Our March Break Mission: 24 Hours in Downtown Halifax
Our family was invited by ECM Media and the Downtown Halifax Business Commission to explore the city as part of a promotional campaign during March Break 2019. Admission to attractions and our hotel stay were complimentary; our opinions and experiences are our own. Pickle Planet accepts paid compensation for blog posts and social media sharing from time to time as a way to finance this site. We thought you’d enjoy reading about what we did to make the most of 24 hours in Halifax with three young kids, so we happily agreed to this promotion. Join us on our adventure, please!
Fights over who sits in the back. Coffee stop. Constant questioning of how much longer we need to drive. Pee break on the side of the highway. We pull into Halifax and it’s 1pm; every attraction we want to visit this weekend closes by 5pm! Luckily Halifax is one of the most compact city-centres I’ve ever visited. We pick two of our top choices that are just minutes apart and cross our fingers!
First stop: the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. I’m a Nova Scotian by birth and lived in Halifax for four years, but I’ve never been here; the museum officially opened in 2010, a decade after I left the city. I’m somewhat doubtful our three children (ages six, six, and seven) are going to appreciate this visit, but as a former history student and keen genealogist, it’s non-negotiable.
We walk inside and I know it’s going to be alright. This clerk at the front desk totally gets kids. She’s explaining that there are two sections to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 — one that’s more reflective and one where “everything that’s not nailed down is fair game.” She’s speaking our language.
The kids quickly discover the replica CN train car, luggage, and dress up costumes. Suddenly they are a trio of immigrants, following the commands they hear over the speakers, boarding the train West, buying provisions for their journey, and bemoaning their items that were confiscated by customs officials upon arrival at Pier 21.
We’re moving too fast to read many of the amazing stories shared through the exhibits, but it’s obvious these kids are learning snippets of history that I hope they carry with them for years to come.
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is wide and welcoming. There is room to move freely (and not only because it is wonderfully quiet when we visit) and staff join in with our children’s game, easing my worry that we’re being too loud. I sneak away to the other side for a moment; it is a moving, thoughtful tribute to challenges this country has faced in welcoming newcomers, from the earliest records to current situations.
Another welcome surprise: the museum has incredible views of Halifax Harbour!
I wish I had more time to fully appreciate the exhibits, but I know our children’s attention is not yet ready for in-depth reading and discussion. We’ll return in the future!
What You Need To Know:
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
1055 Marginal Road, Halifax
$30 for family of 5 (2 Adults/3 kids)
$12 for adults & $8 for youth (children 5 and under are free)
CAA members receive a discount
A hidden bonus of heading to Downtown Halifax for our March Break – lack of snow! I’ve forgotten just how much milder the winters are beside the harbour. We notice the difference driving here, admiring bare patches of ground outside Truro. We’ve packed our snow gear, but honestly, it feels downright tropical here compared to Moncton!
It’s a lovely, short walk up the street from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to the new (if you’re an old-school Haligonian like me) Discovery Centre. This space opened in 2017, after about 25 years of being on Barrington Street.
It’s a study in opposites. Where Pier 21 was quiet and a seemingly private play space, the Discovery Centre is loud and filled with families. There are displays on four floors, with all three of our children wanting to go in different directions.
We split up after visiting the Innovation Lab – a creative space where all of us could easily spend hours experimenting with coding, 3D printing, physics, and more. The topmost floor is geared to the youngest visitors, with fantastic play spaces inspired by agriculture, farming, health care, and more, all with a local flair. Here we find the most throwbacks to the old centre, with a bubble room, clock tower, and murals of Halifax. It’s also where you can find a coffee and a snack next to the LEGO tables!
The Flight Exhibit is incredible. We spend a lot of time in the Beechcraft Baron Flight Simulator, pretending to take off from Halifax Stanfield Airport – or crashing through the surrounding trees. Not sure this pair are future pilots! The Ocean Gallery is another favourite, with so many neat hands-on spaces.
The doors are closing; it’s been more than two hours of fun and we could’ve stayed for a few more. I understand why local families would purchase an annual membership!
What You Need To Know:
1215 Lower Water Street, Halifax
$40 for family of 4
$12 for adult & $10 for youth (children 2 and under are free)
Time to check in! The Prince George is a lovely hotel, nestled in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel. It has a posh vibe, with an inviting bar and a fantastic dining room, but remains very family-friendly. A difficult balance, for sure! No time for photos, today, though; we need food!
