The Best Places To Visit In Canada

Road trips across vast prairies, luxe rail journeys, grizzly bears, whale watching and – of course – the Niagara Falls, Mounties and maple syrup… These are all things we associate with Canada but deciding where to go in a country spanning six time zones can be overwhelming – especially for the first-time visitor. Here are our favourite places to visit and the best ways to see them.
UNSPLASH/JORGE VASCONEZ

ONTARIO

Canada’s fourth largest province offers wonderful contrasts. It’s home to cosmopolitan cities, enchanting small towns and natural wonders, such as the thundering Niagara Falls, Algonquin Provincial Park and Lake Huron. 

Start in Toronto. On the shores of Lake Ontario, this vibrant city brims with energy and diversity. Its population includes 200 ethnicities speaking around 140 different languages – if you walk down Bathurst Street, you’ll pass Koreatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, boho Kensington Market and trendy West Queen West. The best place to stay is downtown, where you’ll find the skyline-defining CN Tower, museums, art galleries, glitzy shopping, excellent restaurants and theatres. 

Across the lake, about 80 miles away via the highway, Niagara Falls is doable in a day from Toronto –by car, train or bus. The falls sit on the American-Canadian border and are made up of three waterfalls: American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls – the latter is the largest and most iconic. 

Two and a half hours' drive north of the city is Algonquin Provincial Park, a paradise of maple and fir woodlands, meadows, lakes and wildlife – you’ll likely spot moose, beavers and otters, and may even hear the howl of a wolf at night. Stay in a log cabin from which you can canoe and fish on the lakes, as well as walk and cycle along the many trails.

Going west, just under three hours’ drive from Toronto, the town of Goderich on Lake Huron is steeped in historic charm and often described as ‘the prettiest town in Canada’. There are three excellent sandy beaches on the lakeshore that are great for swimming, sailing and windsurfing.

And don’t discount a couple of nights in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, which sits on the Ottawa River on the Ontario/Québec border. It’s not as dynamic as Toronto, but worth a stay for its galleries, museums and superb restaurants.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

British Columbia is Canada’s western-most province and one of the country’s biggest tourist draws. It’s a big place – the size of France and Germany combined – and distances are long, so it’s important to plan your trip according to what your interests are. Take your pick from the dramatic mountain landscapes of the Rockies, dense forests, waterfalls, streams brimming with trout and salmon, a rugged coastline with amazing views of the Pacific, vineyards and incredible skiing (in winter); and BC is also prime bear-watching territory. 

Trendy Vancouver has been named the world’s best place to live a few times. With its cosmopolitan culture, gourmet food markets, seafood restaurants, world-class exhibitions and shopping, it’s the perfect place to begin your holiday in BC. You also get beautiful beaches, mountain backdrops and lots of open green spaces. The best way to enjoy Vancouver’s many attractions is on a bike tour. Be sure to take in Stanley Park with its intriguing history and awe-inspiring viewing points. From there, hop on the ferry to Granville Island for its farmers’ market, cool cafés and eateries, and stalls selling unique handmade crafts.

Over the water, Vancouver Island is far removed from the cityscape of Vancouver. Covered in rainforest, it’s bursting with marine and wildlife and is wild enough to have black bears, wolves and bald eagles. Head to the capital of BC, Victoria, which is perched on the southernmost tip of the island – from here you can take a whale watching trip to spot orcas as well as dolphins, sea lions, otters and, during the summer months, migratory humpback grey whales. Other must-sees include Campbell River to see grizzly bears, Port Hardy and Tofino. The Pacific Rim National Park stretches along the west coast of the island – renowned for its dramatic coastal scenery and long sandy beaches, it stretches from Tofino in the north to Port Renfrow in the south, and has many hiking trails to suit all levels of fitness.

Other places to consider visiting in the province include Kamloops in ranching country where you’ll find amazing golf courses and hiking trails; Kelowna on the shores of Lake Okanagan for its vineyards; and Whistler, one of the world’s most popular ski resorts but also wonderful in the summer months for biking and hiking.

UNSPLASH/MWANGI GATHECA

ALBERTA   

If you are visiting Canada in search of awe-inspiring scenery, you must go to Alberta. Home to the Canadian Rockies, you’ll find yourself surrounded by jagged, snow-capped mountains and incredible views around every corner. There are also expansive ranchlands and sweeping landscapes, creating a haven for outdoor adventures such as camping, hiking, pony-trekking, fishing and white-water rafting.

Touring the province is the best way to get the most out of Alberta. Places not to miss include Jasper, Jasper National Park, Banff, Calgary, Canmore, Edmonton and Lake Louise. The cowboy city of Calgary is famed as the home to the annual Calgary Stampede (8th-17th July this year), a spectacular Western-style festival featuring rodeos, chuckwagon races, live concerts and exhibitions. Another experience you won’t forget is a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train (see below).

QUÉBEC

Québec is Canada’s largest province and its French-language heartland. First colonised by French fishermen and fur traders in the early 17th century, it remains something of a country within a country, with an intriguing history and sophisticated edge. It’s home to cosmopolitan Montréal and the Unesco World Heritage Site of Québec City, the only fortified city in North America, as well as vast mountain ranges, rivers and lakes. 

