Watch ships and sailboats in Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia

11 Coolest Things to Do in and near HALIFAX, Nova Scotia

Looking for the best things to do in and near Halifax, Nova Scotia? I’ve got you covered! This list of awesome ideas covers some of the classics and lesser-known gems, too. 

Nova Scotia is known for its beautiful scenery, delicious seafood and musical hospitality. If you’re planning a visit, you likely have a few must-see places in mind. Plus a MAP and 2 bonus pitstops for your drive up to Cape Breton Island.

Continue this best-of series in Nova Scotia with the coolest things to do on the AMAZING Bay of Fundy (my personal favorite, which includes Annapolis Valley … aka wine country) and the gorgeous Cape Breton Island.

Coolest things to do near Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Contents

Tip: The best way to explore Nova Scotia is by car. Nova Scotia is an easy, relaxed province to drive in with lots of cute places to stop at as you explore. But I also recommend getting a GPS for areas with poor cell coverage.

MAP: ALL of the Coolest Things to Do in Nova Scotia

The map below includes ALL of the coolest things to do in Nova Scotia. Things to do in and near Halifax, on the Bay of Fundy, and on Cape Breton Island. This makes it easier to plot out your own Nova Scotia road trip. 

To use the map below: Use the buttons at the top to access map details (i.e. to hide areas you’re not visiting), to share it (i.e. with yourself to modify it for your own trip) or view a larger version.

5 Coolest Things to Do SOUTH of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Many of the coolest things to do near Halifax are south of the city, right along the Atlantic Ocean. This coastline is just begging to be discovered, with so many interesting nooks and crannies. Super-cute fishing villages, zillions of islands to paddle through and lighthouses … oh, those lighthouses!

That’s where we’ll start.

1. Get a Peggy stamp in your passport

The lovely red-topped Peggy's Cove lighthouse on massive boulders overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

If you’ve seen only one picture of Nova Scotia, there’s a good chance it was of this spot! The picturesque Peggy’s Point Lighthouse is among the most known and most photographed lighthouses in the world.

This lovely red-topped lighthouse sits along the edge of a fascinating rocky coast with huge rocks you can climb and explore for miles, buffeted and smoothened by the Atlantic Ocean waves. But do be cautious and don’t get too close to the edge. The original lighthouse dates back to 1868.

The coolness factor goes up with a visit to the post office. Yes, you read that right! At the post office inside the lower level of Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, you can get your passport stamped with a super-cute lighthouse and mail your postcards to family and friends back home. The nearby fishing village of Peggy’s Cove is also very pretty.

While you really want to get here early to avoid the crowds (literally crowds that pour from tour buses), you also don’t want to rush the pretty drive that winds through quaint fishing villages. So give yourself time!

Find more information on Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse.

2. Reflect on the White Star’s first ocean liner disaster just off Nova Scotia’s coast

I hesitate to put such an awful disaster on a list of coolest things to do near Halifax, but visiting the quick-thinking fishing village of Terence Bay that saved many lives certainly is cool.

Back in 1873, the White Star Line’s luxury transatlantic ocean liner, Atlantic, hit the rocky coast off Lower Prospect and sunk. At least 535 people died, and only 390 survived. All women and children aboard, except for a 12-year old boy, died. It was the worst single-ship disaster in the North Atlantic until the Titanic in 1912.

The S.S. Atlantic Heritage Park and Interpretation Centre includes an interpretation center with recovered artefacts, mass burial site for 277 unidentified individuals, and nice boardwalk and trails to reflect while taking in the power of the waves. It’s only 10 minutes off Highway 333 on the way to Peggy’s Cove, so make this a stop on your way out or back to Halifax.

Find more information about the S.S. Atlantic Heritage Park.

If you have scuba-diving certification, you can up the epic factor by diving at many shipwrecks around Nova Scotia. Narcity.com has a list of 10, including tour companies that’ll take you out. The idea terrifies me, but it sure would be epic.

3. Kayak among the Atlantic’s blue rocks

Kayak in the Blue Rock area near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

This was my personal highlight of things to do near Halifax. We visited in late September and were the only ones on the kayaking tour, so the guide’s friends came along to look for muscles and periwinkles. They made us feel like old friends!

I love kayaking and I love the ocean, so I’ll admit it was easy to make me happy here. But, the kayaking was smooth and easy for us amateurs because we were sheltered among the many rocky islands in the area. The scenery was quiet and peaceful. In fact, the Blue Rocks area in Nova Scotia is perfect for those without kayaking experience and kids as young as 4 can join a tour.

Our tour was just over three, mostly relaxing hours. We stopped at one of the many small islands for a break and light snack before heading back a different way. While on the island, we could see boats heading into Lunenburg (only 15 minutes away). The water is so clear, you can see the bottom most of the way. You can also paddle out to a seal colony.

