Canada is a top destination for many travelers; and there is good reason why. Incredible nature and scenery, urban cities, friendly (and polite) locals ey, and of course pure maple syrup.. drools. However, as enticing as this all is, it’s also important to remember that Canada is huge, and we mean MAHOOSIVE! This vast country can be pretty expensive to travel, so to make your decision a little easier, we’ve narrowed down some of our favorite destinations. From the mountain cities in the west, to the Maritimes in the east, here are our top picks for the best places to visit in Canada.
Vancouver, British Colombia
Vancouver is great because it combines urban city life with plenty of nearby nature. It’s a popular pick for outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in hiking, downhill skiing, and even scuba diving – yup, really! With so many adventures on its doorstep, Vancouver is a perfect choice for travellers to Canada, especially for those unused to the cold; Vancouver gets some of the mildest winters in the country, so get those shades on.
The downtown core of the city can be explored by foot, bike, or public transportation. There’s lots of public art including statues, sculptures, and street art to enjoy, not to mention the stunning scenic views across to the mountains. Vancouver has the largest Chinatown in Canada, which is definitely worth exploring (and eating at). Granville Island is another popular foodie destination with the Granville Public market offering a variety of fresh ingredients or prepared foods at affordable prices. For those interested in night life, Vancouver has lots to offer; from relaxed breweries to vibrant clubs, there’s something for everyone. Yaletown, Gastown, and Davie street are your best bets when it comes to nightlife.
But, while the city is definitely cool, the surrounding nature is the highlight of Vancouver. Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, Pacific Spirit Regional Park, Lynn Canyon Park, and the Lighthouse Park are all great to for spending a day outside. Plus, you can even make a day trip up to Squamish or the increasingly trendy Whistler.
Don’t Miss: Stanley Park and the sea wall, Granville Island, and Gastown.
When you picture Canada, you’re probably actually picturing the area around Banff National Park. Towering mountains, turquoise lakes, bears, moose, and endless forests. Banff is the iconic Canadian postcard picture, and an absolute must-visit.
Banff has a reputation for being expensive, but don’t let the cost scare you away; there are some great hostels near Banff town that offer fully loaded kitchen and discounts on local tours to help budget travelers get the most out of their visit. Check out HI Alpine Hostel, which provides guests with a local bus pass as well.
Banff can be visited year round, but consider what you want to do before booking your plane ticket. Skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating are great winter activities, but hiking, canoeing, and getting those Instagram-worthy photos of turquoise lakes are best in the summer months. #NoFilter
Don’t miss: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Banff Gondola, and the Vermillion Lakes (great for sunrise and sunset).
Toronto is probably the best known Canadian city. Home to the CN tower, the Toronto Blue Jays, and some of Canada’s biggest stars (wait for me Drizzy!), Toronto is absolutely one of the best places to visit in Canada.
Toronto has a little Italy, China Town, and Koreatown with delicious restaurants offering cheap eats. Plus, with several downtown hostels it’s easy to find affordable accommodation. Many of the city’s museums and galleries offer free times or evening discounts, and student discounts are fairly common across the city as well.
Toronto is a big city, with lots to see and do so give yourself a good couple of days to explore. Sports enthusiasts should make sure to check out Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame while fashionistas should browse the boutiques in Yorkville. If you are interested in the nightlife, head to the Entertainment district for some of Toronto’s coolest bars, dance clubs, and comedy clubs. If you visit during the summer, catch one of the boats out to the Toronto Islands and relax on one of the beaches. It’s also easy to take a day trip to Canada’s most visited attraction, Niagara Falls, from Toronto.
Don’t miss: the CN Tower, Kensington Market, Graffiti Alley, and the Distillery District.
Ottawa is Canada’s capital, but it tends to be skipped over in favor of the bigger and brighter cities of Toronto and Montreal. However, with a population of only about 1 million people, Ottawa provides big city perks with a friendlier small-town feel.
The downtown core is easy to explore on foot and dozens of pubs, cafes, and restaurant choices make it easy to find somewhere affordable to eat. The city’s many museums offer free visiting hours each week, and the city has 236km of pathways perfect for biking or walking. Plus, Ottawa is also home to one of the most unique hostels in the world; the HI Jail Hostel which is rumored to be haunted so split up and look for clues – Jinkies!
