When it comes to thinking about travel destinations, a lot of folks in the Northeast often turn to warm-weather locales such as the Caribbean or cultural hot spots around Europe.
But our neighbor to the north isn’t a place void of interesting tourist attractions. It has plenty of recreational options, great museums and historic sites, engaging metropolitan areas and fairs and festivals you won’t find elsewhere.
If you’re wondering where to look, here are some of the many fun things to do in Canada.
Fun Things to Do in Canada
Banff National Park, Alberta
The oldest national park in Canada is arguably its best, and it belongs on a list of fun things to do in Canada. Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho and Mount Robson national parks, and Mount Assiniboine and Hamber provincial parks.
Banff covers more than 2,500 square miles of alpine glory, so it’s not the kind of thing you’ll see in a day. Consider starting your visit at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada. It commemorates the country’s national park system, which started at Banff when railroad workers discovered a cave filled with hot springs.
The Banff Park Museum, which is closed from early October through mid-May, is a short drive away.
Recreational opportunities are vast and change with the season. Hiking and cycling are popular in warm weather. Cross-country skiing and waterfall ice climbing (exactly what it sounds like) are popular in colder months.
No matter the season, visitors can go for a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, mineral water-fed pools with temperatures between 98 and 104 degrees.
Don’t leave Banff without driving at least a section of Icefields Parkway. The scenic route runs 144 miles between Lake Louise and Jasper, linking Banff and Jasper national parks. The Columbia Icefield is one of many highlights along or near the route. It’s the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains.
While you’re in town: Check out the Glacier Skywalk, where you can gaze down upon Sunwapta Valley on a glass platform more than 900 feet high. Trips start at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre.
Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
When it comes to fun things to do in Canada, scenic drives are some of the best. Cabot Trail is usually at the top of the list, especially during fall foliage season. The loop traverses the northern half of Cape Breton Island with stretches that skirt the ocean and run through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
The route is about 185 miles round trip, so you can drive it in a day if you’d like, but many prefer to take their time and stop along the way.
One possibility? Whale watching. Nova Scotia is home to some of the world’s best whale watching. Peak season is usually mid-summer to early fall. Tours leave from points along the trail, including Pleasant Bay and Cheticamp.
While you’re in town: Stop by the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada. The citadel is a fort built in the mid-19th century to protect Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia. Visitors can explore the fortress to learn about local military history. A sentry change takes place every hour, the Noon Gun is fired every day at noon and ghost tours are offered mid-summer through late October. Guests can also experience soldier-for-a-day programs.
Calgary Stampede, Calgary, Alberta
If you’ve ever longed to see real-life cowboys in action, or experience one of the most fun things to do in Canada, a trip to the Calgary Stampede should be on your bucket list.
The annual event honors local Western heritage through 10 days of festivities. Bull riding, barrel racing, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and other events are part of what’s pegged as the world’s richest rodeo-style tournament. Visitors can enjoy one of the world’s premier chuck wagon races, country music concerts, a parade, carnival rides, crafts, food, shopping and a grandstand show combining music, dancing, stunts and pyrotechnics.
The 2017 festival takes place July 7-16.
While you’re around: Need a break from cowboy boots and Stetsons? Check out Calgary Tower. The observation deck offers panoramic views of the city from more than 620 feet in the sky. Have lunch in a rotating restaurant. The tower is a two-minute walk from the Glenbow Museum, which houses more than 1 million historical artifacts and works of art.
At a glance, Churchill doesn’t seem like a tourist draw, nor an obvious inclusion for a list of fun things to do in Canada. It’s located in northeast Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay, about 90 miles south of Nunavut and not terribly far from the Arctic Circle. There are no roads leading to the town, so you’ll be flying in, or taking a two-day train ride.
Wondering why it’s worth it? For a lot of people, it’s the polar bears that make it one of the best places to visit in Canada.
Churchill is said to be the only human settlement where you can see polar bears in nature. Beginning in autumn, bears head for sea ice reforming on the Hudson Bay. Off-road vehicle tours are one option for seeing the migration.
