The Halifax Citadel National Historic site is one of the main tourist attractions in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The first fortress named Fort George was built here in 1749 and what we see now is the fourth fort to be on the hill that was completed in 1856. The fort was built to defend the city from enemies, however it was never once attacked.
Halifax’s Citadel Hill is now run by Parks Canada and is open to the public year round. From May to October the fortress is full of re-enactors from around the 1870’s and members of the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot from that time period that stand guard. Here is a guide to Halifax’s Citadel Hill to help you make the most of your visit.
A Guide to Halifax’s Citadel Hill
Take a Guided Tour of the Fort
Guided tours are only offered in the summer months from May to October. Prices on top of admission fees are $2.40 for a one hour basic tour or $4.90 for an enhanced two hour tour. The guided tours of Citadel Hill are available in both French and English. You are also able to do a self guided tour which is of course free / included in the entrance fee.
While visiting the fort you can see some of the best views of the city from the North and South viewing platforms. There are educational films about various parts of the forts history to watch, you can see what the barracks once looked like, enjoy a bagpiper performance from a 78th Highlander soldier, you can see the musketry gallery, tailer shop, gun battery and a lot more. There are also always many staff around and available to help answer any questions as you explore.
Watch the Firing of the Noon Gun
Everyday of the year at 12noon exactly (except for Christmas day) members of the 78th Highlanders fire the noon day gun. The noon gun was originally meant to signal the changing of the guard and is now continued in tradition remembering the forts history in the city. Before the canon is fired guides will describe what is taking place and how the canon is fired. They will also tell you where is the best and safest place to stand to watch the canon being fired.
Learn How to Fire a Rifle
Daily from May to October, at 2pm learn to fire a rifle from the late 1800’s. Dress up like a 78th Highlander, and learn to fire a real rifle like they used to use. The cost is $22 after entry fee and you get the chance to fire 3 blanks as if you were a real solider.
If firing a gun a few times isn’t enough then you can also become a soldier for the day. Get fitted in your own 78th Highlander kilt and jacket, march in the fortress, fire a rifle or play a drum. Participants also get paid a shilling and receive their enlistment papers from the British Military. Be sure to book at least 48 hours in advance. Prices are $200 for adults and $175 for kids.
Enjoy the Cafe and Gift Shop
The Coffee Bar at the Halifax Citadel is found in the original soldiers library. It is now a great spot in the centre of the fort to grab a coffee, snack or lunch. They offer several sandwiches, a daily soup, pastries and hot and cold beverages for purchase. Located just next to the cafe is the Halifax Citadel Regimental Shop. Here you will find not only postcards and souvenirs for Halifax but also shirts, ornaments and other items celebrating the citadel and the cities historical military heritage.
Have a Picnic on the Hill
Aside from exploring the fort, the hills surrounding the fort are part of the Halifax commons and are open to the public to enjoy. In the summer months many locals can be found sun bathing, picnicking, exercising, and even flying kites on the hill. The Garrison Grounds side of the hill is also sometimes used as a concert venue, as this natural amphitheater can hold up to 80,000 people. In the winter months the hills of the citadel are also a great spot to go sledding in the snow.
Take a Ghost Tour of Citadel Hill
From August to November on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there are three guided ghost tours offered nightly. Tours are $16 per person and operate weather permitting. For private groups ghost tours can be offered year round. Ghost tours are offered in english only however french can be provided for private group bookings.
Follow your guides lantern through the darkened fort, underground tunnels and dimly lit passage ways hearing about the haunted history of the Citadel and Halifax. As well as stories of the forts many prisoners that lived there hundreds of years before.
The Halifax Citadel is also often the starting point for popular Ghost Tours throughout Halifax. Be sure to look into booking one of them as well.
Spirits Tour with Compass Distillers
Back in the late 1800’s soldiers at the Citadel enjoyed getting their daily rations of alcohol. To this day alcohol has a significant history with the Halifax Citadel. Local Halifax distiller Compass Distillers in partnership with the Halifax Citadel Society has created three Citadel themed spirits. Daily Ration Rum, Noon Gun Gin, and Fort George Genever. Not only do the spirits celebrate the history of Citadel Hill and the soldiers in Halifax, but they are also aged in oak barrels inside the fort.
A couple different tours are now offered at the citadel by Compass Distillers where you get exclusive access to the fort. See where the spirits are aged, learn about the history of spirits at the Citadel, and enjoy samples of all three paired with cheese. Tours range from $15 for a sampling and up to $375 for a truly unique hands on experience with a professional distiller.
To learn more about the various Spirits tours offered click HERE.
How much does it cost to visit the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site?
The entrance fee for Citadel Hill varies depending on the season. Prices range between $8-$12 for adults, $6 – $10 for seniors and youth are free. Seasonal passes are also available as are Parks Canada Discovery Passes which give you entry to all Parks Canada sites.
Where Can You Park for visiting Halifax’s Citadel Hill?
There is parking available at the fort at the price of $3.15. There are also a few parking spots around the top of the hill. However you will find plenty of parking along the bottom of the hill on the surrounding streets.
To learn more visit their Parks Canada site HERE. Some activities are restricted or postponed due to the pandemic. Always confirm everything online or by phone before visiting.
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