This post is brought to you by Expedia Canada. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Halifax is my city and my playground. It’s the seaside capital of Nova Scotia, an eastern coastal province about an hour and a half’s flight northeast of New York. While exploring this popular tourist city, it can be easy to miss the hidden gems and stick to the boardwalk trail and checklist sites. Sure, we’ve got an awesome harbour, wicked lobster rolls, and that big explosion, but there’s so much more this city has to offer!
That’s why Expedia.ca reached out and asked me to feature a few of the best things to do in Halifax. Let me introduce you to some of my favourite events and hangouts, so you can kick back and experience Halifax like a local.
Halifax’s Best Microbreweries
It feels appropriate to start with beer. To be honest, I’m a little bit nervous posting about my favourite brews here, because beer in Halifax is a SERIOUS business, folks. Alexander Keith’s 1820 brewery is a city landmark, and its namesake brewmaster was our mayor three times. We also have more pubs per capita than almost any other city in Canada. Getting anything wrong here is grounds for potential excommunication.
A safe first bet. Well played, Mel. Good Robot on Robie Street in Halifax’s North End community is a great neighbourhood spot. Not only do they do silent reading nights (get a beer and curl up with your favourite book – awesome!), but their experimental batches mean there’s always something interesting to discover on tap.
Every Tuesday they tap a new ‘BetaBrew,’ experimental small batch. Odd events, quirky mannerisms and strong community bonds are important here. Also, beer. Their outdoor patio area is covered in astroturf and makes you feel like you’re drinking at a mini golf course.
Beers to try: Damn Fine Coffee and Cherry Pie Pale Ale, Tom Waits for No One Stout, Tuesday’s BetaBrew
Another North End community staple, and the #1 favourite brewery of my husband’s beer-passionate best friend. Unfiltered is within walking distance from Good Robot if you want to hit up both in the same night. I gotta be honest with you—I didn’t really like Unfiltered at first. I think it was because they didn’t have much in the way of food (although they’d let you get pizza from next door and bring it in, which was cool).
Now, with the recent opening of the amazing Chicken Chop next door where you can get rotisserie chicken and Mexican street corn, then bring it over to drink at Unfiltered… I think my days of complaining are over. That being said, there is super limited seating here, so come early or be prepared to stand.
Beers to try: Exile on North Street, Twelve Years to Zion DIPA, Double Orange Ale DIPA
Propeller was one of the OG microbreweries in Halifax. Their award-winning beers can also be found at liquor stores throughout the province, so even if you miss coming to their storefront on Gottingen Street, you can still pick some up to try or bring home at the closest NSLC. These guys are also great if you want to buy a keg for a houseparty.
Beers to try: Extra Special Bitter, Cascade Pale Ale, Seasonal Pumpkin (in October)
Eat Your Heart Out in Halifax
We could be here all day. Seriously—I love eating in this city. While you should definitely try to pick up a lobster roll at one of the many, excellent, established boardwalk-located seafood restaurants while you’re here, I also want to suggest some of the newer amazing restaurants in town that aren’t on the tourist trail.
Home of Halifax’s best restroom selfie and also an innovative seafood restaurant and cocktail bar. A great place to drink a lot without realizing you’re drinking a lot because everything is just so damn fine and looks beautiful. Great presentation, great ambience, and small enough to feel cozy without being cramped.
I recommend the roasted bone marrow with garlic butter snails, and especially the ahi tartar and allumettes fries. I could eat that all day, every day. Ask your server about their cocktails and have them pair one with your meal and to your taste.
Ramen. Noodle. Bar. There, done. Can I go home now? This place does traditional and non-traditional ramen with a Japanese soul-food-inspired menu of comfort food. Think karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and waffles, cold roasted duck, and bao buns. It’s also where I can get my Shochu Mule, a Japanese twist on the Moscow Mule, with shochu instead of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice.
You gotta hit this place up for the Oyster Happy Hour. It’s 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. daily and you can get 6 oysters for $12 or 12 oysters for $20. Go for the 12. If you’re not an oyster fan, Lot Six is also known for their excellent cocktail menu and seasonal kitchen offerings. Their elegant cocktail menu and beautiful atrium are just a couple of the reasons two of our best friends got married there this January. This is place where you can drink far too many beautiful things and chat for hours while sipping oysters.
