Snow. Bitter cold. Bleak landscapes. All things that spring to mind when imagining of winter in Canada.
For many, the Atlantic Provinces may not top the list of winter getaways. But, unsurprisingly, Canadians are a hearty bunch. While tourist crowds thin out for the season, locals keep plugging along, embracing the cold with a bevy of outdoor activities — skiing, skating, and of course hockey – and indoor activities – drinking, dining, and theater-going.
On a recent trip through Atlantic Canada, we stopped in Halifax to uncover the best Nova Scotia’s capital city has to offer. As luck would have it, winter is a great time for a trip to these parts. Restaurants, shops, and most of the city’s attractions remain open year-round and the festival season hardly ever ends. Here, our best bets for thirty six hours of wintry romance in Halifax.
4 p.m. – Witness the Golden Hour at Peggy’s Cove
First things first: no visit to Halifax and the surrounding area is complete without a visit to Peggy’s Cove. This tiny (population: 46), picture perfect fishing village just an hour’s drive outside the city is one of the busiest, most photographed tourist attractions in Nova Scotia, if not all of Canada. And with good reason: it’s staggeringly beautiful. Be sure to visit during the golden hour to capture Peggy’s Point Lighthouse at sunset. I guarantee it’ll be the highlight photo of your entire trip.
6 p.m. – Ice Skate ‘The Oval’ at Halifax Commons
Head downtown where Canada’s oldest urban park, Halifax Commons, has been temporarily converted into a large oval track to host speed skating events in the Canadian Masters Championships and Canada Winter Games. In the interim, locals and tourists are welcome to ice skate for free (even the skate rentals are free!) at the park where up to 5,000 people flock daily. (Note: Although it was originally scheduled for removal in March of 2011, Haligonians and even the mayor of Halifax have put up quite a fight. It looks like they’re winning the battle so the rink may be up for some time to come.)
9 p.m. – Check-in at Inn on the Lake
Conveniently located just outside the city in Fall River sits Inn on the Lake (part of Choice Hotels’ Ascend Collection of boutique accommodations), a hotel that promises “modern country charm at the edge of Halifax”. Since they were kind enough to host us for our stay, we were happy to take a look.
Given its proximity to several main roads around the city, the hotel is surprisingly quaint. It sits on four beautiful acres of scenic lakefront parklands atop a small hill conveying a sense of quiet, luxurious charm. Having just been dusted with a fresh coat of snow, we found the entire property perfectly picturesque in winter.
The hotel offers 39 guestrooms in various sizes and layouts – all with an intimate feel. Couples looking for a romantic getaway will love the Inn’s suites with oversized bathrooms, refrigerators, 2-person whirlpool tubs, electric fireplaces, and (in the two-story executive suites) a large private deck. It’s perfect for bundling up with a hot chocolate or night cap and relaxing under the stars.
Other in-room amenities are typical of a four-star boutique hotel: weekday morning newspapers, in-room coffee, wireless Internet, access to recreational facilities, cable television, hairdryer, alarm clock with mp3 hookup and climate control.
The hotel also offers several onsite dining options, including the intimate, upscale Encore dining room with gourmet seasonal Nova Scotia favorites and Oliver’s Gastropub – a more relaxed pub atmosphere with traditional fare and a full bar.
Overall we found Inn on the Lake perfect for a romantic getaway. The decor and rooms are intimate and charming with a warm B&B feel. Plus, the location is close enough to the city to enjoy everything that downtown Halifax has to offer, yet far enough removed to feel like we could enjoy a quiet, romantic weekend in the countryside.
Yet another reason to love the off-season is that winter rates start at just $119 per night.
The Following Day …
Breakfast at Annie’s Place Cafe
Blink and you’ll miss it. Well, save for this massive sign on the outside, it looks like just another house:
Annie’s Place Cafe (1592b Queen Street, Halifax / no website) is painfully charming and dining here feels like stopping at Mom’s house for a quick bite before heading out for the day. And well it should, because with just six tables it’s essentially a tiny diner neatly tucked in to the first floor of a multi-level home.
The simple menu features a handful of inexpensive items, all made from scratch. Stop in for all-day breakfast, homemade lunches, frozen dinners, baked goods, and organic fair trade coffee.
