The port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada has been a vacation destination for our family for a number of year’s now. Our favourite time to visit is late September to early October when (most years) the weather is still warm and the autumn leaves are putting on their display of golds and reds.
Halifax is a single day stop for many cruise ships but can also be a great destination for a long weekend or a jumping off point for a drive around the maritimes.
The harbour is a terrific destination for families and adults. It’s a comfortable walk along the waterfront – great for enjoying the ships, shops and seagulls. There’s a playground along the way as well as a number of quick food stops (our favourite treat is the Maple Spread Beaver Tail though the Nutella version is a close second). There is also a decent play area on the waterfront for the kids to burn off some steam while mom and grandma visit the nearby gift shops!
Like most waterfronts, there are lots of places to stop and eat most of which don’t require a reservation. As a couple, our favourite is Salty’s (on the patio so we can watch the boats go by) while as a family, we just like to grab things from the many grab and go food vendors.
For a fun, inexpensive trip on the harbour you can take the ferry to Dartmouth for $2.50 Canadian per person. If you return within half an hour, the return trip is free … we like to just sail over on the ferry boat and then turn around and sail right back. It takes about half an hour or so to do this. Ferries leave every fifteen minutes.
If you have a bigger budget and have young kids you can opt to take a tour on board Theodore Tugboat, the Canadian children’s TV show star. If you’re planning a trip, try to get an episode or two online, from Amazon or Netflix to watch with your kids so they recognize him. You can also do crafts or colouring pages of him.
For older children or couples who want to do a bit more than ride the ferry, the Harbour Hopper tour and the tall ship Silva tour are both a lot of fun.
On the Harbour Hopper, you ride an amphibious open air vehicle around the city learning a bit of the history then the driver drives you right into the water where you tour the harbour, learning still more.
On the Silva, you board a tall ship and head out to the harbour where the sails are unfurled. They’re awesome! It makes you feel a little like you’re a cast member on the Pirates of the Caribbean.
If you’re very lucky, the Bluenose II also occasionally sails from Halifax on short tours. I’ve never been on it but I’d love to go. My mom has and says it was spectacular. It’s another tall ship – a replica of the Bluenose which is shown on the back of the Canadian dime.
If you plan to do any harbour touring, take a sweater and a wind breaker (jacket) as it is always colder out on the water than it is on land.
Once you’re finished touring the harbour, you can also check out the maritime museum. I loved it as it has a large Titanic section. Darren and the kids were less excited about it though everyone enjoyed being able to explore the boat that’s included as part of the admission cost. (There aren’t many kid friendly activities in the museum so I’m not sure it’s worth the price for a family… it would depend on whether your kids enjoy boats or Titanic history).
About twenty minutes down from the main waterfront area you will find Canada’s Immigration Museum along with the docks for most of the cruise ships that come into the port. Pier 21 is a great stop if you have family or ancestors that came to Canada from other countries. You can learn more about our visit to Pier 21 on our recent blog post “Sharing Your Family History: Immigration Stories“.
To be honest, shopping in Halifax isn’t great. There is a bit of tourist-focused stuff like stuffed lobsters and fishermen hats to buy at the waterfront. Amos Pewter sells some pretty keepsakes (also at the waterfront) including lovely tree ornaments and jewelry.
My favourite place to look around, especially with kids in tow is the farmer’s market. Halifax has the longest, continuously running farmer’s market in North America — it’s been running since 1750! It’s located between the main waterfront and Pier 21 (about a block north of Pier 21). It’s a nice place to walk through with seating on the roof if you’ve picked up a few lunch items to enjoy. It’s also a good stop on a rainy day.
When the girls were young, we walked around the citadel and took a few photos but we didn’t go in. Frankly, they didn’t like places like that and we didn’t like taking them. Darren and I finally went inside with Kaitlyn last year for Remembrance Day – it was a very moving way to spend that particular day. We especially enjoyed them firing the canons.
Halifax Public Gardens
This is a terrific, free attraction that you can stroll through on a sunny day. I, personally, wouldn’t try walking to it from the waterfront as it’s quite an uphill climb.
Point Pleasant Park
Another great, free place to walk around in. If you like history but have the kids in tow this would be my recommendation instead of the citadel. The kids can enjoy the walking trails complete with very busy squirrels, seagulls and cormorants while mom and dad use the QR codes throughout the park to learn more about the WWII history of the area.
The stones along the ocean are perfect for practicing your rock skipping skills. There are great views of cranes, cruise ships and cargo containers for the kids who like that sort of thing and equally great views of ocean birds, trees and flowers for those that prefer nature (all while sitting at the same picnic table! So bring a picnic, sit back and enjoy!)
One thing that should be noted is that many people walk their dogs in this park so if you have children who are dog-shy, this might not be the best outing for them.
Peggy’s Cove is, I think, the best day trip from Halifax. Head off first thing in the morning for the hour long journey in hopes that you get some fog (I like the fog, anyways!).
When we feel energetic, we park in the parking lot at the top of the hill (first parking lot you see in town) and just walk around from there… heading towards the lighthouse which is easy to spot, while enjoying all the cool fishing buildings and boats. After making it down to the lighthouse, you can visit the gift shop and cafeteria if you like before heading out to (carefully) scramble around on the granite surrounding the lighthouse.
If you head away from the lighthouse, but stick to the granite, you’ll bump into an area within five minutes or so where everyone seems to end up building an inukshuk. It’s fun to try and harder than it looks!