On my first visit to Atlantic Canada I would spend two weeks road tripping through rural Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Between adventures I spent a quick 24 hours in Halifax where I was free to explore through the regions largest economic and cultural hub. I’m amazed at the plenty you can fit into an eager itinerary when both determined and thrifty with your time.
While the area around Halifax has been inhabited by native Mi’kmaq for millennia, modern Halifax was founded on June 21, 1749 as a British military outpost. Easily defended and featuring the world’s second largest natural harbour, the city proved its worth during the Seven Years’ War against the French and later in the American Revolutionary War. In the 19th and 20th century Halifax was the entry point for European immigration to Canada.
I was surprised at how walkable the city was. A pleasure to know one can skip out on public transit and taxi’s here to enjoy the destination on foot. If you plan your short visit to Halifax accordingly you can fit in a wild and wonderful variety of fun. The items on my itinerary below are listed in the order I conquered them.
Sips and Nibbles
I enjoyed two stand out meals during my short visit to the city: Chives offers a casual atmosphere and menu which reads “hearty comfort food,” while The Five Fishermen provides seafood fans with a fine dining experience which focusses on oceans bounty.
For the Love of Fort
Be sure to start your Halifax adventure by climbing up the city’s wee hill to Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. I always find its best to understand a city by diving into its history. Those who visit the Citadel experience two hundred years of history at one of Canada’s premier centres of military heritage: from the conflicts of the eighteenth century to the War of 1812, through the age of Queen Victoria and to the First and Second World Wars. Guests can hop on a guided tour but if you’re in a rush feel free to roam around the fort on your own. Up top you’ll enjoy stunning views of the city while actors dressed from head to toe in period military costume march to the sweet serenade of bagpipe.
It’s just a short 10 minute walk from the Citadel to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Lucky for me just as I began my decent from the cities hilltop fort, thunder cracked and rain poured. I managed to squeal and hustle, arriving in a short five minutes albeit rather weathered. The AGNS is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada and one of the premier art institutions in the country. With a history that dates back to 1908, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has grown significantly from its past life as the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts, which was entrusted to maintain the Crown’s 200-piece art collection on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia. I managed to march through the museum easily in under one hour. Highlights include Buoys and Gulls which celebrates the regions ties to the sea, Marion Wagschal’s explosive exploration of the human figure and stunning heroic landscapes via War of 1812-1814: Then and After.
Alexander Keith’s was founded in 1820 in Halifax making it one of the oldest commercial breweries in all of North America. The original brewery is located in a massive ironstone and granite building (circa 1820) which offers a perfect stage for your guides, hilarious performers dolled up in period costume. Brew enthusiasts are taken back in time by these animators who act as sud-sloshed spirit guides, showcasing 1863 Halifax life in song and story. Guests are given a quick history of the breweries founder Alexander Keith (a Scotsman) and then offered an education on the art of beer making. The highlight is the final stop when the group swings by the Stag’s Head Tavern for lively celtic music, games and of course a sample of Alexander Keith’s finest ales!
The Titanic Connection
Fairview Cemetery is best known as the final resting place for one hundred and twenty-one victims of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Most of them are memorialized with small grey granite markers with the name and date of death. Surveyor E. W. Christie laid out three long lines of graves in gentle curves following the contours of the sloping site. By coincidence, the curved shape suggests the outline of the bow of a ship. A grave marked J. Dawson gained fame following the release of the 1997 film Titanic, since the name of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the film is Jack Dawson. Many filmgoers, moved by the story, left flowers and ticket stubs at Dawson’s grave when the film was first released.
If you’re pressed for time and hopelessly hungry, nibble your way through Halifax with Local Tasting Tours. I hopped on their Downtown Halifax Food Tour led by the always smiling Emily Forrest (owner and guide) who marched our group through six of her favourite eateries in under two hours. Highlights include sweet squares at the market, rum cake, chocolate and bacon toffee, an olive oil and aromatic spice tasting, crispy cafe sandwich, the cities most famous shawarma, hearty burrito and refreshing organic iced tea.