When you crack open a new book, the place to begin your adventure is obvious. But what about when you visit a new city? In Halifax, there are a few must-do experiences that belong on the first page of your adventure. These are classics for a reason, among both locals and visitors, because they collectively define the culture of our city. They're a captivating place to begin.
Walk the Halifax waterfront
As a historic port city, Halifax has always been tightly connected to its waterfront. But where it was once industrial and gritty, it’s now vibrant, bustling, and inviting. An urban wanderers’ dream, the boardwalk is a four-kilometre (2.5 miles) long harbourside adventure of shopping, beer gardens, museums, restaurants, tours, playgrounds, and public art. Don’t rush this iconic experience; plan to stop often for views, treats, and entertainment.
Lounge on the steps at Queen’s Marque
Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the most appreciated. Queen’s Marque is the newest shopping and dining destination on the Halifax waterfront, and its massive granite steps—descending directly into the Halifax Harbour—have become a favourite stopping place for locals. Grab a coffee, ice cream or other treat, kick off your shoes, and get a feel for the North Atlantic while enjoying the sunshine.
Venture up Citadel Hill for the noon gun
Downtown Halifax is essentially built into the side of a steep hill, and overlooking it all is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. This star-shaped fortress overlooks the city and once protected a young Halifax from attack by land and sea. At 12pm listen for the daily cannon fire, known locally as the “noon gun”. This ritual has signalled the noon hour every day* since 1857.
*Except for Christmas Day.
Walk Spring Garden Road up to the Halifax Public Gardens
The Halifax Public Gardens is a beautiful and peaceful 16-acre Victorian-era public gardens formally established in 1867. It features carefully manicured lawns, colourful floral displays, and mature trees, along with a historic bandstand, duck pond, fountains, and a system of winding paths through it all.
To get there from Barrington Street, walk up Spring Garden Road, a pedestrian-friendly shopping district. Along the way grab a coffee or gelato at Pane e Circo, or stop for a pint at Stillwell Beergarden during the summer months.
Explore the Halifax Central Library
Modern libraries are about so much more than books—they’re community living rooms, where residents and visitors can gather for many reasons. The Halifax Central Library is an architecturally stunning (and award-winning) building on Spring Garden Road with a local café (complete with rooftop patio and harbour views), community rooms, art displays, a large auditorium, and yes, plenty of books. Climb the Escheresque staircase to the fifth floor, cantilevered dramatically out over the front plaza.
Ride the ferry and explore downtown Dartmouth
On the Halifax waterfront, there are several harbour tours available, but the easiest way onto the water is the Alderney Ferry, which runs between the Halifax waterfront and downtown Dartmouth. Operated by Halifax Transit, the ferry service is the oldest saltwater ferry in North America. All you’ll need is $2.75 for the fare, and ask for a transfer for your return trip*. Once you’ve crossed the harbour, explore the shops, cafés, and public art around downtown Dartmouth.
*Kids 12 and under ride free on all Halifax Transit routes.
**Transfers are valid for up to 90 minutes.
Relax on an Argyle Street patio
There are wonderful places to eat all over Halifax, but if one street is the entertainment epicentre it has to be Argyle. A three-block-long, pedestrian-first experience (closed to car traffic during summers), Argyle is home to live theatre, bistros, pubs, restaurants, bars, and more, with huge patios that spill out into the street during the summer months. It’s a great place to stop and sample a pint or two of Halifax’s local craft beer.
Try a donair
The humble and affordable donair is the official food of Halifax. Popular among locals as a late-night snack, this messy meal with Greek origins consists of a pita filled with spit-roasted shaved beef, tomatoes, onions, and—importantly—a sweet and garlicky donair sauce. You can pick up a donair at plenty of places across the city, including Tony’s Famous Donairs & Pizza on Robie Street, Randy’s Pizza & Donair on Agricola Street, and King of Donair on Quinpool Road.
Visit Peggy’s Cove
Peggy’s Cove is a classic for a reason. Ask any local what to do on your first visit to Halifax and expect to hear a recommendation for Peggy’s Cove.