The ‘Goggle’ is like family to many entrepreneurs who live and work in the city. They recently moved to a new location on Gottingen Street from their old home on Argyle, and a lot of people moved with them. The beautiful new space has a lot more natural light, with all the same old favourites.
The dearly beloved ‘Foggy Spuds’ have provided brain food to many a meeting, with roasted potatoes, chopped bacon, corn, red onion, and amazing cream sauce, topped with cheese, because who doesn’t love cheese? You can also get it with lobster if you’re feeling super Scotian.
Many’s a time I’ve met friends here for weekend brunch from 9am to 3pm. The friendly staff here are awesome and greet the regulars by name and the welcoming atmosphere is one of the best parts of the Goggle. This is a great place to meet someone for lunch before going on a North End adventure or a walk up Gottingen Street to check out some of the local artisans and unique boutique shops.
Rinaldo’s bust onto the Halifax dining scene last year with their legendary mozza sticks. Grab an outdoor seat during the summer, grab a friend, order some mozza sticks and see just how far you can stretch ‘em. It’ll be at least a foot. That how you know you’re eating some fresh and delicious mozza.
Enjoy Halifax’s Patio Season
One of the funniest things I realized when a colleague from Florida visited is that we have a very unique season here: “Patio Season.” When the weather gets warmer, outdoor seating patios pop up at bars and restaurants all over the city. Unlike our southern cousins who enjoy outdoor patios year-round, patio season in Halifax is limited, so you’ll see the locals embracing the patios and getting outside for post-work beers as often as possible.
This is my personal favourite post-work have-a-summer-beer place that is not on the waterfront. Stillwell also has a traditional bar space on Barrington Street, where you can get their legendary Tokyo Fries, but during the summer I prefer their pop-up space on Spring Garden Road, a lovely open beer garden with industrial string lights, that’s a bit secluded from the main road, and includes lots of picnic benches, and is a big enough space that families and dogs can easily fit in here with the after-work crowd.
Stillwell’s beers all celebrate the local Nova Scotian craft brew community, and it’s a great place to get a taste of the province while relaxing in the summer sun. For eats they offer small bite foods, like Mexican street corn, Icelandic hot dogs, Japanese-style chicken skewers, nachos with salsa verde, and a rotating menu of other small delights.
They have slightly untraditional hours—basically during the summer when the weather’s good, they’re open.
Nestled inside the beer garden and also accessible from South Park Street is Dairy Bar, where you can grab a post-beer artisanal ice cream creation. Every week they’re serving up something new. I also check out their Instagram @dairybarhfx for the inspiration and an excuse to drop by.
This week they’re doing matcha and stinging nettle. How cool is that? There’s also time-honoured favourites that dress the menu. Anything you get here is always great and made with lots of heart and a sense of fun and dairy exploration. It’s like the neighbourhood ice cream shack of your childhood grew up and went to art school.
The Stubborn Goat waterfront location is just around the corner from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the stadium-style seating is a great place to meet friends and get a great view of the harbour while enjoying local beverages and food like hand-crafted truffle fries or smoked chicken tacos.
There’s a ‘full service’ area that has table service for their food menu, as well as a more casual side for lounging with your friends. During the summer this place fills up quick and they don’t take reservations, so be sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait (beer in hand, of course), for a table to open up.
When I used to work at a law firm at Purdy’s Wharf on the north end of the boardwalk, in the summer I loved swinging by Gahan House after work to grab a beer and maybe some dinner before catching the ferry home to Dartmouth.
Originally from Charlottetown, PEI, Gahan House in Halifax is a great spot to sit on the boardwalk, drink a beer, and enjoy a lobster roll, fish cakes, or their award-winning chowder.
Find a Quiet Moment in Halifax
Often I’ve been on the road and been so excited leaping from sight to sight that I realize I’m missing one of the most crucial travel experiences—chilling out. Seriously, have you ever been somewhere if you haven’t spent a few minutes staring into space, coffee in hand, with nothing to do but relax and ponder the universe? Here’s where to go when you want to have nowhere to be.
Not only does the beautiful library boast award-winning architecture, but one of my favourite experiences in the city is getting a cappuccino from local cafe Pavia on the top floor, and then grabbing a book at random and sitting in the sunny northern room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Citadel Hill and Barrington Street. In the summer the southern rooftop patio gives you a great view over the city to the mouth of the harbour and is also a great photo op for the city’s skyline.
