Shortly after returning from my trip to British Columbia in July (you can see photos from that trip here), my friend A mentioned that she had been invited to go to Halifax for a few days in September for a work event. Having just returned from the west coast with an itch to see more of Canada (I tend to gravitate to the US and Europe when vacation planning), I asked A if I could join her on her trip. Ok, so maybe I shouted “I’m coming with you!” into her mouth and booked my flight the next day. Either way, she seemed more excited than terrified so I figured it was all good.
We arrived in Halifax on a sunny Friday afternoon. We flew Porter and they do not skimp on the freeze booze, so I arrived in Haifax in a particularly fun mood!
Flight tip: I’m not sure if it’s the same for all of their flights but if you’re flying Toronto-Halifax on Porter I strongly recommend that you endeavour to fit all of your luggage into a carry-on sized bag or you will pay $25 to check a bag. Don’t forget to keep all of your liquids to under 100 mL (not 150 which is standard on most flights, including through Air Canada). I don’t think I’ve ever packed more efficiently for a trip in my life – frankly, I’ve packed more for a cottage weekend when all I really needed was a bikini and a pair of shorts!
After settling into our hotel we popped into the lobby bar for a cocktail before venturing out to The Bicycle Thief for dinner. I’m mildly obsessed with food-related research when I travel, and I had made a dinner reservation a few weeks before our trip. When our bartender found out where we were headed, he assured us I’d made a good choice as it was his favourite restaurant in the city and the place where he was taking his mom (who happened to be seated next to us at the bar) for her birthday the following week. He even drew us a map to walk there!
Before leaving for our trip I had mentioned on Facebook that A and I were heading to Halifax, and I lost count of the number of people who commented or messaged me to say that they loved Halifax and everyone they had met on their visit was beyond friendly and helpful; in fact, a friend of my cousin’s even told me that I would likely be taken aback by the friendliness, and that on her first trip she had assumed people were either messing with her or, like, trying to lure her in with kindness to eventually murder her. A few months earlier I had met two east coasters through A and upon meeting them I had pulled her aside all “what’s THEIR deal!?” She laughed and explained that they were legitimately that nice. Don’t get me wrong: Toronto is a friendly place and I certainly do not spend my days being bombarded by douchenozzles and dickbags, but these folks were above and beyond what I’d ever experienced from people whom I had just met. And in Halifax, the helpful bartender with his map was just the beginning!
We made our way to The Bicycle Thief (stopping to take a few photos on the boardwalk) and basically spent the next two hours eating everything and just nodding at each other and saying “oh my god” between bites. After the appetizer, A and I were declaring the meal one of the top five of our lives. By the mains, it was the best meal of our lives. I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant and their staff. They were also super accommodating to some food allergies and sensitivities of A’s. Not in an eye-rolling “yeah, we get it” way but in a ‘we actually totally care about what you’re telling us and we can make anything the way you want it’ way. If you’re ever in Halifax, make sure to eat here. I strongly recommend making a reservation about a week or two in advance.
Our east coast hospitality moments at dinner included a man (who had already walked out the front door of the restaurant and was a good two steps on the sidewalk) who turned around and WALKED BACK IN to the restaurant in order to hold the door open for me with a “sorry dear.” Upon leaving the restaurant we mentioned to the hostess that we were heading to a particular bar and the google map directions didn’t make total sense to me (I’m literally THE WORST with directions), so she walked us out the front door, presumably to point the way, but instead walked us out the parking lot and onto the main street to give us directions. A and I were joking that the hostess was about to hand us her cars keys for the weekend and invite us to stay at her place!
The next morning A and I made our way to the city’s north end for brunch at a place I’d found via yelp called The Coastal Café. It turned out to be hands down the best brunch I’ve ever had. I spent the rest of the day patting myself on the back. For realises. A and I ordered the McCoastal, hers with the sausage and tofu instead of eggs while I got mine with bacon. Sweet Fancy Moses these were good. Delicious coffee too. Confession: we loved it so much we went back for brunch on Sunday and the woman at the counter remembered A’s preference for tofu. As a note, when you walk in you need to line up to order your food, and then you are seated at the first available table by the super friendly and efficient staff. The place was busy but we only waited about 5 minutes to be seated, and brought our coffees outside to wait while enjoying the beautiful weather.
After brunch, A was off to attend some work events while I had booked myself into a whale watching boat cruise, I booked my ticket about two weeks in advance. I figured I’d have a whole afternoon to explore Halifax on my own and I love being out on the water so this seemed like the perfect thing to do! I was worried I was running late to catch my boat, so I hopped in a cab and the driver informed me we were only about a 5 minute drive so he drove me for free! I gave him a big tip and made my way on board. I’ll save you the suspense: no, I did not see any whales. But it was a lovely day to be out on the water and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
After the boat cruise I still had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with A, and I had noticed when walking to dinner the night before that the Alexander Keith`s brewery was nearby so I popped in for a tour, which run on the half hour. I had a blast! I thought I would feel awkward taking a tour with a bunch of strangers but everyone was super nice and chatty and the tour guides are really into it – period costumes, accents, dancing, the whole bit. Oh and you get beer. So, this is pretty much my favourite touristy thing in Halifax. Wandering around Halifax on a weekend I kept wondering where all the people were. Then I passed a bar bursting at the seams with Dalhousie University students and it all became crystal clear. In that respect (as well as the architecture), Halifax reminded me a lot of Boston.
Later that evening I met up with A at The Marquee Club where we watched some amazing bands including the incredible Ben Caplan and The Casual Smokers, Jenn Grant, and Gord Downie & The Sadies. I also tried donair for the first time and fell madly in love. I could bathe in the sauce.
On Sunday after brunch we wandered around the North End, popping into some amazing vintage shops on and around Agricola Street and admiring the pretty homes. At one point we noticed we were whispering and realized that with the exception of a few dudes in a record shop we had not actually seen many people out and about. It was an odd feeling, especially since we live in Toronto where you would be hard pressed to even find an empty park bench to sit on and read for a few minutes. I am so used to people people people EVERYWHERE. I vowed to spend more time visiting places like Halifax, where the pace is slower and everything is just quieter.
We both absolutely adored Halifax and it made me want to explore more of the beautiful east coast of Canada. Oh and I am still having borderline erotic dreams about my dinner at The Bicycle Thief (a lobster ravioli, if you were curious).