Halifax’s well-planned network of bike-friendly routes and scenic coastal trails, make it a haven for cyclists of all levels. Whether you’re an avid cyclist or just looking for a unique way to experience the city, biking in Halifax, Nova Scotia promises to be an adventure filled with fantastic views and cultural discoveries. As a bonus, cycling is a sustainable way to explore a city and you’ll feel great moving your body. The intensity is up to you! (Thankfully, e-bikes make cycling way more approachable.)
Here’s how to gear up on a two-wheeled journey through this captivating maritime city.
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Halifax Bike Shop
First up, you’ll need a bike. If you’re a tourist like me, probably the most convenient Halifax bike shop is I Heart Bikes. Situated directly on the Waterfront in the Saltyard, near Waterfront Warehouse restaurant, you can’t miss the lively green shipping container it operates out of. This is the spot to score bike and equipment rentals. (Be sure to book ahead to reserve bikes on busy weekends.)
They offer city, road, kid, hybrid and eBikes. Probably I’ve missed a few there. Bottom line: whatever bike you want, they likely have it. But what made my ride stand out was that while it was solo, it was also guided.
Forget about having to figure out various cycling routes, frequently consulting maps and trying to determine if it’s possible to cross the Macdonald Bridge on your bike. There’s an app that does it all for you. The Routzz app has a variety of interactive bike maps that showcase the best of the city – from Downtown Halifax to Dartmouth to the North End of Halifax and everywhere in between.
Best is, you don’t have to stick to one route. I didn’t. I started with the Downtown Halifax route which had me inhaling salty sea breezes along the Waterfront before veering off towards Point Pleasant Park.
Biking in Halifax
At this time of year, I expected biking in Halifax to be a bit of a scene. Thanks to the vibrant fall colours of its curvy landscape, I was anticipating trails packed with gear heads of all ages and abilities. Nope. I rode on a sunny Sunday and spotted very few other cyclists.
With my rental from I Heart Bikes, I started off on the Halifax Waterfront. If this is your only chance to get acquainted with this waterfront, don’t rush it. There always seems to be some kind of orientation going on, and there’s plenty of historic plaques and info signs to give you a sense of place. Art lovers will also be delighted with Halifax’s Waterfront.
One of the cheekiest displays of public art you’ll ever find is right on the Waterfront. Head south from I Heart Bikes and you’ll come across: Fountain and Got Drunk, Fell Down AKA the Drunken Lampposts. In actuality, this sculpture garden is entitled: The Way Things Are and is a cheeky nod to the nightlife in Halifax.
From the Waterfront, it’s an easy pedal to Point Pleasant Park past railyards and Pier 21, once the gateway into Canada for one million immigrants between 1928 and 1971.
Point Pleasant Park is a 75-hectare wooded green space riddled with just under 40km of interlacing trails. But it’s not just any old green space. Skirt the outside of the park’s edges and you’ll ride parallel to the ocean. That’s because the park is situated on the southern tip of the Halifax peninsula.
Biking in Halifax, especially at this park, is quite historic, too. In several spots are preserved ruins of early fortifications. According to Tourism Nova, “Halifax rents the site from the British Government for 1 shilling (about 10 cents) a year, with a 999-year lease.” Who knew?
While each of the Routzz app maps is different, it’s not uncommon for the bike maps to have a few of the same points of interest. Because of this it’s easy to exit out of one map and hop into another.
After circumnavigating the park, I exited the Downtown Halifax route and jumped into the Architectural & Neighbourhood tour. I really wanted to swing through Dalhousie University and get an up close and personal look at its gorgeous stone and brick campus.
If I were just doing this bike ride on my own (with no app support), I would’ve whizzed by and noted the university looked, “nice.” But thanks to the architecture route, I was alerted to points of interest. I also had a listing of the types of architecture I was to look out for (Georgian, Victorian, Brutalist, Italianate and Modern).
And because I had an e-Bike, I had the option of getting a little extra juice. Even though I didn’t think I’d use it, the oomph came in handy on steep patches (who knew downtown Halifax was so hilly?) like the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
Though I’d been through the Citadel before, I was glad I biked up it again as it affords fantastic views of the city from all directions.
