From majestic mountain ranges to are-you-sure-that’s-real turquoise lakes, Canada is one of the world’s overachievers when it comes to pristine wilderness. In a country that spans six time zones, that’s a whole lot of nature just waiting to be explored. Whether you like the idea of an in-depth escorted journey or prefer to travel your own way, one thing’s for sure: there are so many reasons to visit this beautiful country.
If you’re travelling to Canada, you have to make time for its impressive capital, Ottawa. The imposing Gothic Parliament buildings dominate downtown, and if you only have a few days in the city make your way to the National Gallery of Canada to admire the world-class art, then wander or cycle along the picturesque Rideau Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. Totems of Gwaii Haanas National Park
Amongst the islands you can find the hauntingly beautiful totem poles left by the Haida people, whose oral history recounts legends of the arrival of the first pine tree.
3. Niagara Falls
Not the highest waterfall in the world, but one of the widest and certainly one of the most breathtaking. Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls in one, and more than 168,000 cubic metres of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow. Now that’s (hydroelectric) power – from the mist on your face to the roar of the falls, this is something you just have to experience in person.
The largest city in Canada and one of the most multiculturally diverse on the planet, Toronto is located on Lake Ontario in the heart of the Great Lakes region. It’s a city with everything, including 1,600 public parks, a glittering skyline and a sailboat-dotted marina. Make sure you stop in to the hip area of Queen Street West with its cool cafes, bakeries and restaurants, and the iconic CN tower is definitely worth a visit (love those 1970s glass elevators).
5. Jasper National Park
Hello, Canadian Rockies. World heritage listed Jasper National Park is a breathtaking 10,878 square kilometres of mountain wilderness just waiting to be hiked, walked, photographed, skied, soaked-up, breathed-in and generally appreciated for the global wonder that it is.
6. 1,000 Islands
The Thousand Islands – that’s how you say it – is a cobalt-blue waterway dotted with 1,864 islands. Some are havens of lush, untouched woodland while others are home to Victorian houses and villages. The area is a boatie’s paradise, so get out on the water and breathe in the fresh, invigorating Canadian air.
7. Quebec City
From its narrow cobblestone streets to the 17th- and 18th-century houses and fairytale backdrop of Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City is the romantic heart of Quebec province. Give yourself at least two days here if you can, and take your time wandering the Old Town. This was where the French first established themselves in 1608, making it one of America’s oldest and most intriguing settlements. While this is a thoroughly modern city, the spirit of Old Europe survives.
8. Maple Syrup
One of Canada’s greatest gifts to the world, and to pancakes, is maple syrup. First collected by the indigenous peoples of North America, the practice was eagerly adopted by European settlers and is now a staple at any restaurant worth its bacon. If you have time, find your way to a traditional Sugar Shack and learn how the real thing is produced. You’ll have to sample some, of course. Anything else just wouldn’t be right.
9. Bay of Fundy
Phenomenal is about the only way to describe this wonder of North America. The highest tides on earth, the rarest whales in the world and Triassic age dinosaur fossils. Go beachcombing at New River Beach Provincial Park or experience a billion years of Earth’s history at Stonehammer Geopark. No matter what you choose, there’s no place like the Bay of Fundy.
Yes that’s right. Time your trip right and you could get to see the annual summer Wolf Howl in Algonquin Park. Rangers take centre stage, and call out to the area’s packs with their best howls. The packs return the call, then under expert guidance, car caravans set out to try and catch a glimpse of the magnificent animals up close.
11. Fairmont Banff Springs
The Castle in the Rockies, as it is known, is a year-round luxury resort and picture-perfect home-away-from-home while you’re in the alpine town of Banff, Alberta. Like something out of a Wes Anderson movie (with less eccentric staff) staying at the iconic Rockies hotel is a dream come true for many people.
12. That Viking feeling
An ancient Viking village that predates Columbus by 500 years, L’anse aux Meadows is remote, located at the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland. Don’t let that deter you, however. This one-time home to Eric the Red’s son Lief is a National Historic site and is brimming with aspects of Viking life, from the Viking Interpretive Centre to the fully recreated Viking trading port Norstead. Join a Viking for dinner inside a replica sod house and listen to stories about life in 1000 B.C. from a costumed interpreter. You’ll have plenty of good stories to take home after this little adventure.
13. Glacier Bay National Park
OK so technically Glacier Bay National Park is part of Alaska (it really is) but don't let a detail like that stop you from seeing this area of jaw-dropping dramatic beauty on a trip to Canada. It’s home to more actively calving tidewater glaciers than anywhere else in the world, as well as wildlife that includes moose, seals and whales as well as brown and black bears. This 24-million-acre wilderness is a World Heritage Site and the world’s largest internationally protected area. Love being blown away by nature’s majesty? You need to see this.
Humpbacks and orcas are plentiful in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park and surrounds.
15. Lake Agnes
Lake Agnes, Lake Louise and Mirror Lake are often referred to as the ‘Lakes in the Clouds’ due to their high altitude. Take the 3.5 kilometre hike to the tea house or, for a slightly less strenuous journey, horses are available for hire in Lake Louise. Either way, that steaming hot cup of Almond Madagascar Spice tea alongside a side serve of Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf will be well deserved.
If there’s one thing Canada does exceptionally well, it is bears. Black, Grizzly, Spirit – all these bears roam the Canadian Rocky and Columbia mountains, and the northern town of Churchill, Manitoba, located on Hudson Bay, is considered the polar bear capital of the world.
This Pacific city, just up the road from its like-minded neighbour Seattle, is progressive in every sense of the word. Its Chinatown is one of Canada’s largest, the craft beer scene here is booming and some would argue that it’s the best foodie city in North America. Oh and snow-capped peaks ring the horizon. Did we mention the parks and the beaches? The skiing? Vancouver will win your heart.
18. Cathedral Grove
This European name refers to the rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir tree forest on Vancouver Island which First Nations people looked after for thousands of years. The biggest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old and measure about 9 metres in circumference. If you want to feel humbled by Mother Nature, this is surely the place to do it.
19. Peyto Lake
One of the most beautiful lakes in the world is located in Banff National Park, approximately 40 kilometres northwest of Lake Louise. Is it really that colour? Yes it is. The lake gets its colour from large amounts of glacier rock flour (silt-sized particles of rock) that flow into it during the summer months. The colour varies by the season and even the time of day. If you’re a keen instagrammer, note that the lake is best seen from Bow Summit, the highest point on the Icefields Parkway.
Is it the mouthwatering mix of cosmopolitan cuisine? The buzz that comes from being a city with a fervent passion for the arts? Whatever makes a city dynamic, captivating and creative, Montreal has it in abundance. Home to more than 90 festivals –including possibly the world’s most popular jazz festival – Montreal is where life is all about living exceptionally well. A trip to Canada isn’t complete without trying this city on for size.
21. Athabasca Glacier
How often do you get the chance to walk out onto a 10,000-year-old sheet of ice? Exactly, which is why a trip to Athabasca Glacier is a must. Board a massive Ice Explorer and ride onto the surface, out to where you can walk on, feel, and drink from this mighty, pristine glacier.
22. Prince Edward Island
Whether you’re a fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables or not, you’ll fall in love with PEI’s rugged coastal landscape and characteristic island friendliness. Seafood is abundant so find yourself a table with a view at the Point Prim Chowder House and settle in for a Maritime good time.
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