Halifax

For other places with the same name, see Halifax (disambiguation).

Halifax is the capital city of Nova Scotia and the largest city in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. The city's origins and rich maritime history derive from a strategic location and one of the world's great natural harbours. In the 19th and early 20th century, Halifax was the entry point for European immigration to Canada. Today, Halifax is a busy Atlantic seaport and the economic and cultural hub of Eastern Canada.

Understand

The old town clock situated at the base of Citadel Hill

Halifax is the provincial and regional hub of Nova Scotia. It is still, however, a smaller city by North American standards (2010 pop. 412,012). Rather than feeling relegated to 'second-fiddle' status, this dichotomy is celebrated by residents who take pride in their slower pace and warm hospitality.

History

While the area around Halifax has been inhabited by native Mi'kmaq for millennia, modern Halifax was founded on June 21, 1749 as a British military outpost. Easily defended and featuring the world's second largest natural harbour, Halifax proved its worth during the Seven Years' War against the French and later in the American Revolutionary War, and as the base grew in size and importance, a significant population of merchants and other civilians sprung up in its wake.

On December 6, 1917, the collision of a munitions ship loaded with 2,500 tons of explosives resulted in the Halifax Explosion, which killed over 2,000 people and leveled the northern half of the city.

The city was quickly rebuilt and World War II saw Halifax busier than ever, with British supply convoys assembling to start their perilous journey across the Atlantic as German U-boats lurked offshore. After the war, over a million immigrants to Canada passed through Halifax.

Orientation

The city of Halifax is on Halifax Peninsula, on the west side of the harbour, with Dartmouth to the east. The main landmark is the Halifax Citadel, on a high hill above the city, and it conveniently divides the city into three districts: the South End, representing the older, wealthier urban core south of the Citadel; the North End, the grittier northern suburbs destroyed by the Explosion; and the largely residential West End. The downtown core is sandwiched between the Citadel and the sea, making navigation a snap. Inhabitants of the city are known as Haligonians.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 0 0 4 8 14 19 23 23 19 13 8 3
Nightly lows (°C) -9 -8 -4 1 6 11 14 15 11 6 1 -5
Precipitation (mm) 151 114 134 121 119 108 106 98 107 135 154 160

See the Halifax 7 day forecast at Environment Canada

Extreme cold or hot temperatures are rare, as Halifax is located next to the ocean. Also the Gulf Stream helps making the winters milder. Typical for an oceanic climate at these latitudes, there will be a lot of rain or snow throughout the year. Summer and early autumn are weather-wise the best seasons to visit the city. In the autumn months hurricanes affecting the North American east coast may occasionally move all the way up to Halifax.

Visitor information

Get in

By plane

Halifax Stanfield International Airport
The Bridge Terminal in Dartmouth

The modern   Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport (IATA: YHZ) is located 35 km north of Halifax. It is the biggest airport in the maritime provinces, with direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, New York, Chicago, Ottawa, Calgary, Boston, Philadelphia, London, and limited service to a number of regional and holiday destinations. Direct connections to Europe are provided by Air Canada (London-Heathrow), Europe Airpost (Dublin: seasonal), Thomas Cook Airlines (London-Gatwick), Condor (Frankfurt/Main, May–October only), Canadian Affair and Icelandair (short stopover in Reykjavik).

MetroX Route 320 is the only public transit connection between the airport and city, and the most affordable option. It is an express bus service to downtown Halifax with only two intermediate stops in Fall River and Dartmouth (Bridge Terminal). The total journey time is 55 minutes and the fare is $3.50 one-way. It runs on 30 minute frequencies on-peak and 60 minutes off-peak, with the first departure from the airport at 5:45AM and the last 12:15AM.

Upon boarding you should ask the driver for a "transfer", so you can continue your trip on a connecting bus. A transfer is a small slip of paper that you can show the driver of the next bus as proof of payment. You can change buses in Dartmouth or Halifax, or call a cab from either bus stop.

The Bridge Terminal in Dartmouth is a convenient and comfortable place to change buses. It has an indoor waiting area with a concessions kiosk, public washroom, and transit information. From the Bridge Terminal, Route 1 goes straight to downtown Halifax and the Spring Garden Road area, but if you're travelling with unwieldy luggage keep in mind that it may be crowded during peak hours.

The final stop, in downtown Halifax, is located on Albemarle Street. It is within walking distance to certain hotels including the Delta Halifax, Delta Barrington, Prince George Hotel, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites. Otherwise, Albemarle Street is somewhat out-of-the-way and you may want to call a cab to reach your final destination. If you are unencumbered by heavy luggage and wish transfer to other buses you should walk down the hill to the bus stop in front of Duke Tower (for buses toward Quinpool Road) or to the Scotia Square Terminal on Barrington Street (for buses toward the south end, Spring Garden Road, and the universities).

Taxis and limousines charge a flat rate $63 to Halifax City Centre and may be prebooked at no extra charge. Sunshine Cabs (+1-800-565-8669 or +1 902-429-5555) is a reasonable compromise, with door-to-door service for $26 per person going out and $28 coming in, but you have to book one day in advance.

