Destinations · Things to Do · Culture · Canada · United States
March 31, 2024 Words: Katie Altman

Halifax's Hidden Gems and Local Favorites

Live like a local for a day and night in this charming maritime city.

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When you find yourself with a full day (or even an overnight) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, you can experience some of the best this unique city has to offer. Halifax offers a plentiful array of well-known attractions — but let us help dig a little deeper and experience the unexpected Halifax that locals love. We’ve put together suggestions to bring you the authentic side of Halifax and some of its best hidden gems.

The first thing you’ll want to do in this beautiful harbor city is to take a stroll to enjoy the stunning views and soak in the coastal atmosphere. A favorite spot for Haligonians (yes, that’s what Halifax residents are called) is the Halifax Public Gardens. This 16-acre Victorian-era garden welcomes you with an ornate wrought iron gate made in Scotland, featuring the city’s coat of arms: “E Mari Merces”, which translates to “wealth from the sea.” Wander around the garden and soak in the beautiful trees, exotic plants and blooming flowers, plus two Victorian carpet beds — traditional arrangements of colorful dwarf plants that create stunning designs. One of the most charming spots within the park is the wooden bandstand that is the centerpiece of frequent concerts and events, and don’t miss the garden’s two bridges that are perfect for taking memorable photos.

For some of us, finding a great cup of coffee isn’t a luxury, it’s a must. Have no fear, coffee aficionados: Halifax’s café culture is alive and kicking. There’s a wide variety of spots to choose from, each with its own unique Halifax vibe. Weird Harbor is a trendy-but-chic café serving up some of the city’s best espresso and a small well-curated book selection. Take a seat by the window or sit outside and get some people watching in. At Uncommon Grounds — with two locations including one in the aforementioned Public Gardens — try the Fog Burner Blend made with freshly roasted beans from their local roastmaster, plus delicious fresh baked goods. Cabin Coffee rounds out our top three local favorites, and it really lives up to its name, with a log wall, fireplace and adorable cabin decor. Settle in for some great coffee and Instagram-worthy pics.

If you love art but don’t want to spend your day in a museum, Halifax has some beautiful outdoor public art on display. It’s easy to take a self-guided tour to see some of the highlights. Near the Halifax Common Aquatic Facility, you’ll encounter five large cast bronze replicas of pool flotation devices by artist Brandon Vickerd — juxtaposing high and low culture. At 1326 Barrington Street downtown, the Sound of Time mural by artist John McPartland, also known as ABSEN, incorporates both realism and street art styles to depict a story of creative inspiration. The 2023 Halifax Mural Festival resulted in several dozen colorful new works along Grafton Street and Quinpool Road — all well worth a look. A quick 15-minute ferry ride will take you to neighboring Dartmouth, where there has been a burst of public art in recent years. Downtown Dartmouth boasts more than a dozen murals, plus many public installations and sculptures.

If you’re in town on a weekday, you can take advantage of a free tour of the Old Burying Ground, also known at St. Paul’s Church cemetery, right in downtown Halifax. This National Historic site was in use as a cemetery until its closure in 1844. Residents often take visitors here to view 1300 grave markers decorated with angels, grinning skulls, weeping willows, and memorable epitaphs. The lush greenery, lovely paths and benches make this a wonderful place to spend an hour or two, and you will learn a lot about Halifax’s history on your stroll.

While Halifax is the urban core of the region, the city’s natural harbor is its real star — and one of the best ways to explore it is by taking a leisurely walk along the harbourfront boardwalk (one of the world’s longest urban walkways) to enjoy scenic views of the beautiful coastline, historic properties, museums, boutiques and more.

With all this exploring, you’ll likely work up an appetite, so be sure to check out the local favorites and hidden gems of the Halifax food scene. Being that you are in Halifax, seafood will likely be at the top of your list, Bar Kismet is the place to go. This small, family-owned spot will wow you with fresh seafood, homemade pasta, and creative cocktails. If you are in the mood for something more casual, Salvatore’s Pizzaiola Trattoria is said to serve some of Halifax’s best pizzas and is a mainstay of the community. Another favorite of Halifax foodies is Truly Tasty Ramen… because it really is. The crispy fried chicken ramen is a must-order. But, if you want to try the meal that was named the official food of the city, seek out a Halifax Donair. This gyro-like specialty served on a grilled pita is made with shaved beef, onions and tomatoes and most importantly, a sweet, garlicky sauce. Donair's are rarely found outside of Nova Scotia, so this is your chance — Tony’s Famous is a good choice for trying one.

Finally, after seeing the city’s fascinating sights, you might want to catch some of its classic Celtic sounds. Fans of Irish music can seek out a live band or fiddling session at the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse, a Halifax institution. With a wide range of East Coast beers on tap, this Maritime pub is a wonderful place to cap off your Halifax experience.

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Garden in Halifax
The entrance of Public Gardens in Halifax The entrance of Public Gardens in Halifax
Public art in Halifax. The artist is unknown. Public art in Halifax. The artist is unknown.
Argyle Street in Halifax Argyle Street in Halifax

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