Not only is it worth visiting for tourists, but I love coming here to work. The day this library opened I actually teared up when I visited because it’s such a beautiful project and awesome public space. #LibrariesForever, especially beautiful ones.
During prom season this is where all the kids flock to. You’ll see legions of silky dresses and updos prancing around with their obliging photographers or parents in tow. When prom season is not in full swing, the Public Gardens are a lovely and not-too-busy place to sit down with a book, stroll and admire the flowers in this Victorian garden.
Or, you can admire the dying agave plant.
That’s right. We’re currently enduring the tragic saga of a 25-year old tropical agave plant, which seems doomed to never bloom. You can read some humorous local coverage of it here and national coverage here. Must-know Halifax trivia for anyone visiting this summer.
Enjoy a Local Cafe
Where oh where do I begin? I owe so much to the many cafes of Halifax. Since I was a kid they’ve given me a place to write, think, work, and reflect while snacking on yummy treats. It was hard to narrow it down, but here’s a selection of my current favourites.
The recently-renovated Bird’s Nest Cafe on Barrington Street, which has my favourite veggie breakfast wrap in the city, and a cool upper-level seating area where you can spy on people below.
For tea selection, there’s no better place than World Tea House on Argyle Street, where owner Phil sources awesome teas from small estates all over the world.
For swanky floral wallpaper fit for your Instagram backdrops and funky beet lattes, there’s Lucky Penny Coffee Co. on Quinpool Road.
Seven Bays Bouldering has also been a personal favourite as of late, where you can go and sit down with your laptop in their cafe area, eat some noodles, get great coffee, and then when you’re done answering their emails, take a break and go climb a wall. It’s a pretty cool setup.
Dilly Dally Cafe on Quinpool has an amazing peach ginger muffin. Also, laptop-friendly if you want to send some emails home or check in and get some work done.
Humani-T Cafe on South Park Street is famous for their homemade gelato. They’ve also got great vegan soups. Once a year they hold a ‘free gelato day,’ and the line regularly reaches down and around the street.
I’d be remiss not to mention Lion & Bright on Agricola Street in Halifax’s North End, a super popular spot for freelancers to congregate during the daylight hours, and is just around the corner from bespoke doughnut shop, Vandal Doughnuts.
Catch a Show at Neptune Theatre
Take a break from walking the streets and chill out for a few hours with a trip to the theatre. There are tons of great restaurants in the Neptune Theatre area around Argyle Street. I like The Stubborn Goat or The Loose Cannon just across the street.
Grab some dinner and then make your way over for the show. Be sure to let your server know if you plan on catching a show and what time it starts so they can get you in on time in case it’s a busy night.
Do the Tourist Thing
There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. In fact, I revel in it. I love walking slow, taking my time, checking things out, exploring the checklist sites in the guidebooks. Here are a few of the classics.
Don’t you DARE leave Halifax without trying the Harbour Hopper. Is it cheesy? Yes. It is a-MAZE-ing? Also, yes. Hear me out: I know a lot of maritime cities do these floating land-sea tours, but there’s a reason why—they’re super fun and awesome! YOU DRIVE INTO THE OCEAN. It’s like one step away of every kid’s dream of having a car that turns into a submarine.
The tour also has a lot of practical, interesting, and timeless maritime trivia and history. We went with our bridal party last summer when we got married, and if I ever have a friend in town who hasn’t been to Halifax, I usually try and make them go on it. Ya learn some cool things. My favourite part is when they go into the harbour and talk about the Halifax Explosion… things that every baby Haligonian grows up learning and then abruptly forgets. Even for locals, this is a great tour that I think makes you appreciate some of the finer nooks and crannies of our city. Ribbit ribbit.
While definitely not located in the downtown core, a mere 45-minute drive away is the rugged Peggy’s Cove with its iconic Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. This is like, the picture to get if you visit Nova Scotia. Visiting Peggy’s Cove makes for a great day or half-day trip from the city.
You’ll see some rugged coastline, walk through an adorable fishing community with charming boats, and spot inukshuks if you go hiking around the area. If it’s a nice day, mother nature might also treat you to an epic sunrise or sunset. There’s also delicious seafood chowder and biscuits at the restaurant near the lighthouse, so be sure to get some of that too.
