A backpacker's guide to the best things to see and do in Halifax this summer

May 21, 2024

Nova Scotia calling your name? The Maritime provinces are some of the best places to spend a vacation both for the slow traveller seeking to unwind, and the antsy backpacker looking to explore via foot, bike, and kayak.

As for Halifax specifically, it’s a dynamic East Coast hub boasting a waterfront cityscape where craft brews, fresh seafood, and funky neighbourhoods await. Whether you love pints on a patio or fun in the forest, you’ll love exploring Nova Scotia’s capital city. Spending some time in the city? Here’s a list of what to eat, see, drink, and do.

What’s on the menu?

This is no trip for calorie counting. Halifax is home to phenomenal seafood, but fresh lobster and scallops are just the beginning. There’s a diverse (and affordable!) food scene to check out here. Let’s get started with…

LF Bakery. This one’s perfect for backpacker’s heading out on active adventures like sea kayaking or hiking. Expect an authentic French bakery serving delectable (packable!) bread, croissants, and sandwiches. Most menu offerings (including the apple, smoked cheddar, and black pepper baguette sandwich) are under $10.

The vegetarians in your group will do well to put Bar Kismet on the list. This cool spot offers incredible small plates with an emphasis on seafood and ample meat-free options (like gorgonzola gnocchi with burnt walnuts).

If you’re in Halifax looking to slow down and really relax, EDNA is a cozy one-room restaurant that offers great value (lunchtime soup with grilled sourdough is just $10) and luxury (like halibut cheeks with maple miso and sea truffle emulsion). There’s no better place for a lazy brunch IMO.

Just finished a hard effort like a run along the shore? Bonehead’s BBQ is a south-end favourite and so popular it was featured on the food show You Gotta Eat Here. Come for the award-winning ribs, cornbread, and smoked chicken wings.

And finally, no trip to Halifax is complete without visiting Pizza Corner, the nickname given to the intersection of Blowers Street and Grafton Street. This is THE spot to try a Halifax-style donair (a lesser-known Canadian food of pitas loaded with meat and sweet garlic sauce). Everyone has an opinion about which Pizza Corner pizzeria makes the best donair. The only way to decide is to try them all!

Bottoms up! Where to drink:

Breweries and distilleries thrive in Halifax. One of the most popular is Alexander Keith’s Brewery. Keith’s is one of the city’s oldest companies, and for the history nerd, the brewery’s guided tours offer insight into the city’s early days.

Looking for something a little different? If you’re not scared to get rowdy, check out the Good Robot Brewing Company. This brewery has earned the reputation of being one of the city’s best and the self-described “beer-crazy misfits” claim few things are better than friends gathering for a beverage. And honestly? They’re not wrong. Their events include tarot card readings and comedy nights.

Spirit lovers will want to check out the Halifax Distilling Company (their cream rum is amazing) and Compass Distillers (whose pretty labels make their products perfect for gift-giving).

Finally, the Board Room Game Cafe, located just across the street from HI Halifax, offers yummy snacks and a fun drinks menu that includes options from Nova Scotia’s own Jost winery. What more could you want?

Time for chilling and people watching

If you think you know Halifax based on a trip you took a few years ago, prepare to be surprised. It’s totally different and you have to see the new-and-improved city! The downtown waterfront has changed dramatically and it’s now a vibrant, artsy space. The bustling boardwalk is filled with eateries, shops, and the best people-watching in town. Order an ice cream cone from Cows, find a bench, and let the daydreaming begin.

If you need something more substantial, grab a meal on the patio at The Bicycle Thief. This waterfront restaurant likes to say that it serves North American food with an Italian soul, and it isn’t wrong (try the mussels sautéed with tomato, caramelized onions, garlic, basil oil, and white wine!)

Late at night, the Split Crow is a fantastic place to hang out on a patio, sip a local beer, and hear live music. It’s a few steps away from the water on a pedestrian-only street, which makes for an extra relaxed atmosphere. And hey, maybe you’ll manage to strike up a convo or two.

Take a tour of this must-see neighbourhood

If you love cute shops by day and killer music at night, you’ll want to explore the streets of Halifax’s North End. The area is filled with cool craft breweries, vintage clothing shops, great music venues, and plenty of delicious foodie destinations. Hot spots like Compass Distillers and EDNA call this neighbourhood home, and that’s just the beginning.

Other places to visit include Espresso 46, which serves up killer coffee, Italian-style pastries, and paninis. Its next-door neighbour is the Warehouse Market, home to a bustling retail market on Wednesday to Saturday.

Come lunch, you’ll want to pop into The Ostrich Bar, a cross between a restaurant and a bar. Here, creative cocktails and biodynamic wine (read: sustainable and eco-friendly) are served alongside small plates of treats like red curry duck, shrimp dumplings, and brisket tacos.

Another delicious spot to check out is the Agricola Street Brasserie. Housed in a renovated printing shop that dates to the early 1900s, homemade bread, in-house charcuterie, and fancy desserts are just some of its specialties. It’s perfect for a relaxed dinner with friends.

Fun freebies

Hey, most of us are looking to save some bucks while exploring. That’s why we included a freebie section in this guide. When you’re downtown, pop into Province House, the oldest legislative building in Canada. Guided tours showcase the building’s art, architecture, and political history.

Book fans will adore the city’s Central Library, which opened in 2014. Haligonians love its gorgeous architecture and for a little picker upper, head to the coffee bar on the top floor. Tours are often available.

Finally, no visit to Halifax is complete without a stroll through the Public Gardens. This gorgeous park is the city’s pride and joy, and it’s filled with remarkable old trees, wonderful flower beds, and plenty of free activities, including concerts and plays.

Easy urban escape

If you’re travelling with your own set of wheels and have time to spare, it’s totally worth it to explore some parts just outside the Nova Scotia capital. Located just twenty minutes from downtown (accessible via bus routes 80, 81, 82, or 90 if you’re in Halifax without a car), Hemlock Ravine Park offers four kilometres of trails. The park is home to hemlock trees which are over 300 years old and 80 feet tall, making you feel like you’re in an ancient forest while still just a few steps from the city. Keep your eyes open for the heart-shaped pond, built in 1869.

Beach it up!

Just 35 minutes from downtown Halifax, Lawrencetown Beach is a beautiful spot to take in some waves and sunshine. This is a surfer’s heaven and one of the best places to surf in Canada. If surfing is new to you, get help from the East Coast Surf School. If you’d rather sip on an iced coffee, bask in salty breezes, and watch the action, stop in at Lawrencetown Beach Café.

Photos © Discover Halifax

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