The Canadian border reopened to American travelers on Aug. 9 (and is now open to tourists from other countries as well), meaning all 3.8 million square miles of the country are once again yours to explore—provided you’re fully vaccinated. If you are, then you might be wondering about the best Canadian cities to check out this fall.
The Great White North has always been a popular destination among Americans, which is no surprise given that the two countries share the largest bi-national land border in the world. These days Canada is arguably more alluring than ever as it’s closer and easier to visit than many other international hotspots.
But which cities across Canada’s ten provinces and three territories should you check out first? That’s a matter of taste, of course, but to get you started, our resident Canuck (the author) has you covered with this list of the best Canadian cities to explore.
The 8 Best Canadian Cities to Visit
1. Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver, located on Canada’s West Coast, has a lot going for it. It’s home to incredible restaurants and bars. Its expansive public transit system—highlighted by the famous SkyTrain—makes it easy to get around. It boasts all kinds of museums, galleries, and annual festivals, many of which are free to attend. And it’s populated—for the most part—by friendly, laid-back locals.
Vancouver’s real strength, though, is its closeness to nature. Perched on the Strait of Georgia, its coastline is dotted with picturesque beaches—Kitsilano and the clothing-optional Wreck Beach are local favorites—and criss-crossed with trails. Look inland, and you’ll spot towering mountains that can be hiked in the warmer months and skied or snowboarded in the winter (Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour are both close by).
2. Toronto, Ontario
Toronto, which towers over Lake Ontario, is not only Canada’s biggest city, but also its most visited. Before the pandemic put the travel industry in a stranglehold, the city saw more than 27 million tourists a year—and for good reason.
Toronto has something for everyone: incredible restaurants, bustling nightlife, plenty of art, tons of live music and live sports, some incredible architecture—you can’t miss the CN Tower—and far more green space than you’d expect from a city of its size. Visitors to the city also gain access to Toronto Island Park, a sprawling island complete with an amusement park, hiking trails, live events, and more.
3. Montreal, Quebec
Historic. Gritty. Artsy. All words that can be used to describe Montreal, the largest city in La Belle Province—the French-speaking province of Quebec.
Montreal sits on an island in the Saint Lawrence River. It has long been one of Canada’s most important shipping ports, but that’s not its only claim to fame. The city is jam-packed with incredible shopping for all tastes and budgets, and it has some of the country’s very best restaurants (make sure you get some poutine, one of the region’s most famous dishes). It’s also a hub for the arts with frequent concerts and festivals in its many public parks, including the famed Mount Royal Park. And rest assured, while you might have a handful of clumsy interactions with French-speaking locals, the city is very welcoming to travelers, so there’s no need to spend hours on Duolingo before you arrive.
4. Halifax, Nova Scotia
Way out on Canada’s easy-going East Coast you’ll find Halifax. It’s a small city—the population is less than 450,000 people—but that’s a strength, not a disadvantage: Think small town charm with big city amenities.
Halifax is home to famously friendly locals and dozens of placid parks and beaches, including the postcard-worthy Point Pleasant Park in the South End. The city also boasts one of Canada’s burgeoning culinary scenes, and the seafood and craft beer in Halifax are particularly noteworthy. Don’t miss the donair, a local take on a Greek gyro, and fresh shellfish at The Press Gang.
Halifax is also one of Canada’s top live music destinations. Walk into any bar on Barrington Street or along the waterfront, and there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by a rousing live performance, often from artists with Scottish and Irish influences.
5. Ottawa, Ontario
Ottawa is Canada’s capital city. It used to get a bad rap as a fun-free government town, but it has definitely shaken off that reputation in recent years. Today, it has all of the shopping, dining, nightlife, and cultural attractions you’d expect from a world-class city. It’s also surrounded by some spectacular natural beauty, thanks to its position along two majestic rivers—the Rideau and the Ottawa—and its proximity to expansive wildernesses like Gatineau Park. In the winter, it’s also the home of the world’s largest skating rink: the Rideau Canal Skateway, where you can skate the length of a frozen canal that winds right through downtown Ottawa. Bring your blades if you got ’em, and rent ’em if you don’t.
6. Victoria, British Columbia
On the south tip of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island you’ll find the charming city of Victoria. Like Halifax on the East Coast, it’s a small city that punches well above its weight in terms of attractions. Victoria’s main claim to fame is its prime location right on the water and the many opportunities for outdoor adventure that presents. Paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, swimming, diving, and whale watching are all great ways to spend time here. But that’s not all you’ll find in Victoria. This charming coastal city is also home to superb food, a thriving live music scene, and incredible history that you can explore at attractions like the Royal British Columbia Museum and Craigdarroch Castle.
7. Whitehorse, Yukon
Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s rugged Yukon Territory, is a long way up on the map, but it’s well worth the trip for adventurers and nature-lovers.
While Whitehorse is home to some solid restaurants and shopping, it’s generally used as a jumping off point to explore nearby attractions. Highlights include hiking rugged Miles Canyon and exploring the 700-acre Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which is home to 13 species of Northern Canadian mammals living in their natural habitats, including moose, musk ox, wood bison, and woodland caribou. Whitehorse is also one of the best vantage points in the world to view the northern lights. Definitely bring your camera on this trip.
8. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown is a tiny city on an island that most people outside of Canada likely haven’t heard of before. That’s a shame, because it has a lot going for it. What Charlottetown lacks in skyscrapers and crowded nightclubs it makes up for with rustic lighthouses, cozy pubs serving local beer, delicious fresh seafood, and charming art galleries. Its location on the water also means visitors have ample opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, whale watching and more. And if you’re a history buff, you’ll find plenty of interesting sites to explore in this city, including St. Dunstan’s Basilica Cathedral and Beaconsfield Historic House.
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