From the cosmopolitan streets of Toronto to the mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the country to our north features diverse destinations, so deciding which one is perfect for your next vacation can be difficult. That’s why U.S. News considered factors such as affordability, entertainment options and diversity of hotels and resorts, as well as user votes, to compile a list of the best places to visit in Canada. Vote for your favorite below to have a say in next year’s list.
1. Quebec City
The sight of winding cobblestone streets and towering cathedrals; the sound of French pleasantries and tourists’ “Oohs;” the smell of fresh-baked bread and pungent cheese; the taste of creamy cafe lattes and buttery croissants. All your senses agree: You’re in France. But they’re wrong: You’re in Québec.
Québec City – the capital of the Canadian province, Québec – dwelled in the shadow of its neighbor, Montreal, for a long time, but the 2008 celebration of its 400th birthday catapulted Québec City back into the spotlight. Since then, travelers have flocked here to experience this UNESCO World Heritage site’s charm for themselves. As the birthplace of New France, Québec City continues to uphold the culture of its motherland. Upon passing through the fortified walls of Old Québec, you’ll discover a world straight out of a European painting: 17th- and 18th-century buildings house bakers, bistros and boutiques, while cobbled squares are drowned by a sea of cafe tables. And around every corner, a piece of Québec City’s rich heritage awaits discovery.
Toronto is as cosmopolitan as they come. To newcomers, Toronto may seem like just another big city. Downtown is dotted with skyscrapers, the city’s streets are bustling with people on the go and the public transportation system is top-notch. But lift up the hood of Canada’s biggest city and you’ll find there’s more to the eye than an amazing skyline. Toronto is considered one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, with more than half the population born outside of the city. Toronto houses 200 ethnic groups that speak upward of 140 different languages, making this Ontario destination a world all its own. With Greek Town, Little Italy, Koreatown and Chinatown all within city limits, travelers may feel as if they’ve seen more than a couple worlds after a visit to Toronto. Mix that in with Canada’s famous hospitality and charm and you’ve got yourself a relaxed big city experience, without skimping on the vibrancy.
Toronto is big in more ways than one. The city is home to one of the tallest freestanding towers in the world, the CN Tower. It is also the site of the world’s largest underground shopping mall, PATH, and the place where you’ll find the longest street in the world: Yonge Street. But aside from visiting its biggest attractions, Toronto should be experienced like any other big city: sipping a cocktail in a corner restaurant, browsing multicultural shops on quirky neighborhood blocks and hopping on and off the subway for a night on the town.
Even by North American standards, Vancouver is a young city. But what it lacks in history it compensates for in scenery. Surrounded by mountains and beaches, Vancouver is both an urban and a natural playground: Its chic atmosphere, high-fashion boutiques and fondness for health-conscious eating have earned it the nickname “Hollywood North.” Sitting nearly 1,300 miles north of its nickname namesake, Vancouver and its breathtaking backdrop has been the setting for several popular television shows and major motion pictures, such as “Supernatural” and “The Twilight Saga” so don’t be surprised if you recognize landmarks from your favorite scenes.
But this mitten-shaped city on Canada’s western edge draws in more than pop culture junkies. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting and skiing will beckon to your adventurous side. Looking for a little R&R? Try lounging along the 11 miles of beaches or in one of the numerous parks. During the cold weather, you can duck inside one of the top-notch museums or swing your young kids by one of the family-friendly attractions, like Granville Island or the Capilano Suspension Bridge. When you add excellent shopping, dining and nightlife scenes to the mix, you’ll see why many praise Vancouver as a go-to getaway for the multi-faceted traveler.
Located in southeast Ontario near the Québec border, Ottawa may seem an unlikely choice for Canada’s capital when compared to larger cities like Toronto and Montreal. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Visit for yourself, and you’ll see this city doesn’t fall short. It’s small yet lively, family-friendly yet nightlife-ready, somewhat chilly yet undeniably cool.
