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Just Back From: San Juan, Puerto Rico

By Maya Stanton
March 14, 2019
Puerto Rico Old San Juan Street
With a vibrant old town, delicious dining, and bountiful beaches, the Puerto Rican capital makes for a welcome escape.

I got the word in early fall: One of my best friends, the one I’ve known since kindergarten, would be getting married in December—in Puerto Rico. In winter. Faster than you can say “bikinis and beaches,” I checked that “yes, will attend” box and started planning what would turn out to be a near-heavenly couple of days in San Juan and its surrounds. Nuptials aside, here’s how I did it.

Day 1: Acclimation and Exploration

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My flight landed a little after noon, and as we made our way from the airport to Old San Juan, we pulled over at Ocean Park for a quick sun-and-sand fix. A local go-to, especially when compared to Condado, a posh beach to the west that sees its fair share of well-heeled traffic, Ocean Park’s sparkling waves and soft sandy shores warmed me to my cold Brooklyn core.

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Dose of vitamin D acquired, it was on to the historic old town. We wandered the cobblestone streets, peeking into shop windows and admiring the colorful colonial-style buildings, eventually arriving at Castillo San Felipe del Morro (nps.gov/saju) on the northwestern tip of the city. One of several forts and a defense wall that make up the San Juan National Historic Site, El Morro was built by the Spanish between 1539 and 1790 to protect their colonial territory, and it later served as a U.S. military base during both World Wars. (Have an annual National Parks pass? Bring it along for free entry.) From its perch overlooking the ocean, the fortification is also a great place to catch the sunset. Take in the show from the ramparts, or find a spot on the grassy esplanade out front, let the kids run around and wear themselves out, and watch the kite-flyers in action as the sun dips into the sea.

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By day, Old San Juan is swarming with people—cruise-ship passengers, tourists, and locals alike—but by the time we ventured out for dinner, it’d emptied out a bit. Heading south toward the docks, we stumbled upon Calle Fortaleza, a pedestrian street leading toward the governor's mansion, where rows of colorful umbrellas hang overhead; an hour or two earlier, the installation had been packed, and now we practically had it to ourselves.

Of course, those crowds had to go somewhere, and if the hour wait time was any indication, they were all at Verde Mesa (facebook.com/verdemesa), a Mediterranean-Caribbean restaurant on Calle de Tetuan, on the quarter’s southern edge. With time to kill, we ducked around the corner to Barrachina (barrachina.com), a restaurant claiming to be the birthplace of the piña colada, and ordered a round of the cheap, frosty beverages—a filling yet satisfying aperitif. Then we splurged on dinner: richly spiced Moroccan lamb stew, charred octopus, and zingy chayote salad. We were here to celebrate, after all.

For a nightcap, it was off to La Factoría (colectivoicaro.com), a boisterous, dimly lit warren recently named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars. With a DJ spinning in the back room and a young, enthusiastic crowd dancing away, the vibe belied the serious, complex cocktails; the Loma de Tamarindo, in particular, was such a compelling smoky-spicy-tart blend of mezcal, tamarind, chocolate, and habanero that it called for seconds.

Day 2: Dining and Discovery

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The next morning, we were up and out early, determined to cram as much as possible into the the day. Fueled by strong coffee and Mallorca sandwiches, sweet rolls loaded with breakfast fixings, pressed and dusted with powdered sugar, from La Bombonera (facebook.com/labombonerasanjuan), a historic bakery and café, we ambled northeast through the narrow streets and tree-lined plazas toward Castillo San Cristóbal, part of the city’s fortification system, built between 1634 and 1783 to guard El Morro and the rest of San Juan against land attacks from rival nations like England and Holland. We explored the underground tunnels on the fort’s lower level (be sure to check out the dungeon with a wall covered with roughly sketched ships, thought to be the work of a captain awaiting execution for mutiny), before climbing up to the third level’s observation area for unimpeded 360-degree views of the city.

