Courtesy of Muir Halifax
Photo by David Maginley/Unsplash
As a port city, Halifax and its traditions naturally revolve around the idyllic waterfront.
The history and lore of Halifax keep the evolving city grounded in its maritime roots.
Nothing better represents Halifax's impressive transformation than its drunken lampposts. These tall, blue posts slump on a pier at the heart of its waterfront boardwalk as a nod to a city that fills the area with vibrant art, welcoming spaces, intriguing small businesses, and walkable routes. The humorous public artworks were temporarily installed in 2013 but became so popular that they’re now permanent fixtures.
Over the past 25 years or so, Halifax has worked to be more inviting by renovating warehouse space, replacing deteriorating piers, and linking walkable sections. The past couple of years have especially encouraged a mix of housing, retail, restaurants, and museums, with up-and-coming spaces like the Queen’s Marque development bringing a breath of fresh air. Spend a weekend here, and you’ll have just enough time for an introduction to the new Halifax.
Book Now: The Muir Hotel
Front and center on the Halifax waterfront is the brand new Muir Hotel, which opened late in 2021. The most talked-about city building of the past decade, the Muir is only one component of the city block–size Queen’s Marque complex of condos, shops showcasing Nova Scotian artisan goods, and restaurants that feature cuisines both inspired by the local climate and from distant continents like Asia and Europe. One foot of the establishment sits in the historic city center and the other literally in the ocean—a set of wide granite steps lead down into the water and is a magnetic public art installation.
The Muir’s exterior is subtly etched with images like the hulls of ships to honor the city’s seafaring heritage, while the hotel’s bespoke interiors dazzle with handmade hardwood furnishings and original artwork in every room, nearly all of which come with a water view.
Book Now: The Westin Nova Scotian
The Via rail system that crosses Canada ends at the Westin Nova Scotian on the Halifax waterfront. Opened in 1928, the station’s soaring ceilings, marble floors, and ornate columns are mirrored in the hotel lobby, recalling the days of luxury train travel; there’s a sense of classic elegance with modern amenities that carry the building's heritage into the future. Situated a block from the harbor, the Westin is ideally located for walking that vibrant new waterfront.
Book Now: Compass Distillers Tower
If “sleep in a distillery” is on your bucket list, you can cross it off when you cross the threshold to this two-bedroom apartment. The round tower at Compass Distillers is the entrance to Halifax’s only grain-to-bottle distillery and the doorway to the Tower, a unique stay on three levels. The barbecue on the top deck makes the views of the city and harbor all the more enjoyable. The streets around the tower at the north end offer a neighborhood of small pubs, shops, and eateries with a distinct hipster vibe.
Nova Scotia is known for its Good Cheer Trail, Canada’s first and only winery, brewery, cidery, distillery, and meadery trail that crisscrosses the province with over 80 stops and is heavily concentrated in Halifax. Breweries like 2 Crows, Good Robot, and the Oxford (a former movie theater) along with cideries like Chain Yard have appealing taprooms with atmospheres conducive to social gatherings. Get to know Nova Scotia’s appellation wine, Tidal Bay—a crisp white made entirely with Nova Scotia–grown grapes, particularly l'Acadie blanc—at casual speakeasies, such as the Obladee Wine Bar where you can take a wine appreciation class or simply relax with charcuterie.
Halifax is famous for seafood; stalwarts such as Five Fishermen, McKelvie’s, and the Press Gang are tried-and-true options, but you can also try places like Sea Smoke for Japanese fusion or Shuck Seafood + Raw Bar for the city’s largest selection of oysters. Another standout is Drift at the Muir Hotel, which takes maritime dining to the next level with interpretations of old favorites in dishes such as seaweed-infused deviled eggs and seafood hodgepodge, traditionally a Nova Scotia vegetable chowder.
Shopping the waterfront is an experience punctuated by encounters with engaging public art, including orange hammocks on the piers, fish-shaped benches, and a giant wave sculpture. Find local and international wines at Bishop’s Cellar, or visit Peace by Chocolate, a shop run by a family that kick-started the chocolate-making business it left behind in Syria after arriving in Canada in late 2015. For regional and Indigenous Mi’kmaw art, check out the Prow Gallery.
Halifax museums and historic sites excel at getting visitors involved in fun activities that double as teaching moments. Order a "perfect picnic" (a Parks Canada box lunch with options such as a lobster roll) or a ploughman’s lunch, and take the boat to Georges Island, a tiny, but deeply storied grassy knoll in the harbor to learn 300 years of history. A guided tour takes you through underground chambers that were used for housing soldiers and storing munitions.
Take the “Raise Your Spirits Tour” at the fortress atop Citadel Hill that rises steeply from the waterfront. An interpreter in period costume leads a tasting of three spirits, each barrel-aged inside the fortress. At night, go on a ghost tour by candlelight where you’ll learn about specters such as the gray lady, a bride left at the altar when her soldier fiancé died on his way to the wedding. Georges Island and the Halifax Citadel are part of the Halifax Defense Complex, which includes five National Historic Sites around the harbor.
Learn about the Halifax connection to the Titanic at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the waterfront. Then, visit Fairview Lawn Cemetery where there’s a tribute to 121 victims of the disaster buried there. The headstone of J. Dawson was once said to be the inspiration for Jack Dawson, the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the famous film.
Ships of another kind are celebrated at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. This is the pier where a million immigrants entered Canada from 1928 to 1971. The museum’s interactive, engaging exhibits interpret 400 years of immigration to Canada, making it a must-visit for the whole family.
>>Next: The Best of Halifax, Nova Scotia
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