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Halifax Harbor Cruises and Land Tours

If you don’t have a lot of time to explore Halifax or just want an introduction to the city, consider one of the many tours available—they’ll maximize your time and get you to the highlights with minimum stress.

Ships at the downtown Halifax harbor.
Life in Halifax revolves around the water, and nowhere is this more apparent than the downtown harborfront, where sailing ships like the famous Bluenose II are often tied up. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Bluenose II

The harbor front’s premier attraction, the magnificent schooner Bluenose II divides her summer between Halifax, her home port of Lunenburg, and goodwill tours to other Canadian ports.

The vessel is an exact replica of the famous Bluenose. The schooner is operated by the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia. When in Halifax, two-hour harbor tours (902/634-4794 or 800/763-1963, daily 9:30am and 1pm, adult $55, child $32) are available from the Maritime Museum’s wharf. Each sailing has 75 spots—40 spots can be reserved by calling, with the remaining 35 going on sale 90 minutes before departure. Without a reservation, expect to line up for a spot.

Harbour Hopper Tours

Harbour Hopper Tours (902/490-8687, adult $35, senior $32, child $20) picks up passengers from the north side of the maritime museum for a quick trip around the historic streets of Halifax. Then the fun really starts, as the company’s distinctive green and yellow amphibious vehicles plunge into the water for a cruise around the harbor. The trip lasts around one hour, with up to 20 departures daily May-October (9am-9:30pm). The ticket kiosk is on the waterfront just north of the maritime museum.

Travel map of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Other Halifax Harbor Cruises

Many other sightseeing craft also offer harbor tours. Murphy’s on the Water (Cable Wharf, 1751 Lower Water St., 902/420-1015) operates several vessels through a sailing season that runs mid-May-late October. The 23-meter wooden sailing ketch Mar departs up to six times daily (adult $35, senior $32, child $19). The Harbour Queen I is a 200-passenger paddle wheeler offering a narrated harbor cruise (adult $35, senior $32, child $19) and a variety of lunch and dinner cruises ($72 for dinner).

Halifax Bus Tours

Ambassatours (902/423-6242 or 800/565-9662) has the local Grayline franchise. The three-hour Deluxe Historic Halifax City Tour includes stops at the Public Gardens, Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, and Fairview Cemetery. The tour also passes all major downtown attractions, working precincts of the harbor, and various university campuses. This tour departs June-mid-October daily at 9am and 1pm (adult $52, senior $49, child $30).

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Photo © John Malone/123rf.

Another option with Ambassatours is a downtown loop tour aboard an old British double-decker bus (mid-June-mid-Oct.; adult $54, child $26). You can get on and off as you please at any of the 12 stops on the loop, and tickets are valid for two days (a good plan is to ride the entire loop once, and then plan your stops for the second go-round).

This same company also has a three-hour trip to Peggy’s Cove (departs June-mid-Oct. Tues., Thurs., and Sun. at 1pm; adult $50, senior $45, child $35) and a full-day trip that combines a stop in Mahone Bay with time in Lunenburg (departs June-Oct. Tues., Thurs., Sat., and Sun. at 10am; adult $88, senior $79, child $62).

Related Travel Guide

Best of Nova Scotia in One Week Travel Plan

Hitting all the highlights of Nova Scotia in one week is possible, but you’re not going to see everything. In fact, you’ll be covering so much ground, it may not seem like a vacation at all. This itinerary balances a little bit of everything—Halifax, the prettiest coastal villages, the two national parks, and the main historic sites—with time out for enjoying a glass of Nova Scotian wine over a feast of local seafood. This itinerary assumes you rent a vehicle or have your own.

Day 1

Check in for a two-night stay at a downtown Halifax accommodation such as The Halliburton, a historic lodging within walking distance of Halifax’s harbor front. Rather than start ticking off attractions, settle into the city by walking along the waterfront and soaking up the sights and sounds of the busy harbor. You’ll see all manner of vessels tied up at the docks, and plenty of places where you may want to eat dinner at an outdoor table.

A line of soldiers in kilts at Halifax's Citadel National Historic Site.
Citadel Hill. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Day 2

Start at the top, literally, by visiting Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and then take a stroll through Halifax’s formal Public Gardens. It’s now lunchtime, and the Italian Gourmet is ideally situated en route to downtown. Take a tour of Alexander Keith’s Brewery on your way to the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Dine at the Economy Shoe Shop.

Day 3

Rise early for the one-hour drive to Peggy’s Cove, famous for its photogenic lighthouse. Continue south to Mahone Bay for an early lunch and a walk through the many shops lining the main street of this busy waterfront town. Lunenburg is your overnight stop, and there’s plenty of colorful seafaring history to soak up along the harbor of this town that UNESCO has dedicated as a World Heritage Site. Grand Banker Bar & Grill will be within walking distance of your room at the Spinnaker Inn (both have water views).

