There have been a few instances recently where people have asked what they should do, where they should go, and what they should eat while in Nova Scotia. As many of you know, I’m a very proud Maritimer. I feel insanely lucky to live in this beautiful province with all it has to offer, whether it’s the breathtaking views, amazing food, rich history and culture, or just a really friendly, relaxed vibe. That said, like any city, there are tons of businesses/tours/restaurants that cater to tourists but aren’t necessarily the best thing to do while you're here. Personally, when I visit somewhere, I kind of want to live like a local. Of course, I want to check out a few famous attractions but mostly, I want to eat where locals eat and do the things that locals like to do. I know I’m not alone in this.
On the long weekend, the boyfriend and I were road tripping to the south shore and we decided to come up with a list of what we would choose to do if we were visiting Halifax (and Nova Scotia, in general). I thought it might be fun to turn it into a little series – so I’ll be sharing a different component each week for the next few weeks, starting with where to go and what to do!
Walk along the waterfront. Our gorgeous waterfront is right downtown – easy access from pretty much anywhere on peninsular Halifax. You can check out the harbour, go for a stroll, grab a bite to eat or a sweet treat. On summer nights, you’ll often find music along the way and tons of other people enjoying the weather. Just make sure to bring a sweater! Summer nights in Halifax are often breezy. (In fact, pack lots of layers – one of the “benefits” to being right on the ocean is highly variable weather.)
Alexander Keith’s Brewery Tour. Even if you decide against a brewery tour (19+ only, I believe), you must check out the brewery itself. It’s charming and it’s now home to a variety of businesses (including my yoga studio!), restaurants, and a weekend market, in addition to Keith’s tavern (the Red Stag), store, and brewery tour. I actually went on the tour for the first time last summer and it was highly entertaining. Think actors in costume (and full-on character), classic Maritime songs, an entertaining history of Keith’s and the brewery, and a pint or two to cap it all off.
Citadel Hill. It’s our most iconic landmark and the centre of the city. You might notice that Halifax isn’t exactly on a grid… that’s a consequence of the sheer age of the city and the presence of a huge hill smack dab in the centre. It’s a pretty cool place for helping you understand a bit more of Halifax’s history. Plus, the views are spectacular. Just don't be alarmed when they fire the cannon at noon!
Seaport Market. If you’re in Halifax on a weekend, check out the Seaport Farmer's Market, right on the waterfront. There are tons of local vendors (some of which are there all week) selling fresh produce, local meat, flowers, tons of food and drink, and pieces by local artisans. Although the market itself is over 250 years old (!), the building where it's currently housed was built in 2010, and it’s a neat space. In addition to doing some of our grocery shopping, we love to go for breakfast on the weekend. If it’s a sunny day, take your food up to the roof and enjoy the incredible view of Halifax Harbour. (P.S. Our favourite coffee spot at the Market is Java Blend, on the upper level on the water side).
Tall Ship Tour. If you wander the waterfront, you’ll definitely spot our tall ships: the Silva and the Mar. (And the infamous Bluenose II, of course - which is currently unavailable due to rebuilds). They offer tours with music (and usually a bar), which is a great way to see the harbour and have a little fun.
Neptune Theatre. If you have time for a show, check what’s on at Neptune Theatre. There’s always something new and the theatre is right in the heart of the entertainment district (also known as Argyle street). There are lots of great restaurants within a 2-minute walk, so it makes dinner and a show pretty much the easiest thing ever.
If you’ve got kids, check out:
The Discovery Centre. A science-centre for kids. Tons of fun activities for kids of all ages (and adults too… I’ve accompanied my nephew on more than one occasion. SUPER fun.)
Harbour Hopper. This amphibious boat/vehicle thing takes you on a tour through downtown Halifax and then straight into the Harbour. Kinda neat.
Freak Lunchbox. The ultimate candy store. Your kids might pass out from excitement even before they pass out from the sugar high.
Woozles. The oldest children's bookstore in Canada and home to many of my fond childhood memories. If your kid likes to read (or you really want them to), check this place out for sure.
