By Canada specialist Emily
World-class museums, as-fresh-as-it-gets seafood, and historical landmarks all shed light on Halifax’s past and present. But, what does a two-day trip to the provincial capital look like? Here, Canada specialist Emily shares the best things to see and do both in the city itself and along the lighthouse-studded Nova Scotia coastline, to help you make the most of your stay.
After a homemade breakfast at your hotel, head to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 — we’ll provide you with tickets in advance for faster entry. This is the best museum in the whole of Canada in my eyes, as its interactive exhibits paint a picture of what it was like arriving in the country as an early 20th-century immigrant. I left with a greater understanding and appreciation for how immigration has shaped not only this part of Canada, but the whole nation.
Pay a visit to Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fort that’s watched over the city since the 19th century. Its museum details the province’s military history, and visiting at this time means you’ll see (and hear) the firing of the noonday gun.
Get your first taste of freshly caught Nova Scotian seafood with a waterfront lunch at Salty’s, set right on Halifax Harbour. You might opt for a creamy chowder, classic fish and chips, or baked crab cakes, perhaps washed down with a local craft beer.
If it’s a nice day, take a stroll around Halifax Public Gardens, established in 1867. Guides here lead horticultural and historical tours of the gardens throughout the day so you can learn more about the seasonal blooms, statues, and Victorian-era features you’re seeing.
If you’re not so lucky with the weather, you could visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Here, as well as learning about Canada’s wider maritime heritage, you’ll see items from the wreck of the Titanic, which sank 700 nautical miles east of Halifax. Exhibits tell you more about the ship’s demise and the city’s role in the aftermath of the disaster.
You can also discover more about the great explosion that happened in 1917 when two ships — one carrying wartime munitions — collided just offshore. The resulting blast killed more than 1,700 people and destroyed many of Halifax’s buildings.
Take to the water on an evening sailing trip around Halifax Harbour aboard the Tall Ship Silva, a 40 m (130 ft) schooner. Local wines, craft beers, and soft drinks are served on board as you take in views of the Macdonald Bridge, Fort George, and Point Pleasant Park and hear about the city’s maritime history.
After freshening up at your hotel, you might like to venture out for dinner. I particularly like The Bicycle Thief, which serves Italian dishes so tasty that I still think about them now… It’s also set right on the water, so you can see the reflections of twinkling lights as you dine.
If you’ve still got energy to spare, I recommend checking out some of the city’s Celtic-influenced pubs, many of which host live music including rousing sea shanties. Among those I’ve enjoyed visiting are The Split Crow, The Old Triangle, and The Lower Deck.
I recommend staying at Halliburton House, in downtown Halifax. Each room has a different character, and the fine-dining restaurant refreshes its menu every day.
I recommend venturing beyond the city to explore more of Nova Scotia’s coastal scenery and history. After breakfast, collect a rental car from downtown and set off along the Lighthouse Route. This scenic drive sticks to the province’s southern coastline, weaving around secluded bays and inlets to the 18th-century UNESCO-designated town of Lunenburg. I’d allow a leisurely three-to-four hours for the drive out to Lunenburg, pausing at viewpoints and small towns en route.
Make a stop at Peggy’s Cove, a tiny fishing village that’s home to one of the most-photographed lighthouses in Canada. I find that getting there at this time means there are fewer visitors than later in the day, so you can capture uninterrupted photos of its bright-red lantern room and dazzling-white tower, set against wave-lashed rocks and the ocean.
I suggest pausing again at Mahone Bay, a small town steeped in maritime heritage. Take a leisurely stroll along its shore, where brightly painted Victorian houses form a cheery backdrop and the sharp spires of three churches rise into the sky. You could also drop into artisanal shops and galleries to watch craftspeople at work, from potters and sculptors to painters and weavers.
Arrive in Lunenburg, one of Nova Scotia’s first British-colonial settlements. I immediately felt a sense of history here thanks to the vividly painted clapboard buildings clustered on a slope above the water. It’s a great place to grab a late lunch of fresh lobster rolls or Solomon Grundy (marinated herrings paired with sour cream).
As you eat, you might have views of Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II. It's a working replica of the award-winning fishing and racing schooner, Bluenose, and docks at various points along the coastline. After winning the International Fishermen’s Race for 17 consecutive years in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bluenose became a symbol of Nova Scotia’s prominence in fishing and shipbuilding.
You can learn more about this and more at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg. Or, for something more hands-on, we can arrange for you to join a tour to learn how to shuck oysters with a local fisherman.
Take a more direct inland route for the one-hour drive back to Halifax, perhaps relaxing with a drink by the water on your return.
Enjoy a seafood dinner at The Press Gang Restaurant & Oyster Bar, in the heart of downtown. It’s housed in one of the oldest stone structures in Halifax, dating to 1759, and serves a mix of seafood and meat dishes, though I’d say its wide selection of locally sourced oysters are the highlight. If you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday you’ll be treated to live jazz, soul, or blues played by local bands.
Experience it for yourself
You can spend two days in Halifax, as well as exploring more of Nova Scotia and two other Atlantic provinces, using our maritime treasures self-drive trip suggestion as a starting point.
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