Back down on earth, we poked around in the shops, ogling the art at Galeria Botello (botello.com), sampling the hot sauces at Spicy Caribbee (spicycaribbee.com), admiring the larimar-laden jewelry in various windows, and finally succumbing to a necklace purchase at MUNS (munsjewelry.com).

For lunch, we took an Uber to Santurce, an artsy neighborhood east of Old San Juan. We were bound for Jose Enrique, a modest place, though its screaming neon-green facade might suggest otherwise. The menu features traditional fare, the kind of dishes you’d find in grandma’s kitchen, kicked up a notch or two with pristine ingredients and professional plating. The place fills up at dinner time, with people queuing up outside, but on this particular afternoon, the wood-beamed, tile-floored dining room was mostly empty, so we were free to requisition the neighboring table for our overflow. It was all stellar, from the simple salad of local arugula to the crab tostones to the minutas (tiny fish, fins and all) to the fried lobster and plantains.

Rolling out of the restaurant after such a feast, some walking was in order. We strolled past the contemporary-art museum (mac-pr.org), the Smithsonian-affiliated Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (mapr.org), and Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré (cba.gobierno.pr), a performing-arts venue, all located within a few-block radius, and through the farmers market at La Placita, Santurce's historic plaza. A night-time hot spot for street party–style drinking and dancing, that afternoon the outdoor tables were sparsely populated, with a handful of locals sipping rum and cokes and exchanging small talk with tourists as salsa music played quietly in the background.

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Before we knew it, evening had snuck up on us. From the next block over, the cocktail list at sceney Santaella (santaellapr.com) was calling our name; we opted for the two-bite empanadillas stuffed with chorizo and cheese, and refreshingly cold, tongue-tingling palomas to wash them down. (The restaurant has since instituted a weekday happy hour with discounted drinks and snacks at the bar—an event that would’ve been most welcome during our time in town.) And with that, we called it a night.

Day 3: Rainforest and Relaxation

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For my last morning on the island, I’d booked an hour-long horseback ride ($39) at Carabalí Rainforest Adventure Park (carabalirainforestpark.com), 45 minutes from San Juan, on the outskirts of El Yunque National Forest. Normally, the park can arrange transportation to and from some of the hotels in town, but since I was scheduled for an 8:30 a.m. weekday ride and their vans require a minimum of four people to operate, I was on my own. The Uber cost as much as the horseback ride itself, but the experience was worth it: My guide and I were the only ones out and about, and he pointed out local plants and animals as we rolled down the trail, chatting about the area’s history and stopping for a well-positioned photo op along the way.

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There was one thing left on my to-do list: the beachside kioskos at Piñones, on the island’s northeastern shore, so half an hour after I dismounted, I was joining the line at Kiosko El Baricua (facebook.com/kioskoelboricua) for made-to-order treats and blessedly cold beers. The menu offers eight categories of local snacks, and in the name of science, I ordered something from almost every one, from skewered-meat pinchos to deep-fried turnover-style Puerto Rican tacos, though the crab pastelillos (turnovers), salt-cod and taro-root alcapurrias (fritters), and beef-stuffed plantains (piononos) were the best of the bunch. I crossed the street with my greasy paper bag and condensation-slicked Corona, spread out my towel, and sunk my toes into the sand. I'd be back in New York in a few hours, but at the moment, it felt light years away.

