The commonwealth of Canada, also known as the great white north (not the game of thrones one) is the world’s second-largest country and home to 38 million people. Despite its vastness, 90% of the population lives within 150 kms to the American border. One of the benefits of being a large country, Canada has a diverse terrain and weather. This offers visitors a wide range of experiences, from swanky cosmopolitan cities to mountain resorts and maritime cities.
Determining the best places to visit will be based on your interests and Canada provides travelers a wide range of activities and adventures to soak in the sun or glide through ski resorts.
Often mistaken as the Capital of Canada, Toronto is Canada’s largest city and home to the most multicultural city in the world with over 100 nationalities and 3 million people. On the shores of Lake Ontario is the iconic CN tower which is next to the Rogers Center, Ripley’s Aquarium, and Scotiabank Arena – home to the 2019 NBA Champions and NHL team, Toronto Maple Leafs. At the top of the CN tower, you can find fine dining in the revolving 360 restaurant overlooking the lake The LookOut and the Glass Floor offer beautiful views out over the entire area. For an added thrill, consider stepping outside of the enclosed area onto the metal walkway for the CN Tower Edgewalk. This city has quite a few hidden gems if you stroll the streets of Toronto, through the entertainment district, fashion district along with a multiverse of cuisine options in little Portugal, China town, and little Italy. When you’ve had enough of the city’s adventures, you can make your way to Kensington Market, distillery district, harbourfront center, liberty village, queen west, and discover historic neighborhoods and cute cafes/restaurants to experience this multicultural city.
Pro Tip: The best way to explore the city is on foot and you can always use the share a bike option as well.
Montreal is the second-largest city in the Quebec province, located where the St Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers meet. Like Toronto, Montreal too is 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. Montreal is 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.’ The best time to visit is Summer and Fall and especially if you’re a motorsports fan as the iconic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve hosts the Canadian Grand Prix in June turning the city into a festive and carnival-like atmosphere. Old Montreal is where most of the magic happens which includes the landmark Marché Bonsecours in the old town hall building, the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica, the lively Place Jacques-Cartier, and the 1870s City Hall. Mont Tremblant about 100kms away from Montreal is a snow lover’s paradise. Set within the Laurentian Mountains to the northwest of Montréal, the year-round Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort, on the shores of Lake Tremblant, features acclaimed winter sports like Alpine touring, skiing, dog sledding, hiking, helicopter rides, horseback riding, tours, casino golf courses, and a pedestrian shopping village.
One of the most iconic and recognizable waterfalls and tourist spots in the world, this majestic waterfall draws millions of tourists all year round and you can literally walk up to the edge of the falls, separated only by a cast-iron railing, and see the water as it disappears over the crest and if it’s your lucky day, you might even spot a double rainbow. You can even go down to the falls in the boat tours or glide over them on a zip line. The city that has developed here, also named Niagara Falls, has been greatly influenced by the people and atmosphere the falls have created. A tourist paradise, Niagara Falls has multiple attractions, restaurants, activities, distilleries, and winery tours on Niagara-on-the-lake. Stuntmen and daredevils have tempted their fate on the falls throughout the decades, and as a result, a carnival-style atmosphere has come to define this unique city that still exists today. Just a short drive from Toronto, Niagara Falls is easy to reach, and the city is a fun place to spend a day or two and provides a border crossing to the United States of America.
Banff National Park
In the heart of the Rocky Mountains lies Banff National Park in the province of Alberta. Featuring Turquoise colored lakes, snow-capped peaks and pristine white glaciers is a nature lovers’ paradise. A must-visit not only for tourists but also for Canadians, this national park is a destination paradise. Tucked away in the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, and also one of its largest. Banff National Park is filled with wildlife– the most eagerly anticipated sighting being, of course, the grizzly bear. The crown jewel of the national park is Lake Louise. The town of Banff is the park’s primary settlement, offering the most variety of hotels, shopping and dining along Lake Louise offering tourists luxurious accommodation in a gorgeous setting of turquoise lakes and majestic mountains. Lake Minnewanka and Sunshine Meadows are other smaller villages. With green waters reflecting the surrounding mountains and glaciers, visitors can stroll easily around the shores and soak in the beauty connected with nature. A short distance away is Moraine Lake, another impressive alpine lake with an even slightly more dramatic surrounding.
An hour and half drive from the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Whistler was the scene for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Nestled in the Coast Mountains, this town is famous for its world-class ski resorts and offers tourists, adventure and adrenaline-seeking travellers a wide range of snow activities. Whistler attracts tourists in the summer for hikes, mountain climbing, mountain biking, golf, etc. The Peak-2-Peak Gondola, which joins the two mountains, is an 11-minute, 4.4-kilometer-long ride, offering tourists spectacular views, and is open to skiers or non-skiers year-round. A recently added new 130-meter, Cloudraker Skybridge near the top of the Peak Chair spans a small alpine valley and ends at the Raven’s Nest. The viewing platform provides 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding area, including world-famous Black Tusk.
