Halifax is fairly compact, thus easily reconnoitered on foot or by using the excellent public transportation in town. The major landmark is the Citadel -- that stone fortress looming over downtown from a grassy height. (From the ramparts, you can look into the windows of the 10th floor of downtown skyscrapers.) The Citadel is only 9 blocks uphill from the waterfront -- 9 steep blocks -- and the entire downtown's so small that you can easily see both the downtown sights and the waterfront in a single day, if that's all you have.
Another lively neighborhood worth seeking out runs along Spring Garden Road between the Public Gardens and the library (at Grafton St.). Here you'll find intriguing boutiques, bars, and restaurants along these 6 blocks, set amid a Bohemian street scene. If you have strong legs, start on the waterfront and walk uphill and over the Citadel, descend to the lovely Public Gardens, then return via Spring Garden Road to your downtown hotel, enjoying a drink and a bite along the way.
Halifax's rehabilitated waterfront is most inviting between Sackville Landing (at the foot of Sackville St.) and the Casino Nova Scotia (near Purdy Wharf). Don't venture much farther north than that -- the waterside path becomes a gauntlet of tall drab office towers and their big unpleasant vents. On sunny summer afternoons, this good stretch of waterfront bustles with tourists enjoying the harbor, business folks sneaking ice-cream cones, skateboarders trying to make (or stay out of) trouble. Plan on about 2 to 3 hours to tour and gawk this section from end to end.
Sackville Landing is a good place to start a waterfront walking tour. In addition to the attractions listed below, the waterfront walkway is also studded with other small diversions, intriguing shops, takeout food emporia, and minor monuments. Think of it as an alfresco scavenger hunt.
How to throw together an itinerary? Try this: If you're interested in fish or history, make your first stop the waterfront's crown jewel, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic . Then look for Summit Place, commemorating a historic gathering of world leaders in 1995, when Halifax hosted the G-7 economic summit. Pass North America's oldest operating naval clock, which was built in 1767 and chimed at the Halifax Naval Dockyard from 1772 all the way up until 1993.
Then visit the ferry terminal, which gets hectic during rush-hour with commuters coming and going to Dartmouth across the harbor -- but, outside rush hour, is a cheap and relaxing way to get a quick, sweeping city and harbor view. The passenger-only ferry runs every 15 minutes, with a fare of C$2.25 per adult each way, C$1.50 for seniors and children age 5 to 15. It only takes 15 minutes to get to Dartmouth, and 15 minutes to get back.
The waterfront's shopping core is located in and around the 3-block Historic Properties, near the Marriott. These buildings of wood and stone are Canada's oldest surviving warehouses, and were once the heart of the city's shipping industry. Today, their historic architecture provides ballast for the somewhat precious boutiques and restaurants they now house instead. Especially appealing is the granite-and-ironstone Privateers' Warehouse, which dates from 1813.
If you're feeling like a pub crawl might be in order, the Historic Properties area is also a good place to wander around during the early evening. There's a contagious energy that spills out of the handful of public houses here as workers get off work and tipple pints: You'll find a bustling camaraderie and live music.
On the Water
A number of boat tours depart from the Halifax waterfront. You can browse the offerings on Cable Wharf, near the foot of George Street, where many tour boats are based. On-the-water adventures range from 1-hour harbor tours (about C$18) to half-day deep-sea fishing trips (about C$50). Murphy's on the Water (tel. 902/420-1015) runs the most extensive tour operation, with several boats and a choice of tours ranging from a cocktail sailing cruise to whale-watching and fishing trips to C$15 runs out to historic McNab's Island, which is located near the mouth of the harbor.
The Harbour Hopper (tel. 902/490-8687) amphibious craft, now also owned by Murphy's, crosses both land and sea during a harbor tour that takes about an hour. It costs C$25 for adults, C$24 for seniors, C$15 for children ages 6 to 15, and C$9 for children 5 and under. Families of four can travel for C$71 (and these rates haven't changed in several years). The ticket office is located on the north side of the Maritime Museum.
The Citadel & Downtown
Downtown Halifax cascades 9 blocks down a hill between the imposing stone Citadel and the city's waterfront. There's no fast-and-ready tour route; don't hesitate to follow your own whims, ducking down quiet sidestreets and into bars or striding along the main roads as you wish. A good spot to regain your bearings periodically is the Grand Parade, where military recruits once practiced their drills. It's a lovely piece of urban landscape -- a broad terrace carved into a hill, presided over on either end by St. Paul's and Halifax's City Hall, a sandstone structure built between 1887 and 1890 and exuberantly adorned with all the usual Victorian architectural trifles: prominent clock tower, dormers, pediments, arched windows, pilasters, Corinthian columns. (Alas, there's not much to see inside.)
If the weather is nice, the Grand Parade is also a prime spot to bring an alfresco lunch and enjoy some people-watching.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.