8 Best Things to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse is a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax. - Photo by ThinkStock

Halifax has always been a welcoming city — to immigrants, University students, and cruise passengers who flock there in the autumn months to see the leaves. Haligonians, as the residents of Halifax are called, are known for their spirited traditions and maritime hospitality. To be one of them and not a CFA (a local term that stands for “come from away”) is as simple as shouting, “Sociable!” (which means “cheers”) at the pub, or ordering a donair, the maritime-Atlantic version of the doner kebab or gyro that’s an acquired taste. Even if you have only a brief time in port, you can still get a good dose of local culture. 


halifax two by sea nova scotia

Start the day with a croissant at Two if by Sea.
Photo by Two if by Sea

Breakfast: Two if by Sea – When this Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, bakery and café opened a second location in downtown Halifax, it put its mouth-watering pastries within reach of cruisers. The owners make no apologies for the waist-expanding ingredient that’s key to the café’s success: butter. (The word is even stamped on the shop’s takeout bags.) The croissants — such as almond, or prosciutto and cheese — are always a hit, and an appropriate accompaniment to the iced Americanos served in mason jars.  

Lunch: Waterfront Harbor – Popular with both visitors and residents alike, this destination is the best place to sample the flavors of Nova Scotia. There are three new additions to the boardwalk: Canadian Bacon Cookhouse, which serves — you guessed it — pork belly sandwiches; the simple but fresh Shack Oyster Bar with a “Crobster” (its own blend of lobster and snow crab) roll; and a branch of Smoke’s Poutinerie, which turns out unique spins on the Quebecois staple of poutine (French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.)

Dinner: Stories – Located in a quaint historic inn, this candlelit restaurant offers an intimate evening out. Chef Scott Vail puts equal emphasis on bounty from land (bison carpaccio) and sea (rice paper-wrapped scallops). Pull up a seat in front of a hearth and sip on a glass of Tidal Bay, a crisp white wine that’s Nova Scotia’s first — and only — appellation.

Dessert: Sugah – At this local candy maker, chocolate is prepared the old-fashioned way: one hand-stirred batch at a time. Confectioners work a copper kettle and marble slabs to craft a delectable array of sweets, including maple-crusted chocolate and white chocolate bars studded with lime zest, chili flakes, and roasted pistachios. 

Tip: The quintessential Haligonian dining experience isn’t lobster or seafood chowder — it’s a local specialty called donair, first served circa 1970s. The foil-wrapped sandwich, served on pita with tomatoes and onions, differs from its predecessors in that it consists of spiced ground beef instead of lamb, and a sweet white sauce made of vinegar, evaporated milk, and sugar instead of yogurt, mayonnaise, and lemon. 


theodore tugboat halifax nova scotia

Theodore Tugboat offers harbor cruises for kids.
Photo by TowPix / eStockPhoto

For Everyone: Halifax is called the “City of Trees.” For the best leaf-peeping opportunities, swing by Point Pleasant Park, a 185-acre forested sanctuary with winding trails, rocky beaches, and ruins scattered throughout. It’s also easily accessible from the port by foot or public transit.

For Couples: Alexander Keith’s Brewery – Brewing beer isn’t just a trend here; it’s a tradition. In the early 1800s, Scottish suds maker — and politician and rumored spy — Alexander Keith (pronounced “Keet”) immigrated to Halifax to ply his trade. Today, tours of his ironstone and granite brewhouse culminate at the taproom, where you can toast “Sociable!” to the now nationally reputed ales. Try the spicy Hallertauer Hop, a hop-forward beer.

For Families: Murphy’s The Cable Wharf – This company operates a kid-friendly alternative to the traditional harbor tour:  a sail on Theodore Tugboat, a life-sized replica of the beloved character from a Canadian children’s TV series whose aim was to make his harbor one of the friendliest in the world. Instead of listening to a recording drone facts from a loudspeaker, this 30-minute excursion is animated by cartoon characters from the show and caters to tiny toddler attention spans.

For the Adventurous: Tidal Bore Rafting – In the Bay of Fundy, a natural phenomenon occurs at high tide: Millions of gallons of seawater forge their way upstream against the current of the outgoing river. Tidal bores occur in very few parts of the world, and only in Nova Scotia can you ride the tide. Hop aboard a motorized Zodiac® watercraft for a rush through whirlpools, rapids, and waves up to 11 feet. Just don’t expect to stay dry: There’s no avoiding a bit of sloshing and splashing.

Insider Tip

The seafaring history of Halifax was key to the capital city’s development. If you want to learn more, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a number of enlightening exhibits, but you’ll want to arrange a group tour with your cruise line or you’ll end up spending the entire afternoon reading exhibition labels.

Zodiac is a registered trademark of Z Marine International.


This article was updated on 10/24/2013.

Join the discussion

What do you like to do in Halifax?

Posted by HFXresident

Nice article and all, but you do know that Halifax isn't an island right? And neither is Nova Scotia. You might be thinking of PEI. Lived in Halifax my whole life and never heard of "CFA" or "Sociable" (unless we're talking about the university students who use it as a drinking game).

Also so much more to do past the boardwalk! Visitors should explore, Halifax is full of hidden gems.

Posted by hfxguide

Alexander Keith JUNIOR was the spy - a nephew of the original Alexander Keith.

Posted by NovaScotian1452

I have lived in Nova Scotia my whole life (except for brief interludes in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick) and in Halifax for 12 years and, although I have consumed countless Keiths, I most assuredly have never called any of them "Keets". I have likewise never used the term "Sociable" as a toast.

Posted by NS123

I lived in NS for 25 years and have never used Sociable as a toast and have always called the beer 'Keiths'. Also, I have never heard of the term CFA standing for 'come from away'. To me it means Certified Financial Analyst. I'm not familiar with the Tidal Bay wine that you mentioned, but I can assure you that NS has many fantastic wineries throughout the province and not just one, as you seem to indicate.

If I were to recommend something for first time visitors to Halifax to eat, donair would not be one of them. Try the lobster, the Digby scallops, the PEI mussels or any of the fish! All delicious. There are many fun things to do in and around downtown Halifax. A trip to the Bay of Fundy for Tidal Bore rafting may take more than 6 hours, meaning if you did that, you wouldn't be able to do anything else. I would recommend the lovely (and closer) Peggy's Cove for those seeking adventure.

p.s. In response to one of the other comments, the author never mentioned that Halifax, or NS is an Island...

Posted by tomgoodwin

people that haven't heard of CFA must live in halifax (only) ... and don't know their neighbours .... and/or because sooooo many Haligonians are CFAs ... coming from the country included. ... you go to any small town where there is a significant number of people from Coming From Away - they know the term

Posted by BonVoyageEditor

Thank you so much for your comments! We have removed the incorrect phrasing from the article, HFXresident, and so appreciate your thoughts.

Posted by OPJ

i've been in Halifax all my life, 39 yrs. I've been to pretty much every pub, and despite what some ppl think, the 'Sociable' term does happen, a lot. i've shouted it a few times, and have been in places countless times and responded to other's 'Sociable' greetings. However, it's not the same as when you order a drink and reply to the bartender with a 'cheers bud' to 'sociable'. this usually happens in only a few places, and what happens is, someone is happy with booze, raises their glass and yells 'sociable' to which those who are in the know respond accordingly with the same, and then take a swig. And it always brightens the place up with laughter and cheering. fun to see.

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