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With stunning scenery that stretches across towering mountains, breathtaking coastlines, spacious prairies and even Arctic tundra, along with exciting, vibrant cities, a welcoming atmosphere and a wide range of things to do for all types of travelers, Canada is a fantastic vacation destination. Consider one of these cities for your next escape.
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St. John’s, the largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, sits on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. As the oldest city in North America, it’s been visited by European explorers, adventurers, soldiers and pirates over the past 500+ years. It has a rich and colorful history, with a historic downtown that’s filled with museums, galleries, historical sites, parks, restaurants, pubs and specialty shops that can be discovered along the narrow, winding streets and laneways of one of the oldest mercantile districts on the continent. The brightly colored row houses, known as Jelly Bean Row, are especially charming perched on the hills overlooking the harbor. Outdoor adventurers will find world-class urban and coastal trails, while nature lovers can view humpback, minke, fin, sperm, blue, sei and right whales in the coastal waters that surround the island. Whales, marine life and icebergs can also be seen right from vantage points within the city, or via tour boats that operate out of the harbor.
Whistler, the site of many of 2010’s Winter Olympic Games, is just a short road trip from Vancouver. Here you’ll find a pedestrian-only village, down-to-earth mountain culture and magnificent scenery. Winter provides some of the most reliable snow on earth for skiing, snowboarding and a variety of winter sports, while summer months are fabulous for golf, hiking and mountain biking. You’ll also discover some of the most luxurious resorts, spas, world-class restaurants and bars.
Toronto is an exciting city that has sometimes been referred to as a “New York City run by the Swiss.” It makes sense, as you can find world-class theater, shopping and dining, though the sidewalks are clean and the people are friendly – not to say you can’t find amiable people in the Big Apple, of course. If you like food, Toronto has an extremely high immigrant population with over 50 percent of people living here born outside of the country – entire sections of the city of devoted to different cultures, like Little Italy, Little India, Little Portugal and Koreatown, resulting in a wide array of outstanding international cuisine. Toronto also has an interesting history that includes a historical castle right downtown.
Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia, located on Vancouver Island, a 90-minute ferry ride from the City of Vancouver. This picturesque harbor city is a gateway to the island’s many beautiful towns, inlets and coves as well as wild ocean scenery, but there’s plenty to see in the city itself. Known as one of the most British cities in North America, you will find plenty of tearooms, galleries and antique shops along with its more recent collection fueled by the younger generation, including authentic coffee bars, unique eateries and cool shops. Rent a bike and explore the area, there are more cycling routes here than in any other Canadian city.
Banff offers the chance to experience what it might be like to live in a Swiss ski village right in Canada. Nestled into the heart of the Canadian Rockies near Banff National Park’s southeastern border, this city offers small-town charm and the opportunity to experience the region’s spectacular glacier-fed lakes and abundance of wildlife. You’ll also discover a thriving arts and culture scene with a number of museums, art galleries and concert venues along with an array of fine restaurants and shops.
This French-speaking city is the second-largest city in Canada after Toronto and considered the cultural capital of the country. While French and English are the main influences, Montreal is truly international with an energy and joie de vivre found only in the world’s top cities. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride around cobblestone streets and grand buildings in Vieux-Montreal for a taste of European flavor. Visit charming boutiques and cafes in the Plateau Mont-Royal district and be sure to take a tour of the legendary Olympic Park. This bustling metropolis also offers an entertainment district and historic quarter.
Calgary is a sophisticated city that grew out of the Canadian West with the Calgary Stampede and its role as host of the 1988 Winter Olympics really put it on the map as one of Canada’s top destinations. The city balances the modern and traditional with pioneer charm, continuing to host the annual Stampede, complete with rodeos; line dancing and cowboy hats, which are always in fashion here. Calgary has enjoyed great prosperity, growing significantly over the past two decades, which means you’ll find an abundance of dining, shopping and entertainment all year- round, in addition to the opportunity to make a short road trip to explore some of Canada’s best national parks.
Quebec City offers an experience unlike any other on the continent, with its Old Town a work of art itself. Stroll cobblestone walkways, exploring well-preserved 17th-century architecture and a vibrant café culture as well as the only North American fortress walls that still exist north of Mexico, resulting in its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visit the Citadel where you might see Canadian troops staging a military ceremony and enjoy afternoon tea at the Chateau Frontenac. If you need a little energy to fuel a shopping spree, do like the locals and snack on poutine – French fries with gravy and cheese
Ottawa may not be as well known as cities like Vancouver or Toronto, but it’s actually Canada’s capital city, offering a cultured, yet friendly atmosphere. This charming, well-planned city is especially pedestrian-friendly – in fact, no other city can touch Ottawa when it comes to urban parkland, with some 60-square-miles spanning 850 parks. In addition to all that green space, you’ll find lots of permanent pedestrian-friendly zones. Enter from Rideau Street and follow William Street to rows of outdoor stalls selling herbs and fresh produce; browse artists’ shops in 19th-century buildings at the southwest end, and keep an eye out for nooks between buildings that lead to serene cobblestone courtyards and an art installation. By returning to the market just before the sun goes down, you’ll find patio after patio flowing onto the streets – a great time to savor a specialty scotch at The Highland Pub.
