The mind boggles at the sheer scope of Canada.

The continent-spanning country’s vast territory encompasses frigid, treeless Baffin Island and the dense forests and mountains of Banff. Balmy Victoria, British Columbia and blustery St Johns, Newfoundland, six time zones away. Dinosaur bones at Drumheller and the ultra-modern skyscrapers of Toronto.

To come up with a dozen sights that capture the essence of this gargantuan country is like trying to nominate your 12 favorite stars in the Milky Way. Here’s our humble attempt to list all the best things to do in Canada.

People sit on the porch of Lake Agnes Tea House, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
A warm welcome (and a spot of tea) is your reward after the hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse in Lake Louise © Bradley L. Grant / Shutterstock

1. Trek for a cup of tea above Lake Louise, Alberta

You could fill several summers hiking the countless trails in Banff National Park. But if you had to choose just two routes that combine wild mountain scenery with refreshing comforts, look no further than the Lake Louise teahouses. Originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 20th century, these two historic backcountry cabins are only accessible by foot or on horseback, and during the balmy days of summer serve a welcome menu of hot beverages and appetizing snacks. The Lake Agnes Teahouse is nestled in a mountain cirque (valley) 3.5km (2.2 miles) above Lake Louise. The Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse occupies a glade 5.6km (3.5 miles) southwest of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and within sight of the Victoria glacier. Energetic types can visit both in the same (ambitious) walk.  

Colorful historic buildings against a mountain backdrop in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
In the remote Yukon, the colorful houses of Dawson City tell the story of the Gold Rush © EB Adventure Photography / Shutterstock

2. See traces of the Gold Rush in Dawson City, Yukon Territory

One of Western Canada’s best-preserved and most evocative national historic sites, Dawson City pays homage to the 1896–98 Klondike Gold Rush, an event sometimes described as America’s “last grand adventure” – and one that left a lasting mark on Canadian culture and the folklore of the Yukon. A lasting legacy of this era is the tight grid of wooden buildings that have changed little since the settlement’s 20th-century heyday. In 2023, UNESCO made Tr’ondëk-Klondike a World Heritage site, to highlight the often-forgotten impact of the gold rush on the region’s Indigenous people. Lest we forget, two of the original prospectors, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, were from the Tagish First Nation.   

Planning tip: Parks Canada docents dressed in period clothing lead excellent summer walking tours of the town’s important monuments. Meet them at the visitor center.

3. Admire the treasures of the reclaimed potlatch collection on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Head north to Alert Bay on tiny Cormorant Island, just off Vancouver Island, to see one of the best manifestations of Canada’s rich Indigenous culture: the U’mista Cultural Centre, a unique museum modeled on a wooden Indigenous longhouse. On display is a vast collection of Kwakwaka’wakw artifacts – including masks, carvings and totems – reclaimed after being confiscated by Canadian authorities in the early 20th century when “potlatch” gift-giving ceremonies were (shamefully) prohibited.

A woman paints during Festival Mural, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Nikki, an assistant to the artist Hatecopy, works on a piece of street art during Montréal’s Festival Mural, one of the city’s lively annual events © Paola Chapdelaine / AFP via Getty Images

4. Attend a festival in the “Franglish” city of Montréal

Few cities are as distinctly bilingual and bicultural as Montréal – and few host such a varied smorgasbord of festivals. June is when the main summer season kicks off, with Festival Mural, a graffiti and hip-hop extravaganza. Hot on its heels comes Les Francos de Montréal (Québécois music) and the Canadian Grand Prix (motor-racing), followed in July by Juste pour Rire (Just for Laughs, a giant comedy happening), with the peerless Festival International de Jazz de Montréal as the season’s high point. Yet those are just the appetizers. Many more parades, galas, circuses and street parties enliven Montréal’s streets the other 10 months of the year.

A view from a plane of Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
You can only reach Nahanni National Par Reserve by plane. And your first glimpse from above will take your breath away © Ondrej Kubicek / iStockphoto / Getty Images

5. Fly into roadless Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories

You’ll need to jump on a floatplane to see the unsullied glories of Nahanni in the Northwest Territories, a roadless national park acclaimed for wild rivers that curl around the MacKenzie Mountains through deep canyons and past a karst landscape riddled with interconnecting caves. With zero population and no services, visits here are pricey but truly rewarding, once-in-a-lifetime trips. Multi-day guided paddling excursions on the South Nahanni River are particularly spectacular.

Planning tip: Flights are best arranged out of Fort Simpson in the NWT or Whitehorse in the Yukon. Raft and canoe trips can be organized with licensed outfitters like Black Feather, which runs 14-day canoeing tours on the South Nahanni River.

6. Get close to Anglo-French colonial history in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

Tossed around like a tennis ball in the colonial wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, Annapolis Royal in rural Nova Scotia is today a small peaceful town that shows few signs of the sieges and skirmishes that once beset the region. Its pièce de résistance is Fort Anne, a historic bastion first fortified by the Scottish in 1629, re-established by the French in the 1640s and finally requisitioned by the British in 1713. Aside from the military citadel, the town guards several less contentious cultural heirlooms, including some of Canada’s oldest surviving houses.

Detour: Around 14km (9 miles) northwest of Annapolis Royal, the Port Royal National Historic Site is a replica of the one of the earliest permanent European settlements in North America, established by French colonist and explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1605.  