Thanks to the staff at I Heart Bikes, I was recommended to jump onto my final map (Ferry Ride & Urban Greenway), as I wanted to take the Ferry across to Dartmouth. Something I never would’ve done on my own initiative is bike across the Macdonald Bridge. While I admire the clean lines of large suspension bridges, I’ll admit I get scared driving across them.
But the staffer at I Heart Bikes assured me it was totally worth it, and it was. Thankfully, there was a separate lane for bikes, protected by a guardrail fence. As I hoped, it was an exhilarating sprint across.
Spread out below me were docked destroyers and other navy ships looking like toys from a play set. To my left was the MacKay Bridge and Bedford Basin. On the right (besides the lanes of traffic) was Halifax Harbour with Georges Island sitting smack dab in the middle of it.
Cycling in Dartmouth
And just like that, I was in Dartmouth. There’s a lot to explore in this community situated on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour. Pretty quickly after arriving in Dartmouth my phone died, and you know who forgot to bring their charger.
Luckily, I was given a Pocket Bike Map and it got me everywhere I’d planned with the app to go (albeit without the interesting factoids and verbal direction cues).
I wanted to hit a string of lakes, so I began by heading through Dartmouth Commons. I loved this emerald green space and definitely intend to circle back and meander through it at a slower pace. From there, it was over to Sullivan’s Pond where remote control mini sailboats were racing along a course. Minutes later, I hitLake Banook, the first natural lake in the Shubenacadie Canal Waterway,and poked around the greenbelt that anchored its shores.
Looking back, I wish I had crossed the highway (there’s a safe underground passageway) to get to Shubie Park, Lake Micmac and Lake Charles, but I was concerned about time. I still wanted to hit the Dartmouth Waterfront Trail – the route I first picked when I decided to rent a bike.
Back to Downtown Dartmouth I went past charming wooden homes and plenty of kayaks out on the lakes. With a tailwind behind me, I arrived back downtown in no time at all.
Dartmouth Harbourwalk Trail
You can pick up the Dartmouth Harbourwalk Trail at several spots, but I wanted to make sure I got it all in, so I started at the downtown’s Alderney Ferry Terminal.
The trail is 3km long and stretches between the two Dartmouth Ferry Terminals (Alderney and Woodside). On weekends, the Woodside Terminal is closed. The trail isn’t a loop, so if you’re cycling then, you’ll need to double back if you want to take the ferry to Halifax. Because the trail is mostly flat, it’s no trouble to double back, especially since the views of Halifax Waterfront are so pretty.
The trail connects to the TransCanada Trail and Halifax’s Park system, so you have several options for breaks and diversions.
Halifax to Dartmouth Ferry
Back at the downtown Ferry Terminal (Alderney), I was pleased to discover that bikes are allowed on the ferry at no extra charge. Inside the ferry are bike racks so you can leave your bike if you’d like to head upstairs for the outdoor viewing platform as you make your way into Halifax.
The entire excursion took a little over 4 hours. Keep in mind, I stopped a lot, hopping on and off trails, shooting video, using public restrooms and enjoying a picnic along a park bench. (Thanks to the pannier set I rented from I Heart Bikes, I was able to stash my rain gear, a tripod and a massive lunch.)
Biking in Halifax was way more diverse than I expected. My ride took me along Halifax’s Waterfront to Point Pleasant Park, over to Dalhousie, past Halifax Public Gardens, up to the Citadel, over the Macdonald Bridge, into Dartmouth, around its lakes and along the Dartmouth Waterfront Trail and back via the ferry.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Only next time, I’ll bring a phone charger.
Tips for cycling in Halifax
- Download the Routzz app before you set off.
- Make sure you bring a: water bottle, phone charger, shower cap.
- *A note on the shower cap: You wear it over your bike helmet to keep your hair dry if it’s raining. When you go inside, put the cap on your bike seat to keep it dry.
- The weather can change quickly, so bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a rain jacket.
- Ferries are cash only. Bring change.
- Ferries between Dartmouth and Halifax depart every 15 minutes and cost $2.50 (cash only/ one way).
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