Canada’s cities and towns offer travelers a diverse choice of experiences, from chic, cosmopolitan centers to mountain resorts and maritime cities. Determining the best places to visit may depend on your interests and the type of trip you’re hoping to create.
In the heart of the country is Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and the highlight of Canada’s arts and cultural scene. Nearby, Niagara Falls is a must-see attraction for visitors to Canada that never disappoints. In the neighboring French-speaking province of Québec, Montreal is known for fashion, culture, and history.
In the West, Vancouver and Victoria offer two very different perspectives on West Coast cities, but each has something unique to offer. The mountain towns of Whistler and Banff are places to immerse yourself in beautiful mountain scenery and enjoy a little of the great outdoors.
Eastern Canada has a culture all of its own, with a rich maritime heritage and friendly people. And scattered throughout the country are other popular cities and lesser known gems to explore. For ideas to help plan your Canada itinerary, see our list of the best places to visit in Canada.
For beauty, climate, a fun atmosphere, and plenty of things to do, you can’t go wrong planning a trip to Vancouver. Set on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and backed by snow-capped mountains, this is an active city, where locals enjoy the outdoors year-round.
Sunbathers can bask on the beaches in summer, and skiers can hit the nearby ski resorts in winter. At any time of year, you can walk the seawall or stroll through the towering trees in Stanley Park, enjoy fine dining or a casual meal while watching the sunset, or find fabulous shopping, from the markets of Granville Island to the high-end shops in the city center.
If you are spending more than a couple of days in the city and looking for some interesting outings, take a day trip from Vancouver to some of the nearby hotspots such as Whistler, Victoria, or some of the small towns in the mountains or Fraser Valley.
2. Niagara Falls
Canada’s most famous natural attraction, the majestic Niagara Falls has been drawing sightseers almost since its discovery. The great wall of water pounding over the falls is an amazing sight, and the view and access afforded visitors is astounding. You can literally walk up to the edge of the falls, separated only by a cast iron railing, and see the water as it disappears over the crest.
The city that has developed here, also named Niagara Falls, has been greatly influenced by the people and atmosphere the falls have created. Stuntmen and daredevils have been tempting their fate on the falls throughout the decades, and as a result, a carnival-style atmosphere has come to define this unique city. Just a short drive from Toronto, Niagara Falls is easy to reach, and the city is a fun place to spend a day or two.
As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is the country’s cultural hot spot, with ballet, opera, symphony, and Broadway shows. It’s also home to the landmark CN Tower. Add extraordinary shopping, fine dining, and fantastic museums, and there is no end to the entertainment.
In recent years, Toronto’s waterfront has experienced ongoing development and now boasts beautiful walking areas, restaurants, and in summer, outdoor concerts and cultural performances.
Just outside the city center, in either direction from the city, are beautiful beaches, perfect on hot summer days. In winter, a public skating rink springs to life outside city hall, and unique winter events, including the popular Winterlicious, add to the fun. You can find ski resorts near Toronto as well.
Montreal is a unique city, with a beautiful old historic district dating back to the 1600s and a modern city center with extensive underground shopping. Old Montreal is the main tourist hub, with cobbled streets and fantastic old buildings.
Montreal is also home to a large number of fashion designers, and high-end boutiques line the historic streets, along with quaint hotels and restaurants. Located in the French-speaking province of Québec, Montreal has its own cultural identity, but English-speaking visitors will have no trouble communicating with anyone in the tourist industry.
The charming mountain town of Banff, in the stunning Banff National Park, is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore the Rocky Mountains and see some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada. This is undeniably a tourist town, catering to international travelers from all over the globe.
Just a short distance from the town are Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village Ski Resort, two of Canada’s best ski resorts. In summer, the nearby turquoise lakes, including Lake Louise, and glacier-capped mountains are a glorious sight.
But you don’t even need to leave the town to enjoy a gondola ride to the top of a mountain for dinner, soak in a hot springs-fed pool, find fabulous shopping, discover lovely walking trails, and possibly see elk and woodland caribou that frequently make their way into town.
6. St. John’s
In Canada’s far eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the historic and friendly city of St. John’s. This is the main gateway for air travelers to the island of Newfoundland, but many people come simply to enjoy the city.
Colorful buildings line the sloping streets that run along hills, with views out over the harbor. The city also has numerous historic sites and attractions, including Signal Hill and George Street, but the real appeal is the vibrant atmosphere, the people, and the maritime culture that makes this city so unique from mainland Canada.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is home to some outstanding national museums and historic sites, as well as Parliament Hill, and it enjoys a beautiful setting along the Rideau Canal. It is also a small city, making it easy to navigate and fun to explore.
Summer is a wonderful time to visit, with a whole host of events held throughout the season, including the Tulip Festival in spring and the always lavish Canada Day Celebrations on July 1st.
In winter, when the weather is cold enough, the canal transforms into a 7.8-kilometer-long skating rink and in February, the annual Winterlude celebrations draw huge crowds. There is no bad time to visit Ottawa, and it is only a few hours by car or train from Toronto.
British Columbia’s beautiful capital city has a quaint, small-town atmosphere, perhaps due to its island location. Set at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the city has a mild year-round climate, with wet mild winters and warm, glorious summers. Views are stunning in every direction, looking out over the harbor, south over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Washington State, or across to the mountains on mainland British Columbia.