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Inspiration

Save Big in Europe's "Second Cities"

Europe's most famous metropolises tend to also be its largest: London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin spring to mind, of course. But dig just a little deeper into European history and culture and you can discover another world. Europe's "second cities," those that, you guessed it, come in second place for population size, often pack a second-to-none punch when it comes to great food, art, cultural sites, and affordable lodging. Here, six of our favorite second cities, where you can have a great European vacation without busting your budget. 1. BIRMINGHAM, U.K. A foodie destination in England's heartland Anybody visiting a city from which both J.R.R. Tolkien and Ozzy Osbourne sprang should be prepared for a dose of cognitive dissonance, and Birmingham (or "Brum," as it's affectionately known in the U.K.) delivers, with canals (yup, they surprised us, too), more contemporary architecture than you might expect from a sixth-century city, and a foodie scene that has earned more Michelin stars than any U.K. city other than London. WHY BIRMINGHAM IS SECOND TO NONE. In a word, food. But we don't mean nearby Cadbury World (though we have a fondness for any tour that hands out free chocolate!) or that justifiably popular Birmingham fixture, the Custard Factory. These days, this town is more about innovative cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. The Balti style of cooking Kashmiri curries—in small, artisanal batches rather than in one enormous pot—was developed here in the 1970s, and an entire district, the Balti Triangle, serves up tasty varieties at bargain prices at restaurants such as Al Frash. Celeb chef Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian dishes out heaping plates of wild-rabbit tagliolini and crab spaghettini. And for contemporary riffs on classic English dishes, there's a lot to love about, well, Loves; Steve and Claire Love's waterfront restaurant has been wowing U.K. food critics with dishes like (vegetarians, avert your eyes) Warwickshire venison and Gloucestershire pig's head. MUST-SEE SIGHTS. The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery offers one of the world's most acclaimed collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings, including the iconic, otherworldly work of 19th-century Birmingham native Edward Burne Jones. Speaking of other worlds, Lord of the Rings fans must spend time at Sarehole Mill, said to have inspired the locale of Tolkien's trilogy. And no trip to Brum is complete without dropping by the Bull Ring Open Market, which is at once a throwback to England's agrarian past and a forward-looking source of local fruits and vegetables at great prices. The nabe is also known for its Rag Market (not as dismal as it sounds—think eye-popping fabrics, vintage clothing, household goods, and treats like mince pie and pickled chile peppers for a song). GET THERE. Birmingham is 117 miles northwest of London, a two-hour drive or a three-hour bus ride. 2. ANTWERP, BELGIUM (Regien Paassen/Dreamstime) An inland port with a world-class sense of style Antwerp's playfulness is evident everywhere you look—whether it's the quirkily dressed local in a public square, a fashion model in the city's historic district, or the mind-blowing design of its Museum Aan de Stroom. Located on the docks that have made Antwerp Europe's second biggest port (after Rotterdam), the museum's exterior mimics giant packing crates stacked on one another. WHY ANTWERP IS SECOND TO NONE. Stroll down any Antwerp street and you'll see it—style. Whether you're looking for imaginative architecture, the most inspiring new art galleries, or a great selection of vintage and second-hand clothing, Antwerp will pleasantly shake up your expectations and likely send you home with something surprising. MUST-SEE SIGHTS. The Zuid ("south") district is the place for art lovers; here, you'll find the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (featuring an exquisite collection of paintings by Baroque-era Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, such as "The Adoration of the Magi"), galleries of contemporary art, and a thriving cafe culture. Running north from the square in front of the museum, Kloosterstraat offers a stretch of cool antique shops that often boast mid-century design finds alongside older pieces. (On Sundays, the shops open for business at 2 p.m., so plan to visit after, not before, the museum.) Ready to cleanse your palate of modernism? Het Steen ("old fort") was originally built in the early Middle Ages to defend against—wait for it—marauding Vikings; it has been made over many times since those days and basically looks like a child's fantasy of a castle. GET THERE. Antwerp is 28 miles north of Brussels, a 40-minute drive or a 40-minute train ride. 3. PORTO, PORTUGAL (Freesurf69/Dreamstime) Raise a glass to the next great wine region Most discussions of Porto begin with some kind of comparison with Lisbon, its hustle-bustle big-city neighbor. But we love Porto just for being, well, Porto. (Of all the gorgeous images of Europe we had to choose from, we picked Porto, with its elegantly meandering Douro River, for our September/October tablet edition cover!) The city that gave Portugal its name, this place has been making waves these days with some exciting new buildings, great public markets, and a thriving art scene. WHY PORTO IS SECOND TO NONE. If you're thinking "What about the Port wine?" You're on the right track. But Porto is about more than just the rich red digestif that bears the city's name. You might say the town is a bit vino-crazed at the moment, with the Douro River region finally getting its due as a world-class wine producer—and one of the most beautiful wine regions on the planet. Here, you will find not only delicious Ports (start with a tour—and tasting!