Image above by Julia Rothman
Today’s City Guide comes from Kristina Robinson, a writer and editor at Best Coast Editorial who currently resides in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Kristina shares a guide to the vibrant city of Halifax, complete with museums, bookstores and organic eateries. Thanks, Kristina, for this wonderful guide! — Stephanie
CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!
While Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the largest city in Atlantic Canada, it’s still not what you’d call a “big city.” But it does have a big soul. It’s home to six universities, a vibrant music and restaurant scene and NSCAD University, which churns out creative talent at an alarming rate.
It wasn’t always so. For much of its history, Halifax was known as a rough-and-ready garrison town, home to Canada’s naval fleet. Life centered on the busy harbor, bustling with heavy ships, and culture wasn’t a high priority.
Change came slowly, but it did come, and the region’s artists and artisans led the way. Lofty trees line city streets, and people are almost uniformly friendly and helpful.
View Design*Sponge Halifax Guide in a larger map
View Design*Sponge Halifax Guide in a larger map
First and foremost, Halifax is a port city, and a walk through downtown is incomplete without a stroll down the boardwalk. From there, it’s pretty easy to see a number of iconic sights: the clock tower on Citadel Hill, Georges Island, the Old Brewery and even Theodore.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site — Take the 45-minute guided tour then wander around the fort, completed in 1856 and intended to ward off a land-based attack from the United States.
Old Burying Grounds — First consecrated in 1749, more than 12,000 people are interred here, including British Major General Robert Ross, who burned Washington in the War of 1812 and was killed in battle a few days later, and several victims of the Titanic disaster.
Khyber Arts Centre — The Khyber is a non-profit center for artists and musicians to exhibit their work and give talks, performances, film screenings and more. Check for upcoming events; there might be something worth planning a trip around.
Argyle Fine Art — Taste-making contemporary art gallery. The gallery regularly holds events, so be sure to check their website for updates. Tiny art show at the beginning of the year and great exhibitions all the time.
Attica Furnishings — Comfortable, modern furnishings spread over four floors. There’s really too much to see in a single visit.
The Black Market • 1545 Grafton Street, (902) 423-5724 — A patchouli-scented treasure trove of imported textiles, lighting and sculpture, plus lots of jewelry and clothing.
Boutique Joliette — Photography by Margot Metcalfe, well-curated antique furnishings and vintage jewelry.
CarbonStok — A selection of clever, well-designed home goods with an emphasis on sustainability. Lines include Cardboard Design, Alessi, Resource Revival and Poketo.
Gallery Page and Strange — Wonderful space in a historic building and always-lovely exhibitions. Regular artists include Drew Klassen, Wayne Boucher, Goody-B. Wiseman and many more. Very well curated.
John W. Doull, Bookseller — Antiquarian and out-of-print books in a towering maze of stacks. A great place to get lost for an hour, or an afternoon.
Love, Me — Beautiful handmade items from Canadian artists. Remade clothing, jewelry, painting and sculpture, plus goods like tea towels, glasses and mugs.
Oddject — A new shop with an array of playful, affordable accessories. Modern driftwood lamps, fun storage solutions and constantly changing accessories from across the globe.
Nova Scotia Crystal — A Nova Scotia tradition. Stop and watch the artisans at work through the window, and pick up a handcrafted lamp or decanter. The Atlantic pattern is worth special attention.
Seeds Gallery — The gallery for Nova Scotia College of Art and Design students. Always affordable and imaginative, the goods vary from show to show. Paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics and prints are usually available.
Studio 21 — Wonderful work from local and national artists including NSCAD faculty Susan Wood, watercolorist Anna Syperek and the late David Sorensen. Terrific, well-informed staff.
Eat + Drink
Doraku — an inviting space that serves up Halifax’s best, and best priced, sushi. Several private booths are available, as well as the Traditional Room. Aside from some memorable maki and sashimi (try the Doraku and sweet potato tempura rolls), shabu-shabu and Japanese barbeque options are on offer.
Fid — Local and sustainable are the watchwords, but this imaginative foodie haven manages both without compromising on flavor. Try D’s Pad Thai (smoked haddock with a potato-spinach mash and poached egg), the wild mushroom tart or the vegetarian Mayhem, and consider finishing with the sticky toffee pudding.
