Visitors to Canada are equally as wowed by the wildlife and wilderness, as they are by the cultural and culinary offerings found in the cities that speckle the sprawling nation. Peruse for polar bears on the open arctic tundra of Churchill or cruise Vancouver’s curvy coastline in a canoe while gawking at the city skyline. Feast on five-star fusion cuisine in Toronto, or take in a street-side jazz jam session in Montreal.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or returning to experience something new, these are the 15 best places to see in Canada. But plan ahead because as the world’s second-largest country, you won’t be able to do it all in one trip.
1. The Canadian Rockies
Best for mountain views
The sawtooth, white-topped mountains straddling the British Columbia–Alberta border inspire both awe and action. Five national parks – Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes and Jasper – offer countless opportunities to delve into the lush wilderness, with ribbons of hiking trails, rushing white-water and powdery ski slopes to satisfy travelers looking for mountain thrills.
This is one of the best places to visit in Canada in winter, but there is outdoor adventure aplenty during the summer months too.
Planning tip: For a different perspective, take the train and experience the grandeur from the comfort of your seat: luminous lakes, jumbles of wildflowers and glistening glaciers glide by as the steel cars chug up mountain passes and down river valleys en route to points east or west.
Best for combining city and nature
In Vancouver, sea-to-sky beauty surrounds the laid-back, cocktail-loving metropolis. With skiable mountains on the outskirts, beaches fringing the coast and Stanley Park's thick rainforest just steps from downtown's sparkling skyscrapers, you'll fine a harmonic convergence of city and nature.
For the best of both worlds, pick up provisions and a cold beer and picnic at one of the amazing city parks (during the summer months drinking alcohol is legal at most city parks).
Shop and stroll through the diverse and charming neighborhoods – you may even spot a celebrity along the way. Known as “Hollywood North”, Vancouver is the filming location for many TV and film productions shot throughout the year.
Planning tip: With its mild climate and beautiful beaches, Vancouver is definitely one of the best places in Canada to visit in summer.
3. Manitoulin Island
Best for celebrating Canada's First Nations cultures
The largest freshwater island in the world, floating right in Lake Huron's midst, Manitoulin is a slowpoke place of beaches and summery cottages. Jagged expanses of white quartzite and granite outcroppings edge the shoreline and lead to shimmering vistas. First Nations culture pervades, and the island's eight communities collaborate to offer local foods (wild rice, corn soup) and eco-adventures (canoeing, horseback riding, hiking). Powwows add drumming, dancing and storytelling to the mix for cultural-immersive experiences that connect you with the people and the land of the country that we now know as Canada.
4. Vancouver Island
Best for nature lovers
Picture-postcard Victoria is the heart of Vancouver Island, beating with bohemian shops, wood-floored coffee bars and an English past steeped in tea culture since the 1840s.
British Columbia’s capital city is full of charm, but it’s only the kick-off point to an island that has a bounty of natural wonders to explore.
Brooding Pacific Rim National Park Reserve includes the West Coast Trail, where the wind-bashed ocean meets a mist-shrouded wilderness, and surfers line up for Tofino's waves. With so many outdoor adventures to try, this is one of the best places in Canada for nature lovers.
Detour: Wandering foodies will want to head to the Cowichan Valley, studded with welcoming small farms and boutique wineries.
Best for skiing in Canada
This alpine village and 2010 Winter Olympics venue is one of the world's largest, best-equipped and most popular ski resorts, and it’s only a 90-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. Featuring over 200 marked runs winding down two towering mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – this destination is paradise for skiers of all levels.
Skiing may be Whistler’s raison d’être, but summer visitors with their downhill mountain bikes and stand-up paddleboards outnumber their ski-season equivalents, making the resort a year-round hot spot for locals and visitors alike.
Adding more diversity, Whistler has recently developed a thriving arts and culture scene, with highlights like the Audain Art Museum and Squamish Li’lwat Cultural Centre taking the stage as equally appealing attractions to the famed slopes.
6. Baffin Island
Best for Inuit art and incredible landscapes
The forlorn, rugged landscape of Baffin Island is home to cloud-scraping mountains and a third of Nunavut's human population. It’s Canada’s largest island (the fifth biggest in the world), and the ideal place for an arctic safari, where you can spot narwhals, belugas and bears in their natural habitat.
The island's crown jewel is Auyuittuq National Park – its name means "the land that never melts" – and indeed glaciers, fjords and vertiginous cliffs fill the eastern expanse. The park is a siren call for hardcore hikers and climbers, and more than a few polar bears.
Baffin Island is also a center for Inuit art; studios for high-quality carving, printmaking and weaving can be found in many of the small towns that speckle the area.
7. Montréal Jazz Festival
Best for music lovers
As Canada's second-largest city and the country’s cultural heart, Montréal is a marvel for music lovers. Watch the best jazz-influenced musicians in the world amongst over two million, equally-jazzed spectators at the Montréal International Jazz Festival. There are over 500 performances and shows to enjoy (and countless are free).
BB King, Prince and Astor Piazzolla are among those who've performed at the 11-day, late-June music festival. You may even get to join in on the fun with free drumming lessons and street-side jam sessions, as the good times roll day and night.
