Cruise Port Guide: 11 Best Things to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia in One Day

If you’re wondering what to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we’ve got this covered. After my fourth Canada and New England cruise that included a visit to Halifax, I’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Halifax in only one day. 

On all of my previous visits to Halifax, in spring, summer and fall, I arrived under cloudless blue skies with a gentle sea breeze. The last time I was there, the weather decided to take a blustery turn. 

Luckily, by noon, the skies had cleared. Exploring Halifax was a breeze.

Port of Halifax Welcome Sign on Harbourwalk
Early morning joggers and no, I was not one of them!

11 Best Things to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

I’ve leisurely walked for hours admiring how much that Halifax has to offer, all within an easy few miles of the harbor. But I never ventured from the city or took a ship’s shore excursion.

However, this cruise to Halifax was different. I signed up for a shore excursion. With drizzly skies and a very brisk spring wind, I decided to break my usual routine and chose something I always wanted to do:  I was going to see Peggy’s Cove!

Added bonus, there would still be enough time after Peggy’s Cove to explore and revisit some of the best things to do in Halifax, and my favorite places.

Where Do Cruise Ships Dock in Halifax?

Here’s where your ship will dock…on the other side of this building of course!

Cruise port guide to Halifax Nova Scotia at Pier 21
Your cruise ship will dock right behind Pier 21, once the immigration center for Halifax.

1. Explore Peggy’s Cove Region

Despite the weather, I was on my way to visit one of the most photographed locations in the Atlantic Provinces, Peggy’s Cove. As I mentioned, this was my first ship tour outside of Halifax. 

The rain let up enough so that we could queue up for the motor coach without getting soaked. Most everyone carried an umbrella and wore some sort of rain parka. The smartest folks had parkas with hoods.

The distance to Peggy’s Cove was only a forty-five minute bus ride. The tour guide pointed out bits of history and popular landmarks as the bus slowly meandered through downtown traffic and out of the city.

Watch the scenery as your motor coach turns off the highway and onto the rural routes. We were told that towards the end of the Ice Age, as the glaciers made their slow march across the tundra, hundreds of enormous granite boulders were deposited along their paths to the sea.

Notice the oddly-shaped, huge grey boulders that dot the landscape. They give the area a unique and rugged appearance, sort of moon-like. 

But these rocks are not the main attraction that brings thousands of visitors to Peggy’s Cove each year.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse on a blustery autumn morning.

Suddenly the lighthouse comes into view. Standing as a sentinel atop an uneven network of granite boulders, is Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, built in 1811. It’s possibly the most photographed lighthouse in Canada.

Nearly fifty-feet tall and sporting the eight-sided, pyramidal form of typical Victorian-era lighthouses, this building is a huge attraction for not just tourists, but landscape artists and photographers from around the world.

It’s easy to see why. Even our bleak weather lent itself to beautiful scenes highlighted by this still-operational lighthouse.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse Tower

Enough time was included so that whoever wanted to walk the very short distance into the very tiny town, could do so without worry of missing the bus. A seafood restaurant stood at the top of the hill very near to the lighthouse.

A walk through the village of Peggy's Cove outside of Halifax Nova Scotia.
All’s quiet on this Sunday afternoon in the village at Peggy’s Cove.

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Peggys Cove fishing ropes at the village seen while on a Canada New England cruise.
Brightly colored fishing ropes and lobster traps line the pier in Peggy’s Cove in stark contrast to the darkening sky.

The walk downhill towards the town revealed a quaint gift shop, a coffee shop and a working wharf, with stacks of lobster traps and coiled ropes in a multitude of colors.

Back on the bus, people were munching on their leftover oyster crackers that were given to them with their chowder at the hilltop diner. 

Some folks snoozed while others listened attentively to the tour guide who managed to point out more interesting bits of lore the entire way back to the port.

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2. Visit Pier 21

Pier 21 is now a museum but once was the immigration center during WWII.
Pier 21 is now a museum but once was the immigration center of Halifax. Photo: Wikipedia

If you don’t want to take one of the ship’s many shore excursions in Halifax, there is plenty to do within walking distance of the cruise port. In fact, located where the cruise ships dock at the Halifax Seaport is the historic Pier 21, the only remaining immigration shed in Canada. Definitely worth exploring.

Opened in 1928 and in continual use until 1971, the building saw the arrival of nearly one million immigrants. It now houses the Canadian Museum of Immigration and showcases the trials and tribulations faced by the immigrants as they arrived in Canada.

3. Walk to the Citadel

Halifax Citadel and Old Clock Tower

Head west a few blocks to the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, located high above George Street. Rebuilt in 1856 on the grounds of the original fortress from 1749, the Citadel played a major role in naval defense for the British Empire.

Several ship shore excursions include a trip for a guided tour inside the Citadel.

4. Pause to Look Up at the Old Town Clock 

It’s hard to miss this massive clock at the top of Citadel Tower. If you’re at all interested in history, it’s worth a few minutes of observation. The Old Town Clock Tower was built under the direction of Prince Edward Duke of Kent and imported from England in 1803. 

