In early October of 2010, I arrived in Halifax on a cruise. We were scheduled to be docked for most of the day. I decided to approach exploring Halifax the same way I handle most of my exploratory travel-on foot, moving between major landmarks of interest, and with an eye out for interesting distractions.
My starting point for exploring Halifax was, by virtue of my arriving by ship, the docks. It was certainly a good base of operations. A boardwalk runs along the harbor, making it easy to access many restaurants and shops, and easy to navigate. Following the boardwalk away from the cruise ships’ piers, one is also lead straight to the terminal for the Halifax ferry, which provides easy (and cheap) access to the opposite side of the harbor and the goods and services located there. Continuing further along the boardwalk, one would eventually find the Casino Nova Scotia.
My first objective was actually food. I was initially stymied by the fact that many restaurants had not yet opened for lunch (it was 11am) but I eventually came across Stayner’s Wharf Bar, a bar & restaurant adjacent to one of the harbor ferry terminals. I was initially disappointed that no lobster was to be found on the menu, but I was pleasantly surprised by my Fisherman’s Brunch, a plate that consisted of two nicely seasoned fried fishcakes and a heap of Caesar salad. Including a soda and tip, the lunch ran me less than $20 Canadian.
After lunch, I stepped outside of the restaurant to get my bearings. My main tourist-y objective for the day was the Halifax Citadel, a fort in the shape of a six-pointed star strategically located at the top of a high hill, granting the citadel’s historical inhabitants a view of the harbor. Of course, since I was starting out from the waterfront and the citadel was at the top of the hill, this meant a slightly unpleasant climb…but I took it as a challenge. (Also, as fate happens it, there was a mall with a Starbucks that I stopped up halfway up the hill, so that I could get a coffee and use the free wifi.) There are a handful of other options for anyone who can’t scale the hill, or who doesn’t want to, including the “FRED” bus (“Free Rides Everywhere Downtown”), which is available to residents & visitors during the summer.
Admission to the citadel was very reasonable-for one adult it was about $8 Canadian. I take a certain satisfaction in visiting historical sites, and especially in seeing artifacts from daily life in eras past, so it was enough for me to be able to pace rooms that were constructed and occupied a hundred and fifty years ago and to see cutlery, decorations, and tools used by citadel denizens in the 1800’s; however, the fort also offers sporadic demonstrations of rifle and cannon fire; a number of displays about the military, strategic, and historical significance of the citadel and Halifax in general; several really spectacular views of the city below; and a pretty decent location for a long walk.
Once done amusing myself at the citadel, I considered my options; immediately down the northwestern slope of the citadel hill were the public gardens and the Natural History Museum. Normally I’d be thrilled to visit either, but what I really wanted at that moment was a cold drink, so I set out south down the hill towards what looked like a promising area.
I wound up in the tangle of quirky stores, coffee shops, and restaurants entangled with Dalhousie University. I was a little sad that I wasn’t actually hungry, just thirsty; the most immediate solution to my problem was to stop by McDonald’s and get a Diet Coke. Had I actually wanted a leisurely lunch, I could have stopped at any one of the ethnic restaurants in the area, or the enigmatically named restaurant/bar named “Your Father’s Mustache.”
With only an hour or so left to make it back to my cruise ship, I headed downhill, towards the harbor. One questionable advantage of visiting Halifax via a cruise ship is that on days when ships are docked and the streets are flooded with tourists, one of the buildings along the dock basically becomes a mall, filled with local vendors selling souvenirs, crafts, and imported items. If you wind up in a similar situation and want to find a few gifts, it’s not a bad choice for shopping; prices seemed to be reasonable, and there was quite a variety of goods for sale. If you do have more time or aren’t in Halifax on a cruise day (or, like me, you prefer to peruse small specialty shops free from the crush of tourist masses), there are many small shops Halifax harbor.
If you’d like to visit Halifax, here are a handful of websites about services & locations that will be helpful:
FRED – Free Rides Everywhere Downtown
Halifax – Visitor Information