Canada is as diverse as it is vast, from cosmopolitan comforts to the endless silence of Arctic wilderness.
If you are looking for a world-class destination featuring natural wonders, rich history, luxurious accommodations, and top-shelf cuisine, check out these top Canadian vacation ideas.
13. Cosmopolitan Toronto
Canada is a massive country, so we’ll start off with its largest city, whose 2.7 million residents bustle with diversity and vibrancy. Toronto has everything you’d expect from a major metropolis. Visitors enjoy major league sports, film festivals, and countless performing arts venues. The CN Tower offers a bird’s eye view of the city, including Toronto Islands, the largest car-free urban area in North America. Some of the best dining experiences in Canada can be found in the city’s downtown, such as Momofuku Daisho, culinary titan David Chang’s take on the classic steakhouse.
12. Lakeshore, Ontario
After living it up in Toronto, head south to explore some of Canada’s lesser-known history. In the U.S., there are several well-known historical sites from the Underground Railroad, the network of routes and passageways used to help slaves escape to free states and Canada. Canada, however, paints a historical picture of the epilogue – the story of the new lives escaped slaves built in freedom. Lakeshore, Ontario – about 200 miles southwest of Toronto, close to Detroit – was one of the most popular destinations for escaped slaves. Black History is alive in this small city, as its community embraced freedom and many of those who made it into this town 150 years ago continued the fight against tyranny.
11. L’Anse Aux Meadows
If you think Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in North America in 1492, you would be wrong. He missed that record by about 500 years, as it turns out.
On the northernmost tip of the Canadian island of Newfoundland, there is an archaeological site that puts Viking settlers in Canada over one thousand years ago.
Discovered in 1960, the site (known as L’Anse Aux Meadows) has a possible connection to Norse explorer Leif Ericson’s Vinland colony. Today, you can see reproductions of the Viking settlement that once stood there and immerse yourself in its mysterious history. Sit around a roaring fire at the Viking Encampment and enjoy retellings of the Norse sagas of Thor, Loki, and Erik The Red.
10. Blanc-Sablon, Quebec
About 500 years after the Vikings abandoned their settlement in Newfoundland, French explorer Jacques Cartier landed on the white sandy beaches of what is now northern Quebec. And in 1534, when Cartier planted a cross to bless the land, he was likely unaware that the site had been inhabited by humans for at least 9,000 years. In 2007, the area was designated a National Historic Site, and it has become something of a mecca for North American history buffs. From interactive displays and artwork to tours and reenactments, Blanc-Sablon celebrates almost 10,000 years of human history.
9. Camp Hughes, Manitoba
Few non-Canadians are aware of the important role the Great White North played in World War I. The history of the Canadian military in The Great War is displayed at Camp Hughes, which was a training ground for soldiers 100 years ago. The entire camp is now open to the public for hiking. Sites to visit include a large area of actual training trenches, the largest still extant in North America. Designated a National Historic Site in 2016, the camp has seen an uptick in visitors, with restored facilities, tours, and reenactments.
8. Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia
Canada felt another pang of World War I when the entire harbor area of Halifax was leveled and many lives were lost on December 6, 1917. On that day, a Norwegian ship collided with a French boat full of explosive material headed off to Europe. Over 2,000 people died as a result, with up to 9,000 injured. In Halifax, you can check out the Harbour memorial and connect with Canada’s memory of The Great War, the “War to End All Wars.”
Halifax has more to offer than history; it’s also a booming city with a lively dining scene that features New Canadian cuisine at its finest. Check out the restaurant Edna a few blocks away from the Maritime Museum.
7. Enchanted Forest, British Columbia
A big bounce away, on the other side of the country, there is a magical place with hiking trails, amusement parks, and even a salmon run – oh, and gigantic gnome heads poking out of the ground. At Enchanted Forest, you are swept into a fantasy land that combines storybook fairies and elves with Pacific Northwest woodland beauty. And the fun is not just for kids. 350 of the aforementioned giant heads were designed by some of Canada’s best folk artists. You can also hang out in one of the largest treehouses on earth. Are you ever too grown-up for a treehouse? A large boardwalk threads its way through the forest, and you can take paddle boat trips over the wetlands and the nearby Eagle River.
