Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital city and the gateway to Atlantic Canada, has numerous identities. Home to the second-largest natural harbor in the world, it draws a major share of Canada's container trade and oodles of cruise ship visits in the late summer and early fall (although more recently, ships are beginning to visit in the early summer months). A few streets inland, there are many sights to take in, and while gorgeous coastal scenery begins just outside the city limits, especially during the spectacular autumn foliage displays, the waterfront is also a delight to explore.
Halifax also has a strong connection to the sinking of the Titanic since it played a key role during the aftermath of the tragedy. Three of the city's ships were sent out to recover bodies, and so it is the final resting place for many unclaimed victims. In fact, three cemeteries throughout Halifax feature rows of black granite headstones, each inscribed with the same date: April 15, 1912.
But beyond the scenery and history, Halifax is just plain fun. It's a youthful, energetic town, home to several colleges and universities, that boasts a downtown area chock-full of pubs, clubs and cafes, as well as a restored waterfront that once welcomed traders and privateers. Throughout the year, you can enjoy music festivals, outdoor concerts and even old-fashioned Celtic ceilidhs (read: lively folk dances, often accompanied by fiddle).
It's this rich culture that has boosted the Canada and New England region's cruise popularity. (The fact that Halifax is easy to include on short four- or five-day Canadian itineraries is also a draw.) Annually, Halifax hosts more than 130 ship visits between early May and late October from lines that include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
The Halifax Seaport area has been specifically redeveloped and designed to service cruise ships and welcome cruise passengers to Halifax. Even visitors short on time can easily find plenty of local shops, restaurants and other vendors without stepping foot into Downtown Halifax.
Piers 22 and 20 are the principle cruise ship berths offering passengers access to dedicated cruise terminals, Pavilions 22 and 20. Pavilion 22 offers a unique and friendly shopping experience and Pavilion 20 offers an open space ideal for meeting tours; buses, taxis and limousines are conveniently located in front of the terminals. Pier 23, the Cunard Centre, is also used for cruise activities.
Halifax's picturesque waterfront is easy to explore on foot -- and close. Even if you're not in the mood to shop, stroll the boardwalk that zigzags along the harbor, lined with shops, restaurants and attractions.
Those looking to convene with nature need only walk just outside the seaport to Point Pleasant Park (5718 Point Pleasant Drive). This green space has about 25 miles of easy, winding trails, preserved ruins and fortresses, and frequently hosts outdoor theater performances under Shakespeare by the Sea.
Be aware that weather can change frequently -- from chilly one minute to warm the next. It's often breezy, too; dress in layers.
On Foot: The main waterfront attractions begin at the start of the boardwalk and continue on for the next three quarters of a mile.
By Taxi: Taxis line up outside the terminal. Alamo (800-462-5266) and National (800-227-7368) have reservation desks down the street from the Westin Nova Scotian hotel, a large red-brick building, just five minutes from your ship on foot.
By Bike: If you want something more active, a short stroll down the boardwalk brings you to a bike rental stand, where, for $9 an hour or $25 for a half-day, you can grab a bike and pedal your way around the city. A Segway tour stand is also nearby.
By Rideshare: Rideshare services, like Uber, are available in Halifax, however we recommend booking a private tour, if you can, through the region's largest tour provider, Ambassatours (902-423-6242). The company -- now the largest in Canada -- comes from humble beginnings and your guide will likely be wearing a kilt.
The currency in Halifax is the Canadian dollar, but most shops will accept American dollars. If you don't want to risk it, you'll find ample ATMs at the nearby Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. For the most up to date currency conversions, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
The vast majority of Haligonians speak English, but a smattering of folks also speak French.
Lots of lunch options (and dinner, if you're still around town) are available in Halifax, from cheap and delicious fish and chips out of a wooden shack to upscale dining. While seafood is the city's specialty, you'll also find a variety of other choices.
Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market: A great example of the city's culinary diversity is right near where you're docked. The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market is sprawling, a local staple for more than five decades, offering food, arts and crafts, local wines and souvenirs galore, all provided by local vendors. You'll want to come hungry; you can find cuisine that ranges from Jamaican and Mediterranean to Asian and a smoothie bar, surrounded by stalls that sell fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. (A lobster roll here is key.) It's also a great place to escape inclement weather, find clean bathrooms or simply relax with free Wi-Fi at the end of a hectic day. (1209 Marginal Road; open daily)
Tomavino's Pizzeria: In the seaport area, you'll find Tomavino's a bustling pizzeria using fresh and local ingredients. In good weather, you can sit outside on the terrace. Conveniently next door is the Garrison Brewing Company, serving seasonal brews. (1113 Marginal Road, 902-425-7111; open at 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday)
McKelvie's: Locals love this steak and lobster restaurant, housed in a former fire station dating from 1906. (1680 Lower Water Street, 902-421-6161; open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday and 4 to 9 p.m. on weekends)
The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse: Connect with the Celtic roots of Nova Scotia at this beloved pub, which frequently hosts live music. (5136 Prince Street, 902-492-4900; open every day from 11 a.m. until late)
Waterfront Warehouse: A seafood-lover's dream, this venue offers a variety of fresh-from-the-sea fare like lobster, fish tacos and clams. (1549 Lower Water Street, 902-425-7610; open Monday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Cafe Chianti: Try Italian and Eastern European fare in an Old World setting; the restaurant also boasts its own wine cellar with a fine selection of rare vintage wines. (1241 Barrington Street, 902-423-7471; lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
The Five Fishermen: If you're in port long enough to grab dinner or a late lunch, try a selection of tasty seafood dishes in an upscale atmosphere at The Five Fishermen. Menu items include grilled salmon, lobster tacos, sirloin burgers and -- our pick -- lobster linguine, among many others. (1740 Argyle Street, 902-422-4421; open for dinner every day, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Alexander Keith's Brewery: If it's an adult beverage you're craving, not to worry: Halifax has more pubs and bars, per capita, than any other city in Canada. Be sure to try any of Alexander Keith's beers. Just a few blocks from the waterfront is the historic Alexander Keith's Brewery, which began producing a variety of delicious local beers in 1820. Guides in period costume lead visitors through the brewery and, of course, you can enjoy a few samples along the way. During the summer, one-hour tours begin every 30 minutes. (1496 Lower Water Street, 902-455-1474; open Monday to Saturday noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.)
Some of the finest crystal in the world is made in Nova Scotia. Pick up a mouth-blown, hand-cut piece at NovaScotian Crystal on the boardwalk or at one of the 21 Dockside Shops located right at Pier 22 All vendors here sell regionally handcrafted products.
Other great places to do some buying or browsing include Bishop's Landing along the Halifax boardwalk. Rum Runners Rum Cake Factory is a boardwalk mainstay, and you'll also find Sugah!, a candy shop that sells prepackaged treats, as well as the store's own brand of chocolates, candy bars with interesting flavor combinations, and other confections like trail mix and chocolate-covered blueberries. Historic Properties at Privateers Wharf is at the end of the boardwalk toward Duke Street, and made up of a collection of boutiques, impulse eateries and pubs housed in 10 wood and stone buildings dating back to the early 1800s. Spring Garden Road, in town, is filled with more than 200 retail stores. Back near the cruise ship, the Seaport is full of unique boutiques like Designer Craft Shop and East Coast Lifestyle.