Canada is best known as a land of maple syrup, hockey, and snow. But did you know that Canada is also home to some of the world’s most exciting cities? Today, we’re traveling coast to coast on a cross-country jaunt to uncover its best kept urban secrets.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Our first stop is Vancouver in British Columbia. Nestled among mountains, rainforests, and the sea, the city of Vancouver looks like it magically sprouted up from the rich Pacific Northwest soil. Vancouver is known for its cultural diversity and natural wonders, making it irresistible to any traveler. It also leads the world as one of its greenest cities. Vancouverites are immensely proud of their city’s commitment to the environment. Whether you’re visiting the city’s many parks or using public transportation, you’ll see how every citizen helps to make Vancouver more sustainable.
Begin your voyage through Vancouver in Stanley Park, an urban oasis home to some of the city’s most breathtaking sites. Take a walk down the Seawall and watch the waves crashing against it as you search for the Brockton Point Lighthouse, or lay back on the beach for a bit of sunshine.
When you’re ready to cool down, explore the temperate rainforest and stop by the Hollow Tree, the stump of a giant Western Red Cedar Tree. Breathe in the damp, mossy air, then check out the park’s collection of First Nations art and totem poles. Wrap up your park visit with the Vancouver Aquarium, where you’ll immerse yourself in the waters of the Pacific Northwest and come face to face with the many creatures who call it home, like the giant pacific octopus and sturgeon. You’ll also learn about how the First People of Canada thrived in this unique land.
For more outdoor adventures, don’t miss a visit to Grouse Mountain, a hallmark of Vancouver’s skyline. Ride the Skyride to the mountain’s peak to overlook the entire city, then meet the grizzly bears at the Wildlife Refuge. In the winter, the mountain is a flurry of winter activities—skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing—while summertime is ideal for hiking and zip-lining. If you’re craving a day by the sea take the ferry to Granville Island. Grab a bite at the Public Market, then explore the Kids’ Market, a favorite of local families.
Travelers hungry for history will delight in the Burnaby Village Museum, a living 1920s village that brings old Vancouver to life. Highlights include riding the restored carousel and visiting the local Chinese herbalist. Speaking of Vancouver’s Chinese heritage, be sure to book a tour of Chinatown and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Discover China’s Ming Dynasty and befriend koi fish or participate in a garden scavenger hunt. Test your chopstick skills over homemade dim sum, then enjoy a sweet treat from one of Chinatown’s authentic bakeries. With such diverse landscapes and people, Vancouver is a city worth visiting again and again.
Next, we’re heading east to Ottawa, Ontario. Ottawa is the capital of Canada and is bisected by the Ottawa River. As the home of the Algonquin people, Ottawa is a perfect place to uncover Canadian culture and history.
Start your trip at the Rideau Canal. Built in 1832, the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the summer, take a river cruise past iconic Ottawa landmarks. When winter arrives, the canal freezes over as the Rideau Canal Skateway. Glide through the city as you sip on warm hot chocolate. To keep warm, nibble on a BeaverTail pastry, a favorite Ottawa staple. Fully embrace Canada’s cool culture at the annual Winterlude Festival.
All year round, wander the historic ByWard Market and sample Canadian delicacies. Springtime visitors will enjoy a burst of color from the Canadian Tulip Festival, which honors Canada’s service in World War II. For even more Canadian history, take a guided tour of Parliament Hill and stay for the Northern Lights show, a celebration of Canada’s past. At the Canadian Museum of History, travel back in time to discover the lives of Canada’s First Peoples. Admire the totem poles in the Grand Hall and watch how this beautiful nation has evolved over the years. No matter what time of year you visit, Ottawa offers exciting adventures and warm Canadian hospitality.
On the banks of Lake Ontario lies Toronto, a city known for captivating history and iconic landmarks. Since Toronto is one of Canada’s most walkable cities, we recommend exploring the city on foot. A great jumping off point is the Waterfront. Set sail across Lake Ontario on a historic tall ship, then discover the magic of the Toronto Music Garden. Summer visitors can take the ferry to Toronto Island and spend the day at Centreville Amusement Park. When the weather turns chilly, head back to the Waterfront and skate along the lake. For the best views of the city, you can’t beat the CN Tower. Kids will be filled with adrenaline as they ride the High-Speed Elevators to the top of the tower and look out over the entire city.
