When you ask strangers about it or look it up, some common terms or questions that pop up are: Small, quaint, picturesque, is that the land of seafood? or what’s good to do there? – which I believe are all reasonable summations.
Like most people without context, before I moved here from Toronto, I thought Halifax was going to be the quiet break I desired. It would be one year devoid of any extracurricular activity or traffic and would give me more time to focus solely on school. I didn’t know anyone aside from family and there wouldn’t be anything else to do – perfect, right? Oh, but was I wrong.
Four years later, I’m still here and have barely scratched the surface of what our lovely city has to offer. Halifax is the ultimate small city meshed with so many vibrant cultures, artsy traditions and culinary wonders. Every aspect is so different, individually beautiful and, unlike big cities, all so close you don’t need to travel far to experience and learn something new.
So, if I were to be a guide for anyone visiting for a weekend or maybe a week, here are my Top 10 experiences to try:
Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market
In the spring and summer, I take a walk down to the farmers market at least once a week and there’s always something I didn’t see the week before. SFM is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in North America. It’s a space to find and enjoy various cultural artisans, cafes, jewelry, etc. Whether you’re searching for fresh produce, local wines or pet toys, it’s the place to explore.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
Just a short walk down from SFM is Pier 21, home of the stories (past and present) of immigrants as they arrived in Canada and how they’ve contributed to building the way of life as it is today. The museum is a National Historic Site, which was the gateway to Canada for a million immigrants between 1928 and 1971. Along with taking tours of various exhibitions, you can also enjoy browsing through the vendor booths showcasing the vast talents of individuals from various ethnicities who call Halifax home.
Alexander Keith’s Brewery Tour
If you don’t like beer, don’t worry about it as this is definitely still the tour for you. Keith’s was founded in 1820 after Alexander Keith emigrated from Scotland in 1817. Going through the old brewery, you get to learn about how the beer is made, try out interesting types of beer (for the beer drinkers, I don’t know how the brewmaster decides on some of those, but YUMMM), listen to some Scottish tunes, and take part in an old-fashioned céilidh (kitchen party).
This newly relocated science centre brings out the kid in everyone and is a hit with actual children. If you’ve spent some time enjoying historical lessons, the science centre is a good break for fun ways to explore biology, archeology, and paleontology. Right now, there’s a Science of Ripley’s exhibit that allows you, friends or family members to get an up-close look at a meteorite from Mars, have a conversation with an animated Robert Wadlow (the tallest man in history), and take a picture inside a shark jaw to get the blood pumping.
Visit Some Festivals
If you’re lucky enough to visit during the summer or early fall, then you have to stop by one of our many festivals, one of the ways we celebrate multiculturalism at its best. In July alone, the TD Halifax Jazz Festival celebrates the rich heritage of African-Nova Scotian Music, the Halifax Busker Festival highlights the best street performers, the Halifax Lebanese Festival brings Lebanon right to you, and our new Mosaic Festival of Arts and Culture celebrates all the people and cultures that call Halifax home by giving them a shared space to showcase their different talents and passions.
Museum of Natural History
Mi’kmaq artifacts, ancient fossils, and sea creatures are some of the things you can expect to see at the museum. However, there’s always something new coming to town so that you never know what’s just around the bend. For example, late last year I had the privilege of going to see the Body Worlds RX exhibition showcasing an in-depth exploration of the human body. It takes you through a world of emotions while discovering anatomy in a way that’s never been conventionally taught. The museum always has something that binds everyone regardless of where you came from or how old you are.
Food is an essential part of our daily routine and when people take the time to cook or beautifully present their cuisine to anyone, they create an experience all in itself for that first-timer. In Halifax, you get the opportunity to experience a part of various continents without needing to buy a plane ticket. West Africans share Mary’s African Cuisine with us, the French give us Bistro Le Coq, Mexicans provide Antojos Tacos + Tequila, Italians Restaurante a Mano while the Thai people bring us Blue Elephant. These aren’t even a fraction of what’s represented in Halifax, but are some of my personal favourites.
Take a Walk Through Neighborhoods
There’s no better education on how beautifully meshed a city is than to walk through some of its neighbourhoods. You can’t learn about people if you don’t take the moment to experience their home through their lens. If you have time, I recommend not just exploring downtown, but other parts of the city as well. Hop on the ferry and visit the nooks and crannies of downtown Dartmouth, explore quaint European shops around the Hydrostone, or grab a drink in one of the bars and restaurants in the North End.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada and contains several pieces of historical significance. The exhibitions and collections not only highlight the region’s cultural history, but also address and educate individuals on areas like health, social justice and immigration.
Experience a Donair
I’m constantly being told that if you visit or live in Halifax and haven’t tried a donair it’s questionable if you really were here. Until a few weeks ago, my residency in the city was very questionable – luckily that’s been rectified. Donairs are the ultimate Haligonian comfort food that can be had at any given hour of the day, however I’m told it’s the best late-night craving. The jury is still out on where to get the best donair in Halifax (I tried mine at Johnny K’s on Blowers Street), and people have very extreme reactions to their first time (you either love it or you hate it). Either way, it’s a cultural staple of its own and a definite to try while in Halifax.
As I stated earlier, there’s so much to explore in Halifax and I haven’t even breached the surface. I’m still here, I’m still trying, and I definitely recommend you take the time to try as well!