Jakes Landing in Kejimkujik National Park.
Jakes Landing in Kejimkujik National Park. Photo © Vadim Petrov/123rf.

Day 4

Take Highway 8 to Kejimkujik National Park, which protects a large chunk of the forested interior. Rent a canoe for a paddle on the protected waterways. Continue to Annapolis Royal, where Port-Royal National Historic Site protects one of North America’s oldest settlements. After dinner, watch the sun set across the Annapolis Basin from the grounds of Fort Anne National Historic Site. With reservations at the inviting Garrison House, you’ll be within walking distance of everything.

Day 5

Drive through the apple orchards of the Annapolis Valley to Truro and take the TransCanada Highway across to Cape Breton Island and overnight lodgings at Baddeck’s restored Telegraph House. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is the main attraction, but the town also has a picturesque lakefront area and a good choice of stylish eateries.

Gentle waves wash up on shore at Ingonish Beach.
Ingonish Beach. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Day 6

Today’s destination is Ingonish, along the Cabot Trail. You drive the long way around, but that’s a good thing, because the rugged coastal scenery between Chéticamp and Ingonish is more beautiful than you could ever imagine. (Though this also means that the 200-kilometer drive will take longer than you imagine.) Plan on feasting on eafood at the Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour and staying the night at Glenghorm Beach Resort.

Day 7

It takes a little more than five hours to reach Halifax International Airport from Ingonish. If you’re on an afternoon flight, there’s enough time to spend an hour or two in Ingonish. To play the revered Highlands Links golf course, you’ll need to tee off early and fly out in the evening.

Travel map of Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia
Downtown Halifax
Travel map of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Mahone Bay
Travel map of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Travel map of Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
Kejimkujik National Park
Travel map of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Annapolis Royal

Travel map of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Cape Breton Island

Related Travel Guide

Nova Scotia Travel Planning: Exploring Halifax

Halifax (pop. 390,000), the 250-year-old provincial capital, presents Nova Scotia’s strikingly modern face wrapped around a historic heart. It’s one of the most vibrant cities in Canada, with an exuberant cultural life and cosmopolitan population. The tourist’s Halifax is tidily compact, concentrated on the manageable, boot-shaped peninsula the city inhabits. Its prettiest parts are clustered between the bustling waterfront and the short, steep hillside that the early British developed two centuries ago. In these areas you’ll find handsomely historic old districts meshed with stylishly chic new glass-sheathed buildings.

[pullquote align=right]In these areas you’ll find handsomely historic old districts meshed with stylishly chic new glass-sheathed buildings.[/pullquote]Halifax is more than a city, more than a seaport, and more than a provincial capital. Halifax is a harbor with a city attached, as the Haligonians say. Events in the harbor have shaped Nova Scotia’s history. The savvy British military immediately grasped its potential when they first sailed in centuries ago. In fact, Halifax’s founding as a settlement in 1749 was incidental to the harbor’s development.

From the first, the British used the 26-kilometer-long harbor as a watery warehouse of almost unlimited ship-holding capacity. The ships that defeated the French at Louisbourg in 1758—and ultimately conquered this part of Atlantic Canada—were launched from Halifax Harbour. A few years later, the Royal Navy sped from the harbor to harass the rebellious colonies on the Eastern seaboard during the American Revolution. Ships from Halifax ran the blockades on the South’s side during the American Civil War. And during World Wars I and II, the harbor bulged with troop convoys destined for Europe.

Architecture in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Architecture in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo © robertsonpix/123rf.

Planning Your Time in Halifax

Everyone has their own idea of how best to spend time in Halifax. History buffs will want to spend an entire week exploring the city’s oldest corners, while outdoorsy types will want to hit the highlights before moving through to the rest of the province. Halifax has three attractions no one will want to miss, even if you have just one day. The first of these is the Historic Properties, a group of waterfront warehouses converted to restaurants and boutiques, while the nearby Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the place to learn about the city’s seafaring traditions. The third is Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. These three attractions, along with time exploring the waterfront, could fill one day, but you’d be missing one of Halifax’s best known attractions—its pubs and breweries, including Alexander Keith’s Brewery, North America’s oldest, which is open daily for tours.

Since it’s both a gateway for air travelers and the hub of three highways, chances are you’ll be passing through Halifax more than once on your travels through Nova Scotia. This allows you to break up your sightseeing and to plan your schedule around the weather. If, for example, the sun is shining when you first arrive, plan to visit Point Pleasant Park, the Public Gardens, and Fairview Cemetery. These spots and historic downtown attractions should fill two full days.

