If there’s any section of Treksplorer that’s been thoroughly neglected in the past, it’s this Canada Travel Guide. Despite being plastered all over this site in substance and spirit (if you caught the Canadian English spelling throughout, kudos!), travel content for my homeland of Canada only started to show up almost 9 years into the site’s journey.
To some, it might make a lot of sense. Spending my whole childhood here in Canada, I was often drawn to more exotic locales while planning my travels in adulthood. Even so, the ease and proximity of it all, still brings me across this great country from time to time. Visiting cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto or outdoor hotspots like Banff, Jasper or Whistler never ceases to put a smile across my face. And if I were to sum up Canada in the (silliest and) most Canadian way possible: Oh ya, she’s a beaut, boys! (And gals.)
Want to experience the best of Canada? Get started planning your trip with this Canada Travel Guide…
When to visit Canada
In case you weren’t aware: Canada’s kinda big. And with that massive size comes the problem in trying to pinpoint exactly when to plan a trip to Canada. Much of Canada—at least the parts you’d likely want to visit—features a temperate climate with four distinct seasons.
For most travellers, the best time to visit Canada is in the summer months between July and August. It’s the busiest time of year, but, by far, the best weather-wise as you’ll encounter plenty of hot & sunny days.
Spring and fall are also good times to travel to Canada.
Autumn is particularly beautiful as Canada’s fall colours come out in full force.
A word of caution: You may want to avoid non-urban destinations in spring as the mosquitoes & blackflies can be quite a nuisance between May and June. (Having spent much of my life in Northern Ontario, trust me: I speak from experience.)
Where to go in Canada
If there’s any one adjective that you could use to describe Canada it’s diverse. Whether in culture or landscapes, the Great White North always has something interesting up its sleeve.
And while there’s a slim chance you’ll encounter the stereotypical flannel-wearing Canadian holding a hockey stick in one hand and a fishing rod in the other, I have no doubt that you’ll watch other stereotypes unfold before you.
Yes, we’re polite. Yes, we’re hospitable. And, yes, Canada is a place that might instantly feel like home.
Need help getting started? Check out these Canadian itineraries, travel plans, and attractions guides:
Canada’s provinces & territories
Canada is home to 10 provinces and 3 territories spread across a massive area covering 9.985 million square kilometres. (Hey, does that qualify as big?)
As you’d imagine with the sprawling land mass, what you’ll find across Canada’s provinces & territories is extremely diverse, covering everything from Boreal forests & rocky mountains to vast plains & Arctic tundra.
The provinces & territories of Canada are:
Connecting the Great Plains of Central Canada to the Canadian Rockies, Alberta offers some of Canada’s finest outdoor experiences for travellers and is one of the country’s most interesting and popular places to visit.
The tourism industry in Alberta balances upon the popularity of its two most famous natural destinations: Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. These sprawling outdoors hotspots are among the oldest national protected areas in the world and hide majestic mountains, glaciers, hiking trails, and turquoise-hued glacial lakes like world-famous Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Peyto Lake.
The two major cities of Alberta—Calgary and Edmonton—are among Canada’s largest.
Calgary, most renowned worldwide for hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics, has become a hotbed of modern Albertan culture. Within its streets, you’ll find surprisingly cool art museums, trendy bars & restaurants, and interesting street art along with a smattering of laid-back greenspaces.
Likewise, visiting Edmonton outweighs its “dull” reputation. The Albertan capital is one of the greenest cities in Canada. Much of the city surrounded by the massive North Saskatchewan River Valley, an urban park that puts NYC’s Central Park to absolute shame with its formidable size.
Ready to plan your trip to Alberta? Check out these travel resources…
Perhaps even more than its provincial neighbour of Alberta to the east, British Columbia is (justifiably) famous for its vast hinterlands jam-packed with opportunities for Canada’s most epic outdoor adventures.
Replete with coastal rainforests, misty mountain ranges, and picture-perfect Pacific Ocean coastlines, British Columbia (or B.C. as most Canadians would have it) is a paradise for nature enthusiasts of all ilks from skiers & snowboarders to hikers.
When it’s time for the mountains and forests to stop calling, the cities of British Columbia beckon. The province’s urban scene centres around the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, Canada’s third-largest city and the largest in B.C.
Few world cities are more spectacularly located than Vancouver. Wedged between mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is incredibly picturesque and it’s hardly a surprise that Vancouverites take as easily to the hiking trails and the slopes as they do to boardrooms.
If you’re looking for a smaller city feel, pop over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. The British Columbian capital is often considered to most British city in North America, hanging on to its English traditions in its Victorian and Edwardian architecture and landscapes including a few castles built in baronial style.
Nature and wine lovers will likewise love a jaunt over to Kelowna, the third-largest city in the province and the epicentre of the B.C. wine-making industry. Nestled in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, Kelowna hosts about 40 wineries including several award-winning vintners.
