Canada is known for its nature, and it’s true that – from polar bear tracking to whale watching to glacier walking – you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting menu of outdoor activities anywhere on the globe.
But, of course, the second-largest country also has no shortage of space for urban areas that promise endless excitement for visitors. When you’re planning your trip, there are lots of cities in Canada that deserve serious consideration too.
Here, we look at some of our very favourite places in Canada, from lively towns and cities to remote islands.
Montréal’s reputation as a music and arts hotspot is a well-earned one. Of all the cities in Canada, this one is quite possibly the most popular for creative people on the rise to live – and that creative energy infects the whole city. Festivals are a constant feature of life in Montréal, with the star of the show being the Festival International de Jazz. Whether or not they’re involved in a festival, the city’s hundreds of theatre and dance companies and up-and-coming musicians keep residents and visitors supplied with evening entertainment.
During the day, Montréal’s vast selection of cafés means choosing a place for a drink can be a challenging – but delightful – experience. This is the heart of Francophone Canada, and listening to the locals slip between French and English while you sip a coffee is a pleasant way to drift through an afternoon.
While Montréal’s lazy summer days filled with culture, coffee and possibly poutine are the draw for most visitors, its winters have their own character. In the colder months, fireside drinks and winter sports take over. Beware though: winters in Montréal mean business, with temperatures in the coldest months plunging below -10° and residents being quite used to being snowed in.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
If you’re choosing Canadian islands to visit on the basis of their natural offerings, Vancouver Island is an obvious choice. Covered in lush, nature-filled rainforest and fringed by stunning beaches, the island’s stunning beauty makes it worth the journey from the mainland even if you’re not an outdoor enthusiast.
You could go hiking or biking, ride a horse, take to the famous Tofino waves on a surfboard… or you could simply relax and breathe in the gloriously clean, pine-scented air. It’s not all about adrenaline here: golf, fishing and boating are among the most popular activities.
Head out on a whale-watching trip and prepare to be amazed by the ocean giants which frequent the nearby waters. Or look out for the many other impressive animals who live on Vancouver Island for some or all of the year, including river and sea otters, Californian sea lions and black bears.
Prince Edward Island, Prince Edward Island
All the way over on the opposite side of Canada, to the east, is Prince Edward Island. This is one of the Canadian provinces, as well as being the name of the largest island in the collection that make up the province.
This largest island is famed for its arresting red-sand beaches and its delicious seafood, in particular Malpeque oysters, which come from Malpeque Harbour. Prince Edward Island is very peaceful, with much of its interior given over to farmland.
It might not be the most high-profile of the Canadian islands, but it has its own claim to fame. This idyllic place was the setting for the Anne of Green Gables children’s books by L.M. Montgomery, a childhood staple for many that has transcended the generations. Today a visit to Prince Edward Island offers the chance to visit a range of attractions dedicated to the books, including the birthplace of Montgomery herself.
Whether or not you have an interest in politics, a tour of Parliament Hill, Canada’s seat of power, is a brilliant experience. The complex of buildings is one of the major lures of Ottawa. It is beautifully designed, and the surrounding green space makes for a wonderful place to enjoy a sunny day. Open-air performances of various kinds are also held here regularly.
Ottawa also has much more to offer in addition to its political credentials. The lovely Rideau Canal is an excellent place for a stroll, while museums such as the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature provide lots of mental stimulation.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
If you’re looking for Canada’s beauty at its most untouched, you certainly won’t find it in the town of Niagara Falls. Nonetheless, a new kind of charm has been born from the bright lights and crowds of the town that shares a name with Canada’s most famous sight. And however you feel about the Disneyland vibe of the tourist-targeted town itself, the extraordinary power of the waterfalls themselves remains undiminished. Standing on the deck of a boat as it draws so close to the falls you become soaked by their mist is a must-do Canadian experience.
For many outdoor pilgrims, Alberta is the crème-de-la-crème of Canadian provinces, the crowning glory of any itinerary. This is the gateway to the outstanding beauty, massive skies and diverse wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. And the pretty mountain town of Banff makes the perfect base for exploring.
When it snows, Banff becomes a skiing and snowboarding hub, while hikers and animal-spotters congregate here in the warmer months. In autumn, the Banff Mountain Film Festival brightens up the transition to winter.
As one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, Banff itself is almost never quiet, and Banff-branded souvenirs abound. But in the vastness of the Rockies – regularly counted among the planet’s most beautiful places – you’ll find ample space to be alone with your thoughts.