Canada’s cities – enchanting Québec, trendy Vancouver, cosmopolitan Toronto and stylish Montréal among them – are rich with historical and cultural treasures, but above all Canada is a land of stunningly beautiful landscapes, from the spectacular fjord-slashed coastlines of Newfoundland and the Maritimes, to the Rockies’ glittering lakes and majestic peaks. Read our selection of the best things to do in Canada.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Canada, your essential guide for visiting Canada.
Canada’s Pacific capital Vancouver is one of the nation’s most enticing cities, with a dazzling location, fine beaches and world-class cuisine. Vancouver is not a city that requires relentless sightseeing, but it has a thriving counterculture. It is distinguished by varied restaurants, craft breweries, secondhand shops, avant-garde galleries, clubs and bars, and a handful of sights that make worthwhile viewing by any standards.
You’ll inevitably spend a good deal of time in the Downtown area and its Victorian-era equivalent, Gastown, a hip stretch of boutique shops and coffee houses. Chinatown could easily absorb a morning and contains more than its share of interesting shops and restaurants. The former warehouse district of Yaletown, on Downtown’s southeast fringes, is also great for exploring: a compact grid full of chic cafés, galleries and contemporary restaurants and bars.
For more inspiring ideas for visiting Vancouver, check out our guide, 8 Reasons why Vancouver is cooler than you think, also note that Vancouver is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
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Some of the finest and most diverse scenery in Québec is in the Laurentians, from rolling farmland to a vast coniferous forest. The Laurentians are one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges and taking a tour here is one of the best things to do in Canada.
Five hundred million years of erosion have moulded a rippling landscape of undulating hills and valleys, and a vast sweep of coniferous forest dotted with hundreds of tranquil lakes and rivers. The region is now one of North America’s largest ski areas, helmed by the esteemed, stylish Mont-Tremblant. The old train tracks have been replaced by a terrific cycling trail.
Discover a picturesque landscape as you snowmobile in the heart of the Laurentians on this guided snowmobile experience. See local wildlife and immerse yourself in nature as you ride through forests.
Wild and unspoiled, Fogo island is Newfoundland at its most traditional, with gorgeous fishing villages clinging to the rocky shore. In 2006 Canadian millionaire Zita Cobb decided that she wanted to return to her childhood home on Fogo Island and help revive the economy of the area. At the time the island was an isolated place devastated by the cod moratorium.
Since then the island has become the envy of many an outport community. Grants and loans have improved infrastructure, and an innovative arts programme has boosted tourism. Yet all of this has simply highlighted what the locals knew all along – that the air here is cleaner, the ocean saltier, the people friendlier and the scenery more enchanting than anywhere else on the planet.
North America’s largest ski resort Whistler, with hundreds of acres of mind-blowing terrain is among the best things to do in Canada for winter sports enthusiasts. Here you can descend the slopes where Olympians triumphed at. Skiing and snowboarding are the main activities, but all sorts of other winter sports are possible.
The resort consists of two adjacent but separate mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb. The mountains can be accessed from a total of three bases, including lift systems to both mountains from the resort’s heart, Whistler Village. Here you'll find a tight-clustered focus of many hotels, shops, restaurants and aprèsski activity.
Fly like an eagle over the Fitzsimmons Valley between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. This tour features five different ziplines, including a 2400 ft zipline with a 30-story descent, perfect for anyone who wants a heart-pounding adventure.
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With an outstanding collection of works by Canada’s Group of Seven and an architectural revamp by Frank Gehry, Toronto’s main art gallery is a must. The Art Gallery of Ontario, or AGO, is celebrated both for its extensive collection of Canadian art and its excellent temporary exhibitions. There are six floors: the Concourse Level holds a theatre and learning centre:
Planning your trip? Read our list of 8 things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.
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End a day lounging on the reddish sands of PEI’s National Park with one of the island’s celebrated seafood feasts. After the dense forests and rugged, misty coastlines of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is a real surprise. It is a land of rich, red earth, gently rolling farmland and neat villages of Victorian homes.