When the guests thinned out, Annie herself was more than happy to pull up a chair next to us and chat about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness for what seemed like hours. An absolute must-dine while in Halifax!
11 a.m. – Titanic Gravesite at Fairview Lawn Cemetery
It’s quiet, beautiful and a fascinating glimpse into one of the greatest maritime disasters in modern history. Fairview Lawn Cemetery (3720 Windsor, Halifax) saw the majority of Titanic’s victim buried – 121 in total with 44 still unidentified.
Before your visit, I highly recommend learning a bit about the history as it’s the best way to fully appreciate this solemn site. Briefly:
Shortly after the Titanic sank the White Star Line chartered four Canadian vessels; two Halifax-based cableships, the MacKay-Bennett and the Minia, a Canadian government vessel Montmagny and a St. John’s-based Bowring vessel, Algerine. There were 328 bodies recovered, with 209 being returned to Halifax; the badly damaged, or deteriorated bodies were buried at sea. Of the 119 buried at sea, about 60 were unidentified at the time and 49 remain unidentified.
Once victims were returned to Halifax, a temporary morgue was set up in the Mayflower Curling Rink near the northwest corner of Agricola and McCully Streets. From there, identified bodies were shipped out to families’ or interred in Halifax according to families’ wishes. The Halifax Deputy Registrar of Deaths, John Henry Barnstead, supervised the handling of victims, with all personal effects kept in small canvas bags, numbered to match the body number assigned at sea. Careful records of the artifacts were kept and can be inspected today at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. J. H. Barnstead’s son, Arthur S., was to be appointed head of the Mortuary Committee five-and-a-half years later after the devastating Explosion in Halifax Harbour when Halifax and Dartmouth had 10 times as many victims to deal with.
Excerpt from text prepared by Alan Ruffman, 1996 (via)
2 p.m. – Halifax Pub Crawl
“A romantic pub crawl? Really?“. Like traveling anywhere in the world, wandering the wintry, snow-covered streets of Halifax on foot is the best way to see the city. And punctuating our aimless meandering with the occasional pub pop-in to share a drink and quietly reflect on the day’s events is, well, perfectly romantic.
Our first stop found us at Pogue Fado (1581 Barrington Street, Halifax). This no-frills, hole-in-the-wall Irish pub is relaxed with a low-key atmosphere and plenty of hobbled-together rustic charm to make you believe you’re in the Emerald Isle. The bar staff was incredibly friendly, offering to chat us up from the moment we sat down to offer a local’s travel advice on where and what to see while in Halifax. It goes without saying that they’ve a fantastic beer selection with plenty of local Canadian and European drafts to boot.
Just a two minute walk away is Maxwell’s Plum (1600 Grafton Street, Halifax) – an English-style pub that’s perfectly, unabashedly rough around the edges. With 60 beers on tap, suffice to say they take their beer seriously. And so do their patrons who are welcome to order their beer by the “brewtender” – large 80-ounce buckets of beer complete with a spigot. Sure they’re meant to be shared with the table, but …
For the final act of our Halifax pub crawl, we pop in to Durty Nelly’s (Sackville St at Argyle St, Halifax). Billed as “an authentic Irish pub”, it is just that – the decor and atmosphere are almost-too-perfect replicas of their counterparts from across the pond. They’ve a solid beer selection with all of the requisite local and import drafts you’d expect. While it’s all a tad too polished for my liking, it’s worth a stop on any pub crawl through the city.
7 p.m. – Romantic Dinner at Cafe Chianti
Rounding out our romantic dining in Halifax, we stopped at Cafe Chianti (1241 Barrington Street, Halifax). For more than 20 years, this restaurant has been serving a blend of Northern Italian and Eastern European flavors. The service was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, while the atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. It’s perfect for a quiet date night out or grabbing a drink after work at the bar.
The wine and food menus are extensive enough to bring even the most decisive diner to indecision. My lady opted for the penne special with rose sauce, jumbo shrimp, sausage, spinach and peppers which we both agreed was excellent. I sampled the local, Nova Scotia special – blackened Atlantic salmon with maple syrup and jumbo shrimp. It proved an interesting and unexpected pairing that works surprisingly well.