Things to do in Nova Scotia:
Peggy's Cove. If Citadel Hill is the most iconic landmark in Halifax, then Peggy's Cove is that for all of Nova Scotia. If you're choosing to vacation in Nova Scotia, chances are you've seen photos of the Peggy's Cove lighthouse before. It's nestled in a tiny little village, full of cute tourist shops, ice cream places, and a (surprisingly good, given it's the only one) restaurant. One of the things I love about Peggy's Cove is that it's stunning regardless of the weather. When it's misty and foggy, it feels almost otherworldly. And if you're lucky, there will even be a bagpiper playing! If you go (and you should), pack a sweater; it's usually quite windy - but the views are breathtaking. Just don't get too close to the edge! There's a reason it's called Peggy's Cove and it's not a pleasant one.
Visit a classic Maritime town. There are so many quintessential adorable Maritime towns with candy-coloured houses, great seafood, and a gorgeous waterfront. Do yourself a favour and check out at least a few. Our favourites are Lunenburg (Check out The Salt Shaker for lunch or Fleur de Sel for dinner if you're feeling flush), Mahone Bay (If you're into shoes, you must pop into Mahone Bay Trading Company), and Chester (If you only do one thing, have dinner at Nicki's Inn. If you do two, take in a show at the Chester Playhouse afterward.)
Go to the beach. Obviously. Some of my favourites are along the South Shore, but if you're into surfing, Martinique and Lawrencetown on the Eastern shore are both stunning. The beach at Lawrencetown is rocky, though, so if someone plans to lay out while others surf, Martinique might be the better bet. It's really hard to go wrong when you live in a province that's 90% surrounded by water. Drive 30-45 minutes in almost any direction and you'll find yourself at the beach.
Cape Split. A not-too-difficult hike (I could even do it!) with an amazing pay-off. Situated on the Bay of Fundy, home of the highest tides in the world, the view is spectacular. Pack a little lunch and have a picnic when you get to the lookout. Just make sure you don't wear your favourite sneakers - they'll probably get muddy! If you're not into hiking, you should still check out Fundy - their website has lots of information on the other places you can see the tides.
Annapolis Valley. The Valley is home to much of Nova Scotia's farming and most of our vineyards. It's also often the warmest spot in NS! The university town of Wolfville (Acadia University) is especially adorable and a great spot to stop for lunch, visit a farm stand, or check out a u-pick. If you're a wine-lover, there are tons of wineries you can visit. They even do tours of multiple vineyards, which makes it easy for you to sample as much as possible ;) My favourite vineyards are Luckett's (owned by Pete of Pete's, mentioned above!) and Gaspereau. If you're visiting Luckett's, make sure you have room for lunch. Their patio overlooks the vineyard and the view is phenomenal. If you're there on the right day, Pete, himself, might even show you to your table. You may spot a red phone booth smack in the middle of the vineyard. Pop in and call a friend - anywhere in North America! If you're doing an overnighter, think about staying at one of Wolfville's charming B&B's or camping out at Blomidon Provincial Park.
Kejimkujik National Park. For camping or hiking, Keji is a favourite spot. You can also canoe, fish, or even just hang at the beach. We went camping there last summer and I'm voluntarily returning this summer... so you know it must be fun ;)
Check out a microbrewery. In recent years, Nova Scotia has become a mecca of microbreweries, which has been wholeheartedly embraced by pretty much everyone. For most of these places, you can pop in, try a few samples, and pick up a growler or 6-pack for later. I think this is a complete list but I may have missed one, so let me know if that's the case!
- Shelburne: Boxing Rock Brewing
- Liverpool: Hell Bay Brewing
- Pictou: Uncle Leo's Brewery
- Guysborough: Rare Bird Craft Beer
- Wolfville: Sea Level Brewing
- Cape Breton: Big Spruce Brewing
- Tatamagouche: Tatamagouche Brewing
- Hants County: Meander River Farm & Brewery
* In Halifax, there's also Rogues Roost and Rock Bottom, which are pubs with their own brew; as well as Granite Brewery, which is sold in many local pubs but doesn't have much of a storefront to visit.
So, those are my recos for visiting the Ocean Playground! I've also shared my fave places to eat/drink in Halifax here.
If you’re a local or you’ve visited before, let me know in the comments if there’s anywhere we missed that you think people must visit!