PEI has a well-deserved reputation for cuisine. The island is home to organic farms, fine oysters, mussels and artisan producers of all kinds. Here you can try local potato vodka and gouda cheese, to ice cream and home-made pickles. It remains best known for the excellence of its lobsters, which are trapped during May and June and again in late August and September.
Enjoy a mix of history, sightseeing, and entertainment on a 2-hour guided tour of Charlottetown. Discover the fascinating history, stunning architecture and thriving culture of Prince Edward Island's capital city.
Take a boat trip from Prince Rupert to this remote, lush preserve, which is home to at least sixty grizzlies. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is a remote coastal valley created in 1994. It exists to protect BC’s largest-known coastal population of grizzly bears.
Damage has been done to grizzly habitats by logging, mining, hunting and other concerns is one of the keenest environmental issues in the province. The best time to visit is mid-May to early August. In the summer, several local tour operators run full-day and multi-day boat tours to view the grizzlies on the water’s edge.
See the Great Lakes at Ontario’s most scenic spot, the Georgian Bay Islands. Exploring this area by boat or kayak is one of the most exciting things to do in Canada.
The Georgian Bay Islands National Park consists of a scattering of about sixty islands spread out between Honey Harbour and Twelve Mile Bay, about 50km to the north. The park’s two distinct landscapes – the glacier-scraped rock of the Canadian Shield and the hardwood forests and thicker soils of the south – meet at the northern end of the largest and most scenic island, Beausoleil.
Cruises of the waters surrounding the park’s islands depart from Penetanguishene, Midland and Parry Sound, but the only way of making landfall is from Honey Harbour.
Discover the beauty of Ontario on this guided day trip from Toronto. Hike to Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park, explore a secret beach surrounded by cliffs, and browse Tobermory's shops.
Of all the old fishing towns along the Nova Scotian coast, Lunenburg is the prettiest. Comely Lunenburg perches on a narrow, bumpy peninsula, its central gridiron of streets clambering up from the main harbourfront flanked by elegant churches and candy-coloured wooden houses.
Dating from the late nineteenth century, the most flamboyant of Lunenburg's mansions display an arresting variety of architectural features from Gothic towers and classical pillars to elegant verandas and the so-called “Lunenburg Bump”.
Just about every visitor to Lunenburg eventually ends up at the pride and joy of the town, the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, housed in an old fish-processing plant by the quayside. The museum has an excellent aquarium, a room devoted to whales and whaling and displays on fishing and boat-building techniques.
Our detailed guide to Canada's most colourful town will help you to decide what are the best experiences you can get in Lunenburg.
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Taking a boat trip on Newfoundland’s most jaw-dropping lake in Gros Morne National Park should be on your list of things to do in Canada. The remote Western Brook Pond is one of eastern Canada’s most enchanting landscapes. It is here that one can explore 16km of deep, dark-blue water framed by mighty mountains and huge waterfalls.
From the car park, it’s a forty-minute (3km) walk on a well-maintained trail through forest and over the bog to the edge of the lake. When you get to the end, don’t skimp on the two-hour boat trip operated by Bontours. The boat inches its way between the cliffs right to the extreme eastern end of the lake, past several huge rockslides, dramatic hanging valleys and former sea caves now marooned high above the water.
The Pacific Rim National Park is the majestic centrepiece of Vancouver Island. It is a magnificent amalgam of mountains, coastal rainforest, wild beaches and unspoiled marine landscapes stretching intermittently for 125km. It is located between the towns of Tofino in the north and Port Renfrew to the south.
It divides into three distinct areas. Long Beach is the most popular. Meanwhile, the Broken Group Islands consist of hundreds of islets only accessible to sailors and kayakers. Finally the West Coast Trail is a tough but popular long-distance hike. The entire park has also become a magnet for surfing and whale-watching.
On both the east and west coasts, venturing out to view whales – from orcas to humpbacks and minke to belugas – at close quarters is an unforgettable experience. The Bay of Fundy is a top spot for this.
