The Halifax of today is a modern, cosmopolitan city of trendy restaurants, cocktail bars and artisanal bakeries, with residents from all corners of the world, but it has never lost sight of its unique place in Canadian history.
Located among the traditional ancestral lands of the Mi'kmaq Indigenous peoples, it was colonized by British settlers, and became a destination for refugees escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War.
In the late 19th century it became one of Canada's busiest immigration ports, diversifying rapidly as it took on new residents from across Europe. In 1917 much of the city was infamously destroyed by the Halifax Explosion, and subsequently rebuilt from the ground up.
The latter part of the 20th century, meanwhile, saw economic downturns that caused parts of the city fall into decline.
In recent years, however, the Nova Scotian capital has been on the rise again, with its mix of natural scenery, friendly locals and relatively low cost of living attracting new residents from major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, as well as many other countries around the world.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Getting there from Toronto
Halifax is an easy flight from Toronto via Air Canada and (pending the resumption of service) Porter Airlines. VIA Rail also offers overnight sleeper train service from Montreal (currently suspended). A mandatory 14-day quarantine is in effect for all visitors from outside the province.
As one of Canada's fastest-growing cities, Halifax now boasts all of the charm of a small city, with enough great food, drink and culture to satisfy and delight even well-seasoned travellers.
The Halifax of today retains all of its unique history, traditions and charm, with the added benefit of new businesses and cultural institutions that tell the bigger story of this place and its people. As with the tumultuous events that shaped this city, it's a story that's well worth discovering — and its fledgling but no less creative food and drink scene makes for an excellent place to start.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: The best restaurants, cafés and bars
A cozy, welcoming dining room, an innovative cocktail list and a seasonal menu of sophisticated brasserie fare are all hallmarks of this local favourite that's consistently ranked among the top restaurants in Canada. Chef and co-owner Annie Brace-Lavoie makes deft use of fresh local produce and seafood, creating dishes like ahi tartare, halibut au poivre and house-made gnocchi with morels. Co-owner (and her husband) Jenner Cormier, meanwhile, presides over an impressive cocktail, beer and wine list, featuring bottles from Nova Scotia's best wineries, alongside selections from across the country and around the world.
The Canteen on Portland
Just across the bridge from downtown Halifax, The Canteen on Portland is one of several gastronomic locales that have transformed downtown Dartmouth into a culinary destination. Co-owners Renée Lavallée and Doug Townsend specialize in high-quality comfort food, artfully prepared with fresh local ingredients, changing regularly according to the season. Visitors in the summer should keep an eye out for The Canteen's famous Crobster Roll, a mix of local crab and lobster meat, served on a buttered split-top bun, and best enjoyed with a glass of crisp Lightfoot & Wolfville Tidal Bay.
Halifax has always been a melting pot for new Canadians, many of whom have found connection and created community through food. At the Hali Deli, the culinary traditions of Halifax's Jewish community are on the menu alongside classic diner favourites. Essential eats here include the matzoh ball soup (made with mature birds for extra flavour), Hungarian sweet and sour meatballs, and a hot brisket sandwich served on challah and smothered with the deli's house gravy. Look no further for the best smoked meat east of Montreal.
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The north end of Halifax is a long way from Tuscany, where owner Federico Pasquinelli grew up, but Espresso 46 is his way of making it feel a little closer. This small café and walk-up window specializes in the traditional art of Italian coffee, with shots pulled to order and accompanied by house-baked treats and friendly banter. Get there early on Fridays and Saturdays for the bomboloni — Italy's answer to the donut — made from scratch in flavours like coconut, pineapple and, naturally, espresso. Molto bene.
Nova Scotia's independent booze industries have boomed in recent years, creating everything from tart, funky ciders to crisp sparkling wines. While many of these breweries and wineries are open to the public, a visit to this downtown branch of the NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission) is a good way to get a sense of the variety. Keep an eye out for cans of Piquette from Benjamin Bridge and beer from 2 Crows Brewing.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: The best cultural activities
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
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Tracing its roots back over a century, with a broad collection of pieces spanning Canadian and international artists, Atlantic Canada's largest art museum is one of the city's main cultural institutions. Among the highlights of the permanent collection is the brick-and-mortar home of Nova Scotia painter Maud Lewis (relocated here from Digby) along with a large collection of her work.
Point Pleasant Park
Nova Scotians tend to be an outdoorsy bunch, weather permitting, and there are plenty of spectacular beaches, coastlines and forests to explore when venturing outside the city. For a dose of wilderness without leaving the Halifax Peninsula, Point Pleasant Park provides a good taste of all of the above within walking distance of downtown. This 75-hectare park occupies the southern tip of the peninsula, containing forested trails and beaches, along with several important local landmarks. Among these is the Prince of Wales Tower, which was built in 1796 as part of the British defences of the city. Point Pleasant Park is also home to Shakespeare by the Sea, an annual open-air performance that takes place each summer in an amphitheatre.