Halifax is a pretty little city along Canada’s east coast.
Located in Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s Maritime provinces, Halifax is the country’s largest city east of Quebec. At fewer than 400,000 people, it’s big enough to have lots to see and do but still small enough to get a lot done in one day. But what should you do if you only have a few hours to spend in Halifax? Follow these tips to make the most of your time there. Don’t fear if you don’t make it all the way there. You should be able to catch a glimpse of it from the bus as you leave town.
Shore Excursions and Tours
Due to its location along the east coast, Halifax was one of the first places Europeans settled in Canada. It’s got a rich and colorful history that dates back nearly 300 years. When you’ve got limited time in a city like Halifax, you can cover a lot of ground on a group tour. Some of the activities you can indulge in include whale watching, a guided walk through the public gardens, sailing on a tall ship, or reliving the past at the Citadel National Historic Site.
If you’re headed to Halifax via cruise ship, you’ll be able to purchase a shore excursion right on your ship. Cruise lines typically offer a selection of the most popular attractions, with a range of activity levels. It’s not likely you’ll find a better deal on land. And if you’re not sure what you want to see or do, you’re not alone.
A lot of people choose not to research the ports in advance and wait to hedge their bets when they get on the ship. For this reason, you can usually find a “Best of Halifax” excursion, or something similar, that will give you a brief look at a variety of places.
I was sailing on the Carnival Sunshine when I visited Halifax, and I had my choice of about a dozen shore excursions. I took the Halifax and Peggy’s Cove tour and thought I got amazing bang for my buck.
If you’ve only got enough time to do one thing in Halifax, take a road trip. You won’t be disappointed with a visit to Peggy’s Cove. If you’re heading out from the cruise terminal, it takes about an hour to get there. Many of the shore excursions provided by the ship will offer a scenic drive through Halifax proper before getting on the highway. You’ll glimpse the Citadel, among other sights, such as the public gardens and residential areas so you can see how the locals live.
Once you arrive at Peggy’s Cove, you’ll have about an hour to explore the area. While this may sound disappointing, it’s actually a goodly amount of time. This charming seaside community is picture perfect, with its colorful cottages and well-worn trawlers. But it’s home to only about 60 permanent residents, which means it’s small. Like really small. Wee, in fact. But that only adds to its cuteness.
The point is, one hour gives you just enough time to snap a few pictures of the infamous lighthouse and explore the handful of shops where local artisans sell their wares. You’ll find a solid mix of handcrafted goods, from jewelry and ceramics to clothes and crafts. I picked up a handmade kimono and tank top that were made by a local designer at a shop called Hags on the Hill.
Your motor coach will likely park at the Sou’Wester. It’s located at the farthest end of the community. You’ll find no shortage of kitschy souvenirs at this sprawling restaurant and gift shop. But don’t get too caught up looking at the mass-produced trinkets here. Be sure to take in the sights of the nearby community. In fact, I recommend leaving this shop for last.
Start with a walk on the rocks (not the black ones, or you risk falling into the rough waters and being swept away) for view of the lighthouse. Then, take a stroll through town. Grab a cup of Joe at Tilley’s. Or try some Nova Scotian lobster rolls at the carry-out restaurant next door.
Before returning to the bus for the hour-long ride back into Halifax, use the washrooms at the Sou’Wester, and pick up any last-minute souvenirs here. You can even touch a live lobster if you’re so inclined. The entire excursion lasts about three to four hours from beginning to end, leaving you plenty of time—about two to three hours if you’re on a cruise—to check out some of what Halifax itself as to offer.
Pro tip: Be sure to check out the William E. deGarthe monument made from a giant slab of granite that pays tribute to the local people of Peggy’s Cove. It’s located at the top of the hill near the tourist information center when you enter the community. You will need to walk at a fairly brisk pace to make it all the way here and back to the bus in one hour if you want to take pictures and do some shopping throughout the town.
Cruise ships conveniently dock a hop, skip, and a jump from the infamous Halifax Harbour Walk. It’s a lovely stroll along that waterfront that’s filled with fun activities, good food, and cute boutiques.
Stop in at Rum Runners on the Halifax Boardwalk at Bishop’s Landing. Pick up a cake or two made from rum bottled locally on Cape Breton island. Or maybe you’d prefer a sweet treat, like an ice cream cone from Sugah!, the candy shop next door.
You can continue walking for miles, taking in dozens of shops, historic buildings, and eateries, while enjoying the seaside scenery. Here, you’ll also find the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, where you can grab a homemade bite to eat, or the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which features memorabilia from the Titanic. The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is a fascinating stop for anyone interested in Canadian heritage. It was the gateway for more than 1 million immigrants into the country.
You’ll also find plenty of places to whet your whistle and try the seafood. Waterfront Warehouse is hard to miss. Boasting fresh seafood and oysters, it’s a perfect place to take kick back and enjoy the view of the waterfront. We chose to grab some haddock bites from a carry-out restaurant. For dessert, we went to Beavertails, where you can get a funnel cake in the shape of—you guessed it—a beavertail. But it’s covered in Nutella, cream cheese, caramel, or a host of other decadent delights.
You could spend an entire afternoon walking along the Halifax Waterfront. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and just keep walking. With only a couple of hours, we didn’t have a lot of time for leisure, but we did get to take in a lot of the sights.
Halifax is much more than lighthouses and boardwalks, but this is the perfect way to spend the day if that’s all the time you have. What other places do you recommend in Halifax? Share your photos on Instagram using #WanderlustWayfarer.