Another great destination for whale-watching is the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It is one of the world’s best areas for whale-watching, thanks to its location on the main migration routes, food-rich waters and numerous sheltered bays. It’s easy to find a boat going out from Tofino.
Even if you don’t take a boat trip, you stand a slim chance of seeing whales from the coast as they dive. Often, you can locate their tails, or during fluking, when the animals surface and “blow” three or four times.
This magical west-coast archipelago of 200 islets boasts a vibrant Aboriginal culture, unique fauna and deep, mossy forests. Arranged in a gentle arc some 150km off the Prince Rupert coast, Haida Gwaii consists of two major islands – Graham and Moresby – and two hundred islets.
The islands are something of a cult destination among travellers and environmentalists. Partly for their scenery, wildlife, and almost legendary remoteness from the mainstream – but also because they’ve achieved a high profile in the disagreement between the forestry industry and ecology activists.
Some areas of Haida Gwaii were one of only two tracts in western Canada to escape the last Ice Age, which elsewhere altered evolutionary progress. This enabled the survival of many so-called endemics, species which aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
St John’s is an enclave of live music excellence, especially noted for the quality of its folk artists, Celtic bands and fiddlers. The English and Irish settlers who first colonized Newfoundland brought their music with them. Step dances and square sets are performed to the accompaniment of the fiddle and the button accordion, followed by the unaccompanied singing of locally composed and “old country” songs.
Currently, Celtic music can be heard in the bars of St John’s (Shanneyganock is one of the biggest bands on the scene), but local musicians regularly perform in a more traditional idiom. In particular, look out for one of the most popular bands since the 1990s, the Irish Descendants, who still occasionally perform here.
This impressive homage to Canada’s military history competes with the National Gallery is a cultural centrepiece of Ottawa, the nation’s agreeable capital. The exemplary Canadian War Museum is housed in a striking modern building on Lebreton Flats.
The museum is divided into four main display areas, which work their way through Canada’s military history with accompanying text and quotations. The museum really gets into its stride when it reaches World War I in the second gallery.
The section on World War II is similarly intriguing and there’s good stuff on the Cold War too. For example, learn about the details of the strange case of the Russian defector Igor Gouzenko, who was so scared of retribution that he was often interviewed with a bag over his head.
Millions come to see the Niagara Falls – three great sheets of water thundering over a 50m precipice. Even if you’ve seen all the postcards and watched all the films, nothing quite prepares you for your first glimpse of the Falls. Niagra is a fearsome white arc shrouded in clouds of dense spray with the river boats struggling down below, mere specks against the surging cauldron.
There are actually two cataracts, as tiny Goat Island divides the accelerating water into two channels. On the far side, across the frontier, the river slips over the precipice of the American Falls, 320m wide but still only half the width of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
The spectacle is even more extraordinary in winter, when snow-covered trees edge a jagged armoury of freezing mist and heaped ice blocks. Even after the sun goes down, the Falls are a splendid sight, thanks to the Falls Illumination, a multicoloured light and water show.
Along this tailor-made trip From West to East: Canada & USA Adventure you’ll visit some of the most iconic cities in the world, all rich in history, culture, cuisine and nightlife.
The wild tracts of the enormous Algonquin Provincial Park – the largest in Ontario – are best explored by canoe. Created in 1893 at the behest of logging companies keen to keep farmers out, Algonquin Provincial Park is Ontario’s oldest and largest provincial park. For many it comprises the quintessential Canadian landscape.
Canoeing is very popular here. With an astounding 1600km of routes, there’s a good chance of avoiding all contact for days on end. Wildlife is as varied as the flora. Any trip to Algonquin is characterized by the echo of birdsong, from the loons’ ghostly call to the screech of ravens.
Public “howling parties” set off into the wilderness during August in search of timber wolves, or rather their howls. Many of the rangers are so good at howling that they can get the animals to reply.