A view of the Vancouver skyline from the top of Grouse Mountain, British Columbia, Canada
An easy day trip from Vancouver’s ultra-modern downtown, the North Shore Mountains offer gorgeous, accessible nature © fitopardo / Getty Images

7. Explore Vancouver’s “back garden” in the North Shore Mountains

The roadless muddle of mountains and valleys just north of Vancouver is the city’s proverbial backyard – and, in the eyes of many, its finest attraction. Accessible via a network of well-mapped trails and easily reachable by public transport, the backcountry here is close enough to the city to be reconnoitered in a day. You might be observing bears in Hanes Valley at lunchtime, then singing “Mr Brightside” in a downtown karaoke bar by evening. Most tourists access the North Shore via the Grouse Mountain gondola – but only a 20-minute walk from the crowded summit restaurant lies a world of unadulterated subalpine forest and vertiginous ridgetops.

Planning tip: Recommended North Shore hikes include the rocky scramble to the top of Goat Mountain, the strenuous backcountry rollercoaster through the Hanes Valley and the popular, rootsy ramble to the viewpoint at St Mark’s Summit.

Parks Canada interpreters in period costumes performing traditional tasks inside a recreated Viking longhouse at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Newfoundland, Canada
Re-enactors channel Canada’s earliest European visitors – the Vikings – at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland © All Canada Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

8. Listen to ancient Viking sagas in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

Almost half a millennium before Columbus bumped into North America, a short-lived but pioneering Viking settlement took shape on the northern tip of Newfoundland. You can investigate its foggy legacy in several reconstructed sod houses at L’Anse aux Meadows, a national historic site first excavated by two Norwegian archaeologists in the 1960s. In the evenings, contemporary guides gather 'round in traditional kitchens to relate powerful Viking sagas.   

9. Stroll the Plaines d’Abraham in Québec City

Québec City is one of the oldest European-founded settlements in Canada and the only walled city north of Mexico. It is also where the continent’s long-term fate was decided in a short, decisive battle between the British and French on the Plaines d’Abraham (Plains of Abraham) in 1759. You can absorb the historical details at the onsite Musée des Plaines d’Abraham, which explores that conflict through regalia and maps. Afterward, enjoy river views and a picnic in the adjoining park and finish off by visiting the imposing Citadelle de Québec, a fort built by the British atop old French defenses in the early 1800s.

Detour: Sandwiched between the Old Upper Town and the waterfront, the neighborhood of Petit-Champlain has the city’s most intriguing museums, along with plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants lining its pedestrian-friendly streets.

A huge Tyrannosaurus rex statue at an intersection in downtown Drumheller, Alberta, Canada
A gigantic T. rex in downtown Drumheller salutes the region’s paleontological appeal  © Vincent JIANG / Shutterstock

10. Size up a Tyrannosaurus rex in Drumheller, Alberta

Paleontology is the overriding theme in dusty Drumheller, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum exhibits one of the planet’s pre-eminent fossil collections, many of them unearthed locally. On a slightly kitschier note, the city also exhibits the world’s largest dinosaur – a bulky fiberglass T. rex that visitors can climb up to peer through its open jaws.

Detour: Beyond the reptilian attractions, this arid pocket of eastern Alberta is famed for its classic Badlands scenery and eerie, mushroom-like rock columns called hoodoos. Several driving loops circumnavigate the striking geology.

Food vendors at the Taste of India festival, Nathan Philips Square, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Toronto’s thriving immigrant communities make for one of the tastiest food scenes in North America © Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. / NurPhoto via Getty Images

11. Get a taste of Toronto – literally

Comprising a complex potpourri of cultures and neighborhoods, Toronto is Canada’s urban colossus. This diversity finds its most delicious expression in the city’s food scene. The metropolis’ 7000-ish restaurants represent a phenomenal range of tastes, cultures and experiences. You can explore, graze and experiment through a gamut of neighborhoods, from fine dining in the Financial and Entertainment Districts to hole-in-the-wall eats in Kensington Market and Chinatown.

Detour: Old Town’s sensational St Lawrence Market has been a neighborhood meeting place for over two centuries. The restored, high-trussed South Market houses more than 120 specialty food stalls and shops – think cheese vendors, fishmongers, butchers, bakers, pasta makers and more.

People walk along the Cloudraker Skybridge, Whistler Mountain, British Columbia, Canada
Spectacular Whister isn’t only a winter wonderland © Hide Matsui / Shutterstock

12. Savor winter and summer alpine pursuits in Whistler, British Columbia

Cool, compact and ruggedly handsome, Whistler is the slick, alpine-style village that co-hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Spread over two mountains and located a mere 120km (75 miles) north of Vancouver, Whistler has long been renowned for its humongous 8,171-acre ski area (one of the world’s largest). Yet these days – thanks to savvy marketing and subtle infrastructure adjustments – summer visitors outnumber their winter counterparts. Come in any season for instant access to a vast backcountry of wild mountains and recreational lakes.

Planning tip: Access to both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains is provided by high-speed gondolas, which are open year-round. Even better, the two mountaintops are linked by the world’s second-longest free-span gondola, the Peak 2 Peak.

This article was first published Sep 22, 2021 and updated May 7, 2024.

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