By train

The   VIA Rail train station located in the south end of Halifax at 1161 Hollis Street, directly next to the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel has three trains a week leaving for Montreal. The trip to Montreal takes 22 hours. There are 3/week (W F Su 6:45PM) for $150-285 (Moncton is $43-77 +4h20).

By car

Halifax is connected to the rest of Canada by provincial highways 101, 102, 103, and 104. Highway 102 runs between Halifax and Truro, where it connects to Highway 104 (the Trans-Canada Highway). Going west on 104 takes one to the New Brunswick border, and then onto Maine, Quebec, or Prince Edward Island. It's about 2 hours from Halifax to the New Brunswick border; there is a $4.00 toll at the Cobequid pass. Going east on 104 takes one to Cape Breton or alternately the ferry to Prince Edward Island.

A ferry service in North Sydney, Nova Scotia connects Nova Scotia with Newfoundland. Highway 103 connects Halifax with the South Shore. Highway 101 connects Halifax with the Annapolis Valley. A ferry service connects Digby (about 2.5 hours from Halifax) with Saint John, New Brunswick.

By bus

By boat

A ferry service also operates between Halifax and Dartmouth. It is a great boat ride, especially on clear summer days, considering the $2.50 charged.

Carnival Cruise Lines operates cruises to Halifax.

Get around

Halifax has a tendency to sprawl somewhat. Public transit is limited and mostly impractical outside the downtown area. The downtown shopping and attractions will engage the average traveler for a day or two at most. Beyond this time frame, a car rental will significantly open up the surrounding area.

By car

There are no photo radar or red light cameras in Nova Scotia. If you are caught, it'll be by a live officer. At some lights, there is an "advanced green", or flashing green light, which means that you can proceed left, straight, or right at your leisure. Green arrow lights are rare. Pedestrians are king. People will often cross a road in the middle of the block, and cars stop for them. U-turns are legal (de facto anywhere a left turn is allowed, de jure), barring a no U-turn sign.

It's very important that you give buses the right of way, give them enough room to turn in intersections, and avoid passing them on one-lane streets like Barrington.

By bus

Halifax Transit. Halifax Transit is the public transit provider for the municipality, encompassing Halifax and surrounding areas. The fare gives you access to all buses and ferries, excluding the long-distance commuter buses marked MetroLink and MetroX. Transfer tickets are free, are valid for 90 minutes, and can be used at any bus stop or ferry terminal (i.e. return journeys are possible on one fare). The agency has teamed up with Google to provide an online trip planner through GoogleMaps, however all transit maps and schedules can be found on their website as well. $2.50 with discounts for children and seniors.

By taxi

There are a number of taxi services in the city, although flagging one down may be difficult in certain areas. Calling and reserving cabs is rarely an issue. If you are bar or club bound for the evening, be aware that catching a cab back from downtown after last call may be difficult.

See

The Acadia exhibit at the Halifax waterfront.
The new Halifax Central Library. The rooftop is open to the public and offers spectacular views of both the harbour and the hill.

Parks

Do

Theodore Tugboat

Events

Learn

Halifax is home to three major universities. Students make up a significant proportion of the population in certain neighbourhoods.

Other educational institutions include:

Work

The military is the largest employer in the region. The city is home to Maritime Forces Atlantic HQ and the navy's East Coast fleet. Among the military installations around the city are Windsor Park, Stadacona and HMC Dockyard. It is hard to go anywhere without seeing a reference to the Navy.

Many corporations have their regional headquarters in the city, some are located downtown like TD and the Royal Bank, while others are located in some of the major business parks in the region like Burnside Industrial Park or the Aerotech Park which is located next to the Airport. Both have direct access to the major provincial highways and while the Aerotech Park is next to the airport which influences the Aerospace theme, Burnside has ~10-15 min travel time to the Airport.

Buy

Spring Garden Road, the city's premier shopping district
Seaport Farmers' Market, located next to the cruise ship terminal and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Shopping Areas

Specific Stores

Eat

Seafood is generally not much cheaper in the Maritimes than elsewhere and many restaurants in Halifax specialize in seafood dishes. The exception to seafood being the same price in Nova Scotia are mussels. They are generally good quality, cheap, and found on many appetizer menus. Another seafood worth having is scallops, as they are generally higher quality than the ones you get in many parts of North America (note that good scallops are the size of a golf ball or larger, and do not taste fishy). "Sea pie" is often a good deal when available, as are hearty eats like fish and chips or seafood chowder. Lobster in a restaurant will be expensive, so your best cheap bets are to buy one at the store and cook one yourself, or attend any of the numerous lobster dinners that are hosted by churches and community groups throughout the warmer months. Buying lobster from the various fishermans markets or directly from the fisherman themselves (who will often sell street side out of a car) will get you the best deal.

