I get hassled a lot by readers, asking what are the best Canadian destinations to see. I try my best to avoid naming names, but I’ll usually share a handful of what I deem to be the best. While I like to remind readers that the best is all subjective, I partnered up with Expedia Canada and came up with my own little hit list to share some of my personal faves. Something a little more public & out there, something that I can just link people to and say “Give this a read“. I’m hoping some readers will comment and share some additional must see Canadian destinations, but I hope this gives you a start!
The wild, rugged Yukon has lured people from all over the world for hundreds of years. Home of the Klondike gold rush, thousands of kilometres of dense bush, and some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Canada (I’m looking at you Tombstone Mountain Range). The Yukon is this mysterious territory where art meets manliness, where nature meets quirky towns and cities, where people don’t take anything too serious, except when it comes to making people laugh. SourToe Cocktails, gold miners trying to strike it rich, and 1:00am sunsets are sure to raise some eyebrows. The Yukon is too weird, too wild not to include in this list.
Vancouver Island, BC
Beautiful Vancouver Island is larger than it might sound. In fact, it’s the largest island on West Coast North America, and 43rd largest island in the world, measuring 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi). From the English inspired streets of Victoria, to the chill surfer vibe of Tofino & Ucluelet, there’s a large amount of must-sees on Vancouver Island, all within a relatively easy driving distance. While most of BC is already pretty laid back, you’ll quickly realize that Vancouver Island has it’s own pace. You see it in the arts, the culture, the sport, the food, and the people. I can’t name any one place in Vancouver Island as the only must-see, so I’m copping out and just saying “Go see it all“. It’s just a terrific island to cruise around and explore. A must see destination if you’re a die-hard hiker, a relaxed camper, an RVer, a luxury traveller, or just someone who likes to snap photos. Vancouver Island is truly a travellers paradise.
The Okanagan Valley, BC
Picture massive valleys, mild temperature, vineyards, warm lakes, wind & kite surfers, boaters, and cute beaches. The Okanagan Valley is often skipped by visitors in lieu of the nearby mountains. A weekend in the Okanagan is well worth the small detour, particularly in the summer. Rent a car, a bike, or a boat, and find yourself exploring this unique BC countryside. Panoramic views of this beautiful part of Canada will leave you with empty SD cards and countless warm memories. Or possibly a hangover, as the wine is delightful.
Vancouver, it’s often dreamed about by other Canadians due to its year round mild weather. While the weather may not be as extreme as other parts of Canada, the amount of activities you can squeeze in during a short stay in Vancouver is sure to make you think this area is anything but mild. Mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, kayaking, you name it, you can probably do it in or near by Vancouver. While Vancouver is one of Canada’s larger cities, it’s still fairly easy to get around with public transportation. Surrounded by mountains and pacific ocean, Vancouver is a must-see destination simply due to its beauty, and also due to the sheer number of exciting activities that you can enjoy. An outdoorsy, nature lovers paradise, with an extremely large amount of good restaurants, and a superb stop for any visitor to Canada.
Jasper National Park, Alberta
Nothing compares to Jasper. A rocky Mountain mecca that truly lets you feel like you’re alone on this planet. While Banff continues to draw in more visitors per year, Jasper has kept its pristine look and feel. You never really feel like you’re too close to people. There’s room to breathe, and even more room to explore. Countless hiking trails await you, world class skiing and snowboarding, Jasper is a year round meccca of discovery. By day you’ll come across all sorts of wildlife, and by night Jasper’s Dark Sky Preserve allows for some of the starriest nights you’ll ever experience.
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
The prairies we know in Canada are not same prairies that existed 300 years ago. Once upon a time, a large part of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were covered in grasslands, feeding herds upon herds of wild bison. Before the fields of wheat, barley, canola and flax, there was grass, and lots of it. Visiting the Grasslands National Park lets you truly experience what that would have been like. It has become a refuge for wildlife, flora, and some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. If you want to really take it in, camping for a night or two in these parts is a must, just be on the guard for the wild bison, rattlesnakes, and the thousands of prairie dogs that live in these parts.
Winnipeg gets poked at across Canada, but spend a weekend there and you’ll quickly discover that Winnipeg is actually very awesome. I can’t help but wonder if the insults directed at Winnipeg for being too cold, too boring, are just tactics to keep the tourist masses out of this prairie city. With a wildly popular music scene, home to such great artists as Neil Young, The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and more, you can hop from bar to bar catching incredible indie bands and singer songwriters. Spend a day exploring the Forks, the historic & mysterious Legislative Building or any of the countless festivals that setup in downtown Winnipeg. Or simply explore the wildly different neighbours of the Exchange District, Osborne Village, or the french quarter, formally known as St. Boniface. Winnipeg’s got a lot to offer for those willing to look!