—of the classic Sandeman winery, or a tasting at Vinologia) but also excellent red table wines. And you'll also be delighted by Porto's sense of humor, with wine- and cork-inspired designs and products popping up all over this fun, friendly town. MUST-SEE SIGHTS. Porto's Casa da Musica is eye candy of the highest order. The concert hall, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is home to Porto's three symphony orchestras and was inaugurated by rocker Lou Reed in 2005. If the casa's quirky design inspires your inner hipster, head down to Porto's Ribeira neighborhood, with its popular cafe and bar scene. If you lose your way on the winding medieval streets leading to the harbor, ask for directions to the statue of Porto native Henry the Navigator. The city is ideal for strolling and shopping. Don't miss the Mercado do Bolhão public market and the contemporary art galleries arrayed along Rua Miguel Bombarda. But the coolest sourvenir of all may be a pair of shoes made of cork from the distinctive shop Porto Signs. GET THERE. Porto is 195 miles north of Lisbon, a three-hour drive or about two-and-a-half hours by train. 4. MILAN, ITALY Bargain shopping in the world's fashion capital Ah, Italy! A country where a city that's a fashion capital and home to arguably the world's greatest opera company and Leonardo's second most famous painting can be considered a "second city." But Milan, with a population second only to Rome, often gets missed by tourists who try to cram the Eternal City, Florence, and Venice into one trip. Well, we're here to tell you it's time to head back to Italy and spend some time in Milan. WHY MILAN IS SECOND TO NONE. Sure, you know that Milan is the epicenter of the fashion world, with its Fashion Weeks inspiring—and sometimes dictating—what will be the hip new colors or fabrics for a season. But like its fashion-centric sister city, New York, Milan is also a place to find incredible shopping bargains if you know where to look. Go ahead and ogle the designer duds at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, but duck out and hit the outlet stores on the same street to find deep discounts. Natives swear by Il Salvagente ("the lifesaver"), which offers three floors of bargains at Via Fratelli Bronzetti 16. MUST-SEE SIGHTS. Art lovers and spiritual travelers visit Milan just to see Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Don't miss it, but you should also drop into the Duomo, a Gothic cathedral that can hold 40,0000 congregants. Unwind in lovely Parco Sempione, which is also home to the imposing Castello Sforzeso. This stylish city's artsiest residents hang out in the Navigli district, a center of design and culture and home to Milan's annual flower show. GET THERE. Milan is 167 miles west of Venice, a two-and-a-half-hour drive or two hours and 15 minutes by train. 5. SPLIT, CROATIA (Emicristea/Dreamstime) History comes alive on the Mediterranean You don't have to remember the name Diocletian to have a blast in Split, a city of more than 250,000, but you can thank him for pioneering the notion of Split as a lesser-known Mediterranean getaway. A Roman emperor who abdicated his position in the face of rival claims, Diocletian built an amazing palace here, completed in A.D. 305, and to this day the city has one of Europe's finest collections of Roman ruins. WHY SPLIT IS SECOND TO NONE. From Diocletian's day to the present, Split has done an exceptional job of preserving its past, making it a first-rate destination for immersing yourself in living history—even in the face of the civil war that rocked Croatia in the 1990s. This UNESCO World Heritage Site invites you to balance your beach-going and nightlife with visits to its Roman ruins, medieval forts, Romanesque churches dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, plus Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque palaces and other noteworthy buildings; a historic district, archeological museum, and of course the ruins of Diocletian's palace round out the historical offerings. MUST-SEE SIGHTS. When you yearn to return to the land of the living, drop yourself on Bacvice beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand that rivals any of the tonier—and pricier—Mediterranean beaches. We won't tell if all you want to do is stretch out on a blanket and soak up some rays. But when the sun goes down, dip a toe into Split's lively bar scene, with popular "crawls" around the neighborhood of the Roman palace ruins. In the morning, get classy again with a trip to the Metrovic Gallery, spotlighting the work of Croatia's best-known sculpture, Ivan Mestrovic. GET THERE. Split is 140 miles northwest of Dubrovnik, Croatia, a three-hour drive. 6. HAMBURG, GERMANY Europe's greenest city Hamburg's location on the Elbe river less than 70 miles from the North Sea has made it a vital port for centuries, but it's seldom visited by American tourists. Duck into the sketchy Reeperbahn or check out the bustling fischmarkt and you'll experience one Hamburg. Kick back in one of its exceptional green spaces and you'll experience quite another. Devastated by bombings during WWII, and the place where four lads from Liverpool first became international stars, Hamburg is ready for its close-up. WHY HAMBURG IS SECOND TO NONE. We love the fact that gritty Hamburg is also a shining example of green living—half of the city is given over to parks, woodlands, gardens, and water. Devote a day to a park such as Planten un Blomen ("plants and flowers"), in the center of the city, or check out HafenCity, a 388-acre redevelopment-in-progress (the most ambitious in Europe) on the harbor that has created an entirely new residential and business district, featuring bold new buildings by some of the world's "starchitects." MUST-SEE SIGHTS. While we don't recommend the Reeperbahn (the city's red-light district) in general, Beatles fans should consider taking a guided tour devoted to the band's history and its early-'60s performances here. Or, if you want to party like its 1897, savor the Rathaus, or city hall, located on gorgeous Binnenalster lake. The Kunsthalle museum boasts a collection ranging from Old Masters to modern art, with rotating exhibitions dedicated to contemporary paintings, photography, and mixed media. GET THERE. Hamburg is 180 miles northwest of Berlin, a three-hour drive or 90 minutes by train.

