5 tips for enjoying your visit to downtown Halifax

I think the South End of Halifax might always feel like home to me.

Even though I technically only lived there for two or three years, I spent many more at Saint Mary’s University, nestled at the very end of the peninsula, and another four working in an office tower on Brunswick Street.

I bought my wedding ring at FireWorks Gallery, had my second date with my husband at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia‘s Egyptian exhibit in 2006, learned the fine art of parallel parking on the crowded streets surrounding the university, and probably ate in almost every restaurant within a 10-block radius of Scotia Square during the four years I worked in Duke Tower.

So returning to downtown Halifax a few weeks ago was like wrapping myself in a warm cozy blanket. One with lots of panhandlers and challenging parking, sure, but that’s all part of it’s charm.

Headed to Halifax? Great choice! Here’s your guaranteed guide for making the best of your downtown Halifax experience:

1. Set the scene

How do you get ramped up for an afternoon in Downtown Halifax?

I suspect the thousands of university students in town might have other ideas, but I think the best way is to pick up a copy of The Coast. The Coast is all my favourite parts of Halifax: decidedly left-wing, unabashedly inclusive, excessively opinionated, and a lot of fun.

The Coast - best newspaper in Halifax2. Be a pedestrian

Downtown Halifax is delightfully walkable.

You’ll be strolling with lots of other people, locals and tourists, which is part of the reason Halifax has always felt so vibrant to me. With (if my memory serves) no fewer than five bastions of higher learning in the city, it has a younger feel than much of the province as well as an international flair that you wouldn’t expect from a smallish city.

Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street are the main drags, and the side streets around them are filled with shops, restaurants and coffee shops.

So park the car and do what we did: wander.

The stroll along Spring Garden and Barrington or Argyle Street is an easy one, and you’re close to the waterfront as well. If you’re there in the summer, the Halifax Public Gardens are a must-do as well as a great place to sip a coffee and people-watch.

3. Shop local

There are chain stores in the downtown area, of course, but there are also a lot of locally-owned options. Take the opportunity for a quintessential Halifax experience and walk into the shops you’ve never heard of.

Jennifer's of Nova ScotaJennifer’s of Nova Scotia on Spring Garden road is an excellent place to get high-quality locally-made goods. It’s been around as long as I can remember, and when we popped in recently we found everything from hand-knit wool sweaters to Nova Scotia tartan dresses for toddlers (you have NO IDEA how hard it was for me to avoid buying one for my already over-clothed little girl), to stained glass art.

Jennifer's of Nova ScotiaOn our recent visit, we wandered down past Pizza Corner and popped into Ocean Optometry, an independent optometric practice, because my husband’s an optician and I’ve developed a taste for quality fashionable glasses (honestly, you get what you pay for).

Ocean Optometry

Ocean Optometry. And yes, I bought a pair of frames. They’re awesome.

Further down on Argyle Street is another favourite, Biscuit General Store. They’ve got an eclectic mix of clothing, gifts, books, and other items that I don’t see elsewhere.

These are just a few options, though. Take the time to wander and find your favourites. You’ll get fresh air, beautiful architecture, people watching and the thrill of consumerism, all at once!

4. Explore beyond Spring Garden & Barrington

Rice at the Asian grocery store

Ca-Hoa Grocery, deep in the South End of Halifax, pretty much has your rice needs covered. We also spent a lot of money at Tian Phat in Clayton Park when we lived there.

If you want to stray further afield in the South End, you might want to take your car (depending on how much walking you’re used to doing and how many local crafts, designer clothes, and cheesy magnets you’ve bought).

We stopped at Ca-Hoa Grocery because we were on the hunt for a particular brand of plum sauce we couldn’t find in Fredericton, but a more typical tourist stop might be Point Pleasant Park, a 75-hectare park at the tip of the peninsula. It’s beloved by Halifax residents for the combination of oceanfront and forest and the nature getaway it provides to city-dwellers.

Quinpool Street, near the Halifax Commons, is another area worth exploring.

I’ve always loved Oxford Street and Young Avenue for their architecture, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the streets around Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University.

And Point Pleasant Park is a great spot to have a picnic lunch by the ocean or go for a stroll.

5. Come back

Because you’re not even going to scratch the surface in a day.

Spending more than a day in Nova Scotia?


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