Travelling from east to west, Manitoba is the gateway to the Canadian Prairies, a region of vast open spaces that’s a complete contradiction of the mountainous terrain a few provinces over in Western Canada. While Manitoba isn’t one of Canada’s most-visited places, travellers passing through will come to appreciate the province with a little coaxing.
Most visitors start and end their Manitoba adventures in Winnipeg. It’s the provincial capital, the largest city in Manitoba, and one of the most important places in the history of Canada. But there’s more to a trip to Manitoba than that.
If you’re looking for a real off-beat adventure after shoring up the streets of Winnipeg, head north to Churchill. Perched on the edge of Hudson Bay and Canada’s Arctic, this small town is the polar bear capital of the world and one of the best places on earth to catch the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)—if you time your visit just right.
Although a fantastic introduction to Canada’s Maritimes, New Brunswick doesn’t get quite as much press among travellers as its Atlantic neighbours. It’s a shame because this East Coast province is one of the most interesting corners of Canada with some unique things you won’t find anywhere else.
While there’s plenty to see throughout the province, first-time visitors to New Brunswick would do well to head straight for the coast. The province’s coastline lies along the Bay of Fundy, one of the natural wonders of North America and home to the highest tides on the planet.
Towns along the Bay of Fundy like St Andrews By-the-Sea are also famous for their whale-watching opportunities, offering an up-close look at some of the rarest whale species in the world.
For a taste of Canadian culture and history, New Brunswick is full of interesting quirks. The area along the Quebec border was once the centre of the French colony of Acadia, disbanded after a British conquest in 1713. Even to this day, you’ll still find locals throughout New Brunswick speaking Acadian, a dialect of 18th-century French.
Another must for any visit to New Brunswick is to check out its biggest city, Saint John. While it’s got a reputation among travellers as a rough-and-tumble industrial port city, Saint John has a great historic core full of 19th-century architecture hiding great restaurants & pubs and the province’s most popular marketplace.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Hopping over to “The Rock,” you’ll often wonder if you’re even in Canada anymore. The island of Newfoundland has a certain end of the world feel to it, much like the barren cliffs of Ireland. With the Labrador region on the mainland thrown into the mix, the doubled-up province of Newfoundland & Labrador makes for some epically rugged sightseeing opportunities during your trip to Atlantic Canada.
The long-held myth of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of North America can be put to rest as you scuttle up the coast in Newfoundland. The L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site on the first northern tip of the island showcases the region’s first European settlement, a Viking stronghold dating back to 1000 AD.
Beyond its rocky shorelines and brooding coastal sweeps, Newfoundland & Labrador is its own microcosm of culture. Thanks to its Maritime history and strong Irish roots, there’s a certain uniqueness here, even when compared to Canada’s other East Coast provinces.
Don’t be surprised when your night out in the lovely provincial capital of St. John’s revs up with a bowl of hearty stew and a local craft beer with the sound of fiddles droning in the background.
If your travels in Canada get you as far north as the Northwest Territories (NWT) you’ll be in the company of but a few. Taking up a large swath of land in the centre of Canada’s northern expanses, this sprawling Canadian territory is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth—with that unique “end-of-the-world beauty” to match.
Most visits to the Northwest Territories will inevitably land you in Yellowknife, the territorial capital, and—surprisingly at just 20,000 denizens—home to half of the NWT population. Yellowknife’s array of attractions is anything but ordinary. You’re more likely to scrawl activities like Aurora-watching, dog sledding or fishing onto your itinerary than museum-hopping.
Minutes from the centre of Yellowknife, the vast wilderness of NWT begins. Just 45 minutes from town, you can revel in the blissful nature of Hidden Lake Territorial Park. To get truly “out in the boonies,” head to Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada or Wood Buffalo National Park, straddling the territory’s southern border with Alberta.
Perhaps no Atlantic Canada province captures the spirit of the Canadian Maritimes as well as Nova Scotia. Surrounded by sea in nearly every direction, Nova Scotia takes full advantage of its oceanfront property. The coastline is dotted with rustic fishing villages, historic lighthouses, and rugged cliffs, creating a distinctive East Coast atmosphere at every turn.
Most travellers start exploring the seaside province in Halifax, the largest city and capital of Nova Scotia. While Halifax has plenty of its own charms—from red-brick heritage buildings & important Canadian historical sites to some of the East Coast’s best brewpubs & bistros—most travellers will be more compelled by what lays nearby. The world-famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove is a great place to start diving deeper into the spirit of the Atlantic as is the UNESCO World Heritage fishing town of Lunenburg.