Inspiration

Where Is the Best Pie in America?

Key Lime pie. Boston cream pie. New York cheesecake. We’ve noticed that some of our favorite baked goods share the names of some of our favorite travel destinations. As National Pi Day rolls around (March 14... 3.14, get it?), we figured we’d ask: What’s your favorite slice of pie in the U.S.? PIE + VACATION = HEAVEN One of the joys of being on vacation is saving room and time for a spectacular dessert you've never tried, and a slice of pie just seems to hit the spot whether you’re in the mountains, at the beach, or exploring a big city. As for favorites, I’ll go first. When I take my family on an epic road trip across western Montana, we basically turn handstands over the incredible array of huckleberry pie available just about everywhere. Sure, the huckleberry season is short up there in the Rockies, and grizzly bears do their best to clear out the bushes before we humans can harvest the berries, but I vote for huckleberry pie as my favorite. TRADITIONAL VS. FANCY? When we say the word “pie,” unadorned with an adjective, most of us tend to picture an apple pie, maybe with traditional crust punctured with a fork, or a more ambitious latticework of pie crust. When it comes to naming your favorite pie, some of you fall on the traditional side (my huckleberry pie vote definitely leans toward the traditional), while others may prefer what I think of as a little “fancy”: I’m thinking Key Lime, New York cheesecake (which, let’s be honest, even though it has the word “cake” in its name, is totally a pie), lemon meringue, those pies that take a bit more, let’s call it alchemy in the kitchen. Then, of course, there’s the whole question of whether cobblers and crumbles count? (I tend to think: Why the heck not?) TELL US: WHERE CAN WE GET THE BEST PIE? Finally, because we’re all about travel, we’d like to hear the region where you particularly enjoy eating pie. Upstate New York may have an edge on fresh apple pie, Wisconsin’s Door County sure knows how to do cherry pie, and, of course, the Florida Keys may produce the finest Key Lime pie for obvious reasons. But tell us about the coolest bakeries, the funkiest restaurants, or sweet little shops where you’ve made fabulous pie discoveries. We want to know: Where is the best pie in America? Your answers may appear in an upcoming story on BudgetTravel.com.

