Halifax

Destination Location

Halifax

Overview

The capital city of Halifax and its many surrounding communities make up the Halifax Regional Municipality in the easterly province of Nova Scotia. Here, history, shopping, fine dining, sightseeing, folk music, theatre, high teas, gallery exhibitions and festivals provide unique and entertaining diversions for all tastes.

While visiting, you’ll find a wealth of opportunities to explore Halifax’s rich culture. Visit the Halifax Harbour, one of the busiest ports in Canada and second-largest in the world and admire the expansive natural harbour. Next, take a stroll through Halifax's streets and get a glimpse of the city's past through its stunning historic architecture. The Town Clock located at Brunswick and Citadel Streets is Halifax's most recognized landmark.

Downtown, a collection of lively neighbourhoods await you, complete with upscale boutiques, bars and live music. In the centre of downtown is Citadel Hill (Fort George) – a star-shaped hilltop fort built in the early 1800's. Climb to the top for a breathtaking view of the harbour.

But Halifax's busy urban lifestyle is probably most evident in the scenic waterfront region. Beginning at Sackville Landing and heading towards Purdy's Wharf, you’ll find shops, pubs, warehouses and some of the city’s oldest buildings.

Want to see even more of what the East has to offer? A short drive along the scenic Nova Scotia coast takes you through picturesque fishing villages, including the world-famous Peggy's Cove. You may even spot whales and other marine life. After all, Halifax is also a world-class whale-watching destination and home to dolphins, seals and many species of fish.

Before you go, pay your respects at Fairview Cemetery – the final resting place of 121 of the victims who perished with the Titanic. You’ll even find the gravesite of J. Dawson here – the person believed to have inspired Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.

Halifax is a fantastic destination for:

  • culture and history
  • outdoor adventure
  • shopping and dining

Airport served by: YHZ

Destination basics

If you’re visiting Halifax for the first time, don’t expect the typical temperate climate of other regions bordering on the water’s edge. In fact, with its short summers and winters, Halifax receives climate changes consistent with cities in Canada not surrounded by water. Here you’ll find warm summers averaging around 23 C and winter temperatures between 0 C and -10 C. Halifax also receives quite a bit of snow – on average, 85 days per year.

As for spring and fall, you’ll find Halifax temperatures ideal for spending time outdoors or visiting indoor attractions. Temperatures during these seasons are generally in the 5 C to 15 C range.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Halifax

Best-kept secret Visitors and locals alike often refer to Halifax, and indeed all of Nova Scotia, as the "best-kept secret" in Canada. With one of the largest natural harbors in the world, Nova Scotia's capital is the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in Atlantic Canada's four provinces. Less than two hours by air from New York and Toronto, it is the halfway point between Europe and the west coast of North America.

Though Haligonians are proud of their well-kept secret, they are quick to make visitors welcome. You won't stand for long with an open map on a city street; someone will invariably stop to help you on your way.

In 1995, the municipalities of Dartmouth, Bedford, Halifax and Halifax County joined together and became officially known as the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), today the population is near 360,000.

Nevertheless, visitors will still see street signs directing them to Dartmouth, Bedford and Halifax. Dartmouth is a quiet bedroom community across the harbor from Halifax, via the ferry or one of the city's two suspension bridges. But the 10-minute ferry ride from Halifax's waterfront across the picturesque harbor—home to luxury yachts, recreational boats and gigantic container ships heading for the open sea—is a must, just for the view. 

Bedford is north of Halifax's city cent re on a long stretch of road called The Bedford Highway, a major route to the Halifax International Airport. Bedford is an old, treed, residential area extending west of the highway, but the highway, which follows the train tracks out of Halifax, is a busy commercial area with boutiques, specialty stores, garden nurseries, restaurants and large malls on both sides, all visible and easily accessible from the main road.

Located on the southeastern coast of Nova Scotia, Halifax's city center sits on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Farther south than Montreal, it boasts a mild climate that sees little or no snow until after January. “The Peninsula" refers to old Halifax, the area enclosed by the Bedford Basin on the east, the Atlantic Ocean on the south, and the Northwest Arm on the west.

The South End is the ritzy part of the peninsula. Canopied by ancient trees, wide avenues give view to palatial homes constructed in various architectural styles, with grounds that are beautifully groomed and well planned. A drive through these leafy streets will take you to the southernmost part of the community, Point Pleasant Park. The park boasts one hundred and eighty-five acres of old trees, quiet trails a large, grassy area on the ocean that's perfect for picnics, and an underground bunker. There, history buffs can envision hunkered-down soldiers from wars past, waiting for the approach of enemy ships. The park has a small shallow beach for family outings and its large parking lot allows easy access.

