From sweeping coastal shorelines to craggy floating icebergs, glistening glacial lakes to the climbing canopy of ancient forests, Canada’s enthralling landscapes continue to beckon wonder-seekers from around the globe.
The people spread across the world’s second-largest country are equally as diverse – a complex Indigenous history and growing immigrant population make for increasingly cosmopolitan cities, cutting-edge art and architecture, and creative cuisine.
Want to experience the very best of Canada? Here are 21 bucket-list-worthy things to do there.
1. Embark on an arctic safari in Churchill, Manitoba
During a brief window from October to early November, upwards of 1200 polar bears converge in the enchanting town of Churchill on their annual migration to the shores of the Hudson Bay. A polar bear tour is a must to make sure you don’t miss this quintessential Arctic experience. But even if you do, the “polar bear capital of the world” offers no shortage of wildlife year-round – from dog-sledding in the winter to bird-watching in the spring to kayaking with beluga whales in the summer. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the northern lights and be sure to tuck in to hearty local fare, such as elk meatloaf and bison stew.
2. Look for the northern lights in the Yukon
Seeing the northern lights is always an awe-inspiring experience. While the celestial spectacle can be spotted as far south as Banff, the most epic display is undoubtedly found in the “Great White North.” On clear nights between mid-August to mid-April, you can catch the light show all over the Yukon, with the most optimal viewing found outside the capital city of Whitehorse.
Planning tip: Whether by foot, plane, canoe, snowshoe or even dog-sled, you’re best off aurora hunting with a local tour operator who can provide expertise on viewing conditions as well as a toasty beverage to temper the arctic chill.
3. Dine on the ocean floor in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy
Twice each day, 160 billion tons of water empty the Bay of Fundy, creating a rare window of opportunity to dine on the ocean floor. Chef-led lessons on the wild edibles of Nova Scotia are followed by a multi-course lunch or dinner topped off with a cozy campfire – all with the staggering Cliffs of Fundy as your backdrop.
Designated a Unesco Global Geopark in the summer of 2020, the 90m (300ft) cliffs overlook the world’s highest tides – cresting taller than a five-story building – which invite 12 species of whales to feast on plankton each year. For a deep dive into the region’s history, head to the nearby Fundy Geological Museum.
4. Eat Montréal poutine and an iconic smoked meat sandwich
It’s not hard to find poutine – gravy-smothered thick-cut fries sprinkled with squeaky cheese curds – all over the country, but it’s in the chef’s town of Montréal where you’ll find the most creative interpretations of Canada’s signature dish. Head to the 24-hour, poutine-worshipping restaurant La Banquise for creative toppings, like guacamole and pulled pork, in an energetic space; or spots like Montreal Pool Room for the greasy-spoon dish without the fuss.
Another Montréal institution to prioritize is Schwartz’s. For over 90 years, the famous deli has been sandwiching mountains of 10-day-marinated smoked meat between two slices of rye bread for the Montréal masses.
Planning tip: The take-out counter at Schwartz's will tempt you to skip the line, but dining-in is worth the wait to eat your sandwich shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and the veteran staff. Don’t forget the pickle and a cherry coke.
5. Surf the misty shores of Tofino
Canada might be known for winter sports, but its rugged coastlines and placid waterways make for equally as thrilling summer recreation too. With 35km (22 miles) of surfable beach, Vancouver Island’s Tofino is undoubtedly the country’s surf capital. Beginners will appreciate the gentle waves along Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay, while seasoned pros will want to hit the intense swells at Long Beach, the longest beach on the island. Not into surfing? The 10-mile beach is still worth visiting for whale-watching in the spring and autumn, and the surrounding Pacific Rim National Park, home to some of the oldest trees in Canada.
Planning tip: No longer a remote fishing village, Tofino’s laid-back surfer vibe attracts a large crowd in the summer. An off-season trip between November and February is best for fewer crowds and more nature, plus storm watching – an increasingly popular activity among photographers.
6. Camp in Saskatchewan’s prairie desert
Stretching over 97km (60 miles) along the southern shore of Lake Athabasca, Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park beckons seasoned hikers and environmentalists alike for its endemic flora and towering sand dunes – a rare sight in a province known for its flat, prairie landscape. Reaching nearly 30m (100ft) high, the world’s most northerly sand dunes are also the largest active sand surface in the country.
Planning tip: The fragile ecosystem here is seriously safeguarded – each of the park’s three management zones has its own visitor guidelines, and you’ll need to take a floatplane or boat to get there. With few onsite services and guided tours, camping in this remote landscape is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for hardcore wilderness enthusiasts.
7. Wander the cobblestone streets of Old Québec
Church bells ring from regal cathedrals while contemporary takes on traditional Québecois fare – think, tourtière (meat pie) and maple syrup-infused brunch – are served in former factories and historic homes. It’s hard not to get lost in Old Québec’s charm.
Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985 for its 400-year-old history, it’s the only fortified city you’ll find north of Mexico and a playground for history buffs. They won’t want to miss Le Château Frontenac. Since opening in 1893, the famous Fairmont hotel has hosted countless celebrities and notable political events, like the Québec Conferences of WWII.
