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A Guide to the Best Cities in Canada

Charlotte Boswell

Renowned for its mesmerising scenery, diverse wildlife and vast national parks, Canada is what dreams are made of. However, Canada is not just stunning mountain backdrops, shimmering turquoise lakes and picture-perfect snow scenes, this huge country also has some of the most cultural and cosmopolitan cities North America has to offer. Here is our list of our favourite Canadian cities. 

Vancouver, British Columbia 

Downtown skyscrapers framed by snow-capped peaks, green oasis parks and sweeping beaches; welcome to Vancouver. This contemporary and cosmopolitan city lies on Canada’s west coast and is the perfect gateway to explore the rugged beauty of adventurous BC.  

The city’s varied neighbourhoods offer a great opportunity to soak up Vancouver’s diverse cultures. Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood is a myriad of bustling cafes, smart cocktail bars and boutiques set against winding cobbled streets and beautiful Victorian Buildings. Vibrant Chinatown offers some of the best Asian fusion food in the world and features the famous steam clock and tranquil Chinese gardens. There are also plenty of options for those seeking adventure; cycle through Stanley Park, hike Grouse Mountain or tackle the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a 140-metre long walkway that weaves its way through a river canyon. 

Vancouver is also renowned for its thriving culinary scene, from exciting food trucks to Michelin-starred restaurants, to cool craft breweries and some of the best coffee Canada has to offer. Stroll through gourmet food markets where you can taste some of the city’s signature delicacies including the world-famous JapaDog; a Japanese inspired hotdog, BC salmon skin sushi rolls and giant dough-cones filled with ice cream. 

Vancouver Skyline and Buildings at Sunset over Lake

Québec City, Quebec 

A wonderful blend of cobblestoned streets and colonial architecture mixed with exciting restaurants and innovative festivals, Québec City emanates an elegant European feel. Built by the French in the 17th century, this 400-year old city is a treasure trove of historic buildings and sites and is of charming culture. 

The beautiful neighbourhood of Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is rich with significant landmarks including the Citadelle, the Vieux Port and the Place Royale. Take a horse-drawn carriage to explore the old town and discover quirky Rue Saint-Louis, a picturesque avenue complete with independent shops and romantic restaurants or Rue du Trésor famous for its artists and galleries.  After a day of sightseeing, indulge in some of the best French-Canadian cuisine around. Sample poutine, a staple dish of French fries and cheese curds with gravy, or delicious buckwheat crêpes. 

Quebec City is also home to the World’s Most Photographed Hotel; the fairy tale-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. This stunning UNESCO-listed hotel is perched on Cape Diamond overlooking the St Lawrence River and is worth a trip, even if it is just to admire its beauty.  

Quebec City Frontenac Hotel Castle Sunrise

Halifax, Nova Scotia 

The province of Nova Scotia is a land full of jagged coastlines, rolling emerald hills and sleepy fishing villages. The capital Halifax is an idyllic place to experience coastal scenery, cultural heritage and the freshest seafood in the country. 

Central Halifax offers fascinating history including the Maritime Museum and the Citadel Fort; a star-shaped stronghold built to defend Halifax and its harbour between 1828 and 1856. Heading towards the waterfront, the postcard pretty harbour offers the perfect opportunity for a photo and as dusk falls the harbour is illuminated with twinkling lights shimmering on the water. The city also offers a wealth of stunning restaurants serving off-the-boat lobster, oysters, scallops and mussels, and charming cafes serving hearty bowls of chowder washed down with champagne-style cider. 

Halifax is also a great starting point for the Lighthouse Route, a coastal drive encompassing mesmerising ocean scenery, charming coves and old lighthouses. Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village you will pass through, features a famous lighthouse and mouth-watering lobster rolls and further along the route lies Lunenburg, a delightful town of red painted wooden houses and boutique galleries and shops.

Halifax Harbour Boats FIshing Canada

Toronto, Ontario 

With almost 2.5 million residents and the largest city in Canada, Toronto is a melting pot of cultures and languages. Situated on Lake Ontario’s northwest shore, the city’s soaring skyscrapers and lake backdrop make for a magnificent city vista, especially during sunset. Toronto offers visitors a huge range of things to do from world-class shopping to exhilarating ice hockey, a buzzing food and drink scene to exciting theatre shows. 

Toronto’s Distillery District is a colourful historic neighbourhood dating back to the 19th century that features outdoor performances, street art and the city’s best bars and restaurants. Other must-see sights include the Royal Ontario Museum with an impressive collection of cultural and historical items, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the St Lawrence Market, dubbed one of the world’s best food markets.  

A visit to Toronto wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the CN Tower, which dominates the city’s skyline. Up until 2007, this iconic free-standing tower was the tallest in the world at 1815 feet. Head to the top for unrivalled views of the city whilst sipping on a cocktail or dine in the tower’s revolving restaurant. 

SS Toronto Skyline Ontario Canada

Victoria, British Columbia 

The capital of both BC and Vancouver Island, Victoria is a charming city situated on the southern tip of the island. With sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Victoria boasts as being a paradise for both wildlife and food lovers. 

Relatively small and compact, Victoria is easy to explore on foot or by horse and carriage. Alternatively, experience a floatplane trip that offers a stunning birds-eye view of the city and Vancouver Island. Within the city itself, the impressive Baroque-style Parliament buildings are a must-see especially at dusk when they are illuminated, whilst the historic Empress Hotel overlooking the harbour waterfront is a wonderful place to take high tea and Fisherman’s Wharf features an array of colourful and intriguing house boats. Victoria is also a great place to head out on a whale watching cruise where you can spot pods of majestic orcas. If lucky enough, you may also be joined by dolphins, otters and sea lions. 

