City Spotlight: Halifax Nova Scotia

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Halifax for a weekend getaway? Why not? With a flavour all its own, and a history to match, this seaside city is worth a second look.

Halifax is a quick two hour direct flight from Toronto. Air Canada flights run about $300 per person, and can be even less if you catch a seat sale. When you consider there’s no US exchange rates to think about, no passport needed, and no customs lineups, you’ve got the makings of an affordable and accessible weekend getaway. Oh, don’t worry too much about the weather. As a coastal community, Halifax has mild, temperate temperatures even in winter when temperatures dip only to about -8 (C)

OK, but what’s to do in Halifax? Oh so much no matter where your interests lie.

Walk Back Through Time

 History buffs will find their playground here too. Visit Canada’s oldest and largest maritime museum, located on at Pier 21, to learn about the Halifax explosion of 1917, the birth of Nova Scotia’s shipbuilding and seafaring heritage, and Halifax’s link to the Titanic disaster.

Military history buffs might prefer to visit Citadel Hill, home of the British Army outpost, and offering one of the best panoramic views of the city.

Not all the Halifax history is military or maritime. Harry Houdini, the fabled turn of the century escape artist and illusionists spent time in Nova Scotia in 1896. Haligonians are known to hold seances in hopes of coaxing the return of Houdini’s spirit on the anniversary of his death, Halloween night.

Need to stretch your legs? The heart of Halifax, free from expressways, is walkable, and well worth the amble. A walk along Spring Garden Road — which is a picturesque as its name suggests — will take you from the bustling harbour front, past the Victorian era Public Gardens (a National Historic Site), all the way to the trendy, gentrified neighbourhoods near Dalhousie University.

Eating and Sleeping

Foodies can get their tastebuds wrapped around some of Canada’s best seafood. You can get fresh lobster pretty much year-round here, but that’s only the beginning: mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp, halibut, haddock, Atlantic salmon…. What could be better than taking yourself on a hunt for the best seafood chowder in town?

As much gourmet as gourmand? Then head for the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market at Pier 20. Established in 1750 this is the North America’s oldest continuous operating farmers market. Open 7 days a week, the vendors at this massive market will delight you with everything from fresh produce to artesian breads, and dragon’s breath blue cheese.

A weekend in Halifax has a dizzying number of restaurant options. Try a favourite of locals, The Bicycle Thief. This Italian restaurant is on the edge of downtown at 1475 Lower Water Street. Dine with an ocean view for lunch or dinner. Or try the 2018 Diner’s Choice Award winner, Stories, at 5184 Morris Street, which showcases regional seafood and game.

Looking for something more casual but still quintessentially East Coast? Try the lobster roll at the Maritime Lobster Shack along the harbour front boardwalk. Not seafood, but still so indelibly Halifax, try a donair from King of Donair (6422 Quinpool), which purportedly served up the first donair in Canada back in 1973, and has been a Halifax icon ever since. Don’t want to leave the downtown vibe? Then check out Tony’s (1735 Grafton St., near Citadel Hill), another of Halifax’s original donair shops, and a local landmark. And when you’re there, say hello to Tony, who, according to the company’s website, still works there!

When it’s time to rest, options abound. A variety of hotel options exist in the heart of Halifax, within walking distance of the nightlife and trendy shopping districts around Pier 21, as well as major landmarks like the Public Gardens and Citadel Hill.

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The Prince George Hotel is right in the thick of downtown, close to restaurants, bars and Halifax’s vibrant and bustling waterfront. The Prince George features an indoor pool, pet-friendly facilities, and special weekend getaway packages. If getting to know the locals is more your style, Airbnb has listings ranging from harbour view suites to heritage homes to ultra-modern condos.

Halifax has everything and more to keep a weekender engaged and satiated. But in case you wish to wander further afield, Halifax is a great jumping off point for notable Maritime destinations like the iconic Peggy’s Cove (45 km) or the picturesque seaside artist village of Mahone Bay (85 km), home to world famous Amos Pewter.

A small city indeed, yet Halifax offers much for the weekend get away. Might just want to make it an extended one. Also: please pass the lobster.