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Woodlark, Portland, OR

Rose City’s hotel industry is booming—per the tourism board, some 9,000 rooms were available in 2018 and another 1,500 or so are estimated for 2020—and Woodlark is the latest entrant in an increasingly crowded field. But with a buzzy lobby scene, cozy minimalist rooms, and a convenient downtown address pulling in an attractive, youthful crowd, it more than stands out from the pack. The Story Woodlark comprises two character-filled buildings, the circa-1908 French Renaissance-style Cornelius Hotel and the 1912 Woodlark Building, a beaux arts–inspired former drugstore, both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Provenance Hotels acquired the properties in 2015, hiring architecture and design firms to rehab and combine the two distinctive buildings into one cohesive unit. The hotel opened its doors in December 2018. The Quarters The accommodations span both buildings, and you’ll find botanical prints from noted photographer Imogen Cunningham, custom wallpaper adorned with plants native to the city, industrial-luxe brass-pipe clothing rods, marble-topped consoles, cush velvet chairs, and handmade artisan wool rugs throughout the 150 rooms. At 230 square feet for a standard king to 665 square feet for a suite, Woodlark's spaces are on the smaller side, though they still allow plenty of room to maneuver. Chances are you didn't come to Portland to hang out in your hotel room, but the amenities are there when you need them: LCD flat-panel TVs, honor bars stocked with a host of local favorites, like Union Wine and Greenleaf trail mix, Bluetooth speakers, and incredibly comfortable down comforter–topped mattresses, not to mention pints of Salt & Straw ice cream on demand. The Neighborhood Centrally located right downtown, Woodlark is a short walk from attractions like the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Historical Society, Lan Su Chinese Garden, and Powell’s City of Books, the local chain’s flagship location, which covers a full block and holds some one million new and used books. The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (portland5.com) is just a few blocks over, and that’s where you’ll catch everything from stand-up comedy to the symphony; for something a bit more rowdy, try the Star Theater (startheaterportland.com) or the Crystal Ballroom (crystalballroompdx.com), both of which book a good mix of contemporary acts. Shows aside, the downtown area gets a bit quiet at night, but you’re a quick light-rail, bus, or Lyft ride away from more exciting environs across the Willamette. The Food There are three dining options on the premises: Bullard (bullardpdx.com), a meat-centric eatery with an internationally tinged menu from Texas transplant and Top Chef alum Doug Adams; Abigail Hall (abigailhallpdx.com), a cocktail den with upscale bar bites (think: chips and smoked-salmon dip garnished with trout roe); and Good Coffee (goodwith.us), the bustling lobby café slinging espresso drinks, fancy lattes (matcha-lavender or maple and smoked orange, anyone?), breakfast plates, and kolaches inspired by Adams’s home state. On the next block is the Alder Street Food Cart Pod (foodcartsportland.com), a collection of vendors hawking a diverse array of dishes, and a few blocks north, Maurice (mauricepdx.com) serves pretty, Instagram-ready French-Nordic “luncheonette cuisine,” from quiche and clafoutis to smørrebrød and Norwegian meatballs. Some of our favorite happy-hour spots are also within walking distance: Try Little Bird Bistro (littlebirdbistro.com) for discounted drinks and a spectacular double-patty burger loaded with brie, or wrangle a few friends and make for Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen (luclackitchen.com), where the pro move is to order every $3 small plate on the menu and wash it down with a dealer’s-choice cocktail. All the Rest Woodlark features the Provenance chain’s signature amenities, including a pillow menu, a lending library of spiritual tomes, and fitness kits with yoga mats, weights, and iPads programmed with exercise videos. There’s also a gym on-site, with interactive workout mirrors and Peloton bikes in addition to the standard array of treadmills and ellipticals. The property is pet-friendly, and furry friends receive a warm welcome—treats included—when they check in. Rates and Deets Starting at $155. Woodlark813 SW Alder StreetPortland, OR 97205503.548.2559woodlarkhotel.com