Downtown Halifax is where the action is. As an important shipping center, the commercial part of the harbor is busy year-round. Vessels from Russia, South America and Europe float next to stern, gray submarines. During the summer, huge luxury liners dock near the neck of the harbor and are a popular tourist destination.

The shopping is good, the galleries are great, the history is everywhere, and the food is fabulous. With the best people-watching in the city, downtown is where you can hear many languages and accents as visitors from around the globe stroll the busy streets. It's also the site of the large, well-appointed Casino Nova Scotia, where the electronic bells and whistles clang all day and into the night as gamblers try their hand at games of chance.

You're never lost in downtown Halifax. If you're going downhill, you'll end up at the waterfront. If you're walking uphill, you'll arrive at the city's largest and most famous landmark, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

Halifax is a convenient city. Most points of interest, dining and entertainment establishments are within walking distance of major downtown hotels. The fresh breezes off the water make strolling a pleasure, and rooftop restaurants and bars are a good place to stop for a breather or to sample one of the locally brewed beers. It's an easygoing city where visitors can wander in comfort and safety until the wee hours.

The West End of Halifax is both a lovely residential area and a shopper's paradise. Four malls draw bargain-hunters from both sides of the harbour. The sprawling complex known as the West End Mall and the Halifax Shopping Centre are across an avenue from each other and offer most large chain stores and lots of smaller hometown shops. The Village at Bayers Road is just north of the other two and all three are easily accessed from Bayers Road, a major artery leaving downtown Halifax, heading west. Further west is the Bayers Lake Industrial Park, whose name has become somewhat of a misnomer, as it has little industry and lots of shopping—you will find all of the major outlet stores.

The true East End of Halifax is in Dartmouth, in the Burnside Industrial Park, where the main industries are located along with the city's two newspaper plants. A sprawling complex of head offices and warehouses, Burnside will be a challenge for anyone without a map.

But Halifax is just a district within the larger playground that is Nova Scotia. If you want the best smoked-salmon in a 500-mile radius, it can be found 15 minutes out of the city. If you want to stay in a castle-like bed and breakfast, you can book it and be there in 30 minutes.

All this and beauty, too
Halifax is always hopping, especially on the waterfront during summer. With almost 100 lakes within its boundaries, beautiful downtown parks, and some of the oldest architectural structures in the country, it's a great place to enjoy the out-of-doors without going out of town.

Its restaurants serve up cuisine from every imaginable corner of the world. The clubs and taverns never quit, and a colorful arts community ensures there's always something to do and someplace to go. One of the advantages of having a city center on the waterfront is that most entertainment venues are within walking distance of major hotels.

Music
Music is, simply put, big in Halifax. From mournful Celtic fiddles, to Irish-pub singalongs, to the thumping bass of blues bands and cool stylings of jazz, music is everywhere. The province's most famous musical name is probably snowbird Anne Murray. Other notables include Ashley McIsaac, Natalie McMaster (both fiddlers and singers), Denny Doherty (of the Mamas and the Papas) and the Joe Murphy Blues Band, which puts on a hectic music and dance afternoon every week at the downtown tavern, Your Father's Moustache. On Saturday afternoons, it's the place to be to drink draft beer, listen to zydeco or down-home blues and get up on the dance floor and shake it.

Symphony Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Jazz Festival draw large audiences while the downtown Halifax Metro Centre hosts the big acts, from The Guess Who to Riverdance. For fans of gospel music, try to locate a concert by the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, which brings down the house during performances throughout the city.

Spectacles
An event that draws participants and audiences from around the world, the Nova Scotia International Tattoo is a spectacular display of military talent that includes marching bands, drill teams and exciting exhibitions of strength and know-how. The Halifax International Busker Festival on the waterfront attracts performers from around the world. Jugglers, musicians and comedy acts showcase their talents from morning to night.

Theatre and Comedy
Neptune theatre, one of the oldest professional regional theatre companies in Canada, offers the classics in music, comedy and drama. Neptune's Second Stage Productions, along with Eastern Front Theatre Company, offer more contemporary fare. Shakespeare by the Sea is an annual summer festival of plays from the Bard, with the occasional Tom Stoppard offering or a production of Waiting For Godot thrown in for good measure, all performed outdoors in the city's lush Point Pleasant Park. Atlantic Film Festival which attracts artists from all over the country provides a great opportunity for first-time viewing of some amazing works and a chance to rub elbows with seasoned and up and coming film makers.

