Known for everything from polar bears to poutine, Canada is a destination that can’t possibly be covered in one trip. Not that you’d want to try, anyways—it’s the second-largest country in the world in terms of land area, so exploring each of its 10 provinces and 3 territories is no easy task.
If you’re looking for some destinations to kick off your journey in the Great White North, here are 12 places to visit in Canada that showcase the sheer diversity of the country. There’s plenty for the outdoor adventurist and city explorer—and everyone in between.
1. Banff National Park, Alberta
- Come for: an experience that captures the best of Canada’s nature
- Stay at: Fairmont Banff Springs
“Banff National Park changes with the seasons and is a natural playground all year round,” AFAR contributor Juliette Recompsat writes in her guide for first-timer’s at this Canadian Rockies destination. In summer, people flock here for alpine flower blooms and glacier-fed lakes. Winter, while much quieter, offers its own set of experiences showcasing the park’s beauty: Try a guided ice walk in Johnston Canyon or snow tubing at Mount Norquay and Lake Louise ski resorts, for starters.
While travelers could easily spend a week in Banff, don’t miss the chance to visit neighboring Jasper National Park, the country’s largest at 4,200 square miles, which is brimming with iconic outdoor sights like Spirit Island, one of the most-photographed spots in Canada.
2. Whistler, British Columbia
- Come for: a ski experience in a league of its own
- Stay at: Four Seasons Whistler
Located in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Whistler is home to the largest ski resort in North America. Every winter, Epic Pass holders and casual skiers alike descend the slopes of the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. While the more than 8,000-acre Whistler Blackcomb Resort is one of the country’s best ski resorts—with options ranging from incredibly difficult to magic-carpet easy—a love of winter sports isn’t necessary to enjoy the town.
Head to Whistler Village to enjoy what several AFAR contributors consider to be the “laid-back, beer-fueled, and decidedly unfussy” après-ski experience that is characteristically Canadian. Here, it’s definitely possible to enjoy a diversity of activities that don’t require skis or snowboards: Learn about First Nations culture at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, take a break at the Scandinave Spa Whistler, or even try an escape room at Escape! Whistler.
3. Prince Edward Island
- Come for: slow living and sparkling harbors
- Stay at: Sydney Boutique Inn & Suites
This island is one of AFAR’s best places to travel in 2023, in part because of its gorgeous, pastoral scenery—this was the setting of the beloved 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, after all. Canada’s smallest province debuted its 435-mile Island Walk trail in 2022, allowing cyclists and walkers to circumnavigate the entire island.
Along the way, travelers can explore the preserved houses of Charlottetown or try some of the island’s famed oysters and lobster at Victoria-by-the-Sea. AFAR contributor Michael Kaminer suggests stopping at the small town of Kensington, where travelers can tour a historic railway station and then treat themselves to Mars bars and bacon sundaes at Frosty Treat Dairy Bar afterwards.
4. Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Come for: a maritime city in touch with its whimsical side
- Stay at: The Muir Hotel
Known for its maritime history, this city of 430,000 has been transforming over the past quarter century to a more artistic and inviting place. For AFAR contributor Darcy Rhyno, the city’s revitalization is best represented by the so-called Drunken Lampposts, a trio of playfully bent and twisted streetlamps on the waterfront that were installed as temporary public artworks and have since gone permanent.
While the port city’s role in recovering the Titanic survivors can be explored in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax also offers plenty of other activities for travelers. Go on the Good Cheer Trail to explore some of its breweries and cideries, visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration, and spend time on the waterfront for shopping and an array of public art displays that include a wave sculpture.
5. Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
- Come for: natural thrills via high tides
- Stay at: Beach Street Inn
Butting against the border of Maine, New Brunswick consists of nearly 1,400 miles of coastline. One jaw-dropping coastline travelers can visit is the one within Fundy National Park, home to the highest tides in the world. (They can reach around 50 feet here.) One of the most thrilling ways to experience its natural phenomenon is to go tidal bore rafting. This activity takes participants down a river toward the incoming ocean, making for a very bumpy ride. But there’s plenty more adventuring to do here, including whale-watching and admiring the views of the 10-mile Fundy Trail Parkway.
6. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
- Come for: a calm alternative to Niagara Falls
- Stay at: 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa
Niagara Falls is a common destination for international travelers and bachelorette parties alike. For a vacation spot a little less busy, AFAR contributor Heather Greenwood Davis suggests driving 30 minutes north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a 19th-century village that she calls “a more mature experience to the gaming hot spots and neon nightlife of the ever-popular honeymoon capital.”
Here, plenty of wineries and boutiques compete for spots on the itinerary, but one can’t-miss event is the Shaw Festival, which draws theater enthusiasts from around the world with its celebrated productions—they run the gamut from George Bernard Shaw classics to musicals, like this season’s Gypsy and Brigadoon.