Wine lovers visiting Nova Scotia should venture to the northern coast along the Bay of Fundy, beelining for the Annapolis Valley, the centre of the province’s wine-making industry. Hikers and nature lovers, on the other hand, will find the best bang for their buck in rugged and beautiful Cape Breton. The island is home to the Cabot Trail, one of the Canada’s most scenic drives, and the place to catch Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage in action. (There’s even a handful of native Gaelic speakers here!)
Representing over a fifth of the entire area of Canada, the massive territory of Nunavut is a land of vast Arctic wilderness that feels almost completely untouched by the human experience. There’s less than 40,000 people spread among over two million square kilometres of land mass, making Nunavut one of the least densely populated areas on earth.
Nunavut is truly not a travel destination for the meek. Besides the obvious bone-chilling cold and harsh weather conditions, there are practically no roads here. The only way to get around Nunavut is by ice roads, snowmobiles, planes, or the more traditional Inuit mode of transport, dog sleds.
If you do manage to tough out the enormous physical and financial costs of travelling up here, you’ll be welcomed by untouched natural gems whether its the mountains, fjords, and glaciers of Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island or the waterfalls and surprisingly fertile valleys of Katannilik Territorial Park on Baffin Island “near” Iqaluit.
Home to Canada’s biggest city and the country’s most popular tourist attraction, Ontario is often the first stop on a first-time Canada itinerary. While much of the attention from travellers falls towards the metropolis of Toronto and nearby Niagara Falls, one of the great natural wonders of the world, there’s plenty more to discover in this vast province.
Once you’ve got your fill of the multicultural megacity vibe of Toronto, drive an hour or two in any direction and you’ll find nature at your beck and call. Besides the Great Lakes, Ontario is home to over 250,000 lakes scattered throughout the province’s hinterlands.
To experience Ontario’s wilderness without getting too far off the beaten path, head to Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s located just a few hours from Toronto and hides over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of meandering rivers and streams within it.
Prince Edward Island
A tenth of the size of the next smallest province, Prince Edward Island (PEI) packs a punch well above its weight. The 5,660-square-kilometre Atlantic Canada island is a popular travel destination for Canadians who venture here to revel in its fresh seafood, marvel at its coastline, and frolick in its green pastures, made world-famous in the early-20th century by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
Seaside fishing villages far outnumber cities in Prince Edward Island. In fact, there’s only two true cities in PEI, Summerside and Charlottetown, the quaint provincial capital of just over 36,000 people that still retains its small-town charms.
To experience the best of PEI is as easy as hopping in your car and going exploring. In theory, you could complete the entire coastal drive in a day, but, like Prince Edward Island itself, a more laid-back approach to your visit will yield much better returns.
The epicentre of French Canadian culture, the belle province of Quebec is a must-visit for rounding out your Canada travel experience. While Quebec holds fiercely to its own language and culture, the province is, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire nation.
As you wander about Quebec, you’ll find everything that Canada is famous for. In Montreal, Canada’s multiculturalism shines. It’s a city like none other in Canada, showcasing a European vibe in its aesthetic and a distinctive French Canadian air in its attitude. Quebec City, the provincial capital, is equally beguiling. It’s one of North America’s oldest cities—with the historic buildings to prove it.
Outside of its two major cities, Quebec manifests Canadian wilderness at its finest. The rugged coastlines of the beautiful Gaspé Peninsula transition towards Canada’s East Coast while the tundra of Northern Quebec hints at what lies above in Canada’s Arctic. Elsewhere, you’ll find the Laurentian Mountains singing with ski runs and vast swathes of forests hiding sugar cabins and hiking trails that are ripe for exploration.
While it hardly tops many lists of what to do in Canada, visiting Saskatchewan is a must to fully appreciate everything the country has to offer. The centrepiece of the Canadian Prairies and Canada’s section of the Great Plains of North America, Saskatchewan is a complete counterweight to the dramatic Rocky Mountain landscapes lying just one province to the west.
Though the terrain lacks the “oomph” of Western Canada’s, there’s a certain magical beauty to it. The vast flat plains of Saskatchewan hold within them their own serenity. Listening to the wind howling across wheat fields while witnessing a seemingly endless horizon is an experience you won’t get elsewhere in Canada.
The most well-known of the three Canadian territories, Yukon has, since its gold rush days, always had a certain mystique to it. For explorers-in-the-making, the frontier vibe of Yukon Territory keeps the prospect of visiting exciting, as if you’re about to conquer lands untouched.
While your first impression of Yukon will likely be the capital & main transport hub of Whitehorse, your true adventure awaits in the wilderness just outside the city and elsewhere in the territory. Just two hours from Whitehorse, you’ll be able to revel in the natural beauty of Kluane National Park, home to Canada’s 5 tallest mountains and the largest sub-Arctic icefields in the world.
