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.
For museums, history and urban vibes, head to Kingston, the first capital of modern-day Canada, and of course today's vibrant capital, Ottawa. East of Kingston is the Thousand Islands region, a foggy archipelago of lonely isles along the deep St Lawrence Seaway, where the towns of Gananoque and Brockville have a genteel Victorian feel.
Eastern Ontario's natural beauty extends to the interior, which overflows with scenic parks and preserves. Algonquin Provincial Park is the area's flagship domain, offering unparalleled canoeing and wildlife spotting among towering jack pines and lakes. Similar topography extends to the Haliburton Highlands, Kawarthas and Land O' Lakes.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Eastern Ontario.
The National Gallery is a work of art in itself: its striking ensemble of pink granite and glass spires echoes the ornate copper-topped towers of the nearby parliament buildings. Inside, vaulted galleries exhibit predominantly Canadian art, classic and contemporary, including an impressive collection of work by Inuit and other indigenous artists. It's the world's largest Canadian collection, although additional galleries of European and American treasures include several recognizable names and masterpieces. Interpretive panels guide visitors through the nation's history and cultural development.
This lavish turn-of-the-century island castle in the middle of the St Lawrence is only around 25km from Gananoque, but technically in the USA, so you'll need your passport to visit. It was built by George C Boldt, original proprietor of New York's famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Many Thousand Island cruise tours stop here, or you can drive 23km from Gananoque to Alexandria Bay, NY, USA, where 10-minute shuttles cross the 1km of water to the castle.
Pop into this small interpretive center on Cornwall Island, between the bridge to the US border post and the bridge back to the Canadian mainland, to learn more about the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation, which sprawls across Ontario, Québec and New York. Explanatory panels, artworks and brochures are complemented by the helpful staff, who are happy to share stories from their community of over 12,000 people. The center is a hub for organizing cultural experiences and outdoor activities in the reservation.
Displaying the world's largest collection of canoes and kayaks, this museum is a must-visit. The phenomenal display of around 150 canoes (500 are stacked in the neighboring 'canoe cathedral' warehouse) details Canada's lengthy history of water navigation, from canoes' indigenous origins through their use in exploration and fur trading to the period from 1870 to 1940, when this area was North America's canoe-building capital. After an hour at the center, you’ll feel inspired to pick up a paddle.
On the Thousand Islands Pkwy south of Mallorytown, you'll find the Mallorytown Landing Visitors Centre for the Thousand Islands National Park, which preserves a gentle green archipelago of over 20 freckle-sized islands, scattered between Kingston and Brockville. A 2km walking trail and interpretive center allow visitors to learn more about the lush terrain and resident wildlife. Further hiking trails and canoe routes explore deeper into the park.
Just east of Ivy Lea, some 20km from Gananoque, a series of soaring bridges links Ontario to New York State, USA, over several islands. Halfway across, just before crossing the international border, this 130m-high observation tower offers fantastic views of the archipelago from two open decks, plus explanatory exhibits on a glass-enclosed deck. And yes, there's an elevator.
Vast, yawning archways, copper-topped turrets and Gothic-Revival gargoyles dominate the facade of the stunning lime-and-sandstone parliament buildings. The main building, known as the Centre Block, supports the iconic Peace Tower and is undergoing renovations until at least 2028. Until then, visitors can still tour the House of Commons in the West Block and the historic East Block. The Senate is now in a new building close to Parliament Hill. It's best to book your tour online.
Allow plenty of time to experience this high-tech, must-see museum across the river, in Hull, Québec. Documenting the history of Canada through a range of spectacular exhibits, it's an objective recounting of the nation's timeline from the perspectives of its Indigenous peoples, its colonial beginnings and today's rich multicultural diversity. Entry includes admission to the Canadian Children's Museum, based around a theme of 'the Great Adventure': over 30 exhibition spaces whisk kids off on a journey around the world.
Fascinating displays twist through the labyrinthine interior of this sculpture-like, modern museum, tracing Canada's military history with the nation's most comprehensive collection of war-related artifacts. Many of the touching and thought-provoking exhibits are larger than life, including a replica of a WWI trench. Take a look at the facade in the evening, if you can: flickering lights pulse on and off spelling 'Lest We Forget' and 'CWM' in both English and French Morse code.