Shopping
Famous for its rug-hooking, antiques and local crafts, Halifax is home to several big markets. The Sackville Flea Market (20 minutes north of downtown) is a huge outdoor market where you can find lost items from your childhood, antiques, or fresh produce. The Halifax Farmers' Market, every weekend, offers classy handcrafts, wheels of locally made cheese and any number of delectable items. The Saturday-morning market at The Forum, in central Halifax, is a treasure chest of jewelry, crafts, glass, and antique clothing.

Downtown, the hot shopping spots are the boutiques in the Historic Properties, which showcase unique clothing, pewter, keepsakes and high-end souvenirs. In the Spring Garden Place Mall, you'll find elegant fashions and beautifully appointed bookstores. Mall Barrington Place Mall offers a large group of shops all accessible from the lobby of the Delta Barrington Hotel. Here you can browse glorious handmade fishermen's sweaters, imported tartans and plaids, and Irish linen. Park Lane has three floors of shops that concentrate on upscale fashion.

Cinema
Cinephiles staying downtown will find an eight-theatre complex on the lower level of Park Lane. But Halifax is also home to Atlantic Canada's only IMAX theatre, where you can see life-sized dinosaurs in 3-D, or Michael Jordan slam-dunking a ball on a screen that's six storeys high. You'll find IMAX at Empire Theatres Ltd in Bayers Lake, which, with its 18 screens, boasts the largest complex in town. Fans of independent and international film should visit the plush Oxford Theatre, five minutes from downtown.

Museums and Interpretive Sites
Halifax's marine history is powerfully expressed in the popular Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, on the waterfront. There you can explore sailing vessels, enjoy the museum's unparalleled ship model collection and put your hands on an actual lighthouse lens. Moored next to the museum is the HMCS Sackville, the last remaining World War II corvette.

Pier 21 is a new interpretive site often described as Canada's Ellis Island, where thousands of immigrants landed between 1928 and 1971 to begin life in a new country. The most-visited historic site in Canada is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fortress designed to protect the city from seagoing invaders.

Outdoor Activities
Boasting five yacht clubs, 12 golf clubs, 171 parks and dozens of lakes, Halifax bustles with sporting events and celebrations. With its mild climate, Halifax doesn't have a single outdoor ice rink, and the snow on Martock ski hill located outside the city, is man-made. Most of the outdoor fun is water-related, and there are dozens of spectacular beaches within a half-hour drive of the city. Nothing's far away in Halifax. You can go from cosmopolitan to quaint in 20 minutes.

Beaches offer miles of white sand and clear water with waves that range from little lappers to big crashers. Jet-skis can be rented at most of the lakes and many of the beaches, as can canoes and kayaks. For hands-on sailing, check out the many for-hire operations on the waterfront during spring, summer and fall.

Sailboats can be seen tacking up and down the harbor as early as May and as late as November. Fog is a rarity in this seaside city, due to the open harbor and cleansing breezes. If you're in town on New Year's Day, bundle up and head down to the water to watch the annual Polar Bear Swim, where crazy people don bathing suits and make like seals.

You want it, you got it
While not a huge city, Halifax has often been described as "having at least one of everything," which makes it a place of many choices. This is especially true of the city's dining and drinking establishments.

From beautifully-designed sushi to fresh lobster, seafood is offered everywhere. Even the most down-to-earth tavern provides crisp fish and chips made from fresh haddock or cod and potatoes that were round and brown only hours earlier. Ask any chef in one of the city's finer dining establishments about the difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon, and you'll learn that the east coast offers a variety that's far more tender and succulent, even before the addition of lemon or butter.

One way that Haligonians mark the passing seasons is by the presence of chip trucks, which park on the lower end of Spring Garden Road, in front of the city's main library. Spring doesn't really arrive, officially, until someone has parked a chip wagon, offering the best and freshest French fries in town. And the summer hasn't ended until the desolate Sunday afternoon when Haligonians travel downtown and find the chip trucks have gone in out of the cold.

The city's British heritage and the presence of seven universities ensures that pub fare is top-quality. From a Ploughman's Lunch accompanied by an imported beer to an Eggs Benedict plate with complimentary Bloody Mary, all palates are served.

Halifax has a large Lebanese population, which means that fine Middle Eastern fare is readily available. The Mediteraneo Restaurant offers tasty meals and grocery stores like The Mid-East Food Centre and Phoenicia Foods Ltd. can supply all the ingredients to cook your own versions.