There’s always something happening on the boardwalk. One of the best times of year to visit is the Halifax Busker Festival every summer, where live performers are swallowing swords, performing acrobatics, and shooting fire out of their…everywhere.
If you feel like sitting, it’s a nice place to grab an ice cream, find a shady spot and do some people and boat watching. In the summer the harbour is especially active, and on a sunny day there’ll be tons of sailboats jetting around, as well as larger freighters, and the Halifax ferry—the world’s second oldest saltwater ferry service.
If you start at the north end of the boardwalk, near the Halifax ferry terminal, and walk south, here are some sights to take in. First, make sure you head to NovaScotian Crystal right across from the ferry terminal exit, where you can check out Canada’s only mouth-blown, hand-cut crystal maker.
The artisans here are really unique, and during the summer they often open up their studio’s garage door when the weather is nice, and let you watch the artisans at work, blowing molten crystal out of these huge pipes.
Following the boardwalk, you can get your Titanic on at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where a permanent exhibit showcases the stories and artifacts of the tragic ship. It always surprises me how many people come here to visit this, but that just goes to show when you’re a local you sometimes forget what your town is known for.
If you’re a big Titanic fan, you might also want to visit the Fairview Cemetery, where more than one hundred victims of the RMS Titanic sinking are laid to rest.
After your Titanic tour, regain some levity by taking a selfie at ‘The Wave.’ The 3.6-metre-tall, ocean-inspired sculpture is usually covered by people trying to climb it to the top. If you’re going to attempt it, I recommend a running start, and taking your shoes off. Bare feet work best!
The sculpture wasn’t originally intended to be climbed, but so many people do it that the city actually installed a foam base around it later, to help prevent climbing injuries. You can’t stop the people!
Continuing along past the Wave you’ll come to Bishop’s Landing, which has a bunch of nice artisan boutiques, restaurants like The Bicycle Thief where you can get some of the city’s best Italian soul food, and Bishop’s Cellar, my favourite place to pick up wine in the city.
Keep going and eventually you’ll come to the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, the oldest continuous farmer’s market in North America. That’s a great place to pick up some fresh produce, catch some local musicians busking on the weekends, and maybe pick up some souvenirs of bacon jam, maple butter, or whatever other sweetness catches your eye.
The market is in full-swing Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 7am to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. If you’re hoping to see it at its prime, I’d recommend Saturday morning.
From the market, you’re just a stone’s throw away from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, where you can explore the stories of more than 1 million immigrants who passed through it. Pier 21 is to Canadians what Ellis Island is to Americans. A lot of people come here to find records of when their family members first passed through, and there are always interesting exhibitions happening.
That’s my north to south boardwalk route recommendations. If you’re coming off a cruise ship, you’ll disembark near Pier 21 on the south side, and can do it in reverse! If you’re lucky, you might also spot Theodore the Tugboat along the way.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax’s iconic, star-shaped fort is a Victorian-era fortress that was never once attacked. Not just a great place to go sledding in the winter, this National Park of Canada has many interactive exhibits showcasing military life in an old fort. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard a lot of people say they’ve really enjoyed becoming a soldier for a day and learning what life was like.
Me personally? I love having picnics on its hills during the summer. I often grab some lunch snacks at the nearby Pete’s Frootique on Dresden Row, then walk up to sit on the hill and feast while people-watching.
Although not an official part of the site, the old town clock on Citadel Hill also happens to be the meeting spot for my absolutely favourite ghost tour in Halifax—The Halifax Ghost Walk. Last time I went my friend and I were greeted by a Neil Gaiman-esque guide who led us on an awesome outing (in the rain!) through Halifax’s spooky history. Highly, highly recommend.
If you decide to spend the morning exploring the fortress, after lunch you might want to check out the Emera Oval just northwest of the fort. The oval is an outdoor rink that’s for roller skating in the summer and skating in the winter when it’s iced over. The oval is open to the general public 7 days a week.
The best part? Skate rental is FREE! You just need to show them a valid government-issued photo ID and you can borrow helmets, skates, and even snowshoes in the winter. The Emera Oval also has a webcam where you can check out the current conditions! I don’t know why I find this so funny. It’s practical, really.
After expending your energy at the Oval, you should probably walk over to DeeDee’s Ice Cream one street over, where you can get amazing gourmet ice cream. Mexican Chocolate and Banana Cardamom are my favourites. Other amazing flavours include Rhubarb Ginger Sorbet, Curry Cashew, and Buttered Almond.