Ottawa is a political and cultural hub that particularly caters to the out-of-towner. Its downtown overflows with jaw-dropping architecture, state-of-the-art museums, funky boutiques and fantastic snack joints that are all easy for you to explore on foot. Plus, this is a city that loves to celebrate, hosting dozens of festivals throughout the year. And while cold weather may seem like a deterrent, a few hours ice skating (or sipping hot chocolate) along the Rideau Canal will transform even the most stubborn summer-lover into a winter buff.
5. Victoria & Vancouver Island
Although it’s only a 90-minute ferry ride from bustling Vancouver, British Columbia’s capital city may as well be a world away. Taking the opposite approach from its youthful neighbor, Victoria exudes a quainter atmosphere. Resting on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, This relatively small city remains deeply rooted in its Colonial past, relishing distinctively British traditions like afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress and a pint at the pub. But that doesn’t mean this destination is strictly reserved for Anglophiles. Despite its nostalgic tendencies, this city attracts a variety of travelers with excellent museums that celebrate its aboriginal heritage, charming architecture and fantastic harbor views (often interrupted by the surfacing of a whale).
But don’t limit yourself to the (admittedly kitschy) Inner Harbour – there’s much more to this region than manicured gardens and afternoon tea. Vancouver Island is also known for its stretching beaches and verdant wineries. From downtown Victoria, drive to Sooke – a vibrant boating and fishing town – or make your way out to the Cowichan Valley, where you’ll find rows of vines laden with grapes. Just make sure to bring your camera, as the scenery is sure to delight even the most jaded traveler.
6. Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is as pretty as a storybook: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables, to be exact. Like Anne Shirley, the book’s heroine, loved the world over, the island too is a redhead – from coast to coast, rich, sienna-colored soil nourishes luminous green pastures and shores are lined with rose and golden sand. Anne’s beloved landscape, a patchwork of lush rolling fields, tidy gabled farmhouses and seaside villages has barely changed.
The island is, as far as islands go, largely self-sufficient and has gained a reputation as a farm- and ocean-to-table culinary destination. Its size makes it easy to explore by car or bike – the island’s Confederation Trail is one of the world’s best cycling destinations. And, like the rest of the Maritime provinces, its people are warm and inviting.
7. Niagara Falls
It’s not hard to understand why many consider Niagara Falls a top natural wonder of the world. Or why it has been the location of some incredible (and now illegal) daredevil antics over the years. The second you see the mammoth Niagara River rumbling toward a 170-foot waterfall at about 20 to 30 (and up to 68) miles an hour, your mouth will drop. The speed at which the river falls creates a misty fog and an unmistakable roar heard from miles away. From the top, crowds flock to the railings to feel the mist on their faces. As you follow the water’s path downward, boats, platforms and observation decks support colorful poncho-clad visitors.
Over the years, Niagara has gone from classic honeymoon spot to cheesy honeymoon spot and, now, it’s an odd mix of the two. In addition to the stunning waterfalls, there is a large concentration of quickie wedding chapels and hotels backlit in blaring neon. But strolling through the icewine vineyards of the nearby Inniskillin Winery is truly romantic, as is enjoying the lush landscape at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. So hop in the two-seater with your special someone or pack your family in the minivan and take a spectacular trip to the majestic Niagara Falls.
If you’re itching to experience the lifestyle of a Swiss skiing village, but don’t want to fork over the cash for a trans-Atlantic flight, consider Banff. Thanks to its location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies near the southeastern border of Banff National Park – Canada’s first national park – taking trips here will decrease not only your flight time from the U.S. but also your expenses (although only marginally). Banff caters to intrepid explorers who prefer to end the day in a nice hotel rather than roughing it at the campgrounds (though, there are plenty of those, too). Opportunities for adventure abound, so pick your sport: Ski down Mount Norquay, hike to the massive, free-standing limestone pillars known as the Hoodoos, “scramble” up the face of the Stoney Squaw Mountain or bike along Healy Creek. When you are exhausted, retreat to your cozy (and warm) resort, and replenish yourself with a hefty helping of bison meat.