Planning tip: While most visitors frequent the upper section of Old Town, the real “Old Town” is found closer to the water. With buildings dating back to the 17th century, locals will tell you Lower Old Town is the real birthplace of the city.
8. Immerse yourself in Indigenous culture on Manitoulin Island
Set on the shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in Northern Ontario, Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. It’s also home to the Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatomi peoples that make up the Anishinabek Nation. While the island’s seven reserves carry a heavy legacy of residential schools, today, First Nations culture is celebrated with a proud embrace of Indigenous foods, music and storytelling.
Planning tip: Manitoulin Island is best experienced with a local guide who can walk you through the island’s history and surrounding nature and provide a taste of Anishinebek culture.
9. Taste Toronto's varied cuisine
With more than half of the residents that make up Toronto’s 158 neighborhoods hailing from other countries – the city’s 7500 restaurants are arguably the most diverse in the world. In the absence of a clearly identifiable Canadian cuisine, collaboration and invention prevail in the kitchens of immigrant mom-and-pop shops and Michelin-starred celebrity chefs alike.
The city center provides no shortage of foodie adventures: from globally-inspired fine dining (such as Susur Lee’s eponymous restaurant Lee and Nick Bao’s DaiLo) to picturesque food markets (like Evergreen Brickworks nestled in the verdant hills of the Don Valley and St. Lawrence Market set in a light-speckled, century-old building).
Planning tip: Some of the city’s best-kept culinary secrets lie outside the urban core, in the sprawling suburbs known as the “GTA” (Greater Toronto Area), where restaurants in seemingly innocuous strip malls might showcase family recipes from many cultures.
10. Climb the cliffs of Gros Morne National Park
The signature red rock of the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, reveals the earth’s mantle, formed by the collision of tectonic plates nearly 500 million years ago. It’s a geological masterpiece, best viewed by foot on one of Gros Morne’s many trails that take you on a journey through lush boreal forests, majestic waterfalls and jagged cliffs overlooking the wind-swept shoreline.
Seasoned hikers can challenge themselves on the Long Range Traverse, a 34km (21-mile) trail that provides the most epic views of the Western Brook Pond Fjord from its near-vertical mountaintops soaring 610m (2000ft) into the sky.
11. Savor the wine and design in Prince Edward County
While British Columbia's arid Okanagan Valley is Canada’s most obvious wine destination, the largest wine region is actually found in Ontario, where hundreds of wineries, some dating as far back as the late 19th century, are spread across three Designated Viticultural Areas – the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, and the north shore of Lake Erie.
With limestone-rich soil lending itself to grape varieties with a distinct taste, Prince Edward County in particular attracts some of the country’s most innovative winemakers. And a creative crowd with an eye for aesthetics has followed – the region is now teeming with chic accommodations and tasting rooms set in bucolic barns.
Planning tip: The boutique Drake Devonshire Inn is a destination in and of itself for seasonal eats and creative cocktails overlooking Lake Ontario. Design aficionados will want to check out refurbished motels like the Drake Motor Inn.
12. Leaf peep on Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail
Take in the dramatic highlands and rugged coasts of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island – considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world – from its famed Cabot Trail. The 299km (186-mile) loop spans an eight-hour, non-stop drive, but hiking or cycling a smaller section allows for a more leisurely pace. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is where you’ll find the greatest selection of hiking trails, with the Skyline, Fishing Cove and Acadian trails being the most popular.
Planning tip: Summer attracts the most visitors but the trail is most photogenic in the fall when its winding curves glow in autumn colors.
13. Iceberg and whale watch on Fogo Island
You can visit Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fogo Island year-round, but it’s the warmer months that offer the most epic experiences. Every spring, staggering 15,000-year-old icebergs sail down “Iceberg Alley,” while the season that follows sees the world’s largest population of humpback whales migrating off its storm-battered shorelines. Book a tour through the Fogo Island Inn, but make sure to visit this architectural masterpiece in person. Perched on stilts overlooking the ocean, the 29-room retreat has gained an international reputation for its sustainability efforts, not to mention its remote location at one of the “four corners of the Earth.”
Planning tip: Outside the hotel, verdant rolling hills speckled with colorful wooden homes are traversed with hiking trails for every skill level while the 18th-century Irish-settled town of Tilting, a National Historic Site of Canada, exudes East Coast warmth with the sounds of sea shanties and smells of simmering chowder wafting from its few cafes and pubs.
14. Explore Banff’s two most iconic lakes
With its crystal turquoise water fed by the glaciers of the surrounding Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise is a picture-postcard destination that lives up to the hype. With a flat, encircling path, you can easily hike or bike around the lake, or rent a canoe from the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where you’ll find pristine views of the lake and surrounding Bow Valley from the 1888 castle’s outdoor heated pool and some of its 12 restaurants.
Equally as captivating as Lake Louise is nearby Moraine Lake, set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Open from May to October, it also attracts a lot of tourists – a peaceful sunrise visit avoids the crowds. Avid hikers can take in the glistening glacial waters and snow-capped peaks from the surrounding strenuous trails, and unwind afterward in a natural steaming bath at one of several nearby hot springs.