The downtown core is divided into two areas. Spring Garden Road is the major artery serving the westernmost area. It begins at Barrington Street and travels uphill to South Park Street. On that avenue are many of the city's finest restaurants and pubs, alongside some of the best shopping.

 Also on Spring Garden Road, you'll find Il Mercato, one of the city's finest restaurants. It is so popular that they don't take reservations. Your best bet is to show up an hour before you want to eat, get on the list and grab a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar. 

For a little shopping on Spring Garden Road, visit the Park Lane shopping complex. 

Just a few blocks west of Park Lane shopping complex, and one block north, on Doyle Street, is Tom's Little Havana Cafe. Dine on blackened catfish while enjoying some great blues music.

While there is a multitude of restaurants, taverns, coffee shops and boutiques on Spring Garden Road, be sure to check out the waterfront area. Bordered on the north by Barrington Street, the area is chockablock with fine dining. Greek, Lebanese, Japanese, French, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Czechoslovakian and West African cuisine can all be found in this district.

For Greek, go to the city's best-loved Greek restaurant, Opa!. Cheerful Mediterranean blues border a whitewashed exterior. In the summer diners can sit at tiled patio tables surrounded by plants. Inside, salmon-colored hues recall sun-baked walls, and a huge skylight above the main dining area brightens up the atmosphere. The menu is large and varied, and the food leans more toward piquant than pedestrian. When you are down in the waterfront area, go even further south to sample the delights of Cafe Chianti, a charming downstairs bistro with an old-world atmosphere and fine dining.

Haligonians love to party, and you won't be able to go more than a few steps through the downtown area without passing a lively pub or lounge. However, visitors should take note that while bars are open all week, liquor stores are closed on Sunday. In warmer months, from June to October, rooftop patios are filled with patrons enjoying the sea breeze and cold drinks; Spring Garden Road and the waterfront area are packed to overflow. The Sheraton Halifax Hotel has one of the best seaside patios.

As an old city, Halifax doesn't have to create atmosphere. Many of its historic buildings house dining and drinking establishments, lending them a distinct charm. Halifax is a jolly, friendly place, and its bars and restaurants are great places for locals and visitors to socialize.

Halifax

Province: Nova Scotia

Country: Canada

Halifax by the Numbers
Population: 403,000
Elevation: 145 meters / 476 feet 
Average Annual Precipitation: 140 centimeters / 55  inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 155 centimeters / 61 inches
Average January Temperature: -6°C / 21°F 
Average July Temperature: 19°C / 66°F

Quick Facts

Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz, AC

Time Zone: GMT-4; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 902 & 782

Did You Know?
A port city, Halifax has a longtime military history and was a key navel base during World War I and World War II.

In 1917 the majority of the city was destroyed when the "Mont Blanc," a cargo ship carrying a glut of explosives, collided with the Belgium relief ship "Imo."

Orientation

Halifax is located on the eastern tip of Canada in Nova Scotia. The city is approximately 900 kilometers (559 miles) from Quebec City and about 1700 kilometers (1056 miles) from Toronto. 

Shaped by the sea
Founded in 1749, Halifax is steeped in British military tradition. A magnificent statue of Winston Churchill on Spring Garden Road, is a lasting testament to the British connection, and the Union Jack flies on buildings throughout the city.

The city's protected harbor was ideally suited to stave off invaders. Halifax's active involvement with naval affairs began in 1758, when a large dockyard area was built. The following year, Halifax operated as a base for British forces attacking the French fort at nearby Louisbourg.

War brought prosperity to Halifax. The Seven Years' War was the first conflict that escalated the city's development. The Fortress of Louisbourg is a flourishing historical site visited by thousands of tourists annually.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, privateers used Halifax to unload pirated booty. Permitted to keep a portion of the stolen goods, they shipped the rest to Britain. Harbourside Market at Privateers Wharf is now a popular shopping district. Further south on the waterfront is The Brewery, where gigantic barrels of plunder were transferred to ships Britain bound. Today it is home to The Halifax Farmers' Market and Alexander Keith's Brewery Tour.

During the War of American Independence, Loyalists—Americans who chose not to side with the revolutionaries—flocked to the city. Between 1785 and 1792, Dartmouth was headquarters of a whaling company established when Quaker families arrived from the Island of Nantucket. Their history can be investigated at the Quaker House in Dartmouth.

