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The city has a wide range of activities to cater to every interest and age group, so discovering the best Halifax things to do will be a fun adventure when you visit. You can spend hours browsing through shops, cafés and galleries downtown or in one of Halifax’s eclectic neighbourhoods. There are attractions that allow you to get lost in the city’s history (and in the history of the Titanic disaster if that is of interest to you). You can also, should the mood take you, find places to pursue athletic endeavors such as tidal bore rafting, surfing and kayaking, or if you’d rather lay by the water than actually go in it, there are scores of beautiful beaches and lakes to sun yourself by. Whatever it is you like to do best, you’ll find a variation of it here.
Neighborhood: The South End
Halifax’s much-loved farmer’s market recently moved into this deluxe purpose-built location to better serve the throngs of locals that flock here to pick up groceries, browse the handicrafts or just soak up the atmosphere (there are musicians playing around the market). Grab yourself some lunch and head up to the roof, where you can hang out and eat with great views over the Halifax Harbour and George’s Island. The market is currently open on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with hopes to ultimately be operating every day. Be warned: Saturday mornings at the market are crazy busy because that is when there are the most vendors — if you aren’t looking to get food items, you’re best off visiting on another day. You’ll find all manner of great locally grown and made foods at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. If you love cheese, be sure to check out That Dutchman’s Cheese stand—his Dragon’s Breath blue cheese is a local legend (you’ll find it incorporated into dishes on menus at many high-end restaurants in town)—or the Foxhill Cheese House for great cheddars and the best yoghurt you’ll ever taste. There are also handicrafts a plenty, making the market a great place to pick up authentic Nova Scotian crafts to take home as gifts.
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More than just a brewery tour, visiting the old Alexander Keith’s brewery is a multimedia trip through time, with actors to guide you through. The old brewery itself is quite atmospheric, and the tour is hands-on so it keeps you interested, even though everyone wants to get straight to the beer. The tour culminates in an old-time beer hall where the spirited actors sing traditional Celtic songs and make bawdy jokes while you get to sample different types of Keith’s beers and ales. Although it should be cheesy, it manages not to be, and is a very entertaining primer on the history of Halifax as well as the history of Keith’s beer. The tour is kid- and tee-totaler-friendly, as there are non-alcoholic beverages served, too, so no one feels left out. The Keith’s Brewery tour is a great way to spend a morning, but be prepared to wobble a bit when you leave after all those samples.
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This is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada and although it has an impressive collection of traditional and contemporary art (with changing exhibitions), what makes it really special is the Maude Lewis house and the collection of her works. Lewis was a Nova Scotian folk artist who lived with profound disabilities but produced whimsical and much-loved folk art. When she died in 1970, a society was formed to save her painted house, which ended up being moved in its entirety to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, where you can see it today. There is also a lovely gift shop within the gallery.
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If you dig history, especially military history, then you’ll love going inside the Citadel, where you’ll find numerous exhibits and even drill demonstrations from soldiers in period uniforms. This National Historic Site was built by the British in 1856 to fend off the American invasion (which never came) and is an impressive star-shaped fort at the top of Citadel Hill. If you aren’t a history buff, you’ll want to climb up to the fort anyway just for the best view of the harbour and downtown area. As a spooky alternative, a guide in period dress will take you on a candlelit ghost walk of the Citadel on Friday and Saturday nights; check the website for details.
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This nifty little museum has a lot of really interesting stuff packed into it. There are tons of model ships and engravings of boats to look at, but there are also really good re-creations of the inside of boats and a figurehead carving workshop. The Titanic exhibition has many interesting artifacts from the ship and is fascinating (whether you were a fan of the movie or not). The talking parrot in the foyer is a hit with kids of all ages, and there is a boat that kids can climb all over.
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In 1836, the Halifax Public Gardens were started and still stand as a fine example of a Victorian public garden (complete with a bandstand, statues and period iron railings and gates). The gardens are lovely to stroll through, or sit and read for a while. There is a duck pond (but don’t feed the park’s obese duck population or you’ll be slapped with a fine by the security guards) and rose gardens and all manner of beautiful flower beds. The garden has funny rules, which are posted at the entrance (such as you aren’t allowed to walk on the perfectly manicured lawns) but they obviously help the garden stay beautiful, so everyone observes them without complaint. You can get a coffee or gelato at the quaint café in the gardens. (The gardens do close for the winter months.)
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Although locals hate the Harbour Hopper due to its loud commentary disturbing their peace as they sit on patios in the summer, taking the tour is a fun way to see the city and get a background on the history of Halifax. The aquatic vehicle takes you around the downtown core and then into the water to give you a brief ride around the harbour. The historical stories are fun, but let’s just say that the facts have been embellished or changed a little and you may not want to take it as factual truth.
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There is no better way to see the harbour than to take a smooth sail trip on the Tall Ship Silva, a 130-foot schooner that offers various trips, both day and night. The ship does pirate tours, cocktail tours, private charters, party cruises and public cruises with a live band on board (complete with bar). Sailing on the Silva is serene and peaceful, unless you pick a lively evening cruise, and a very different experience to run-of-the-mill motorized boat tours.
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An hour outside of Halifax is the quaint fishing village of Lunenburg, which dates from 1753 and is a World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find gorgeous period homes, seafood restaurants, really good gift stores and some of the prettiest scenery in Canada. If you take the scenic route, the drive is just gorgeous and will take you through other smaller fishing villages (with lobster pots stacked high against the sides of the brightly painted houses). Warning: In the height of summer, tourists descend on Lunenburg by the busload and it can be pretty crowded.
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The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove is one of the most-photographed objects in Canada, apparently, and once you get there you’ll see why. Just a short drive from the city (30 minutes if there is no traffic or accidents on the road—which can shut it down for hours if there is), the village of Peggy’s Cove is tiny, with salt-shaker houses brightly painted and stacks of lobster pots against almost every one of them. There are a few neat little shops, and a place to grab a coffee, as well as a massive gift shop/restaurant right next to the lighthouse. Be careful scrambling over the rocks, though — in the fall of 2010 a tourist was swept off the rocks and drowned, and sadly this isn’t the first time that has happened.
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