Freak Lunchbox — Exotic and familiar bulk candy, novelty toys and collectibles, and the best peanut-butter-chocolate milkshake you’ve ever tasted.
King Wah • 6430 Quinpool Road, (902) 423-2587 — A venerable hole-in-the-wall serving Cantonese specialties like pork with preserved vegetables and tripe with hot chilies.
Henry House — Downstairs houses the archetypal cozy English pub, the ideal spot to sip a cider or Best Bitter next to the fireplace. Upstairs, the new Third Floor is a thing of beauty — gorgeous views, dark wood and leather, a bar gleaming with reclaimed Victorian fixtures — with a drink list filled with pre-Prohibition cocktails.
Morris East — Local ingredients on pizzas cooked in an Italian wood-fired oven. The menu changes monthly, but past specials have included peach-prosciutto chevre and hoisin-duck confit. Morris East also infuses its own liquors for cocktails and has a sommelier on staff, an impressive statement in so small a restaurant.
Obladee Wine Bar — A welcome new addition to the Halifax bar scene, this brother-sister venture offers a clever, diverse wine list. A wide range of regions are represented; choice offerings include the 2007 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva, the 2008 Chateau Musar “Jeune,” or the 2010 La Linda Viognier by the glass. (For a splurge, consider the 2008 Olivier Leflaive Chablis les Deux Rives or the 2004 Heath 100 Y.O. Vine Shiraz). Platters of mainly Canadian cheeses and Nova Scotian charcuterie are offered alongside the wines.
Pipa Restaurant — Brazilian and Portuguese fare. Visit in the afternoon for salgados, savoury Portuguese snacks, or make an evening of it with Caipirinhas and Feijoada. Flamenco performances every Saturday.
Halliburton House – A small boutique hotel in an 1809 building. Every room is charming and distinctive; some boast wood-burning fireplaces.
Lord Nelson Hotel — Elegant appointments; luxurious linens; gracious, discreet service.
Pebble Bed & Breakfast — A Zen-like calm in a lovely, leafy neighborhood. Just right.
The North End was leveled in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, and it has been the grittier side of the city since then. Of course, gritty usually means more interesting. Gentrification is now slowly creeping up the main corridors of Gottingen and Agricola, and there are lots of great little restaurants and shops to stop in.
Needham Park — Check out the panoramic view of Halifax Harbour.
Stroll the Hydrostones — Completed in 1920, the Hydrostone District provided much-needed shelter to North Enders left homeless after the Halifax Explosion. The area was designed by influential city planner Thomas Adams, and its preservation stands as a testament to his principles of city planning.
The Army Navy Store — A DIY heaven. Dozens of cast-off and retired military desks, chairs and storage pieces, plus old maps, flags and other ephemera.
Bellissimo — A broad range of well-curated homewares, including fabrics from Marimekko, Amy Butler wallpaper, Fortuny lighting, Dash & Albert rugs and Nest fragrances. A small selection of antiques is also offered.
Bogside Gallery — A venerable boutique offering art and craft from Atlantic Canadian artists. A gorgeous selection of pottery, stained glass, needle-felted paintings, inlaid wooden boxes and other unusual finds.
Geddes Furniture — Custom furnishings with elegant, masculine lines. Most wooden pieces are constructed with North Carolina black-cherry wood in a simplified Georgian style. Most of the pieces are built in Halifax, and the showroom is open late Friday evenings.
Hen House — Lots of graceful home furnishings are available here, but the owners have begun emphasizing their custom, handcrafted, built-in kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. The store also carries a number of rustic and restored antiques.
Hydrostone Gallery — Features the workings of emerging and mid-career artists from the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island). Recent exhibitions have featured the work of Michael Lewis, Lynn Rotin, Justine Kerr, Fionnuala Reynolds and W. Scott Sinclair.
Renovator’s Resource — Constantly changing stock of architectural salvage, from bathtubs, doors and mantles to smaller items like tin ceiling tiles and doorknobs.
Statement Design — Showcases modern furnishings from Canadian designers at the top of their game, including Daniel Perez and Speke Klein. Sleek lighting and accessories are also available.