Large numbers of black Loyalists also settled in the area, followed by a contingent of immigrants from Jamaica. Together, they helped create what is now the largest indigenous black community in Canada. The Halifax Citadel, sits high above the streets of Halifax. Within its ironstone walls and ramparts are a military museum, garrison cells, soldiers' barracks and a fully restored powder magazine. At the foot of Citadel Hill, The Old Clock Tower is the city's most distinctive landmark, built by the punctuality-conscious Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, in 1803.

Halifax has witnessed several marine disasters. After the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, The Mackay-Bennett, a Halifax-based cable ship, recovered 306 bodies, many of which were buried at sea. Of the 209 bodies brought to Halifax, 150 are interred in city cemeteries.

The Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917 leveled most of the Halifax peninsula when a French munitions ship and a Norwegian vessel collided in the harbor. More than 1,700 people died and 4,000 were injured when the French ship exploded. It took years for the city to recover.

The first area of the flattened city to be rebuilt was a neighborhood called Hydrostone. Distinguished by its unique stone buildings, the upscale neighbourhood now functions as small family homes and the popular Hydrostone Market .

In addition to the Halifax Explosion, the waterfront has had to recover from the wear and tear caused by World War II, when the area teemed with servicemen and women going to war, and the thousands of immigrants fleeing the conflict in Europe. No soldier left Canada to fight without passing through the city's port.

In 1928, the first of thousands of immigrants streamed through the doors of the waterfront warehouse called Pier 21, recently designated a national heritage site.

Nova Scotia's native people are the Mi'kmaq (pronounced Mih-mah and sometimes spelled Micmac). The Europeans who landed on the shores of Eastern Canada were British, Irish, Scottish and German, and the linguistic roots of these nationalities linger on. From the elongated vowels of the South Shore of Nova Scotia (where Boston is pronounced "Bahstan") to the lilt of Irish in which the word tourist is pronounced "tore-ist", many accents mingle to create colorful interpretations of the English language.

A quick flip through the Halifax phone book will reveal a large section under "M" for Macdonald, McDonald, MacDonald, MacKay, McIsaac, MacLelland, McNeil, MacDougall and even a few Macbeths, among others. A proliferation of French surnames—Boutilier, Gallant, Fougere, Boudreau, Deveau—points to the remains of the Acadian Expulsion, when huge numbers of French were forcibly removed from the province, to settle along the Eastern coast of the U.S. and as far away as Louisiana.

Some of Halifax's oldest families descend from men and women who fled slavery in the U.S. via the "underground railroad", arriving during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Surnames like Downey, Brown, and Carvery belong to people who settled in Africville, a once thriving community on the southwest shore of Halifax's Bedford Basin. This black community, after being denied sewage, garbage and water service by the city, was summarily relocated in 1968 to the outskirts of Dartmouth, in a neighbourhood known as Preston. Africville is now a little-used green area called Seaview Park. The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia traces the movements of this community.

A small but vital group of Buddhists, mostly from the United States, but with European and Canadian members, followed their Tibetan-born leader, Trungpa Rinpoche, to Halifax in the l980s. This community has made a significant contribution to the city, providing a thriving alternative middle school along with top-flight delis, restaurants and bookstores. At the Shambhala Centre is one of the finest Tibetan-style temples located outside Asia.

When visitors to Halifax hear the phrase "CFA," they'll learn it's short for Come-From-Away. This describes all the people who have chosen to live in a city coming to terms with an expanding reputation as a seaside paradise. Halifax is struggling with its status as a clean, quiet and gorgeous place and its wider perception as a top-dollar tourism and commercial venue.

There's little doubt the city, and its people, will rise to the challenge.

Halifax is full of history. Throughout the city, you’ll find landmarks and memorials commemorating WW I and WWII as well as the fishing and naval industries.

When visiting Halifax’s harbour port, it’s crazy to imagine that only a century ago disaster struck with what’s now known as The Halifax Explosion. In 1917, a ship loaded with explosives collided with another ship in the harbour, killing over 2,000 people and injuring 9,000. The largest man-made explosion of its time, the accident caused $28 million in damages and left 6,000 people homeless.

During both World Wars, Halifax served as an important naval base where Allied ships found safe haven until they were able to safely travel across the Atlantic. In Point Pleasant Park sits a memorial recognizing the nearly 2,000 Royal Canadian Navy members who lost their lives during WWII.

In Halifax’s Fairview Cemetery, you’ll find the graves of 121 Titanic victims who were laid to rest here, including the man who is said to have inspired the character Jack in James Cameron’s movie, Titanic.

The city’s many memorials and landmarks serve as a testament to the determination, perseverance and strength of character that is typical of those who call Halifax home.

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