I highly recommend checking out  Pleasant Paddling.

4. Sail on Canada’s most popular tall ship 

Brightly-colored buildings decorate Lunenburg's harbor, Nova Scotia

Brightly-colored buildings decorate Lunenburg’s harbor

Lunenburg is a very pretty little port town an hour south of Halifax. It’s won many “most beautiful places” awards; when you get here, you’ll see why.

Likely the second picture you’ve seen of Nova Scotia is of bold, brightly painted buildings at a charming little fishing village; that’s Lunenburg. Lunenburg has actually been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s the best surviving example of a planned British colony. It’s had no significant changes to its overall layout and appearance since being established in 1753.

You can be happy just wandering in and out of this pretty little town’s cute shops and cafes and walking its piers for postcard-worthy views.

But one of the coolest things to do near Halifax is to experience the local shipbuilding prowess. Lunenburg is where Canada’s iconic tall ship Bluenose, a fishing and racing schooner featured on our 10-cent coin, was built and launched in 1921, and then the Bluenose II replica in 1963.

You can take a 2-hour harbor cruise (morning or afternoon) or even join the crew for a day’s venture out to Mahone Bay and back (16 years and older). Be sure to check the schedule and reserve your spot on Bluenose II!

5. Wake up to the rhythm of the Atlantic on Nova Scotia’s shore

This really pretty boutique resort is the perfect place to stay near Halifax. It’s quiet, luxurious and premium seating to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean.

Oceanstone Resort is only a 10-minute scenic drive from Peggy’s Cove. It has its own beach to comb, a large firepit overlooking the Atlantic, and a highly-rated onsite restaurant. It’s right along the Coastal Heritage Trail with interpretive signs to inform you along the way.

Guests love this place, so much so that many get married here. Oceanstone Resort has won top 5 places in Canada to get married by Elle Magazine and the Canadian Wedding Industry Awards.

Check out Oceanstone Resort reviews!

6 Coolest Things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax is a port city with a ton of history to taste and explore. And here, history is so well done that many of the popular spots are actually pretty cool things to do in Halifax. Halifax is Nova Scotia’s capital city and the largest in Atlantic Canada.

Hanging out in Halifax is a fun mix of historical sites and museums with plenty of legendary craft beer and walks along the harbor boardwalk.

6. Absorb some history at Halifax’s Maritime Museum

Watch the ships and sailboats in Halifax Harbour from its wooden boardwalk

The boardwalk along Halifax Harbour is perfect for strolling

I’m going to start us off with a surprisingly cool thing to do in Halifax: the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Yes, I know that a museum doesn’t sound particularly cool, but this one is really good. Promise!

My two favorite exhibits at the Maritime Museum were the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion. The explosion in 1917 destroyed nearly the entire north end of the city; ship anchors were found more than 3 miles/5 kms away! While the drama of these two events are quite fascinating, the exhibits were excellent at teaching me along the way. Expect to spend maybe two hours here.

The Maritime Museum is also right along the nearly 2-mile wooden boardwalk overlooking the Halifax Harbour, so it’s a fantastic stop while out enjoying the view. Get details on the Maritime Museum.

7. Keep watch from Halifax’s Citadel

War history buff or not, this historic hilltop fort is pretty cool and always makes the lists of top things to do in Halifax. Halifax’s Citadel is a star-shaped military fort built in 1749 with the best view overlooking Halifax Harbour.

Walk the inner walls, plug your ears for the daily canon at noon, fire a 19th-century rifle, and grab a coffee and tasty sweet. You can also take a 1-hour tour, be a soldier for a day (well, 3 hours), or hunt for ghosts. Special activities have been designed for kids, too.

On the second floor of the Cavalier Building, the Army Museum has an impressive collection of more than 70,000 military artifacts. Among its exhibits are “The Road to Vimy and Beyond” recounting the role of Canadian soldiers in the First World War, “Trail of the Canadian Army, 1939-1945” looking at Canadians in the Second World War, and “The Art of War” drawings from a soldier in Afghanistan. Admission is included with your entry into the Citadel.

Plan your visit to the Halifax Citadel.

8. Cheers with a local pint at its home tavern in Halifax

Keeping in theme with Halifax’s military history, you have to try at least one of the area’s craft beers when visiting Halifax. And there are PLENTY to choose from!

Two popular breweries to visit in Halifax are:

  • Alexander Keith’s (1496 Lower Water St): Of course we have to start with Keith’s, as it’s probably Halifax’s most famous beer and really a must-see tour. Alexander Keith’s Brewery dates all the way back to 1820. Take the tour with a costumed guide to get a taste of the hard-to-find dark beer (it was really good) and some good ol’ tavern singing. Stay for lunch at the adjoining Red Stag Tavern with a rooftop view of the harbor.
  • Garrison Brewing Company (1149 Marginal Rd): One of Halifax’s original microbreweries going back to 1749, Garrison is another must-see with very strong customer reviews. Visit them across from the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and Seaport Farmer’s Market.