Halifax Festivals and Fun Events
This Halifax-wide celebration of burger-eating festivities is one of my favourite yearly rituals. Burger Week happens in the early spring and is hosted by The Coast, Halifax alt weekly newspaper. They make available these burger passports, and burger maps, so it can really become a point of pride among friends to see who can collect the most burgers, or to swap tales of meat-sweats and magical burger creations.
2018’s Burger Week had 119 official burgers, so you’ll probably have to divide and conquer with your friends to discover the best things between two buns this city has to offer.
If Burger Week excites you, you might also be into you’re into this food fest, you’d also probably enjoy Oysterfest, a fall celebration of shucked food, also organized by The Coast. Last year they served 57,000 oysters, and also hosted shucking competitions, amongst other festivities.
The Halifax Jazz Festival, aka ‘Jazz Fest’ is Halifax’s largest music festival. It happens every summer, and is always a highlight. During jazz fest, wherever you go in the city there always seems to be amazing music playing. Even when sitting at home at night, with my patio door open and a warm breeze blowing in, a few strains of saxophone will reach in to tickle my ears.
From the waterfront tent shows, to the many bar and club venues across the city, there are always a few really big headliners, as well as plenty of smaller and local bands. Over the years some of my favourite shows here have been St. Vincent and The Bad Plus. This year Chaka Khan will play. Get your tickets early, the big name shows often sell out.
If jazz isn’t your speed, you might be more inclined to check out Halifax Pop Explosion in October, or In The Dead of Winter music festival in January .
The Halifax Pride Festival includes Halifax’s biggest parade event of the season. It is HUGE. Like, I think a couple years ago when we went the parade went on for like four hours. More than 150,000 people take part in pride and it’s one of Canada’s biggest pride celebrations.
My favourite part is the pride dogs, a ton of dressed up pooches that walk in the parade together.
Besides the parade, there’s also a ton of community events that take place over the week, ranging from the always-fun Dykes vs. Divas softball game, where tons of families pack a lunch and come to the commons to watch the teams square off, to workshops about sexual health.
All in all, it’s a great week and a really fun time to visit the city. My favourite place to catch the action from the street is the corner of Spring Garden and South Park Street, or from up on Citadel Hill where you can set up a picnic and have an elevated view of the parade.
A few restaurants along Spring Garden Road have second-floor outdoor balcony seating, which is also a great vantage point to catch the parade from. Come early, though. They fill up fast.
The annual Scotiabank Bluenose Marathon is Halifax’s biggest race weekend. There’s tons of food and street parties after the race, and everyone’s in great spirits. It’s one of my favourite citywide events. It was founded in 2004, and the route takes you through many of Halifax’s iconic locations, including Citadel Hill, Point Pleasant Park, the downtown core, and even sashays its way into downtown Dartmouth.
It’s one of the rare times you can actually walk (err, run) in the middle of the Macdonald Bridge. Participating is a great way to see the city on foot if you’re in town for the Victoria Day weekend.
There are about 1,400 volunteers, six events, and 11,000 runners. Each year the race gives out a different colour jersey. You can see runners for months afterwards proudly wearing their Bluenose jerseys as they run around Point Pleasant Park and through the peninsula. The Bluenose Marathon is also a Boston Qualifying race, so maybe hit two birds with one stone this vacation.
Fun Fact: The marathon gets its name from the term ‘Bluenoser,’ an old nickname for Nova Scotians.
These are just some of the yearly events I always look forward to in Halifax. For local events listings that can’t be beat, especially for the arts scene, I recommend checking out The Coast’s Events page. They list all kinds of things, from art shows to beer tastings to harbourfront festivals. It’s a great resource to see what’s happening in town during your visit. Maybe check out a show or two at The Seahorse.
If you’re thinking about taking the ferry over to check out Dartmouth, check out my downtown Dartmouth guide, and consider exploring both cities during your visit!
What else do you want to know about Halifax?
After this, I hope you’re feeling the Halifax love and are feeling inspired to sip a beer oceanside while enjoying all the craft brews, lobster rolls and good times that Halifax has to offer. If there’s anything else you’re wondering about, just leave a note in the comments below, or write me a note.
Did I miss your beloved microbrewery, or a hidden haunt that you want to share? Put it in the comments below to suggest a place!