Arcing around Lake Ontario is a heavily populated industrialized zone encompassing a number of the GTA's 'satellite' cities. Highway 403 will get you to Hamilton and Brantford, but most will take the 401 for Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and beyond: it's an impenetrable concrete artery linking Toronto to the US border at Windsor, and the Québec border to the east.
Jutting east from Hamilton and forming a natural divide between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula is a legitimate tourist hot spot. Though many only see the falls and Clifton Hill on a day tour from Toronto, there is lots to explore here. Consider a several-day visit to fully experience the delights of the peninsula.
A vast realm of blues and greens, Georgian Bay is a land of infinite dreaming. Summer breezes blow gently along sandy shores. Maples ignite in the fall and thick pines quiver at winter's frosty kiss. These ethereal landscapes inspired Canada's best-known painters and today the bay remains home to scores of thriving artistic communities.
Descriptions of Ottawa read like an appealing dating profile: dynamic, gregarious, bilingual, likes kids and long walks on the river. In person, the attractive capital fits the bill. Canada's gargantuan Gothic Parliament buildings regally anchor the downtown core, an inspiring jumble of pulsing districts at the confluence of three rivers.
'Big' is a theme in Northern Ontario. The area is so big that it could fit six Englands and still have room for a Scotland or two. Big industry has made its home here: most of the world's silver and nickel ore comes from massive local mines and vast forests have made the region a key producer of timber. Even the mosquitoes are big. Really big.
An unstoppable flow of rushing water surges over the arcing fault in the riverbed with thunderous force. Great plumes of icy mist rise for hundreds of meters as the waters collide, like an ethereal veil concealing the vast rift behind the torrent. Thousands of onlookers delight in the spectacle every day, drawn by the force of the current and the hypnotic mist.
Ontario's third-most populous city (after the GTA and Ottawa), midway between Toronto and Detroit is London, aka the 'forest city.' It bears little resemblance to its namesake, short of its substantial collection of fine Victorian homes, River Thames and a plethora of leafy parks and gardens.
Modern-day Canada's first capital, albeit for a short time (three years), Kingston was stripped of the title when Queen Victoria worried that it was too close to the American border and could not be properly defended. Today, the pretty city finds itself strategically placed as the perfect pit stop between Montréal or Ottawa and Toronto.
Thunder Bay is about as comfortably isolated as you can get – it's 692km west of Sault Ste-Marie and 703km east of Winnipeg (Manitoba). If you're arriving by road, it's a welcome and obligatory return to civilization: no matter how beautiful those forests and that shoreline, it starts to blur together after a while.
One of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in North America, affluent N-o-t-L is an undeniably gorgeous place, with tree-lined streets, lush parks and impeccably restored houses. Originally a neutral First Nations village, the town was founded by Loyalists from New York State after the American Revolution and later became the first capital of the colony of Upper Canada.
Lake Huron Shoreline
Lake Huron has some of the cleanest waters of the Great Lakes and is wide enough that the sun sets on the waterline of its western shore: expect wonderful sunsets. If you've been lingering around Toronto and Lake Ontario, Lake Huron's 'blueness' will be both surprising and refreshing, as will its whitish sandy beaches. Highway 21 hugs the underpopulated shoreline, in parts.
Lake Erie Shoreline
From the Welland Canal near Niagara to the Detroit River at Windsor, the Lake Erie shoreline is a scenic, thinly populated strip of sandy beaches, small towns and peaceful parks. Many Ontarians have cottages here. Recent environmental efforts are such that you can swm in Lake Erie (the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes): but do check with the locals before you go in.
The adjacent cities of Kitchener (formely called Berlin, due to its Germanic origins) and Waterloo, like Siamese twins, are as different as they are connected. 'Downtown' Kitchener lacks appeal and although prettier 'uptown' Waterloo has some nice sandstone architecture, two universities and the largest community museum in Ontario, neither city is particularly exciting.