Most of the tourist activity is focused around Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where the Parliament Buildings and the historic Empress Hotel are located. A stroll along the waterfront on a sunny day is gorgeous. Just outside the city center are beaches and lovely coastal areas, as well as parks and hiking trails.
Halifax is a great city for anyone looking for an introduction to Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The Halifax waterfront is the main tourist hub in the city, particularly during the summer months, with a few historic buildings and plenty of activity. Overlooking the city is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, one of the city’s main attractions.
Outside the city are a number of small coastal villages that offer a good glimpse of life in the Maritimes. One of the most famous villages is Peggy’s Cove, home to the most photographed lighthouse in the Maritimes. A little further afield are Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, also well worth a visit. Taking a day trip from Halifax is highly recommended.
10. Québec City
Like Montreal, Québec City is loaded with history and located in the French-speaking province of Québec. This is the provincial capital and a city with a history dating back to the early 1600s. The old buildings and curving cobbled streets make this one of Canada’s most charming capital cities.
One-third the size of Montreal, Québec City is also relatively small and easy to navigate. While summer is the busy season, the famous winter carnival, the Carnaval de Québec, attracts huge crowds and is the city’s most well-known event.
A visit to Whitehorse offers a chance to see life in Canada’s far north. This is the capital of the Yukon and also a gateway to areas farther north, including Alaska and the beautiful Nahanni National Park.
The city’s history dates back to the Klondike gold-rush, when prospectors made their way through here on their route to Dawson City. Many of the city’s attractions offer insight into the gold-rush days, and beyond the city limits are some beautiful natural areas to explore. If you are lucky, the night sky will come to life with a display of northern lights.
Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Whitehorse
Whistler has long been known as a world-class ski destination and was the site of many of the skiing events during the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver. Despite this reputation, Whistler is an equally impressive and popular summer destination, with hiking, biking, golfing, and many other activities on offer.
The village has grown over the years and is now a vibrant, high-end resort town with a great selection of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The Whistler-Blackcomb mountains are famous for their incredible terrain and bring in skiers from around the world. The Peak-2-Peak Gondola, which joins the two mountains, is an 11-minute, 4.4-kilometer-long ride, with spectacular views, and is open to skiers or non-skiers year-round.
13. Charlottetown & Prince Edward Island
Lighthouse in Cavendish National Park
If you are going to visit Charlottetown, you might as well take the time to explore the whole province of Prince Edward Island. PEI is a summertime playground, with beautiful beaches and interesting historic sites, including the fictional home of Anne of Green Gables in PEI National Park.
Charlottetown is the capital and main city but has an almost small-town feel, with numerous Victorian-style heritage buildings. PEI is small enough that you can see the whole island on even a short vacation. Many visitors, particularly families, rent beach houses or cottages on PEI during the summer months.
Surfers in Tofino | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
The unofficial surfing capital of Canada, the small town of Tofino on Vancouver Island is one of the most unique places to visit in Canada and draws a mixed crowd of visitors. People come here to surf, hike in the old growth forests, and enjoy the beaches in Pacific Rim National Park; see wildlife; kayak; storm watch in November; and relax at one of the quaint oceanfront lodges.
The town itself is tiny and has an end-of-the-world type feel about it, but you can find fine dining at some of the lodges or a few of the restaurants around town. A handful of stores, galleries, and coffee shops give the town a special character.
Despite the town’s small size, the area feels big. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to plan at least a few days here, although it’s easy to fill up a week or more. Not far away is Ucluelet, another small town, which you can easily visit on an outing from Tofino.
Top-Rated Things to Do in Tofino
In the interior of British Columbia is the lovely city of Kelowna. This city is a favorite spot for Canadians but less well known internationally. Picturesquely set on the shore of Lake Okanagan and surrounded by rolling mountains, Kelowna draws tourists during the summer months, when it’s possible to hike, golf, or enjoy the lake.
Renting a houseboat to explore the surrounding waters is a popular summer vacation in this area. In winter, the surrounding mountains are a hotspot for skiers, with the popular nearby ski resorts of Big White and Silver Star within easy reach.
Ski touring at Revelstoke
Revelstoke is one of the best places to visit in Canada for adventure. Although it’s a favorite destination among Albertans and British Columbians, it is still undiscovered on an international scale, making it a good place to escape the crowds associated with sightseeing destinations like Banff and Lake Louise. Beautiful mountain scenery surrounds this small town in the interior of British Columbia, but much of the appeal comes from the activities available for outdoor lovers.
In winter, skiers come here to enjoy the skiing at Revelstoke Mountain Resort or to go heli-skiing in the Purcell Mountains. In summer, mountain biking and hiking are the most popular things to do. Nightlife here has been expanding over the last number of years, and you can find plenty of places to frequent after a day of skiing or hiking.
Biking in Winnipeg
This thriving city in the prairies of Central Canada may not be the first image that jumps to mind when thinking about the best places to visit in Canada, but if you are traveling in summer, Winnipeg is worth a stop. Surrounded by fields, many of which glow yellow in summer with canola or sunflowers, and set along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the city is surprisingly scenic.
The Forks, at the confluence of the two rivers, is a major tourist area, with the huge Forks Market, restaurants, and outdoor walking trails (a skating rink in winter) and is one of the first places tourists should visit. Also in this area is one of Canada’s premiere museums: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Within a couple of hours of the city is Grand Beach, a huge stretch of beautiful beach on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, and Whiteshell Provincial Park, an area of boreal forest with lakes and rivers. People come here to camp, hike, or spend time at a cottage.