Halifax is an eclectic little city, and the variety found in its neighbourhoods reflects this. There’s a bit of a geographic divide: The traditionally poorer and more working-class neighbourhoods are in the North of Halifax and the more affluent in the South, but in recent years there’s been a mash-up of sorts and the North has gotten less sketchy and more artistic, and even a little yuppie in places. Halifax supports a diverse population of students, artists, regular working stiffs, military folks and showbiz types—which means that you’ll find unexpected pleasures in every ‘hood in the city.
The North End
Once considered a no-go-zone, this neighbourhood is having a renaissance and is pretty classy in places. Start walking north up Agricola Street from Charles Street. Nestled amongst ethnic food stores and hole-in-the-wall pizza joints you’ll find Finer Things Antiques, where you can pick up gorgeous mid-century modern teak furniture and all manner of Nova Scotian treasures, and Bellissimo!, where you can buy beautifully restored antique and super chi-chi new furnishings (as well as beautiful fabrics and lots of great little gift-type things, such as soaps and other more affordable home wares). Hip urban eateries have also moved in: The Coastal Café (on Robie Street, which runs parallel to Agricola) has the best breakfasts in Halifax (stuff yourself with the Elvis, a buttermilk waffle sandwich with peanut butter, bananas and bacon drowned in maple syrup) and the cupcakes at FRED (a café, gallery and hair salon) are incredible.
The Quinpool Road district is an ethnic/hipster/student neighbourhood centered around a main drag packed full of family-owned restaurants and small businesses, many of which have been around for decades—such as the Ardmore Tearoom, a funky old-style diner that has been a locals’ favourite since 1958, and Athens, which has been serving to-die-for Greek food since 1982. Quinpool is home to Halifax’s indie flick mecca the Oxford Theatre, which adds to its hipster appeal, as does the Heartwood Bakery Café’s organic veggie fare and stellar coffee shop Ireland 32 Café. You can buy everything from adult novelties to tropical fish to belly dancing supplies at the stores on Quinpool, and you can learn the art of Japanese floral arrangement at the Ikebana Shop or paint yourself some crockery at the Clay Café. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore here, as there is plenty to see and do.
The South End
This is Halifax’s richest ‘hood, and the grand mansions along Young Avenue are testament to that (walk along this beautiful street for the scenic route to Point Pleasant, the gorgeous 183-acre park much loved by locals and their dogs). In this neighbourhood you’ll find the Seaport Farmer’s Market, Pier 21 Immigration Museum, some interesting shopping (check out Carbonstok for great eco-conscious goods) and lots of fun places to eat and drink: The Trident Booksellers & Café is a favourite of Hollywood actress Ellen Paige, who is from Halifax and owns a house in the South End. Morris East does amazing wood-fired pizza, but beware of lineups on weekends for a table. K does great food and music seven days a week. The Henry House is a stately old home that was transformed into a pub and restaurant, and is a great place to stop for a pint.
In downtown Halifax you’ll find major shopping areas such as Barrington Street (for more indie and cool stores), Spring Garden Road (major global brands and a couple of decent-sized malls), Granville Street (art galleries), the Historic Properties (for gifts and high-end wares) and Bishops Landing (a block filled with interesting high-end stores). You can walk along the boardwalk to explore some of Halifax’s more touristy things to do (eat beavertails—which are massive donuts—or ride the Harbour Hopper for a factually inaccurate but fun tour of the city and harbour) and take in the gorgeous views across the harbour. Argyle Street is a long strip of bars and restaurants that turns into party central on the weekends. You’ll also find major attractions like the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the old Alexander Keith’s Brewery, where you can take a historic tour.
Dartmouth is a short ferry ride across the harbour from Halifax. Taking the ferry across gives you some great photo opportunities as you look back at Halifax, and once you get off the ferry, you’ll find hidden gem cafes, restaurants and stores on the side streets around the ferry terminal. Check out Two If By Sea for the most delicious croissants in the known universe. Nectar Social House is a top-rated fine-dining restaurant with a great local wine list (NS has several award-winning vineyards). The Celtic Corner is a popular Irish-themed live-music pub and eatery, and La Perla offers northern Italian fare complete with fabulous rooftop views of Halifax. In Alderney Landing (where you alight the ferry), you’ll find a farmers’ market that is open seven days a week.