Canada has so much to offer travelers that it can be hard to decide where to go and what to do. From coast to coast, every province and region offers truly unique experiences.
Today, we’re sharing a few destinations we think every Canadian needs to experience at least once in a lifetime. Yes, it can be enticing to want to explore a far away place, but there are many reasons Canada really should be on everyone’s bucket list.
We’ve chosen the destinations and activities below because they are family-friendly and relatively easy to access.
Visit Canada’s most popular natural attraction
Niagara Falls is arguably one of the most popular natural attractions in the country. It is estimated that over 30 million people visit Niagara Falls each year. That number is close to the entire population of Canada!
There are actually three waterfalls that make up the collective Niagara Falls, with the largest being Horseshoe Falls, followed by the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. The river splits Canada and the USA, acting as a natural border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York.
When you arrive in Niagara Falls, you’ll first want to check out the Falls themselves. Our favourite activity was the Journey Behind the Falls tour, which offers an exceptional view of the powerful waterfalls from the base of Horseshoe Falls. You can access the falls from the Table Rock Welcome Centre and take an elevator down 150 feet to an underground tunnel network that is over 100 years old. You’ll be provided ponchos to help keep you dry, but you’ll likely still get a bit wet so keep this in mind.
You can also view the falls from the main observation deck. The mist from the falls feels like a rain shower and the sound of the rushing water is deafening. Even if you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll want to bring a coat or an umbrella. You can still get soaked from the mist.
Checking out the Falls is not the only thing to do in Niagara Falls. Clifton Hill has become a destination all on its own. Known as the ‘World famous Street of Fun by the Falls’, the best way to experience Clifton Hill is to get the Clifton Hill Fun Pass – it includes 6 attractions including the Niagara SkyWheel. The SkyWheel offers unique views of Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. At 175 feet (or 53 metres), it is said to be the largest observation wheel in Canada.
See wild Orcas in their natural habitat
One of the best places to spot Orcas in the wild is the Salish Sea, located about 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, British Columbia.
There are a few companies to choose from, each offering various vessel sizes from small open-air zodiacs (height and weight restrictions apply) to larger cruisers. Most vessels have open-air decks that allow you to easily take pictures of these whales.
There’s no guarantee you’ll see any orcas, but your chances are high – especially in the summer. From May to October, success rates are as high as 95%. From November to May, they are about 50-75%. We went on a tour in August and spotted over 25 whales within an hour.
Expect to spend most of the tour on the rooftop deck (dress appropriately), listening for the sounds of orcas spitting out air from their blowholes. If you’re lucky, you may even be surrounded by them! At one point, we had orcas in every direction, surfacing every few moments.
Plan to spend at least 2 days exploring the city of Victoria, too. The downtown area is relatively small and most activities are within walking distance. It is truly one of the most picturesque cities in Canada. You’ll want to wander along the inner harbour, where the Parliament Buildings and iconic Fairmont Empress are the focal point for a perfect postcard shot. There’s also a thriving art scene, and local artists showcase their work along the harbour. You can get a hand-drawn portrait done or pick up some local artwork. There are also many buskers who’ll keep you entertained.
During your time in Downtown Victoria, you’ll want to catch the water taxi from the inner harbour to Fisherman’s Wharf for Barb’s famous fish and chips. After you’ve feasted, hop back on the water taxi and go to Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub for freshly brewed craft beer.
Before you leave, you can’t miss is a visit to the Royal BC Museum. We love the Pacific Northwest coastal exhibit with its totem hall, seal and bird exhibits, and a life-size replica of a woolly mammoth. Everyone in the family will enjoy it. Plan to spend half a day exploring the museum.
Travel Tip: You can use your Aeroplan Miles to fly or rent a car to each of these destinations. If you fly, a roundtrip within most parts of North America is 25,000 miles per person with taxes often around $100-$200. A short-haul flight (the list can be found here) is even less at 15,000 Aeroplan Miles.
Witness the highest tides in the world at Hopewell Rocks
Another destination in Canada you’ll want to check out is the world-famous Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. Located on the shores of the Bay of Fundy at Hopewell Cape, this is one of the most popular places to witness the highest tides in the world.
You’ll want to visit at both low and high tide to see the dramatic difference between the two. At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor– a unique experience, especially when you consider that the beach you are walking on will be covered with 40 feet of water in just a few hours. Tide schedules can be found here.