Visit the oldest provincial park in Canada, Algonquin Provincial Park, on a guided tour from Toronto. Set off for a full day of hiking, canoeing, swimming, and taking in the beautiful views.
Catching some of the thousands of acts at the world’s largest comedy festival in Montreal is one of the many fun things to do in Canada.
In many cities, festivals are special occasions; in Montréal, they’re a way of life. In the summer, especially, the city explodes with festivals, many taking place in the gleaming entertainment quarter, Quartier des Spectacles. You can buy festival tickets via a variety of sources, including the festival websites, at the the Quartier des Spectacles’ central info and ticket centre and Admission, a division of TicketMaster.
Juste pour Rire (“Just For Laughs”) is the world’s largest comedy festival, with past headliners including Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carrey, John Candy, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg.
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Step back into the world of Moby Dick at this beautifully preserved nineteenth-century fishing port in Labrador. Spending a night or two on the island of Battle Harbour is one of the most memorable things to do in Canada. This beautifully restored fishing port is visited by towering icebergs in spring and humpback whales in summer; killer whales often cruise right off the dock.
An epic restoration project by the Battle Harbour Historic Trust has resulted in a clutch of wonderfully evocative old wooden buildings opening to the public, a visitor centre and several walking trails; you can also stay in some of the old houses.
With its clutch of fine old buildings, handsome location and great restaurant scene, Québec City’s historic old town feels more European than Canadian. Spread over the promontory Cap Diamant and the banks of the St Lawrence River, Québec City is one of Canada’s most beautifully located cities, and certainly its most historic one.
Vieux-Québec, surrounded by solid fortifications, is the only walled city in North America, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Throughout the old city winding cobbled streets are flanked by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stone houses and churches, graceful parks and squares, and countless monuments.
Although some districts have been painstakingly restored to give tourists as seductive an introduction to Québec as possible, this is nevertheless an authentically and profoundly French-Canadian city.
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The highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson, is set amid stunning scenery on the Alberta/BC border in the impressive Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Mount Robson is one of the most staggering peaks you’ll ever see. It's southern face has a rise of 3100 m. The view from the road frames the mountain as a single mass isolated from other peaks. A spectacular glacier system, concealed on the mountain’s north side, is visible if you make the popular backcountry hike to Berg Lake.
Enjoy a fantastic 7-day tour of the Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks. Canoe Lake Louise, explore Banff, Jasper, and Yoho national parks, and get a glimpse of Mount Robson. Visit Whistler, Vancouver and Clearwater.
The largest collection of snow and ice in the Canadian Rockies is at the Columbia Icefield, home of the famed Athabasca Glacier. The Columbia Icefield is the largest collection of ice and snow in the entire Rockies. This is the biggest glacial area in the northern hemisphere outside the Arctic Circle. It’s also the most accessible of some seventeen glacial areas along the Parkway.
The busy Icefield Centre embellishes the background information and sheds light on both the Columbia Icefield and Canada’s most extensive cave system – the Castleguard Caves. These honeycomb the ice but are inaccessible to the public. Above all, the centre provides a viewpoint for the most prominent part of the icefields.
Get ready for an awe-inspiring adventure viewing iconic glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes from above on this Scenic Helicopter Tour.
This scintillating highway snakes along the rugged Cape Breton coast, through misty forests and traditional Acadian and Gaelic communities. The extensive Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers some of the most mesmerizing scenery anywhere in the Maritimes. Here you'll find a mix of deep wooded valleys, rocky coastal headlands, soft green hills and boggy upland.
Though much of the park is actually off-limits to the public, land bordering the Cabot Trail can be explored by 25 hiking trails signposted from the road. Some of them are the easiest of woodland strolls, others offering steeper climbs to small lakes, waterfalls and rugged coastal viewpoints.
One of the most popular is the 9.2km Skyline Loop Trail, which clambers up the coastal mountains north of Corney Brook, a few kilometres up the coast from Chéticamp.
