While I was in Toronto this past January, my mum flew out and joined me. It was just before I was due to come back, so we decided to venture outside of Toronto and fly to Nova Scotia, somewhere I had heard a lot about and was desperate to get to before returning to the UK. When British people think of Canada, they tend to think of Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary/Banff, mostly due to flight routes however Halifax is definitely worth considering. Its a 17 hour drive from Toronto or a 2 hour flight, and ain’t nobody got 17 hours for that.
Once there, we were picked up from the airport by our driver, Paul (more on this later because you would be correct in thinking that we are not the kind of people to usually have a driver and therefore this was an extraordinary situation for us). He dropped us off at our hotel, The Prince George, which is in the middle of Halifax’s downtown area, where we dropped our stuff off before heading out to find somewhere for dinner.
It’s quite a small city, but interestingly due to it having a big student population (or at least this is the reason they give), has the most bars per capita out of any Canadian city. Just walking around the downtown, it becomes apparent quite quickly that this is a city with a buzz. Though, amazingly its not just one of those soulless towns full of drunks (Magaluf, I’m looking to you here), it’s got heart too. It might have something to do with the cold weather (not as cold as Toronto though, I’ll point out) but there was no one hanging around or being rowdy. I think student city is a good way to describe it – there’s cheap places but it’s also cool, with something for everyone.
Our time there was spent generally mooching around the city, wandering around shops, drinking local beer in bars and generally soaking up the chill Nova Scotia vibes. I could happily spend a weekend doing just that but of course amongst that, we did also manage to fit a few actual activities in.
Things may be very different in summer but while visiting in winter, these were the things I remember the most and would definitely recommend stopping by if you’re in town:
1) Great Bars
If you like trying local brews, Halifax has a great scene for it, in fact it’s hard not to come across them. There’s a bunch of breweries around the city you can visit and sample their wares, which are pretty hard to go wrong with but otherwise as I mentioned above, Halifax has A LOT of bars and in that way, it can be quite hard to pick which ones to go to.
There were a couple we went to that I didn’t think were worth mentioning however these two were great and I would definitely recommend.
2) Awesome Local Boutiques
Personally I’m an absolute sucker for a print and will go out of my way to find good local art. I’m not a big fan of bog standard souvenirs and like to try to find nice, useful things that I wouldn’t find anywhere else such as pottery from a local artist, prints or clothing from a local brand. I’ll always remember where I got them and then its a nice addition to my walls (if I can find space).
I bought a couple of prints and they give me a nice warm glow whenever I see them, as it reminds me of being in Nova Scotia in January wandering around shops and chatting with my mum.
Again, there’s loads of great local boutiques and galleries but these ones were my favourites:
3) It’s beautiful!
I’ll be completely honest with this, in that our driving tour was organised through Halifax Titanic Tours which was great but it wasn’t picked due to it standing out among the rest, it was chosen as a company because it was one of the few still operating in January. It isn’t peak season and so a lot of people just don’t run them then.
Don’t get me wrong though, we had a blast on this tour – the benefit of doing it in a quiet time is that Paul, the owner of the company, was able to tweak the tour for what we wanted. Also, as there were only two of us, he didn’t drive round in the minibus as he usually would – instead he drove us around in a towncar which made us feel both fancy and comfortable, which is the best of both worlds in my book (Am I old now?) We also organised our taxi ride to and from the airport through him, which made life easy.
Even though he is generally a historical tour guide, he was also willing to take us to Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove, the more generic tours taken by visitors. Of course, he did put a bit of a historical twist on it, giving us lots of stories and facts as we went along. Depending on what you want, you can choose a tour that suits you. They were stunning sites and if I had more time, I would have made the effort to stay outside of Halifax but with only a few days there, a day out to see them was still worthwhile and manageable time wise.
Unsurprisingly, this came at a bit of a heftier price than your average tour but we really wanted to get out of the city and explore Nova Scotia a bit, and felt it was the easiest way to do so without hiring a car as we weren’t sure what the weather would be like. Seeing as Toronto is generally snowy then, I assumed Nova Scotia would be the same so didn’t want to risk driving on icy roads however it turns out it was much warmer and dry as a bone, meaning we definitely could have hired a car and in fact, if you don’t mind driving and doing a bit of research yourself, I do recommend it to save a bit of money.
Prices vary based on group size, time of year and specific tour – contact Paul for a quote (other tour operators available)
4) Ice Hockey Games (Halifax Mooseheads)
Coming from Toronto, where generally ice hockey tickets cost an arm, a leg and your first born child (unless you see the Marlies, which I also recommend), Moosehead tickets were great value and in that way, I would really push you to go to a game even if you don’t know that much about the sport.
It’s super fast paced, with lots of music and entertainment – its also really easy to follow. Ok yes, it’s a touch violent but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get on board with it. You’ll be chanting in no time!
You can get tickets from here.
5) The big, loud Noon Cannon
I mean, this is pretty much what it says on the tin – it’s a cannon that they set off every day on the hill. It’s big and it’s loud.
It goes off at noon every day, from the citadel and visitors are encouraged to attend. They’ll ensure you’re stood back out of the literal firing line and let you know when it’s going to go off, so its safe to bring the whole family (though some ear protectors might also be a good idea for the little ones).
Really and truly this is not something you see every day plus, you can walk around the citadel after!
For more details, see their Twitter account here.