Beluga whale watching is another popular activity. For about three months beginning in mid-June, northern Manitoba houses a giant gathering of the massive marine mammals.
In autumn and winter, seeing the northern lights is a big reason to check out Churchill.
While in Winnipeg: Trips to Churchill just about always include a stop in Winnipeg. The city has several attractions, including the Royal Canadian Mint. Every single Canadian circulation coin is made at the facility. Take a tour to learn more about the operation.
CN Tower, Toronto, Canada
Picking one attraction in Canada’s largest city isn’t easy, so why not start at the top? CN Tower stands just over 1,815 feet tall. It held the world record for tallest free-standing structure from April 1975 until completion of the Canton Tower, in Guangzhou, China, in 2009.
Enjoy views and a restaurant on the LookOut level, at 1,136 feet. An elevator sends riders to the height in less than one minute.
An outdoor terrace is located one floor below, as is a 2½-inch-thick glass floor where you can look down on the ground below from 1,222 feet.
The attraction’s tallest views are on SkyPod, at 1,465 feet. Elevators are available from the LookOut level. With good conditions, views extend as far as 100 miles.
The EdgeWalk (open seasonally) is for brave souls. It holds the world record for the highest external walk on a building. Groups of six walk along a 5-foot-wide platform more than 1,160 feet above the ground. Participants can lean out over the platform, should they dare.
CN Tower is located in Toronto’s Entertainment District. Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, is nearby. Behind-the-scenes tours are available. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is another nearby option.
Coming or going: Expecting to see Niagara Falls on a list of fun things to do in Canada? If you’re visiting Toronto, the natural wonder is a good stop either heading out or coming home. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls includes Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three Niagara Falls waterfalls. Journey Behind the Falls provides a unique way of seeing the attraction from behind and at the foot of the falls.
Hopewell Rocks, Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick
The Bay of Fundy, separating Nova Scotia from New Brunswick, is home to the planet’s most extreme tides. Billions of tons of water flow in and out every day. The difference between low and high tide, at certain points of the year, is more than 45 feet.
Open mid-May to mid-October, Hopewell Rocks is one of the best places to visit in Canada, and a great way to experience this natural phenomenon. From three hours before until three hours after low tide, visitors can literally walk the ocean floor.
The site’s flowerpot rocks are towering, eye-catching structures formed by centuries of water flow. You can walk among them during low tide, or kayak among them during high tide.
No matter what time you visit, always keep safety at the top of your mind. The formations are continually evolving, which, in some cases, can mean deterioration. In March 2016, the formation known as Elephant Rock collapsed.
While you’re around: Moncton is about a 45-minute drive north of Hopewell Cape, and it’s home to a few family-friendly attractions including Magic Mountain Water Park and Magnetic Hill Zoo. Magnetic Hill is one of the world’s most interesting tourist traps. Visitors experience vehicles rolling not downhill, but backward, seemingly uphill.
Hôtel de Glace, Quebec City, Quebec
Quebec has something going on all year, but some of its most interesting attractions are aimed at those who don’t mind the cold.
Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel in English) is currently in the middle of its 17th season.
The hotel is made from more than 500 tons of ice and more than 30,000 tons of snow. It includes more than three dozen rooms and suites, an ice bar, an ice chapel, an ice slide and a Nordic area with outdoor hot tubs and saunas. Tours are offered daily. Those staying overnight receive a training session upon arrival. Guests use -30-degree-Celsius sleeping bags to rest on a box spring and mattress atop a base of solid ice.
The hotel, like anything made from ice and snow, melts at the end of the season.
Don’t miss Montreal: If you’re coming from this neck of the woods, Montreal is a good addition to any Quebec City visit. One of the city’s most popular attractions is Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, an early 19th century Gothic Revival style church with eye-catching art and architecture. The Montreal Space for Life (Espace Pour la Vie Montreal) is another option. It’s a natural science museum housed within the Montreal Biodome, with re-creations of various ecosystems; Montreal Botanical Gardens, with exhibition greenhouses and themed gardens; the Montreal Insectarium, with live specimens including beetles and spiders; and a planetarium. You can find something to eat on Saint Catherine Street, an attraction unto itself, and, depending on when you visit, an unforgettable festival may be on the calendar.