Across the harbor from downtown is the city of Dartmouth, where a seafood lunch at the fishing village of Fisherman’s Cove makes a perfect getaway from the city.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Photo © John Malone/123rf.

Getting Around Halifax

The layout of Halifax is easy to grasp. Downtown lines the western side of Halifax Harbour. Lower and Upper Water Streets and Barrington Street run through downtown parallel to the water. This is the core of the city, chock-full of historic attractions, the city’s finest accommodations, and a wonderful choice of restaurants. The waterfront itself bustles day and night. From Historic Properties’ wharves at the waterfront, sightseeing boats explore the harbor. The splendid Maritime Museum and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia are close by.

A series of short streets rise like ramps from the waterfront, past the grassy Grand Parade and up Citadel Hill. Around the hill, a great swath of green space provides a welcome break from residential and commercial sprawl. Laid out by the city’s original surveyor, Central Common, on the west side of the hill, marks a meeting of roads. Major thoroughfares merge here (Robie Street running north to south, Bell Road running southeast, and Cogswell Street running east to west). Locals refer to everything south of the commons as the South End, everything to the north the North End, and to the west the West End.

In the South End is the city’s academic area, site of Dalhousie University, University of King’s College, St. Mary’s University, and the Atlantic School of Theology. At the southern tip of the downtown peninsula is Point Pleasant Park, an oasis of green surrounded by the grays of sprawling loading docks to the north and the surrounding sparkling blue waters of Halifax Harbour.

The Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbour nearly cuts the downtown area off from the rest of the city. At the head of this waterway is the Armdale Rotary, from where Herring Cove Road spurs south to Purcells Cove Road, which passes yacht-filled marinas, Sir Sandford Fleming Park, and York Redoubt National Historic Site.

Across Halifax Harbour from downtown is the city of Dartmouth. Linked to downtown by ferry and bridge, this commercial and residential area has a smattering of sights and is also worth visiting for the views back across to Halifax. Beyond the two bridges spanning Halifax Harbour is Bedford Basin, a large body of water surrounded by development. At the head of the basin is the residential area of Bedford and suburbs, including Lower Sackville and Waverly. Traveling down Highway 102 from Truro and Halifax International Airport (38 kilometers north of downtown), you’ll pass exits for these and other towns.

Travel map of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Nova Scotia.

4-Day Itinerary: A Long Weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax is a prime location for a long weekend. As a major destination for conventioneers (modern facilities, well-priced accommodations, centrally located for delegates from both North America and Europe), business travelers frequently hang around for a few days when the last meeting wraps up on Friday. For leisure travelers, many flights to other parts of Atlantic Canada are routed through Halifax, so it will cost little or nothing to have a stopover before continuing to Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, or elsewhere.

Whatever brings you to Halifax, take advantage of your time in the city with four days of car-free exploring.

Day 1

You’ve been staying at an upscale downtown Halifax hotel such as Four Points by Sheraton Halifax, and suddenly it’s not business anymore. No worries; rates drop dramatically come the weekend, so you won’t break the bank by staying another two nights. Join the after-work crowd at the Seahorse Tavern, and then plan on dining next door at the Economy Shoe Shop.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Photo © John Malone/123rf.

Day 2

Visit Halifax Citadel National Historic Site to get a feel for the city’s colorful history, then walk over to the Public Gardens. After lunch, learn about the Titanic tragedy at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic before visiting the graves of some of the victims at Fairview Cemetery. For a casual seafood dinner with a sublime view, walk along the waterfront to Salty’s.

Churches of Mahone Bay waterfront.
Churches of Mahone Bay waterfront. Photo © Ed Corey/123rf.

Day 3

The local tour company Ambassatours operates an excellent full-day trip along the South Shore. It hits the highlights—scenic Peggy’s Cove and the beautiful waterfront churches of Mahone Bay—while also allowing time to wander through the historic streets of downtown Lunenburg, where there’s time for shopping and lunch. You’ll be back in Halifax in time for dinner at Chives Canadian Bistro, which features lots of fresh seasonal produce.

Day 4

Check the sailing schedule of the Bluenose II and make reservations for a morning cruise if this grand old lady is in port. Otherwise, you could start out with breakfast at the Coastal Cafe, followed by shopping at downtown stores as varied as Nova Scotian Crystal and Rum Runners Rum Cake Factory. Golfers may want to squeeze in a tee time at Glen Arbour Golf Course, which is on the way out to the airport.

Travel map of Halifax, Nova Scotia
Travel map of Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia
Downtown Halifax
Travel map of Halifax to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Halifax to Mahone Bay

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Nova Scotia.

Top 4 Sights in Downtown Halifax

You can easily spend a full day exploring downtown Halifax, since all the top sights are within walking distance of each other from the waterfront. Remember to take time out for lunch at an outdoor harbor-front restaurant for the full experience.

