Sometimes we forget about our northern neighbor. But that doesn’t mean we should. This North American country contains towering cities and surreal landscapes, from the larger-than-life waterfalls of Niagara to the snowcapped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Many Canadian cities also put their rich cultural heritage on display for visitors. Saveene has compiled a list of the best destinations in Canada, so fly (or drive) north to check them out.
Even by North American standards, Vancouver is a young city. But what it lacks in history it compensates for in scenery. Surrounded by mountains and beaches, Vancouver is both an urban and a natural playground: Its chic atmosphere, high-fashion boutiques and fondness for health-conscious eating have earned it the nickname “North Hollywood.” Sitting about 1,300 miles north of its nickname namesake, Vancouver’s breathtaking backdrop has been the setting for several popular television shows and major motion pictures, such as Battlestar Galactica and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, so don’t be surprised if recognize landmarks from your favorite scenes.
But this mitten-shaped city on Canada’s western edge draws in more than pop culture junkies. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, white-water rafting and skiing will beckon to your adventurous side. Looking for a little R&R? Then try lounging along the 11 miles of beaches or in one of the numerous parks. During the cold weather, you can duck inside one of top-notch museums, or swing your young kids by one of the family-friendly attractions. When you add excellent shopping, dining and nightlife scenes to the mix, you see why many praise Vancouver as a go-to getaway for the multi-faceted traveler.
To experience the lifestyle of a Swiss skiing village, all you have to do is head north to Banff. As it’s lodged in the heart of the Canadian Rockies near the southeastern border of Banff National Park, taking trips here will decrease not only your flight time but also your expenses (although only marginally). Banff caters to intrepid explorers who prefer to end the day in a nice hotel rather than roughing it at the campgrounds. Opportunities for adventure abound, so pick your sport: Ski down Mount Norquay, hike to the massive, free-standing limestone pillars known as the Hoodoos, “scramble” up the face of the Stoney Squaw Mountain or bike along Healy Creek. When you are exhausted, retreat to your cozy (and warm) resort, and replenish yourself with a hefty helping of bison meat. It’s easy to see why this regularly ranks as one of TripAdvisor‘s Top Outdoor and Adventure Destinations.
There is only one word which really captures the essence of Montreal: multifaceted. This city represents the melding of the Old and New Worlds, with 18th-century structures blending into a 21st-century skyline. Old-fashioned houses are now home to funky fusion restaurants, and the familiar sound of English is juxtaposed against the rolled “r”s of French. Rainbow flags fly alongside cloth emblems from India, Portugal and France, and traditional French pastries are sold alongside the distinctly sweet sesame seed, Montreal-style bagel. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, a short elevator ride exposes you to another city located several stories below ground level.
This versatile city’s top attractions include world-class museums and bustling marketplaces. Start your tour along the ancient cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal. Here, you can explore historic cathedrals or grab a cappuccino at one of the traditional French cafés along boulevard Saint-Laurent. If history doesn’t excite you, head to the bustling downtown area for an afternoon of shopping or to Parc du Mont-Royal for a hike. Just make sure to save some energy for when the sun sets; Montreal — especially rue St-Denis — is known for a nightlife scene that continues until the small hours of the morning.
Sprawling Toronto is awe-inspiring, and record-breaking. Flip through the Guinness Book of World Records, and you’re bound to see this city mentioned several times, either as the home of the (now second) tallest free-standing tower in the world; as the site of the largest underground shopping mall; or as the place where you’ll find the longest street in Canada. In other words, “big” is a big deal here — original city boundaries were forgotten by the mid-20th century, nearby suburbs were engulfed, and Toronto became North America’s fifth largest city. Take a trip to the top of the CN Tower to see what we’re talking about — you’ll see a host of shops, restaurants and nightlife sprawled out before you.
And it’s not just expanse that draws visitors — it’s also the Torontonians. According to theToronto Tourism Board, more than half of this metropolis’ 2.5 million residents are immigrants. Dive deeper into the city and you’ll practically be able to call yourself a world traveler. Greektown, Little Italy, Koreatown, Roncesvalles Village, Little India, Chinatown are all Toronto neighborhoods worth exploring. And thanks to the city’s extensive public transportation system, getting from Europe to Asia is a breeze!
Located in northeast Ontario near the Quebec border, Ottawa may seem an unlikely choice for Canada’s capital when compared to larger cities like Toronto andMontreal. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Lonely Planetcompares Ottawa to a personal ad: “… young, vibrant, clean, bilingual, likes kids, long walks on the river.” Visit for yourself, and you’ll see this city doesn’t fall short. It’s small yet lively, family-friendly yet nightlife-ready, somewhat chilly yet undeniably cool.
Ottawa is a political and cultural hub that particularly caters to the out-of-towner. Its downtown overflows with jaw-dropping architecture, state-of-the-art museums, funky boutiques and fantastic snack joints that are all easy for you to explore on foot. Plus, this is a city that loves to celebrate, hosting dozens of festivals throughout the year. And while cold weather may seem like a deterrent, a few hours ice-skating (or sipping cocoa) along the Rideau Canal will transform even the most stubborn summer-lover into a winter buff.
