If you visit Canada’s Atlantic Maritime Provinces, it’s likely you’ll stop in Halifax, as it’s the largest population center in the region. We found it to be a nice city to visit; there’s a thriving waterfront area, some interesting museums, forts, and parks to visit.
It’s definitely worth a day or so exploring as part of a trip to other parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick! Most folks with fly in and out of Halifax, though in our case, we saw Halifax as part of a longer (and perhaps overly ambitious!) road trip from our home base in Boston.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
After spending the previous day on the Cabot Trail, we arrived in Halifax shortly after lunch and before our hotel checkin time. So, we decided to start with an introduction to the city via the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. In this museum, you will learn about the all the ways the ocean has influenced the city.
Starting in the early colonial days continuing through the World Wars, and beyond, this city has been very important to various military and trade endeavors.
While most of Halifax’s military history was filled with troops and supplies coming and going, there’s an exhibit about the massive explosion the city suffered during WWI. Apparently a ship carrying 2,900 tons of explosives collided with a passenger/cargo ship, catching on fire, and then exploding. Buildings within a half mile radius were completely destroyed, 1,782 people lost their lives, and around 9,000 people were injured. What a mess!
Shipbuilding was another major occupation of the region. Given that the surrounding landscape is filled with forests and surrounded by water, this should come as no surprise.
Not only did they build ships, but Halifax received the unfortunate burden of needing to use their ships to recover corpses from the Titanic. 209 bodies were brought to the city and 3/4th of them can still be found in one of Halifax’s cemeteries.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a fabulous introduction to the history of Nova Scotia and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Halifax.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
After checking into our hotel, we decided that we still had time to see one more of Halifax’s most important sites: the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Sitting at the top of the hill, this fortress was very important to the defense of the city. As much as the patriots tried, they could not dislodge the loyalists during America’s Revolutionary War.
The tops of the walls were great for being able to see what was inside the fortress, but there were only a few places that had views of the city. You can get a better view from outside the walls.
Still, it was fun to walk around and see the various guns and cannons and listen to the bagpipes that were being played at the time of our visit.
There were also some fairly amusing signs. Similar to the “animaux sauvages” from Prince Edward Island, we now found some “sauvage” parsnips. What a better word than “wild.”
Inside the walls, there are several museums. The Army Museum was probably my favorite! You can learn a lot about the military history of Nova Scotia inside this museum.
The same building also houses the barracks, the information center, and a small theater with a short video.
As you wander the rest of the complex, you will be able to see various rooms showing life inside the citadel, as well as a few more museums.
Through the City
On the way back down to the city, enjoy the views! Or walk to the nearby Halifax Public Gardens and then enjoy the views.
The city had a convention area and restaurants, though when we were there, things were quiet compared with on the waterfront.
There were even a few murals that we really liked.
Many of the guidebooks said that the Halifax Historic Properties were a must, so we stopped by on our way down to the waterfront. To be fair, we arrived after most the shops had closed, but our assessment was that the buildings weren’t super interesting in themselves. While the shops on the inside were cute, it was really just a tiny mall with some mildly interesting history behind them. Stop by if it is convenient, but don’t worry too much if you miss it. We did have fun taking pictures with the polar bear!
Eventually, we reached the water. An evening stroll down the Halifax Harbourwalk was another highlight!
The views are quite pretty and the atmosphere pleasant.
As you get close to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, it will even become quite lively. We decided to stop for dinner. While the lobster looked tasty, I had had too much seafood and potatoes and opted for a Greek salad. While Nova Scotia isn’t known for its fresh vegetables, it did end up being quite tasty.
We continued to the end, snapping a couple of pictures of various monuments on the way.
For breakfast, our hotel’s breakfast wasn’t included, so we decided to try a cute bakery that we had seen the night before. Unfortunately, when we got there, we realized it didn’t open until 10am! And the area by the convention center was also sleepy. We ended up walking back to the mall near our hotel and got breakfast sandwiches in the Scotia Square food court.
Halifax Public Gardens
From here, we decided to walk to the Halifax Public Gardens.
They were cute, but some of the flowers were a little past their prime. Still, it was a good way to spend the morning while we waited for more shops to open.
We debated walking through the main shopping streets of Halifax, or going back down to the water and strolling the harbourwalk again. In the end, we opted to try something different. The side of town by the Public Gardens appeared to be much nicer than the area by our hotel. We enjoyed the walk!
At this point, we could have easily spent more time in Halifax: we still hadn’t seen Point Pleasant Park, the Canadian Museum of Immigration, the Fairview Lane Cemetery – the main burial site of Titanic victims, and more.
That said, we decided to head out to see Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg.