This Commonwealth country is actually the world’s second largest. Most of that land area, however, is complete wilderness. That is certainly one of the draws of Canada: the utterly vast expanses of nature to really and truly get lost in. Its national parks are truly massive, offering picture-perfect vistas.
Mountaineering, hiking, boating, swimming, cycling – there’s a lot of rewards here if you’re a fan of the great outdoors. Spot grizzly bears in Banff National Park, hit the powdered slopes of Whistler, or taste your way through some of Vancouver’s freshest wild salmon. There’s something in Canada for everyone.
Away from the stunning nature of Canada – also including the Great Lakes Region – you can explore its culture and history. Get stuck into the Francophone region of Quebec, the sparkling skyscrapers and East Asian culture pockets in Vancouver, Toronto’s elegant Victorian architecture, and Canada’s ‘château style’ grand railway hotels and neo-gothic public buildings in Ottawa. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Canada:
10. Cape Breton Island Where to Stay
While it’s located in north-eastern Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island was once its own independent colony until it was forced to merge in 1820. As it welcomed thousands of Scottish expats in the early 19th-century, it remains the only place in North America where you’ll hear Gaelic spoken, with a host of traditional Scottish music concerts on offer. In addition to the Scots, Cape Breton also has a healthy French population, with the 18th-century Fortress of Louisbourg a major highlight. A fascinating Mi’kmaq community adds to the pleasant mixture of cultural influences.
Whale watching here is unforgettable. Sightings are just about guaranteed at the northern tip (the top of the island), which you can reach with a boat or kayak tour – the scenery alone makes it worth the trip. Amongst its spectacular landscapes, the highlight is undoubtedly Cape Breton Highlands National Park with its phenomenal Cabot Trail and gorgeous lookout points. Don’t forget the scenic fishing villages such as Bay St. Lawrence, where you’ll find some excellent seafood.
9. Ottawa Where to Stay
Located at the meeting point of three rivers, Ottawa is Canada’s capital city, home to the sixth-largest population in the country – and growing. Unusually, the city is bilingual. Don’t be surprised to hear people speaking a mix of English and French; both are first languages here.
Previously known as Bytown, Ottawa was once a lumber town, with many mills built along the Ottawa River in the middle of the 19th century. Today, it’s a beautiful green city filled with blissful parks and waterways. Biking is popular in the summer months, and these trails are converted to ski trails come winter. Running right through the heart of the city, the Rideau Canal is Ottawa’s star attraction. In winter the canal becomes the world’s largest ice skating ring.
One of the main things to do is visit the Byward Market. But if you’re interested in history, you’re in for a treat. While it may not be Canada’s official cultural capital, Ottawa is home to some spectacular historic buildings, such as the National Library and Archives – the fourth largest library in the world. The highlight is Parliament Hill with its series of Gothic revival buildings peeking out above the treetops.
8. Whistler Where to Stay
Thanks to a couple of spectacular mountains called Whistler and Blackcomb, the Whistler resort is the largest and most famous alpine ski destination in North America. Located in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia in western Canada, Whistler is a two-hour trip from Vancouver along Canada’s most scenic drive, the Sea-to-Sky Highway. At the base of the two mountains are three quaint villages, Whistler Village, Creekside and Upper Village. The Peak 2 Peak gondola transports visitors from the villages to the mountains.
Whistler had humble beginnings as a logging town. After the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, a ski resort was built on London Mountain as a potential destination for the 1968 Winter Olympics. However, this wasn’t achieved until the 2010 Winter Olympics. In an attempt to steer away from its misleading name, London Mountain was renamed Whistler Mountain because of the whistle-like sound made by the native hoary marmots living in the mountains here.
Today, Whistler has many world-class ski resorts and offers extraordinary views from its mountain slopes that bring adventurers back year after year. Aside from snow sports, the mountains also make for great hiking and rock climbing opportunities.
7. Vancouver Island Where to Stay
Vancouver Island, named after the British explorer George Vancouver, is the largest island off the West Coast of the North American continent. Surrounded by the waters of the Pacific, it’s a truly photogenic island filled with glistening lakes, impressive waterfalls, magical fjords, and glacial mountains that are popularly explored by hikers. Outdoorsy travelers are attracted by the weather; it has the mildest climate in Canada.
The island is best known for the gorgeous Butchart Gardens, the surf town of Tofino and the wilderness in the north, where one can catch a ferry to Prince Rupert, and another to Alaska from there. Vancouver Island is also a wildlife hotspot. Not only does it offer some of the best whale watching in the world – you can even kayak with orca – but it’s also a great spot for bird watching and grizzly bear sightings. As the island is sparsely populated, with most of the population living in Victoria – the capital of BC – you can really soak up the magic of the outdoors.
One of the best places for a walk in nature is in Strathcona Provincial Park, where you’ll find most of the spectacular scenery on the island. Visit Cathedral Grove with its ancient forest, or tee off on one of the many fantastic golf courses.
6. Quebec City Where to Stay
Quebec City may be the capital of the Quebec province in eastern Canada, but its French heritage, architecture and language make it appear more like a charming European village.