Ottawa is great to explore all year round, though winters can be bitterly cold. Locals will tell you that it’s prettiest in the autumn when all the leaves change color, or in the spring when the tulip festival is running.
Don’t miss: The Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal (which you can skate on in the winter), and the Byward Market.
Montreal is located in the French part of Canada, Quebec, and is a fun place to explore. Like Toronto, it’s one of Canada’s biggest cities, and there is plenty to see and do, even for those on a budget.
Montreal is great for exploring by foot. There is lots of colorful street art and some of the neighbourhoods, especially Old Montreal and the Plateau Neighbourhood, are perfect for taking photos. Most museums have a free day once a week and there are festivals year round with free performances.
Budget travellers will love the food scene in Montreal because many of the city’s favourites are cheap. You have to try poutine, Montreal smoked meat, and Montreal style bagels. As for those who love to dance and party, there is no shortage of bars and clubs in this city. Crescent Street and Saint Laurent Boulevard are the main party areas for hostellers looking to get their groove on.
Don’t miss: Old Montreal, Mount Royal, and the Notre Dame Basilica.
Quebec City, Quebec
Quebec City is unlike any other Canadian city. Cobblestone streets and beautiful old buildings make visitors feel like they are exploring somewhere in western Europe rather than a Canadian city. Quebec City is charming, historic, and easy to explore by foot.
Quebec City is a popular honeymoon destination with lots of top restaurants and hotels, but it can be experienced on a budget too. Stay at the HI-Quebec-Auberge Internationale de Quebec hostel. It’s the largest hostel in Canada, but it’s old town location and affordable prices can’t be beat. When it comes to food, skip the big restaurants and head to smaller cafes instead. It may not be Paris, but simple things like crepes and croissants here are c’est magnifique! Also, you are in Quebec, so take advantage of delicious poutine while you can!
Quebec City can be enjoyed year round, but for those willing to brave the cold, winter is a truly magical time to visit. The streets are covered in fairy lights and decorations for Christmas, and in February the world-famous Carnival takes places with parades, ice castles, and special events. Grab a cane of caribou (the Quebec version of mulled wine) and enjoy the celebrations.
Don’t miss: Montmorency Falls, Rue Petit Champlain, and the Chateau Frontenac (which has a giant ice slide in the winter).
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada’s Maritime provinces have a completely different feel than the rest of the country, and one of the best ways to experience them is by visiting Halifax. Halifax is a university city with a huge student population, so it’s easy to visit on budget and find fun things to do.
Seafood is common here (and pretty affordable) so get your fill of it, especially the lobster if you visit during the summer months. Another must-try is the Halifax donair; a sloppy beef sandwich with tomatoes, onions, and a signature sauce. It’s a local favorite, especially after a night out at one of the city’s many bars and clubs. Halifax is also a good hub for exploring some of Nova Scotia’s top attractions including Peggy’s Cove and the Bay of Fundy. You can also go whale watching, hiking, and tidal bore rafting.
Word of warning: The Maritime provinces get some pretty brutal winters, so it’s best to visit during the warmer months.
Don’t Miss: Pier 21, Citadel Hill, the Alexander Keith’s Original Brewery.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
The colorful town of St. John’s is postcard perfect, but as cute (and friendly) as this small Canadian city is, the big draw is the surrounding nature.
Newfoundland is full of hiking trails, national park, and wildlife viewing opportunities; puffins and whales are commonly seen off the coast here. One of the biggest draws about visiting Newfoundland is that its famous for viewing Icebergs in late May/early June. They can sometimes be seen from St. John’s and Cape spear or from several other points on the island.
The locals, “Newfies” are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and are happy to take travelers under their wing and show them around. An absolute must-do is to get ‘screeched-in’ at one of the local pubs. It’s a famous tradition that involves drinking a shot of Screech (Newfoundland rum), talking like a Newfoundlander, and kissing a cod fish… pucker up!
Don’t miss: Signal Hill, Jellybean Row, Quidi Vidi, and Cape Spear
Canada has dozens of great places to see and explore, but if you are looking to experience some of the best places to visit in Canada, you can’t go wrong with these picks!
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