Turnstile Pottery — Cooperative studio and showroom for emerging potters. Lots of rustic little gems to be found.
Eat + Drink
Chez Tess — A friendly neighborhood restaurant offering a menu of sweet and savory crepes. Try the Chicken Florentine or Smoked Salmon Crepe, and finish with a Crepe Suzette.
Coastal Cafe — For breakfast and lunch, the Coastal is the best deal in town. The menu changes with the seasons, but items are uniformly flavorful and substantial. Can be crowded, so time your visit accordingly.
Epicurious Morsels — Great for lunch or dinner, spectacular for brunch. Several menu items feature the chef’s house-smoked salmon, which is highly recommended. Try the King Crab & Mango Neapolitan, the Vegetarian Sandwich or (at brunch) the Stuffed French Toast. If you’re lucky, you can finish with a slice of Shaker Lemon Pie.
Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo — The crust is thin and smoky, the sauce is both sweet and savory. No, they don’t like substitutions. They won’t let you order more than three items on a pizza, either. But that leaves you plenty of leeway; there are unusual toppings to choose from. If you’re building your own pie, try a combination of ricotta, sauteed mushrooms and kalamata olives.
Tarek’s • 3045 Robie Street, (902) 454-8723 — Fresh, fast, noisy and inexpensive, Tarek’s serves a mix of Middle Eastern specialties and blue-collar delights. The pastas are all wonderful, as is the falafel wrap. If there’s a line, you’ll probably be offered a saucer of the day’s soup — usually split pea or lentil. A great choice for vegetarians.
Dartmouth is the City of Lakes to Halifax’s City of Trees. A number of walking paths wind their way from the boardwalk through leafy old neighborhoods and along a chain of scenic lakes, right in the city.
McNabs Island Tours — McNabs Island was once a military fort and later was home to an amusement park. Take a tour of it, plus two other islands in Halifax Harbour with Captain Mike Tilley. Please phone ahead: (902) 465-4563
LakeCity Wood Workers — Sturdy, solid wood furniture handcrafted by people just re-entering the workforce. Beds, cabinets, chairs and hutches in both English and country styles.
Red Spruce Rugs — Hooked rugs in lively patterns; “true artwork for the floor” according to the company manifesto. These rugs are only occasionally offered for sale in Nova Scotia, but they are open by appointment. Call (902) 482 0460.
Eat + Drink
Nectar Social House — A playful menu with fun choices for foodies, like Three Little Pigs (pork tenderloin, braised pork belly, pork ravioli) and Vegetarian Surf n’ Turf (eggplant steak, beluga lentil stew). If weather permits, ask to sit on the deck.
Pho Hoang Minh • 172 Wyse Road, (902) 465-6868 — Cheerful, efficient service, good pho and yummy pork dumplings.
Two If By Sea — Two years ago, Dartmouth’s most popular coffee shop was just a weekly stall at the farmers’ market. But demand for their almond croissants, pain au chocolate and other treats helped launch this brick-and-mortar venture, and now it’s hard to imagine downtown Dartmouth without it. Good coffees and teas are available, too.
Some Notable Haligonians/Nova Scotians:
Samuel Cunard (21 November 1787 – 28 April 1865) — Haligonian-born shipping magnate, memorialized at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Thomas Raddall (13 November 1903 – 1 April 1994) — Great Canadian historial novelist and three-tim Governor General’s Medal winner.
Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) — Eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator; inventor of the telephone.
Sidney Crosby (7 August 1987 – ) — Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, Stanley Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist.
Ellen Page (21 February 1987 – ) — Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominated actress, known for her roles in Juno and Inception.
Robb Wells (28 October 1971 – ) and John Paul Tremblay (1 January 1968) — aka The Trailer Park Boys, a highly successful Canadian comedy mockumentary television series.
Alex Colville (24 August 1920 – ) — Very highly-regarded Canadian painter (see Horse and Train, 1954, below)
Thom Fitzgerald (8 July 1968 – ) — Film director whose credits include The Event and 3 Needles.
Sarah MacLachlan (28 January 1968) — Singer-songwriter and Lilith Fair founder.