Two weeks exploring Nova Scotia, Newfound and Labrador on foot, by car and via expedition cruise introduced us to the rich history, varied geography, welcoming people and stunning scenery of Atlantic Canada.
We started with Nova Scotia’s provincial capital on a sunny, summer morning – peak tourist season! By the time we headed out for an evening stroll along pathways on both sides of Halifax Harbour, we confirmed that two days is not enough time to properly explore the friendly, clean and compact seaside city and surrounding region.
Halifax Central Library
The 9 o’clock opening time (except Sundays) meant the Halifax Central Library was our logical first destination. Completed in late 2014, this building made our list of “must visit” spots because it kept popping up when researching top photo spots in the area. Plus we’re avid readers/audiobook listeners and appreciate our local library borrowing privileges. That there’s a geocache hidden here was also a factor.
From the outside, it resembles a somewhat haphazard stack of books. From some angles, the overhanging end of the top level looks like a fantastic treehouse.
Inside, we had a hard time seeing past the similarities to the new Calgary Central Library (opened November 2018) – the soaring central atrium to skylight roof, curved interior staircases and even the shelving! Remarking on the sameness to one of the librarians, Mr. GeoK learned that members of the Calgary project visited the Halifax Central Library several times. They clearly liked what they saw!
Even the main theatre spaces (Mr GeoK stepped into the auditorium to make a phone call) are similar.
Halifax Free Walking Tour
Based on our excellent experience with the free walking tour in Reykjavik, Iceland, we smiled when we discovered a student-run free walking tour of Halifax (10 am and 3 pm daily, summer months only). We met up with our guide (and seven other participants) at the pedestrian entrance to the Halifax Citadel – just in time to watch the changing of the guard (from outside the paid admission zone).
From there, we headed generally generally east and then north, working our way down from the high point of Citadel Hill to the water front.
Being from Calgary, where few buildings pre-date 1900, we were struck by the age of the pre-1900s buildings that survived the Great Halifax Explosion (1917). One fine example is this former high school, now the Film school for NSCAD.
We were glad we chose to visit the new Halifax Central Library first thing in the morning. It gave us a good point of comparison with the previous central library, where our tour group stopped to learn about Winston Churchill’s trips to the Halifax area during World War II.
Other noteworthy stops on the way to the harbour walk included the Nova Scotia Art Gallery, a colourful and contemporary mural, St. Paul’s church and Parade Square.
At every stop and along the way, our guide pointed out restaurant recommendations and options for the afternoon.
We finally reached the harbour. Points of interest included the ferry terminal, a crystal workshop, Theodore Tugboat, a seabridge featuring maritime-themed art, large sculptures, street performers and other eye-catching, colourful stops.
As the tour came to and end, we asked a few questions to help finalize our plans for the evening. Our tour guide, who grew up in Halifax, didn’t have all the answers, so we headed to the nearby visitor information office where they supplied the information we needed. From there, it was time for a lunch break!
After a short nutrition and rest break, we headed to Halifax Citadel to start our afternoon. Along the way, we passed the Town Clock, partly surrounded by scaffolding required for the extensive restoration project underway.
Cost saving tip: with our annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass in hand, we didn’t have to pay the daily admission fee.
History is the main attraction here. But the structure, the costumed staff and volunteers, the geology and the views add a lot to the visitor experience.
Halifax Public Gardens
Our final daytime destination in Halifax? Another National Historic Site, this one with no admission fee. In Halifax celebrated the 150th anniversary of these public gardens in 2017. We appreciated this relatively cool, green oasis after spending hours out and about in the hot sun. I changed things up on the photography front, mounting the Lensbaby Sol 22 and playing around with selective (manual) focus.
Halifax Public Gardens deserved a longer visit than the hour and fifteen minutes we gave it. I’m sure we missed some stunning plants and we covered only about half the walking paths. For nature lovers, gardeners and history buffs, this is another “can’t miss” stop in Halifax.
By the time we left the gardens, sidewalks were crowded with people heading home from work or out to eat. We headed back to our hotel to get organized for an evening photo shoot.
Reflecting on our daylight hours in Halifax, there two other things that will be on our “can’t miss” list next visit. One is the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The other is an out and back bike ride along the Shearwater Flyer and Salt Marsh stretch of The Great Trail.
Live in Halifax? Visited Halifax recently? Let us know what else should be at the top of our list next time we’re in Nova Scotia.