Arcing around Lake Ontario is a number of the Greater Toronto Area’s 'satellite' cities. Day trip the up-and-coming hip strip of Hamilton, or really escape Toronto’s gravity in the delightful villages of Elora, Fergus and the unique Mennonite settlement of St Jacobs.
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 see only 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.
Eastern Ontario encompasses the countryside east of Toronto as far as the Québec border. Within weekending distance of Toronto, Prince Edward County's fertile pastures support a long farming tradition and young wine industry. Travelers journeying on the busy Hwy 401 should detour through this scenic, culinary and historic realm.
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 around the Rideau Canal.
'Big' is a theme in Northern Ontario. The area is so vast that it could fit six Englands and still have room for a Scotland or two. Industry is big here, too: most of the world's silver and nickel ore comes from local mines, while boundless forests have made the region a key timber producer.
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.
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.
Modern-day Canada's first capital, albeit only for 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.
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.
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 English namesake, short of its substantial collection of fine Victorian homes, River Thames and a plethora of leafy parks and gardens.
Thunder Bay is about as comfortably isolated as you can get – it's 706km west of Sault Ste Marie and 703km east of Winnipeg (Manitoba). If you're arriving by road, it's a welcome return to civilization: no matter how beautiful the forests and shoreline, they start to blur together after a few hundred kilometers.
Sudbury gets props for making something out of nothing. In the 1880s, it was but a desolate lumber camp called Ste-Anne-des-Pins. Then, when the Canadian Pacific Railway plowed through in 1883, the discovery of a mother lode of nickel-copper ore transformed the dreary region into the biggest nickel producer worldwide.
Stratford is a success story: a wonderful country town that refuses to surrender to the depopulation plaguing rural centers worldwide. As the story goes, in 1952, upon hearing that the Canadian National Railways (the region's largest employer) was closing the doors of its Stratford facility, a young journalist by the name of Tom Patterson approached his council for a loan.
The adjacent cities of Kitchener (formerly called Berlin, due to its Germanic origins) and Waterloo are as different as they are alike. Although prettier 'uptown' Waterloo has some nice sandstone architecture, two universities and the largest community museum in Ontario, neither city is particularly exciting.
Something special is happening in Hamilton. Once known as Canada's steel industry hub, skimmed through en route to the Niagara Peninsula, Hamilton's revitalized downtown has rebounded with unexpected hipness. A pocket of cosmopolitan life thrives with good eateries, quirky stores, independent galleries and cool bars.