Begin your trip in stylish Montréal where you’ll notice the clear division between the French and anglophone quarters. In the cobbled streets of old Montréal, must-sees include the Basilica of Notre-Dame, the Place Jacques-Cartier and the Vieux Port. Rue Sherbrooke is home to exclusive shops, art galleries and the Musée des Beaux-Arts. An array of fabulous restaurants, bistros and pavement cafés offer every type of cuisine, with delicious smoked meats the local speciality. For the best views of Montréal, travel up to Mont Royal and enjoy one of the city's largest green spaces. Each year, the city’s summer calendar is crammed with world-renowned events, including the Canadian F1 Grand Prix and an international jazz festival.

Avoid the freeway on the three-hour drive to Québec City and take the slower scenic route along the St Lawrence River which passes pretty lakeside towns and dense forests. On arrival, you’ll feel the difference – Montréal is the younger and more lively side of French Canada, whereas Québec City is more traditional and old world charm. Spend the day exploring its cobbled streets, impressive architecture, designer boutiques and Parisian-style cafés. You can also take a cruise along the St Lawrence to admire the city’s landmarks – expect spectacular views of the Château Frontenac. Head out of town to the Montmorency Falls, which reach higher heights than Niagara Falls and where you can walk the width via a suspension bridge (not for the fainthearted!).

The Québec countryside is a perfect self-drive destination – head to the Saguenay Fjord National Park in the south of the province for adventures like hiking and kayaking. The park is also home to black bears, beavers, moose, peregrine falcons and several species of whale. Further east is the Gaspe Peninsula where you can stay in lodges set in the mountains of the Matane Wildlife Reserve which has the largest number of moose per square mile in all of Québec.

SCOTT DUNN

ATLANTIC PROVINCES

On Canada’s east coast, the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island boast Canada’s most spectacular coastline. These provinces offer a great seaside holiday and can be reached in just six hours’ flight from the UK – either into St John’s or Halifax. You’ll find uncrowded beaches and breathtaking scenery, and you’ll be able to feast on seafood – lobster, scallops, mussels, oysters and cod. A foodie’s paradise! Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, you will need to limit your trip to one or two areas – the best option is a self-drive holiday. 

Nova Scotia’s coastline is dotted with charming gingerbread-style cottages and lighthouses overlooking picturesque bays and the wild Atlantic. In the summer months, the sunsets are stunning, and you’ll be able to spot humpback whales. The historic city of Halifax, dominated by the Citadel and clock tower, is worth visiting – along the waterfront, you’ll find seafood restaurants, live music bars and boutique shops in restored maritime warehouses. The Titanic sank nearby and memorabilia from the wreck is on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.  

Bordering Nova Scotia to the north, New Brunswick is a cultural melting pot with French Canadian, Irish and Scottish influences. It is renowned for being home to the Bay of Fundy, which has the world’s highest tides. The provincial capital is Fredericton which has some lovely art galleries, while the nearby village of Gagetown is famed for its old riverside houses. Along the dramatic coastline you will also find Fundy National Park, the Hopewell Rocks, the vibrant city of Saint John and Passamaquoddy Bay. The nearby islands of Grand Manan and Campobello feel a world away and are enchanting. Whale-watchers will be in their element here, with several species frequenting the waters. It’s often said New Brunswick has the best seafood in Canada. To the east are the wonderful sand dunes and lagoons of Kouchibouguac National Park and the world-famous salmon fishing river, the Mirimichi.

The smallest province, Prince Edward Island, is Canada’s birthplace – the confederation was signed here in 1867 – and one of its great natural wonders, with stunning landscapes, verdant valleys and bustling harbours. You’ll find scenic golf courses here too and, thanks to the recently constructed Confederation Bridge, it’s easily accessible from New Brunswick. The pretty, small city of Charlottetown is the provincial capital and is full of leafy avenues with clapboard houses. Cavendish lies on the northern coast amid red sandstone cliffs, sandy dunes and crystal blue water warmed by the Gulf Stream. You’ll find lots of antique shops and locally crafted art here. It was also home for the author of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Other must-visits include Brudenell, Linkletter and Souris Beach Provincial Parks, and the ‘singing’ sands of Basin Head – so called because the sand squeaks or ‘sings’ when you walk on it (due to the high content of silica and quartz that rub together). 

Stretching up to the Arctic Circle, the sprawling province of Newfoundland & Labrador is often referred to as ‘Big Land’. St John’s is the pretty capital. The harbour area is its heart, with houses painted red, green, yellow and blue, and countless restaurants and historic pubs. Don’t miss a climb to the top of Signal Hill for spectacular views over the city and nearby coastline, and be sure to visit the most easterly point in North America, Cape Spear. The historic village of Twillingate on the shore of Notre Dame Bay is the place to watch icebergs float by during the summer months. In the Long Range mountains, beautiful Gros Morne National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site – here, you can walk through wild mountains and take boat tours through fjords under towering cliffs. The Great Northern Peninsula is a highlight of any visit to Newfoundland – the land is filled with moose, caribou and black bears, while the rivers and lakes teem with salmon. At the northern tip of the peninsula lies L’Anse aux Meadows, thought to be the original landing site of Viking settlers over 1,000 years ago.

