Nova Scotia is a wild wonderland : at its heart is a world-class port city with rich history and a bustling food and drink scene. A short drive from it all, and your senses are overcome with salty air, fresh fir needles and warmed meadows.
GET THERE: Depending on where you’re flying from, you might go through Toronto or direct to Halifax Stanfield International. If you’re flying through Toronto, be prepared for a hectic jaunt through customs – I’d try for at least a two hour layover to make sure you have enough time. The airport in Halifax is a totally different scene – very low key. Grab a taxi (no Uber or Lyft there!) to downtown Halifax, about a 30 minute ride away.
STAY: We recommend choosing from one of the many lovely, affordable Airbnb options downtown. We stayed near the Halifax Commons, off the trendy Agricola Street area, where entrepreneurs have re-purposed old buildings into breweries, farm-to-table restaurants and boutiques.
DO: A vacation in Nova Scotia can inspire any traveler – we broke up our time between the city, the coast and the countryside. We planned this trip for five days in August, but any time during the summer/early fall would be well-suited for our suggestions.
Explore the green
For a city, Halifax is full of green spaces. Halifax Public Gardens is a horticulturist’s delight. Depending on the season, feast your eyes on a rainbow-hued variety of blooms and textured succulents. Farther south through town, hit up Point Pleasant Park for a scenic jog. The 190 acre, mostly forested area is full of surprises, like military ruins, apple trees and a shoreline for shell hunting. Smack dab in the center of town, Citadel Hill provides for an historical experience. You can make your way through four military fortifications dating back to 1749. While Halifax never saw attack, the city owes its existence to the hill – the British military chose this harbor because of the strategic position of the hill for protection from enemies. For a different walk back in time, the North End’s Fairview Cemetery is best known for its connection to the Titanic tragedy – more than 100 victims are buried there. To get a taste of college-life in this seaside Canadian city, take a stroll through Dalhousie University, celebrating its 200th anniversary this year.
Find your fare and folly
For drinks on the water, grab a table outside at The Stubborn Goat Beer Garden along the harbor. When you’re finished, walk up the hill for dinner at The Wooden Monkey, where you’ll find delicious, healthy comfort food, with awesome vegan and gluten-free friendly options. They also make a yummy Caesar – Canada’s answer to the Bloody Mary (it’s made with clam juice!). If you’re in the mood for Turkish food, i.e. creamy hummus, amazing kebabs and pita, The Lemon Tree is tucked away downtown. The sweet owners hang out in the small dining room, moving back and forth from the kitchen as needed. Hit the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market early on Saturday morning to browse ready-to-eat goodies, and every kind of ingredient you’ll need to make a meal at home. The market, which features some 250 vendors on any given day, is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in North America. Pete’s Fine Foods is a gourmand’s dream – pick out everything you’ll need for a top-notch picnic. In the North End, Lion and Bright is a wonderful spot for sipping on a hot drink and grabbing a quick bite. In the city center, we like Uncommon Grounds on South Park Street for its cozy ambiance and tasty iced coffee. For adult beverages, Halifax is swimming in beer and cider options. For the traditional, Alexander Keith’s is one of the oldest commercial breweries on the continent. It’s conveniently located on the harbor downtown. Propeller Brewing Co. is a favorite microbrewery, with locations in the city and across the bay in Dartmouth. It turns out, Nova Scotia has some fabulous apples that make for some mean cider. North End-based Chain Yard Cider has a fun outdoor seating area for sipping from a wide selection of ciders – we recommend doing a tasting.
Get axed + in shape
For a truly corny Canadian experience, book a night at Timber Lounge Halifaxe. You can throw down, literally – there’s a bar on site. One of the joint’s ax-throwing experts will show you how to throw, and then you’ll do a round-robin competition. The blades are dull, so don’t worry about getting cut, but DO make sure to wear closed-toed shoes. By day, work your arms out at Rio Yoga and Pilates Studio. We took the booty floor class, which unfortunately, does not exist anymore, but our local Evergreen Girl swears by all their classes for her fitness fix. The studio provides non-slip Lululemon yoga mats and ice cold water, so just bring yourself.
Crystal Crescent Beach
About a 40 minute drive south of downtown Halifax, you can explore the sparkling waters and varied landscape of Crystal Crescent Beach in Sambro Creek. Wear your trail shoes – there are a couple trails that take you out to Pennant Point, a vista overlooking the Atlantic that, honestly, makes you feel like you’re in Ireland. Pack water and food – it’ll be at least a 10 mile jaunt. When you’re done, rest your legs on the white sand beach. Don’t let the crystal blue water fool you – even in the dead of summer, it’ll give you a chill!
To get a totally different Nova Scotia perspective, take a road trip northwest to the Annapolis Valley for a day of winery-hopping. Start your adventure north of Wolfville (about 1.5 hours from Halifax) at Blomidon Provincial Park – just make sure to time your visit with low tide. Soak in the stunning view of the Bay of Fundy, home to the world’s highest tides, and then trek down the cliff to the beach. Take your shoes off and feel the orange clay between your toes. Run to the water and feel the cold, but don’t leave your shoes too close to its edge – the tide moves VERY quickly.
After you’re done taking it all in, hop back in the car and hit your first winery. We recommend starting at Planters Ridge, where you can enjoy a glass of Tidal Bay, a crisp, white grape blend – it’s Nova Scotia’s very own appellation. Order one of their locally-sourced meat or cheese plates. Take in the view of the bay from the winery’s superb deck. Next, head to Gaspereau for patio sippin’ next to a hillside of vines. They have a variety of different tastings to choose from. If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat in the charming town of Wolfville, home to Acadia University. When you’re finished, wrap up your winery tour at Lightfoot & Wolfville, a fairly new winery set on a hill just north of town. Their earthy rosé is the perfect way to end a long day in the countryside.
Head an hour and a half south of Halifax for a taste of Nova Scotia’s charming South Shore. Start your day at Hirtle’s Beach. The Gaff Point Trail is a lightly-trafficked 4.1 mile loop. You’ll park at the lot for the beach, make your way to its southern end along the rocky shoreline, and proceed up into the forest covering most of the point. It won’t take long before you emerge from the treeline. Your vision will be consumed by jagged rocks and the gorgeous sea.
After the hike, take the coastal route north, driving through Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Mahone Bay. Stop and shop, or just roll slowly through – there’s quite a bit of gorgeous to see. When you get to the quaint coastal village of Chester, grab a table on the deck at The Kiwi Cafe for lunch. Order a London Fog (Earl Grey latte) and a Cobb Salad, or opt for their breakfast-all-day options. When you’re done, take a walk through town to admire the beautiful old homes.
Salt Marsh Trail
Need an easy place to get a trail run in, but don’t want to drive too far from town? 20 minutes North of Halifax, the well-kept, scenic Salt Marsh Trail crosses Cole Harbour. It’s a 5.6 mile section of the Trans Canada Trail, built on old railroad trestles. That means water views on BOTH sides of the trail, which is lined in wild grasses, plants and flowers. There’s a primitive bathroom along the trail. On your drive back, just up the road is the Cole Harbour/Lawrencetown Heritage Park where an easy stroll will get you to some prime blueberry picking bushes.