6. The Canadian Wilderness
While enjoying some fantasy-inspired forests, look a little further north for some examples of the most remote and pristine wildernesses on earth. The Canadian territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories each provide unique example of polar beauty. Set foot in the Arctic Circle, stay up to watch the northern lights, and breathe in the boundless peace of the north.
Or, if you don’t feel like going that far north, you can always check out Saskatchewan’s premier Elk Ridge Resort, on the border of Prince Albert National Park. There you can golf, fish, and enjoy all the benefits of civilization – on the edge of the wild.
5. Banff, Alberta
The Banff National Park is the crown jewel of Canada’s natural beauty and rustic luxury. Famous for having some of the best golf courses in North America, Banff is one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions. Take in the vistas of the surrounding mountain landscapes while you bask in the natural hot springs. You’ll also find some of the best skiing in Canada here, with Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay, and Lake Louise Mountain Resort all within the National Park area.
When you’re in Banff, stay in one of the historic luxury resorts, such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, and wake up to a serene mountain view unlike any other in the world.
4. Drumheller Dinosaurs
Not too far away from Banff, near Calgary, you can get as close to Jurassic Park as it’s possible to get. Drumheller, a UNESCO Heritage site, was once quite the stomping ground for dinosaurs of all varieties. Fifty-eight dinosaur species have been identified through fossils, and a central park celebrates scientific evidence of over 500 different species of life. At the Dinosaur Provincial Park Visitor Centre, you can view exhibits on dinosaurs, fossils, and the natural history of the site. The best time to visit is in the summer when public displays and outdoor theatre add to the richness of the dinosaur experience.
3. Montreal, Quebec: Old European Charm Spun Up With Urban Excitement
Montreal is well-known for its cosmopolitan charm. A major cultural center with museums, opera, theatre, and an amazing jazz festival every July, Montreal is like a mini-NYC mashed up with Paris. It’s smaller than Toronto and retains a lot of its old-world charm. A unique Quebecois culture weaves through its beautiful neighborhoods.
Dining is spectacular in the city, which is the epicenter of New Canadian cuisine. Fresh seafood shares the plate with maple syrup and farm produce. Try Montreal-style bagels, smoked meat, and poutine (classic french-fries with gravy and cheese curds). It’s refined comfort food at its finest, and at chef Chuck Hughes’ Garde Manger in Old Montreal, the dish is elevated with chunks of Atlantic Lobster.
Other must-see Montreal sights include the Biodome, which is a combination of a zoo, museum and nature center, and the site of the 1967 World Expo.
2. Give Peace A Chance
If you’re in Montreal, check out another stop that combines 60’s pop culture with politics and hospitality. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel provides first-class accommodations and is central to the main downtown strip. The hotel has a wonderful restaurant and bar, and its lobby is full of historical artifacts hearkening back to Montreal’s roots as a fur trading port. But up in room 1742, history was made when John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed-in” for peace. Today the hotel room is adorned with photos and memorabilia from the event, and is available to book as a guest room.
1. The Forks, Manitoba
Any trip across Canada should include a stop at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The large public space has everything from art displays, festivals, premier shopping, and great dining options. The open space is at the center of Winnipeg’s downtown, so it’s easily accessible. In winter months, The Forks features outdoor skating and ice castles. When warmer weather arrives, enjoy boating on the nearby Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the displays of nature in the public gardens and orchards, or visit the outdoor marketplace.
Canada’s sheer size offers many choices for the traveler in search of history, excitement, luxury, and nature. Cross the country from the old world Europe-inspired Quebec to the serene isolation of the northern territories and soak in Canadian diversity, one stop at a time.