Local tip: Not into jazz? Montréal has a wide musical palate. You'll find indie, folk, classical and opera performances around the city. For live-music venues and events, big and small, throughout the city.
8. Old Québec City
Best place to visit in Canada for couples
Québec's capital is more than 400 years old, and its ancient stone walls, glinting spired cathedrals and jazz-filled corner cafes suffuse it with atmosphere, romance, melancholy, eccentricity and intrigue on par with any European city. The best way to soak it all up is to walk the old town's labyrinth of lanes and get lost amid the street performers and cozy inns, stopping every so often for a café au lait and flaky pastry.
The city is also home to Québec’s scenic highway, Rte 132. Circling the Gaspé Peninsula, this road winds past the sea and the mountains, as well as charming towns; more than 700,000 people drive this tarmac each summer.
Of course, it has yet to approach the romantic popularity of Canada’s "Honeymoon Capital," Niagara Falls, a region that draws more than 14 million annual visitors. But head for the La Gaspésie, instead, young lovers. Because if you’re on your honeymoon, you don’t need 14 million other people hanging around.
Best for multicultural experiences
A hyperactive stew of cultures and neighborhoods, Toronto strikes you with sheer urban awe and cultural diversity. Will you have dinner in Chinatown or Greektown? Five-star fusion or a peameal bacon sandwich?
In Ontario's coolest city, designer shoes from Bloor-Yorkville are accessorized with tattoos in Queen West, while mod-art galleries, theater par excellence, rocking band rooms and hockey mania add to the megalopolis. It is far and away Canada's largest city, as well as its most diverse – about half of the city’s residents were born in another country. Be sure to snap a photo of the CN Tower, considered one of the best places to visit in Toronto, and for an added thrill, check out the Edgewalk, where you can walk around the tower's perimeter while taking in unparalleled city views.
10. Rideau Canal
Best for ice skating
This 185-year-old, 200km-long (124 miles) waterway – consisting of canals, rivers and lakes – connects Ottawa and Kingston via 47 locks. The Rideau Canal is at its finest in wintry Ottawa, where a stretch of its waters become the Rideau Canal Skateway – the world's largest skating rink.
People swoosh by on the 7.8km (4.8 miles) of groomed ice, pausing for hot chocolate and scrumptious slabs of fried dough called beavertails (a quintessentially Canadian treat). February's Winterlude festival kicks it up a notch when townsfolk build massive ice sculptures.
Local tip: Once the canal thaws, it becomes a boater's paradise, meaning you can appreciate it whatever time of year you visit.
11. Niagara Falls
Best for an iconic travel experience
Niagara Falls may be relatively short (it doesn’t even crack the top 500 worldwide for height), but when those great muscular bands of water arc over the precipice like liquid glass, roaring into the void below, and when you sail toward it in a mist-shrouded boat – the falls never fail to impress.
While you’re there, extend your stay and head beyond the falls with a two-wheel biking adventure along the Greater Niagara Circle Route, or take a go at the Wildplay Zipline to the Falls, a pulse-pounding rush of a ride that offers unparalleled views of the falls below as you zoom through the sky.
12. The Prairies
Best for road trips
Solitude reigns in Canada's middle ground. Driving through the flatlands of Manitoba and Saskatchewan turns up uninterrupted fields of golden wheat that stretch to the horizon, eventually melting into the sunshine. When the wind blows, the wheat sways like waves on the ocean, punctuated by the occasional grain elevator rising up like a tall ship.
Big skies mean big storms that drop like an anvil, visible on the skyline for miles. Far-flung towns include arty Winnipeg, boozy Moose Jaw and Mountie-filled Regina, interspersed with Ukrainian and Scandinavian villages.
13. Bay of Fundy
Best place to spot whales
Not your average Canadian bay, though lighthouses, boats and trawlers, fishing villages and other maritime scenery surround it, with frequent landward sightings of deer and moose. The unique geography of Fundy results in the most extreme tides in the world, reaching 16m (56ft), about the height of a five-story building.
They stir up serious whale food, with krill and other plankton attracting fin, humpback and blue whales here to feast, as well as endangered North Atlantic right whales, making a whale watch here an extraordinary must-do.
Best for dinosaur enthusiasts
Dinosaur lovers get weak-kneed in dust-blown Drumheller, where paleontological civic pride runs high thanks to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the planet's pre-eminent fossil collections. The area’s focus on dinosaur fossils definitely makes this one of the most unique places to visit in Canada.
The world's largest dinosaur is here, too – a giant fiberglass T-rex that visitors can climb and peer out of (through its mouth). Beyond the dino-hoopla, the area offers classic Badlands scenery and eerie, mushroom-like rock columns called hoodoos.
Planning tip: Follow the scenic driving loops, these take you past all the good stuff.
Best for polar bear encounters
The first polar bear you see up close will take your breath away, and there’s no better place for an encounter than the open arctic tundra of Churchill, Manitoba, which happens to be right on the bears' migration path. From late September to early November, tundra vehicles head out in search of the razor-clawed beasts, sometimes getting you close enough to lock eyes with the beautiful bears. Summer lets you kayak or stand-up paddleboard with beluga whales.