I regularly receive emails asking where someone can spot polar bears. I’m always quick to educate people that the majority of us don’t live near polar bears, but there are some places in Canada where they’re regular visitors. The easiest place to see them without getting mauled to death, is hands down Churchill Manitoba. Located on the tip of the Hudsons Bay, known as the the home of the polar bear, beluga, and countless other wild animals. Churchill is a quirky town where industry meets rugged outdoors. This place is easily a must see Canadian destination. The VIA Rail trip from Winnipeg up to Churchill (2 days), is long and difficult, but very much worth it!
Toronto is a different beast. While still very much Canadian, you can’t help but feel fully immersed in countless different cultures when exploring this city. Each neighbourhood differs so much from the next. With countless museums, parks, sports arenas, architectural wonders, and commonly known as a foodie’s paradise, Toronto has something for everyone. Public transportation makes Toronto easy to get around, and in spite of its size, it’s still very affordable to visit this metropolitan city. Take it all in from the top of the CN Tower, or do something crazy-stupid like hang over the edge of the building on the EdgeWalk. I have clammy hands just seeing that photo again!
The national Capital, Ottawa has always struck me as a mix between Halifax and Toronto, with a dash of Montreal. Historical buildings, governmental grandiose buildings, and a growing number of clubs, pubs, and restaurants makes Ottawa a beautiful city to visit. Explore the canals by boat, or bike & hike the countless paths throughout the city. There’s a ton to see and do in Ottawa, making it a great place to add on anyones Canadian bucket list. Consider visiting the nations capital during Canada Day to truly experience the Canadian pride associated with this great city.
This city is awesome. There’s really no questioning a visit to Canada should include this hip, cultural centre of Quebec. An incredible mix of french and english, with a dash of european culture peppered throughout. Food, music, arts, and the outdoors are such integral parts of this city, that you can’t help but feel inspired, exploring the streets of Montreal, or using this city as base camp for your Quebecois journey. A summer visit to Montreal is a must, taking in the numerous food & music festivals, such as POP Montreal, or the always-free, always-fun Tam Tams in Mount Royal Park.
Quebec City, Quebec
The great walled city of Canada, this historic french city centre has been at the forefront of some of Canada’s most famous historical events. A history buffs dream come true, from old gothic architecture, to battlegrounds from hundreds of years ago. This city has retained it’s elegance throughout the years, and is still widely regarded as one of the best places to really expose yourself to french immersion. While Montreal can be very french at times, it’s common for people to live in Montreal and not speak a lick of french. If you want to expose yourself to true french Canadian culture, from the delicious artisan foods, to the beautiful views of the Fleuve St Laurent, Quebec City is a safe bet.
Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
Home to some of the largest tides in the world, this entire area was carved out by the rising tides of the Bay of Fundy. The flowerpot rocks are a stunning example of natures power. During low-tide, hike throughout the rocks and explore the caverns carved from water. During high tide, kayak around the flowerpot rocks on the Bay of Fundy. While Hopewell Rocks are a terrific day trip that really lets you experience the wild elements in these parts, the Bay of Fundy is also home to some amazing whale watching tours, along with some beautiful highway drives.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
One of my favourite cities, Halifax is a superb combination of metropolitan fun mixed with maritime heritage. Easily one of the most walk-able cities in Canada, Halifax is a great place to visit, and an even better place to settle down for a bit. I found myself living there for nearly 5 years, and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. From historical pubs, delicious microbrews, countless colleges & universities, and the gateway to some terrific tours. A weekend in Halifax is sure to be met with a few hangovers, but before the drinks begin to flow, you’ll be immersed in some of Canada’s earliest history.
St Johns, Newfoundland
Screech, beer, hard drinks, wild parties, all surrounded in a historical maritime harbour. St Johns, Newfoundland is definitely a must-see-must-experience Canadian destination. It’s funny what a stretch of water will do. While very much similar to Halifax, it’s easy to see that Newfoundlanders are their own breed of maritimers. With their celtic inspired tunes, cute but sometimes hard to understand accents, and their affinity for embarrassing CFA’s (come from away’s) by initiating them into Newfoundland culture by kissing a cod. The easy to walk (though be warned, they’re hilly) streets of Newfoundland make it a great city to stumble around, crawling from pub to pub and sampling their local beers, eats, and laughing with some of the friendliest people in Canada. If you can squeeze in George Street Fest on your visit, all the power to you. Just be sure your liver is up to it! Those east coasters can put ’em back.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland
This charming, mysterious island takes control of you in weird ways. You’ll find yourself staring out into the Atlantic Ocean, wondering “Why can’t I live here forever“. Fogo Island’s scenery is some of the most unique in Canada. Everywhere you look is rock, moss, trees, ocean, and stunning beauty. The Island residents have known this for a long time, in fact, artists from all over the world fight for the chance to become an artist in residence on this small little island. Some of the worlds freshest seafood, the most spectacular drives, and the friendliest people you’ll meet are all found on Fogo Island.