Visitors have been falling in love with Halifax for more than 250 years. While Halifax and surrounding communities were united as the Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996, it remains the capital of Nova Scotia and the largest urban centre in the Atlantic Provinces. Halifax combines the international appeal of a major port city and naval base with the youthful spirit of a university town and the culture and heritage of one of Canada’s most historic communities.
History of Halifax
Halifax has been a port of call for ages, starting when the Mi’kmaq would spend the summers camping and fishing from its shoreline. They called the area “Jipugtug”, which would later become Anglicized as Chebucto, meaning “the biggest harbour”. It was that large, ice-free harbour – the second largest in the world – and its military advantages that would attract the British to establish a colony and fort in 1749.
The Honourable Captian General Edward Cornwallis, accompanied by 2,500 settlers, named the new colony Halifax, in honour of Lord Halifax, President of the British Board of Trade at that time. The town became an important counter to the French fortress at Louisbourg and the British quickly set about building a fortress on top of the hill that overlooked the town, as well as constructing numerous fortifications and blockhouses along its harbour.
Throughout its history, Halifax’s population has swelled during waves of North American conflict, including the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and both World Wars. As much as the townsfolk worked to support these military endeavours, they also exerted themselves in more civilian pursuits as Halifax came to be an important centre of trade and industry. Steamship pioneer Samuel Cunard, banker Enos Collins, brewer Alexander Keith and politician Joe Howe are just some of the Haligonians who have left their mark on Halifax and the world.
The Halifax Explosion
Halifax gained international attention in 1917 following the largest man-made explosion before the nuclear bomb, a disaster that came to be known as the Halifax Explosion. Approximately 2,000 people were killed, another 9,000 injured, thousands were left without shelter and a large portion of the city was devastated when a French munitions ship exploded after colliding with a Belgian relief ship in the harbour. Medical professionals traveled to Halifax from all over Nova Scotia and from as far away as Boston to assist in the explosion aftermath. As an expression of gratitude for their help after the Halifax Explosion, Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to the people of Boston each year, which stands decorated with thousands of lights in the Boston Common.
Today, Halifax continues to operate as a home port for a significant Canadian military base and shipbuilding operations.
From lavish suites and boutique hotels to heritage home B&Bs, Halifax has accommodations for every taste and budget. The downtown core is home to many hotels and Inns, offering the latest amenities and great views of Halifax Harbour. For the more budget-conscious traveler, there are also several motels throughout the city, including ones that overlook the scenic Bedford Basin. You’ll even find a range of bed and breakfasts, from the simple to the sophisticated. Find a list of Halifax accommodations here.
Places to Eat in Halifax
From international culinary dining experiences to locally-inspired signature dishes, Halifax’s 600+ dining establishments are guaranteed to satisfy. While restaurants in downtown Halifax offer a number of fine dining and international cuisine options and you can also find equally popular and internationally inspired restaurants and bistros in areas such as Halifax’s Hydrostone market and along Quinpool Road. If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, you’ll find plenty of family dining restaurants and places for a lively evening with friends throughout the city. Find a list of Halifax restaurants here.
Must see Attractions in Halifax
Halifax is home to some of the province’s most well-known tourist attractions, including:
Halifax was initially founded as a military settlement and the crown jewel in its defences was the Citadel. Visitors to the Halifax Citadel can stroll through this massive star-shaped fortress, walk the ramparts, watch the kilted 78th Highland Regiment at drill and take in sweeping views of the harbour and downtown. At 12 pm sharp, cover your ears - the firing of the noon-day gun is a Halifax tradition dating from the late 1800s.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Down the hill from the Halifax Citadel and situated on the Halifax waterfront, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic commemorates the city’s vital link with the sea and seafaring life through the museum’s displays of over 20,000 maritime artifacts. Go aboard the CSS Acadia, which was one of the first ships to extensively chart the Arctic Ocean floor and the HMCS Sackville, the last of the World War II convoy escort corvettes. Back inside the museum, visit the displays commemorating the Halifax Explosion and the “unsinkable” Titanic.
The Halifax Waterfront
The Halifax waterfront makes for a relaxing walk at any time of year. Throughout the summer months you’ll see everything from massive cruise ships and graceful tall ships to small sailboats and pleasure cruisers docked along the waterfront. At the south end of the waterfront, visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and browse the many local farmers’, producers’ and artists’ stands at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in North America. As you head north, you’ll come to Halifax’s Historic Properties. Stretching over three square blocks, these timber-frame buildings and stone warehouses were originally built in the late 1700s and early 1800s to safeguard the booty captured by ruthless privateers.
Uphill from Historic Properties is Province House, the seat of Nova Scotia’s government. This building is valued as one of Canada’s finest examples of Georgian architecture, as well as the birthplace of freedom of the press and responsible government in Canada. Throughout the year, visitors can take a tour of Province House and see where political history has been made for over 250 years.
The Halifax Public Gardens
Visitors looking for a few moments of blissful serenity will find it across South Park Street in the cool oasis of the Halifax Public Gardens. Since its establishment as a civic garden in 1867, the Public Gardens have been a haven of meandering paths, sun-kissed fountains, lively duck ponds and formal Victorian flower beds.
The Museum of Natural History
A short stroll from the Public Gardens is the Museum of Natural History on Summer Street. This popular facility features exhibits on the province’s flora, fauna and geological history, from dinosaurs to eagles and life on the ocean floor. The museum also presents displays on the history of indigenous peoples and hosts traveling exhibits.
Things to do in Halifax
There are many things for people of all ages to do in Halifax. The city deftly blends the past with the present to produce a skyline dotted with elegant 18th- and 19th-century architecture alongside ultra-modern towers of glass and steel. The heart of Halifax is perfect for exploring on foot, with tree-lined streets, international restaurants, galleries, libraries and museums. Inviting sidewalk cafés beckon you to relax for a few hours amid park-like, waterfront, and historic settings in the busy downtown, often with a backdrop of the bustling harbour, which entertains ship traffic from every corner of the globe.
Just as it was in the Age of Sail, Halifax’s waterfront continues to be a hot spot, boasting some of the city’s most stimulating entertainment and most fascinating historical landmarks. Here visitors can enjoy a boat tour of the harbour, savour a wealth of entertainment or indulge in the excitement of a waterfront casino. For the young and young at heart, the Discovery Centre provides a hands-on science centre dedicated to making science fun and accessible for all ages. Day or night, you will never run out of things to see and do in Halifax, where the downtown area pulsates with the rhythms of local music and the excitement that characterizes life in a cosmopolitan centre.