Inspiration

5 Things to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Situated directly north of Maine on the eastern seaboard, Atlantic Canada’s Maritime provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island—are perhaps best known for picturesque coastlines rife with lighthouses and fishing boats, to say nothing of the legendary seafood. The capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax is a walkable city with an active waterfront, five-star dining, and artisan culture galore. It’s also a quick two-hour flight from New York and an even shorter hop from Boston, making it an easy weekend escape for Yanks yearning for a change of scenery. Here’s what to do when you arrive in town. 1. Wander the Waterfront (Debbie Ann Powell/Dreamstime) Nearly two miles of boardwalk wind along the Halifax Harbor, and while it’s an activity better suited for sunny summer days, the brisk winds off the water make for an invigorating winter stroll. Spend some time at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (more on that below), then work your way north: Across the street, the Designer Craft Shop (craftnovascotia.ca) carries beautiful pottery, jewelry, and other pieces from local artisans, and down the block, Garrison Brewing Company (garrisonbrewing.com) is good for a pitstop. Book an evening brewery tour for $15, or simply sample the wares in the dog-friendly tap room. Nearby, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market (halifaxfarmersmarket.com) is an all-season venture. In addition to the produce, there's a solid selection of local liquors, spice blends, jams, pickles, and more, making it a great place to pick up souvenirs for your food-loving friends. From there, it’s a short jaunt up to NovaScotian Crystal (novascotiancrystal.com), purveyors of heirloom-quality crystal at prices to match. Even if you’re not shopping for mouth-blown, hand-cut investment pieces, the showroom is worth a stop—if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the makers in action. Around the corner is the Halifax Ferry Terminal, and at less than $2 USD, a boat trip is an ideal way to cap off your walk. Take in the skyline and explore hipster-central Dartmouth while you’re across the harbor...and if you manage to time your ride to sunset, all the better. 2. Warm Up With Local Spirits (Maya Stanton) As the home of Scottish expat Alexander Keith, a three-time mayor and mid-1800s brewer whose facility is still in operation today (albeit under the umbrella of Anheuser-Busch InBev), it’s no surprise that Halifax has craft breweries aplenty—to date, there are 12 and counting. But Atlantic Canada's history is also steeped in bootlegging and rum-running, and Nova Scotians have embraced that heritage with a vengeance, making rum one of the most popular tipples in town. Centrally located near the waterfront, Halifax Distilling Co. (halifaxdistillingco.ca) pours tastes of its J.D. Shore rums. Distiller Julie Shore is descended from a 19th-century whiskey-distilling family in North Carolina, and those generations of experience show; her light-bodied black rum is supremely drinkable, with rich caramel notes, and we can vouch for the rum cream, a Bailey’s stand-in that might just be better than its whiskey-based cousin. Belly up to the bar for a drink and a snack, catch some live music, or pop in for a tour on a Saturday afternoon. 3. Get Cultured (Maya Stanton) For a small municipality (around 403,000 people at last estimate), Nova Scotia’s capital boasts a wealth of cultural destinations. On the waterfront at Pier 21, an Ellis Island equivalent for a million transplants from the late 1920s through the early '70s, the Canadian Museum of Immigration (above; pier21.ca) traces the immigrant experience from decade to decade, with interactive exhibits, replica ships’ cabins, and steamer trunks filled with clothing and treasured belongings from children who immigrated over the years. At the family history center, staff members are standing by to help track down immigration documents, ship information, and genealogical data by request. A 15-minute walk along the water’s edge is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca), devoted