Perched on a hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River is Vieux Quebec, the city’s historic district. A walk along the cobblestone streets of the Old City offers encounters with attractions like the Citadel and the Place-Royale, the area where explorer, Samuel de Camplain, established the first North American-French settlement. The city’s icon, the stunning Chateau Frontenac, is regarded as the most photographed hotel in North America and offers tours even without an overnight stay.
5. Toronto Where to Stay
The sprawling city of Toronto is the most densely populated city in Canada, with nearly three million residents. Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto forms part of the Golden Horseshoe region, which encompasses the area from the lake to Niagara Falls.
As the provincial capital of the Ontario province, Toronto is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with just shy of 100 ethnic communities calling it home. It’s one of the only places in Canada where more than half of the residents were not born in the country. But it’s this melting pot that makes Toronto what it is. Some of the street signs are written in different languages, and diverse neighborhoods have their own distinctive cuisine.
There’s so much culture to be found in the inner city proper amongst its towering skyscrapers and thousands of multi-cultural restaurants. One of the most popular attractions on the tourist trail is the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the world (until it was trumped by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). It offers an extraordinary uninterrupted view of the city from its observation deck, skypod, and the 360 Restaurant. But it’s worth it for a ride up in the glass-enclosed elevator alone!
Read more: Top Toronto Attractions
4. Montreal Where to Stay
Montreal is the second-largest city in the Quebec province, located where the St Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers meet. Montreal is Canada’s capital of culture. It’s also one of the most diverse, energetic, welcoming, and forward-thinking cities in North America, with modern street art, an energetic breed of musicians, and a great party scene in its newer parts.
While English is spoken, it’s not the most common language; it’s actually the second-largest city in the world to speak French as a first language outside of France. So it’s easy to see why it’s earned its nickname as the ‘Paris of North America.’
Montreal’s cityscape is a pleasure to visit all year round. It’s especially beautiful in autumn when the trees turn burnt orange around the iconic cityscape. Old Montreal is the highlight with its cobbled streets, quaint museums, and historical buildings, some of which date back to the 17th-century. Don’t miss the chance to climb up the clock tower in the Quai de l’Horloge for some exceptional views over the St. Laurence River and the city in the distance.
3. Niagara Falls, Ontario Where to Stay
Niagara Falls is a series of three awe-inspiring waterfalls situated on the border of Canada’s Ontario and the United States’ New York. The Ontario side of the Falls is called Horseshoe Falls and offers the best views and most attractions. The immediate area surrounding the Falls is a premier tourist spot teeming in observation towers, restaurants, souvenir shops, casinos and high-rise hotels.
Its sister city in New York is known as the ‘honeymoon capital of the world,’ and one of the only places where you can get a marriage license without a waiting period. Those looking for both romance and adventure will find it here, with a long list of exciting things to see and do.
One of the best places to view the Niagara Falls on the Ontario side is from Queen Victoria Park where the Falls are illuminated and fireworks are displayed nightly during the summer. See them from above or below – it’s your choice – with helicopter tours, jet boat tours, an observation deck next to Skylon Tower, and elevators that take you down behind the falls.
2. Banff National Park Where to Stay
Tucked away in the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, and also one of its largest. Because of its sheer size and remote location, many people are drawn to this untouched piece of the globe for the isolation alone – outside of Banff and Lake Louise – the park’s two points of civilization – that is.
There are two popular routes through the park, but it doesn’t matter too much which you choose. Both are filled with jaw-dropping scenery, from glistening multi-colored lakes and dramatic canyons to beautiful viewpoints and majestic waterfalls. Whether you have your own car is not important, as shuttles service most of the key attractions in the park.
Active travelers will be in their element here with the chance to snowshoe or paddle the lake, while wildlife watchers will have an adventure all of their own. Banff National Park is filled with animals – the most eagerly anticipated sighting being, of course, the grizzly bear.
Read more: Banff Attractions
1. Vancouver Where to Stay
The massive city of Vancouver is one of the largest in Canada. Located in south-western British Columbia, it’s a famous foodie hotspot – especially for seafood, like its celebrated freshly caught prawns and wild salmon. Because of its melting pot of cultures, you’ll find no shortage of mixed cuisine here, making dining out one of the city’s simple, but by no means underrated, pleasures.
Nicknamed the ‘Hollywood of the North’ because of its huge TV and film industry, Vancouver is also home to the fourth-largest cruise ship terminal in the world. As many as 900,000 passengers pass through the terminal every year, with many cruises making their way onwards to Alaska.
With both beaches and ski slopes within easy reach, Vancouver has been rated as one of the world’s best cities to live in. Home to happy, tanned, and active people who spend their days rollerblading, jogging, and dog walking along in the Seawall or playing a game of volleyball on Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver is a big destination for outdoorsy activities. Don’t leave without the chance to take a dip in Canada’s longest pool – it’s almost three times the size of a normal Olympic swimming pool!
Read more: Top Vancouver Attractions
Map of Canada
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