Visitors and locals alike often refer to Halifax, and indeed all of Nova Scotia, as the “best-kept secret” in Canada. With one of the largest natural harbors in the world, Nova Scotia’s capital is the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in Atlantic Canada’s four provinces. Less than two hours by air from New York and Toronto, it is the halfway point between Europe and the west coast of North America.
Though Haligonians are proud of their well-kept secret, they are quick to make visitors welcome. You won’t stand for long with an open map on a city street; someone will invariably stop to help you on your way.
In 1995, the municipalities of Dartmouth, Bedford, Halifax and Halifax County joined together and became officially known as the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), today the population is near 415,000
Nevertheless, visitors will still see street signs directing them to Dartmouth, Bedford and Halifax. Dartmouth is a quiet bedroom community across the harbor from Halifax, via the ferry or one of the city’s two suspension bridges. But the 10-minute ferry ride from Halifax’s waterfront across the picturesque harbor—home to luxury yachts, recreational boats and gigantic container ships heading for the open sea—is a must, just for the view.
Bedford is north of Halifax’s city centre on a long stretch of road called The Bedford Highway, a major route to the Halifax International Airport. Bedford is an old, treed, residential area extending west of the highway, but the highway, which follows the train tracks out of Halifax, is a busy commercial area with boutiques, specialty stores, garden nurseries, restaurants and large malls on both sides, all visible and easily accessible from the main road.
Located on the southeastern coast of Nova Scotia, Halifax’s city center sits on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Farther south than Montreal, it boasts a mild climate that sees little or no snow until after January. “The Peninsula” refers to old Halifax, the area enclosed by the Bedford Basin on the east, the Atlantic Ocean on the south, and the Northwest Arm on the west.
The South End is the ritzy part of the peninsula. Canopied by ancient trees, wide avenues give view to palatial homes constructed in various architectural styles, with grounds that are beautifully groomed and well planned. A drive through these leafy streets will take you to the southernmost part of the community, Point Pleasant park. The park boasts one hundred and eighty-five acres of old trees, quiet trails a large, grassy area on the ocean that’s perfect for picnics, and an underground bunker. There, history buffs can envision hunkered-down soldiers from wars past, waiting for the approach of enemy ships. The park has a small shallow beach for family outings and its large parking lot allows easy access.
Downtown Halifax is where the action is. As an important shipping center, the commercial part of the harbor is busy year-round. Vessels from Russia, South America and Europe float next to stern, gray submarines. During the summer, huge luxury liners dock near the neck of the harbor and are a popular tourist destination.
The shopping is good, the galleries are great, the history is everywhere, and the food is fabulous. With the best people-watching in the city, downtown is where you can hear many languages and accents as visitors from around the globe stroll the busy streets. It’s also the site of the large, well-appointed Casino Nova Scotia where the electronic bells and whistles clang all day and into the night as gamblers try their hand at games of chance.
You’re never lost in downtown Halifax. If you’re going downhill, you’ll end up at the waterfront. If you’re walking uphill, you’ll arrive at the city’s largest and most famous landmark, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax is a convenient city. Most points of interest, dining and entertainment establishments are within walking distance of major downtown hotels. The fresh breezes off the water make strolling a pleasure, and rooftop restaurants and bars are a good place to stop for a breather or to sample one of the locally brewed beers. It’s an easygoing city where visitors can wander in comfort and safety until the wee hours.
The West End of Halifax is both a lovely residential area and a shopper’s paradise. Four malls draw bargain-hunters from both sides of the harbour. The sprawling complex known as the West End Mall and the Halifax Shopping Centre are across an avenue from each other and offer most large chain stores and lots of smaller hometown shops. The Village at Bayers Road is just north of the other two and all three are easily accessed from Bayers Road, a major artery leaving downtown Halifax, heading west. Further west is the Bayers Lake Industrial Park, whose name has become somewhat of a misnomer, as it has little industry and lots of shopping—you will find all of the major outlet stores.
The true East End of Halifax is in Dartmouth, in the Burnside Industrial Park, where the main industries are located along with the city’s two newspaper plants. A sprawling complex of head offices and warehouses, Burnside will be a challenge for anyone without a map. Not far from Burnside is Dartmouth Crossing, one of Canada’s largest and most dominant retail commercial projects. The area will eventually expand to 1.7 million square feet with the addition of IKEA (which arrived in 2017), Cabela’s and two new hotels now under construction. Existing anchors include Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Cineplex, Toys R Us as well as restaurants and coffee shops. And within 5 minutes, you can continue your shopping spree by visiting Mic Mac Mall, with over 120 shops and a food court.
But Halifax is just a district within the larger playground that is Nova Scotia. If you want the best smoked-salmon in a 500-mile radius, it can be found 15 minutes out of the city. If you want to stay in a castle-like bed and breakfast, you can book it and be there in 30 minutes.
Thanks to Westjet for this excellent guide. Visit their website for more destination and fun facts www.westjet.com
For more information on specific neighbourhoods in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia, check out my detailed guide to communities and neighbourhoods in and around Halifax here