Interestingly, Victoria boasts the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada, so this is the perfect place for food lovers. Indulge in the freshest seafood and salmon in some of the finest restaurants, sample delicacies from the pop-up street food trucks and enjoy craft beer at local microbreweries.

British Columbia Parliament Building Victoria Canada

Montréal, Quebec 

The world’s second largest French speaking city, Montréal is a sophisticated and stylish hub offering an eclectic mix of wonderful architecture, inspiring street art and botanical gardens. Montréalers are known for their ‘joie de vivre’ and the city is renowned for its diverse festivals including jazz, classical, cinematic and food which are held throughout the year. 

Old Montréal boasts beautiful 18th century architecture, cobblestone streets and pretty cafes offering delicious smoked meats, but the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica is the district’s stand out site. This Gothic Revival style church dates back to 1824 and inside you will find a stunning and ornate interior complete with colourful stained glass and an impressive organ. Alternatively, The Quartier des Spectacles is a diverse neighbourhood in the heart of Montréal and is well known as the city’s cultural district. It’s an exciting hub of performance halls, an art museum and spaces for year-round outdoor events and festivals. 

It is also worth exploring Montréal’s famous street art scene where creative artists are painting the urban landscape with thought-provoking murals, eye-popping graffiti, sculpture and art installations. Discover this side to the city by planning a walking tour through Rue Saint-Denis, Rue Duluth and Saint-Laurent Boulevard. 

Montreal Quebec Old Town Canada

St John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador

Intriguing history, rewarding hikes and crayon-coloured Victorian houses wait for you in the oldest British-founded city in North America, St John’s. With a slight resemblance to San Francisco, the unconventional capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is North America’s most easterly point and is full of intrigue. 

History surrounds St John’s and there are several landmarks to discover. Visit the iconic Cabot Tower which was named after John Cabot who discovered the New World after sailing from Bristol or wander up Signal Hill, a strategic site when the first transatlantic communications were received. For the perfect photo, head to The Battery, a higgledy-piggledy cluster of pop-art-coloured Victorian houses clinging to the steep cliffs. Word has it that the rainbow exteriors were painted like this so sailors could easily spot their home when returning to shore.  

Take a 45-minute walk from downtown and you will arrive in Quidi Vidi, a picturesque fishing village with views of colourful buildings contrasting the steep black cliffs. Here you can visit the Plantation, a modern artisan hub, or taste iceberg beer at the Quidi Vidi Brewery. 

St Johns Harbour Front Coloured Buildings Canada

Ottawa, Ontario 

Sitting on the South Bank of the Ottawa River, Canada’s capital city Ottawa attracts visitors with impressive architecture, superb museums and galleries and an easy-to-use public transport system. 

For art enthusiasts, Ottawa is a great city to visit and the National Gallery of Canada offers a noteworthy collection of indigenous and other celebrated Canadian art. If architecture and history is of interest then a trip to Parliament Hill, the New-Gothic home of Canada’s legislature, is a must. Alternatively, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a 126-mile long waterway that runs through the city amidst a backdrop of spires and towers. In the winter, the river turns into the world’s largest natural ice rink surrounded by stands selling mulled cider, hot chocolate and soup, and come summer, the grassy banks are a perfect spot for picnics or rent a kayak to paddle the waters.  

The outdoor farmers market, ByWard Market, is a buzzing hub of artisan food stalls, colourful art and local fashion designers. Ottawa’s signature delicacy BeaverTails consist of sweet deep-fried pastries topped with icing sugar or cinnamon and these sugary gems can be sought out at ByWard Market.

 Canada Ontario Ottawa Rideau Canal

Calgary, Alberta 

Calgary, best known for the annual Calgary Stampede, is Alberta’s largest city nestled in the prairie lands and foothills of the Canadian Rockies. This cosmopolitan city offers a wide range of attractions for those interested in history, sport and the great outdoors. 

One of Calgary’s top attractions is Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living historical village and museum. The park recreates life between the mid-18th and early-19th century and features original preserved buildings, traditionally dressed staff, classic cars and horse-drawn carriages. Other highlights include the superbly engineered Peace Bridge crossing the Bow River from Sunnyside or downtown, taking a tour of the famous Big Rock Brewery (with a tasting session) or catching an ice hockey or lacrosse game at the remarkable Saddledome Stadium. A trip to Calgary also isn’t complete without feasting on some of Canada’s finest prime cut steaks at one of the gourmet restaurants. 

The world-renowned Banff National Park is just over a one-hour drive from Calgary, making it the perfect gateway. On this journey, marvel at the snow-capped peaks, glide over the crystal waters of Lake Louise and hike through emerald forests in pursuit of elk, moose and grizzly bear. 

City skyline of Calgary with Bow River Alberta Canada

Winnipeg, Manitoba 

Winnipeg, otherwise known as the ‘Gateway to the Prairies’ is a quintessential Canadian city. Being the fourth largest city in Canada, it boasts culturally significant landmarks, a vibrant art scene and a blend of old-meets-new. 

The city of Winnipeg offers contrasting neighbourhoods such as the historic French Quarter to the trendy Exchange District. The Forks has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years and was initially a place for indigenous people to trade, followed later by the Europeans. Now this destination is used to bring people together and offers fantastic dining options, local markets and retailers and entertainers and events such as outdoor Salsa Sundays. Winnipeg also has a rich art and museum culture, the Manitoba Museum offers a comprehensive collection of all things Manitoba, Portage Avenue provides some inspiring street art or the Winnipeg Art Gallery houses, Inuit exhibitions and Canadian collections. 

Esplanade Riel Bridge Winnipeg Manitoba Canada

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