Halifax, Haligonia, Halifornia, HFX, or simply Hali – fiercely beloved by its residents, this is a city of contradictions: steeped in naval history and lined with stately Victorian and Edwardian homes, it’s also home to a hip student population and some of the kickingest nightlife in Canada. With a potent local music scene and a growing reputation for fine dining, Halifax has something for everyone – whether you want to chow down on cheap vegetarian sushi, do the drunken jig at a traditional Maritime pub, or hit an all-ages hiphop show. Good eating and hard drinking are a big part of life here, and with this guide it’s easy to stay green and still join in the fun.
Halifax is located on Nova Scotia’s southern shore, on a narrow peninsula between Halifax Harbour and the Northwest Arm, both inlets of the North Atlantic. The city has merged, for administrative purposes, with neighbouring communities on the opposite side of the harbour narrows and around the inner basin, but Halifax proper is where you’re likely to spend most of your time.
Halifax International Airport receives direct flights from several US cities as well as major cities in the UK, and trains come in a few times a week from Montreal. There are also ferry services from Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia – from there, you can reach Halifax by bus or car. The nearest land crossing from the US is at the border between Calais, Maine, and St. Stephen, New Brunswick.
Point Pleasant Park is a sprawling green space on the very tip of the peninsula, laced with paths for jogging, cycling, or just plain walking along and enjoying the views of the ocean or the leaves changing colour in the fall. The park was devastated by Hurricane Juan in 2003 – 12,000 trees were destroyed – but it is still a beautiful, peaceful spot for people-watching, exercise, or relaxation. Follow South Park Street or Tower Road to the park entrance.
The Public Gardens were also hard-hit by Hurricane Juan, but have been largely restored. Bounded by Spring Garden Road and South Park, Summer, and Sackville streets, the gardens are a manicured respite from the busy downtown streets. Open from May 1 to November 1, they’re beautiful to walk around – but stick to the paths: this is a Victorian park, and the grass is strictly for looking at, not for lounging on.
The Halifax Common is another large green space in the heart of the city, stretching between Robie and North Park streets. It’s played host to such big-name acts as Pope John Paul II and The Rolling Stones, but most days you’ll find high school football teams training, people jogging, and kids tossing a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball around. There are baseball diamonds, a skate park, a couple of fountains, and a city wading pool, all for public use.
Fort George, more commonly known as the Halifax Citadel, is a Victorian-era fortress, designed to protect the city from attack by those darn Yankees. It’s open seasonally for tours, but if theater students in period costume aren’t your thing, the real attraction is the ground the fortress is built on: the imposing Citadel Hill. A climb to the top offers unbeatable views of the harbour and the city; in winter, it’s also a killer tobogganing spot.
Halifax Harbour isn’t all that easy to get out on under your own steam – it’s a major, working industrial harbour, and tourists aren’t allowed to just paddle out and about as they please. There are a number of boat tours that operate out of the waterfront area, from tall ships to amphibious vehicles to your basic booze cruiser – the greenest and most interesting, when it’s in town, is probably the Bluenose II, a replica of the legendary Grand Banks fishing schooner that is featured on the Canadian 10-cent coin. For a cheap look at the harbour and a good view of the waterfront, take the ferry across the narrows to sister-city Dartmouth and back.
There is limited, basic camping on McNab’s Island, a 1000-acre provincial park located in the mouth of Halifax Harbour. Come here for hiking, bird-watching, or to explore the military ruins – no fires permitted, and everything that comes on to the island with you, should leave with you too.
If you have a car, there’s a gorgeous stretch of beach a half-hour west of the city at Crystal Crescent, and good (cold) surfing at Lawrencetown, just east of Dartmouth on Highway 207. Also, again if you have access to a car and have the time to get out of the city, check out one of North America’s greenest road trips, a great loop that begins and ends in Halifax.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Check out The Coast, Hali’s excellent free alternative weekly, for the latest word on live music, gallery events, theater, movies, readings, and more.
Bob and Lori’s Food Emporium should be your first stop for green-friendly eats. It’s a funky old place on Gottingen Street, near the Common, and the food is cheap and memorable. Bob buys his veggies from local Annapolis Valley farmers, and his coffee from Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op, Canada’s first fair trade operation. Almost everything – from the fresh bread and oatcakes right down to the hummus, mayonnaise, and soynaise – is homemade on site. The sandwich and soup combo is a hearty meal – all of Bob’s soups are mind-blowing, and try the tofu salad sandwich. The vegan chef salad is also a great fresh option, and the veggie burger is to die for. In fact, pretty well everything on the menu is fantastic (except the perogies, which come from a frozen bag). It’s not all vegetarian, either – the ham and cheese sandwich is a crowd favourite, as are the traditional Newfoundland fishcakes (served with “chow,” a green tomato relish) on Fridays. Open for breakfast and lunch, this hippie haunt is highly recommended.
After over a decade as Halifax’s go-to pay-by-weight veggie buffet, the Heartwood Bakery and Café has recently renovated and gone to a set menu with table service. Check it out on Quinpool Road.
A couple of other vegetarian/organic/local-friendly options include Satisfaction Feast Restaurant, on Grafton Street, or The Wooden Monkey on Argyle Street. For green-friendly groceries, try the fantastic Halifax Farmers Market, in the atmospheric old Alexander Keith’s brewery building near the waterfront, or Great Ocean Natural Food Market, on Quinpool Road.
How better to go green in a drinking town like Halifax than by supporting your local microbrewery? Halifax boasts two genuine craft microbrewers, Propeller and Garrison. Look for their products in pubs throughout the city, and if you’re with a large group, arrange a tour (and tasting session) at the breweries themselves. Two larger brewers also got started in Halifax, the mid-sized Oland, and the giant Alexander Keith’s, whose signature IPA is on tap across Canada.
For more green-friendly bakeries, restaurants and grocers in the Halifax area, check out HumaneFood.ca’s Halifax listings. Also, feel free to wander in to almost any downtown eatery or pub that catches your fancy: almost all are locally owned small businesses that are worth supporting.
For more restaurant and pub recommendations in Halifax, see my Matador Guide to Budget Dining and Drinking in Halifax.
Halifax Backpackers Hostel is a friendly indie hostel on Gottingen Street, near the Common. Halifax Heritage House Hostel, near the train and bus stations, is the city’s Hostelling International location. The YWCA on Barrington Street is a good cheap option if you’d like your own room (women-only, though), and also a good cause to support: the place also houses a battered women’s shelter. The YMCA near the Public Gardens welcomes both genders to its single rooms. In summer you can also rent dorm rooms at St. Mary’s University, Dalhousie University, or my own alma mater, University of King’s College. (Hint: Kings campus is the prettiest!)
Unless described as being out of town, everything in this guide is within walking distance. The city and surrounding area is hilly, but biking is a popular option and a great way to get out to some more far-flung sites: rent your own at Pedal and Sea Adventures. Metro Transit runs buses and ferries in the area.
Eva Holland is a historical researcher and freelance writer living in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs about travel for World Hum and Vagablogging, and her writing has appeared in The Ottawa Citizen, The Edmonton Journal, and Matador Travel.