Historic Waterfront

[pullquote align=right]A bit of real-estate trivia: The park is still rented from the British government, on a 999-year lease, for one shilling per year.[/pullquote]Canada’s oldest surviving group of waterfront warehouses is also one of the city’s main tourist attractions, with excellent shopping and dining spread along a three-block expanse on Upper and Lower Water Streets. The wooden and stone warehouses, chandleries, and buildings once used by shipping interests and privateers have been restored to their early 1800s glory. They now house restaurants, shops, and other sites impressively styled with Victorian and Italianate facades. The history of the precinct is cataloged halfway along the Privateer Wharf building (on the inside) with interpretive panels.

Boats on display inside the Marine Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
Inside the Marine Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. Photo © Amin Mat Azahar, Flickr/CC-BY-ND.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

The seaport’s store of nautical memorabilia lies within the sleek, burnished-red waterfront Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (1675 Lower Water St., 902/424-7490, summer daily 9:30am-5:30pm, the rest of the year Tues.-Sat. 9:30am-5pm, Sun. 1pm-5pm; adult $9.50, senior $8.50, child $5). The museum is one of the crowning achievements of the city’s Waterfront Development Project.

Most visitors find the Titanic display room most interesting. It contains the world’s largest collection of artifacts from the floating palace deemed unsinkable by its owners; you will see the only deck chair recovered at the time of the sinking, a cribbage board, lounge paneling, and more. Also on display is a model of the Titanic, the wireless log taken as the vessel foundered, and a variety of information boards that tell the story of the ship’s construction. Titanic 3D, a National Geographic documentary created from footage taken from the wreck, shows continuously.

Outside, the CSS Acadia is tied up at the wharf. This sturdy vessel spent its life as Canada’s first hydrographic vessel, its crew surveying the east coast using sextants and graphing shoreline features. Admission is $2, or free with proof of admission to the maritime museum.

An old postcard of Alexander Keith Brewery.
Tours at Alexander Keith Brewery are operated by costumed guides. Photo courtesy of Library Archives Canada

Alexander Keith’s Brewery

At the south end of downtown and one block back from the water, Alexander Keith’s Brewery (1496 Lower Water St., 902/455-1474, tours June-Oct. Mon.-Sat. noon-8pm, Sun. noon-5pm, Nov.-May Fri. 5pm-8pm, Sat. noon-8pm, Sun. noon-5pm, adult $21, senior $18, child $10) is North America’s oldest operating brewery. Keith arrived in Halifax in 1795, bringing with him brewing techniques from his English homeland and finding a ready market among the soldiers and sailors living in the city.

Although main brewing operations have been moved to the Oland Brewery, north of downtown, the original brewery, an impressive stone and granite edifice extending along an entire block, produces seasonal brews using traditional techniques. Tours are led by costumed guides, ending with a traditional toast to the “Father of Great Beer.”

Point Pleasant Park is laced with hiking and biking trails.
Point Pleasant Park is laced with hiking and biking trails. Photo © Vadim Petrov/123rf.

Point Pleasant Park

Before dawn on September 29, 2003, Hurricane Juan hit Halifax like no other storm in living memory. Seventy-five-hectare Point Pleasant Park (5718 Point Pleasant Dr., daily 6am-midnight), at the southern tip of the Halifax peninsula, took the full brunt of the storm. By daybreak the next morning the full extent of the damage was first seen—more than 75,000 of the park’s 100,000 trees had been destroyed, and the park’s ecology had been changed forever. After the cleanup, a massive rejuvenation project that continues to this day began.

Although much of the forest may be gone, the park is still well worth visiting. To get to the main entrance, take South Park Street south from Sackville Street. South Park becomes Young Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard graced by magnificent mansions; turn left on Point Pleasant Drive. Marginal Road from downtown also terminates at the same waterside entrance. Views from the parking lot sweep across the harbor, with container terminals on one side and green space on the other.

Forty kilometers of trails, many paved, allow for hiking, jogging, and cross-country skiing in winter. Bikes are allowed only Monday-Friday. Most of the main trails have reopened since the storm, allowing access to all corners of the spread, with terns, gulls, and ospreys winging overhead. A bit of real-estate trivia: The park is still rented from the British government, on a 999-year lease, for one shilling per year.

Point Pleasant’s military significance is evidenced by the 1796 Prince of Wales Martello Tower (July-early Sept. daily 10am-6pm) and Fort Ogilvie, built in 1862, both part of Halifax’s defensive system. The former, a thick-walled round tower based on those the British were building at the time to repel Napoleon’s forces, was the first of its kind to be built in North America.

Travel map of Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia
Downtown Halifax

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Nova Scotia.

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