15. Hit the slopes in Whistler
Every winter, alpine enthusiasts from around the world flock to Canada’s Rocky Mountains for the soaring slopes and pristine mountain views. But it’s the ski town of Whistler that continues to draw the largest crowd. Set just two hours north of Vancouver, the former venue of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games straddles both Whistler and Blackcomb – two mountains teeming with ski trails for all levels of experience.
With varied elevations producing a diversity of terrains, each with their own unique seasonal attractions – think eagle tours among the colorful fall canopy and paddle-boarding glacier-fed lakes in the summer – Whistler appeals to thrill-seekers year-round.
Planning tip: This is a destination for the less adventurous too – stylish accommodations, a blossoming arts scene and energetic après-ski bars have transformed Whistler village from a rustic ski town into a European-style retreat.
16. Dig for dinosaurs in the Badlands
Known as the “Dinosaur Capital of the World,” Alberta’s Dinosaur Valley is a dream destination for professional paleontologists and Jurassic Park fans alike. Home to the world’s richest dinosaur fossil site, Dinosaur Provincial Park is protected grounds, so you’ll want to book a tour, but feel free to get lost in prehistoric times on a self-guided tour of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where you’ll encounter over 130,000 fossils and a giant, 67-million-year-old T-rex.
Planning tip: The surrounding Badlands – with its mystical hoodoo spires and dusty, arid canyons – make for a scenic, wild west road trip. A stop in the nearby eccentric former coal town of Drumheller is a must to climb inside the mouth of the world’s largest dinosaur.
17. Satisfy your sweet tooth at a Québec sugar shack
The stereotype holds true: Canadians love their maple syrup. Mid-March to mid-April offers a short window of time to savor it in its best form – straight from the tree. Every spring, upwards of 200 sugar shacks surrounding Montréal and Québec City open their doors for the annual maple syrup harvest. Take your pick of quaint, family-run maple groves where you can learn all about the sweet sap and make your own maple taffy by dropping the sticky syrup in the snow. The experience is topped off with a traditional Québécois feast of baked ham and beans, meat pies and hash browns, all smothered in maple syrup of course.
18. Marvel at Niagara Falls
Arguably Canada’s most touristy destination, Niagara Falls is worth braving the crowds for a view of the Horseshoe Falls: straddling the border between Ontario and New York, the largest of the three falls has the most powerful flow of any waterfall in North America. Immerse yourself in the fall’s majestic mist on a classic 20-minute Niagara cruise, or take in the views from the sky by way of helicopter, zipline or the Skylon Tower. Gaming casinos and Clifton Hill’s many amusement attractions continue to be the main draw for entertainment-seekers of all ages.
Planning tip: A short drive or shuttle ride north, you’ll find a calmer pace in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where horse-drawn carriages shuttle visitors between world-class wineries and local shops set in colonial buildings.
19. Skate Ottawa’s Rideau Canal
Every winter, the 8km (5-mile) long river that cuts through the heart of Ottawa freezes over to become the world’s largest skating rink. As the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, the Rideau Canal dates back to 1832 and makes a wintery, picturesque backdrop for taking in the country’s capital city. The classic Canadian experience is rounded out with pit-stops for steaming hot chocolate and crispy beaver tails – fried dough pastry layered with sweet toppings like Nutella and cinnamon sugar.
Planning tip: If you're visiting in the summer you can cruise the Rideau canal by boat, bike the Rideau Canal pathway or take to the skies on the 365m (1200ft) Interzip Rogers, the world’s first interprovincial zipline.
20. Walk the Toronto skyline
Adrenaline junkies can lean over Canada’s largest city in the open air on the EdgeWalk: a wide ledge set outside the CN Tower’s main pod. Towering 550m (1800ft) above Toronto, the CN Tower has long been one of the country’s most popular attractions for its unbeatable, 360-degree views. But the addition of the world’s highest hands-free external walk – a Guinness World Record breaker and the first of its kind in North America – has skyrocketed the tourist site to international attention.
Planning tip: Book a table at CN Tower’s 360 Restaurant, where you’ll find award-winning Canadian-sourced cuisine served in a sleek setting, and the “cellar in the sky,” the world’s highest wine cellar.
21. Bike the Vancouver Seawall
With nearby outdoor challenges like hiking the steep wooden steps of Grouse Mountain – aptly nicknamed “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” – and Lynn Canyon Park’s Suspension Bridge, Vancouver tends to attract a competitive athletic crowd. A much more inviting and leisurely outdoor experience is found right in the city along the False Creek Seawall.
While you can easily walk or rollerblade sections of the two-way paved path, cycling is best to take in all the 23km-long (14-mile) route has to offer. Beginning in Coal Harbour and ending at Kitsilano Beach, the seaside path winds you through some of the city’s best destinations, like Stanley Park, English Bay and Jericho Beach.
Planning tip: Make time to refuel at Granville Island Public Market, where locals and visitors dine at world-class gourmet food stalls while admiring eclectic art and tranquil harbor views.