PEXELS/AKSHAY NAYAK
PEXELS/PIXABAY

Inspired? Here's How To See The Sights By Rail…

The Canadian

Considered one of the world’s great rail journeys, The Canadian offers the ultimate transcontinental trip between Toronto in the east and Vancouver way out west. Wexas Travel organises holidays beginning with a night’s stay in Toronto’s Fairmont hotel. From here, you'll take in the mighty Niagara Falls. You’ll then spend four days on the train, crossing the scenic lakelands of northern Ontario, touring the western plains of the prairies and traversing the Rockies via Winnipeg, Edmonton and Jasper, before finishing your epic journey in Vancouver. Along the way, enjoy the superb amenities and glass-windowed viewing carriages the train is known for. A city stay in Vancouver’s Fairmont hotel for two nights includes an excursion to Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge.

9-day tailor-made rail journey from £5,390pp, including flights. Click here for further information.

The Rocky Mountaineer

Another of the world’s great train journeys is aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. Over the course of two or three days, you can travel in total luxury to and from the Rocky Mountains, with a choice of routes, start points and destinations. Scott Dunn’s ‘Epic Canada’ six-night itinerary from Vancouver to Jasper begins with two days on the Rocky Mountaineer, staying overnight in Kamloops. On your first day, you’ll pass through Fraser Valley, past the Cascade Mountains and meander along the Thompson River. On day two, continue to the Rockies and the rugged province of Alberta, past the Cariboo Mountains and Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, before reaching Jasper National Park. After a night here, you’ll drive to Banff, with various stops en route, for a two-night stay overlooking Lake Louise.

6-night ‘Epic Canada’ itinerary from £4,700pp, including international flights, accommodation, breakfast, two days on the Rocky Mountaineer, private transfers. Click here for further information.

Or By Road…

‘Best of British Columbia & the Rockies’

Frontier Canada’s self-drive trip starts in Vancouver and takes you to the alpine village of Whistler, through the cattle country of the Cariboo and on to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. You will then drive down one of the most spectacular roads in the world – the Icefield Parkway – to Banff where you will spend a few days. Finally, it’s back to Vancouver via the Okanagan Valley, home of the some of the best Canadian wine. 

10 nights from £1,495pp, including international flights, accommodation and 8 days’ car hire. Click here for further information. 

‘Montréal & Ottawa Holiday’

Discover the French-Canadian culture of Eastern Canada on this Hayes & Jarvis trip. You’ll stay two nights in each of the three main cities of Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City – all easily connected by road or rail. Activities include a thermotherapy session and guided ‘spooky stroll’ in Ottawa; a sightseeing cruise along the St Lawrence River in Montréal; and a culinary walking tour of Québec.

8 days from £1,279pp, including accommodation, activities as above and international flights. Click here for further information.

'Discover Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island’

Abercrombie & Kent’s self-drive journey lets you watch whales, cruise sweeping beaches and immerse yourself in vast spaces and culture-filled cities. You start in Halifax where you’ll stay at the elegant boutique hotel, The Halliburton. Your trip will then take in Lunenburg, Annapolis Royal, Wolfville, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, the Cabot Trail and Louisbourg before you head back to Halifax.

13 days from £2,095pp, including international flights, car hire, accommodation, flights and transfers. Click here for further information. 

‘Newfoundland Explored Self-Drive Tour’

This Audley adventure offers the chance to explore St John’s, spot icebergs as they drift south, experience the magnificent scenery of Gros Morne National Park, visit the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, and spot moose and caribou as you drive north along the Northern Peninsula. 

15 days from £2,595pp, including international and domestic flights, vehicle hire and all accommodation. Click here for further information.

Or For A Shorter Break…

‘Toronto & Niagara: Wining, Dining & Waterfalls’

A bit like New York, Toronto is a great short break destination – and a foodie’s paradise. On Black Tomato’s five-night uber-luxe trip, you’ll discover the best of the city, including a private helicopter tour, and experience some of Toronto’s best kept culinary secrets – expect to enjoy the hippest restaurants, hidden gems and independent eateries that only the most informed of locals frequent. The trip also takes you to the Niagara Falls with a night’s stay in the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where you can enjoy kayaking, a visit to award-winning wineries, a cookery lesson, gourmet food, as well as a helicopter ride over the falls.

5 nights from £4,950pp, including accommodation, breakfast and private transfers; excluding flights. Click here for further information – remember Black Tomato can tailor your trip to exactly what you want to do.

And When’s The Best Time To Visit?

Despite its size, Canada has defined seasons similar to those in Europe – it’s cold everywhere in winter and warm in most locations in the summer. The best time to visit (except for skiing) is during the summer months, when you’ll get mostly sunny days and pleasant temperatures. 

*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book. Visit Gov.uk for more information. 

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