Halifax is to go for coffee at the library’s outdoor rooftop café, which has a great view of Spring Garden road, and the South End of Halifax.
Local knowledge: The Halifax City Central welcomes homeless residents who need shelter from the cold. This is why the library recently hired its own social worker, to help the library build relationships with its more “vulnerable customers.”
#10 – Get Fired up at Citadel Hill
If you want to get up close and personal with some Halifax gunpowder, enlist yourself in the army through the Soldier for a Day program, a 3-hour long Canadian Signature Experience, that will see you immersed in the life of 19th century soldier. (Children can sign up for the Soldier’s Life experience, very similar to Soldier for a Day).
Plan to spend half a day a the Citadel National Historic Site – it’s a living museum, with galleries, live re-enactments, interactive experiences – and even a sweet café that serves coffee and snacks.
Fun Fact: If you happen to be in downtown at midday, check your watch – and wait for the BOOM! The British colonial tradition of firing a noontime gun has remained in Halifax, where a canon is fired from the Citadel every day except Christmas.
#11 – Hunt for Ghosts in Downtown Halifax
Beware! Halifax has its fair share of ghosts, including those that haunt the Citadel.
The Halifax Ghost Walk claims to be the oldest ghost walk in North America. There is no need to book ahead; just meet at the Old Town Clock at the base of Citadel Hill at 8:30 on scheduled nights and prepare to be scared with tales of ghouls, pirates and buried treasures.
Another place to go ghost hunting is at Alexander Keith’s Brewery on Lower Water Street. The good news is, even if you don’t see his ghost on your tour, you can still enjoy Alexander Keith’s greatest legacy: his beer!
Fun Fact: The current storyteller for Halifax Ghost Walk is also an accomplished Halifax singer and songwriter. On the nights he’s not scaring you silly, you might find Dusty Keheler entertaining crowds at the Carleton!
# 12 – Learn about Halifax’s Black history at Africville
Of the 52 separate historic black settlements in Nova Scotia, the community of Africville was located on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the water. In the 1960’s, “experts” declared Africville a slum, and forcibly moved its residents to public housing. The decision was later declared a violation of human rights.
A visit to the Africville Museum–housed in a replica of the the community’s destroyed church–is one of the most important things to do in Halifax. Before you go, watch this fascinating short film that tells the Africville Story.
Local tip: Africville is easy to reach by taxi (about a five-minute drive, or a $10.00 cab ride from downtown Halifax)
#13 – Visit the Historic Hydrostone Area
For a boutique shopping, dining and and gallery experience in Halifax, stop in at the historic Hydrostone District. To get there, walk from downtown (about 30 minutes), or take a short ride on the #7 bus.
The Hydrostone, built in Garden City style in the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, is also a stop on the popular Hop-on-hop-off double deck bus tour.
Local tip: There is a free art gallery in the Hydrostone District, hidden in plain sight! 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery has a beautiful collection of affordable paintings by local artists. (Look for the doorway in between Uptown Spa and the totally overpriced olive oil shop.)
#14 – Enjoy an Ice Cream in the Public Gardens
The Halifax Public Gardens is one of downtown Halifax’s beautiful treasures – a 16 acre Victorian city garden, with a rich variety of plants and trees, a beautiful cast iron bandstand, and even a place to buy ice cream.
The best time to visit the Public Gardens is when there is some music happening. During the summer, this is usually on Sunday at two o’clock in the afternoon. Check the Halifax Public Gardens event calendar for listings and tours.
Fun Fact: The Public Gardens is a very popular spot for wedding photos!
#15 – Get your Skates on at The Oval
The Halifax Oval is a skating rink that was built for the 2011 Canada Winter Games. It was originally designed to be temporary, but residents loved it so much, it stayed!
In winter, you can borrow ice skates; during summer, you can borrow roller skates, bikes and scooters – all for for free (just show a government ID). After your skate, head to Dee Dee’s Ice Cream on Cornwallis Street, open year round (the Mexican chocolate ice cream is totally amazing).
Fun Fact: The lady on the bicycle (photo above) is Michelle Strum, owner of Halifax’s only independent youth hostel, the Halifax Backpackers, and its cool café and bar, Alteregos. Click to check availability on Booking.com.
