Top 10 activities for cruisers in Halifax Nova Scotia

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Top 10 activities for cruisers in Halifax Nova Scotia

This week I am pleased to publish this guess post by Patty and Art Parsons, avid travellers and cruisers from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

When Dorothy was trying to leave Oz, all she really had to do was click her ruby-encrusted heels together and murmur, "There’s no place like home." And for those of us who are rabid travelers - especially by cruise ship - we often forget that the familiarity of our own home city is exotically novel for those who come from afar. We are what are referred to in the vernacular as "Haligonians" - Londoners are from London, Haligonians are from Halifax - and we’d like to welcome you to our city with some exclusive insider’s intelligence.

Established in 1749, Halifax isn’t the oldest city in North America, but it is home to the oldest university in the "New World," Dalhousie University, which, despite not making it to our list of top 10’s is worth a stroll in any case: the campus is beautiful in late spring through late autumn. The city (and associated municipality) is home to a population about 400,000 and the main downtown area is very walkable. For visitors by cruise ship, all you really need to do is don a pair of good walking shoes and set your day-long walk to cover almost all of our top 10 suggestions.

1. Harbour Boardwalk

2. Pier 21

3. Point Pleasant Park

4. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

5. Citadel Hill

6. Spring Garden Road Shopping

7. Public Gardens

8. Fairview Cemetery

9. Cruise of the harbour and basin

10. Peggy’s Cove

Sir Samuel Cunard

Sir Samuel Cunard, Haligonian

The harbor boardwalk is a recently constructed walkway that snakes along the busy harbor from Pier 21 (see below) where the cruise ships congregate three kilometres north ending at the casino abutting the navy yard. The walk takes you past Bishop’s Landing shops and restaurants, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (see below), a variety of other shops and restaurants on wharves, pilot boats, the recreated Historic Properties and Theodore Tugboat of children’s television fame. On a sunny day, there is no nicer place to be for a stroll or a sitting contemplation of the sun and the sea from one of the many benches along the way.

Next door to where the maximum of five cruise ships can dock in Halifax is the museum on Pier 21. This is the gateway where a million immigrants entered Canada between 1928 and 1971. The museum is home to a vast array of historical documents and stories and is open seven days a week between May 1 and October 31, with more restricted hours in the off-season. Entry fee is $10 for adults, $8.75 for those over the age of 60. There are also discounted fees for children and family groups.

Point Pleasant Park is a short walk from the cruise pier and provides a wonderful opportunity for long nature walk or a vantage point to watch sail boats in the Northwest Arm (Halifax proper is actually on a peninsula with "the Arm" constituting the body of water along one shore). As a 75-hectare (185 acre) public space, the park has been home to recreational pursuits for Haligonians since the city’s founding. It has a vast array of winding paths and walkways as well as benches, picnic tables and barbeque pits. There is even a small beach in the park. In the fall of 2003, the park was hit head-on by Hurricane Juan, losing almost three-quarters of its oldest trees. The park was closed until June of 2004; the thin canopy is a reminder of Mother Nature’s fury.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a must-see for history and sea buffs. Situated along the harbor boardwalk, it has not only a large Titanic exhibit (many of the Titanic victims’ bodies were brought to Halifax after the disaster), but is also home to the CSS Acadia, the only surviving ship to have sailed with the Canadian navy in both world wars. It is a floating museum that is berthed at the wharf owned by the museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. From May 1 to October 31 admission is $9.25 for adults, $8.25 for people over 65. There are also special discounts for children and family groups.

No visit to Halifax is complete without a visit to Citadel Hill. From the air, the citadel looks like an 8-pointed star on the highest hill in the middle of the city. A national historic site, the citadel was originally established when the city was founded in 1749 to protect Halifax, a strategically important harbour. It has been rebuilt several times over the years and has never actually been fired upon, yet provides a wonderful historic experience as well as affording terrific views of the surrounding city and the harbour.

Some people love to shop when they travel. So, we offer our suggestion for shopaholics: Spring Garden Road. While strolling along this pretty street, be sure to stop into Park Lane which houses the largest single collection of shops, Spring Garden Place across the street with a small number of lovely shops, and of course there’s Lululemon for yoga enthusiasts and Roots for those in search of quintessentially Canadian sweats. You’ll also find a huge drug store (pharmacy), a large gourmet grocery store just around the corner (Pete’s Fruitique), many restaurants and several pubs.

As you make your way up Spring Garden Road, you’ll eventually stumble upon the Halifax Public Gardens. The gardens are a 16-acre parcel of Victorian horticulture established in 1867. At the height of summer the gardens are filled with colour and greenery, with a small lake in the centre and a bandstand where band concerts happen on sunny weekends.

Over 100 victims of the Titanic sinking are buried in Fairview Cemetery which is worth a visit if you are interested in the history of this disaster at sea. Take a taxi to the north end of the city and wander for a while among the victims’ grave markers. One especially interesting marker had been known for decades as being for simply "the unknown child." DNA testing finally led to the identification of the 19-month old in 2007.

Seeing any seaport from the water provides a perspective that is different from simply walking or driving around. Since cruise ships do not sail down into the harbor and the basin, a harbour and basin cruise will provide a very educational view of the city. Various cruises are available and include an amphibious vehicle known as the Harbour Hopper as well as sailing cruises that can be purchased along the harbour boardwalk.

Peggys Cove

Finally, we offer you one excursion that is quintessentially Nova Scotia: a trip to Peggy’s Cove and its lighthouse. Every cruise ship offers an excursion here and that will work, but even better, if you can manage it, take a private tour to the village and lighthouse planned to arrive before the buses. The village is pretty, but we do need to say that there are many other even prettier such villages dotted along the Nova Scotia coast. This one, however, is a mere 45 minute drive from the city and therefore accessible on a half-day tour.

We are privileged to live a 10-minute drive from Peggy’s Cove on the shore of St. Margaret’s Bay and would love it if you waved on the way by!

Patty & Art Parsons are The Discerning Travelers. Visit them at to share their adventures.

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