One of the third largest cities in Canada, the city of Calgary is situated between the Canadian Prairies and the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Calgary is home to a large number of skyscrapers with observation decks offering incredible views of the city and the Rocky Mountains. The most notable of these is The Bow and Calgary Tower. There are also many family attractions including a world-class zoo, amusement parks, botanical gardens, and a hands-on science center. The proximity to mountains, with their well-known national parks, makes Calgary an excellent choice for skiing, hiking, or sightseeing vacations. But for those seeking entertainment right in the city itself, there are also plenty of tourist attractions. Especially fun at night is walking the city’s huge Prince’s Island Park and across the iconic Peace Bridge, either before or after enjoying a great restaurant in the downtown core. While the city plays host to several annual festivals of music, film and dance, the most famous is the Calgary Stampede, an Old West celebration held over ten days in July with rodeos, chuckwagon races, parades and competitions. This 10-day affair is one of the most widely anticipated events in Western Canada, with many locals and summertime travelers planning their holidays around the Calgary Stampede. At the Stampede Grounds are daily rodeo events drawing participants from across North America, thrill rides, games, food, and the nightly Grandstand Show. Around town, free “Stampede Breakfasts” are hosted by numerous establishments either at indoor or outdoor locations and usually consist of pancakes.
Set on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, backed by snow capped mountains, Vancouver has the warmest climate in Canada and you can never go wrong with a trip to this beautiful destination on the west coast. You can enjoy outdoor activities all year round without freezing to death. Vancouver Island, which is a ferry ride from the mainland is named after the British explorer George Vancouver, is the largest island off the West Coast of the North American continent and is best known for the gorgeous Butchart Gardens, the surf town of Tofino and the wilderness in the north. 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.
To the east coast of Canada, in the province of Newfoundland & Labrador lies St. John’s. Rich and colorful, rugged and refined, St. John’s is the creative capital and the beating cultural heart of the province. Looking over the city of St. John’s, you will be reminded of a mini–San Francisco (minus the cable cars). St. John’s provides travelers the ideal balance between nature and nightlife, from the East Coast Trail and its stunning scenery to the colorful entertainment district along George Street. Although it’s the largest city in Newfoundland, the vibe is still very small-town. You can start your day at the very edge of North America, at the captivating Cape Spear, and then head down the east coast trail which leads to spectacular views of the city. The city has a rich cultural and spiritual heritage and you can dine in some of the finest restaurants and experience the local cuisines. After a day of exploring the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s, unwind and get ready to tap your toes to fiddles and mandolins in one of the city’s many live music venues with generations of influence from Ireland and the British Isles make St. John’s no stranger to pubs, pints, laughs and variety of nightlife.
Whitehorse is the Capital of Yukon and one of the largest cities in northern Canada. This Wilderness city is famous for its northern lights sights and ranked #1 in 2011 by WHO for the cleanest air in the world. Whitehorse is home to 25,000 people – more than half the total population of Yukon – and has grown into a major center for arts and culture in recent years. The small but lively territory capital is a hub of the north, standing at the intersection of the Alaska and Klondike Highways, and is only 80 kilometers north of the provincial border with British Columbia. The best time to visit Whitehorse is from January through to early April and you won’t even have to leave the city to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. You can also sign up for guided tours. This fun four-hour adventure includes pickup at your hotel as part of a small-group guided tour experience that takes you to a remote viewing location in the wilderness, far from artificial light, to maximize your viewing pleasure. Drinks and snacks are provided. At the Yukon Wildlife Preserve you can take a guided tour to see some of the many wonderful creatures including the moose, muskoxen, mountain goats, wood bison, mule deer, woodland caribou, elk, and two species of thinhorn sheep.
Prince Edwards Islands (PEI)
Prince Edward Islands or PEI is the smallest province in Canada and one of its loveliest. The rural charms of a rolling green patchwork of farms paired with a coastline of sandy beaches and wildly eroded cliffs studded with lighthouses is a hard combination for tourists to resist. Don’t be fooled, however, there are plenty of fun things to do in Charlottetown. Prince Edward Island National Park occupies much of the island’s central, northern coastline. In the park’s central portion, Dalvay-by-the-Sea historic house was once a regal summer home and is now a hotel and restaurant near Brackley and Stanhope Beaches. The capital city, Charlottetown has a Victorian-era charm and a surprisingly small-town feel. Heritage buildings, including the ornate St. Dunstan’s Basilica and elegant Beaconsfield Historic House, line the city streets. The Confederation Center of Arts is the city’s major cultural hub with an art gallery, museum, and theater, where the Anne of Green Gables musical is performed each summer. Wood Islands Lighthouse, located near the ferry terminal in Wood Islands Provincial Park, has exhibits about the area’s seafaring history and serves as a lookout point. Cape Bear Lighthouse is said to be the first Canadian land station to receive the distress signals from the Titanic. The Confederation Bridge built-in 1997 crosses the Northumberland Strait, connecting Prince Edward Island to mainland Canada and fulfilling the promise of a permanent link made when PEI joined Confederation in 1873. Prior to the bridge, the only crossing was by ferry here or at the eastern end. The 12.9-kilometer bridge is the world’s longest over freezing water and is considered one of Canada’s top engineering accomplishments of the 20th century.
Bonus – Iceberg Festival
You must have heard of bird watching or whale watching but have you heard of Iceberg watching? Well, you heard this right! The communities of St. Anthony, Conche, L’Anse aux Meadows, Raleigh, Roddickton, and Bird Cove in Newfoundland & Labrador celebrate the Iceberg Festival in June, to welcome spring in the north and the annual arrival of icebergs among breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, fantastic fare and good company! From April to August, these 10,000-year-old glacial giants are visible from many points along the northern and eastern coasts, especially on clear, sunny days. They come in every shape and size, with colors from snow-white to deepest aquamarine. Despite their arrival from the Arctic every spring, and their disappearance only months later, our awe of them remains new, year after year. You can hop on to one of the many tours offered and experience these icebergs up close.