Halifax, the gateway to Atlantic Canada, is an ideal urban resort – twenty minutes from the downtown core, you can stroll white sandy beaches or surf pristine waters. Halifax has so much to offer, a remarkably beautiful harbour, major concerts in Canada’s oldest urban park, Buskers festivals, food festivals, Canada’s oldest farmers market and picnicking in a park that the Queen rents to the province for a shilling a year.
Halifax has been the happening capital of the east coast since the British first settled here in 1749. The atmosphere in the city has been described as urban cool wrapped up in the easy smile of a warm maritime welcome. This little gem of a city has so much to see and do, from the Citadel-shaped fortress that overlooks the harbour to Pier 21 (Canada’s Ellis Island) from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where many artefacts from the Titanic are exhibited,
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s permanent exhibit, Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax, tells the story of Titanic’s creation and demise, drawing out the key role that the city of Halifax played in the disaster. Visit the Titanic Grave Site at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia where you’ll find granite block gravestones, personalised graves, and the beautiful monument to the “Unknown Child”.
Another must-see exhibit in the Maritime Museum is the Cunard 175: Engine for Change, which is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s celebration of Sir Samuel Cunard’s vision and achievement in revolutionising maritime travel and global communications. His drive to create an “ocean railway” – with comfortable, technologically advanced ships making established oceanic passages – is continued by today’s Cunard Cruise Line. Follow Cunard’s remarkable rise, from Samuel’s early involvement in privateering, to the line’s remarkable service in two world wars, to the glory days of modern liner travel. Starting from humble beginnings in Halifax, Cunard created a communications network that spread across the British Empire and around the world.
Whilst in Halifax, no visit would be complete without a trip up to Halifax Citadel. It’s not an exaggeration to say Halifax, a city on the sea, owes its existence to the Citadel. It was the large hill overlooking the easily defended harbour below that led the British military to found the town there in 1749. Among the first buildings constructed was a wooden guardhouse on top of what would eventually be called Citadel Hill, with Halifax’s first settlers building their homes at the base of the hill, closer to the water. Over the years, as the fort grew, so too did the town, with much of Halifax dedicated to supplying the soldiers with both essential supplies and off-duty entertainment.
Today, the Halifax Citadel continues to watch over the city’s downtown core, although now its role is as a reminder of Halifax’s past and not a military fortification. The present Citadel, completed in 1856, is officially called Fort George, named after Britain’s King George II, and is actually the fourth in a series of forts to sit atop what is now known as Citadel Hill. Its distinctive star shape is typical of many 19th century forts built by the British military and gave the garrison sweeping arcs of fire. From its deep defensive ditch, soldiers pointed muskets from every angle of its stout walls and large cannons lined its ramparts. It’s easy to see why no enemy force ever dared to attack the Halifax Citadel.
While you’re in Halifax you’ll want to indulge in prime seafood, fresh produce and local wines. For some of the best farmers’ markets in the region, visit the Alderney Landing Farmers’ Market or the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on the Halifax waterfront. Here you’ll be able to stock up on baked goods, handmade jewellery, local wines and beers, fresh fish and more.
Also along the Halifax waterfront visit NovaScotian Crystal, North America’s only hand-cut, mouth-blown crystal maker, employing the traditional tools and techniques of European crystal makers passed down from generation to generation. What started a generation ago, from a group of Irish immigrants with a commitment to preserving an ancient craft that is disappearing, has become a truly Canadian story of respect for tradition, beauty and fine craftsmanship.
Other waterfront attractions and activities include Segway rides, biking with I heart Bikes, shopping at Historic Properties, enjoying a beer at the new waterfront Beer Garden, dining at dozens of restaurants, pubs and snack shacks and browsing various collections at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and when the sun goes down the city sparks into life with the sound of live music in many of the bars and restaurants dotted around the harbour front.