Here’s a fairly recent article (April 2019) from Halifax Magazine on 6 craft beers to try.

But honestly, another fun way to try a bunch of different local craft beers is at one of Halifax’s many great neighborhood pubs. Our favorite was Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub (1645 Argyle St) near the Citadel, where we had a number of morning beers … and evening beers.

Note: Keep in mind that live music doesn’t tend to start until 9 p.m., so pace yourself!

Tip: Now, remember when you cheer, you have to take a drink before putting your mug down. You don’t want bad luck on your vacation *wink*

9. Eat your fill of seafood along the Halifax Harbour

Halifax is known for its seafood, so eating plenty of it is a top thing to do in Halifax! Lobster, in particular, is a special treat.

The boardwalk along Halifax Harbour will take you past a number of great seafood spots. Here are three great options to check out:

  • Shuck Seafood (5120 Salter St): This seafood restaurant has very strong reviews and a great Maritime-modern vibe. It specializes in oysters, but you’ll find plenty of other excellent options on their menu. It’s a block away from the boardwalk with outdoor seating available.
  • Murphy’s Restaurant (1751 Lower Water St): You just can’t beat the view at Murphy’s, especially if you sit on the covered patio. It sits on the edge of the longest wharf on the water. Murphy’s specializes in seafood and local brews.
  • The Lower Deck (1887 Upper Water St): This cozy pub in the historic Privateers Wharf area is a local favorite. Come for the local entertainment as well as their delicious food. Upstairs is the Beer Market, which is a casual restaurant known for its seafood and steak.

10. Shop at North America’s oldest market

At the south end of the Halifax boardwalk is Pier 21. Pier 21 is where nearly a million would-be Canadians landed between 1928 and 1971. Suitably, this is also where you’ll find North America’s oldest farmer’s market – one of the best places to shop.

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market was established in 1750 and is the longest continuously running market in North America. Originally set up for local cattle and produce farmers, it’s evolved into a sophisticated market with more than 250 vendors. These vendors include local artists, leatherworkers, photographers, fishermen, farmers, bakers, wineries, distilleries and breweries. You can also have a sit-down meal at one of the restaurants or coffee at one of the roasters.

This is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs and travel food for exploring things to do in and near Halifax. Find more information and reviews on the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. Find the vendor list at halifaxfarmersmarket.com.

While you’re at the Seaport, take a tour next door at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. This is where nearly a million would-be Canadian citizens were first introduced to this beautiful country. Guests describe it as “excellent” and “inspiring.”

11. Explore an old island fort … yup, right in Halifax

Getting out on the water is definitely among the best things to do in Halifax. And you have LOTS of options. Elegant tall ships, fun amphibious hopper tours, and party cruises. Plus, smaller sailboats, jet boats and taxis. Tours are available for families, foodies and history buffs. Take a look at your options with the highly-rated Ambassatours and J Farwell Sailing Tours.

You can also combine a boat ride with exploring one of the two harbor islands with old military forts. Even if you don’t care much for exploring the forts, the view of Halifax is fantastic.

The island closest to Halifax is George’s Island. Since 1750, this little island has been a key fortification guarding Halifax against attack. It was also used as a prison between 1755 and 1763 when the British forced Acadians off their lands. Access to the island has been limited to special events; however, in 2020 Parks Canada will start offering “visitor experiences.” Watch for updates on the Parks Canada website.

A little farther out at the mouth of the harbor is McNabs Island. Fort McNab National Historic Site was once a formidable military fort. Built by the British in the 1880s, it was a prominent part of Canada’s front-line seaward defense system in the two world wars, due to its strategic location and its technology, most notably the powerful breech-loading guns. You can wander along old military roads and see the guns, shelters and searchlight emplacements.

Plan your visit to McNabs Island to coincide with historical tours and picnics hosted by the Friends of NcNabs Island Society. Find historical information on the Parks Canada website, reviews at Trip Advisor, and tour information at mcnabsisland.ca.

Summary and Resources

Which of these top things to do in and near Halifax are on YOUR must-see list? If you’re looking for more, don’t miss my post on Coolest Things to Do on the Bay of Fundy! I LOVED the Bay of Fundy, and it’s only an hour away from Halifax.  

And, of course, Cape Breton Island is absolutely gorgeous.

When planning your trip to Nova Scotia, I recommend checking out these resources:

Interested in other great adventures in Canada? Check out these other great spots:

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