Halifax, Nova Scotia
It was Halifax’s natural harbor—the second largest in the world after Sydney, Australia’s—that first drew the British here in 1749, and today most major sites are conveniently located either along it or on the Citadel-crowned hill overlooking it. That’s good news for visitors because this city actually covers quite a bit of ground. Since amalgamating with Dartmouth (directly across the harbor) and several suburbs in 1996, Halifax has been absorbed into the Halifax Regional Municipality, and the HRM, as it is known, has 400,000 residents. That may not sound like a lot by U.S. standards, but it makes Nova Scotia’s capital the most significant Canadian urban center east of Montréal. Haligonians will tell you that it’s also the most interesting—and they have a point, at least as far as Halifax proper is concerned. The old city manages to feel both hip and historic. Previous generations had the foresight to preserve much of it, culturally as well as architecturally, yet students from five local universities keep it from being stuffy. In addition to the energetic arts-and-entertainment scene the students help create, visitors also benefit from enviable dining, shopping, and museum-hopping options. There's easy access to the water, too, and despite being the focal point of a busy commercial port, Halifax Harbour doubles as a playground. It's a place where container ships, commuter ferries, cruise ships, and tour boats compete for space, and where workaday tugs and fishing vessels tie up beside glitzy yachts. Like Halifax as a whole, the harbor represents a blend of the traditional and the contemporary.
The boardwalk is the place to watch master craftsmen blowing glass into graceful decanters and bowls, which can be purchased in this shop's showroom.
Store owner Pete Luckett's lively personality and passion for fresh produce made him a star of Canadian TV, and they keep customers pouring in to his "frootique" stores. Stop by the vast Halifax flagship for a quick bite in the café or a ready-made gourmet sandwich for a picnic at the nearby Public Gardens.
Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market
Steps from the boardwalk's southern terminus, this eco-conscious venue is bright, airy, and contemporary. It's open daily, giving you ample opportunity to stock up on edibles and quality crafts from its more than 250 vendors—or to just indulge in the city's best people-watching.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
You can't miss the Citadel, literally or figuratively. Erected between 1826 and 1856 on Halifax's highest hill, it still dominates the skyline and, as Canada's most-visited National Historic Site, remains a magnet for tourists. The present citadel, with its dry moat and stone ramparts, was the fourth defensive structure to be built on the site, and formerly was linked to smaller forts and gun emplacements on the harbor islands and the bluffs above the harbor entrance. A multimedia presentation that runs every 15 minutes recounts this story. You can visit the barracks, guard room, and powder magazine before heading for the parade ground to watch reenactors, sporting kilts and tall feather "bonnets," practice their drills. The Citadel is also home to the Army Museum, with excellent exhibits and a War Art Gallery. Before leaving the Citadel, pause to enjoy the view. In front of you are the spiky downtown buildings, crowded between the hilltop and the harbor; the wooded islands at the harbor's mouth; and the naval dockyard. Behind you is the 235-acre Halifax Common with its ball fields, tennis courts, playground, skateboard park, and open green. Worried about losing track of time while touring? Don't be. Simply keep an eye on Citadel Hill's Town Clock. Given to Halifax by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (the military commander here from 1794 to 1800), it has ticked in its octagonal tower for more than 200 years.
Halifax Public Gardens
One of the oldest formal Victorian gardens in North America, this city oasis had its start in 1753 as a private garden. Its layout was completed in 1875 by Richard Power, former gardener to the Duke of Devonshire in Ireland. Gravel paths wind among ponds, trees, and flower beds, revealing an astonishing variety of plants from all over the world. The centerpiece is an ornate gazebo-like band shell, erected in 1887 for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, where free Sunday afternoon concerts take place at 2 from mid-June through mid-September. The gardens are closed in winter, but you can still enjoy a pleasant stroll along the perimeter.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
The exhibits in this waterfront museum, housed partly in a restored chandlery, include small boats once used around the coast, as well as displays describing Nova Scotia's proud sailing heritage. The most memorable ones, though, are devoted to the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion. The former has 20-odd artifacts, including the ship's only surviving deck chair. Also on display are a section of wall paneling, a balustrade molding and part of a newel from the dual curving staircase, a mortuary bag, and the log kept by a wireless operator in Newfoundland on the night the ship sank. In the explosion exhibit, "Halifax Wrecked," newspaper accounts and quotes from survivors are poignantly paired with everyday objects recovered from the rubble, among them a schoolboy's book bag and a broken pocket watch that will forever record the time of impact.The museum has outdoor attractions, too. On the boardwalk right behind it is a ship-shaped children's playground and, steps away at the wharf, you'll see the hydrographic steamer CSS Acadia. After a long life of charting the coasts of Labrador and the Arctic, she's now permanently moored and museum-ticket holders can board her for tours from May through September.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
Affectionately dubbed "Canada's Front Door," Pier 21 served as the entry point for nearly a million immigrants between 1928 and 1971. It's now a national museum where the immigrant experience is re-created. Several innovative exhibits make this well worth a stop, among them the holographic multimedia presentation, shown inside a faux ship, detailing the arrival of immigrants. Beside the ship sits a Canadian National train car in whose compartments you can hear different first-person accounts of immigrants who continued westward from Halifax. (The train itself is stationary, but these oral histories are definitely moving.) The museum's many hands-on displays have built-in kid appeal, and special activities, like having "passports" stamped at various stations, are designed to engage young visitors. A research center, a gallery, a café, and a gift shop are on-site as well.
This series of restored waterfront warehouses dates from the days of yore, when trade and war made Halifax prosperous. They were built by such raffish characters as Enos Collins, a privateer, smuggler, and shipper whose vessels defied Napoléon's blockade to bring American supplies to the Duke of Wellington. The buildings have since been taken over by shops, offices, restaurants, and pubs including those in Privateer's Warehouse. Seven of them, all erected between the late 18th and early 19th century, have been designated as National Historic Sites.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
In an 1867 Italianate-style building that previously served as a post office, bank, and the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, this provincial art gallery has an extensive permanent collection of more than 14,000 works. Some are primarily of historical interest; others are major works by contemporary Canadian painters like Christopher Pratt, Alex Colville, and Tom Forrestall. In 2013 the gallery received a major donation of Annie Leibovitz photographs. The gallery's heart, however, is an internationally recognized collection of maritime folk art by artists such as woodcarver Sydney Howard and painter Joe Norris. The gallery also contains the actual home of the late painter Maude Lewis (Canada's answer to Grandma Moses), whose bright, cheery paintings cover the tiny structure inside and out.
Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk
Running from Casino Nova Scotia to Pier 21, this photogenic 3-km (2-mile) footpath offers backdoor access to the Historic Properties and the Marine Museum of the Atlantic. Newer landmarks such as Purdy's Wharf (site of Halifax's two grandest skyscrapers) and Bishop's Landing (an attractive complex with condos and shops) are on the route; while others, including the Seaport Farmers' Market, Pier 21, and the cruise-ship terminal, are only a few minutes' walk away. The boardwalk has multiple entry points and many tourist-friendly amenities. Shops and restaurants line the section between Sackville Landing and the Historic Properties, and in peak season, bagpipers, ice-cream peddlers, and street performers do, too.