Back on land, leave the more modern CN Tower behind and spend a day at the Black Creek Pioneer Village. Learn what life was like for Canadian children in the 1860s and meet rare Canadian animals such as the Toulouse Geese. For a more elegant twist on Canadian history, wander through the great halls and gardens of Sir Henry Pallet’s Casa Loma, which dates back to 1914. From the enchanting conservatory to the stables, this stunning castle offers a glimpse into Canada’s rich past.
Wrap up your trip to Toronto with a visit to Little Canada, a miniature replica of Canada’s most special destinations. Visitors will especially enjoy spotting Toronto’s famous landmarks. At the Littlization Station, guests can have a 3D printed model of themselves created and placed at their favorite destination in Little Canada, a reminder that they are always welcome.
Following the St. Lawrence River further east, we reach the storied city of Montréal, Québec. While Montréal is well-known for its french culture and rich history, the city also boasts some of Canada’s most unique natural wonders.
Begin your journey in Old Montréal, the historic city center. We recommend visiting the Pointe-à-Callière Montréal Archeology and History Complex, a state of the art museum with interactive exhibits that truly bring the city’s history to life. Children will delight in pretending to be pirates of New France, hearing more stories of Canada’s First Peoples, and excavating and examining Canadian artifacts.
Put your historical knowledge to the test as you wander the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. Stroll through St. Paul Street and the Place Jacques-Cartier and admire the beautiful French-style architecture. During winter, don’t miss ice skating at the Old Port of Montréal or the Luminothérapie interactive light and art experience, where the historical charm and modern technology make winter even more magical.
Owing to its unique geography, Montréal prides itself on its commitment to sustainability and environmental education. At the Zoo Ecomuseum, you’ll meet the special creatures who call Québec home. From river otters to arctic foxes, the zoo celebrates local wildlife and its importance to Québec and the world as a whole. After the zoo, head to Space for Life, Montréal’s state of the art science district. Traverse Canadian ecosystems in the Biodôme or spend an afternoon in the Botanical Gardens. From its fascinating history to its ecological marvels, Montréal offers something for everyone to enjoy.
Québec City, Québec
Our final destination today is Québec City. At first glance, visitors will think they’ve been transported across the Atlantic to France, but Québec City embraces both Francophone and indigenous culture.
No trip to Québec City is complete without saying “bonjour” to Old Québec. The walled neighborhood of Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is home to many historical treasures. Take a guided tour of the gorgeous Château Frontenac, which opened in 1893 and is known as the grandest hotel in Québec City. Alongside the Château lies the Dufferin Terrace, a wooden walkway on the St. Lawrence River. Come winter, the terrace transforms into a speedy toboggan ride, which has been a Québec City favorite since its construction in 1884.
Experience a slower pace of life in old Québec on the Île d’Orléans (Island of Orleans) at the St. Lawrence Maritime Park or visit the berry farms and apple orchards. When you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth, taste their world-famous poutine. These French-inspired cheesy fries with gravy are one of Québec’s best dishes and will be sure to keep you warm during those chilly winter excursions.
Just like the French, the Huron-Wendat people have also had a tremendous impact on Québec City’s unique culture. In Wendake, just outside of Québec City, take a guided tour of the Huron-Wendat Museum. Year-round, Wendake welcomes visitors and encourages them to discover the wonders of the Huron-Wendat people and culture. After your tour, gather together around a longhouse fire to hear traditional myths and legends that have been passed down for generations. Ponder the legacies of Québec’s many cultures as you return to the city for one last jaunt. Since 2004, families of Québec City have flocked to Benjo, a special toy store and cafe in the heart of the city. Make a special souvenir in the craft workshop, say hi to the store’s resident robot, Monsior Bidule, and stay for a ride on the store’s electric train.
Whether you visit Vancouver, Québec City, or somewhere in between, you’re sure to find fun and adventure all across Canada.