The story goes that the Duke was obsessed with time and ordered the four clock faces to be built so that no one in his regiment had an excuse to be late.

This Halifax icon has been in operation since October 20, 1803.

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5. Meander Along Halifax Harbourwalk

If the weather permits or even if not, take a stroll along the Halifax Harbourwalk that extends nearly two miles into downtown Halifax. Along the way you might see a majestic tall ship moored alongside the walk.

By chance, there was a Tall Ship Regatta in port at Halifax.
By chance, there was a Tall Ship Regatta in port at Halifax.

You’ll pass lovely cafes and trendy pubs, aromatic chocolate shops and upscale souvenir stores.

Be sure to purchase a decorative box of freshly-made fudge to take back to the ship. It’s a sweet treat that you can’t find on board.

Take a left turn at Prince Street and continue a short distance to Lower Water Street to the Brewery Market. Here you can learn the process of beer making, and sample a few during the tour.

6. Tour Keith’s Brewery Market

Once you reach Lower Water Street, you can’t miss Alexander Keith’s Brewery. Located in a 200-year old ironstone brewery, Keith’s tours take guests back in time to explain the beer-making process that began here in 1820. Music, beer tasting and a good time for all. 

Brewery tours begin every hour on the hour from noon until the last tour at 7PM. Your ship may have sailed by then!

7. Stop by Fairview Lawn Cemetary

Fairview Cemetary Titanic gravesites Halifax Nova Scotia
A somber feeling as you see all the headstones for many of those lost on the Titanic. Photo: Wikipedia

A bit of the macabre awaits those who venture over to Fairview Lawn Cemetery. This is where 120 victims of the RMS Titanic disaster are buried.

Staggered rows of square granite headstones all have the same date of death inscribed: April 15, 1912. Of the 120 victims recovered, only two-thirds were ever identified.

Because Halifax, Nova Scotia was the nearest port to the sinking, rescue ships were dispatched from the seaport, only to return with the 120 bodies and bits of personal belongings. The cemetery has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years.

It is possible to visit both Peggy’s Cove, explore downtown Halifax on a self-guided walking tour and still have time to meander along the Harbourwalk. Remember to buy some homemade chocolates and fudge, too.

8. Discover the Historic Properties Development

Located along the waterfront, authentically restored early 18th century stone and wooden buildings are nestled in an area that was once the core of the Halifax sea trade. 

Here you’ll find fashion-forward boutiques, busy pubs and outdoor cafés that line the cobblestone streets.

9. Stop by St. Paul’s Church

St. Paul’s Church was the first Protestant Church in Canada built in 1749. Take a look inside to find the piece of metal that was lodged in the church’s wall. It’s a piece of shrapnel that was blasted into the church when two ships collided in Halifax Harbor causing the Explosion of 1917. It was the largest munitions explosion in the world at that time. 

10. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Continue your walk along Lower Water Street and you’ll end up at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Nova Scotia’s rich historic maritime past is remembered as well as it houses a permanent Titantic exhibit.

The Titanic Exhibit begins with the construction of the “unsinkable ship” and culminates with the story of the rescue of 120 bodies brought to Halifax when the ship sank on April 15, 1912. There are Titanic artifacts, a child’s pair of shoes and you can even sit in a salvaged deck chair from the Titanic.

A popular attraction for children is the Theodore Tugboat exhibit, especially if they need to burn off a little energy. Sort of like Thomas the Tank Engine but a ship not a train.

If you’re curious about the 1917 mega-explosion that occurred in Halifax, there’s a display at the museum that goes into detail about the two-ship collision. Also on display is a 1,000-pound anchor from one of the exploding ships that was found some 2 1/2 miles from the site of the disaster. 

11. Stroll Through the Beautiful Parks in Halifax

Halifax is not only cosmopolitan and home to several top-notch universities, the city is also know for its beautiful sprawling parks. Point Pleasant Park covers 186-acres and is the city’s oldest park. There’s also a lighthouse at Maugher’s Beach.

The other popular park is Victorian Public Gardens, lined with trees planted by visiting royalty. It’s a 17-acre park right in the middle of the city and has been there since the Victorian age. 

Now that you know what I think are the best things to do in Halifax, I hope this makes it easier for you to plan your one day in port.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thank you for reading my Halifax article. You may be able to book an independent tour to Peggy’s Cove lighthouse, but it’s a bit of a drive to get there. The ship’s tour to the lighthouse really makes it easier. Or you might be able to just rent a car but I’ve never done that in Canada. Viator might have a tour, too. As far as finding a vendor portside to take you to Peggy’s Cove, I really don’t have the answer. However you decide to go, have a wonderful day. It’s a great shore excursion. Thank you again for your question.

  2. Thank you! Very helpful. Just wondering if i can book a your yo the lighthouse locally when we get off the ship
    Thank you
    Liz

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