Visitors to Canada are as impressed by the animals and nature as they are by the cultural and culinary amenities of the country’s cities. Explore the vast arctic tundra of Churchill for polar bears or canoe along Vancouver’s curving coastline while admiring the downtown skyline. In Toronto, dine on five-star fusion cuisine, or attend a street-side jazz jam session in Montreal.
These are the 15 best spots to visit in Canada, whether you’re a first-time tourist or returning to try something new. But prepare ahead of time because, being the world’s second-largest country, you won’t be able to see everything in a single trip.
The Canadian Rockies
The sawtooth, white-topped mountains spanning British Columbia and Alberta inspire awe and movement. Five national parks – Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, and Jasper – provide many possibilities to immerse yourself in the lush environment, with ribbons of hiking routes, flowing white water, and powdery ski slopes to delight mountain adventure seekers.
This is one of the best spots to visit in Canada during the winter, but there is plenty of outdoor fun here throughout the summer.
The laid-back, cocktail-loving metropolis of Vancouver is surrounded by sea-to-sky magnificence. With skiable mountains on the outskirts, beaches on the coast, and Stanley Park’s dense rainforest just steps from downtown’s gleaming skyscrapers, you’ll find a harmonious fusion of city and environment.
Manitoulin Island is the world’s largest freshwater island, floating right in the middle of Lake Huron. It’s a slowpoke place of beaches and sunny cottages. White quartzite and granite outcroppings surround the shoreline, leading to sparkling panoramas. The island’s eight towns work together to offer native foods (wild rice, maize soup) and eco-adventures (canoeing, horseback riding, trekking). Powwows combine drumming, dancing, and storytelling for culturally immersive events that connect you with the people and land of the country we now call Canada.
Picture-postcard Victoria is the pulsing center of Vancouver Island, with bohemian stores, wood-floored coffee shops, and an English past steeped in tea culture dating back to the 1840s.
British Columbia’s main city is charming, but it is merely the starting point for an island rich with natural beauties.
The West Coast Trail, where the wind-bashed ocean meets a mist-shrouded wilderness and surfers line up for Tofino’s waves, is part of the brooding Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This is one of the best spots in Canada for nature enthusiasts, with so many outdoor experiences to attempt.
This alpine community and Olympic venue for the 2010 Winter Games is one of the world’s largest, best-equipped, and most popular ski resorts, yet it’s only a 90-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. This area is a skier’s heaven, with over 200 defined slopes descending down two towering mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb.
Whistler’s raison d’être may be skiing, but summer tourists on downhill mountain bikes and stand-up paddleboards outweigh their ski-season counterparts, making the resort a year-round hot spot for locals and visitors alike.
Baffin Island’s desolate, harsh landscape is home to cloud-scraping mountains and one-third of Nunavut’s human population. It’s Canada’s largest island (and the world’s fifth largest) and the ideal location for an arctic safari, where you may see narwhals, belugas, and bears in their native habitat.
The island’s crown jewel is Auyuittuq National Park, whose name means “the land that never melts,” The eastern stretch is filled with glaciers, fjords, and vertiginous cliffs. The park is a magnet for intrepid hikers, climbers, and a few polar bears.
Montréal Jazz Festival
Montréal, Canada’s second-largest metropolis and cultural center, is a musical wonderland. At the Montréal International Jazz Festival, almost two million similarly jazzed viewers will see the best jazz-influenced musicians in the world. There are approximately 500 performances and shows (many of them are free).
Local tip: Not a fan of jazz? Montréal has a diverse musical landscape. Around the city, you’ll discover indie, folk, classical, and opera performances for large and small live music venues and events.
Québec Old Town
The capital of Québec is over 400 years old. Its historic stone walls, gleaming spired cathedrals, and jazz-filled corner cafes provide ambiance, romance, sadness, eccentricity, and intrigue on par with any European city. The best way to absorb it all is to wander the maze of streets in the old town and get lost among the street performers and charming inns, occasionally stopping for a café au lait and flaky pastry.
Rte 132, Québec’s picturesque highway, is also in the city. This road circles the Gaspé Peninsula, passing by the sea, mountains, and attractive villages; about 700,000 people use it each summer.
A frenetic stew of ethnicities and districts, Toronto astounds you with its metropolitan amazement and cultural diversity. Will you eat in Chinatown or Greektown? Five-star fusion or a sandwich with peameal bacon?
Designer shoes from Bloor-Yorkville are embellished with tattoos on Queen West in Ontario’s coolest metropolis, while mod-art galleries, theater par excellence, rollicking band rooms, and hockey frenzy add to the megalopolis. It is Canada’s largest and most diversified city, with approximately half of its people being born in another country. Take a photo of the CN Tower, which is regarded as one of the top sites to visit in Toronto. For an extra thrill, check out the Edgewalk, which allows you to walk around the tower’s perimeter while enjoying fantastic city views.
The Rideau Canal
This 185-year-old, 200-kilometer-long (124-mile) waterway, which comprises canals, rivers, and lakes, connects Ottawa and Kingston via 47 locks. The Rideau Canal is at its best in winter, when a section of its waterways transforms into the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink.
People zip by on the 7.8km (4.8 miles) of groomed ice, pausing for hot chocolate and delectable slabs of fried dough known as beavertails (a uniquely Canadian pleasure). The Winterlude celebration in February takes things to the next level, with residents creating gigantic ice sculptures.
Local tip: Once the canal thaws, it becomes a boater’s paradise so you may enjoy it anytime.
The Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls may be modest in stature (it doesn’t even make the top 500 in the world). Still, when those big muscular bands of water arc over the brink like liquid glass, crashing into the emptiness below, and when you ride toward it in a mist-shrouded boat – the falls never fail to wow.
While there, explore beyond the falls with a two-wheel bicycling trip around the Greater Niagara Circle Route, or try the Wildplay Zipline to the Falls, a pulse-pounding rush of a ride that gives incomparable vistas of the falls below as you zip through the sky.
In Canada’s middle ground, solitude reigns supreme. Driving through Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s flatlands reveals endless fields of golden wheat that stretch to the horizon before dissolving into the sun. When the wind blows, the wheat sways like ocean waves, with the occasional grain elevator rising like a tall ship.
massive skies mean massive storms that drop like an anvil and are visible for miles. Arty Winnipeg, drunken Moose Jaw, and Mountie-filled Regina are among the far-flung municipalities mixed with Ukrainian and Scandinavian settlements.
The Bay of Fundy
Though lighthouses, boats and trawlers, fishing villages, and other nautical landscapes surround it, there are frequent sightings of deer and moose on land. Fundy’s unusual topography causes the world’s most extreme tides, reaching 16m (56ft), or around the height of a five-story structure.
Dinosaur fans go weak at the knees in dusty Drumheller, where paleontological civic pride is high thanks to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses one of the world’s most important fossil collections. The area’s emphasis on dinosaur fossils makes this one of the most unusual sites to visit in Canada.
The world’s largest dinosaur is also on display, a gigantic fiberglass T-rex that visitors can climb and gaze out of (through its mouth). Aside from the dino-hoopla, the area is known for its typical Badlands beauty and creepy, mushroom-like rock columns known as hoodoos.
The first polar bear encounter will steal your breath away, and there’s no better site for one than Churchill, Manitoba, which happens to be directly on the bears’ migration path. Tundra vehicles search for the razor-clawed monsters from late September to early November, occasionally getting near enough to lock eyes with the gorgeous bears. In the summer, you may kayak or stand-up paddleboard alongside beluga whales.