The Montreal International Jazz Festival, for example, welcomes some of the world’s best musicians for 10 days of concerts from late June to early July. The happening is centered in Quartier des spectacles, a downtown entertainment district.
Visitors in July are also likely to catch some unforgettable pyrotechnics during the annual Montreal International Fireworks Competition.
Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario
Canada’s capital is an obvious inclusion on this list, and Parliament Hill is the logical place to center an exploration of the city. It’s situated above the Ottawa River, which is bordered by a bicycle and walking path.
Guided tours of Centre Block – home of the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament – are offered regularly.
Parliament Hill is the focal point of a massive Canada Day celebration every July 1, and, in summers through 2019, visitors can catch the free, three-minute sound and light show “Northern Lights” projected onto Centre Block’s exterior.
The Changing of the Guard is a summer happening featuring regimental bands and drills.
Around the holidays, Parliament Hill is home to Christmas Lights Across Canada, a massive holiday light display.
While you’re in town: Attractions abound around Parliament Hill. The National Gallery of Canada is within walking distance. It houses the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography along with European, Asian and American art. The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Site of Canada, is about a 20-minute drive from the hill. You can walk a 5-mile promenade to enjoy the 19th century creation, or, during Winterlude, in February, skate a 4.8-mile section of the canal. The event also includes ice sculpting, a children’s snow playground, music and food.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
If you think of Canada and the first images that come to mind involve ice and snow, Vancouver Island is here to expand your horizons. Bigger than Belgium, Vancouver Island is home to Canada’s most moderate climate, with average winter temperatures slightly above freezing and average summer temperatures slightly above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll want to spend some time outdoors. Tofino is arguably the country’s top surfing spot, and public parks are easy to come by, such as Pacific Rim National Park Preserve. Its 126,000-plus acres are divided into three sections: Long Beach, with 10 miles of coast; the Broken Islands Group, a draw for kayakers; and West Coast Trail, a 47-mile backpacking route.
Victoria, British Columbia’s provincial capital, is at the island’s southern tip. You can look for attractions, though you may end up simply walking the city’s beautiful inner harbor area.
Done with hotels? British Columbia is home to unique overnight accommodations. One option, if you’re visiting Vancouver Island and plan to book well in advance, is Free Spirit Spheres. Guests sleep in spherical treehouses suspended from trees.
Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler is located in the Coast Mountains about two hours north of Vancouver, and it is pretty much a recreationist’s dream come true.
Whistler Village is the heart of the town. The pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, which looks like something out of a fairy tale, sits at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Together, they form the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, the largest ski area in North America. The mountains see an average annual snowfall of more than 37 feet, and no fresh powder is ever taken for granted.
In fact, should 20 centimeters (about 7.8 inches) or more fall in a given night, don’t be surprised if local business open up a bit later than usual to give employees some time on the slopes.
The mountains are linked by the Peak 2 Peak gondola ride, the longest and highest lift in the world. Skiers and snowboarders can use the ride to explore both mountains in a single day, while sightseers can enjoy the ride for, well, the sights. The lift is open in warm weather, too.
From late December through late March, the resort is home to a Fire & Ice Show that features skiers and snowboarders jumping through a fiery hoop.
Whistler, including Whistler Blackcomb, was an integral part of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and the happening left an indelible mark on the area.
You’ll likely want to snap a photo with the Olympic rings at the Whistler Olympic Plaza. In winter, the plaza is home to outdoor ice skating and a children’s play area. In summer, it hosts concerts.
Warm-weather guests will find plenty in Whistler, too. Golf, bungee jumping, horseback riding, ATV touring, rafting and zip lining are just some of the options.
While you’re in town: Whistler Olympic Park is about 20 minutes northwest of the village. One of the coolest opportunities is the Whistler Sliding Centre where visitors can experience a bobsled ride in winter and summer.
There’s no way a single list could touch on all of the great things do in Canada. Are any of your favorites not on this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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