Canada's top 15 must-see destinations

Canada’s Top 15 must-see Destinations

Travel

Canada has everything. Quite literally speaking. The world’s second-largest country is home to massive mountains, country-sized lakes, an Arctic island, a sprawling network of national parks, and even its desert.

Visitors may spend months gazing at enormous skies, ancient evergreens, and gorges so deep that a stack of 12 double-decker buses wouldn’t reach the top. Even the coasts of Canada will make you envious.

So, what are your options? Whales, polar bears, and moose, anyone? Musicians of distinction, culinary wizards, indigenous villages, and Inuit art? The possibilities are unlimited, but that is precisely why we are here. These are Canada’s top 15 tourist attractions.

1. The Rockies 

Rockies

Best for mountain views and wildlife spotting

The sawtooth, white-topped mountains that straddle the British Columbia–Alberta boundary inspire awe and action in equal measure. With ribbons of hiking routes, flowing white water, and powdery ski slopes, five national parks — Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, and Jasper – offer many possibilities to plunge into the lush wilderness.

Luminous lakes, jumbles of wildflowers, and gleaming glaciers glide by as the steel cars chug through mountain slopes and down river valleys en route to points east or west.

2. Vancouver 

Vancouver 

Best for culture

Who can deny that Vancouver consistently ranks towards the top of “best places to live” lists? The laid-back, cocktail-loving metropolis is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. It’s a harmonious convergence of city and environment, with skiable mountains on the outskirts, beaches around the heart, and Stanley Park’s thick rainforest steps from downtown’s glass skyscrapers.

It also combines Hollywood glitz (many movies have been shot here), a loose counterculture edge (there’s a popular nudist beach), and a thriving multicultural community.

3. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Best for a classic travel experience

Crowded? Cheesy? Yes, indeed. Niagara is also short – it isn’t even in the top 500 tallest mountains in the world. When those great muscular bands of water arc over the brink like liquid glass, roaring into the nothingness below, and you sail toward them in a mist-shrouded small boat, Niagara Falls is a sight to behold.

Nothing in North America compares to its deafening cascade in terms of sheer volume, with more than one million bathtubs of water falling over the brink every second.

4. Whistler 

Whistler 

Best place to ski in Canada

This gabled alpine community and 2010 Olympic venue are one of the world’s largest, best-equipped, and most popular ski resorts, named for the fuzzy marmots that populate the area and whistle like bursting balloons. The Village, which dates from the late 1970s and spans two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – and is located just 90 minutes north of Vancouver, is a poster child for aesthetic design, with no unattractive buildings or rubbish to mar the natural beauty.

Whistler’s raison d’être maybe skiing, but summer visitors with their BMXs and SUPs now outnumber their ski-season counterparts. The resort has recently established an art culture befitting of a small European city, adding to its diversity. The catch? Whistler is both crowded (2.3 million people per year) and pricey. Be choosy with your dates and don’t follow the crowd for a quieter, more affordable experience.

5. Montréal Jazz Festival 

Montréal Jazz Festival

Best festival

Where else can you join almost two million calm, courteous music fans to witness the best jazz-influenced musicians in the world, with 500 shows to choose from, many of which are free? Only in Montréal, the country’s second-largest city and cultural epicenter.

BB King, Prince, and Astor Piazzolla are among the artists that have performed at the 11-day Montréal Jazz Festival in late June. After your free drumming instruction and street-side jam session, you might want to join them. The party never stops.

6. Old Québec City

Old Québec City

Best place to visit in Canada for couples

The capital of Québec is over 400 years old, and its historic stone walls, gleaming spired cathedrals, and jazz-filled corner cafes infuse it with ambiance, romance, sadness, eccentricity, and intrigue that rival any European city. The best way to take it all in is to wander the maze of lanes in the old town, getting lost among the street performers and charming inns, and stop for a café au lait and flaky pastry now and again.

Rte 132, Québec’s honeymoon highway, is also located here. This road, which circles the Gaspé Peninsula, carries happy-go-lucky couples past the sea and the mountains, and more than 700,000 people use it each summer. Of course, it still lacks the romantic appeal of Canada’s “Honeymoon Capital,” Niagara Falls, which attracts more than 14 million people each year. Young lovers, instead, should head to La Gaspésie. Because you don’t need 14 million other people around when you’re on your honeymoon.

7. Toronto 

Toronto 

Best for multicultural experiences

Toronto is a frenzied stew of cultures and areas that leaves you speechless. Will you eat in Chinatown or Greektown for dinner? A peameal bacon sandwich or five-star fusion?