Of the three territories, Yukon is the most “easily” accessible for travellers. It’s connected by road to both British Columbia and Alaska with highways connecting the territory’s main population centres including Whitehorse and Dawson City.
The best places to visit in Canada
When people ask me where to start when visiting Canada, Montreal is one of my two first answers. Perhaps it’s my just never-ending fascination with Europe coming through, but I just can’t seem to get enough of Canada’s second-biggest city.
After numerous (almost yearly) visits over the past decade, I still find plenty of things to discover as I trot through Montreal.
From the old cobblestoned streets & historic architecture of Old Montreal to the hipster-approved restaurants, cafés and music venues of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal & Mile End, Montreal is, perhaps, the most diverse & interesting urban experience in the country.
If you’re looking for a city to launch your exploration of Canada, hip & cultured Montreal is it.
(You can thank me later.)
Ready to plan your trip to Montreal? Get started with these resources…
- One Day in Montreal: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Montreal
- Where to Stay in Montreal: The Best Hotels & Areas
If you’re like many first-time travellers to Canada, your first stop will likely be Toronto. By a fairly large margin, Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and with that status comes a whole plethora of things to keep you occupied on a visit here.
Aside from the cloud-piercing CN Tower, there isn’t one particular attraction that stands out as the definitive Toronto attraction. Toronto offers, quite literally, everything for everyone. It’s truly one of the world’s most diverse cities, covering the entire gamut of global cultures within it.
Toronto is, by far, at its most enjoyable when you just live it.
Whether you’re curling up with a book and a craft coffee in a hip downtown café, chowing down on ethnic food on the Danforth, or taking in a show or two in the entertainment district, this infinitely liveable city feels instantly like home when you drop all expectations and let it reveal itself moment by moment.
Ready to plan your trip to Toronto? Get started with these resources…
- One Day in Toronto: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Toronto
- Where to Stay in Toronto: The Best Hotels & Areas
Along with Montreal, I can’t help but recommend a visit to the incredible city of Vancouver to first-time visitors to Canada.
There’s hardly a place on earth more blessed by its geography than Vancouver. Hemmed in by snow-capped mountains, primeval forests, and the waves of mighty Pacific Ocean, Vancouver’s sexy exterior is bound to grasp your attention upon first glance.
Thanks to this prime location and its unique cultural fabric, Vancouver offers travellers a breadth of experiences you simply won’t find elsewhere in Canada.
Whether you want to spend your time exploring its diverse historical neighbourhoods, sampling delights in one of the country’s best urban dining scenes, or hiking through mountain-fringed rainforests north of the city, this is one Canadian travel destination you don’t want to miss.
Ready to plan your trip to Vancouver? Get started with these resources…
- One Day in Vancouver: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Vancouver
- Where to Stay in Vancouver: The Best Hotels & Areas
More top Canadian travel destinations
- Best Hiking in Banff
- Best Things to Do in Banff
- Best Time to Visit Banff
- Where to Stay in Banff: The Best Hotels & Accommodations
- Fall in Banff: Where to Go & What to See
- Skiing in Banff & Lake Louise
- Best Things to Do in Calgary
- Where to Stay in Calgary: The Best Hotels & Areas
- How to Get from Calgary to Banff
- Best Things to Do in Ottawa
- One Day in Ottawa: Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Ottawa: The Best Hotels & Areas
- Best Things to Do in Quebec City
- One Day in Quebec City: Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Quebec City: The Best Hotels & Areas
- Saint John
- St. John’s
Transportation in Canada
Unless you’re coming from the United States, you’ll likely enter Canada by air. The major international air gateways into Canada include Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), and Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
If you’re visiting from the United States, you may be able to cross into Canada by bus. From most major American cities, however, travelling by bus is less comfortable, longer, and less convenient than flying. Some common routes into Canada include:
- Detroit to Toronto (5h35m)
- Boston to Montreal (6h55m)
- Buffalo to Toronto (2h10m)
- Seattle to Vancouver (2h45m)
Due to its immense size and large distances between cities, the best way to get around Canada is by air. In recent years, competition has opened up and prices are gradually becoming more reasonable. Major air carriers operating between major Canadian cities include Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter.
If you’re sticking around a smaller geographic area on your Canada itinerary (such as the corridor between Toronto and Quebec City), the bus could be a viable option. There are a handful of companies plying between cities on this route (i.e. Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City) including Coach Canada, Greyhound, Orleans Express, and Megabus.
Even after spending countless hours on trains in my childhood, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend travelling by train to most travellers as a means for getting around Canada. Although more comfortable than buses, trains are, for the most part, less convenient and significantly more expensive than buses or even planes.
The one exception would be the routes between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, which tend to be faster than travelling by road. For hardcore train lovers, the epic 5-day cross-Canada train ride from Halifax to Vancouver could, however, be a major accomplishment for the bucket list.