Port of Call: Off the Ship in Halifax

Going Coastal: 4 Excursions in the Canadian Maritimes

By Everett Potter for the May issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine

One hundred years after trying to rescue passengers on the Titanic, Halifax remembers the disaster. The Nova Scotian capital has a bevy of the ship’s artifacts, as well as a bounty of local seafood and a strong seafaring tradition.

Titanic Tour (3 hours)
When the R.M.S. Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland in 1912, rescue ships were sent from Halifax, the closest major port. Alas, they quickly became recovery ships as they retrieved only corpses and wreckage from the frigid North Atlantic. Blair Beed, a local historian whose grandfather helped during the catastrophe, brings the tales to life, with stories about many of the passengers. His tour (902-455-9977; $150 for up to six people) includes the home of local millionaire George Wright, who went down with the ship, as well as Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where 121 Titanic victims are interred. At the Old
Triangle Irish Alehouse
, have a proper seafaring lunch of fish and chips and a pint of Propeller India Pale Ale.

The sun sets on Halifax. (Photograph by Heather Rushton, My Shot)

 Museum Ramble (3 hours)
Halifax has three dynamic museums within walking distance of the waterfront. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic displays ship models and artifacts, but it also features a deck chair from the
Titanic and an exhibit on the North Atlantic cable ships, such as the Mackay-Bennett, that participated in the recovery effort. Pier 21 National Historic Site is the last “immigration shed” left in Canada. Akin to Ellis Island, it’s now a museum with exhibits commemorating the million-plus immigrants who entered Canada via this wharf. Wander through the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with works by Canadian artists, including renowned folk painter Maud Lewis, whose house is on display.

Halifax on Three Wheels (4 hours)
After Vicki Gesner kick-starts her Ural motorcycle—with you in the sidecar—she’ll take you on an exhilarating tour of this city and its neighboring coastline. Bluenose Sidecar Tours is run by Gesner and her husband, and their tour to the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove includes a visit to the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial. Lunch at the Brooklyn Warehouse, a hangout where locals feast on burgers topped with Prince Edward Island cheddar, and sip Gaspereau Muscat, a Nova Scotian wine.

Peggy's Cove, a small fishing community on Halifax's eastern shore. (Photograph by Sara Lubin, My Shot)

Taste of Town (3 hours)
The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is one of North America’s oldest—dating to 1750—and is now housed on the waterfront, a jumble of stalls selling smoked salmon, artisanal cheeses, and breads. Buy enough for a picnic, and head to the roof for an open-air repast while looking over to Georges Island. Afterward, ramble the hilly streets to get a feel for this university town through its used bookshops, such as Trident Booksellers. The city’s highest point, the Citadel, offers 360-degree views of the harbor and town from a fort built to safeguard the British Navy. For dinner, head to Chives, where chef Craig Flinn began Nova Scotia’s locavore movement a decade ago. His lobster-crusted haddock is sublime. Then catch a local singer at the Carleton Music Bar and Grill, the best live-music venue in town.

Do you have a favorite thing to do in Halifax? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


  1. […] An unbelievable life moment for me, when I learned that one of my best selling photos had been selected for use in a National Geographic article about Halifax. This has truly been a dream of mine through my entire career. It’s the Peggy’s Cove photo that is the banner for this website. You can view the article, and the photo, here. […]

  2. Diana
    May 12, 2012, 3:48 am

    I loved it here when I visited last summer for the first time. A must see is the Crystal factory, just off the harbourfront. Unique for Canada.

  3. Elizabeth MacDonald
    May 11, 2012, 2:27 pm

    Be sure to take in the Hydrostone Market, part of the unique community built out of the devastation of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. The Explosion Memorial is nearby, atop Fort Needham.

  4. Hilarey
    Cupertino California
    May 10, 2012, 10:52 am

    I come every summer and love to walk the waterfront and enjoy the buskers.

  5. Rebecca Taylor
    Nova Scotia
    May 10, 2012, 9:31 am

    There’s a vibrant retail space where the cruise ship passengers arrive (and depart) at Pavilion 22. You can find local artisan crafted goods, colorful souvenirs, and unique gifts.

  6. Alexander
    May 10, 2012, 9:15 am

    Interesting article! Well written! Read the list of museums which has their displays on Titanic, in the article “Titanic, a symbol of a past age” http://travel-europe-eu.blogspot.com/2012/04/titanic-100-years-later-facts.html

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  8. Peggy/Serendipity Traveler
    May 8, 2012, 8:21 pm

    Walking the waterfront , stopping in at the Maritime Museum and Pier 21 are Halifax faves on our annual Best of Nova Scotia tour.
    I like the Old Triangle Ale House for local music and the Sunday concerts and a walk in the Halifax Public Gardens are lovely .A visit to The Citadel a National Historic Site for the history.

  9. Chris
    May 8, 2012, 6:34 pm

    We’re just visitors but the Halifax Farmer’s Market without a doubt! Cannot wait until the new Central Library is complete.

  10. Sarah
    May 8, 2012, 6:33 pm

    If you’re able to, head to the south end of Halifax where you will find Point Pleasant Park. Wander this green space with walking trails, small lakes, monuments, Fort Ogilvie and a Martello tower. It looks out to the Atlantic and provides great views of McNabs Island and the Northwest Arm. In the summer make sure you catch a Shakespeare by the Sea play. If you’re up early sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of the harbour seals basking on rocks. This is one area that you won’t want to miss. It’s perfect for watching the harbour traffic, especially this summer with the Tall Ships!

  11. Susan
    May 8, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Excellent article- very enlightening about the wonderful quality of seafaring life we have here in Halifax.If you travel the coastline of our little gem of a province, you’ll find a wonderful verdant Annapolis valley,rich with farmland ,grand old homes,and the Bay of Fundy.You’re never more than a few miles from the ocean in any direction here .Splendid!

  12. Mike
    May 8, 2012, 12:56 pm

    On a nice summer day, take a picnic basket and go sit on the hill at York Redoubt and watch the ships come in and out of Harbour. Only 20-30 mins from downtown.