to the region’s marine history, from its ship-building days to naval battles to disasters like the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Don’t miss the model ships on the second floor, or the Titanic exhibit, a highly detailed accounting of the ship’s history, its sinking, and Halifax’s role in the rescue and recovery operation. (Titanic buffs should also make a detour to Fairview Lawn Cemetery on the north end of town: Halifax was the closest port when the liner went down, and more than 100 victims are buried there, their headstones arranged in a configuration resembling a ship’s helm.) A few blocks over, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (artgalleryofnovascotia.ca) celebrates the work of artists with ties to the region. The jewel of the collection is the Maud Lewis gallery, featuring the self-taught folk artist’s work as well as her lovingly restored, hand-painted tiny house—just 12-½ by 14-½ feet! The museum has extended hours on Thursday nights, with free entry and tours available. On the other side of the city's circa-1749 citadel, the Museum of Natural History (naturalhistory.novascotia.ca) has all the whale skeletons, animal models, rock and mineral samples, and, through April, animatronic dinosaurs needed to keep the little ones busy and engaged. 4. Break for Coffee (and Great Views) (Maya Stanton) Built in 2014 as a replacement for a mid-century building the city had long since outgrown, the award-winning Halifax Central Library (halifaxpubliclibraries.ca) is a feat of contemporary design. Reportedly “the first piece of modern architecture to be built in Halifax in decades,” the $57.6 million project is an LEED Gold-certified cultural center in the heart of downtown. Check out the displays dedicated to First Nations, African Nova Scotian, Acadian, and Francophone cultures, as well as veterans’ memorials and local-history research materials. The cantilevered-glass exterior resembles a stack of books, and the interior is peaceful and light-filled, with a top-floor café offering expansive views of the harbor and citadel alongside cups of excellent, fair-trade organic drip coffee and from-scratch pastries. 5. Eat Your Heart Out (Maya Stanton) In keeping with its maritime location, Nova Scotia is a haven for seafood lovers, and from Digby scallops and freshwater mussels to the unparalleled lobster of the South Shore, Halifax receives more than its fair share of the bounty. Obladee Wine Bar (obladee.ca) touts flights of Nova Scotian wines and Sober Island oysters, while Little Fish Oyster Bar (littlefishoysterbar.ca) does an all-day happy hour with a selection of local bivalves at US$1.50 a pop. We loved the ones from Cabot, and those from Pristine Bay were true to their name. Upstairs is the Five Fishermen (fivefishermen.com), a sister restaurant serving refined plates. Fortunately, the upscale dining room, a handsomely restored funeral home, shows no signs of its more gruesome days, but a creamy bowl of chowder and a smoked old-fashioned should chase away any lingering ghosts. The city's dining isn't all fins and gills, though. Land-based options include the donair, a uniquely Halifax offering that’s akin to the Greek gyro, Middle Eastern shawarma, and Mexican al pastor, with spiced, spit-roasted meat topped with raw tomatoes and onions, doused with a sweet white sauce, and wrapped in a pita. It’s a messy but glorious concoction, and you can sample it downtown at Johnny K’s, or further afield at King of Donair (kingofdonairquinpool.ca), where the dish originated back in 1973. For a stellar steak tartare and a reasonably priced glass of wine, seek out Bistro le Coq (bistrocoq.ca), then have a nightcap at the Stubborn Goat (stubborngoat.ca), a gastropub with a tempting cocktail list; when it’s on the menu, the Moving To the Country is a dangerously delicious blend of bourbon, peach, and mint. Looking to splurge? With a menu ranging from steamed mussels and house charcuterie to expertly rendered Nova Scotia scallops and luscious lamb pappardelle, Gio Restaurant (above; giohalifax.com) at the Prince George Hotel is one of the best bets in town.

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