There are a few things you should know before you go. The beach is quite muddy, so you’ll want to bring a change of shoes and clothes for the kids. They will get dirty! Most importantly, don’t be late. If you’re 30 minutes late, you may miss the opportunity to walk on the ocean floor. The water moves fast, so if you snooze, you lose!
While in New Brunswick, you’ll also want to visit St. Andrews, aka St. Andrews By-the-Sea. It’s an adorable seaside town located about an hour drive west of Saint John. The main attraction in St. Andrews is the iconic Algonquin Resort, a beautiful hotel built in 1889. It’s rich in history and has been restored to its original glory.
We’d also recommend you spend a day exploring the Fundy Trail Parkway, a 16 km drive along the Bay of Fundy’s coast. The park has dozens of scenic lookouts and hiking trails, footpaths to beaches, a suspension foot bridge and an interpretive centre. You can easily spend the entire day exploring its many trails and viewpoints.
Visit the mighty Canadian Rockies in both summer and winter
Winter or summer, a visit to the Canadian Rockies is always a good idea. It truly is an adventurer’s playground.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll want to spend a day driving on the Icefields Parkway located between Banff and Jasper. The drive takes about four hours, but plan for a full day because you’ll want to stop along the way.
Make sure one of your stops is at the Athabasca Glacier. One of eight glaciers fed by the massive Columbia Icefield, is the most visited glacier in North America. The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure makes it possible for anyone to step on the crunchy surface of this natural wonder. You’re transported by a massive Ice Explorer that takes you directly to its center – no crampons or helicopter landings required. You will have time to walk around on the glacier, and the trip up and back on the Ice Explorer is definitely part of the fun.
Many may have heard of Lake Louise but there’s a lesser-known lake called Moraine Lake that is truly breathtaking. At Moraine, we suggest you rent a canoe and explore; the water’s unique shade of blue will mesmerize you. Plan to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll have a hard time picking which activities to do as there are plenty of options.
We suggest you spend an evening in Banff on a guided night tour of Johnston Canyon. With only a headlamp and the night stars guiding, you venture to the lower ice falls at Johnston Canyon. You have the entire place to yourselves and, on the way back, the group turns off all headlamps using only the moonlight to guide along the trail.
Another fun tour suitable for all ages is the Great Divide Tour, the longest dog sledding tour in Lake Louise, covering 16 km. Bundled up under blankets, with the dogs taking the lead, you’ll fly through the forest surrounded by stunning snow-capped peaks.
After enjoying some activities in the snow, we suggest you warm up at Banff Hot Springs. And if you want a memorable lunch, head to the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Book ahead and request a window seat at the Lakeview Lounge. Enjoy the view!
Visit Canada’s most iconic lighthouse
Over 160 historic lighthouses dot the Nova Scotia coastline. In fact, Nova Scotia has the largest number of lighthouses of any Province in Canada. These lighthouses guard thousands of kilometres of coastline and remain an important symbol of the past. Many are world-famous.
The best-known of these is the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. Built in 1915, Peggy’s Point Lighthouse still keeps watch over working lobster boats among the powerful ocean waves. Until 2009, the ground floor operated as a post office and it was the only lighthouse post office in North America at the time.
Halifax is rumoured to have the most pubs per-capita in Canada, so you’ll also want to visit a local watering-hole. You can be sure to find good company and live music with a Nova Scotian flair.
For seafood lovers, Nova Scotia is a foodie destination. From seaside lobster boils to authentic seafood chowder, the province offers some of the freshest seafood in the country. The lobster is plentiful there, and if you didn’t get enough on your visit, you can even ship some home to enjoy when you return.
When planning your trip, expect to spend at least 10-14 days in Nova Scotia. You’ll want to make time to rent a car and drive to Cape Breton Island to explore the Cabot Trail. Touted as one of the world’s must-see islands, Cape Breton is the epitome of natural beauty. This 300-kilometre highway offers spectacular coastal views, stunning scenery and warm hospitality. Plan to go slowly, and take lots of pictures. The locals in Cape Breton are some of the friendliest that we have experienced in Canada. It won’t be hard to see why Cape Breton is so magical.
We really think you’ll enjoy these five Canadian destinations. They each offer something for the whole family, and any of them is a great place to start if you want to explore more of Canada.
Nicole and Cameron are family travel bloggers from Vancouver, BC. They have two boys ages 5 and 7. Their blog is recognized as a top Canadian blog, and together they’ve traveled to 70+ countries. All opinions expressed are their own.