It was Halifax's natural harbour—the second largest in the world after Sydney, Australia's—that first drew the British here in 1749, and today most major sites are conveniently located either along it or on the Citadel-crowned hill overlooking it. That's good news for visitors because this city actually covers quite a bit of ground.
Since amalgamating with Dartmouth (directly across the harbour) and several suburbs in 1996, Halifax has been absorbed into the Halifax Regional Municipality, and the HRM, as it is known, has 400,000 residents. That may not sound like a lot by U.S. standards, but it makes Nova Scotia's capital the most significant Canadian urban centre east of Montréal. Haligonians will tell you that it's also the most interesting—and they have a point, at least as far as Halifax proper is concerned.
The old city manages to feel both hip and historic. Previous generations had the foresight to preserve much of it, culturally as well as architecturally, yet students from five local universities keep it from being stuffy. In addition to the energetic arts-and-entertainment scene the students help create, visitors also benefit from enviable dining, shopping, and museum-hopping options.
There's easy access to the water, too, and despite being the focal point of a busy commercial port, Halifax Harbour doubles as a playground. It's a place where container ships, commuter ferries, cruise ships, and tour boats compete for space, and where workaday tugs and fishing vessels tie up beside glitzy yachts. Like Halifax as a whole, the harbour represents a blend of the traditional and the contemporary.