A plethora of foods that are native to Nova Scotia are easy to find in Halifax: one is the Halifax donair, which is similar to but distinct from the doner kebab. It is prepared using thinly sliced beef meatloaf and a sweet condensed milk sauce and garnished with diced tomatoes and white onions. Other specialties include hodge podge (a creamy soup of fresh baby vegetables; rarely found in restaurants); blueberry grunt (blueberry baked with a sweet dumpling topping); and deep fried pepperoni (a bar snack often dipped in honey mustard sauce). Restaurants in Halifax and indeed Atlantic Canada offer a donair pizza featuring all the Halifax donair ingredients served on a pizza crust. In addition, one can normally find donair meat used in such offerings as donair sausage; donair egg rolls (an egg roll casing stuffed with donair meat); donair pogos (donair meat on a stick, battered and deep-fried, similar to a corn dog); donair calzones/panzerottis; and in donair poutine (an Atlantic adaptation of the Quebec snack dish). It is customary for bar and pub-goers to flock to pizzerias once all the bars, clubs, and pubs close on Friday and Saturday nights for a bite of pizza, or especially donair.

Garlic fingers are an Atlantic Canadian dish similar to a pizza in shape and size and made with the same type of dough. Instead of the traditional tomato sauce and toppings, garlic fingers consist of pizza dough topped with garlic butter, parsley, and cheese, cooked until the cheese is melted. Bacon bits are sometimes added. They are typically eaten as a side dish with pizza and often dipped in donair or marinara sauce. They are presented in thin strips (or "fingers") as opposed to triangular slices.

Both garlic fingers and the Halifax donair are relatively unknown outside the Maritimes, but can sometimes be found in restaurants in other provinces.

Budget

Many of the cheap eats in town are along Spring Garden road. Also consider local pubs (see Drink), many of which serve up great food.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Granville St

There are a large number of good cafes, pubs, and other eateries all throughout downtown. Of particular note are those on Granville St.

Liquor purchases for private consumption are regulated by the provincially owned liquor monopoly called the NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation). Stores can be found in stand-alone locations, malls, and grocery stores. Selection is often surprisingly large, but be prepared to pay: a twelve-pack of beer can range from $17-20, and a pint of rum or vodka will set you back $12-14. All prices quoted include taxes and recycling deposits. Most stores close at 10PM Monday to Saturday and 5PM on Sundays. Stores are closed for holidays. The exception has been the sole drive-through outlet near the in Dartmouth end of the MacDonald Bridge; it is frequently open holidays, but for drive-through service only. Port of Wines and several other micro-breweries are also permitted to sell their products from their outlets.

Pubs

Until a couple of decades ago, Halifax retained old British laws about the serving of alcoholic beverages. For example, if an establishment served hard liquor, it had to provide live entertainment; if it served draft beer, it also had to serve food. The heritage of those laws is a great deal of live entertainment and some very good deals on "pub food" which is priced low to get people in the door. Most "pub food" originates not far from the grill and deep fryer. Pubs that specialize in traditional-style music have "open mic" nights. Performers who attend will bring in their fiddles and bagpipes to jam---they are paid in drinks and food.

Nightclubs

Sleep

Budget

  •   Gerard Hall, 5303 Morris St. Early May to late August.
  •   Howe Hall, 6230 Coburg Rd. Late July to late August.
  •   Shirreff Hall, 6385 South St. Early May to late July.
  •   Risley Hall, 1233 LeMarchant St. Early June to late August. Single accommodations only.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Halifax is a generally safe city, but you should be aware when walking around certain areas of the city at night. The North End, including the Gottingen Street area, is relatively safe by international standards but has something of a rough reputation locally. In most cases, common sense should suffice.

Pedestrian crosswalks are highly respected by drivers in Halifax, and crossings can occur just about anywhere. This provides a double danger: For drivers to keep on the ball watching out for pedestrians; and for pedestrians to not be lulled into a false sense of security while crossing.

Rapidly changing weather means that black ice abounds in winter, and it's particularly nasty when combined with the city's hilly topography. Choose your steps and drive carefully.

Connect

McDonalds and Starbucks on Spring Garden road have free Wifi. The Dalhousie University Killam Library also has computers with internet access open to the public.

Go next

  St. Margaret's Bay is only half an hour away; a gorgeous bay, almost as big as the harbour itself, but without the cities. Instead, it is dotted with islands and small towns. In its northwestern corner there are beautiful   beaches, such as Queensland, Cleveland, Black Point and others, just before the town of Hubbards. Maybe the best known destination there is   Peggy's Cove: stunning bare granite rocks and cliffs with its historic and still-used lighthouse. While sunsets are gorgeous and peaceful on clear summer evenings; the best times to see Peggy's Cove are the stormier days, when the waves crashing against the cliffs send salt spray high into the air. Better to get out there early in the day to avoid tour buses.

If you have a car, there are plenty of historical towns within an couple of hour's drive of Halifax that are worth visiting, such as   Lunenburg,   Mahone Bay, and   Wolfville. Also the drive along the two-lane coastal Highway 3 is an attraction in itself, twisting and turning through the beautifully scenic landscape it's especially nice on summer days.

Routes through Halifax

Moncton Truro  W  E  END
Truro Bedford  N  S  END
Yarmouth Hubley  W  E  END
END  W  E  Dartmouth END
Truro Bedford  N  S  END
Yarmouth Hubley ← Jct W  W  E  END


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