#16 – See Gus the Tortoise at the Museum of Natural History
A few steps from the Oval (this area is part of land known as the Halifax Commons), you will see the Museum of Natural History – a small but sweet local museum that kids really love.
Inside the museum is one of Halifax’s best-loved residents, Gus the Tortoise, who turns 97 years old in 2020, making him the oldest known living gopher tortoise in the world.
Fun Fact: In 2018, weekly newspaper and listings guide, The Coast, nominated Gus for the Order of Nova Scotia, saying “he is the bedrock foundation of Halifax’s identity.”
#17 – Explore Halifax’s Weekend Markets
Whether you are a local or a visitor, shopping at the Halifax Seaport Market is one of everyone’s favorite things to do in Halifax. Located in between the harbor boardwalk and Pier 21, the market is one of Canada’s oldest, housed in a stunning new glass-sided building with amazing harbor views.
For a more boutique market experience, head to the old Brewery Market on a Saturday morning. Just as nice, but smaller: a hidden treasure where locals like to go.
Local Tip: Rent a Car! The last few items in our list are located outside the downtown core of Halifax, so our suggestion is to get your own set of wheels! We suggest using Discover Car Hire for best prices on car rental in Halifax.
#18 – Kayak the Sunset at Fisherman’s Cove
At Fisherman’s Cove, colorful shacks and ice cream shops share the docks with working lobster fisherman and fish distribution factories. Walk along the boardwalk and you will discover McCormack’s Beach – one of Nova Scotia’s smallest provincial parks.
One of the best ways to explore this part of Halifax is by Kayak with Kattuk Expeditions which offers morning and sunset kayak tours.
Another unique experience is to join a Halifax Eastern Shore Photo Tour with Picture Perfect Tours. No need for a fancy camera – even a phone camera will do!
Local Tip: Fisherman’s Cove can be reached by the #60 bus, which leaves from the Dartmouth Terminal, but it’s probably better to rent a car, and make this stop part of a mini-road trip.
#19 – Devour a Lobster Roll at Peggy’s Cove
Peggy’s Cove is number one on most people’s list of things to do in Halifax. If you’re in the city even for a short time, you must go see the stunning scenery, and crashing waves at the most photographed lighthouse in Canada.
A plea from the locals: Please be careful! Some tourists have drowned because they were snapping selfies too close to the waves. A rule of thumb is to stay off the black (wet) rocks.
A favorite thing to do at Peggy’s Cove is to devour a delicious lobster roll. We recommend Peggy’s Cove’s U-Cook-Lobster. Look for the van on the left-hand side as you drive up the road to the lighthouse.
#20 – Brace yourself for Atlantic Surfing
Halifax’s Eastern Shore beaches have some of the best surf in the province. East Coast Surf School offers lessons on beautiful Lawrencetown Beach, about 30 minutes from downtown.
You can also rent your own gear (wetsuits, surfboards or body boards) from East Coast Surf School, Happy Dudes Surf Emporium or Kannon Beach Surf Shop in Lawrencetown.
# 21 – Dine, and Rock out at the Shore Club, Hubbards
40 minutes away from downtown in the community of Hubbards, The Shore Club is just within the Halifax city borders…but you will feel like you are in another world!
In the late afternoon, The Shore Club begins serving delicious lobster suppers with an all-you-can-eat salad and mussel bar. When the lights go down, the tables are removed and the stage comes alive with big name weekend performers.
The nighttime vibe at The Shore Club is somewhere between a high school party and a really good Irish wedding. The springy wooden dance floor literally pumps with energy!
Local Tip: Stay overnight in Hubbards and spend the next day exploring the beautiful Queensland and St. Margaret’s Bay region.
That’s it for this local’s guide to the best things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia! Before we go, I want to leave you with two bonus Halifax travel tips:
Tip #1 – Buy a Halifax Bucket List Pass which gives you free entry to a number of major attractions in Halifax. You will save a TON of cash!
Tip #2 – Don’t rush your time in Halifax! I recommend that you set at least 3 days in Halifax, as part of a greater Nova Scotia road trip.
Enjoy Halifax! Oh, and be sure to bookmark our Nova Scotia Travel Guide for more free articles and tips to maximize your Nova Scotia vacation (like our 100% free guide to things to do on the Cabot Trail). Safe travels!
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