ns1flickr/Ariane Colenbrander

By Ariane Colenbrander

So you’ve landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia – hopefully for more than a day or two. This eclectic capital city by the sea is made for both urban and nature lovers alike. I personally find the best way to start discovering a coastal city is right where it all starts – at the waterfront.

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Halifax has a beautiful boardwalk spanning 3.8 kilometres from Pier 21 at one end to Casino Nova Scotia at the other. 

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The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 contains numerous exhibits and points of reference tracing the Canadian immigrant population from 1928 to 1971. 

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Luxury cruise magnate - aka the “Father of Tourism for Cruise Ships”, Samuel Cunard - was born here, and his contribution to the cruise ship industry saw advancements such as electricity on boats. His statue can be found right in front of the Seaport Farmer’s Market, a perfect spot to load-up on locally-made goodies, seafood and meats.

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Opposite the market entrance is one of the city’s first craft breweries, Garrison Brewing. Stop in for one of its many fine brews, and if you become a fan, take a snapshot of the many restaurants and bars around town where the brewery’s beers are lovingly poured. 

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There’s food aplenty along the boardwalk, particularly as you approach the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, home to Cunard’s model ships and Nova Scotia shipwreck treasures, as well as Titanic and Halifax Explosion exhibits and artifacts. 

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The museum is housed in a prime location with a commanding view of its outdoor exhibition, which features the HMCS Sackville and the CSS Acadia. They’re both permanent fixtures on the harbour front, serving as floating museums.

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The Tall Ship Silva actually gets onto the water, offering cruises around the harbour with a fully-licensed pub onboard. 

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If you’re up for an entirely different experience, Segway Nova Scotia offers 40-minute waterfront spin tours, as well as two-hour Pleasant Park and a City and Bridge Tour jaunts.

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Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, grab a bike helmet and you’re off! Keep in mind that all tours are guided, so you won’t be left on your own to 1) run down a pedestrian; 2) get lost; or 3) fall into the harbour!

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Once the tour’s through, Alexander Keith’s historic brewery is just a block up from the water. Enter 1863 Halifax - one of the oldest working breweries in North America.

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This one-hour family-friendly (minus the beers) animated tour is given by folks in period costume, adding atmosphere to the gorgeous old building that the brewery is housed in. At 22, Keith was a man with a mission: to brew the best beer he could. Brewing was going through a revolution at the time. Keith left his native Scotland home to immigrate to Halifax to enter the business. After all, Nova Scotia loosely translates to New Scotland in Gaelic.

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Patronage and support were tremendous, especially for Keith’s Indian Pale Ale. Moving to the tap room, we were given unlimited samples of Keith’s Red Amber Ale, the newly-released Galaxy Hop, and the Premium White. I really enjoyed that hoppy Galaxy brew!

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Upstairs, the Red Stag Tavern makes for a great stop, particularly for Mrs Keith’s mac and cheese, which can be enjoyed with a pint of Keith’s.

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Another way to see the city in a short space of time is with the Halifax Tour Guys. Our guide Al DesLaurier picked us up from the Westin Nova Scotian, which was our home by the water for a few nights. We learned about the 1917 Halifax Explosion (the largest man-made explosion before the era of nuclear weapons), when fragments of the exploded French cargo ship Mont-Blanc were scattered for kilometres.

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The tour also takes in some beautiful neighbourhoods that are filled with period architecture. Inglis Street is one such area, and our driver was patient as we each saw a photo-worthy home to stop for, on our way to the Titanic Burial Site at Fairview Cemetery - a grim reminder of another fateful moment in Halifax history.

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Here, the graves are placed in three long lines suggesting the outline of the ship’s bow. One third of the graves have never been identified and the markers simply contain the date of death and marker number.

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Following the RMS Titanic disaster, Maritime Law was put into use, its every rule created from the disaster. All lifeboats were taken off Titanic’s top deck back in England, in order to allow more people to promenade up there. You’ll never see that happen again, thanks to Maritime law. According to Al: “The ocean both blesses and takes away from us.”

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We also visited the North End’s Hydrostone Market, a lovely garden suburb that arose from the Halifax explosion to house working-class families displaced by the widespread damage created. 

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Young Street was designed to reflect a “European Shopping Experience” and the historic neighbourhood’s name is derived from the Hydro-Stone concrete blocks used in its homes.  

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Dining at Epicurious Morsels was a highlight of our late morning there. A fresh scallop and spinach salad with Nova Scotian smoked salmon included red grapefruit wedges, avocado, and baby spinach in a warm lime and bacon vinaigrette. It was happily followed by a slice of homemade strawberry rhubarb pie. 

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I enjoyed the pie but my dining companions ordered the lemon shaker pie, which is highly recommended if you’re out this way. Epicurious Morsels features a menu of soups, salads and crab cakes, and dairy and salt quantities kept to a minimum.  

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Exploring downtown and ready for coffee and dessert? Urban eatery Tempo on Barrington Street makes a great stop for both, as I discovered during a recent stay at adjacent Delta Barrington. 

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Their collection of cupcakes and pastries are simply gorgeous – and decadent. 

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Another discovery was dining at Stories at Halliburton, located next to the charming, historic boutique Halliburton Hotel - our home for a night during our week in Halifax. 

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Fine dining, craft beer, an excellent wine menu: it’s all there, under the guidance of Chef Scott Vail. 

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Gorgeous pan-seared rice paper wrapped scallops are served in a ginger sesame vinaigrette; my Yellowfin tuna was graced with Shanghai bok choy and other seasonal veggies that were simply seasoned and perfectly cooked. My dishes were complimented by Propeller IPA.

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Desserts such as this flourless chocolate cake and the panna cotta are also delightful ways to end your meal there. 

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And speaking of desserts and chocolate, Best Western’s Chocolate Lake Hotel is a sweet spot overlooking manmade Chocolate Lake - named after a former chocolate factory in the area – where you can enjoy chocolate martinis, chocolate towers with dark chocolate mousse, in-house made bark with dried cranberries, white and dark chocolate and “Chocolate Eruption”. And if that doesn’t make you slip into a sugar-induced coma, check out the “Tuxedo-Dressed Strawberries”. 

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Located at 20 St Margaret’s Bay Road, it’s slightly out of the city core, but well worth the journey for a lovely afternoon.

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As I grabbed my coffee one early morning from the Westin for a stroll on the waterfront, I found solace on a bench to reflect on this city’s history, its tragedies, and its emergence as a cosmopolitan capital. I felt drawn to the salty air and natural beauty. I’m certain most Haligonians feel the same: Halifax is a real Atlantic gem.