This past month I had the chance to visit Halifax, capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, where I found the food to be surprisingly varied and abundant.

I like to make food and eating out a large part of my experiences when I visit a new city. Saving on sightseeing and activities lets me keep more money for eating! 🙂

So without any more ado, here are 10 free things to do in Halifax.

1. Take a free walking tour

To orient yourself and learn a bit about Halifax’s history and landmarks, take a Halifax Free Tour (donations only). These two-hour tours usually run twice a day (check calendar), seven days a week, from June to September. The young guides are friendly and enthusiastic. The tours start at Halifax Citadel and end at the Waterfront, so it’s downhill all the way!

Looking up toward to clock tower and Citadel (Halifax)

Looking up toward the clock tower and Citadel

2. Relax in the Public Gardens

Halifax Public Gardens is one of North America’s finest formal Victorian Gardens, providing residents with a green oasis in the middle of the city since 1867. The bandstand often hosts local bands on Sundays. Meander along the paths, admire the trees, flowers, and statues, read a book, or eat your lunch next to the fountain.

Halifax Public Gardens

3. Visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia offers free admission every Thursday evening from 5 to 9 PM (normally $12). The permanent collection currently includes over 17000 works from Nova Scotia, other parts of Canada, and abroad, as well as special exhibitions of Nova Scotia artists.

Note: Other museums such as the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (recommended) and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 do not have free nights, but their admission fee is less than $12 (including tax).

4. Have coffee on the rooftop of the Halifax Central Library

The Halifax Central Library is a new downtown building with a striking “cubist” architecture on the outside, and an open atrium-like design inside. You can peruse some books, use the free Wi-Fi, or have a coffee on the rooftop patio with views over the city and harbour.

Halifax Central Library

5. Peek into St Paul Anglican Church

Halifax’s oldest church sits at one end of the Grand Parade square, opposite City Hall. The Georgian-style church was built in 1750, only one year after the founding of the city, which makes it the oldest building in town. It has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Step into the peaceful interior and admire the simple decor.

St Paul Anglican Church, Halifax

6. Wander around the Historic Properties

Right downtown by the waterfront are three square blocks of restored heritage buildings that were almost lost to “urban renewal”. Arranged around cobbled courtyards and along the boardwalk are shops, cafés, and pubs.

Historic Properties, Halifax

7. Browse the Seaport Farmers Market

If you’re in town on a Saturday, make sure to check out the Seaport Farmers Market at the southern end of the boardwalk. It’s open on other days as well, but rather sedate. Saturdays bring musicians and a full house of food and wine booths, handicrafts, and other items. Many let you sample their products. On the first level, near the centre, you’ll find a stall selling “lobster rolls”, basically chunks of lobster meat in a bread roll!

Inside the Seaport Market (Halifax)

8. Walk the length of the Waterfront Boardwalk

You can stroll to your heart’s content along the waterfront boardwalk, from the Casino all the way to Pier 21, a distance of about three kilometres. Along the way you’ll pass historical buildings, cafés and bars, the ferry terminal for Dartmouth, anchored ships, fast food shacks, the tourist office, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, shops and restaurants, the Seaport Farmers Market, and finally Pier 21 with its Canadian Museum of Immigration, all while strolling right next to the water. On a warm(ish) summer day, half the town seems to be down here. Grab a beer on a patio when you get tired.

Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk

9. Visit a cemetery

Halifax has a few interesting cemeteries. Right downtown is the Old Burying Ground, the oldest cemetery in Halifax with gravestones dating back to 1752, and a memorial to the Crimean War.

If you’re more of a Titanic fan, the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in the north end of town, is a non-denominational cemetery that is the final resting place of 121 of the fated ship’s victims, more than any other cemetery in the world. A third of them were never identified. There is actually the tomb of a “J. Dawson” here, but he’s unrelated to the fictional hero from the movie Titanic. People leave flowers on it nonetheless!

Old Burial Ground, Halifax

Old Burial Ground

10. Explore the Hydrostone Market district

On the north side of town, the Hydrostone is a distinct residential area where the buildings are all constructed of the same locally-created and non-combustible concrete blocks called “hydrostone”. This is one area where many of the original wooden houses were destroyed during the Halifax Explosion in 1917. The commercial section (along Young Street) is small but offers pizza, sushi, a bakery, and several shops. The park, east of the neighbourhood, has a plaque commemorating the disaster.

Hydrostone Market, Halifax

As a bonus, here are a couple more things that aren’t 100% free, but pretty close!

Take the ferry to Dartmouth

For $2.50, you can take a ferry ride across the harbour for the best views of downtown Halifax. Get a transfer and you can make the return journey for free within 90 minutes. This is just enough time to grab some delicious fish and chips, or a fish sandwich, at the little seafood snack bar inside the Dartmouth Ferry Terminal. Alternatively, if you’ve been riding the bus to downtown, you can use your transfer to board the ferry for free.

Ferry to Dartmouth

View of Halifax skyline from the ferry

Sample some beer at Garrison Brewing Co.

Right across the road from the Seaport Farmers Market is this brewery where you can try many local beers for just $2 a sample. Sit on their patio and while away a sunny afternoon. Don’t be surprised if strangers talk to you. It’s the Nova Scotia way!

The patio of Garrison Brewing Co. (Halifax)

Want more?

During the summer season, there will likely be a free concert or festival somewhere in the city during your stay. Drop by the Tourist Office, ask about special events, and grab a copy of their monthly Where booklet listing entertainment, dining, shopping, and tour options.

June to October is the best time to be here. During the rest of the year, the weather will likely be cold and damp, with snow that can fall until May (or so I am told). Many sights and activities close down during the low season, or are dependent on weather. But on a sunny summer day, there is no better place to be. 🙂

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