Designer shoes from Bloor-Yorkville are paired with tattoos on Queen West, while modern art galleries, world-class theatre, rockin’ band clubs, and hockey mania contribute to the megalopolis. It is Canada’s largest and most diversified city, with nearly half of its people having been born in another country.

8. Vancouver Island 

Vancouver Island

Best for English sensibility and raw natural wonder

Is it possible for a location to “have it all?” Yes, assuming you’re talking about Vancouver Island. Picture-postcard Victoria is the island’s pulsing center, with bohemian boutiques, wood-floored coffee cafes, and a tea-soaked English history.

The West Coast Trail runs through the brooding Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, where the wind-blasted ocean meets the mist-shrouded forest, and surfers line up for Tofino’s waves. Then there’s the Cowichan Valley, which is dotted with inviting small farms and tiny wineries, ideal for foodies on the go.

9. Rideau Canal 

Rideau Canal

Best for ice skating

This 185-year-old, 200-kilometer (124-mile) waterway, which connects Ottawa and Kingston via 47 locks, is made up of canals, rivers, and lakes. It’s at its best in the winter, when it transforms into the world’s largest skating rink.

People swoosh by on the manicured ice, pausing for hot chocolate and delectable slabs of fried dough known as beavertails. The Winterlude celebration in February takes things to the next level, with residents creating gigantic ice sculptures. The canal will become a boater’s paradise once it thaws.

10. Manitoulin Island 

Manitoulin Island

Best place in Canada for sustainable travel

Manitoulin, the world’s largest freshwater island, is a slowpoke paradise of beaches and summery cottages, floating right in the middle of Lake Huron. White quartzite and granite outcroppings jut out from the shoreline, creating sparkling panoramas.

The island’s eight communities unite to offer native delicacies (wild rice, maize soup) and eco-adventures, and First Nations culture prevails (canoeing, horseback riding, hiking). Drumming, dancing, and storytelling are all part of the powwow experience.

11. The Prairies

The Prairies

Best for road trips through golden fields

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. The wheat sways like waves on the ocean as the wind blow, accented by the occasional grain elevator that rises like a tall ship.

Massive skies bring big storms that drop like an anvil and are visible for miles over the skyline. Interspersed with Ukrainian and Scandinavian villages are far-flung places like arty Winnipeg, drunken Moose Jaw, and Mountie-filled Regina.

12. Bay of Fundy

Bay of Fundy

Best for one-of-a-kind natural phenomena

This isn’t your typical Canadian bay, despite the presence of lighthouses, boats and trawlers, fishing settlements, and other nautical landscapes, as well as frequent sightings of deer and moose on land. Fundy’s unusual terrain causes the world’s most extreme tides, which can reach 16 meters (56 feet), or the height of a five-story structure.

They stir up serious whale food, with krill and other plankton attracting fin, humpback, and blue whales here to feast, as well as endangered North Atlantic right whales, making a whale watch here an extraordinary must-do.

13. Drumheller

Drumheller

Best for dinosaur lovers

Dinosaur fans will go weak at the knees in dusty Drumheller, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world’s most important fossil collections, exudes paleontological civic pride.

Visitors can even climb and gaze out of the world’s largest dinosaur, a gigantic, scary fiberglass T-rex (through its mouth). The area also features iconic Badlands vistas and weird, mushroom-like rock columns known as hoodoos. Driving circles that are scenic carry you past the wonderful stuff.

14. Churchill

Churchill

The best for polar bear encounters

The first time you see a polar bear up close, it takes your breath away. The two days on the train that took you above the tree line and into the tundra, to the very border of Hudson Bay, are quickly forgotten. Churchill is the only outpost here, and it’s situated in the middle of the grizzly migration route.

Tundra vehicles set out in pursuit of the razor-clawed animals from late September to early November, occasionally reaching close enough to lock eyes. You may kayak or stand-up paddleboard with beluga whales during the summer.

15. Baffin

Baffin

Best for Inuit art and incredible landscapes

Baffin, the Inuit’s desolate, harsh geography, is home to cloud-scraping mountains and a third of Nunavut’s people. Auyuittuq National Park, whose name means “land that never melts,” is the island’s crown treasure, with glaciers, fjords, and sheer cliffs dotting the eastern horizon.

Hardcore hikers and climbers, as well as a few polar bears, flock to the park. Baffin is also a hotbed for Inuit art, with studios dedicated to high-end carving, printmaking, and weaving springing up in several small settlements.