9. Jasper National Park
With the Rocky Mountains stretched across them, Banff and Jasper National Parks are filled with dramatic, untamed wilderness. Rugged mountaintops scrape the skyline while enormous glaciers cling to their precipices. Glassy lakes flash emerald, turquoise and sapphire, filled by waterfalls tumbling down cliff faces and thundering through bottomless canyons. Deep forests blanket wide valleys and lofty alpine meadows explode with vibrant flowers. It’s the scenery that you only expect to see on postcards, right here at your fingertips. And through it wander a cast of elusive wildlife characters such as bears, elk, moose, wolves and bighorn sheep.
Of the thousands of national parks scattered around the world today, Banff, created in 1885, is the third oldest and Canada’s first, while adjacent Jasper was only 22 years behind. Situated on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies, the two bordering parks were designated Unesco World Heritage sites in 1984. In contrast to some of North America’s more remote parks, they both support small towns that lure from two to five million visitors each year.
Snow-capped peaks and powdered steeps; sparkling lakes and gushing waterfalls; challenging hiking trails and inviting restaurants – Whistler’s offerings suit every season. However, its most popular attraction remains Whistler Blackcomb, and why wouldn’t it? The massive resort spans more than 8,100 acres of land, sees nearly 40 feet of snowfall annually and boasts some of the most active après-ski spots in North America. The entire town, which sits about 75 miles north of Vancouver, embodies the ski-chic atmosphere, hosting dozens of ski and snowboard competitions and festivals annually. Whistler continues to buzz through the warmer months, when more outdoor enthusiasts come out to play. Visitors can try bobsledding, or hiking and biking up the mountains. And those who come to town looking for photo-ops will find plenty. The Coast Mountains offer a picture-perfect setting: You’ll find the best views on a ride on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which spans Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
While Whistler is an ideal vacation spot for the active types, more mellow travelers will enjoy the area’s museums and art galleries that are filled with informative exhibits. Plus, the town boasts family-friendly activities and attractions like ice skating, summer concerts and the Whistler Sliding Centre, along with plenty of shopping options and a deluge of dining venues. With pristine ski spots and plenty of outdoor pursuits, you’ll see why so many just want to grab their gear and get to Whistler.
There is only one word that really captures the essence of Montreal: multifaceted. This city represents the melding of the Old and New Worlds, with 18th-century structures blending into a 21st-century skyline. Old-fashioned houses are now home to funky fusion restaurants, and the familiar sound of English is juxtaposed against the rolled “r”s of French. Rainbow flags fly alongside cloth emblems from India, Portugal and France, and traditional French pastries are sold alongside the distinctly sweet sesame seed, Montreal-style bagel. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, a short elevator ride exposes you to another city located several stories below ground level.
This versatile city’s top attractions include world-class museums and bustling marketplaces. Start your tour along the ancient cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal. Here, you can explore historic cathedrals or grab a cappuccino at one of the traditional French cafes along boulevard Saint-Laurent. If history doesn’t excite you, head to the bustling downtown area for an afternoon of shopping or to Parc du Mont-Royal for a hike. Just make sure to save some energy for when the sun sets; Montreal – especially rue St-Denis – is known for a nightlife scene that continues until the wee hours of the morning.
A kayaker paddles past scores of new tract houses on a hillside: it’s an iconic image for ever-growing Kelowna, the unofficial ‘capital’ of the Okanagan and the sprawling center of all that’s good and not-so-good with the region.
Entering from the north, the ever-lengthening urban sprawl of tree-lined Hwy 97/Harvey Ave seems to go on forever. Once past the ceaseless waves of chains and strip malls, the downtown is a welcome respite. Museums, culture, nightlife and the park-lined lakefront feature. You can spend a day strolling here. About 2km south of the center is Pandosy Village, a charming and upscale lakeside enclave.
Let’s share as alms …