7. Montreal, Quebec
- Come for: a European-esque escape
- Stay at: Fairmont Le Queen Elizabeth
Tap into Canada’s French colonial history and bilingual present in this culture-filled city, which fuses a laid-back Old World European lifestyle with forward-thinking Canadian art and design. Here, you can stroll down Old Montreal’s Rue Saint-Paul, which was constructed along the Saint-Charles River in 1861, or see an intimate show at the Théâtre Corona.
No matter when you visit, you’re sure to find something on the city’s jam-packed events calendar, which includes the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival in the summer and Igloofest and Luminothérapie in the winter.
8. Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
- Come for: an Indigenous perspective on nature and art
- Stay at: Haida House
About 50 miles from the southern tip of Alaska, this archipelago off the coast of British Columbia is the ancestral homeland and current territory of the Haida people. Upon its shores, AFAR editor Tim Chester describes a landscape where “the understory thrives and dampness reigns, shades of spongy green and yellow undulate, branch stumps sport mossy boxing gloves, and plant life drapes everywhere.”
Equally as impressive are the massive poles erected on these islands, which past and current generations of Haida have fashioned out of cedar. For those who have the chance to take the Haida Pledge and tour the archipelago, the Haida Heritage Centre is a fine starting place to learn about Haida specialties such as woodcarving.
9. Toronto, Ontario
- Come for: a taste of Canadian culture in all of its diversity
- Stay at: 1 Hotel Toronto
It’s easy to justify a visit to Toronto with plenty of showstopping sights like the CN Tower and St. Lawrence Market. As Canada’s largest city, it is also incredibly diverse—more than 140 languages are spoken here.
Time in Toronto reveals that it’s a city organized as a cluster of neighborhoods, where one street may be a center of the Jamaican diaspora, while another may be home to the city’s Little Portugal. No matter where travelers go, there’s plenty to be found in its underrated spaces, whether it be a walk through its Graffiti Alley or Allan Gardens Conservatory. With so much diversity on offer, dedicating a weekend to eating through the city’s dishes—whether in a hole-in-the-wall or Michelin-starred restaurant—is a no-brainer.
10. Vancouver, British Columbia
- Come for: a cinematic city experience
- Stay at: Skwachàys Lodge
Many people have seen Vancouver as the backdrop of movies like Deadpool and Godzilla, but this Canadian city is filled with outdoor adventures, cultural excursions, and culinary pursuits worth exploring off screen. Walking down the streets of Gastown and dining in Chinatown will give a good overview for weekend visitors. Those wanting to go a bit deeper should consider a jaunt to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, a Vancouverite haven two miles from downtown.
Nature lovers will enjoy 1,000-acre Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions. It features historic and contemporary First Nations totem poles throughout the park. (AFAR contributor Bianca Bujan recommends learning about them with Indigenous-owned Talaysay Tours.)
11. Ottawa, Ontario
- Come for: stately landmarks and ice skating on the canal
- Stay at: Fairmont Château Laurier
“When you visit Canada’s capital, you get two cities for the price of one,” AFAR contributor Laura Byrne Paquet writes in her weekend getaway guide to Ottawa. The commercial hub—its name comes from the Algonquin word meaning “to trade”—sits on one side of the Ottawa River, but it’s just a 15-minute drive north to the Quebec city of Gatineau, which offers an introduction to Canada’s French-speaking side.
Landmarks like Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada are some of the draws in the capital, as is the Rideau Canal, which connects the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario and was the main reason the city developed in the first place. During the wintertime, the Rideau turns into the world’s largest ice skating rink, making it a big attraction during the city’s annual Winterlude festival. For those who would rather visit during warmer months, the capital is also home to plenty of Canada Day festivities when July 1 rolls around.
12. Kelowna, British Columbia
- Come for: a destination where fun and accessibility come hand-in-hand
- Stay at: Hyatt Place Kelowna
This British Columbia city on Okanagan Lake doesn’t get as much press as its bigger urban peers, but that’s why it remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Thanks to more than 40 wineries in the area, wine is a big draw in these parts, and chef Rod Butters, of RauDZ Regional Table and micro bar, recommends visiting Kelowna Farmers’ Market so you can “learn who produces the finest heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and winter squash, who makes the best homemade preserves, and where to find the chewiest cheesy pretzels.”
Another plus for Kelowna is its accessibility. In AFAR contributor Lisa Kadane’s experience living in the city, the city’s focus on improving accessibility—whether it be in the form of wheelchair-friendly vans from companies like Uncorked Okanagan Wine Tours or accessible washrooms along the Okanagan Rail Trail—has made it easier for multi-gen families, seniors, and those with disabilities to enjoy the city.