It’s the kids’ choice for where to eat: no surprise we’re sitting in the comfy booths of East Side Mario’s. The lure of the unicorn drinks and the hilarity factor that we can see the dining room from inside our hotel room are major contributing factors. Kaleigh, our waitress, is fantastic and the meal is just what we need after a busy day – quick, filling, and totally family-friendly! It’s so filling that only two of the family head to the Prince George pool before bed.
Most of the ride here I was quizzed: What does a carnivore eat? What’s an omnivore? Which dinosaurs were herbivores? Luckily the Museum of Natural History is again hosting a traveling dinosaur exhibit – plus it opens earlier than most Downtown Halifax attractions on Sundays – so we plan to start our day here after a cozy night at the Prince George.
Mother Nature, however, intervenes.
Snow is falling as we climb into bed. It’s little snow and it’s blowing around, quickly covering those bare sidewalks I’ve been admiring. We wake (ridiculously early – the kids are eyes wide open before 6am!) to a snow-covered city, and a steady stream of closures and cancellations. The Museum of Natural History, which was to open earliest and be our first stop, is delaying opening until noon.
Pivot. Papa Pickle heads to the Prince George’s fitness room for his morning run. The kids are bingeing on Treehouse. I pack us up and plan. Breakfast, a Halifax Transit ferry ride, a trip to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and a stop for snacks at Freak Lunchbox should get us to midday, checkout, and dinosaurs.
Being downtown on a Sunday morning after a storm is magical; well, except for the steady stream of complaining from children who are demanding dinosaurs or home, now! The cries escalate as we realize we’re five minutes early for the opening of Bluenose II Restaurant. Tempers are rising, but all is saved when the lovely waitress ushers us in to the window booth.
French toast. Fish cakes. Hot coffee. An hour later and we’re all feeling better. Still an hour until any of the attractions open, so we indulge in a round-trip ferry ride across the harbour. Halifax Transit fares paid (just over $10 for our family of five), we board the Viola Desmond and head to Dartmouth. What a way to see the city! Even with the cold and the wind, I love being on the water.
The lovely transit operator realizes we’re visiting and makes sure we get a fun map of downtown. A trip highlight for some!
Across the street from the ferry terminal the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has opened for the day. I steel myself; our children are not quiet, reflective types.
We are welcomed with a big smile and a kids’ tote bag to use; my anxiety lightens. Maud Lewis colouring pages and stuffies on loan make the art gallery more interesting to our children.
The artwork is stunning; again, we adults feel a bit rushed through what is an incredible collection, but we manage to spend a few moments admiring the works and hope some art appreciation trickles in through osmosis for our children.
What You Need To Know:
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
1723 Hollis Street, Halifax
$25 for family
$12 for adult & $5 for youth (children 5 and under are free)
A family favourite is conveniently located between our downtown adventures and returning to the hotel to check out: Freak Lunchbox. (We’ve been to the shops in Saint John, Charlottetown, and Halifax.) I’m not sure who loves it more – the kids or me! The colours, the choices, the oddities: it’s exhilarating! We stock up on treats for the drive home and walk back to the Prince George to check out.
We arrived at our final stop of this 24-hour adventure in Downtown Halifax, the Museum of Natural History. A traveling dinosaur exhibit and late Sunday opening has the place hopping.
The dinosaurs impress (note these are a traveling exhibit and not always at the museum, but they are worth the visit when they are – they move, make noise, and are super fun!), but we are spending most of our time in the mock research vessel and completing a scavenger hunt.
What You Need To Know:
Museum of Natural History
1747 Summer Street, Halifax
$12.50 to $17.95 for family (one adult or two)
$6.30 for adult & $4.05 for youth (children 5 and under are free)
Back on the road before dark. Four attractions, a ferry ride, two meals out, swimming, a hotel stay, and a little shopping, all in 24 hours. Not a bad way to ring in our March Break!
To find out what we’re up to for March Break back in Moncton, check out our MEGA LIST of more than 125 activities that are happening – updated for 2020!
For up-to-date information on events, weather, businesses, and more, visit the official Downtown Halifax website.