Victoria & Vancouver Island
Although it’s only a 90-minute ferry ride from bustling Vancouver, British Columbia’s capital city may as well be a world away. Taking the opposite approach from its youthful neighbor, Victoria exudes a quainter atmosphere. Resting on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, This relatively small city remains deeply rooted in its Colonial past, relishing distinctively British traditions like afternoon tea at the Empress and a pint at the pub. But that doesn’t mean this destination is strictly reserved for Anglophiles. Despite its nostalgic tendencies, this city attracts a variety of travelers with excellent museums, charming architecture and fantastic harbor views (often interrupted by the surfacing of a whale).
But don’t limit yourself to the (admittedly kitschy) Inner Harbour — there’s much more to this region than manicured gardens and high tea. Vancouver Island is also known for its stretching beaches and verdant wineries. From downtown Victoria, hop a ferry to Sooke — a vibrant boating and fishing town — or make your way out to the Cowichan Valley, where you’ll find rows of vines laden with grapes. Just make sure to bring your camera, as the scenery is sure to delight even the most jaded traveler.
The sight of winding cobblestone streets and towering cathedrals; the sound of French pleasantries and tourists’ “Oohs;” the smell of fresh-baked bread and pungent cheese; the taste of creamy café lattes and buttery croissants. All your senses agree: You’re in France. But they’re wrong: You’re in Québec.
Québec City—the capital of the Canadian province, Québec—dwelled in the shadow of its neighbor, Montreal, for a long time, but the 2008 celebration of its 400th birthday catapulted Québec City back into the spotlight. Since then, travelers have flocked here to experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s charm for themselves. As the birthplace of New France, Québec City continues to uphold the culture of its motherland. Upon passing through the fortified walls of the old city, you’ll discover a world straight out of a European painting: 17th- and 18th-century buildings house bakers, bistros, and boutiques, while cobbled squares are drowned by a sea of café tables. And around every corner, a piece of Québec City’s rich heritage awaits discovery.
The capital of Nova Scotia is any historian’s dream: This harbor town has been a British stronghold and a pirate haven. The city was also the starting point for more than a million immigrants’ new lives and the final resting place for hundreds who died at sea as the “unsinkable” Titanic drowned in the icy Atlantic. And with so many of Halifax’s top attractions devoted to the preservation of its rich history, you might think that this city is stuck in the past. But you’d be wrong.
Halifax has emerged as the commercial capital of Canada’s Maritime Provinces thanks to its natural harbor. This status has helped Halifax come into its own as a cultural hub as well. For visitors, that means an abundance of festivals, art galleries and live performances. This is also a great place to kick off an outdoorsy getaway — Halifax is home to several notable public parks and is an easy drive from some small-yet-notable ski areas. And did we mention the seafood? Salmon and lobster are staple ingredients in Nova Scotian cuisine and can be savored alongside stunning views of the harbor at many downtown restaurants. So whether you’re looking to sample the past or the present, Halifax provides an ideal backdrop.
It’s not hard to understand why many consider Niagara Falls a top natural wonder of the world. Or why it has been the location of some incredible (and now illegal) daredevil antics over the years. The second you see the mammoth Niagara River rumbling toward a 170-foot waterfall at about 20 to 30 (and up to 68) miles an hour, your mouth will drop. The speed at which the river falls creates a misty fog and an unmistakable roar heard from miles away. From the top, crowds flock to the railings to feel the mist on their faces. As you follow the water’s path downward, boats, platforms and observation decks support colorful poncho-clad visitors.
Over the years Niagara has gone from classic honeymoon spot to cheesy honeymoon spot, and, now, an odd mix of the two. In addition to the stunning waterfalls, there is a large concentration of quickie wedding chapels and hotels backlit in blaring neon. But strolling through the icewine vineyards of the nearby Inniskillin Winery is truly romantic, as is enjoying the lush landscape at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. If you have the kiddos, you can bring them to theAquarium of Niagara or MarineLand. So hop in the two-seater with your special someone or pack your family in the minivan and take a spectacular daytrip to the majestic Niagara Falls.
Saint John, New Brunswick
Saint John, New Brunswick may not give the best first impression: The city’s skyline is dominated by shipping terminals and oil tanks, while decades of industrialization have left behind a somewhat gritty appearance. But don’t be too quick to dismiss New Brunswick’s largest city. Beyond the factories lies a vibrant downtown area where remnants of the Victorian era enhance the scenery. History lives on in the heart of Saint John with sites like the Loyalist House, which pays tribute to the city’s former allegiance to the British. You can still feel Great Britain’s presence by grabbing a stool and a stout at one of the city’s many Irish pubs, a cultural marker set by the many Irish immigrants who made their home here in the mid-1800s.
But perhaps the primary reason to visit Saint John is its access to the Bay of Fundy. This large inlet separating New Brunswick from Nova Scotia is an ideal backdrop for outdoor excursions. You can get a feel for Fundy’s powerful tides in the heart of Saint John with a visit toReversing Falls. But to truly experience the bay’s beauty, head out of town to one of New Brunswick’s natural parks where Fundy views beckon to hikers. Just keep your eyes peeled: You’re bound to catch a glimpse of a whale or two.