Top 10 things to do in Halifax for families | Exploring Nova Scotia’s vibrant capital city

by W. Andrew Powell
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax is the east coast’s biggest city, and it’s a vibrant, fun, refreshing destination, especially during those warm months when there is so much to do in Nova Scotia.

From beaches, museums, incredible restaurants, and markets, to festivals and more, Halifax is the perfect starting point for any east coast road trip, or a destination all to itself. Flights can be very affordable too, especially for Canadians and the north eastern United States.

Read on for some of my favourite things to see and do in Halifax. For more information or ideas, visit Discover Halifax and Tourism Nova Scotia. And for more travel ideas in Nova Scotia, read about my road trip from Halifax to Cape Breton Island.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

Bagpiper at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
Bagpiper at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

The Halifax Citadel is filled with history, and the best part of the iconic Parks Canada site is the way it comes alive thanks to dedicated interpreters.

Sharing stories about the people who lived and worked at the Halifax Citadel over the years it was fortified, you can meet soldiers, bagpipers, and highlanders to learn more about what military life was like throughout the eras, from 1749 to today. It’s a place where history really does feel like it comes alive.

During the summer and into fall there are lots of activities at the site, including the daily firing of the canon, musket demonstrations, ghost tours, bagpiper’s playing, and for the grown ups, Halifax Citadel Distilled Experiences where you can sample spirits aged on-site.

The Halifax Citadel is easy to get to from anywhere in Halifax, and it’s a short walk from most downtown hotels, or a 5-10 minute taxi ride.

Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk

Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk

Halifax has the best waterfront in Canada. It’s not even a competition. The boardwalk has so much to do, it’s huge and lively, and there are restaurants, nearby attractions, and festivals almost all year round.

You can easily spend half a day exploring the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk, and there are lots of options for great meals or treats. Take your pick from lobster rolls, seafood, snacks, and sit-down restaurants, or burgers, Mexican, Italian, and beer gardens.

Go shopping for rum cakes or handmade gifts, or just take a wander and see what’s happening. Or if you can, it’s wonderful sitting down and enjoying a few minutes watching the waves from a Muskoka chair or a hammock.

Discovery Centre

Halifax Discovery Centre

Around the corner from the boardwalk, bring the kids to the Discovery Centre and learn something new. The science centre has four floors of hands-on learning and play, with a focus on energy, health, flight, oceans, and more.

One of my daughter’s favourite areas was the Murphy Ocean Gallery where kids play and discover the science behind water, storms, and climate change, and see coastal creatures up close, like sea stars, urchins, and molluscs. In the flight zone, kids will discover a full-sized cub plane, flight simulators, and what it takes to make something soar.

Parents can also join in on some of the fun, and may learn a few things, especially with all of the hands-on play, experiments, and games.

Museums

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Halifax has so many fantastic museums that you’ll want to make time to visit at least a couple while you’re in town. The museums offer a wide range of experiences, and I guarantee that parents will learn as much as the kids here too.

Near the waterfront, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is filled with boats, ships, and large replicas of major vessels, but one of the best highlights is the Titanic exhibit, featuring recovered artifacts and details about the ship and the disaster that claimed it. The museum also gives a unique perspective on recovery efforts for sunken ships, the story of the Halifax Explosion, and there’s lighthouse glass on display that is mesmerizing.

At the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, visitors can learn about the immigrants who came through the port over the years, the stories that started at the port, and what it was like coming into Canada for so many people. Many Canadians can trace their families back to one of these ports, and the museum offers a moving window into the past.

Halifax also has a vibrant art museum, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, or you can explore the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History for a look at the creatures that have called the area home, discover Mi’kmaq art through Siawa’sik, learn about the science of the earth and planets, or meet their most famous resident, Gus the 99-year-old Gopher Tortoise.

Halifax Public Gardens

Take in some relaxing green views at one of Halifax’s beautiful gardens or parks, including the Halifax Public Gardens. Located around the corner from the Halifax Citadel, this public garden is really from a different era, with a large Victorian fountain, flowers, ponds, and charming scenery.

In the summer, the gardens put on a concert series, free walking tours, and exhibitions and shows. Or it’s a great place to bring a lunch and relax on the grass.

For another even larger park, visit Point Pleasant Park on the water for beautiful views over the harbour.

Old Burying Ground

For history buffs, or kids who like something a little creepy, the Old Burying Ground on Barrington Street are a treasure trove of monuments to some of the city’s important historical leaders and notable people.

On the grounds you can find historic figures Major-General Robert Ross, Shakespearean actor William Paget, Mi’kmaw Chief Francis, plus Boston Loyalists, and names from Halifax’s past.

In the day, it’s a shady, rather secluded space to walk and read the grave markers.

And at night, it’s a great place to stop for a spookier tour. The whole space feels very different in the dark, and you can really feel the age of the stones, monuments, and souls buried there.

Georges Island

Georges Island

Off the shores of Halifax, and accessible by a short ferry ride, Georges Island Historic Site is a different side of the city’s history, covered in fortifications and tunnels that you can explore with a guide.

Inside the fort, interpreters will tell you about why the site was so important during the war, the Mi’kmaq heritage of the island, and you can enjoy a picnic if you plan ahead. The walk through the tunnels is worth the trip alone, and kids will love exploring the maze of tunnels, and the huge cannons on display.

The trail around the island also offers a unique perspective on Halifax and Dartmouth, and admission to the island is included in the cost of the ferry ride with Ambassatours Gray Line.

Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market

Whether you’re looking for gifts, treats, or snacks, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is well worth a stop, and you’ll find everything made right in Nova Scotia. There’s crafts and artisans, bakers, farmers, soap and spa products, wine and spirits, woodworkers, jewellery, and often a few toys too. Or pick up prepared food for a meal.

For a treat with your kids, give everyone $10 so they can step inside and find something special to take home after the trip is over.

Note that starting in July 2022, the Farmers’ Market will be located at Pavilion 23 at the Halifax Seaport. For March until June 2022, the market will be at Pavilion 22.

Looking for more Canadian travel ideas? Visit our Canadian Travel Guide for ideas across the country.

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