In DepthBecause of the harbor (the second largest natural one in the world) that extends inland 26 kilometres (16 mi.), Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, was one of the first English settlements in Canada. It was founded in 1749 by Edward Cornwallis, who recognized the site's potential as a naval and military depot. After the British attained supremacy throughout Canada in 1763, Halifax served as the Atlantic headquarters for the British Army and Royal Navy.
Until World War I, Halifax's military character was moderated by a civilian shipbuilding industry, which brought considerable wealth to the port economy. During World War I and World War II the city was part of the North American lifeline to war-torn Europe. Halifax remains the principal naval outpost on Canada's east coast.
This commercial, administrative and military center of Atlantic Canada is distinguished by a blend of modern office towers and restored buildings. Museums, shops and galleries lure locals and visitors to the waterfront boardwalk. Theater, live music, cinemas, pubs and cafés create a lively downtown entertainment scene.
Many of the city's historic buildings were constructed by order of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Halifax's commander in chief 1794-1800. Princess Lodge, on Bedford Basin, was his primary residence. The prince commissioned the Town Clock on Citadel Hill to discourage tardiness, designing the four-sided tower so that it could be seen anywhere in town.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is one of Canada's most visited attractions and is a great place to go for history lovers. The massive star-shaped fortification, among the best preserved in the country, offers historic re-enactments, museums, a noon gun firing and lofty views of the harbor.
On the south shore of Nova Scotia facing the Atlantic Ocean, Halifax has been shaped by its physical location in many ways. On April 16, 1912, the crew aboard the cable repair ship Mackay-Bennett set sail from Halifax to retrieve the corpses of 306 Titanic victims. Fairview Lawn Cemetery , 3720 Windsor St., is the resting place for 121 of these individuals, many of whom are unidentified.
Halifax is fortunate to have anything left to preserve, considering the tragic maritime disaster that shook the city at 9:04 a.m., Dec. 6, 1917. The French munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the steamer Imo in Halifax Harbour, causing a fire that ignited the volatile cargo of the munitions ship. The ensuing explosion literally blew the Mont Blanc to pieces, heaved the Imo onto the Dartmouth shore and leveled the north end of the city, killing more than 2,000 people, obliterating 1,630 homes, damaging 12,000 houses, leaving 6,000 residents homeless and resulting in approximately $35 million in damages. Reminders of the event still mark the city, which commemorates the “Halifax Explosion” every year with a ceremony at the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower in the hilltop Fort Needham Park. Boston, the first city to come to Halifax's aid, receives a Nova Scotian Christmas tree each year. Permanent exhibits pay homage to the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Following the explosion, reconstruction quickly began; temporary apartments sprang up to house the homeless and new housing developments were created in the North End. One of these is the Hydrostone District, named after the cement blocks used in its quaint shops and homes. Bordered by Young, Isleville and Duffus streets and Novalea Drive, the English-style garden suburb is highly desired by young families and professionals. Spend an afternoon at the Hydrostone Market, a charming shopping district with boutiques and restaurants on Young Street.
Head to nearby islands in Halifax Harbour if you enjoy adventure travel. It can take a little extra time as you can only go by ferry, but it's well worth it. Food and water are not available on the islands, so plan on bringing your own. McNabs Island in outer Halifax Harbour, which lures hikers, campers, birders and picnickers during warm weather, is accessible by ferry for a fee from the town of Eastern Passage; phone McNabs Island Ferry at (902) 465-4563 or (800) 326-4563. Guided island tours are also provided by the Friends of McNabs Island Society; phone (902) 434-2254. For camping information, phone the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources at (902) 861-2560.
History lovers will enjoy Fort McNab National Historic Site, which preserves the ruins of an 1892 fort built to defend the harbor; phone (902) 426-5080. Nearby Lawlor Island is a natural area and is not open to the public, and stories persist that another harbor island, named Devils Island, is haunted. The Halifax Ferry, the oldest continually running saltwater ferry in North America, crosses the harbor daily to Dartmouth and Monday through Friday to Woodside year-round; phone (902) 480-8000 for schedules and fares.
By CarThe Trans-Canada Highway, often abbreviated as TCH, is the main route into Halifax. When driving into Nova Scotia from another province, a $4 toll is required at Cobequid Pass, 158 kilometres (98 mi.) north of Halifax.
When driving to Halifax from anywhere inside Nova Scotia, a toll of $1 is required when crossing over Halifax Harbour via the Macdonald or MacKay bridges; only quarters, $1 coins or $2 coins, or a MACPASS, are accepted. When using a MACPASS, the fee is reduced to 80c.
Air TravelThe Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ), 1 Bell Blvd., is about a 36-kilometre (22-mi.) drive from Halifax via PR 102 South and PR 118. From the United States, airlines fly daily from Boston, Newark, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia. From Canada, Halifax has weekly flights from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Flights also are available to Cuba, Dominican Republic, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico and Scotland.
The airlines that fly into the airport year-round are Air Canada, United and WestJet, while American Airlines and Delta fly into Halifax Stanfield seasonally.
Cab fares from the airport to downtown Halifax cost about $56; it’s best to reserve one in advance, especially when traveling at a busy time of year.
Bus services are the least expensive way to get to and from the airport. To get to downtown Halifax from the airport, take the #320 bus on Halifax Transit’s MetroX, which runs every 30 minutes Monday through Friday from 5:45-9:15 a.m. and 4:15-7:15 p.m.; it departs every 60 minutes from 10:15 a.m.-4:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.-12:15 a.m. Fare is $4.25 for ages 13-64; $3 for ages 65+; free for ages 0-12. Exact change is required and is available at the airport’s Security Administration Office on the airport's ground level.