Let your inner cowboy (or -girl) loose at this annual bonanza of all things rodeo and Western in Calgary, the Calgary Stampede. The annual Calgary Stampede brings around 1.25 million spectators and participants to the city for ten days in early July.
The Stampede’s real action – the rodeo and allied events – takes place in Stampede Park, southeast of downtown. This vast, open area contains an amusement park, concert and show venues, bars, restaurants and a huge range of stalls and shows that take the best part of a day to see. The entrance charge gives you entry into everything except the rodeo and chuck-wagon races.
Join the only walking tour that is endorsed by the Calgary Stampede. Learn the story of Western Canada, the origins of the Calgary Stampede, and the history of the First Nations in the Calgary area while viewing public art located in Stampede Park.
Taking in the dramatic Rockies for over 200km, Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Its unending succession of huge peaks, immense glaciers, iridescent lakes, wildflower meadows, wildlife and forests. It is capped by the stark grandeur of the Columbia Icefield – which can be almost overwhelming.
You could drive the whole highway in about four hours, but to do so would be to miss out on the panoply of short (and long) trails, viewpoints and the chance to soak up the incredible scenery. If you want to make a day trip of the Icefields Parkway, your best bet is to go just as far as the Columbia Icefield, the highlight for many.
Travel along the Icefields Parkway and see the Athabasca Glacier on this full-day tour from Banff and enjoy a packed lunch. Pass the Rocky Mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, and emerald lakes.
Bleak and solitary, the northern town Churchill bills itself as the “polar bear capital of the world” – with justification. Blanketed with snow in winter and covered by thousands of bogs and lakes in summer, the terrain is completely flat until it reaches the sloping Churchill River banks. From there are the ridges of Hudson Bay, whose grey-quartzite boulders have been rubbed smooth by ice, wind and water.
Polar bears start to arrive in June, forced ashore until the ice re-forms enough to support their weight, allowing them to hunt seals. A polar bear can detect a scent from 32km away and can pick up the presence of seals under a metre of snow and ice. The best months to spot polar bears are September, October and early November, just before the ice re-forms completely.
Take a step back into history in this iconic frontier town, the centre of the great 1898 Klondike gold rush. Few episodes in Canadian history have captured the imagination like the Klondike gold rush, and few places have remained as evocative of their past as Dawson City, the stampede’s tumultuous capital.
Today, Dawson City has become something of a beacon for the arts. The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture has a contemporary art gallery and a residence programme that brings eighteen artists to town each year. In mid-July, the city hosts its annual Dawson City Music Festival which attracts scores of local and international musicians.
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Countless trails make it easy to escape the crowds and explore the great outdoors around the Rockies’ bustling summer capital Banff. Banff is an obvious base for walks in the park, and trails around the town cater to all. Short walks can provide an opportunity to see a remarkably wide range of wildlife and are particularly good for birdwatching.
Longer day-hikes from the town are limited. You will need transport and usually have to head a few kilometres up the Trans-Canada or Bow Valley Parkway to reach trailheads for hikes that leave the flat valley floor for the mountains.
Admire the views of Banff National Park's turquoise lakes and steep peaks as the Banff Gondola takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
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Lying just off the approach road to Grouse Mountain, Capilano River Regional Park’s most popular attraction is the 70m-high and 137m-long suspension bridge over the vertiginous Capilano Gorge.
After traversing the wiggly-wobbly bridge, you’ll come to Treetops Adventure. This is an idyllic boardwalk suspended 30m off the ground of the coastal temperate rainforest. One of the trees, dubbed “Big Doug”, is 1300 years old, 63m tall and 6m wide. Back on the other side of the bridge, be sure to traverse the heart-thumping Cliffwalk, an elevated glass walkway attached to a granite cliff with sheer drops down to the Capilano River.
Enjoy a half-day excursion that takes you from Downtown to the North Shore, visiting the region’s best attractions including the Shipyards District, Cleveland Dam, and the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
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Ready for a trip to Canada? Check out the The Rough Guide to Canada. If you travel further in Canada, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Canada. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Canada. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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