Nova Scotia’s capital city offers the amenities of a big city with the charm of a small town, much of it credited to the hospitality of the residents, though that’s something the entire province is known for. It also offers a beautiful seaside location, picturesque beaches, rugged shorelines, historic architecture and interesting fishing villages nearby. Many say Halifax is best seen on foot, so you may want to immerse yourself in its rich history by starting at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, surveying the city from this 18th-century Citadel National Historic site. Be sure to walk into any one of its fantastic bars and eateries to catch some great live music before you leave.
Vancouver is a city where the ocean meets majestic mountains. It’s also filled with forests, grand parks, lively pubs, world-class restaurants, museums and a wealth of shopping opportunities. Often called one of the most beautiful cities on earth, here you’ll also find a laid-back charm that makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Canada. Millions were drawn to its allure after seeing it first hand or on their TV screens in 2010 when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympic Games. Situated between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, its impressive landscape offers a natural playground where visitors can swim in the ocean, bike through scenic parks and ski down the slopes all in one day.
Winnipeg offers a surprising number of things to do, and especially clean, fresh air to do it in. The city is the home of the top public space in Canada, a green oasis in the heart of Winnipeg with open green spaces, a tree-lined river walkway, interesting interpretive displays, inspiring sculptures, stone pictographs and ceremonial bronze gambling sticks that embody the site’s rich continuum of historical events spanning more than 6,000 years. In the wintertime, visitors and locals alike enjoy skating on an outdoor rink, the city’s own version of Rockefeller Center. You’ll also discover an abundance of shopping opportunities, museums and art galleries.
Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, located off Canada’s east coast, offers an ideal blend of warm hospitality, amazing food, a ton of charm and romance, history and culture. The city also hosts frequent festivals, like the PEI International Shellfish Festival held in the fall, a celebration of the Islands’ Malpeque oysters, Atlantic lobster and Island Blue mussels, featuring maritime music, oyster shucking competitions, seafood chowder championships and culinary demonstrations. It’s also home to highly-rated golf courses, a network of walking trails and waterside boardwalks, craft and specialty shops and restaurants featuring island seafood and local agricultural products. Carriage rides are a great way to explore historic Charlottetown’s interesting side streets.
This seaside resort town in New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy offers lots of old-fashioned charm along with the internationally famous Algonquin Resort, where guests can enjoy playing a round on the signature golf course, swimming in the pool or even roasting marshmallows on fire pits. Seaside cottages, quaint B & Bs, traditional motels and even campgrounds are some of the other accommodation options here. Watch for whales, including finback, minke, right whales and humpbacks, depending on the time of year, indulge your sweet tooth at the Chocolate Museum or take a stroll through picturesque gardens.
Alberta’s capital city may best be known as a city of festivals, the two most famous being the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. It also serves as a launching pad for a spectacular northern Alberta adventure – a scenic drive west will bring you to Jasper National Park, while just a short jaunt east takes you to Elk Island National Park where herds of free-roaming bison and 250 species of birds can be seen. You’ll also find plenty to do right in town, like its biggest attraction, the West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall on the continent. It features 800 shops, a massive indoor waterpark with wave pools, waterslides and bungee jumping, as well as a full-size skating rink.
In Canada’s wine country, Niagara-on-the-Lake presents a well-preserved 19th-century village and its charms. It’s also a community of wineries with distinct personalities, with each offering its own unique story. Rent a bike and ride through the area, stopping at wineries and Fort George National Historic Site, the scene of several battles during the War of 1812. Enjoy paddling on the lake, play a round of golf or just enjoy browsing the many unique shops and galleries.
Obviously Niagara Falls are the biggest attraction here, but you’ll find a wealth of other things to do in addition to watching the powerful cascades of water tumble at breakneck speeds. Embark on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, getting close enough to the falls that you’re drenched by the spray – you’ll be provided with a disposable rain jacket. Afterward, warm up by hitting the slots and indulging in spa treatments at the Niagra Fallsview Casino Resort, or visit the Butterfly Conservatory, an indoor attraction where visitors wander among the tropical environment where more than 2,000 butterflies flitter around freely. When it’s time for dinner, enjoy fine dining with incredible views of the falls some 775 feet above in the Revolving Dining Room at the Skylon Tower.
Yellowknife is the capital city and largest community in the Northwest Territories, occupying a dramatic site on the northern edge of Great Slave Lake. Here you can experience the best of nature and traditional culture along with modern city amenities. Watch the dancing lights of the aurora borealis, enjoy the thrill of a dogsled ride or golfing under the midnight sun. During the summer months, the sun shines for 19 hours a day! But it’s not just about what you can do in a place where snow volleyball is a popular activity, Yellowknife is filled with some of the friendliest people on earth and offers a sense of community that’s hard to find anywhere else on the planet.