Check with your hotel to see if a courtesy shuttle service is available.
Several major rental car agencies serve the Halifax area. Car rental arrangements should be made before you depart. Your local AAA/CAA club can provide this assistance and additional information. Hertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceVIA Rail provides service to Moncton, New Brunswick; Montréal and Québec City from Halifax. The train departs from a Beaux-Arts depot built 1928-30 at 1161 Hollis St.; phone (888) 842-7245.
BusesMaritime Bus provides transportation to cities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Québec. Trips depart from the depot at 1161 Hollis St. For information and reservations, phone (902) 429-2029 or (800) 575-1807.
Street SystemDowntown Halifax is sandwiched between the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and Halifax Harbour. Its northern and southern boundaries are Cogswell Street and Morris Street, respectively.
Roads on the Halifax Peninsula are numbered using a grid system. Addresses on streets running north to south are numbered from 1 to 3999. Addresses numbered below 1000 are in the southernmost part of the peninsula and numbers increase as you drive north. All east-west streets are numbered 5000 to 6999. Starting at the waterfront, addresses start at 5000 and increase as you head west, ending at 6999.
ParkingAlthough downtown Halifax is relatively small, there are a good number of parking lots and garages. Weekends are busier than weekdays; leave some extra time to find parking. One-way streets are common in downtown Halifax, and some left turns are restricted, so pay close attention to signs.
Parking GaragesEight public parking lots and one parking garage are located downtown at Bishop’s Landing (1475 Lower Water St.), Casino Nova Scotia (1983 Upper Water St.), the Cunard Lot (1325 Lower Water St.), Foundation Place (1549 Lower Water St.), Metropark (1557 Granville St. and 1554 Hollis St.), Nova Centre Parking Garage (1650 Argyle St.), the Prince George Hotel (access via Grafton Street), the Salter Lot (1521 Lower Water St.) and Scotia Square (access via Albemarle and Barrington sts.).
Rates vary from $3-$5.25 per hour and the daily maximum flat rate ranges from $15-$20. Some lots also have special evening rates.
Metered Street ParkingThere are more than 1,400 municipal meters sprinkled throughout the city; about 700 are downtown. Municipal parking meters operate Mon.-Fri. 8-6; free on weekends and holidays. Rates range from 25c for 10 minutes to $2 for 80 minutes. Cash is accepted at meters, but using a mobile app called HotSpot may be the easiest way to pay; a monthly fee of $2 applies. The app notifies you when your meter is about to expire and allows you to add more time. You can also end a session early and get a refund through the app.
Time limits also vary, with maximum limits ranging from 30 minutes to 5 hours. Each downtown meter has a colored sticker, which indicates the maximum amount of time allowed for parking. Red means you may park for no more than 30 minutes, while grey is equal to 90 minutes, green equals 2 hours and yellow ranges from 3-5 hours.
Be mindful of winter parking bans, as parking may be restricted from 1 a.m.-6 a.m. during poor weather conditions to allow for snow removal. Visit www.halifax.ca/snow for updates.
Public TransportationPublic transportation is operated by Halifax Transit, which offers more than five dozen bus routes in Halifax and nearby areas. Fare $2.75-$4.25; $2-$3 (ages 13-17 and 65+); free (ages 0-12; ages 65+ Tues. 10-3:30 and after 6 p.m.). Exact cash fare is required.
Passengers may also purchase a monthly pass or a 10-ticket sheet for a discounted fee from Lawtons Drugs, Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmasave, found throughout the city. A 10-ticket sheet can be purchased for $24.75; $18 (ages 13-17 and ages 65+). A monthly pass costs $82.50; $60 (ages 13-17 and ages 65+).
All fares include a transfer that must be used within 1½ hours of boarding, valid for connecting travel on outbound or inbound Halifax services. You must request a transfer when you board. Phone (902) 480-8000 for bus departure details or 311 for general information.
TaxisIf you prefer to take a taxi or limousine to your destination, there are several companies in the city, including Adams Taxi and Limousine, (902) 880-2326; Casino Taxi, (902) 429-6666; Deeplink Taxi & Limo Service, (902) 412-8832; and Yellow Cab Halifax, (902) 420-0000.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Nova Scotia’s Harmonized Sales Tax is 15 percent. In addition, a 2 percent accommodations tax is charged for rooms in properties offering 20 or more rentable rooms.
(902) 490-5530 or 311
Halifax Infirmary (QE II Health Sciences Centre), (902) 473-2700; Dartmouth General Hospital (in Dartmouth), 902-465-8300.
1655 Lower Water St. Halifax, NS B3J 1S2. Phone:(902)424-4248
Halifax Stanfield International Airport is 21 miles north at 1 Bell Blvd., Enfield, NS; phone (902) 873-4422.
Six rental car companies service Halifax Stanfield International Airport and can be found in the arrivals area.
Rail service is offered with VIA Rail Canada at 1161 Hollis St.; phone (888) 842-7245.
Maritime Bus has two locations. The Halifax airport location is open daily 10-10; phone (800) 575-1807. The VIA Rail Canada station, 1161 Hollis St., is open daily 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; phone (902) 429-2029.
A taxi or limousine ride from the airport to Halifax’s city center costs about $63. Numerous companies serve the area.
Halifax Transit offers bus service with nearly six dozen routes in Halifax and nearby rural areas. Fare $2.75-$4.25; $2-$3 (ages 13-17 and 65+); free (ages 0-12; ages 65+ Tues. 10-3:30 and after 6 p.m.). Exact cash fare is required. You must request a transfer at time of boarding. Phone (902) 480-8000 for bus departure details or 311 for general information.